Lesson learned as a missionary in the city

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I have learned many things these past five years whilst being a missionary in Chicago. And maybe one day I will write it all down, but for today I wanted to share the biggest difference of living in a city verses a suburb while being a follower of Christ.

But first, context.

Where I came from was weird

Riverside, California, was where I did most of my growing up and it’s one of those weird places that has several mega-churches. It’s also surrounded by other mega-churches all throughout Southern California. There is a substantial Christian bubble in Orange County and the Inland Empire that I didn’t realize was there until I moved out of it.

It was the norm to see Christian owned bookstores, cafes, bakeries, etc. Anytime I would walk into a Starbucks I could find someone doing a Bible study or see advertisements for Christian concerts at churches or major venues.

There was also enough space to create your own silos. You defined yourself by what church you went to, “I’m Harvest” “Well, I’m Sandals” “Oh, I’m the Grove.” And there was a hierarchy about it too. Christians felt like they were better than you if you didn’t attend their church. It didn’t even depend on doctrinal issues, just proximity, and sometimes unfortunately, cult of personality.

Where I live now is normal

Now I live in Chicago where the bubble does not exist. In fact, just the other day I got into an Uber and I saw that the driver had a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror. I literally yelled, “Are you a Christian?” He seemed a bit nervous and then confessed he was. “Oh, me too! I love Jesus too!” It is so rare to find someone else who loves Jesus in this city that I cannot help but yell with joy.

He then asked me what denomination I was, and that’s when I realized this man wasn’t from the city. In the city we cannot survive within denominational, location, and personality silos.

Do you love Jesus?

Yes.

Hello my brother or sister!

Oh, you disagree on this doctrinal issue and this one too? Well, I still love you. I will still call you family. Why? Because there’s no one else around here. It’s you and me kid.

I did learn that the Uber driver was indeed from a suburb and that our “denominations” were different, but it didn’t matter. We talked of our Savior all the way home and it was refreshing.

Regular church attendance is vital

Living in Riverside, if you missed Sunday it wasn’t that big of a deal. There was surprisingly enough weekday activities all throughout that region that led to many encounters with God. I am not encouraging lack of church attendance by any means, but I have learned there’s another very important reason why God calls us to worship Him weekly that was not apparent to me whilst living in the bubble.

It’s to remind us that we are not alone. It encourages us in our faith. I can go an entire week without meeting a Christian in Chicago and Sunday is the only day that I can breathe and worship my King without restraint. It’s that “you too?” question when you walk through the doors.

Not taking it for granted

Unlike many other cities in the world, Chicago still offers the freedom to gather together in worship. Unlike other countries where Christians have to conduct services and meetings underground, we can still meet publicly.

I recently watched Silence and I mourned with a deep sympathetic cry all throughout the film. Without giving too much away because I am not sure if you have seen it, there is a scene where a Japanese man sees the cross hanging from the priest’s neck and he falls to his knees and cries. It’s the first cross he has seen in over 15 years.

I looked at my bookcase of Christian textbooks, a picture of the Wailing Wall, Scripture art, and large and small crosses stationed neatly throughout my shelves, and I couldn’t help but cry with appreciation. I can openly worship God without any fear of death.

And then I thought about my own experience of living in Chicago. The feeling I get when I meet other Christians. The feeling I get when I walk into our rented out space on Sundays to worship with my church. The feeling I get when I meet for Wednesday night Bible study. I would have never experienced that sweet gratitude, that hopeful glimmer, that peaceful release of being around my family, of being my true self, of worshiping God in truth and Spirit together, without leaving the bubble of Riverside.

It’s undeniably a gift.

And one that I will not take for granted.

 

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7 Things: June 2017

1. Looking

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2. Watching

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Yes, I like me some K-drama, especially this one as it was my first. I like to go back and visit it every now and then. Lee Min Ho is a favorite of mine. I also love him in City Hunter! So good.

3. Listening

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This sweet Spotify Mix.

4. Reading

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5. Sharing

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I have a new roomie! She’s the adorable one with the towel around her waist — this is the day she was baptized in Lake Michigan! 🙂

6. Learning

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I am learning about the history of the Christian Church via the Communio Sanctorum podcast. Listen here.

7. Anticipating

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Don’t Feed the Monster

MonsterRecently, I had a conversation with some friends over lunch about depression. For those who don’t know me, I have become a spokesperson on depression as I’m open about my own depression. Last fall I spoke at my church’s Women’s Ministry event about depression and suicide, which for some was a radical idea. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma when it comes to being a Christian and being depressed — some think they cannot go hand-in-hand. Well, they can.

It’s important for me to say that now because if you don’t think it could happen to you, you are going to ignore it. You are going to ostracize people who do have it. You are going to judge them or yourself. You will not be real with yourself, others, and even God about what you are going through. And if you can’t bring sin into the light, it will surely keep its control over you.

So, with all of that said, during the meal I made a nonchalant statement in reference to depression, “I have learned to not feed the monster.”

Later on my friend asked me what I meant by that. And this is what I said.

Feeding the Monster

I look at depression like a monster. The more I feed it, the more it will grow and take over my life. What is this food? Well, it’s lies, negative self-talk, and hyperbolic statements. I know that I am feeding the monster when I start to use the language, “never or always”; when I tap out of my day-to-day activities; when I isolate myself; or start using phrases like “I should…” as guilt and shame are high calorie foods.

This monster will grow and grow until I become the monster.

God says we should be filled with the Holy Spirit (and not this monster). So what do I do when I notice that I am feeding the monster? I decide that it needs to be fed by the Holy Spirit instead.

Feed it with the Holy Spirit

How do I do this? I read and memorize Scripture. I pray and mediate. I worship and remember God and His faithfulness. I count my blessings and make gratitude a priority. I spend quality time with friends. I take a posture of humility and I tap back into my life.

No longer is it fed with lies, but instead it’s fed with truth. It’s fed with fruit of the Holy Spirit and it is nourishing. And instead of acting like a monster, I am kind, patient, loving, self-controlled, faithful, and gentle. Everything that the monster attempts to destroy.

How This Has Worked For Me

For the past three years I have been actively doing this and I must say when I fall into depression I don’t stay there that long.  I recognize my triggers, and instead, go to God for help.

Because in the end that’s what I have learned the most. Depression sucks, but I don’t let it go to waste. I use it to be a catalyst to strengthen my relationship with God. It reminds me that I can’t do it on my own and that it’s okay! I have a Father who loves me, who pursues me, who cares for me, who heals me, and who reminds me that I am not alone.

The Monster may always be there. It may be a thorn that is never taken away and I have learned to accept it because I am no longer afraid of it. It’s not a monster that stirs up fear, but rather pity. It only knows what I give it. And if I give it the Holy Spirit instead of my sin, God can redeem it.

*I apologize to all spiders for using you as an example of a monster, but let’s be real, you are one. 

7 Things: May 2017

1. Looking

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2. Watching

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3. Listening

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4. Reading

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I have been slowly re-listening to the audio books of Harry Potter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or listened to HP, and each time I learn something new. There’s many themes and plots that are found in this one that are later mirrored in Deathly Hallows.

5. Sharing

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I booked this place with my bestie for our Scotland trip! I am so incredibly excited to read in that room.

6. Learning

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My back is all out of whack again, so I am learning new stretches and exercise routines to help my back and overall health.

7. Anticipating

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A Simple Book Review: Humble Walk

17545195_1153412608115580_570836955456015731_oMy old neighbor and friend I seem to run into a lot around Chicago, Taylor Lyall, wrote a book! I have mentioned it before, but I wanted to write a post specifically dedicated to it.

It’s called Humble Walk: Lessons from a Simple Man Following Jesus.

Like it’s namesake, the book is simple. It’s 150+ pages of wisdom and experience of this man’s journey with God; however, just like anything with God, it’s also profound.

I had so many moments with God whilst reading this book. Sitting on the Blue Line, standing in my kitchen, laying on my couch, and walking around my living room, all were moments where I encountered God. He totally used this book to encourage, affirm, and inspire me.

Read it.

Some of my favorite takeaways

When you are running away from sin,  you are running toward Jesus whose greatness is incomparable to the things you gave up. When we flee from our sins, we take away the tools used by the enemy in his attacks against us.

Sometimes, it just takes a little patience and courage for God to use you in a big way. All you have to do is be obedient to Him… The Holy Spirit is alive and wants to talk to us! God didn’t just write the Bible to have us follow by ourselves. He sent us a Helper who wants to interact with us daily. How cool is that?

We have budgeted money so that if someone is struggling financially or we want to bless someone, we will be free to make split-second Spirit-led decisions.

You can learn more about him, his work, and purchase a copy of his book on his website.

I hope it blesses you like it blessed me.

Saturday Sippin’ on Tea…

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It’s Saturday evening and I am drinking some Moroccan Mint Tea, smelling some Eucalyptus leaves, and listening to Housefires.

The evening started with reading some more chapters in Taylor Lyall’s book, Humble Walk: Lessons from a Simple Man Following Jesuswhile I waited for my water to boil for my mint tea. And in that time, the Holy Spirit gave me the biggest, deepest hug I’ve had in awhile. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. It’s like all of my barriers and walls I’ve built around me (that I didn’t know I had) just fell and He swept me up and told me that He loved me. It was vulnerable. It was raw. It brought me tears. And then I just started singing to God. It started with “Good Good Father” from Housefires and then it just moved into my own words of praise and worship.

I am not sure if my landlord below heard me, and I do apologize if he did because it wasn’t necessarily pretty to human’s ears. It had a lot of broken words, sobs, and sounds I didn’t know I could make, but I know it was beautiful to my Father.

Sometimes I am so desperate for God and other times I am not. I wish I were more desperate for Him. I wish I actively sought out those healing hugs. Instead, I spend so much of my time rejecting Him either because I don’t feel like I am worthy or because I think I don’t need Him — both are so incredibly wrong and damaging. I am thankful for the moments when God pushes my sin out of the way and shows me, loudly and plainly, the depth and width of His love. It’s so powerful. It’s so real. It’s so… beautiful.

I write this post so that you would be encouraged. You have a God who is desperately pursuing you; who loves you despite of your sin and rejection of Him. He loves you. And He won’t stop loving you. Embrace His love tonight.

Cheers.

Changing Spaces

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I have been working in my writing alcove for the past year whilst living in my place. There’s been some good nights and not-so-good nights in that little space. The not-so-good nights can be defined as: nights where I did not sit there and write.

Now that my roomie has moved out and the second living area is open, I have decided to temporarily set up shop there until the new roomie moves in. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Sometimes you just need to change up the atmosphere. That’s why writing in cafes and bars around the city has encouraged many a words, but alas this lady has little money right now so spending money to write is not the greatest idea.

So Saturday will be my writing day in my new space!

Today my goal is to finish mapping out the novel. I, unfortunately, have been writing this novel for so long that I wrote out of chronological order, so I need to go back and map out where I’ve been to go forward. This is another reason why I have stalled on this book. I hate mapping out my creative work, but alas I need a framework to continue on this story. I have never done this part before and it’s obvious that I haven’t because I have six novels that need to be finished.

So, I need to get crackin’ because this life isn’t that long and I am easily distracted.

What’s your Saturday goal?

 

Making this Fall Last

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Think of a rollercoaster.

I, for one, am terrified of rollercoasters, so I can totally relate if you feel a little apprehensive about thinking of such a thrilling ride, but for the sake of my metaphor I need you imagine it.

You are slowly moving forward, unsure of where you are going, yet you know that the glacial pace is moving you higher and higher.

You want to go faster, but you are not in control of it. You are along for the ride. Taking it in. Knowing that you are building up to something.

You reach the top and there’s a moment where you feel like you know everything. You have just experienced the build-up and now you can see clear ahead. Well, it’s a little blurry because the time it took you to get up there, your eyes aged a bit, but you can still see what is ahead of you.

And then it happens.

The drop. The feeling of being thrown into something you can’t control. You are now in it. The momentum is so strong that you can’t slow it down, and you kind of wish it was slow like before, but then you’re also kind of feeling like, well, this is terrifying, maybe I am glad it’s going really fast. And you can’t really see what’s ahead of you anymore, so maybe it’s best you close your eyes. You’re just reacting now — sometimes screaming — but you are completely available to the moment. You are completely along for the ride.

And then are you done.

And you realize the build-up in comparison to the fall was minuscule.  And you kind of feel robbed. Like, if you knew how quickly it would’ve gone by you would’ve have enjoyed it more! You would have taken in every second of the rising and falling and made it last as long as it could.

And folks, that’s what life is like.

When I was younger time felt so long. I was always waiting; looking forward to what was ahead. I was excited for the thrill of adulthood, and yet childhood went by slowly — days felt like years.

And then I hit my 20’s and I felt like I knew everything. I was on top of the rollercoaster, looking out. Telling God my plans.

And now, I am in my 30’s and everything is falling around me so fast. Each day feels like a second. I can’t catch up. I can’t stop the momentum. And yes, sometimes the fear of being an adult is real.

I am not sure what is ahead. Instead of looking at what is coming next, I am learning to look to God — the one who built the rollercoaster. I am learning to enjoy the rising and the falling, and more importantly,  I am learning to make this fall last.

Monday Night of Beans

74925-334x500-Jelly_bean_jarMonday Night is Leadership Night, also known as, Elder Board Meeting, Leadership Team, or The Fellowship of RC (okay, I just made the last one up and I am sure nobody on the team is going to agree with me on that name). We meet weekly and we discuss the happenings of the church, our ministry, where God is leading us, if we are in alignment where God is leading, prayer, logistical questions, like “how many cables and snakes do we need for Easter?” and then we also do team building exercises.

Melissa, who is Admin Queen, runs Monday nights and it’s been an honor to see her grow in her God-given talents and how that helps us to grow as a team and as a church.

The Jelly Bean Challenge

This Monday we did the Jelly Bean Challenge (hence the picture).

There are four phases to this challenge:

  • Individually guess how many jelly beans there are in the jar
  • Connect with a partner and guess
  • Connect with a larger group (so four other people) and guess
  • And then the entire leadership team had to guess

It’s a great exercise because it shows how our leadership team works. It encourages us to compromise and to make decisions together. The good and the bad. Some of us are competitive and some of us check out when conflict arises. Some of us do not listen to the rules and create our own rules and some of us will not bend and will only follow the rules. It was a joy to see it all go down.

Beans = Trust Fall?

What surprised me most that night is how much my capacity to trust has grown over the past year.  I was partnered up with Pastor Rocky and he’s a contractor and he works with volume all day long and I DO NOT. So, I told him I trust him and let him guess on, and whenever we moved into a larger group, I would just say, “I trust Rocky.” And I do. I trust him and I trust this leadership team. It’s strange because I’ve had trust issues in the past but I see now how much God has healed those wounds and strengthened me in that area. Now it just needs to spread into other areas.

In the end, our leadership team did not get the number right but we were still able to enjoy the jelly beans. (Okay, I know Rocky would want me to state that his individual number, without any of that “compromising stuff” would have won.)

And one more quick note, my favorite part of the night was when we got the Jelly Beans and it was Mimosa flavor (champagne and orange) and Rocky gave me his champagne beans and I gave him my orange beans. It felt like we were kids on the playground sharing our treats. I don’t know why, but it made me laugh and still makes me smile.


If you have noticed an uptake of blog posts here, let me tell you that you are not crazy. I am posting more on the blog in April as it’s Camp NaNoWriMo and writing on the blog is kind of like a warm-up to my creative writing. Cheers!

Writing Prompt: How Did You Wake Up This Morning?

Let’s start off April with some writing prompts because I need help to get back into writing.

Prompt: How did you wake up this morning?

Rules:

  • Write for 15 minutes
  • Do not edit or proof
  • Choose whichever genre
  • JUST WRITE

I changed my room around yesterday. So when I woke up this morning I was no longer looking at a wall filled with hanging photos of friends, but rather the ceiling corner next to my window. It was still early. The sun wasn’t out. Yet who knows these days as the rain comes and goes bringing a darkness that just lingers.

I looked at the clock and it showed 3 o’clock in the morning. I still had at least another 3.5 hours to sleep, yet my mind was racing with what transpired in my dream. It felt so real.

Dreams are like a quilt of experience, memory, fear, and hope all wrapped up into some type of vivid narrative — well, for me at least. Blame it on the reading.

This dream was more of a nightmare, which was more a memory from my youth. A memory I didn’t remember until now.

I was young and alone at my childhood home on Campbell Ave. I was either eight or nine — cannot recall. My parents were both out, possibly working. They could also be down at the usual Block Party that happened during those longer summer California nights. My brothers were out — so maybe the Block Party does make sense — and I was reading in the living room when I heard the door bell ring.

We lived on the corner of a rather busy street for East Side; although, the neighborhood was pretty far away from actual town, so there weren’t many strangers that came through. You usually knew where you were going if you were to visit our neighborhood.

I came to the front door and asked who it was, and a voice, a shape, a shadow of a man said on the other side that he needed to use my phone. His car broke down and he needed to call for help.

Instinctively, I knew not to trust the shadow on the other side of the door. I was quiet, wanting so badly to see what he looked like, but this door did not have a peep hole and the windows had mosaic designs that altered the view.

I remember feeling scared and unsure of what to do. I didn’t feel like I had a voice to tell him to go away. What if that was mean? What if he really did need help? What if he got angry? What if he came in the house? What if he found out that I was home alone?

“Hi, Little girl, can I please come in and use your phone? I will be really quick.”

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Well let me talk to your dad… your dad is home, right?”

Silence.

“So, you’re home alone?”

How could he figure that out, I thought? I panicked. What do I do? Is he a bad guy? Do I call 911? Or is he is a normal guy and I can trust him?

So, I responded, “I can call for you. Just tell me what the number is and I can call for you.”

“Just let me in. It will be really quick.” His voice had changed. There was an urgency to it. And then he started to bang on the door. Slamming his fists against it.

Instead of running to the phone to call 911, I laid on the floor as low as I could possibly get. Why? Well, you see the phone was in the room next to the door that had a window. If I went in there, what if he could see me? And if he could see me then that would mean I could see him and then he would be real.

Even at age eight I was still playing the game of if I can’t see him, he can’t see me.

He banged and banged on the door.

“Let me in!”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t want him to trick me. I didn’t want him to know how scared I was. I didn’t want him to somehow get in the house using the power of language. So I laid on the floor, holding my breath, hoping he would give up.

And he did.

I heard a sound of a door opening but it came from the garage. It was my dad! The man must have fled, but I didn’t check. I wouldn’t check. That door was staying locked.

Looking back, I don’t recall telling my parent’s what happened that night. I wasn’t sure if it was real. Did that man really need to just use the phone? Or did he know that a young girl was home alone? Just like today, it felt like a dream — a nightmare. Would anyone believe me?

I went back to sleep and woke up at a reasonable hour still thinking of that nightmare. I know why it popped up in my head. I am now living alone and with that comes some fears. I am thankful to live in a multi-family dwelling, so I am not completely alone. I also live in a dense city, so that too also quells any fears.

Yet, I also know that this morning I was scheduled to be the Cantor and to lead service in the Lord’s Supper. There’s spiritual warfare going on, folks, and I am not blind to it. It’s been happening all weekend. Last night, with this; the night before, waking up in the middle of the night feeling as though spiders were all over me. Yup, another fear of mine, spiders.

I am not surprised by it. Living as a missionary comes at a cost. I know that God will not forsake me. I know that He fights for me. I know that I have weapons of my own to use and that I am not alone.  It will not destroy me, however annoying it may be.

Though it did scare me and scared me then as a little girl, I can’t help but thank God for protecting me that night. There’s so many instances in my life where some very, very bad things could have happened (and at times, some bad things did happen), yet God protected me and/or healed me.

So while the enemy tried to throw me into fear; I fell into God’s love and protection.

And that’s how I woke up.