A Letter to Harbor Life Church

Harbor Life Church, you have lived up to your name.

You were a harbor of safety to me after a year filled with storms.

You gave me life and restored my joy. Your church showered me in love from the Lord, and you became family to me.

I may have held it together in church today, but believe me, I had a good cry in the parking lot once I got in my car.

I left a piece of my heart on Wallace Ave today.

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Read Their Stories

I have this quote on my twitter bio that says “There isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you could read their story.” Even though I love the quote, there are some days that I have a really hard time believing it.

When I look at my newsfeeds I see stories of hatred. I see stories of violence. I see stories of fear. Stories of sexism, homophobia, racism. It feels like people are screaming out stories of darkness with a megaphone, and it makes it so difficult for me to even begin to love them.

Some days I don’t even want to know their stories; I don’t even want to give them a chance. I don’t like the stories that I see from people, and it’s really, really hard to love them. I don’t like the stories I see in myself, and it’s really really hard to love myself.

But still I do believe that every story is important, now more than ever. We need to listen to each other and learn our stories … even the people we don’t like. Their stories matter. My story matters. Your story matters. In every fiber of my being I believe this to be true. Why? Because my God tells me so.

My God says that His story is so big that it can redeem our stories. He steps into our past and fills our world with grace. He is the only one who can take evil and turn it into something beautiful.

I think in this time I’m looking for hope … and what hope means right now is understanding that there is a greater story. There is something bigger than me. There needs to be a bigger narrative arch than what I can see at the present moment. Now more than ever we can’t give up.

Obama said yesterday in response to the shooting in Baton Rouge “It is so important that everyone, regardless of race or political party or profession … focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it even further.” And he’s exactly right. We don’t need more darkness. We don’t need more hate. What we need right now is to learn each other’s stories with empathy …. Even when we really don’t want to.

I think that stories, empathy, and love is the recipe for hope.

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Picture: Unsplash / Pixabay.com

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One of my favorite pieces of writing is “i hope you feel the fireworks” by Jamie Tworkowski; I’ve mentioned it several times on this blog, yet it never seems to get old for me.

Last night, i hope you felt the fireworks. i hope you saw the wonder when skies filled up with color. And in the moment, i hope you were reminded that it’s possible, that beauty still happens. We don’t only live in books awake and dreams asleep. We are living our stories you and i, with dreams inside us undeniable, love to give and people to walk with. i hope for you what i hope for myself. i hope for you the hope to know it.

The Fourth of July is an emotional and meaningful time of year for me each time it comes around. Just three days before my birthday, the explosions act as a slideshow reminding me of all the beauty that has happened in the past year.

My birthday has been in so many locations in the past few years.

Four years ago training for music ministry in Guatemala.
Three years ago in my parent’s basement with a group of dear friends.
Two years ago on a rooftop in Sioux City.
Last year in the mountains of Colorado.
This year in western Michigan.

After so many summers of traveling and inconsistency, it has been amazing spending my time in one place. I’ve learned new roads, restaurants, coffee shops, faces, hearts, and stories. Grand Rapids has grabbed a piece of my heart, and each day I become more and more thankful that God led me out here for the summer.

A few days ago as I watched the fireworks, I was filled with gratitude. I’m grateful for the passing of time – that I’m not where I thought I’d be a year ago. I’m grateful for all of the heartache and growing that occurred in my twentieth year. It was the most painful and difficult year I’ve had so far, but I think it also was one of the most beautiful years I’ve ever had. It was that growing and stretching that brought me to where I am now, and I know it will continue to push me to where I’m going next.

You can launch fireworks off in the middle of the afternoon – as my neighbors like to do – but you don’t get to experience the beauty of them unless it is completely dark. I’m thankful for all the moments of darkness that provided the perfect canvas for fireworks in my life.

Tomorrow I turn twenty-one and I couldn’t be more excited – and no, it’s not for the reasons that you’d think.  I’m excited to start another year. I’m ready for new firework shows in my life. I’m ready to continue to see how the Lord continues to redeem my story.

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Stories Not Statistics

1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lifetime.

1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lifetime.

50% of rapists are 29 or younger.

80% of rape occurs by someone the victim knows – a friend, a classmate, a
teacher, a significant other, a spouse, a family member.

More than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October, or November.

Only 344 of 1,000 rapes are reported to the police; it is called “the most underreported violent crime in America.”

63 of these reports lead to arrests.

2% of rapists serve time.

944 of 1,000 rapists walk free.

 94% of women who are raped experience post-truamatic stress disorder symptoms during the two weeks following the rape. 30% report PTSD symptoms 9 months after the rape.

33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide, and 13% attempt suicide.

These are more than just numbers. This is reality.

The victims from Baylor, Stanford, and others whom have come forward with their stories in recent weeks are more than victims: they are people.

The numbers in these statistics are friends whom I have held, as they sobbed in my arms.

They are classmates, sitting through a lecture paralyzed in anxiety as the hospital leaves a message on their phone with the rape-kit results.

They are scars that don’t fade and bruises that don’t heal.

When someone close to you experiences rape and abuse, it is important to learn their story on their terms.

Hear me when I say: even if you think you don’t know a victim of rape, you do.

Some will tell you every detail of their story. Others may keep it a secret forever.

Some will speak publicly against rape, abuse, and pornography. Others may stay silent.

So how do we speak love and truth to our sisters and brothers who have experienced the trauma of rape if we don’t know their names?

  • Evaluate your sense of humor. (Rape jokes are never funny.)
  • Do not say things like “Wow, she’s really asking for it,” about your waitress wearing short shorts.
  • Make “consent” a regular discussion topic within your friend groups, schools, churches, households, etc.
  • Advocate for and invest in organizations and ministries that support abuse victims

Rape is a reality that extends far beyond statistics and new stories. These are our friends, cousins, siblings . . . it very well could even be you reading this. If we believe that each person is a story worth living, it is time for us to look beyond the statistics and enter the trenches with the victims of rape. It is time to walk with, to cry with, to pray with, and to fight with the people who have been treated unjustly.

Each story matters.

Sources:  rainn.org, nsvrc.org, pbs.org

Picture: Ryan McGuire / Pixabay.com

Why I Want to Work in the Church

A few years ago I went to a concert with a friend. The band played some their hits, and everyone sang along. It was loud, it was chaotic, and it was fun. About halfway through the concert, the mood changed. The band introduced one of their songs and said it was dedicated to a friend of theirs who had passed away from cancer. The friend was always positive and full of joy. Even though cancer took his life, he didn’t let cancer take the best of him.

All of the lights dimmed, and the crowd was silent and still. 15,000 people stopped what they were doing, joined together in one communal thought, and shared an experience together. Suddenly I saw a light from a cell phone shine from the right side of the arena. Just like a fire, the light spread to the entire stadium almost instantly. I’ve always loved stars and constellations, but dare I say this was even more beautiful. It was the crowd’s way of saying We know. We understand what you’re saying. And we’re sorry too.” No one told us to do anything, but as a very large group, we were able to convey a message of deep love just as the band was conveying theirs.

When I got home from the concert, I couldn’t help but think “That felt like church.”

When people ask me what I want to do after I graduate from Dordt, I usually answer “I want to work in the church,” and this is true. Through my worship arts classes at Dordt, I have learned so much about the church. We spend time in the book of Acts and in the epistles, learning about issues that the early church faced. We take classes learning the history behind the creeds and confessions of many different denominations and backgrounds. We study liturgy and why the Reformed church uses the liturgy that it does.

All of these things are important, and I’m thankful that we have such a large history to rely on in the twenty-first century church, but when it comes down to it, what is most important about being the church is being a community of love.

When Christ came, He did not leave behind a liturgy for His church to follow. He did not create a list of appropriate songs to sing in church, instructions on how many services a church should hold per week, or how many people make a church or ministry “successful”. The command that He left for His church was to love each other. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-45).

Hebrews 10:22-25 says “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Once we draw near to God, accepting the love and freedom that He gave to us, it is our job to act that way to others. If we want to show the world that we are Christ’s disciples, we must work to spur one another toward love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, but spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.” Christ tells us to love God and love others, not for our own sake, but for His. Christ gave us the ultimate example of sacrificial love, and calls us to live in the same way.

When I tell people that I want to work in the church, what I mean is I want to work in a community of love. I still love all the liturgy, the details, and the formalities that go into the church, but more importantly, I want to be a part of the living, breathing, and fully alive body of Christ. I want to be deeply immersed in a place where people support each other, encourage each other, challenge each other, and serve one another. I want to be in the community that listens to each others stories and points to a hope that remains true. And maybe sometimes being the church is not about being in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning, but raising the light on your cell phone in a concert.

Certainly the church is messy and complicated. Even with thousands of years of church tradition we are still left with questions of what to do and how to do it. But no matter what happens in our churches, we must agree to be a community of love, meeting together and encouraging one another to abide in the one who loves us perfectly.

Originally published on InAllThings.org

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You stepped into that tiny room for the first time on a humid, August afternoon. Sweat dripped down your back as you carried box after box from one end of campus to the other. You had no idea what was coming your way when you first turned the keys to unlock the door.

Six people lived in the small apartment; you were the glue that stayed between semesters.

Each corner, nook and cranny would come to mean something to you.

The middle cushion on the black couch where you sat as one FaceTime called ended your relationship.

The toilet where you threw up before your first counseling appointment because you were so nervous.

The fridge that proudly displayed Christmas cards and wedding invitations showing you day after day that you are loved.

The toaster oven that heated up all of your food until you splurged on Black Friday and bought yourself a microwave.

The light that poked through the bottom of your bedroom window and the sound of the clock ticking that kept you company on sleepless nights.

The oven that helped you create (and occasionally burn) your finest creations teaching you that you are growing up – and that means you’ll make mistakes.

The kitchen table that served as the gathering place of many late night conversations with dear friends.

The living room floor where you impulsively got a pixie cut again.

The yellow wall covered in x’s shaped like a world map which reminded you that life was bigger than your small experience of it.

The poster on your front door that each friend signed when they came to visit – each name bearing a significant and beautiful story.

You’ll spend three-quarters of a year in that little space, and you will walk away changed. As you take the last box load out to your car, you’ll take a deep breath knowing that this season is finally over.

That space was your sanctuary. Cry out hallelujah – you made it one more year.

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Good Film Asks Good Questions

I’ve said it over and over on this blog: I love film. I love being able to learn more about myself, the world, and the Lord through stories depicted on a screen. I love how each piece of the film – the colors, the music, the word choice, the camera angles – adds meaning and depth to the story. Its a place for me to escape for awhile into a story other than my own, but when the lights come up and the credits start to roll, somehow my story has changed too.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

A genius film a teacher that cares deeply about his students’ stories – an experience I hope each and every one of you have had before. What does it mean to live a good story, to follow your dreams, and to set new standards? Words and ideas can change the world. What will your verse be?

One of Robin William’s best – a whole dimension of depth is added to in in light of Mr. William’s suicide a few years ago.

Birdman (2014)

This film speaks heavily to the questions of what is truth and what does it mean to exist? Are you relevant if you aren’t connected to popular culture? Is the true you the version you put on your social media pages, and if not . . . what is the “real you”? It’s shot and edited to seem that it is all in one, long, sweeping shot. Our culture and our understanding of film has taught us to take life in short blips and segments – what happens when there is no break from the tension?

Fascinatingly mocking our Marvel-centered culture, each of the main actors have starred in superhero movie – Alejandro González Iñárritu has one of the most creative minds I’ve seen.

Up In The Air (2009)

If I had to sum up this movie in four words it would be “People need other people.” Life is messy; how much of it do we need to be vulnerable and share it with others?

Jason Reitman, who also directed Juno, has incredible soundtracks to his films, usually featuring songs with simple melodies, acoustic guitars, and powerful lyrics.

Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

If you’ve even got a pinch of feminism in you – or even if you are skeptical of the feminist movement – I highly recommend this movie to you. Where is a woman’s value? Her husband, her household, her schoolwork, her status? And while we’re asking deep questions – what is good art and who decides?

Feminism aside, I’m a huge fan of the 1950’s. The music! The cars! The clothes!  *swoon*.

Interstellar (2014)

Not to set your expectations too high, but I think this very well could be my favorite movie of all time. The film parallels Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), both films set in outer space, that challenge ideas on what it means to be human. Each struggle with the questions of where fault lies, technology or humanity, as well as other concepts such as control and love.

Things to keep your eye out for: Watch Cooper’s wedding ring (did Chris Nolan borrow a theme from his previous movie Inception?), characters’ names and what they could mean (*cough cough* Dr. Mann), and Anne Hathaway’s kickbutt pixie cut (just because it’s gorgeous.)

 

My list extends far beyond these five movies, but this should keep you busy for the first few weeks of summer – or let’s be honest – when you’re procrastinating on studying for exams.