Love adds value.

Sometimes we have problems that consume our daily thoughts. If we’re being honest, most of us have a serious problem controlling whether or not we think those thoughts. Maybe it’s “I’m worried about my brother” or “I feel sad” or “I’m not happy with the way that I look,” but they all have one common theme: I. We allow our problems to become a pity party of feeling sorry for ourselves.

But — what if, instead of focusing so much energy on ourselves and the loneliness or hurt (etc. etc.) that we feel, we focused on helping someone else.

Now, don’t get me wrong – we do have to be introspective and help ourselves get better through hardships, but I think the cure can often be found by simply looking at the betterment of others rather than of ourselves.

At the end of the day, ask yourself this question, “How did I add value to my __________?” Fill that blank in with roommate, best friend, mom, dad, coworker, etc.

What’s your answer?

Because for me personally, the answer has been, I have added little to zero value to anyone in my life recently. I have been so focused on ridding my life of problems, in order to add value to my own life, that I haven’t been looking to the lives of the people around me.

Wasn’t the whole life of Jesus based on adding value to others? He did this by calling us His “beloved” on many occasions. He doesn’t call us that because we’ve done anything to deserve it, He calls us that simply because we exist. So if there’s some way we can remind ourselves daily of how much He loves us, then maybe we won’t focus on ourselves so much, but we’ll focus on pouring His love out on others.

I must say, I’m having a pretty hard time grasping this concept…but if I can come to a point where I understand Christ’s extravagant love for me, then maybe I can learn to love others just a little bit better.

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The Burgundy Character of Cambridge

Since being in Cambridge, we have been attending class inside of a church/community center. Once a semester, the Vicar (priest), Michael likes to talk to us Cambridge students about St. Paul’s. We were told he would talk to us for a few minutes and then we could ask some questions about the Anglican tradition and what the church in general is like in the UK, etc.

I have frequently seen Vicar Michael around the church as we’ve attended class and volunteered at community events. The Vicar, a very distinguished looking man, is normally in a monochromatic outfit of some sorts (my favorite was the burgundy sweatshirt with burgundy vest and burgundy hat, I’ll never forget this image of him). He is a very charismatic man. He’s always walking about jovially shouting at people in his thick cockney accent (East End Londoner accent – think Eliza Doolittle) and telling me to ignore his son Max, as he frequently asks me out (that’s a WHOLE ‘nother story). The first time I heard the Vicar pray, at a luncheon, I opened my eyes to find tears because it was one of the most eloquent, genuine prayers I had ever heard in my life.

Because of my strong hate of crying, God punishes me (jk….) by making me cry in nearly every church service or spiritual thing I’m involved in. Two months ago, when I realized that this man’s simple lunch prayer had the ability to make me tear-up, I knew that I needed to hear more from him.

This assumption was completely right. As he came to our class to “discuss the Anglican Christian tradition,” he began abruptly by telling us he was going to talk about his story and what brought him to where he is now:

As an 18-year-old he was given a “packet” of beliefs from his local church. This contained what he should believe, without much explanation. From that time, as a teenager, to now nearly being 60, he has been unpacking this “packet” that he received 40 years ago. As he wandered through the details and depths of his journey as a Christian, I was blown away with the relevant and challenging things he had to say.

We, as Christians, have spent too much time floating on the Biblical understanding of our parents or church or whoever. We aren’t supposed to just blindly accept the Christian practices of today or even the Bible without challenging it. If we don’t challenge something, how are we supposed to believe it, understand it or defend it?

The Christianity of our forefathers can be accused of being simply religion or lacking emotion. But then our generation (and some of the generation above us) was so anxious to “feel” something real that a personal relationship with Christ became the only important thing and knowledge went out the window. God, the God that we are meant to fear, became this:
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Now, don’t get me wrong…a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the whole point, but a supreme, all-knowing God doesn’t equivocate to a “homeboy” in my opinion. Knowing Christ has only become about playing a great worship set and sitting in His presence. Like I said, these aren’t bad things necessarily…but when we only know God based on a feeling, rather than knowledge of the Bible and our personal theology, there is a serious problem.

I want to find the balance. I want my relationship with Christ to be based on the fact that I feel His presence everywhere that I look, but I also want to know and understand who He was when He walked the earth. This concept of balance has been infiltrating every single spiritual thought that I’ve had in the last few months and I am desperately searching to find this balance.

Bottom line is this – I want to know Christ. From feeling to knowledge. Colorful characters like Michael, the Vicar, have helped me realize how important that is and have pushed me along a new way of knowing Jesus. I wouldn’t have discovered this way of knowing Christ without coming all the way to the United Kingdom, in Cambridge.

It’s funny why God will take you 4,000 miles away from home. If that’s the only reason I came here (which, by the way, it isn’t), then I am grateful.

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The world is bright, until we dim it down.

I hope I never lose my wonder of the world. I never want to become so disengaged with enchantment that something new becomes ordinary.

3:30 a.m. rolled around and I was out of bed in order to catch a bus, to catch a plane, to catch another bus that got me to Dublin, Ireland. I have always dreamt of visiting Ireland. My ancestors are from there, my best friend always talks about how much she loved it there, and I expected that I would have the exact same sentiments. Well, once I was on that bus tour of Dublin, I realized that it was my least favorite place I had ever been to (except when my mind takes me to Ohio — that’s even worse).

I’m not sure what allowed me to figuratively wake up, but after a long nap and some (horrible) Chinese food…I remembered that I was in a place I had never been before. Dublin held the potential for new discovery. No, it’s not the prettiest city in the world, but there were hundreds of streets for me to walk on, pubs to eat in and sights to encounter right around me.

I have spent the past two months in awe of how readily available history is here. America holds history and incredible displays of the past and present, but it’s almost always behind a glass wall or in a box. Here, I have been able to walk on top of walls that Roman’s built hundreds of years ago, kneel in prayer in the church where most Royals have been married for the past 400 years, climb all over a coliseum where people fought to the death, scale a volcano unhindered, and sit in the windowsill of a castle with my legs dangling off the ledge.  Every one of these experiences have been breathtaking and completely bewitching.

These are all just tiny slivers of the unfathomable beauty that this world holds.

I hate when I’m overly optimistic, which is some weird disease I have, but I really do want to spend the rest of my life approaching every day with the idea that there is new beauty to behold.

“You spend your whole life just to remember the sound
When the world was brighter, before we learned to dim it down.”

I understand the sentiments that Sleeping At Last sings about and I genuinely never want to dim the world down.

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Permanent Fulfillment.

When you have nothing left but God, then for the first time you become aware that God is enough.” – Maude Royden

Life as a Christian doesn’t mean a life problem-free, it means in our ups and downs we cling to Christ. Being in another country creates new perspective on many things, but especially on your relationship with Christ (which is why I encourage every Christian to get away from their norms). This past Sunday, I had the incredible privilege, while in London, to attend a service at Hillsong London (and they just so happened to be recording their next album!). It was at that service during a song containing these lyrics, “You are enough for me,” that I realized how incredible true the quote above is:

Jesus Christ is it.

Out of human nature, we search and search for something. We want to be fulfilled and we attempt to get that from everything around us. We find this fulfillment, temporarily, in relationships, jobs, friends, sports, food…anything, really. But what we don’t realize, is that when we let these things become our sole “fulfillment,” they are actually just distracting from the one thing that can make us whole.

He is enough for you. He is enough for me. 

I forgot how refreshing and peaceful spending time in His presence is. But, as I have faced a “low” in my life, I have found that all I need is Him. I crave to be in His presence and am eagerly seeking to be surrounded by Him.

Remember, today, before you get swept away with life, that this world has absolutely nothing for you: He is all that you will ever need.

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The World: A Land of Dreams or Truth?

Studying English poetry has been incredibly enlightening. It has given me yet another reason to appreciate the written language.

The eloquence of a poem can so aptly describe your emotions.

It’s as if Matthew Arnold and I had a chat this morning, right before he composed this stanza from Dover Beach for me:

“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

I know this is a rather dismal look on the world and what it holds, but he does cling to the tiny hope of us being true to those we love.

But – what makes us untrue? What makes us forsake ourselves and one another?

I’m looking for a deeper answer than the Christian response, which is of course, “sin.”
I am on a search for truth. 

I was reading a book earlier and stumbled upon this line, “Truth is wasted in our lives if we don’t put it to work to accomplish what God wants.”

I want to find truth, so that I can accomplish His will for my life. I have always equated truth with knowledge, so, for lack of knowing what else to do, knowledge is what I will seek.

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Made by Friendship

If there is one blessing from God that has been most constant in my life, it has been incredible friends. I took this for granted (and probably sometimes still do) until I got older and realized that people actually have trouble keeping a group of friends.

I think I started understanding this blessing in my second year at college; it was at this point that I realized my friends had become my family. I could write about a lot of friends shaping me, but as I look back today, I see my two constants, and we lived on Harle Street.

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This may sound lame, but we didn’t just share a house, we literally shared our lives together.

College (and the years beyond) is where you have to learn to take care of yourself. Your parents may be a phone call away, but they can’t comfort you when you cry or help you learn certain lessons. That means that those around you help you learn life lessons. As I was getting ready yesterday, I was putting on my makeup and pinched my cheeks after I put on my blush and realized that I learned that from one of my roommates. Next, I started to put on my boots and I realized that my other roommate had taught me her little trick of tucking my jeans into my socks…

This quote came to mind, “We are not only our brother’s keeper; in countless large and small ways, we are our brother’s maker.” Even though the ways I mentioned above are small, they have made me in so many big ways.

Our families would struggle, our boyfriends would dump us, our teachers would fail us, but we still reconvened in our living room and watched any TV show that had to do with the Kardashians and kept on laughing. Or sometimes the better solution was eating cinnamon rolls and singing Skyscraper (Demi Lovato, duh).

We’ve encouraged each other, we’ve cried with each other, we’ve even hurt each other, but we have always stuck together. 

Even though part of the fun of our house was the constant stream of visitors that considered our home their home (which is what we wanted!), sometimes the best nights were when we closed the blinds and pretended to be gone. It was probably in those moments alone that we were naming every inanimate object, giving ourselves alter egos and trying to create delicious diet food (I know, it’s an oxymoron).

Right now, we are spread across three different countries, but they are still the ones that I find comfort in. I never imagined friendship so deep that it could transcend the typical boundaries and lead me to sisters. But, here I am, a better person because of them.

Today I am thankful, thankful for Whitney Kesner and Desiree Colon.

This friendship isn’t at a closing, it’s still going strong. We will keep imagining our futures together: dream careers, dream families, dream everythings. The best part is, I know they will be there cheering me on as I go (and I’ll be doing the same for them).

If you have friends that have kept you, thank them. If you have friends that have made you, don’t let them go. 

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I am Sought After.

Here I am, 4,000 miles away from almost everything I’ve ever known. The same topic keeps coming up amongst my peers and professor: identity.

Who am I? What factors create me? What keeps me from who I am? Will I ever actually know myself?

These are the questions that have been swirling around for the past few days. I think they are important questions to ask and I’ve been asking myself these since my junior year in high school. So I’ve created an answer…

Well – I know who I am.

I have always said this, and said it boldly. This statement doesn’t mean that who I am won’t alter slightly or evolve, it simply means this: I am keenly aware of my strengths and my imperfections. I can tell you exactly how I will react to almost every situation. My honesty with myself often makes me pessimistic.

My home, my family, my spirituality, my friends, my boyfriend, my likes, my dislikes, my education, my hopes and my fears all (whether big or small) define me.

BUT – here’s the thing I’ve realized… When I say that I know who I am, it’s based on the (rather accurate) definition I’ve given myself, not necessarily what God says about who I am. I know it may seem rather lofty to insinuate that I know who God says I am, but I don’t think it is. I’ve started to comprehend that He’s already spelled out in His Word exactly who I am.

When I can confidently say that (in a situation) I have no purpose, He reminds me that I’m chosen. (John 15:19)

When I feel that I belong to no one, He claims me and says “You are mine.” (Psalm 50:10-12)

When I know that I’m being worthless, He calls me His beloved. (Deuteronomy 33:12)

When I am deserted, He tells me that I am sought after. (Isaiah 62:12)

Knowing who I am includes more than my realities, but also who God says that I am. 

I’ve spent this morning in tears remembering how much Christ loves me. It’s easy to forget since I’m away from the tangible people that show the love of Christ to me. I don’t have those people to depend on and I’m finding His love comforting, now, more than ever.

I visited Wells Cathedral last week and in this 800 year old church, I found a prayer of thanksgiving that the vicars would sing, I can’t help but echo it now:

“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.” 

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