do we weep?

After the death of Lazarus, Jesus was brought to his tomb by Mary and Martha, women that Jesus cared for deeply. As you can imagine, Mary and Martha were weeping and mourning the loss of their dear brother, and Scripture tells us that Jesus was deeply moved by this event. Many puffed-up religious leaders watched as Jesus let go of his composure and wept with the sisters, and it was evident to them that Jesus genuinely loved these people. We understand the depth to which He cared when we read that Jesus wept for this loss. He understood their pain. He identified with their suffering. He longed to love and care for them. John the gospel writer tells us more than once in chapter 11 that Jesus was deeply moved for the people–moved so much that He exercised his divine power to resurrect Lazarus from the dead. Jesus demonstrated His tremendous love and mercy through this event, and He wasn’t popular for it.

He wept. He wasn’t merely moved to feel pity or sympathy, but Jesus entered into the pain of Mary and Martha, felt their heartache as if it was His own. And it was. He loved Lazarus with the same love He has for us– a love that wishes to resurrect us from the death in our sin. His heart broke for the people in John 11, and later in John 19 His blood was shed and His entire body was broken for us.

Yet so often as Christians we live with hardened hearts. We slather on coats of jargon, judgement, and self-righteousness that act as a lacquer, sealing our hearts from entering into the brokenness of others. This is why sometimes people stop listening to us as soon as they discover we’re Christians. Because they’ve seen this before: Christians who don’t care. Christians who just judge. Christians who only want to tell me how bad I am. People stop listening to us as soon as they see that we don’t care for them. They don’t share with us because we’re not heartbroken–we are screaming about the specks in their eyes as if they don’t already know about them, while the planks blind our own eyes. And of course this is not hard and fast, but so many of my non-Christian friends have expressed this sort of feeling: no love, no care.

And maybe that’s because we’re often motivated by the wrong thing. Jesus was motivated by a genuine love for others. Love that chose the cross. Love that meant sacrificing Himself entirely. Love that covered all of the “badness” we could ever have in the depths of our hearts. Love that covers murder. Love that covers lying. Love that covers adultery. No iniquity is too bad for Jesus to forgive. He took care of them all. Why? Because His heart broke for us and with us. We can become caught up in “converting” or “saving” people in our own strength, when we need to weep with them. We need to weep for them. 

Evangelist John Fuder once said, “It’s the scandal of an unbroken heart that impedes ministry.” And to say it’s a scandal couldn’t be more correct. If our ministry is severely lacking in love, grace, and a willingness to be broken alongside our neighbours then we will never succeed in demonstrating the love of Christ to them. If we don’t show the grace Christ lavishes upon us or the love He poured out for us on the cross, then we misrepresent Christ. We misrepresent Christ when we remain hardened and judgemental. We misrepresent Christ when we care more about church rules and church attendance than about souls.

So I ask: do you weep? Do you weep for the souls of your neighbours? Do you weep for their situations and for their pain? Do you weep with them when they’re brokenhearted? Or are you motivated by self-righteousness, legalism, and judgement? Because if you don’t weep, if you’re not motivated by Christ-like love, then you have nothing. As the letter to the Corinthians tells us, if we have not love we are nothing, we have nothing, and we gain nothing. 

well done

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I often find myself gravitating towards the writings and wisdom of certain individuals. I love reading poems by the same poets, books by the same author–once I find someone who can speak to my soul, I cling to everything they have in print and glean from it whatever I can. This has been the way I have been with the work of Elisabeth Elliot–who had the privilege of returning home to her Saviour this morning at the age of 88.

I can hardly read the story of Jim Elliot and his untimely death in the Ecuadorian jungle without balling. That faith, that unshakeable conviction, challenges me to my very core. Would I die for what I believe? Would I literally spend myself so that others could have a chance to know about Jesus? But what gets to me the most is the way his wife Elisabeth carried on after him. The way she rose from her grief and set out for the jungle, and served the very men who murdered her husband. That kind of strength is beyond my understanding. When the world would have told her to harbour bitterness and resentment, she followed the example of Jesus and loved to the very end of herself.

And today Heaven rejoices to gain the presence of Elisabeth Elliot, and we are left with her wisdom, her testimony, and her incredible challenge to live up to the Spirit that is in us as Christians. No other couple has spurred me on in my journey as a missionary more than Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, and I can only hope to leave a fraction of the legacy they have left for us.

“This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.”

And my oh my, how faithful she was.

Some Honesty

Maybe it’s because it’s 3am and I’m far from home, or maybe it’s because I tend to think the best when indulging my insomnia, but I’ve realized things aren’t like at all like I hoped they’d be. And that breaks my heart.

Some of you that take the time to read my posts might remember my idealistic rantings about moving from Toronto to Ireland, where I would instantly feel a sense of belonging and welcome. I would see an end to my wandering and my sojourning and feel rooted and established in a place that felt like home. I’d be fulfilled by the work I came here to do, and I’d start this amazing and exhilarating life overseas. I would be brave. I would be adventurous. People would be proud of me. They’d look at me and think “wow, that Lena is so cool and so brave for stepping out in faith like that”. They wouldn’t see me as the girl I was typecast as: the one with the past. I could be someone knew. I was sure that a new life was awaiting me. One that would make everything okay.

And it’s not like I was running away from anything–I still hold to that. I still wholeheartedly believe that God called me to this beautiful place for His purposes. But I’d be lying if I said things were exactly as I had envisioned them.

Something they don’t always tell you in the Christian world is that being a missionary is brutally hard. And lonely. And draining. I’ve dreamed of living in Ireland since I was in high school, and now that I’m here I’ve never been more homesick in my entire life. I wake up wishing I was in Toronto. I miss my old job as a barista. I miss having dinner dates with my friends. I miss going home to see my family and hanging out with my siblings in the city. I live in the place I’ve always longed for, and wish I was back in Ontario. I mean, Ontario isn’t even the coolest province in Canada for goodness sake. And Ireland has castles pretty well everywhere. There’s one down the road from me. Like, what the what?

I’ve been here for six months now and it feels like an eternity. And what breaks my heart the most, apart from being away from my family and the love of my life, is that things aren’t what I expected them to be. I feel like a fool for putting on those rose-coloured glasses. I know better than that. I must admit that for the first time in my life, I find myself desperately praying for friends. I have amazing friends at home who I love dearly, but I have very few here. I have very little in the way of community. I don’t have the chance to attend one church regularly. I don’t have the chance to make solid connections or set down roots. My wandering hasn’t stopped, it’s just continued in a different place. And I’m starting to feel tired. Weary. Worn.

But all of this aside, I have to trust that somewhere ahead, things are changing. I believe in a gracious and loving God, who sees me in my desperate loneliness. Who hears me when I cry. Who knows what my heart longs for. And even more than that, he cries out for me too. I have to believe that this season is just that–a season. It will pass. And when it does, a new one will be ushered in. A season where I see the Lord glorified through these struggles and this heartache. A season where there is more than enough space for me to rest my weary bones.

I was hoping to find the purpose for this post as I wrote it, but I guess that didn’t really happen. I guess this is just some honesty at 3:30am from your average overseas missionary. Sometimes what you thought would be perfect and lovely turns out to be broken and painful. But maybe that’s okay. Because somewhere, deep within the hurt, is something to learn. Something that will make the view from the top of the mountain more beautiful. Until then, I’ll pray through the valleys and the trenches.

I’m a Christian and I Didn’t Watch the Superbowl… But I Wish I Had Of

I woke up this morning to a slew of text messages from my boyfriend who was giving me a play-by-play of the Seattle-New England football game. I read all of his excited messages as the Patriots intercepted the ball in the last moments of the game and took the victory away from the Seahawks. Even in my sleepy state, I was really excited too. Mostly because I knew my older sister would be ecstatic that her favourite team won the game.

I also woke up and did what I think we all do most mornings (even though we hate to admit it): I scrolled through Facebook. And I knew I’d see some of my friends lamenting over the loss of the Seahawks, and even posting a few undesirable comments about Tom Brady, but also some who were happy about the game. Though I love football, I wasn’t overly invested in last nights game because my favourite team is Greenbay, and they weren’t playing. So you see, I was okay with going to sleep as opposed to staying up until 3 in the morning in my timezone to watch the game. But I still love football, and you can bet that if Greenbay was playing, I would have been up all night.

As I continued to scroll through Facebook I saw a post that I dreaded–one that I knew I could possibly come across the morning after the Superbowl, but the one I hoped I wouldn’t see. It was along the lines of this:

“Christians who watch the Superbowl are partaking in worldliness and I can’t believe they don’t have their priorities straight when there are other Christians in the world who are willing to go to great lengths for their faith, and I think that people who enjoy this sort of thing are just not holy enough.”

Or something like that. It wasn’t likely worded that way, but it was just as harsh. And it wasn’t the only one. A couple of my other contacts on Facebook posted similar things, leaving the rest of us who think of themselves as pretty devoted Christians feeling like dirt; shamed by one single Facebook post.

And I fought very hard against myself not to comment. Not to start an argument. Because this sort of thing really bothers me, and I was tired, and I wanted to set the record straight for the rest of us football-loving-Superbowl-watching Christians. So I decided to say it here, because maybe one little comment just isn’t enough. Maybe this needs to be an open discussion on more than just football and being “of the world”. It’s a conversation about love. And how Christians suck at being loving, which is a much bigger problem then whether or not people watch football.

I’m currently living in a country as a missionary where American football is not a big deal. Superbowl parties aren’t all that common here in Ireland, and you certainly don’t see guys watching games during the week. They might know some of the teams, but that’s about as far as it goes. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their own fair share of fanaticism when it comes to sports. Talk about Gaelic football, rugby, or hurling and you’ve got a pretty heated conversation. Go over the other side of the water and talk to the Brits about Manchester United vs. Chelsea and you’ve got another debate. So many countries South of the equator are bigger into soccer and baseball than we are with our football and hockey. The point is, watching sports and liking a game isn’t inherently evil. To the exclusion of God, sure. Over and above your love for Jesus, sure. But in and of itself–not even close.

In fact, I’m quickly learning that in order to be an affective missionary in my current context, I’m going to have to go where the people are. And where are they often times? The football pitch or at a rugby match. I don’t even know all the rules of rugby or hurling or Gaelic football, but these things are really important to the community I live in. I will never be an effective missionary or Christian in this world if I stand on the sidelines preaching while everyone walks on by. Shouting sanctimonious rants about worldliness is not going to get people to warm to the Christian faith. It’s not even how Jesus would have done things. So maybe I have to get on the rugby bandwagon and rub shoulders with people that I would otherwise have zero chance in reaching. And by the way, being a football fan does not make me any less of a Christian or any less willing to live to the end of myself for the sake of the Kingdom. Not even a little. And you know what else? I bet many of those football players will be counted among the saints as well, so what about that?

So instead of condemning those who are in our faith already for enjoying fellowship together over a football game, get into the community you live in and love on people who don’t know Jesus. Don’t judge them for their likes and dislikes, just love them. Because you might find, like I’ve found, that you actually need to become a fan of some of these sports in order to be where the people are. Because that’s what Jesus was about–going where the people were, even the lowest of the low, and loving them. Christians judge. Jesus didn’t. But he certainly will when the time is right. And as Francis Chan once said, “In the twilight of life, we will be judged on love alone.”

So there. I didn’t watch the Superbowl, but I sure wish I had of. And it wouldn’t have made me any less of a Christian.

Long Distance Love

Before I go any further, let me just get this out: living 3300 miles away from the person you love isn’t ideal. This is my current plight. In all honesty, it sucks. Any length of distance is hard to navigate when you’re in a committed relationship. And another thing, I am definitely not an expert on relationships. I’ve only been in this club of long-distance-daters for 6 months. But after surfing the web looking for advice and tips on dating long distance and finding really lame stuff, I figured I’d throw my two-cents into the ring. It couldn’t be any worse than anything else you’d find. There’s my disclaimer, in case you were looking for one.

So here we go.

IT’S ALL ABOUT COMMITMENT

If you go into a long distance relationship without any real hope of a future with that person, just stop. Even a relationship in which two people are living in close proximity is doomed to fail if you really don’t see it going anywhere. So it’s all the more likely that there’s not enough there to sustain a relationship that has you separated most of the time. It works with relationships in general: if you really don’t see it amounting to anything, just bow out. It’s not worth hurting someone for a little bit of flirtatious fun. But say you’re both super committed and life is grand: it’s still going to be hard. It’s easier to grow as a couple in some ways when you’re given the opportunity to spend time together. And for some people, they feel the most loved when they’re spending quality time with people. I know that’s true of Caleb and I. Commitment is what pushes you to stick it out when it’s not easy, or fun, or exciting. In a lot of ways, being in a long-distance relationship is hard going from the very start, and if you’re both not committed to making it work, then it won’t work. You have to overcome being apart, time-zones, missing milestones, actually going on dates, awful Skype connections–oh the list goes on.

But here’s the cool part– being in a committed long-distance relationship has taught me the importance of communication like I’ve never known before. Spending 2-3 hours with Caleb on Skype is not abnormal, and often we text throughout the day as well. We’ve had to talk about really important things early on because we didn’t have the privilege of just hanging out and going on cute dates. I know more about him in 6 months of distance than I might have if we still both lived in Toronto. And another thing, as Christians, we’ve been more encouraged in being apart in the early stages of our relationship than I think we would have if we were together. Let’s be honest, when you start dating someone it’s so tempting to speed through to the physical elements of your relationship. And before you know it, lines get crossed either in actual life or in your thought-life. When you live apart, you don’t have that same temptation, for obvious reasons. In so many ways, this is to be counted as a great blessing. You have no idea how many relationships have been ruined because things just got too heated too fast–I’ve been there myself. Caleb and I get to talk about our faith, read Scripture together, and even pray together. It’s important to us. We can build something so much stronger because distance has actually forced us to get our priorities straight.

…AND EFFORT…

I don’t know how many times I’ve surfed through Google searches looking for new and innovative date ideas for long-distance relationships. Most articles say things like “watch a movie at the same time” or “eat dinner together”. Like, yeah, OBVIOUSLY. Also, dinner and a movie isn’t even the greatest date idea in general. When two people are in person they can go skating, or visit an art gallery or have a picnic. How can I do this over Skype or FaceTime? We’ve already decided that long distance relationships are hard, but is there really no way for them to work? Are we doomed to have awkward Skype calls about the weather? (This would be a dull conversation from my end, because it’s usually always raining here in Ireland).

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that long-distance relationships never work. Even the media gives that message. But that’s really not true. All it really takes is effort. You have to want it enough to make it work and you have to be a little creative. Apart from eating meals and synchronizing your movie-watching, there are lots of other things long-distance-daters can do. Caleb and I read books over Skype (we just finished The Hobbit), we play 20 questions, Pictionary, plan hypothetical trips, and we just hang out like we would as if we were together. It feels normal. Long-distance dating takes a lot more effort, but it does get easier. Maybe you’re both musical. Play together over Skype. Maybe you’re both really good at texting. Text during the day. Maybe you know the other person likes getting letters–write letters. Order flowers. Send care packages. You can even order cookies online–I did this once and it went over really well.

TREASURE TIME TOGETHER

Finally, when you are together, treasure it. See it as the gift that it is, and don’t take advantage of it. I think dating long distance can give people a greater appreciation for the time they do get together. Even when you’re apart and on Skype, be all there. Don’t let yourself get distracted by Facebook or 9Gag. Focus and pay attention, and value the time you can spend together. Find a place with good lighting and good internet connection, make some tea, and just hang out. Don’t let the distance pull you farther apart from each other than you already are–use it to your advantage in every way possible.

I’ve found that being apart and valuing our time together has helped Caleb and I to avoid a lot of fighting. We’ve actually never had an actual fight or major disagreement thus far. And part of that is our personalities, but it’s also because we know we don’t get the same privileges of couples that see each other all the time. Am I really going to start an argument about something that’s probably really stupid when I know I only get these few hours with this person I love? No. Nothing is really worth spoiling that time. Your significant other is likely also your best friend, so let that govern how you spend your time as well.

I doesn’t have to be impossible, people. You just have to want it enough, and follow through. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. Take it from someone who’s starring down the barrel of another 5 months of distance–it can be done, and it can be awesome. I don’t know everything and no relationship is perfect, but it can be good.

Now I’m off to drink tea and read Narnia with my favourite Torontonian.

Homesick, sometimes

Sometimes I miss home.

There, I said it.

In all my talk about being adventurous and brave, here I am: living in the country of my dreams, feeling homesick.

I miss working right across the street from the Rogers Centre and the CN Tower. I miss the TTC, even though it was late more than half of the time. I miss walking through Queen West after work just to window shop. I miss Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters and being a complete snob about the perfect cappuccino. I miss my house outside the city and my roommates who treated me better than I deserved. I miss the snow on the sidewalks and the smell of road salt. I miss walking through the forest on my way to school and reading philosophy books on the bus.

I miss home.

But you know, maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe it’s not so bad to be homesick. Maybe this is all some grand plan to get me to enjoy what it is that I do have.

I live in rural Ireland, in a double-landlocked county, full of some of the nicest people the world over. I live in a world of hurling and sheep, and ruined castles. I can fly to awesome places in Europe for less than 50 Euro. I can spend my days off in Dublin or wandering around the Rock of Dunamase.

You know, sometimes you have to push through the pain, as it were. Sometimes things aren’t okay, and that’s okay, but you can’t always just wallow.

And I know this, and I get it. But sometimes I miss home.

And that’s just the way it is.

Easy and Light

I think it’s funny how different life can be from one moment to the next. Things can change so easily and so quickly and there is usually little room for preparedness. An entire summer has passed since the last time I felt inspired enough to put my fingers to the keys, and I can easily and happily say that I feel like a new season has come upon me–and it’s a good one.

Somewhere on the edge of downtown Edinburgh there’s this amazing place called Faith Mission Bible College. They have about 20 or so students in various levels of education and from all over the UK and Ireland, and here they become a family. It’s an amazing thing to see. They study the Word together, they eat together, they serve together, and they pray together–and boy do they pray. And I have the great privilege of spending three weeks here studying with a small group of students who will be going into full time ministry just like me. The privilege is great for so many reasons; from the staff’s commitment to spiritual growth to the way in which the students show a vested interested in each others lives, this place is different.

A week ago I got on a plane and flew to Dublin, Ireland with all my worldly possessions (save for the handful of bins I could leave at home). I arrived with a 2 year visa and a dream of serving in Ireland with Faith Mission, an organization that is completely dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel and advancing the Kingdom of God. As some of you know, I’ve been planning for this for about a year now. The expectations were high and the stress even higher. And a funny thing happened–I immediately felt homesick as soon as I got here. I’ve been longing for Ireland for so long, dreaming of being where my heart feels at home, and there I was sitting on my bed crying my eyes out. Every flaw I saw in myself was amplified and every doubt I could have in my own abilities was crashing against me like a stormy sea. I was up half the night on Skype with my lovely, patient boyfriend, and I didn’t understand why I was feeling so torn up inside. He gave me some of the best advice one could give: pray and bring all those things to the Lord, who’s always waiting and listening.

So I tried. But I didn’t even feel like I could. I felt distant and unsure of myself. How could I bring all these fears and questions before the Lord? I mean, I’m meant to be a missionary for goodness sake! I’m supposed to be more spiritual than this. I’m supposed to have my stuff together. How can I possibly lead others to the Lord when I don’t even feel strong enough to pray to Him?

It was a couple of days before I could shake the enormous inadequacy I was feeling. It was after arriving here in Scotland, at FMBC, that I started to realize a couple of very important things. I am inadequate. On my own, I am a failure. In my own strength, I can never do enough. For my own sake, I will never have it together. Myself and the other two students who are in my program were assigned a couple of lectures to listen to from John Coe, who heads up ISF (Institute for Spiritual Formation at Biola University) and it was in his words that I heard a description of myself. I’ve become a sort of “moral Christian”. Moral in the sense that I try to tidy up my life and be better for God in my own strength and for my own benefit. I don’t come honestly before Him, I just make everything presentable enough to come to Him with my laundry list of things He could do for me. At the root of it, I don’t believe that God loves me even in my “badness”. In fact, I don’t believe that anyone can or would love me at my worst. But this isn’t the case. We believe as Christians that God loves completely and perfectly, as it’s literally who He is. And that means even when we’re messed up and things aren’t completely together. That means even when we’re in our sin. That means even when we don’t feel like loving or being loved.

And I was challenged more than I’ve ever been before to allow myself to do as Teresa of Avila suggested: invite God to sit with you in your weeds. To allow God into every facet of my soul and see all the things I foolishly think I can hide from Him. And when I allow Him to sanctify and work out all of those things in me that cause me to fear, I can grow. I can stop being choked by the lies of the Enemy, by my own humanness, by the sins I won’t let Him near. He died for all of it already–He knows more than anyone else that I desperately need Him.

And I think you can agree that the guilt and the shame is too much to bear.
So stop trying to.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light.