Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Firefighter, My Hero

400 pairs of feet marched mechanically through the silent room. Their faces were solemn. Each firefighter’s badge was covered with a black band, representing that one of them had fallen.  A young hero came to his death tragically and unexpectedly and well over a thousand people had gathered to commemorate his life.

I watched their faces as they passed his coffin and paid tribute to their friend, their co-worker, their brother. Their eyes were filled with sorrow.

After the pass and review, Buddhist monks lined up around the coffin and set up for the ceremony. The strong smell of incense drifted through the air. Men in long cloaks hit metal gongs and other instruments as they chanted and groaned, creating a disturbing cacophony.

My heart went out to the crowd around me. Though I didn’t know Mitchell personally, I could tell he had deeply invested his life in so many people. Most of all, I grieved for his parents who had lost their only child.

As the low, droning chants of the monks continued, I closed my eyes and prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit to enter this dark feeling place. In a room full of mourning, hopeless people, I prayed that God would be the one who would comfort their weary souls. No amount of chanting to Buddha could ever do that.

Friends and co-workers of Mitch then went forward to share stories about him in remembrance of his life. The stories made us laugh and cry. He truly seemed to have lived a life of love and excitement.

The very last person to share a word was my favorite firefighter in the world. He slipped out from the seat next to me, walked to the front, unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket, and looked out at the crowd. His deep brown eyes were full of compassion, kindness, and confidence.

He began by offering condolences to those who had been close to Mitch. Then he so eloquently and graciously presented the Gospel of Jesus to this crowd of lost people. He didn’t shy away from the truth. He saw the opportunity and used it to offer HOPE. His words were spoken out of love, not of condemnation.

From my seat, I looked at my sweet boyfriend while my eyes filled with tears. I had never been so proud of anyone. I was so proud of his strength and his willingness to shine for Jesus in the darkest of places. Carmi and I have very different “mission fields,” but I’m convinced his is the hardest. Even though he isn’t a vocational missionary like I am, the way he lives his life every day points the souls of those men to Jesus. They see a difference in the way he treats others, the way he serves without being asked, his faithful commitment to me, and even through the things he refrains from saying and doing. The battle is tough, but he is doing so well.

God calls us to be wise in the way we act toward outsiders and to make the most of every opportunity. My sweet Carmi lives up to that calling every day.

“Jesus wept with Mary and Martha. And He is weeping with us now. He’s here to offer us hope when we place our trust in him.”

His words gave hope and spoke life into a desperate and sad situation. When life is hard and I face difficulties, I pray I will have the same strength I see in Carmi.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lessons through Relationship

At the age of 25, I had still never been on a real date. I was certain that I was a weirdo, but I was perfectly okay with my single state. I even wrote a blog about how being single was a blessing.

But then on January 15th, I met this local boy with a backwards cap and a friendly smile and I was smitten. We began a friendship and before I knew it, I was in a relationship for the first time! The emotions and experiences that most of the world faces at the age of 16 were suddenly hitting me in my mid-twenties.

Childish excitement kept me from sleeping as I re-played the sweet moments of getting to know this special young man. I had NO idea what I was doing. He didn’t exactly know what he was doing either, but it was fun to figure it out together :)

Months passed and our relationship continued to blossom. What I didn’t anticipate was all of the lessons I would learn through sharing life so closely with another person. The parts of myself that I had usually kept hidden from others were now exposed as my heart had been opened.

This process was painful! My sinful nature (pride, jealously, selfishness, etc.) came to the surface. It’s never fun to have someone see your faults and especially to admit your own faults. This year has brought me to my knees in repentance more than ever before. While this was extremely challenging at times and brought on so much stress, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a deep appreciation for the cross and what Jesus did for me. In the past, I always felt like a pretty “good” person. I may say a little white lie here and there but I couldn’t really pinpoint my sins. But after being in a relationship and dealing with these new emotions, I realized the weight of my sins. It brought me to the feet of Jesus and I could finally grasp what it meant for his blood to wash over my sins and make me white as snow.

Being in a relationship is teaching me to be more like Jesus. No longer am I living for myself. I no longer do whatever I want, whenever I want. I have another person to consider when I make decisions. His needs and wants come before my own. Laying down my selfishness has been a refining process in itself. It’s been a challenge to let go of some of my independence. In my single days, it was common for me to go on walks at midnight to pray and spend time with God. However; knowing that this makes my boyfriend extremely worried has caused me to give up what I want to do in order to keep him from worrying. I’ve had to lay down my pride and ask for forgiveness many times when I’ve failed him.   

Loving another person and being loved by him has taught me so much about God’s love for me. Even on the days when I am moody, emotional, and I sin against him, he is patient, forgiving and loving. I feel so unworthy, yet he loves me anyway! And to think that God’s love is even better than that! His love for us is PERFECT and holy. It’s also been a great joy to love God by loving him. I want to always be there for him to encourage him, support him and pray for him. I’m not perfect at it, but I strive to love him in the same way that Christ loves me.

The theme verse through our relationship has been “Love endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 7). Even though we come from vastly different cultures and upbringings; Even though we disagree on some things and each have our own quirks; Even when our eyes are swollen from crying and we just want to give up- we strive to glorify the Lord together.

Being in a relationship is harder than I expected. If Satan has his way, a relationship has the potential to distract you from God. We have to constantly strive to love Christ first, then love each other. Some days are hard and it isn’t always a magical fairytale, but the JOY that comes through striving to give of myself and love another person; the BLESSING of being loved no matter how unloveable I am…this has made this year one of the most teachable years of my life. I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve matured as I pray daily to seek the LORD for his favor and direction for the future.

I’ve learned that no matter which season of life I am in, God is still the same. He teaches me different things in different seasons. Whether I’m single, or whether I’m in a relationship with a godly man, or whether I’m married one day- I want my life’s purpose to be to glorify the LORD and exalt his name forever.