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I come to You in pieces…

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Confession: I started writing this post almost nine months ago, during my third week in Vegas, but I essentially left it alone until this past week.

It’s crazy to think it’s been a year since I found out that the missions committee at my church, Morrison Heights in Clinton, had placed me in Vegas to serve with Tropicana Christian Fellowship and Safely Home Refugee Ministry as a summer missionary, over 9 months since I flew to Vegas, and over 7 months since I returned home.

Everything I experienced through “the path through Las Vegas” hit me like a fire hose… An overwhelming, strong blast. And right after my return home, so did the weight of the responsibilities I had from the days following my return until the end of the fall semester.

For months following my return, I honestly couldn’t wrap my mind (or my heart) around my experiences well enough to answer the question I was asked by many encouraging people: “What’s God taught you through Vegas?” I’ll be honest… As I was basically thrown into everything that serving as a Vice President / pledging chair of my social tribe would involve, I put off processing my experiences.

How God worked in my life through this pledging process is a different story, but I’m acknowledging that I definitely should’ve processed first. It’s much easier to shake everything off (well, at least attempt to do so), especially in the midst of hectic times, than to deal with the emotions thrusted upon us by the world, both around us and in us. However, there’s seriously no other way to realize that this world is not our home, so here we go…

I learned so much about so much… like the details of how someone becomes forcibly displaced and bears that status as an IDP, a refugee, or an asylum-seeker. The crises forcing people from countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and DR Congo to flee. The ins and outs of refugee ministry, like teaching ESL and citizenship classes, helping refugees with basics like insurance and credit cards, etc. The overwhelming process of being resettled here as well as all the issues when resettlement agencies don’t do what they’re supposed. The background on and impact of various non-Western cultures. The background on religions like Buddhism and Islam and how they impact people’s lives and views on Christianity and Christians. The absence of husbands for so many women and of fathers for so many women, girls and boys, including those in the Church. How consistently loving people who are different from you like Christ does can and does change lives, even when it takes a lot of time, patience and faith.

Right before my trip started, I also learned about the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) and found out that I’d be able to travel with Cynthia, the founder/director of Safely Home, to the RHP’s annual North American Refugee Roundtable conference, this time in Toronto, during my stay. While I was there, I realized my new God-given passion and extensively researched it… serving refugees with disabilities as an occupational therapist! My heart still leaps when I think about it. Also, after spending time praying and receiving wise counsel, I even decided to change my major from biology to international studies… yes, as a junior. (But hey, I’m always excited to go to my classes, and I’ll thankfully still graduate on time!)

So yes, to put it briefly, God used’s this trip in countless ways to completely change my life.

In addition to my experiences concerning ministry in Vegas as well as refugee ministry in general, the reality of this post’s title, a line from a song by Red, one of my favorite bands, called “Pieces” struck me during my trip. It hit me hard then and is still hitting me now… Over the years, I’ve experienced disappointment, confusion, hurt, and grief from acquaintances, strangers, friends, family, and even the Church. I also realized the extent to which anxiety has impacted me, especially last semester.

In both Vegas and Toronto, I witnessed broken lives to an extent I’d heard of in statistics and in the news, but never with names and face-to-face conversations… Absolute horrors. Broken families. Broken relationships. Broken stories. Broken souls.

With all of this, out West, up North, and at home, I’ve further witnessed the brokenness in my own life… Pain caused by broken relationships, misunderstandings from myself and others, others’ sin, and certainly my own sin. I’m realizing how deeply my emotions, my suppression of these emotions, and former addictions have impacted me long-term.

One step at a time, I’m taking in the beauty of God’s decision to give us emotions… He gave them to us so they could help us experience life to the fullest, not to destroy it.

Also, I hope this encourages you and challenges you like it has me… Not long before I left for Vegas, my pastor did a sermon series on biblical book I’d never read or learned about before: Ecclesiastes. Y’all, it’s striking. The “preacher,” believed by many to be Solomon, solemnly conveys to the audience that everything “under the sun,” that is, without God, is completely worthless; it’s vanity. Without God, everything we live for is a complete waste. Our story, our background, our circumstances, and our future. Like every other book of the Bible, this book points us, you and me both, to the truth: Christ is the only reason for any of us to live. He made the ultimate sacrifice for every one of us, and He’s called us to devote our lives to Him.

Friends, He has a purpose for you. He knows your heart. He’s worth it all.

“I’ve come undone, but You make sense of who I am, like puzzle pieces in Your eye… Then I’ll see Your face; I know I’m finally Yours. I find everything I thought I lost before. You call my name; I come to You in pieces so You can make me whole.” — Red, ‘Pieces’

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The Innocence of a Heart in Your Hands

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The namesake of this post’s title is a line from a song of worship sung by Melodie Malone called ‘Simple Pursuit.’ This line from the first verse stuck out to me from the first time I heard it at the Passion conference in January.

Innocence is a topic that’s my heart has been more and more deeply exploring for a while, but I haven’t known how to wonder and express my wondering through writing. However, truth shared with me this weekend has helped me out.

Innocence is primarily defined by Merriam-Webster as “freedom from guilt or sin through being unacquainted with evil” and “freedom from legal guilt of a particular crime or offense.”

The Lord has placed and grown incredible relationships in my life this semester, and as I’ve allowed these people to trust me and begun to trust them myself, this reality has sunk in: None of us are innocent. Not one. Anybody, regardless of his/her beliefs, would verify this statement.

The Bible reveals that it all started with the first sin, committed by Adam and Eve. Before this moment, before evil entered the world, they were living in perfect relationship with God; they were undoubtedly innocent, the only two people whose lives started that way. After they first sinned, however, shame entered the world–they experienced it because of their nakedness, and they showed it by attempting to hide from God.

Unfortunately, not only does our sins rob us of our innocence, but the consequences of others’ sins steal it from us as well. Whatever degree of “scandal” these sins possess, they scar us and certainly tarnish the way we see our perfect God as well as the people and the circumstances around us. We end up sadly, more times than not, confusing our distorted perception of Him for Him.

Sin keeps us from giving ourselves to our Creator and perfect Father, and it distorts our view of Him and His will for us. Why do we (again using first-person plural to include myself) desensitize ourselves to the depravity of this reality?

Now I’ll share some beautiful truth that’s begun to penetrate my heart all over again… (I didn’t know the Old Testament context here before this weekend.)

In Leviticus, after the Tabernacle had been erected so the Lord could share His presence with His people, He allowed them to regain innocence through atonement–the reconciliation of them to Him–through sacrifices. These sacrifices covered (canceled) one’s sins, were motivated by God’s perfect love, and occurred through the shedding of blood. Each type of offering had specific requirements and possessed a certain purpose.

Now, why were these requirements so strict? Again, it all started with Adam and Eve… Why must blood be shed to cover sins? When they fell into temptation, the Lord took an animal from the Garden of Eden, killed it, and used the skins to cover them up. Why does this animal have to be unblemished? All animals in the Garden were unblemished before the Fall.

What does this have to do with us today, thousands of years later? What does it have to do with Jesus? Everything.

The Bible reveals to us, specifically in the Gospels, that the Lord provided us with the ultimate atonement, for all our sins, so we don’t have to make animal sacrifices anymore. He offered the greatest unblemished sacrifice–His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and died a sinner’s death. Christ propitiated His Father’s wrath so that we may experience grace. THIS IS LIFE-CHANGING.

As we accept His grace and receive Him as our Savior, Colossians reveals to us that we are raised from death (eternal separation from God due to sin) to life and receive His Holy Spirit. Yes, because we’re all still impacted by the unimaginable mess of the Fall, Satan uses sin to enslave us by destroying our innocence, our ideas, and our will and to produce more sin, sickness, pain, and even death. Yes, he is certainly powerful, but JESUS HAS WON. And He’s our advocate. INSIDE US.

Now, this grace cost God His own Son, so it must be costly to us as well. It calls us to follow Him; it calls us to hide with Christ and allow Him to rule every aspect of our lives. It calls us to kill the ways of our old, pre-salvation selves and become more like Him. It calls us to be rooted in, built up in, and walking with Christ. It calls us to experience progressive sanctification. Yes, we screw this up; it battles our human nature; it even feels like hell at times. However, because of Christ, it is possible. It’s worth it because it’s who God created us to be.

Specifically in college, my experiences have basically taught me the Gospel that I claim all over again. The Lord has used my loss of innocence and my witnessing of others’ loss of innocence, which impact me more deeply as sin tightens its grip (including when we fall into apathy towards sin), to disclose to me more and more my grave necessity for Him and the beauty of complete surrender to Him.

We will never experience innocence like Adam and Eve did before the Fall, until we’re united with our Father again in Heaven. Until then, though, He has offered us reconciliation–freedom. I hope and pray that the truth of who He is and what He’s done for you empowers you to follow Him in freedom and experience the innocence of your heart in His hands.

“Keep our hearts real. Keep Your grace close. You’re bringing us back. You’re bringing us home to an unswerving faith in the power of Your name, a heart beating for Your kingdom to reign, a Church that is known for Your presence again. God, take us back.” — Passion feat. Melodie Malone, ‘Simple Pursuit’

 

From a Special Needs Sibling

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Warning: I’m bringing you guys some real talk here.

Christian has mostly nonverbal, moderately severe autism. He needs constant supervision. Despite my sister Leslie and me being the same age as him (age 20), we appear to be the older siblings. Adam (age 25), Leslie, and I are the “normal” ones.

I’ve felt guilty that I can do things that Christian can’t—be educated in a typical classroom, hang out with friends, eat out in restaurants (severe food sensitivities and GI issues also factor in), go to the movies, perform in choir and theatre, drive a car, go to college, etcetera.

Honestly though, I’ve also pitied myself for all the things my family and I can’t do because of his limitations, including those that many people wouldn’t even think about.

I’ve been irritated when he hyperactively runs throughout the house, and I’ve been embarrassed when he flaps his hands and rocks his body back and forth while we’re in public. And I’m still guilty of this sometimes.

I grew up with the heavy weight of responsibility not only to make up for Christian’s limitations, but to appear completely needless and self-sufficient. I had to have it all together and try to help care for my whole family.

We’ve had to learn how to best handle the meltdowns and the sensory overload. I’ve had to accept the fact that having both of my parents at important events is almost always impossible. I’ve also fought overwhelming feelings of both pride and helplessness, and I’m still fighting.

Seeing strangers, acquaintances, and even my own friends give Christian a “look” when they first see his behavior (and his protective helmet) frustrates me. Hearing people make ignorant jokes about people with special needs, or even just seeing them be passive when someone needs help, pains me. Witnessing Christian experience sadness, frustration, hurt, or grief without the ability to verbalize them burdens me. Seeing him have grand-mal seizures one after another (as of this morning, 160 in three years) grieves me. Experiencing the consequences of our dad moving out last November and witnessing my family, especially Christian, process it all has completely rocked my world.

Our family receiving compassion and patience from people, especially those who have never had close contact with people with special needs, encourages me. Seeing people’s desire to become more aware of special needs and help the people who experience them inspires me. Taking in Christian’s smiles, laughter, and uncontested joy brings me joy of my own. The Lord constantly reminding me of His strength being made perfect in my weakness empowers me. The Lord showing me how desperately I need Him and drawing me nearer to Him in these trials has brought me deeper than I ever thought possible in my mere twenty years.

I’m eager for others to know that this joyful, compassionate, brilliant human named Christian is, in fact, a person—made in the image of God. Life is hard, and life in a special needs family is even harder, with wider curves and more frequent bumps in the road. The Lord is using my experiences as Christian’s sister to teach me about Himself, more specifically about sympathy, compassion, patience, vulnerability, joy, gratitude (especially in the small things), and utter (key word) dependence on God.

“The pain will not define us; joy will reignite us. You’re the song, You’re the song of our hearts. The dark is just a canvas for Your grace and brightness. You’re the song, You’re the song of our hearts.” – Rend Collective, ‘Joy’

A Time to Reflect

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Quite a lot happened during my last several weeks away, since I last wrote… So here are some thoughts I’m sharing from the past two months.

On one of my last nights in White Rock, Earl let me know that the two of us were heading to the beach. While he went down the pier to start conversations with people, I decided to split from him and walk along the shore. The beauty of my surroundings overwhelmed me, not for the first time… but I decided to listen, to solely focus on hearing His voice.

With each step I took, “Pray to Me.” “Be patient with Me.” “Trust Me.”

He spoke words to me that I’ve wanted to obey but have been halted time and time again by my failures; by my broken, restless, stubborn heart. I started to pray, something I’ve never been consistent with. I asked Him to awaken my heart with desire for His voice, patience to glorify Him as His will unfolds, and trust that He will always embrace my wandering heart and fulfill His promises.

My mind turned to the people around me. Families and couples enjoyed the sunset and the tide, but a conversation I could clearly hear struck me…  “It may be depression.” I turned around to see three girls around my age. “I’ve learned a lot about it and witnessed how it affects people, but I’ve just been ‘meh.’ I don’t know.” My heart broke.

To sum things up, since I arrived in White Rock, the beauty of all I’ve experienced has pushed me. They’ve forced me to seriously reflect on my life and the lives around me, deeper than ever before.

I’m learning to follow in the Lord’s steps. To trust Him as my Father. To give thanks to Him. To be patient with Him, His timing, and the people He’s created. To glorify Him in everything.

To fully break so He can fully heal me. To be vulnerable, in whatever ways I need to. To love the best and worst things about people. To share His name, Love, with everyone I meet.

Most importantly, I’m learning to never take His name, or the undeserved opportunity to follow Him, lightly.

“I come with my broken song to You, the perfect One, to worship You in spirit and truth, only You. Give me a childlike heart; lead me to where You are. I’m coming back to my first love, only You.” — Rend Collective, ‘Simplicity’

Love Himself

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It’s no wonder why so many people visit White Rock or decide to live here… It has to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

The temperature never exceeds 75 degrees, humidity is rare, the most rain you get here is some drizzling, the view of the Pacific and the Rockies is always breathtaking, restaurants like Charlie Don’t Surf and Tim Hortons blow your tastebuds away, food and drinks always taste fresh (since they don’t have additives), people say you gain 10 years of your youth back living here… and Surrey, Steveston, and Vancouver don’t disappoint, either.

The real reason I’m falling in love with this place, though, is the people.

I’ve met quite a few so far, all from many different places and cultures. I’ve been able to talk to senior adults during their last weekly lunch at Salvation Army Church; begin volunteering at the Evergreen Baptist Campus of Care (nursing homes are called care homes here); hang out with teens from a local Chinese church; and talk about life with Christina, a woman whose thrift shop supports medical relief efforts in Haiti.

I’ve heard about life-long careers and wonderful families from some of the precious Evergreen residents, while the others have had most of their memory stolen from them by dementia.

Christina has shared about the Lord’s goodness in her life and her aspiration to give desperately-needed medical help in Haiti, while tarot-card readers, psychics, and a New Age store also line Marine Drive.

I’ve worshiped Christ with joyful and loving Chinese teens, while I’ve also witnessed people wholeheartedly worship and give offerings to thousands of their gods at a Buddhist temple.

People’s walls here are high. This place is shattered (to extents I’d never seen before) by pain, lies, and the desire to just run, but GOD is greater. His love is greater than the deepest pain and the greatest lie and the strongest desire. And that’s why we’re here.

It’s only been a week, but I’m already so thankful for this opportunity to step out of the noise of home to hear the Lord’s voice. To let Him heal my heart that, like so many others in White Rock, has been broken and torn. To see Him in the lives of Earl, Meridith, and Christina, who all passionately follow Jesus. To be face-to-face with Love Himself, although I’ll never be enough to sing His praise. To show people here the truth of who He is and who He has created us to be: His children.

“Behold the bright and risen Son, more beauty than this world has known. I’m face to face with Love Himself–His perfect, spotless righteousness. A thousand years, a thousand tongues are not enough to sing His praise.” — Rend Collective, ‘Boldly I Approach’

A Time to Process

Never did I think I’d come to the dark side of starting a blog (haha). Instead of starting it by sharing info about my trip, though, I’ll start off with confessions that have been on my heart recently.

1) I’ve never been a person for words.

I’ve never exactly been good at connecting words or providing them myself. While I’m fascinated by the creativity in words, I have a math/science mind. Numbers, equations, laws, and theories all make sense to me (most of the time), like defined pieces of a puzzle.

More than that, words are concrete. Things get real with words written on a page or spoken from one’s mouth. Facts and opinions. Joys and struggles. Words mean defining the existence of certain things, whether you want them to be real or not.

2) I’m terrible at processing things.

Processing circumstances, like writing or speaking, means admitting that they, big and small, and their burden on us (and those around us) are real. Then, processing emotions, like venting or weeping, means admitting that we’re vulnerable to these circumstances.

Pride stops me from processing in the first place. Then, more times than not, when I do finally feel determined to process, like I can push myself through it this time, fear stops me.

3) I’m still realizing this: Processing is not the obstacle. Pride and fear are.

Throughout my freshman year of college and my family life’s turn upside down, my gut instinct has been to move right along with the world around me: no time to process, and it’s totally inconvenient. I don’t want to disturb anyone. So is it really necessary?

After months of learning this the hard way, I want to share this with you if you’re reading this and don’t pay attention to anything else in this post… moving forward is IMPOSSIBLE without moving through these things that are so difficult and heartbreaking.

Pray to the Lord. PLEAD with the One who loves you as His child and from whose control nothing was left out. Read the Holy Word, His personal letter to you. Share your heart with the people He’s placed in your life to trust. Love them by letting those people share their hearts with you. Step back to realize that you will never be enough without Christ, and that your circumstances will never satisfy you. Sometimes it’s writing these things down. Sometimes it’s compartmentalizing. Sometimes it’s crying your eyes out, no matter how much you don’t want to. Sometimes it’s sitting alone, reminding yourself of the truth of who Christ is and who you are in Him. Sometimes it’s doing this with a friend or two. Sometimes it’s someone else doing this for you as you sit in silence. Sometimes it’s putting this stuff on the back burner for a while. Sometimes it’s pausing to invest in the people around you.

Whatever it is, processing is vital. And it’s okay.

Take some time to breathe. Take in the grace and mercy of the Father, and love Him.