PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.

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PC: KSB

Who is my neighbor?

You hear a lot of talk about loving your neighbor, but what does that really mean? Neighbor love can be defined in three ways and about 450 words, so let’s go.

Neighbors are the people that live on your street. Americans in general are pretty bad about knowing the people who live proximate to them. My dad, cognizant of the importance of loving the people in your local community, always made sure he built relationships with these neighbors and served them. I grew up knowing a few neighbors but definitely failed at reaching out to the people across the street and next door once I began renting on my own. That’s something I’m working on in my new location and which comes into the story in my next post.

Then there’s the idea of neighbor that Scripture holds in the story of the Good Samaritan: your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with.

This requires compassion for anyone you meet, regardless of having a pre-established trust. This requires a bit of bravery and stepping outside your comfort zone because you might not like the people you meet – you might even be from conflicting religious or ethnic groups as in the story Jesus told – but still God commands us to love, to give of ourselves and resources, to those neighbors. (And honestly, God doesn’t ask much else of us besides to love.)

Plus, getting to know the people you meet might not be bad! Why fear when you could have a spirit of openness and a vision to see the good in others? You could meet some pretty fantastic people by looking up, and if you hadn’t chanced it, you never would have known them. That’s how I met my collabo and now good friend on the single “Astrogirl,” and you can listen to it to see how that went!

Finally, this concept of loving neighbor applies to loving those you haven’t met but still impact indirectly through how you take care of the earth, stand up against systemic injustice, et cetera.

Even if you don’t immediately see the effects, someone will be impacted by your putting milk jugs and soda cans, which aren’t bio-degradable, into landfills, and it will eventually come back to you too. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by immigration policy, the migrants and refugees who spent years searching for safety and even being promised a home here, are. And even if your biological son wasn’t shot because of his skin color, that son’s family and community are impacted by your choice to stay silent or to speak up against racial injustice.

No person is more deserving of human rights and a safe and healthy home than another. No neighbor deserves less love because of cultural, emotional, or social distance.

Montana. PC: KSB

“My grace is sufficient”: praising God in the face of chronic back pain

“You’re too young to be in pain like this,” they tell me. I shrug and grin sadly. It doesn’t change that I have had chronic back and neck pain for the past six or seven years. I’m only 21.

In high school I went to the chiropractor about once a year for back pain. I thought this was normal, and maybe it was. Doctor Metzger was great, and I appreciated the adjustments he gave when my bones needed it. I also appreciated his honesty, jovial personality, and belief in natural medicine. But in college the pain intensified.

I remember lying in bed in Denver the summer after my freshman year, crying and praying that I could move my body in order to get up. My cousin Jonathan prayed for me from two time zones away, a bad chiropractor stole my money, and I wasn’t well enough to hike in the Rockies. Then sophomore year began.

I composed a mental list of friends who could massage well so I wouldn’t overburden one person when I desperately needed some relief. These student masseuses have been incredibly kind over the years, and I am deeply thankful to these friends. Yet even the most thorough massages would not be effective for long. At first they helped for a couple weeks, then a day or so, then only a few hours. Now they don’t do much at all except to provide very temporary relief and comforting physical touch.

The pain makes college more difficult since I spend all my energy controlling it, which hinders my learning in class and tires me out when it comes time to do homework. Praise the Lord that I have made it this far, with only a few months left until graduation! Although my back and neck issues have caused me to struggle, I am still on track to graduate. I know others whose diseases have set them behind or caused them to drop out of school.

About a year ago, I was in constant pain, and approximately once a week I would break down and not be able to walk, since the pain translated into a weakness in my extremities. I remember collapsing and sobbing in a pile of leaves after church one Sunday, unable to walk the quarter mile from church to the main campus building. Dry leaves served as my tissues, and after the tears had released enough tension in my back, I managed to walk home with multiple rest stops. Typically the pain would build back up over the course of a week until my next breakdown. The pain was usually worst on Sundays, which I understood as a spiritual attack.

This pain hindered not only my own body but also my work in Goma, DRC, this past summer. When I was too weak to teach English one day, I lay crying on a couch in the director’s office and then held my friend Clarice’s hand. My driver took me across Goma to search for medicine so I could prevent more breakdowns and work again.

The pain came to a climax in the first week of my senior year this past fall when I broke down four times in one week. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish college although I’d worked so hard to get to this point and God had shown himself so faithful to bring me there. I began going to doctors and having my friends carry my bags and support me physically as I walked.

I have learned to ask for help when I need it, for I cannot do everything on my own. I am weak on my own. But I am not alone, not with God’s Spirit in me and His people around me.

I’ve been to chiropractors in recent years, but they can’t offer an explanation and don’t do much to help my larger problem. X-rays say my bones are fine. Finally I went to an alternative doctor who confirmed that my problems aren’t structural but rather a conglomeration of internal issues that have built up over years and manifested especially in my shoulder and neck — viruses I’ve had since birth or gotten from a vaccine, strep in my shoulder, and so on. No wonder massages and chiropractic adjustments couldn’t fix me.

This doctor’s remedies have helped a great deal, allowing me to go even weeks without thinking about the pain, although my back would still be uncomfortable at times. What a gift! But a little after Christmas break, the pain started to worsen again. Two weeks ago, I had to stop six times on the four block walk from my house to the place where we had worship practice because I wasn’t strong enough to carry my guitar. I just kept praying, “Yesu, Yesu, Yesu,” taking strength in the name of Jesus.

When I arrived at worship practice, the pianist was playing “Because of Who You Are.” I asked her to keep playing piano, just keep playing, and I laid on the ground and cried. That afternoon I decided to praise God regardless of my pain. I told Him and my team that even if I suffer with this pain for the rest of my life, I will give Him glory and praise.

Since then, I have taken new joy in my suffering. Instead of neglecting God in my trials, I will turn to Him. He has shown himself to be mindful and good and gracious and faithful, and my life would be desolate without the hope Jesus gives. The Bible promises that God will make everything new, and I long for that restoration. Meanwhile, God has given me incredible friends to support me emotionally and help me in my physical need, people who pray for me, and people who can relate to me and guide me along. I am blessed.

I believe Jesus heals, and I’ve witnessed Him do it multiple times in multiple places from Goma to Wheaton. I don’t understand why he heals some people and not others or why some people are healed on the spot and others wait for years. In all this, I do know that His love is constant and faithful and sweet. And I will praise Him for all my days on this broken earth and in heaven where all things are made whole.

 

Leading worship at a multicultural worship night. PC: Wheaton College Student Activities Office

Live to worship

7:23 PM – I fiddled on the violin as Henry set up the sound system and turned on the keys. The song began as a rehearsal for Sunday’s worship, but it morphed into something else. After ten minutes, it was a new song, and I removed my shoes.

Every third quarter note, the drum set emitted a crescendo like cymbals. The resonance of Henry’s keyboard traveled across the empty stage to make it ring and fill the room with the sound of ghost musicians. I harmonized in the microphone as Henry led the worship song. My voice filled the space with improvised lyrics, prayers to our Father in Heaven.

Eventually we brought the song back to the original lyrics, closing the song with a prayer paralleling the introduction. “I love the Lord for He heard my cry and He delivered me from my fear/ and He lifted me up higher and higher… I believe You move at the sound of my voice/ You heard my cry and You answered me… I just wanna thank You/ I just wanna praise You/ I just wanna sing a song of love and have Your heart be moved by mine/ O God, be moved by mine.”

The power of prayer, revealed by the Holy Spirit through human voices over electronic keys and soft percussion. The power of prayer, captured in lyrics written by covered and covered by Jaye Thomas, read in the combined quote above. The power of prayer, like a psalm, a form of writing that is itself a musical call to God.

7:48 PM – I slipped my bare feet into my shoes, he shut off the sound system, and we went home.


Worshipping with my friend Henry this Christmas break made me realize how much I miss my worship team in Illinois. It has only been a few weeks since we practiced, only a few weeks since we conquered finals and rode into Christmas break, but those weekly times of worship are precious to me. Every Monday we meet to pray, fellowship, and worship God through music. We practice our pronunciation and have fun on the glockenspiel as we prepare to lead our multilingual community in worship.

This year I prayed for a team of worshippers, people who would want to spend time with the Holy Spirit even if we did not have an event to prepare for that particular week. God answered my prayer and has blessed us all through our habitual times of fellowship with each other and with Him.

This January I have the honor of helping to lead worship for Snow Camp, a winter retreat. My team plans on attending the weekend event as well, although we will not lead the worship together. A colleague is organizing the time, but I have the privilege of contributing to the set and leading vocals. Preparing for this throughout the month of December has thrilled me because I anticipate the Holy Spirit’s presence and power at the retreat and desire to know the Spirit more even now.

One of my main purposes in life is to worship God through music and prayer. Worshipping Him renews the life in me since I am spending time communing with the one who gave me new life: Jesus Christ. What joy!

David and Asaph knew this joy when they wrote the Psalms. They knew God’s heart and His faithfulness as they sang songs of worship and praise, songs that begged for Him to intervene and rescue them, songs that always ended in some form of reflection on who God is. Songs of sorrow and songs of dancing. Prayers, put to music.

Israel Houghton sings it accurately: “To worship You I live / I live to worship You.” This is my purpose: to glorify God. This is the purpose of any Christian, in fact, through whatever gifts and privileges He has granted you. May the new year only increase your desire to know God’s heart and worship Him, the Almighty One.

Three Words on Waiting

Waiting: it seems like the theme of my life. I was wait-listed twice before being accepted into my college. I have been waiting to find the right guy since high school. I am now waiting on my visa from the Democratic Republic of Congo so I can finally visit the country where I hope to live. Although I recognize I am by no means the longest-sufferer around, I feel that I have experienced a good amount of waiting in my short life, and I would like to encourage you in your times of waiting.

1. Waiting is frustrating.

Let me just put that out there. In this impulse-driven American society, even an hour can seem like an eternity. If I don’t want to wait sixty minutes to enjoy a home-cooked dinner, I will stick a potato in the microwave so I can eat in five minutes. Others may call in take-out or go on a Los run. When I see the little check mark signifying that a friend has read my message but then does not reply for a couple hours, the waiting makes my imagination go all sorts of places. (No, they don’t hate you, Skye. They’re probably studying and will reply later.)

And when you are waiting for something you have put your heart into, such as applying to college or for a visa, frustrating may not be an emotional enough word. Waiting can be worrisome . . . unless you realize that God is in control and has asked you to lay your burdens at his feet. In the words of Gospel singer Travis Greene, “He’s intentional, never failing.”

So what do we do in the meanwhile?

2. Wait actively.

In other words, waiting does not equal passivity. Let me be clear: I am not saying, “God helps them who help themselves.” That adage is not found anywhere in Scripture. In fact, that adage elevates humans to God’s level and limits him to a failsafe. In reality, we can see God’s help most when we are helpless. Jesus mentions this in Mark 2:15-17 regarding our need of God due to the sin we all have. But I have digressed.

While God is not our genie in a bottle that we call when we have met our limits, he is also not a genie who does everything for us if we do have faith. We still have lives to live while we trust him, and we can honor God by living lives worthy of Him (not loafing around waiting for him to do something magical).

In my current situation, I have done everything humanly possible to pursue my goal, but God operates on his own time and not necessarily ours. Sometimes there is nothing left to do other than wait for your visa with patience, faith and integrity – praying all the way.

Prayer should not a cop-out to avoid a particular task; rather, it is a powerful and effective tool we use when we come before the King of Kings. It is a pleasing fragrance to him. It is a way to beg our Abba for mercy and grace (and visas). No request is too large or small, but his answers come in his time. Hence the waiting again.

3. There is a purpose to the waiting.

A few months ago when I was in the middle of preparing for my summer trip overseas, a friend shared some encouragement. She and I were texting about a couple matters including my summer trip, and she talked with me about waiting. I did not understand why she brought this up since I was confident in my plans and excited for the summer, but now I find her words quite applicable.

This friend shared a song with which I was familiar through my worship team: “Sovereign Over Us,” The lyrics read, “You are working in the waiting/ you are sanctifying us/ and beyond our understanding/ you are teaching us to trust.” That sounds about right. I don’t understand why I must wait, but I do  know I must trust God. Then comes the promise in the chorus: “Your plans are still to prosper/ you have not forgotten us/ you are with us in the fire and in the flood/ you’re faithful forever/ perfect in love/ you are sovereign over us.” Amen.

Admittedly, I do not know the purpose to this wait. Neither does the organization I will be joining. But I know that if nothing else, God can use this time to glorify himself through all of us who are waiting — if we wait upon him.

 

Hold on to hope, friends. God is for us, and he will not fail his people. Pursue your God-given dreams and plans, and trust him in the process. And if you do not have a specific vision from Him now, honor God wherever you are. He is faithful.

When God Said No to Shalom

Last spring break, I was grieving. My college was under spiritual attack, a man had just broken my heart and I found out that I was not accepted into the Shalom Community.

The Shalom Community, which began in fall 2013, is comprised of two houses, one male and one female, as part of Housing and the Office of Multicultural Development. It exists to further racial reconciliation on campus. The houses are intentionally multicultural, and the students living there are required to take a sociology course titled “Race and Ethnic Relations.” They live together much like a normal on-campus house, but the educational aspect differentiates the Community from other houses. The Shalom Houses also meet once a week, sometimes for discussions on race related topics, sometimes to share stories and sometimes simply to have fun. Occasionally they host a campus-wide event as well.

Everyone expected I would be accepted into Shalom. I’m all about racial reconciliation, after all. Since my freshman year, the first year the houses existed, I had planned on living there. In fact, I had planned my college life around being in the Shalom Community.

Then, just before spring break, my friends and I heard the news. Iliana was in. Jen was in. Christy was in. I was not. We were all shocked.

When I ran to the bathroom to weep, I bumped into two of my friends who had just heard the exciting news that they were accepted. They graciously mourned with me even as they rejoiced for themselves.

Over spring break and in the following weeks, one housing option after another failed me. Most of my friends were in Shalom, and the rest already had plans. I asked about eleven different groups of people about joining them, but they always ended up finding a “better fit” instead. With few weeks left in the school year and no housing options for the summer or fall, I was desperate and broken. I felt unwanted and rejected.

I understood why I had not been accepted into Shalom House: They told me they had many good options and hated saying no to anyone, but they had to choose, and they knew I’d continue to pursue racial reconciliation on my own. I was encouraged despite my grief. But I still didn’t have a place to live.

I had been searching for housing both on and off campus, although off campus housing is limited to a quota and is not often granted to rising juniors. Miraculously, Housing approved the option. I continued to search, walking through nearby neighborhoods, asking church friends, even knocking on a door of what I’d mistakenly been told was an off campus house of college girls.

One evening I visited another church friend to ask if her family would have room for me. As I sat in her kitchen, crying in my fear of being homeless, she and her husband fed me fruit and shared their stories of not knowing where they would go for the summer up to the day before and how God provided. With their daughter and grandson moving in, they didn’t think it would be wise for me to live there, but they prayed over me and sent me home with money and—a luxury at the time—a couple bananas.

A few days later, that friend called to notify me about a house one of her other children had described to her. She urged, “Here’s the lady’s number. Call her now!!” While on the line with her, that number called me. I returned the call as soon as I hung up with my friend, and within fifteen minutes I was being picked up by a stranger to visit the house.

Felicity K Day 1

PC: Rebekah Haworth

We drove four blocks through the dark, and I was greeted by a five year old girl with curly blond hair, who I learned was the youngest of six. They showed me the basement—the kitchenette with a washing machine and dryer, the bathroom, the rooms for rent. Utilities were included in the low monthly price. The house was near campus. The little girl was smiley and ticklish. I returned to my dorm excited.

A few days later, we finalized the housing deal. Two weeks later, I moved in for the summer and beheld my new home for the first time in daylight: a brick house with a row of bushes on the left side, a maple tree out front and a kindergarten sign by the door.

I have lived there for ten months now, and I have become part of the family, the Haworths. Over the summer, the oldest girls “officially fake adopted me,” and just this past week, the youngest told me I am “basically like a big sister.” My relationships differ depending on the person, but I have grown close to the family and enjoy going home each evening to hang out with them. I love having a home to which I can return on break without having the temporary feel of a dorm from which I would be expelled.

Yet I am often included by this year’s Shalom Community as well. My friends in Shalom honor me by counting me as part of the houses. When other students assume I am in Shalom, I correct them, but my friends butt in and affirm that I am basically a part of Shalom. Last semester I spent time there daily. Although we have all been busy and I have been hiding out my house a lot more this semester, they still count me as part of them. For example, the other day one of my Shalom friends asked if I was going home, and when I replied that I was indeed going to my house to make dinner, she said, “No, I meant home with me.” Moments like this cause me feel loved, although I praise God that I am part of the Haworth household as well.

For many months I did not realize why I had not been accepted into Shalom House. As new friends wait to see if they are accepted into next year’s Shalom Community, my emotions are flavored like salted, bittersweet chocolate chips. I am sad that I will graduate from Wheaton College without having lived at Shalom — or at least that I will never be able to say I lived there. But I know now that I could not afford to live on campus. I know I need the space to get away and be alone off campus. I also know I love living with the family. At last I can see how God’s plans are infinitely better than mine.

To the new Shalomers, congratulations! God is going to work awesome things in and through you via the Shalom Community. And to those who are not accepted this year, I understand and am sorry. If you are sad, take time to grieve. Continue to pursue racial reconciliation via education and life style, e.g. social circles and future decisions. Trust in God’s faithfulness and provision even as you grieve. For all of you, God is at work, and he is with you.

 

 

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The bloody beauty of Communion

“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” While singing a hymn about Jesus, I take a cracker piece from a silver platter and pass it to the Believer next to me. Everyone in the room eats the bread as one, partaking in the first “course” in the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as Communion or the Eucharist.

Crunch, crunch, mangled flesh. The image revolts me, yet I am chewing this flesh. Raw. It is Jesus’ body, which he sacrificed for me.

“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” All around me, heads tip backwards as together we sip grape juice from tiny plastic cups. We are proclaiming Christ Jesus’ death. We celebrate the victory of grace Jesus demonstrated when he took our eternal punishment on the Gethsemane cross.

Swallow, gulp, fragrant blood. I shudder; perhaps the woman next to me notices, but she is silent. I detect an aftertaste from the juice. I picture Jesus’ blood on the cross, in my mouth, in my body now, shed for the forgiveness of my sins. For the redemption of the world.

I was raised to view Communion symbolically. I still lean that way. But my Christian Thought class from last spring opened up faith conversations with which I was not always familiar. For example, Roman Catholicism claims we are eating Christ’s actual flesh and drinking his actual blood when we take Communion. This phenomenon known as transubstantiation is derived from Gospel passages like the ones I quoted. Ever since I learned about this, Communion has become a more vivid and powerful reminder of Jesus’ saving sacrifice.

That is the point. At his Last Supper, the Jewish Passover, Jesus began the Christian tradition of Communion, but he never meant for it to be a thoughtless ritual. I do not want to forget his sacrifice despite its physical repulsiveness.

At the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the crowds did not see a handsome, naked man with a perfectly combed beard on some smooth planked pedestal. Nay, they witnessed a bloody, gnarled, practically dismembered body essentially lynched on couple tree branches shaped like a T.

They came to view the humiliation of the two convicts alongside my perfect King, but I don’t know why they were drawn to the inhuman spectacle.

Yet I too am drawn to it, only in a different way. Jesus uses the Communion Table to draw me to himself, for I am part of his body now. His Spirit is in me, and I am his. I do not desire to view his formerly grotesque body in any bloodthirsty manner. Rather, I am grateful, so grateful, that he sacrificed his body for the world and thus for me, so I can spend eternity with God, whole and redeemed and new.

Jesus is full of grace and truth. I must remember him and proclaim his deep love, as demonstrated in his body and blood.

For this reason, I eat his flesh and drink his blood until he returns. And Jesus is coming soon! When he gathers his Church to him and makes all things new, we shall drink wine again in his heavenly kingdom, this time in celebration. The members of his Church, his Body and Bride, will have new bodies. We will be complete and whole, for he is making all things new.

Until then, I remember him. I proclaim his death until his coming. And through his death, I live.