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The More You Know

January 10, 2018

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As we endured one of the most brutal cold snaps in Boston history last week, I overheard many people—friends at church, delivery personnel, cashiers—remark on their worry for those in the homeless community. I was encouraged that it seemed like so many people were mindful of those without shelter; but I was also disheartened that concern was almost always followed up by comments about not knowing how to help. I think this can often be our biggest obstacle in terms of entering in with practical love and mercy–what in the world are we actually supposed to do in the face of physical suffering??

Over the past six months of volunteering with Starlight Ministries, I’ve found that one of the most valuable aspects has been learning about the various resources that are available in the city. I’ve become more aware of available assistance, programs, shelters, and services, and though I’m not always able to offer help to those I pass or chat with, I certainly feel more equipped and prepared having simple information in my arsenal.

Starlight Ministries posted a helpful article on the Emmanuel Gospel Center blog last November, and I’m hopeful it could be a springboard for all of us to familiarize ourselves with different places to point people or places to contact on others’ behalf. Nothing will ever make any of us feel 100% equipped, but with a little knowledge and a whole lot of trust in the Lord and the power of his Spirit, we can expect to see God move to rescue his creation, body and spirit!

You can find Starlight Ministries’ post here:

https://www.egc.org/blog-2/2017/11/10/boston-homelessness-ministries-organizations-resource-list

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New Every Morning

January 3, 2018

It’s that time of the year where “new” is on the brain. A new year inspires us to develop new habits and new patterns. It’s the chance for a fresh start and can feel like a new beginning.

In the spirit of beginnings, I’ve been thinking about what the “beginning” of extending God’s mercy is; where does one begin to understand what this looks like? As I considered this, beginning with understanding God’s mercy itself seemed to me a natural answer. The first verse that popped into my brain was “his mercies are new every morning.” But as I went to read it, I realized I had no clue where in the Bible it actually was.

I googled the verse and saw “Lamentations” pop up. Oh boy, not a warm and fuzzy start. I headed to chapter 3 and found the verse and was encouraged by it and its surrounding verses:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

So comforting. Then I started at the beginning of chapter 3.

PEOPLE.

It is not pretty. The words “made my teeth grind on gravel” are featured. It’s rough stuff. This was not what I was expecting, as I usually find this verse on pretty backgrounds and stitched on pillows (okay, I’ve never actually seen it stitched on a pillow, but I know it’s out there). I did not see the teeth grinding coming, nor the mangling, nor the arrows in kidneys. Gracious.

But as I read the chapter over and over again, I was so very struck by its strange and paradoxical beauty. Out of unbearable suffering comes this declaration of God’s love and mercy. Out of the depths of pure anguish comes this truth spoken in faith. This makes my heart long to understand more about our good God–who can offer such hope in such darkness? And what kind of mercy touches a soul in such despair?

As I begin this new year, I long to grow in my understanding of God’s mercy. I want to deeply cherish the steadfastness of his goodness. I desire to show this kind of almost unbelievable mercy to the world, the kind of mercy that reaches into the lowest depths and raises eyes upward in hope. My brand of mercy doesn’t even come close; but HIS does, infinitely and perfectly.

May we love like the one who can bring life out of ashes, and remember that he has done so and continues to do so in us.

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

(Lamentations 3:19-24)

 

 

 

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Love

December 27, 2017

Copy of Copy of Copy of Hope

“…but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

As I’ve reflected on hope, joy, and peace the past few weeks, this verse kept popping into my head. The weight of the verse’s truth became heavier upon my mind and heart as I considered what hope, joy, and peace look like as we follow Jesus. Each is infinitely more difficult to walk in without genuine and pure love; love from the Lord, love for the Lord, and love for others.

I can definitely struggle with receiving love from the Lord. I’ve spent many hours over the years trying to put my finger on exactly why, and I’ve come up short. But I think it has something to do with pride and a reluctance to accept grace and love undeserved. This didn’t used to bother me so much, because I almost subconsciously believed that loving God and loving others was way more significant than understanding or experiencing his love for me. Focusing on the latter over the former seemed selfish to me, so I didn’t think much of it.

Then I started in full-time ministry, and the wheels started to fall off the wagon…I was burning out faster than I thought humanly possible, and I could not figure out why. Then someone wisely (and bravely, because I was NOT having it at the time) suggested that perhaps I was not believing or experiencing God’s love for me, and therefore I was trying to manufacture a love for him and others out of my own finite, human capacity. I said something eloquent like, “whatever,” and brushed it off. But the Spirit was at work, and I could not forget my friend’s words.

Though I came to this realization internally kicking and screaming, I realized she was absolutely right. Under the guise of what seemed right or even more “Christian,” I was playing the martyr and hiding behind my “selflessness” because I was terrified to receive God’s love for me. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he would, and the radical nature of his love made me almost wary. But I had reached my limit and then some, and I was finding it almost impossible to show love to those around me. So I prayed for God to help me know his love.

I’ll never forget that moment. It wasn’t a “burning bush” occurrence in the slightest; there was nothing outwardly remarkable at all. But sitting there on my bedroom floor, I KNEW God’s love in my very soul. It broke my heart in the most beautiful way, and it’s a moment I will always cherish.

This was not the post I thought I would write for love; I was ready to call us to love others well, to rally us around caring for those in our city. And in a way I suppose I still am. When we experience God’s love for us, love for him and love for others really does follow. When we know and receive a love so pure and amazing, it transforms the way we view our whole lives. This Christmas, may we know the love of our good Father. May we know that Jesus came because God loves us. Deeply. Profoundly. May it touch our hearts and grip our souls, and may it yield a love for others that sets the world’s eyes on the one who IS love.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (1)

 

 

 

 

 

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Peace

December 20, 2017

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“Peace” is a word you hear a lot this time of year; it’s in Christmas carols, it’s on signs in shop windows, and it’s on ornaments we hang on the tree. I find this somewhat ironic, considering that we do a pretty good job of making this season anything but peaceful! We run around buying gifts, we make dishes for potlucks or treats for kids’ classes, we coordinate travel or prepare to host, and then we crawl/crash into Christmas morning and nearly fall asleep in a heap of wrapping paper and half eaten candy canes (just me?) I am definitely not one to bash seasonal festivities, and I love traditions and celebrations. But if we’re not careful, the activities can quickly override the inherent beauty of advent.

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is to sit in the living room late at night with all the lights off except for the lights on the tree. I’ll sometimes put some soft Christmas music on, and I simply sit and savor the quiet and stillness. I’m not always the best at embracing being still, so I appreciate that something about these moments makes quieting my spirit feel easier. When I think of peace at Christmas, I picture these moments, and I’m grateful for the calming stability they provide amidst the busyness.

But this advent season, I’ve been thinking about peace and how it’s so much more than quiet, stillness, or calm. The peace we rejoice over this time of year is an ordering of life, a setting of wrong things right, a healing of a world set askew. It is a returning to how things were meant to be, accomplished through the coming of a King. We are invited to experience this peace and carry it to others.

I’ve felt challenged lately to see God’s perfect peace in moments that don’t seem or feel outwardly peaceful and to notice when his peace is intersecting with brokenness and making things right. At the weekly resource center at Starlight Ministries, which can at times be loud and even overwhelming, can I rejoice at the peace being offered to those who have been crushed by the world? When I’m on a crowded T and there is a racially charged argument happening a few seats down, can I rejoice when a third party is able to calm the tension with words of love and peace even though it was an overall stressful scene to behold? Do I notice peace breaking in, even when surroundings don’t seem “peaceful?”

I still cherish my late night, Christmas tree lit moments of peace. But I’m growing to appreciate these moments of peace breaking in as well, these moments that remind me that the true peace Jesus brought and brings can overcome the most horrific oppression, hatred, violence, and strife. This peace that can calm our hearts and our minds AND restore the world’s mess to order truly does surpass all understanding, and I feel especially grateful for that mystery this advent.

May we all experience his peace in moments of tranquility and in moments where it is breaking into the darkness by his power. Let there be peace on Earth!

 

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Joy

December 13, 2017

Copy of Hope (1)

Joy! True, unadulterated joy has got to be one of the greatest aspects of human existence. It runs deep and grips you at the soul. It heightens happiness by a mile but can also carry us through unending valleys.

Last week our staff team at church looked at John 16:16-24 during a time of prayer. The passage rattled around in my heart and mind all day, particularly verses 20-22:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Three months after I graduated from college, I packed up my life and moved overseas. The first four months were the most lonely, challenging, and demoralizing I had yet experienced. I was a wreck. I had fallen into a deep pit that I was not entirely interested in crawling out of. I had never before felt the weight of such hopelessness, and I absolutely did not feel like “myself.” Instead I felt an unsettling absence of joy.

As a result, I decided to do a study on the word “joy” in the Bible. I wanted to understand what the concept of joy actually meant and get a better picture of the kind of joy that is of and from God. I spent hours reading and praying about joy and discovered two truths as I pored over passages: joy is found in delighting in God and joy often appears side by side with sorrow.

This was not exactly what my heavy heart wanted to uncover at the time; I think part of me was hoping to unlock some secret that would simply make me feel better. But I took it to heart as much as I could and began to focus on delighting in the Lord, despite the sorrow that engulfed me. What happened was not instant or even pretty, but the joy that was born out of that time was the deepest and truest I had ever known. It made me believe more in the goodness of God because only a good and loving God could bring such beauty out of pain. Delighting in him and receiving HIS joy bolstered my faith and caused me to love him more, which led to deeper delighting, which led to greater joy. Walking in this mystery of deep joy in the hardest of times lifted me out of that pit and put me back on solid ground.

I love those verses in John 16. There is something so beautiful about new life being born out of intense anguish and pain. And the same is true of God’s kingdom breaking forth into the brokenness and darkness of this world; there can be great sorrow and suffering and hard labor as we open ourselves to being his hands and feet. But out of this suffering comes the truest kind of joy. Joy unspeakable, unchanging, mysterious and oh so real.

As we experience the joy of advent, the joy of Jesus’ coming, may we not turn our eyes from the sorrow and suffering in our world. May we humbly and willingly embrace the call to be near to the brokenhearted as God is, knowing that there is true delight in his presence to be found there, and in turn immeasurable joy to be had and shared so that all may know this beautiful Savior.

 

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Hope

December 6, 2017

Hope (1)

One of the aspects of Christmas that I love so much is the anticipation. In many ways that’s why I just might love Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day; there’s this element of a hushed waiting before something glorious appears. Advent traditions allow us to really sink into this period of waiting and to year after year experience the glory of Christ’s coming.

This week we reflect on HOPE.

Hope is a word that has taken on many connotations. We use it flippantly (“I hope it doesn’t rain”), and we use it seriously (“I hope the Eagles win the Superbowl”). We use it to convey desire and to communicate an expectation, and sometimes we use it as a weapon (“I hope you did the dishes”). I got to thinking about the word itself and, like any good high schooler writing a speech for graduation, I looked up the definition. The first definition was as expected:

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen

But the second definition, the usage labeled as “archaic,” was as follows:

a feeling of trust

Just reading the words feels nice, like sitting in a big armchair. Solid and sure. Comforting.

A couple of weeks ago, some of us gathered to sort through the donations we received at church for Starlight Ministries and Fostering Hope (you can read more about those organizations here). The event was designed specifically to be kid-friendly so families could engage in extending mercy in this way. Spending time with children often leaves me feeling hopeful, so getting to sort donations alongside them practically made my heart burst at the seams. Kids are able to trust so deeply, I almost wonder if that’s what produces this aura of hope around them. It made me prayerful for their little hearts, that they would learn quickly and early how to love deeply like God loves us. And that they would give of that love from a place of deep worship and enjoyment of God’s presence. I experienced deep hope that day.

It’s so much easier for me to feel hopeful at Christmas time. Perhaps it’s because so much about the season allows for a childish sense of wonder and awe. But to be able to hope like a child hopes, to feel that abiding sense of trust year round, sounds heavenly. I can only imagine how my relationships, my attitude, and my intentionality to walk in light of the gospel would be affected by carrying this hopefulness throughout the year. In a ministry like mercy ministry, how would holding to that hope empower us to love more fully and wholly and authentically?

God, thank you for the true hope you offer. May we rest in its trustworthiness and extend it to others during this time of advent and every day of the year.

 

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The Spirit of Christmas

November 29, 2017

I love Christmas. A lot. A super lot. When I moved this summer, I was kind of appalled surprised by the percentage of my belongings that were Christmas decorations or items. I love so much about the Christmas season that I don’t even know where to start in describing my devotion to this time of year.

One aspect of this time that I love is how worshipful and rooted in gospel truth I feel. I sense this in others around me as well, and I think it manifests in a certain level of generosity and what is often called “the Christmas spirit.” But this also can make Christmas a little tricky for me; lately I’ve been reflecting on why it seems easier to experience joy and peace and God’s presence in this season than in others. I’ve become almost bothered that it’s easier to be generous and giving and kind around Christmas than in, say, the middle of February. (Sidenote: a dear friend of mine has accurately dubbed the kind of blah feeling you get in that month as “the Febs.” It’s too real.) I wonder if you can relate.

This train of thought is in early stages, and I sincerely am not sure how to feel about this seasonal surge of goodwill and thoughtfulness. But as I have prayed about it, I thought it would be neat to journey through it together! Throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas, I’ll be exploring some of these thoughts here on the blog while also celebrating some of the ways that God has been moving. My hope and prayer is that we’ll all come out on the other side of Christmas with a deeper sense and understanding of God’s love and mercy that will defy even the worst case of “the Febs.”

O come, o come, Emmanuel…

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With a Grateful Heart

November 21, 2017

We just wanted you to know how much we love and appreciate you! Thank you for everything you do for us. -) (1)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself almost overwhelmingly grateful. It has been one of those seasons where I am keenly aware of God moving, in Boston, in our church, in the lives of new friends, and in my own life.

Every year at this time, I get the (somewhat cheesy) song “Give Thanks” by Don Moen irreversibly stuck in my head. It doesn’t help that this condition also affects others in my family, so when we gather for Thanksgiving, there are often spontaneous moments of singing it dramatically (and using it almost as a weapon against those who are not similarly inclined). Because of these shenanigans, the song has become almost comical to me, tied to these memories of outbursts and laughter.

But this year I have been reflecting on the lyrics, particularly this stanza:

And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich”
Because of what the Lord has done for us

The magnitude and truth of these words has really been hitting me this year. Despite the heartaches and pains of living in a broken world, despite issues of poverty and homelessness and tattered families and homes left behind, every man, woman, and child is able to say “I am strong,” and “I am rich” because of who Jesus is and his radical and sacrificial love, extended graciously and willingly. Infinite and gloriously bigger than the complex problems of this world, it determines our true standing, no matter what circumstances on earth have to say.

This Thanksgiving, I am first immensely grateful to God for taking this weak and poor woman and making her strong and rich in him. I am also grateful for the ways that other weak and poor men and women have allowed God’s imputed strength and richness to encourage me in unimaginable ways. And I am humbled to be invited into the work of offering strength and true riches to those in this city that potentially feel their poverty and weakness most acutely of all.

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son

 

 

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The Here and Now

November 16, 2017

I’m excited to welcome our first guest writer: Jenny, Citylife Mercy Ministry Intern extraordinaire! Jenny has been humbly and quietly serving our church for the past couple of months; read on to hear more about how God directed her to us and how she’s experienced the Lord in the process!

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Is there anything more frustrating than when your plans change?

For me, this happened during my senior year of high school, that time when teachers and society tell you that you need to have your life all figured out (which is definitely not true, but when you’re a high school student, you fall for that lie).

Last September, I made up my mind that I didn’t want to go to school right away. I wanted to spend a year doing what I love and what I’m passionate about, which is ministry. I looked to the world-wide web to research and look for options for gap-year programs that engage with the community, believe in mobilizing the Gospel, and operate out of God’s love and mercy.

Eventually, I found the perfect organization for me, called Global Year. I was immediately drawn to their South Africa location, where I would volunteer at an orphanage school, do construction work around the mission’s base, and engage in the local church and youth group. Everything about it seemed like it was God’s plan for me.

However, my parents weren’t exactly too thrilled when they heard the news. They were uncomfortable with the idea of me not having a back-up plan. Ultimately, I agreed and began to look into colleges.

Moody Bible Institute was literally the second college that I looked into and I fell in love when I went on their Day One college visit event. Honestly, I felt guilty loving a college as much as my desire to go to South Africa, but college was still the second priority for me.

I revised my plan; I decided that I wanted go to South Africa then go to Moody Bible Institute for my freshman year. My hope was to send in my application my senior year so I could be accepted and defer my acceptance at Moody to the 2018-2019 school year. During the end of January, I buckled down and I applied for Global Year and Moody.

After my applications were sent, I eagerly waited, confidently rejoicing that my plan would work. My happiness came to a sudden end when I received a call from Moody one afternoon in March. They wanted to let me know that they received my application and thanked me for applying. The guy on the phone then asked “are there any questions that I could answer for you at this time?” At first, I wanted to say “no” but then I thought I’d reassure myself that Moody allows students to defer for the next school year. So, I tensely asked, “Moody permits their students to be deferred to the next year, right?” There was a short pause and the guy bluntly stated “No, sorry we don’t allow that.” Immediately, I said “thank you, goodbye,” hung-up, and cried my eyes out.

A couple of months later, right in the same week, I found out I was accepted to go on the South Africa mission with Global Year and accepted into Moody’s First Year Online Program (FYOP) along with three years at the Chicago Campus. Honestly, I was not as happy as I should have been. I was bummed that God wouldn’t give me both.

I ultimately chose Moody, mostly because I felt like I had to, but now I wouldn’t want to spend my freshman year any other way. God knew that having the flexibility of taking online classes would grant me the capability of getting the ministry experience that I wanted. Which is why God has opened the door for me to be in Boston and intern for the Mercy Ministry at Citylife.

The main thing that I learned about my journey of getting to Boston is that God puts us in the places where He needs us to be. Of course, we hate it when things cancel last minute or our plans don’t work out the way we want them to, but God’s plan always follows through. So rejoice for the here and now.

 

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Fostering Hope

November 8, 2017

I remember the exact moment I learned what foster care was. I was watching the 1994 classic Angels in the Outfield and was utterly confused by the situation of the two main boys in the movie, Roger and JP. They lived with an older woman named Maggie, but she wasn’t their mom, or their aunt, or their grandmother. In one scene, Roger’s dad comes to visit him, and the tension of the scene bewildered me. Even at a young age, I recall feeling so sad for Roger and so unsure about why he couldn’t just be with his dad. There’s a scene (spoiler alert, if anyone has been waiting for just the right moment to unpack this cinematic treasure) in which Roger has to go to court, and he watches as his dad relinquishes his parental rights and leaves Roger crying in the courtroom.

Even as I write this, I confess I am choked up not just for Roger, this fictional character whose experience pierced my six year old heart, but for all children who find themselves in a position of feeling unwanted, tossed around, or confused by their own situation. The heartbreaking truth is that there are unknowable layers of brokenness surrounding these experiences–these children may feel unwanted, but perhaps their biological parents want nothing more than to be in a position to care for them but are overcome by addiction or their own fear or the pain of their pasts. Maybe these kids feel tossed around, but perhaps there was a foster family that wanted them to stay but circumstances prevented that outcome. It’s never a simple issue, and the complexity of it all cries out for redemption.

Feeling burdened by the realities of foster care and experiencing deep conviction that the body of Christ is commanded in scripture to respond, it has been such a blessing to discover Fostering Hope. This New England based non-profit has a vision to help the local church develop a sustainable culture of adoptive and foster care, not only through Christians being raised up to become foster or adoptive families but through the entire church community playing a role. Fostering Hope also partners with Department of Children and Families (DCF) offices in New England to support those in the foster care community. My heart is bolstered by the willingness of believers to roll up their sleeves, ask tough questions, and face the challenges of this complex system head on.

One way that we can dip our toe in the water, so to speak, is to fulfill a specific physical need as winter approaches; we have the opportunity to equip foster families in the Greater Boston area with all they’ll need to keep the kids in their care warm this winter. I am personally so grateful to have the chance to explore the idea of ministering to the foster care community, and if you share that passion or are even just curious, I encourage you to take part in this drive! It is making me ever more mindful of these sweet lives–created in God’s image–and the joy it is to be a part of helping them know they are wanted, loved, and CHERISHED by a good, good father.

If you would like more information about Citylife Church’s coat drive for Fostering Hope, please contact me or visit the church website (citylifeboston.org)

If you would like to read more about Fostering Hope and the journey of its founders, visit their website at fosteringhope.org

Lord God, father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), help us to love like you have loved us.

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The Hazards of the “One-Trip Wonder”

November 1, 2017

One night in January of my freshman year of high school, I had to work on three different projects that were due the next day. To set the stage, I had just gotten home from a rough musical rehearsal where I was the target of three older girls who had decided to bully me mercilessly for the entire school year (which eventually leads to a live American Idol show and an angry Simon Cowell, but that’s a story for another time). Tired and sad, I still needed to crack down on my school work, so I gathered everything I needed – three textbooks, two binders, my filled-to-the-brim messenger bag backpack (shout out to the early 2000s), a piece of pie, and a glass of milk – and headed down the basement steps to the family desktop computer.

It should come as no surprise that I was unable to balance all of these items AND myself on the narrow staircase and promptly slipped and proceeded to slide down the stairs. Everything flew up in the air, and as I slid was hit by books and binders and pie and milk. My glasses got coated in milk, so the last bit of my descent was shrouded in darkness. By the time I reached the bottom, I was an absolute mess, physically and emotionally. The work that was now strewn about the basement would have to wait.

Though much has changed since those trying times, I am still that girl who moves heaven and earth to get everything in one trip. I loooooooove. LOVE. When I masterfully gather objects in my arms for a one trip victory lap. But even though I feel like it’s saving me time, it often actually slows me down (it takes some time to get everything situated juuuuust right). I’m so focused on figuring out how to manage everything in one trip that I fail to recognize that by the time I’m ready to carry everything, I usually could have made two (or three) trips.

I can be like this in so many areas of life. I try to juggle and manage as much as possible, thinking that THIS is the best approach and will yield the best fruit. But, like my poor 15 year old self, I often end up a little battered and with work undone, or done poorly, or done without much care or attention. I can sometimes fail to see the value and merit–and joy–in one aspect of ministry because I’m constantly trying to push it all together with the rest and figure out how it fits so I can carry it all at once.

It makes me think of Matthew 25, in which Jesus tells a parable about a master who puts his servants in charge of some of his wealth. The master’s response to the servants who were wise stewards of the money is “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (v.21) Do I trust God enough to put everything down and carry just a few things? To carry what he’s given me for right now and not take too much at once? To love and extend mercy in the ways that I can now and recognize this is a multi-trip, long process?

I pray for all of us–whether you’re a one trip addict like me or a (more reasonable) person who cannot in any way relate to my strange obsession with carrying so much stuff–that we will be willing to be faithful over a few things so that we may share in our master’s happiness.

 

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To Pause While Walking

October 25, 2017

I am an action-oriented person. When people tell me to “slow down” or “let it take time,” I grumble internally (hopefully) and proceed to ignore their admonishment. But in July, when I started my role at Citylife, I had a supernatural inclination to take things slow. Uncharacteristically, I saw the need to pause, take a step back, reflect, learn, and slooooow down. I wish I could say it felt good and that I sunk right into patient and wise discernment. However, I complained, felt restless, questioned all my life choices, and had to face how much of my identity I derive from what I do.

BUT it was rich with contemplation, and one of the most wonderful treasures of that time was the reading of really thought provoking books and articles. I’d like to share about a few of my favorites in hopes that they may peak your interest and inspire you too.

Just Mercy Cover

 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Bryan Stevenson 

 

In 1983, while a student at Harvard Law School, Bryan Stevenson took an internship with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). Exposed to the horrors and injustices of the death row system in Alabama, he embarked on what would become his life’s work to bring mercy and true justice to the most unimaginably broken parts of the U.S. justice system. Written as a series of narratives, this book combines broad themes with personal experience and gives a picture of how massive systems alter individual lives.

This book is TOUGH. It’s beautifully written and wildly compelling, but the content is heartbreaking and gut wrenching. Consider yourself warned. HOWEVER, it is more than worth the struggle. Though not explicitly faith based, the book deals in gospel truth and is infused with Stevenson’s own faith perspective. I walked away feeling broken and burdened but with a deeper appreciation for the reality of God’s mercy, goodness, and fierce love for the oppressed.

Toxic Charity Cover

 

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt those they Help (and How to Reverse It)

Robert D. Lupton

 

Drawing on decades of urban ministry experience, Robert Lupton walks the reader through a critique of how the Church and charities have historically approached compassion work. Lupton identifies specific pitfalls and long term cycles of creating problems instead of solving them and offers practical guiding principals to course correct.

This book hurt my feelings. A lot. It would be easy to allow defensiveness to win out and to toss this book to the side, because honestly sometimes I felt like Robby D. was yelling at me through the pages (boy, am I making this sound real good). But it is a great and necessary challenge. It caused me to think critically about aspects of social justice that I take for granted, and while it stirred up a fair bit of angst, I felt smarter and better equipped to extend God’s mercy and justice by the end. Know that Robert loves you and just wants what’s best.

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Helping Homeless New Yorkers by the Books

Jessica Leigh Hester

https://www.citylab.com/life/2017/06/homeless-between-the-stacks/531918/

This article looks at a Brooklyn Public Library’s efforts to use an existing institution (the public library) to make assistance and resources more accessible to the the homeless community.

It’s not the longest article, and it caused me to click myself into a black hole of similar articles to gain more insight, but it is great food for thought!

Happy reading!

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To Walk Like a Child

October 18, 2017

Do you remember going to the library as a kid? The library was (is) one of my absolute favorite places on earth. Getting to walk around and touch the spines of the books and choose a story that I found exciting or interesting or special—that was the stuff of life!

Yesterday I found myself sitting in the library at the James W. Hennigan school in Jamaica Plain. I have visited the library many times, and every time it looks the same: books haphazardly sitting on the shelves, untouched and unread. It breaks my heart, but even more it breaks the heart of the staff and teachers who desperately wish they had the resources and time to provide a vibrant library for the children in their care!

As I sat there, I found myself thinking about how much work it will take to get the library up and running. Work that I don’t really understand and have no expertise in (even as a proud card carrier of four different library systems…) I also found myself thinking, I know this work is worth it, but I can’t really articulate why. Sure, I know statistics about how important reading is to early childhood development. And I know that the school will appreciate the effort. But considering the magnitude of the Great Commission, this call to make disciples and bring regenerative truth to the world, what am I doing in this tiny library at this elementary school?

My thoughts were interrupted by a group of kids careening past the library windows. They were goofing off and the boys were making the girls scream about something, and it all just made me smile. This made me think of when Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to him. Then he says that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18: 17)  Kids can believe in a way that we often lose over time; the faith of a child is pure and simple.

It’s easy for me to want to have “the faith of an adult”: measured, informed, knowledgeable about my ministry efforts and aware of their impact. And while God created us to think deeply and critically and these are good things, this mindset also inches me dangerously towards desiring omniscience and even omnipotence—I want to know that my work matters, I want to control its efficacy and make sure it has benefits and worth. But at the end of the day, my understanding is finite and sometimes I just don’t know what impact was or was not made and have no control over the results of my own actions.

I think there’s a wonder in not knowing, a sort of mystery in being a part of God’s work without comprehending exactly what’s going on. It leaves room for dreaming, for hoping, for the pure faith of a child to wonder “what could the shelving of children’s books be in the hands of a powerful God?”

Consider joining in the labor of the Hennigan School library with me; shelve a book and be a part of God’s mysterious, unknowable, restorative work. And let’s see if we can’t regain some wonder along the way.