Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Seminary Reflections

I recently graduated from Golden Gate Seminary with a Masters of Missiology. I had the opportunity to share my story at the graduation ceremony and wanted to share it with all of you. I'm so very thankful for the time I spent at seminary, the friendships I made, and the many lessons I learned. Here's my story:

Two years ago, I packed all of my belongings into my car and began the 3,000 mile journey from North Carolina to San Francisco. Going to seminary had always been a dream of mine, but when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge a week later, my dream became a reality. I was finally here, a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I was nervous and excited, all at the same time. I knew God had called me here, but I had no idea what to expect.

At the new student orientation that week, I found myself in a room full of students just like myself who had answered God’s call to full-time ministry and decided to come to seminary to be properly trained and equipped.  Dr. Iorg stood in front of us and spoke about the significance of our years at seminary. At that moment, I remember looking across the room and getting goose bumps. It was amazing to think that each person in the room had received a specific calling from God and one day we would be scattered across the world, proclaiming the name of Jesus to those who need Him. And yet, God had brought us together for this season of our lives, to learn and grow and become the people that He designed us to be. I felt completely humbled and unworthy to be a part of such a great mission. I remember going up to the top of Chapel hill that night and looking out at the city of San Francisco. I cried out to God to use my short two years of seminary to draw me closer to Him and to be well-equipped for whatever He had in store for me.

Two years later, I can now stand before you and testify that God answered those prayers. God has used my experience at Golden Gate to draw me closer to Himself and to equip me for ministry. I’d like to share with you how I have grown academically and spiritually, and how I have been prepared for ministry.
The classes I have taken at Golden Gate have stretched my mind and taught me practical truths that I will carry with me as I enter into full-time ministry. Academics don’t necessarily come naturally for me, so when I started my first semester, I was anxious…to say the least. I still remember the utter fear I had when I was assigned my very first exegesis paper in Dr. Watson’s Old Testament class. I didn’t know what the word “exegesis” even meant and suddenly I felt very overwhelmed.  I had no idea what I had gotten myself into and wondered if I was really cut out for this whole seminary thing. I stood outside of my professor’s office, nearly in tears, when I ran into Dr. Iorg in the hallway. He encouraged me not to stress over every assignment, but to just enjoy the process of learning. Once I cut myself some slack, I began to learn some valuable lessons in my classes. I enjoyed diving into the Bible in my Old and New Testament classes and then discovering the core of my beliefs in my Theology classes. My missions and evangelism classes were some of the most practical for me as I studied different people groups and how to most effectively share God’s love with them.

But perhaps just as valuable as the education I received in the classroom were the things I learned through relationships with my professors and fellow students. There were many evenings that I would sit in Dr. Prosperly and Patsy’s home, hearing stories from the mission field in India while sipping on chai tea. I was captivated by their stories and encouraged by their experiences. I spent my J-terms traveling with world with Dr. Pate and other professors and students. My eyes were opened to see the ways God is working in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. These hands-on experiences taught me more than I ever could have learned through reading a textbook. God blessed me with supportive professors and deep friendships on campus. I am so thankful for the community that I have found here at Golden Gate.

As I reflect on the spiritual journey I’ve been through in seminary, two main lessons come to mind. The first lesson God taught me in seminary is to be deeply invested in the present. It’s easy to look ahead and dream about what the next phase of life will be like. But God has placed you HERE for this time. The missionary Jim Elliot once said, “wherever you are, be all there!” As a planner and a visionary, I often find myself missing out on the present because I am so future focused. But as I went through seminary, I felt like God was constantly reminding me to live in the here and now, always aware of how He is working around me and how I can join Him. When I finally stopped trying to plan my whole future, God showed me how He could use me here in Mill Valley, even as I prepared for ministry. I got connected with international students in the area through Tiburon Baptist Church and loved serving God in that way.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in seminary is to love God more than anything. In my very first class in seminary, my professor said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “Often times it’s easy in ministry to love serving God more than you love Him.” Over the course of the next year, I found myself falling into that trap. I found satisfaction from doing service projects and telling other people about Jesus. But I realized that I talked about Him more than I talked to Him. I began to feel very superficial, like I was preaching something I didn’t actually practice. God brought me to a breaking point where I was stripped of all of my ministry titles and everything else that I had used to be my identity. He showed me that my identity could only be found in HIM. Though this was a painful process, I am so thankful that I learned this now. I would not be prepared to go into full-time ministry if God was not the core of my being.

These spiritual lessons, along with the theological knowledge I’ve gained, have prepared me for the next step in my journey. This summer, I will move to Hawaii where I will share Christ with international students at the University of Hawaii. God gave me a passion for international students many years ago, and He used my experience at Golden Gate to confirm that call. I am so excited to see what He has in store!

When we leave this place today, we will embark on a new phase of our lives. Some of you will be pastors, some will be missionaries, some will stay in America, others will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Let’s commit today to being fully present, and to loving Jesus more than anything else. Our seminary experience has prepared and equipped us for ministry. Now let’s go be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and fulfill the great commission together.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


“Some of the women you will encounter today have never been touched in a positive, loving way.” said Ruthie, the founder of Because Justice Matters.

“Many of them have been trafficked into the sex industry, they have been raped, beaten, and they have no self-worth. Today isn’t just about giving make-overs…it could be life-changing for them.”

It was a Saturday and I was sitting in the basement of YWAM San Francisco, getting trained on how to minister to the women of the Tenderloin District. Because Justice Matters (BJM) works to end injustice by taking a stand against modern-day slavery, domestic violence, discrimination against immigrants and economic inequality.

They reach out to women on the streets, in strip clubs and massage parlors. They share Christ with them and seek to show them that they are beautiful and have value in Christ. On this particular day, BJM was hosting a Spa Day.

“You will see all sorts of women today,” Ruthie continued, “Some are prostitutes, some are mentally ill or on drugs, and we have a transvestite population that frequently comes as well. If you see a transvestite, refer to them as a woman, because that is the way they want to be seen.”

As uncomfortable as I felt, I couldn’t wait for the day to begin. This was a brand new experience for me and I was about to have the opportunity to share Jesus with some of the most cast-out people in our society.

We made our way upstairs to get ready for the women to arrive. The room was beautifully decorated with colorful balloons, relaxing spa music, and a table overflowing with every imaginable kind of muffin. This day was all about making those sweet women feel special and pampered.

I was assigned to the facial/make-over team. As a girl who has trouble putting on her own makeup, I was a little worried when I realized I would have to put it on someone else! But thankfully, we had a cosmetologist who trained us in how to apply the four facial creams and then apply the makeup.

The doors opened and women of all shapes and sizes filed in. Some young, some old; some black, white or Hispanic. Some in great physical shape, others in wheel chairs. For a little while, I didn’t have anyone to give a makeover to, so I just watched as the women got pampered. I felt my eyes well up with tears as I realized that this was perhaps the first time these women had ever had a chance to go to a spa and feel beautiful.

My first “client” was a loud, curious woman named Karen*. She wanted to know the ingredients of every single cream I put on her face. I neglected to tell her that she was actually the first person I had ever given a facial to. When I asked her where she lived, her response was, “Oh, you know…here and there.”

That’s when I realized that most of these women hopped from shelter to shelter with no place to call home.

Karen and I had a great conversation, and her makeup actually ended up looking pretty good!  A little while after she left the doors opened again and in walked Harmony*.

Harmony was wearing black tights, tall black boots, a mini-skirt, a pink top, and had colorful hair extensions. But even from far away, I could tell that Harmony was most definitely a man. (But I will refer to her as a “her” throughout the rest of this story).

For some reason, I immediately knew that she was going to come to my chair. She walked back to the facial and makeup station. There were about 10 of us giving facials, and they told her she could choose where she wanted to sit. She slowly scanned the room until she finally pointed directly at me and said, “YOU.”

Gulp. “Okay, I can do this!” I thought to myself.

As I massaged the cream into her whiskery face, I asked Harmony about her life. She said that she had been living in San Francisco for a few months, and didn’t really have any friends here.

“No friends, just acquaintances,” she said in her deep voice. “You’re one of my best friends here now.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt so guilty and ashamed of the way I had judged people like Harmony in the past. And here she was, telling me that I was one of her best friends.

I’ve seen plenty of transvestites since I’ve lived in San Francisco, but in the past, my reaction has generally been one of shock and disapproval. I am ashamed to say that I never really felt compassion on them before.

But that changed in the twenty minutes that I spent with Harmony. I realized that behind the makeup and the fake boobs, there is a hurting, lonely person who has never experienced God’s love.

How can I condemn her sin when Harmony doesn’t know the Savior?

I wish I could tell you that I led Harmony to the Lord and that her life was radically changed. I don’t know if those twenty minutes impacted her at all. But for me, it changed my perspective.

I feel like I got a glimpse of how Jesus views people. I was broken for her and wanted nothing more than to show her love in every way that I could- even if it was just by putting bright blue eye shadow on her sad eyes.

You see, people don’t come to know Jesus by Christians pointing our fingers at them and telling them all the things they shouldn’t do. While I may not approve of their lifestyle, I choose to see the sinner rather than the sin.

I think Jesus would have been right there with us, loving those women. In Scripture, we never see Jesus hatefully judging others. Instead, he goes to their homes, he eats with them, he touches them, and he shows that he truly cares about them before he addresses the sin.

I’m reminded of the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to stone her. But Jesus stooped down and drew on the ground. Then he said, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I imagine it got very silent as his words sunk in and they realized that this woman’s sins were no greater than their own. One by one, they walked away until only the woman was left.

Jesus then said, “I do not condemn you, go, and sin no more.”

Jesus did not approve of her sin, but he loved the woman. He loved her so much that he stood up for her in front of a crowd of religious leaders.

I think Jesus and Harmony would be good friends. They would probably go out for coffee, and one day, when she was ready, I think Harmony would choose to follow Him.

My hope is that we will choose to be the hands and feet of Jesus and reach out to people like Harmony with compassion, rather than condemnation.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of these women

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Finishing Well

Deep appreciation and a hint of nostalgia have been accompanying me these past few weeks.

In a month, I will graduate and say goodbye to California. This place has been my home for the past two years. Knowing that I’ll soon be leaving has made me want to savor every single moment that I have left.

When I ran cross-country in high school, I remember the exhilarating feeling I had when I was nearing the end of a race. No matter how exhausted I was, whenever I could see the finish line in the distance, I would give it my all and sprint towards it with all of my might. I have that same feeling right now. The end is in sight, so even in the midst of papers and projects and busy schedules, I want to give it my all and finish well.

Part of me wishes I had more time here. The San Francisco Bay area has become one of my favorite places in the world. I love the unique, eclectic people; the diversity; the beautiful scenery. It’s simply a wonderful place to live.

But I think I also am fond of the Bay because I associate it with the transformation I’ve had while living here. When I moved to San Francisco, I was 23 and had a lot to learn. I’m now 25 (and still have a lot to learn), but I feel like I’m leaving with a sense of maturity and independence that I didn’t necessarily have before.

My first year here had its challenges as I went through some sort of an identity crisis. God met me at my lowest point and faithfully brought me out of the pit. He reminded me that my identity can only be found in HIM- not my personality, or the mission trips I go on, or anything else.

That gave me a sense of confidence that I have never known. I trust Him more fully now than I ever have in my entire life. Because I know that He is faithful. That He hears me. And that He will always, always provide. He has given me a joy and peace and some days all I want to do is sit at His feet and gaze at His beauty. I’ve never been more in love with my Jesus.

So as I prepare to leave this place, I feel a mix of emotions. I will certainly miss my friends and professors. I’ll miss the family I work for and my sweet church. I’ll miss exploring Marin and spending every possible moment outside. But I won’t grieve when I leave, because I know that it’s time for me to move on to the next stage of my life.

This summer, I’ll visit family and friends in NC, and in July I will move back to beautiful Hawaii where I’ll join the staff of International Baptist Ministries. I am so very excited to see God move in the lives of international students and am completely humbled to be a part of His work!

Until then, I’m going to keep savoring these moments and soak in as much of California as I can before these few short weeks are gone. I’m so thankful for the journey He is taking me on.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Just Call Me Ashley

Do you ever have those moments where you have to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming? Today I had one of those “I can’t believe this is happening” moments.

I had a 2 hour break from work, so I headed to a quirky little restaurant in Mill Valley to eat lunch and get some studying done. If you look up the word “eclectic” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Mama’s Royal Café. It’s bright and colorful and has weird trinkets all over the walls. You could spend the whole day looking at the strange decorations in this place. On one wall, there is a large Pharaoh’s head, on the other there are pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Then there are guitars made out of toilet seats. You remember Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus? (the lady with all the weird earrings?) Yeah, this is the kind of place she would hang out.

So I walk in to the restaurant and the hostess (who looks like she is related to Ms. Frizzle) immediately exclaims, “Hello Ashley!” I look to my right, and then to my left. I am the only person standing there. I must have looked confused, but I don’t say anything. Then she says, “Do you want to sit in your normal spot?”

I hesitate, but finally nod and follow this woman to my (Ashley’s) usual spot. I think about correcting her, but I just don’t know how to tell her that I have no idea who Ashley is and I’m really confused. So I sit down, order my meal, and catch up with this lady who is supposedly a friend of mine. Now I’m wishing I had told her I am NOT Ashley. But I find that it’s kind of fun to pretend to be someone else, so I just imagine that I’m Ashley and I come to Mama’s Royal Café every morning to drink a cup a joe and write fantasy novels or something.

I’ve finished my glass of water, so I get up to find the waitress to ask for a refill. I see her out of the corner of my eye and say, “Excuse me, can I please have some more water?” And that’s when I realize that her mouth is moving at the exact same time mine is…and her hair is braided in the same way…and she is wearing my glasses…and…Oh my goodness, I am talking to my own reflection!

I neglected to see that one of the decorations on the wall was a narrow mirror positioned directly in front of myself. Somehow in the midst of being confused about being called Ashley, I mistook my reflection for the waitress! I didn’t really know how to recover from that one gracefully, so I just sat down and pretended like nothing happened.

But at least it wasn’t me that was embarrassed…it was Ashley. 

(The hostess eventually came to me and said, "Your name isn't Ashley is it?" I told her my real name and how confused I had been. She said Ashley is quite a bit older but she thought she got a face-lift. Then she gave me a cup of coffee on the house :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Glass Wall

Every day, when no one was looking, the girl cleaned the glass wall. She scrubbed and she scrubbed and she scrubbed until it was clean. So clean, that no one could see the wall at all. To everyone else, the glass wall was invisible. Not even a crack or a scratch could be found on it.

Behind the wall was everything good: her Bible, Jesus, her relationship with God. You see, everyone thought that the girl had a consistent walk with God. Afterall, she was the president of her youth group at church, she went on at least two mission trips a year, and she wore t-shirts with Bible verses on them.

The girl used to feel close to God, but somewhere along the way, she confused her love for serving God with her love for Him.  She began to find her identity in the way that people perceived her. She gradually drifted farther and farther away until one day she realized that this strange glass wall had appeared and was separating her from God. No one else could see the wall, but she knew it was there.

She wondered what this wall was. Was it unconfessed sin? Perhaps it was her pride? Whatever it was, she had to cover it up. If anyone discovered that she was not who they thought she was, she would lose everything.  So every morning, she would sneak out of bed while everyone was sleeping and scrub all of the imperfections off of the wall.

When it looked perfectly clear, she would sigh in relief and go through another day, pretending that she had it all together. Day after day, this was her routine. One morning, as she walked up to the wall to begin scrubbing it, she could see Jesus on the other side and he was trying to get her attention.

At first she ignored him. She only had a few minutes to clean the wall before everyone else woke up. But Jesus persisted to try to get her attention. Finally, he put his hand up against the glass wall and for the first time, the girl stopped what she was doing. On his hand, she noticed the scars from the nail that had pierced him when he died for her on the cross.

Her heart was heavy with shame and grief. She knew Jesus had died for her, and she chose to follow him a long time ago. The girl used to talk to Jesus every morning. Not always about serious things- but about everything: her dreams for the future, funny things that happened to her at school…she told him everything. But ever since that wall appeared, she had been so busy keeping it clean, that she hadn’t taken the time to talk to Jesus. Every day he would stand there, waiting, hoping for her to at least look at him. But the girl was too focused on keeping up her good appearance that she ignored him.

But on this particular day, the girl looked into Jesus’ eyes and her own began to fill up with tears. She missed him so much and wanted more than anything to climb in his lap and stay there forever. She knew what she needed to do.

From the ground, she picked up a jagged rock. Taking a deep breath, she stepped back and threw the rock with all of her might at the glass wall. At first, there was just one tiny hole in the wall. But within seconds, the glass began to crack and it shattered into millions of pieces. As the wall crashed to the ground, the girl gasped in air as if she was breathing for the very first time. Something amazing had changed within her the moment the wall was shattered!

She ran as fast as she could toward Jesus. It didn’t matter to her that she had cuts on her feet from stepping on the glass. She ran and she ran, straight into his arms. Jesus picked her up and spun her around. He was delighted to have her back! He treated her wounds and bandaged her feet as they caught up on the years they had lost.

The girl was so happy to be back with Jesus, without the glass wall separating her from him. She had forgotten how much better it was to be in his presence than to be on the other side of the wall, pretending to be perfect. She was so excited to be with Jesus that she didn’t even notice when people began to walk by. Of course, they noticed the glass all over the ground. And they saw that the girl had bandages on her feet.

But the girl didn’t care. Now she realized that it was better to have a few scrapes and scars and be with Jesus, than to be separated from him and appear to be perfect. Because when it comes down to it, no one is perfect after all. Jesus loved her even when she forgot about him. When she defined herself in things other than him, he was still knocking on the wall, hoping for her to notice him.  

The girl’s life changed that day. She no longer had to scrub and scrub and scrub the glass wall to make it clean. Instead, she talked with Jesus every morning. In fact, she talked to him all day long. And every day when she saw the fading scars on her feet, she vowed that she would never, ever, allow that glass wall to separate her from Jesus again.  

Her life was so abundant now that she could freely admit that she wasn’t perfect and just dwell in Jesus.  She would never return to her life behind the glass wall.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Different Kind of Birthday

It's easy to be selfish on your birthday. It's the one day a year that it's all about Y-O-U.

It's expected that you'll have streamers on your door, be treated to meals and coffee, blow out candles, and get  phone calls from all of your friends and family.

Though I enjoy all of these things and always feel super special, I've seen a common pattern in my life. On my birthday, I am consumed with myself...(and funfetti cupcakes).

So this year, I wanted to do something different. It just so happened that there was a day-long conference going on in the Tenderloin (see blog post below to hear about the Tenderloin) on March 10th. Perfect! Two of my good friends accompanied me and we headed off to San Francisco that morning for a day of worship and service.

600 Christians had gathered together to worship God and take his love into the hurting streets of the city. My team delivered hot meals to people in their apartment buildings. As I walked up the creaking steps, I wondered if I would fall through. I knocked on each door, anxious to see who would answer it and what their story would be. Most of the people I met that day were hungry, lonely, and empty. Their living conditions broke my heart. Of all the developing countries I've been to, I think these apartments were the worst I've seen. Cockroaches scurried across the floors with missing boards, the walls were coated in mold, and a terrible smell ran through the whole building. This was their home.

My eyes welled up with tears as I saw their faces and got a glimpse of how God's heart must ache for them. One man wept as my teammates prayed for him. He said he was so very lonely and didn't have any friends there. Perhaps God sent them to his room, not just for a hot meal, but so he could have someone to talk to.

Other members of our group were scattered around the Tenderloin doing different projects. From flash mob worship, to block parties, to sports camps- we had the district covered. One group set up a foot washing station where people could come get pedicures and makeovers. Then they could pick out some clothes and groceries for their families. We hope that people encountered Jesus that day.

Sometimes it's easy to feel good about yourself when you do something like this. It's satisfying to be able to meet a tangible need that someone has. While there's nothing wrong with feeling good, we must realize that we are not doing a "good deed" when we do these things. This is what we are commanded to do. It's not like we get extra jewels in our crown. It's a basic call of every Christian to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. In fact, when we don't do these things, we are neglecting the Gospel.

So what's the point?

A man approached us on the street as we were carrying boxes full of meals and asked what we were doing. When we told him, he responded with a grunt "Oh, so you're just making them more lazy."

That comment sent my brain into a spiral of thoughts about why we were doing these things in the first place. Was it really to help them, or was it just a way to make ourselves feel better? As good-intentioned as it was, the hot meals that we passed out on Saturday are not helping those people today. It may have sustained them for a few hours, but today they are most likely hungry again. So what's the point? The point is that Jesus loves them. And feeding them, clothing them and washing their feet is a tangible, practical way that we can demonstrate that love to them.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that I didn't agree with that man's statement. Some of those people were so bad off that they couldn't physically get out of their homes and get food on their own. We may not have been able to satisfy their physical hunger, but they encountered Jesus and were left with the Gospel presentation printed on their food box. Who knows how God will continue to work long after we left their homes.

So this year my birthday looked a lot different. In fact, I didn't even really think about the fact that it was my birthday all day. But I liked it that way. It was so cool to see the body of Christ come together and serve our city. Even though I didn't eat funfetti cupcakes, it was my best birthday yet!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Drug Dealers, Pimps, and Lessons Learned

I felt like I was walking through the streets of Hell.

Sleeping bodies lined the streets, making it like a maze to walk through. I brushed shoulders with drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes…you name it. Spiritual darkness weighed heavily on me as I took in my surroundings.

Could this really be what life is like just 15 miles away from the fairytale-ish place I live?

It was Friday night and I was in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco with a group of my fellow Seminary friends. The Tenderloin is notoriously known for its crime, drugs and seedy culture. My friends had been going out regularly to do evangelism there, and I was excited to join them for the first time.

“That corner over there is where most of the drug deals take place,” my friend informed me. Sadness crept into my heart and stayed there for most of the night.

I didn’t know what to expect or how I would approach the people, but I had a strange sense of confidence and security. I knew God created those people and loves them and I had no fear in being there. We were carrying around socks to pass out to people who needed them. But we were informed not to give socks to men wearing new, nice shoes. Those were the pimps. They didn’t need socks.

But Victor needed socks. We met Victor as he was rummaging through the trash, looking for something of value, or something to eat. The first thing I noticed was his cross necklace (and his t-shirt with Obama’s face on it).

“Would you like some socks?” we asked with a smile.

He gladly accepted them and we chatted with him for a few minutes. He accepted Christ two years ago and says he has stayed out of prison since. As we walked away I couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like to trust in God and yet still have to dig through the trash every day to find a way to survive. What would my faith be like if I lived like that?

Then we met Ted. After proposing to marry the three of us girls, he explained that he used to be the biggest drug dealer in the area, claiming that he made $1000 a day. His one-legged friend, Papa, sat in a wheelchair next to him, skeptical of everything we said about Jesus. Even if they didn’t agree with us, Ted said, “I can feel some kind of good spirit in you girls.”

Aaron is a sweet store-owner from Fiji. We talked to him for about an hour about his religious beliefs. He is Hindu, but believes that all roads lead to heaven. He loves Jesus…and Krishna…and many other Gods. Listening to him made me wish I had paid more attention in my World Religions class in undergrad. How do you share the Gospel with someone who already believes in Jesus but is convinced He isn’t the only way? My friend eloquently shared a story from the Bible with him. He wants to sit down with us to talk about it sometime.

These are just a few of the 37,000 people who live in the Tenderloin district. They are lonely, mentally unstable, hungry, desperate, angry, addicted, wasted, and in need of a savior. When I looked into their eyes, I sensed darkness and sadness.

I wish I could hear all of their stories. Yes, today they are drug dealers and pimps, but what were their lives like before? What happened to Ted when he was a little boy? Surely Victor hasn’t always dug through the trash. Something must have happened along the way that brought him to this point.

One man said to us, “This here is the end of our lives. We’re stuck here and there’s no hope of things gettin’ any better.”

But praise God this is not true! The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a NEW creation. The old is gone, the new has come!” He can take the most sinful, “terrible” person and wash them white as snow through the power of his cleansing blood.

One of the lessons I took away from the Tenderloin is that those people are no worse than I am. We have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The only difference between me and them is that I have recognized my sins and trusted Jesus to cover them. How I long for those dear people to experience God’s mercy and grace, just like I have.

People like this aren’t just in the Tenderloin. There are hurting, lonely people all over this country and all over the world. So many weekends I relax and go out to eat and watch movies. While that isn’t bad, it seems so pointless now that I’ve seen the contrasting, hurting world that exists right across the bay. So where is your Tenderloin? Are you willing to step out and go?

We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let’s go shine it in the darkest places. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Singleness: Why I'm okay with it

My eyes were blinded by the sparkling diamonds that were on every left ring finger in the room except for mine.

I was hanging out with some old college friends and after a few moments of conversation, I suddenly felt out of place. Talks of in-laws and diaper bags faded into white noise as I entered my own little world of thoughts.

It was strange to think that a few years ago, these friends and I were experiencing life together. Now they had husbands and some had children. I was still very single and didn’t know how to relate to them anymore. Of course I still cared about them and enjoyed their company, but I just felt…different.

“So…any prospects for you? I mean, time is ticking!”

I snapped out of my daydream as my friend jokingly directed this question at me.

I casually replied, “Well, you know, I’m really content being single and don’t know if I’ll get married. I’m cool with it either way.”

You could almost hear crickets chirping in the background and from the looks on their faces, I wondered if I had suddenly developed three heads.

Someone quickly changed the subject, but the awkwardness of the conversation still lingered in the air. I was dumbfounded.

Why was it so appalling that someone could actually be content being single?

I’ve found that young adults, especially in the Christian community, feel a pressure to find “Mr. or Mrs. Right” before life can truly begin. Even worse, we’re made to think that in order to fulfill God’s will, we must first have a spouse.

I totally disagree.

I think marriage is wonderful and a beautiful representation of God’s love for the body of Christ. However; it simply isn’t the answer to our loneliness and life purpose.

Getting married will not solve all of life’s problems. Our satisfaction must be found in Christ alone.

Singleness is not a curse

When I tell people that I’m single, I get a lot of different responses. Some will say, “Well you know, they say it happens when you least expect it!” or, “Oh….I’m sorry honey, I’m sure God’s got the perfect one for you out there somewhere.” I’ve occasionally gotten the blatant, “Well why not? You need to get out there and join one of those dating websites.”

It’s hard to know how to respond to some of those comments, but I usually try to do it as gracefully as possible. As much as I appreciate their concern, I want people to understand that I honestly am content and don’t want people to feel sorry for me.

Singleness is not a curse. There’s nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t mean you aren’t pretty or aren’t cool enough for a guy to pursue you. I think it simply means that for this season of life, God wants to have you to Himself. I actually prefer to see singleness as a blessing.

The way I see it is that this is a time in my life that I can have the freedom to travel the world and explore and discover who God created me to be. When I feel led to move somewhere, I have nothing holding me back. I want to treasure these years and truly live life to the fullest.

Being married used to be something I would dream about as a little girl. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that marriage is not the end-all be-all. If it happens one day, I’m sure it’ll be great and I will love it. However; the reality is that it might not happen and surprisingly that really doesn’t upset me anymore.

Marriage is not my ultimate goal in life. Just like everything else on this earth, marriage is temporary. My ultimate goal in life is to glorify God and to tell others about Him. If I can bring Him more glory as a wife and mother, then I’d love to get married one day. But if I can glorify Him more by staying single, I will gladly stay this way.

Instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself, I choose to be confident in who God created me to be. Whatever the future holds, I choose to rejoice, knowing that either way God is in control. So don’t feel sorry for me, friends! I’m loving life and am living it up…even though I don’t have a shiny diamond ring on my finger.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sister Hashinka

I can still see her big brown eyes and dark black hair weaved into two braids. It's been two years since I was in Sri Lanka, but Hashinka's face comes to my mind almost daily.
Hashinka in 2006
I wonder what she is doing. Is she still in school? Is she already married? Has anyone else come to tell her about Jesus?

We met in 2006 when I was in Sri Lanka for two months. Every week, I would come to her village to dig wells and build houses. At the time, she was 13 and I was 19. She became my little Sri Lankan sister. We had a blast together.

When our van rolled up the dirt path, she would run outside barefooted and wave with a huge smile on her face. I'd always look forward to going into her house and having tea with her and her mom. We didn't speak the same language, so we acted most things out. We had inside jokes and would laugh til we cried!

At the end of that summer, I was heart broken to leave Hashinka and the rest of my friends. It was mutual. Hashinka's mom told me that they night after I left, she could hear Hashinka weeping in her room in the middle of the night.

The last thing I wanted to do was go back to my comfortable life in America when I had developed such a deep friendship with such an unlikely person on the other side of the world. Only God could have orchestrated a friendship between two people so culturally different who didn't even speak the same language!

That year we wrote letters back and forth. Mostly our letters were just drawings. Every time I would see a red, white and blue envelope in my mailbox, I couldn't open it fast enough, knowing it came from Sri Lanka.

The next summer, I went back to visit Hashinka and my other precious friends on that South Asian island. We picked up right where we had left off, as if no time had passed.
Hashinka and her mom, Malanie, in 2007
She had matured so much in the past year and was even more beautiful. Hashinka's spirit is so sweet and calm. It was fun to walk into her home that year and see photos of us on her wall. I knew then that we had both remembered each other every day throughout the past year. When it came time to leave that summer, it was even harder. I didn't know how long it would be before I would see her again. It broke my heart to get on the airplane and leave my beloved island. 

saying goodbye to Hashinka in 2007
It ended up being three longs years before I was able to visit Hashinka again. I can't describe the feeling I had when I pulled up into her village that day. She had no idea I was coming and I had no idea if she even lived there anymore. I nearly jumped out of the van before it had stopped. This was the moment I had dreamed of for the past three years. 

First I saw her mom, and before I knew it she was running back to her house and came back with 17-year-old Hashinka, who had turned into such a beautiful young woman. Our reunion was short but sweet. On that trip I was able to share the story of Jesus with Hashinka. Through the years, she had been a constant prayer for me. I had told her about Jesus before, but this time she listened intently and we both cried. My heart ached for her to know Him. It was like God had given me His heart for her and I was overwhelmed by how much He loved her.

When I said goodbye that summer, I left with a peace, knowing that Hashinka knew about God's love for her. It's been two years now and I still wonder if she has chosen to know Him. I pray daily that God will draw her to Himself so that my sweet sister can experience. Him.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stormy Sea of Galilee

The wooden boat rocked back and forth as the waves tossed violently beneath us. Dark grey clouds threatened to swallow the sun and the wind encircled our small boat with huge gusts.

I was on the Sea of Galilee with a few of my professors and a group of friends. We huddled around Dr. Pate as he read the story where Jesus calmed the Sea. Suddenly the Bible story I grew up hearing in Sunday School had come to life.

"One day He and His disciples got into a boat, and He told them, "Let's cross over to the other side of the lake." So they set out, and as they were sailing He fell asleep. Then a fierce windstorm came down on the lake; they were being swamped and were in danger. They came and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to die!" Then He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them "Where is your faith?" They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, "Who can this be? He commands even the winds and waves, and they obey Him!" Luke 8:22-25

For perhaps the first time, I understood the humanity of the disciples. Being on a boat in the middle of the Sea is not exactly my ideal place to be during a storm. I can see why they were afraid. I totally identified with them as I listened to the words of this story.

I peered over the edge of the boat and imagined how Peter's heart must have been pounding when he dipped one foot in the water...and then the other, in order to walk toward Jesus in another Bible story. It blew my mind to think that I was looking at the same water where those miracles took place.

Would I have the faith to step out onto the water like he did?

The great thing about both of those stories is that Jesus was there for his disciples. When they were afraid, Jesus commanded the wind and waves to stop. When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the raging waves around him, he began to sink. But Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

I wonder how many times Jesus has said this to me. When I worry about the future, when I get anxiety about finances, when I take my eyes off of Jesus and am distracted by the things of this world. I can just see Jesus reaching down to pick me up and saying, "Meredith, why did you doubt?"

He is always there. When we get afraid and when we take our eyes off of him, He is always ready to pick us up. It took a stormy day on the Sea of Galilee to remind me of this.