Monday, March 29, 2010

New Orleans Service Trip

Only a couple of days ago, I returned from a week-long service trip to New Orleans. Accompanying me were twelve other people from my school in MA, including two professors and their wives. This was my first time in NOLA, but ever since hearing about Hurricane Katrina so many years ago, I have felt called to serve there. This was my first opportunity to do so.

Our trip was really amazing. We were very blessed to have an incredible (and incredibly hard-working) team. We partnered with Faith Bible Church in Slidell, LA. While in the area, we were able to build a wheelchair ramp for a family in which the mother was wheel-chair bound. We also got to do some tiling and painting work for Faith Bible Church, and it was truly a blessing to be able to serve the church that was serving us by allowing us to stay their and use their resources to serve the community. But, ironically, the most amazing part for me was not the rebuilding projects that we got to work on. Instead, I was most touched by our demolition project.

On our first work day, we were driven to a mobile home only a few minutes from the church we were staying at. The mobile home had been flooded during the aftermath of Katrina, and, since then (and like so many others) had developed a mold infestation. The man who owned the home is currently recovering from chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, so his immune system is basically shot, making the mold in his mobile home even more dangerous for him than it is for the average person. So, we were asked to tear it down. It was hard, disgusting work. There was mold everywhere, as well as dead cockroaches, rats (and rat feces), and lots of other creepy-crawlies.

On the other hand, besides throwing out dead creatures, ruined insulation, and mold-infested floorboards, we also were throwing out lots of very personal possessions. We found diaries, old birthday and Christmas cards, clothing, awards, school records, and letters. It is amazing what you can learn about someone from throwing away their trash. You can discover that they are members of Sam's Club, that their son was in Boy Scouts, that Busch is their favorite type of beer, and that they have had many rough patches in their marriage where they almost called it quits. You can find out that the mother, instead of paying for a manicure, puts on and maintains fake nails herself. (This was a rather sobering discovery for me. My mother always maintained her own fake nails when I was a child, so this really made me realize that tragedy can befall anyone, and these people are no different from me).

What I came to realize throughout this experience of throwing out someone else's damaged possessions is that (a) human beings really tend to hoard possessions - it is amazing how much one person can accumulate!; and (2) all of these possessions that we work so hard to accumulate can be taken away in a split second. We find so much of our identity in what we own, and yet those items can be ruined so easily and so quickly. And no one is safe from this danger. We need to protect our hearts and souls. We need to find our identity in God and God alone. He is the only "Thing" that cannot be destroyed or taken away from us.

Beyond these small epiphanies, though, our demolition project was so neat because the finished product was so different than what we started with. If I had not been a part of the demolition process myself, I would never have believed that our finished product was the same lot that a dumpy, damaged, old mobile home had once occupied. It felt so incredible to look at this plot of land and see so many possibilities where an old, ratty mobile home had once rested. I could not believe how intense the sense of accomplishment I felt was. We truly transformed that plot of land (much to the neighbors' delight!).

All in all, we really had a great trip, and I hope and pray that I will get the opportunity to take this same journey again next year.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Praise God In All Things...

As Christians, we are called to praise God in all things, in all circumstances, in all situations. But we rarely do this. We complain about the jerk who cut us off. We groan about our dead-end jobs. We grumble about our families or friends. We whine about our bank accounts, paying taxes, and our opposing political party. In short, we fail miserably at praising God always. Even when our lives are brighter and more beautiful than we could ever have expected, we still find the one or two small imperfections and focus on those.

I'm sure that I have failed every day at praising God in all things. This is something that I have been attempting to change in my own life. I recently had an experience that greatly convicted me of my need to readjust my priorities and learn to praise God's name in all things and all situations.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I found out that our very dear friends' youngest son was hit by a car and killed. The details of the situation are not important - all that is important is that their not-quite-two-year-old boy was killed. My husband and I, of course, headed home on the next flight and, as soon as we arrived, rushed to our friends' home. I will never forget what I saw next.

When we entered the house, the first thing I saw, amidst the hushed cries and whispered words of shock, was our friends, the parents of the killed boy, praising God. Less than twenty-four hours previously, their little boy was taken from them, and yet all I heard from their mouths was, "Praise you, God. We praise you and thank you. We trust you in all things. We thank you for our baby boy's life. We love you and praise you, God." And I realized then that I have never seen anything more beautiful than this.

I was also, then, deeply convicted. I am so greatly blessed in my life. I am happier (not to mention healthier) than I have ever been. I have an amazing husband who loves me unconditionally and is completely devoted to me. I have wonderful and supportive friends, and, though we now live far apart, we love each other dearly. I have been blessed with a great education. I have a roof over my head, more than enough food, clothes on my back and plenty in my closet. I have so much more than so many people. I love my life. I really do. And, for the first time in my life, I feel safe, secure, loved, and cherished. What more do I want? What more will it take for me to praise God in all things.

See, when it comes down to it, it is not what we have or who we know that makes us praise God. Rather, it is our heart attitude that makes us praise God. We need to have a heart of praise, and, if we do, it won't matter how much money is (or isn't) in our bank account, where we work, or what sorts of possessions surround us. No indeed. If we foster a heart of praise within us, it will not matter the circumstances or situations that may arise; no matter what and in all things we will praise God.

If we were to truly realize who God is and who we are in comparison, we would never stop praising God. And that is what I strive for.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Holy Spirit Shower

I love being in the shower. I feel so relaxed, so worry-free, so safe when I'm showering. Pardon the pun, but while I'm in the shower, I feel like all of the worries and troubles awaiting me in the outside world are just washed away. Which is why the shower is one of my favorite places to pray.

For some reason, more than anywhere else, the shower is where I am able to completely forget the outside world and focus on God. True, these times aren't always world-shaking, life-altering experiences - but isn't that just how it goes? Not every worship experience is a mind-blowing encounter with God. Sometimes it's just a worship experience. And that's okay, because we are called to worship, and when we do that, even if we do not notice any change in the physical realm because of our worship, I have no doubts that the spiritual realm has been changed, even if only slightly. Don't forget: we're in a battle here, and it's not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers of darkness.

But still, sometimes I just want God to rock me. That's how I felt two days ago when I stepped into the shower. As John Mark McMillan blasted on the stereo (can I legitimately call my iPod dock a "stereo?"), I was struck by his lyrics in "Alive": "I guess that I'm thinking that it's been too long since I fell down hard and bled my heart all over you. But maybe I never recovered from the last one."

That's how I felt. I felt that it had been too long since I fell down hard and bled myself all over God. And then I thought about the last time I did that. And then I was immersed in a full-on, beautiful, life-giving, life-altering, Holy Spirit-filled, worshipful shower. I just let myself go as the water rushed over me. I sang at the top of my lungs. I danced (as much as I could without endangering myself in our mat-less tub). I prayed. In short, I finally fell down hard and bled myself all over God. And it was amazing.

It's not always like that, but for some reason, on that particular day, John Mark McMillan's lyrics just caught me off guard and broke me. If you haven't heard of or listened to John Mark, I highly recommend it. I didn't really like him that much at first because...well...he has an unusual voice. It is not nearly as "pretty" as other singers. But his voice and lyrics are so full of beauty and raw emotion that it didn't take long before I was overtaken. Take a listen sometime if you get a chance.

But I digress. The point is, we all need to fall down hard and bleed ourselves all over God once in a while. I should probably do it much more than I do...but then again, maybe part of its beauty is its rarity.