Sunday, April 23, 2017

Beauty

It’s a concept often in the background of our minds. It’s why we like certain places, websites, songs, and yes, even people. It affects many of our choices daily.

Our girls are taught that they are beautiful, that they should always think of themselves as beautiful, and that beauty comes from within. They are also shown that women go to great lengths to act like they believe what they preach. Make-up, surgeries, expensive clothes and gym memberships don’t always reinforce the sermons.

But lots of people talk about our need to feel beautiful. I’ve been wondering today, “Is it really a good thing to be beautiful today?”

I won’t say that beauty isn’t good in general. I could never deny that a beautiful flower, song or waterfall is good. But there are pros and cons to everything, and beauty is no exception.

I grew up thinking that I was too pretty to have fun outside with the boys, and that my prettiness, my girlness, was the weakness which they hated. Then I watched friendships crack because either the boy thought the girl was pretty and didn’t know how to react, or one of the girls got jealous of the prettiness of the other. Then men started looking at me in ways that made me feel uncomfortable, or making cat-calls that made me ashamed. I concluded that being pretty was simply not worth it, and decided to hide behind what I believed was “modesty.”

I’ve heard enough sermons on that every woman is beautiful to know that I have some beauty in me. God didn’t create non-beautiful humans, and you are no exception. But I’m sure that you have seen the perversion of beauty just as much as I have. To be honest, much of my life I have desperately wished I was boy. I wanted either a sister to show me that I was okay as a girl, or to be accepted by brothers’ friends. Neither one happened, and I had no one to enjoy beautiful things with, so as I grew older all that I saw of beauty was the mis-use of it.

I felt guilty if I dressed up for church and caught a guy watching me walk by. I threw away my favorite dresses because I got too many compliments (or just never wore them in public again). I don’t know if anyone else was afraid of beauty growing up, but I let that fear change me.
Beauty is full of power. The power of a waterfall to bring us to our knees in worship is its beauty. The power of a flower to heal a hurting heart is beauty. The power of a beautiful woman to inspire people… or to trip them up…  is a real thing. And I’ve always been afraid to have power with risk. It’s why I don’t yet have a driver’s license.

But if we just ignore this power, we are defeated by the cons. This goes with anything. If you’re injured in a sport that you’ve loved for years, do you dwell on the injury and never go back to play? I hope not. If your beauty is misused, do you hide it and never try to use it for good again? Do you decide it’s not worth trying to use for good? I did that, and I’m afraid too many of us do.
If the beauty of a waterfall is meant to bring us to worship God, have you ever seen it misused? I’m not talking about making a dam out of it, because that’s harnessing power God gave us and subduing the Earth. If someone were to worship the waterfall instead of the Creator, or worship Mother Nature instead of Jesus, that would be a misuse of the beauty of the waterfall. But would that mean that the waterfall should not be beautiful? No. It should still be beautiful, but why?

What is the purpose of beauty? If people want to be beautiful so badly, there must be real purpose to it. If it were simply to make ourselves feel better, it’s not worth it. If it were to get attention from others, not worth it. God doesn’t make so much of something that is useless. There must be something more.

I’ve made a number of things throughout my lifetime. Paintings, drawings, dresses, quilts, blogposts. Each time, they were done when I thought they were perfect. I worked on it, and didn’t stop until I was completely satisfied. If these things were for a gift, it was nice if the person I gave it to liked it, but that didn’t change my satisfaction with my work. If they wanted it altered, okay, it was their thing. But I was proud of it the way I made it, and it was beautiful to make me happy. I hoped it made other people happy, but that actually mattered less to me than my own satisfaction with my work.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. God didn’t make us to be beautiful to each other. He didn’t even make us to be beautiful to ourselves. He made us to be beautiful to Him. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if some people worship the waterfall instead of the Creator. We are simply to use our beauty to glorify Him, and what people do with it is their problem. We are to dwell more on what God thinks of us than what humans think.

Modesty is using beauty to glorify God, not distract each other or bring attention to ourselves.


So I guess the question isn’t “Is it good to be beautiful?” The question is, “How should we each glorify God with the beauty in us?”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Four Most Important Words

Love, humility, hospitality and perspective.

If only I could tell you how these four concepts are so intricately intertwined. Each depends on the others, and none can exist void of the group.

College teaches you way more than what's in the textbooks, and by far, the most important things I've learned cannot be found in the pages of a Education or Biochemistry book.

Being in a committed relationship requires one to not only watch the person who's in a relationship with him, but also for him to look deep within himself. "Am I truly loving this person? Can we keep loving each other for the rest of our lives?" The list of questions goes on and on, but I think the most important one is the first question I mentioned. "Am I truly loving this person?" That question should be applied to every single relationship we are in, whether friendly, familial or professional.

Love is definitely not all about feelings. It's not even mostly about how you feel. As far as I can tell, it's mostly about what you do. I learned quite quickly when I started to look at myself and how I was acting towards my boyfriend and all my friends that I was not DOING love. Instead, I had served them out of a sense of duty and I had begun to expect them to do things for me that was completely uncalled for. I had decided that I loved them, and that they loved me, so obviously that means we are obligated to perform certain duties for each other, right? They should live up to that if they say they love me.

The first thing that was wrong with that line of reasoning was how "me" focused it was. And it was that very pride that bit me in the back this semester. I believed that I was needed. I believed that I was helpful. I thought I was really smart and could handle anything. I thought I was a good girlfriend. And basically, this semester, God was like, "Janae you're really not all that great. Seriously."

For the first time ever, I was put in a class where I was the least qualified, youngest and most naive student of the bunch. The juniors and seniors found out I was a freshman, and literally the professor went, "What are you doing here? We welcome you for now, but you won't be back on Wednesday." (She later talked to me and told me I could stay if I worked hard.) I was in way over my head. I spent hours and hours in the lab trying to figure out procedures my classmates could do without even thinking. I came out of the lectures feeling like I had just taken the SAT all morning and my brain was fried. My first grade in that class was a 52% on the lab project which was a fifth of my total grade. No one wanted me as a lab partner, I wasn't needed, I wasn't wanted, I wasn't even helpful. I obviously couldn't handle everything and wasn't the smartest one on the block. And that hurt for a while, but as God kept working on me, I came to be okay with this. You'll see why in a bit.

My closest friends here got busy and spent their time elsewhere. My boyfriend got tired of spending time with me because I would complain. My best friends from high school had formed new bonds and didn't need to talk to me as much. The bottom line was... I am definitely not the best thing the world has ever seen.

Ironically, the class I mentioned above had a "Humility Project" going on as a huge part of our grade. I spent a lot of time thinking on what humility is and how we can show it. The answer I found lay directly in another project I was doing for a different class, the "Hospitality Project." True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. True hospitality is focusing on the needs of others. They go hand-in-hand.

Before I could really think on how to apply this, the group of my friends who get together and listen to sermons on Friday afternoon started listening to a series that was all about love. (You can hear Andy Stanley's teaching here. I highly recommend it.) All that I knew was that I was doing it wrong. "Love is about what you do for another person, yeah, and I am too prideful to truly attend to the needs of another person."--that's all I knew about how I was doing loving people.

Paul writes in Galatians 5:6 that "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." The only thing. Everything that Jesus did was about loving us, and He even told His disciples in John 13:35 that "all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another." Not by how we argue for political rights. Not by how we are always right. Not by how doctrinally sound we are. If we love...

So I decided to try putting this idea into practice. Love is the culmination of humility and hospitality. That means I had better focus WAY MORE on doing love for people than ever expecting it back. Jesus is the only One who can ever tell others that they aren't loving Him enough or right. I am simply a girl who has no right to have anyone love her. But I have the love of Jesus, and all He asks is that I share it.

Just to let you know, when I focused more on loving my boyfriend than figuring out how to make him love me right, he started loving me way better. When I started listening to my friends and making time for them simply because I wanted to focus on them, they wanted to be around me. When I decided to actually love people because that's how I can show my love for God, He blessed me. I'm not saying you should focus on others because then it will go well with you. I'm just saying that when I took a step of faith and decided to let go of some of my own understanding, He made some of my paths so much easier.

And now I know: true love is thinking about and striving to meet the needs of someone else, without asking anything in return. If I can keep this perspective, maybe I can love the people around me in a way that they need, that is helpful and will deepen our friendships. Perhaps I can find my identity in the love Christ has for us. Sounds like a plan to me.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Worth It

                It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. Another series of goodbyes has left me broken. To be fair, in anyone’s life there are seasons and changes. But perhaps the times that I feel most compelled to write are the times that I have much floating in my heart—unspoken, unfathomed thoughts that have yet to culminate to emotions. And perhaps the times I cannot bear to be silent are the ones that sever ties I’ve cherished.
“I wish the ring had never come to me, Gandalf. I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
                Eight seniors lived in my dorm with me this year. Eight pieces of my heart flew away this July. Many other seniors will be greatly missed for reasons as varied as they themselves. From musical talent to laughs to adventures to simple smiles—each person who received their diploma has left a dent in my heart. And yet it is merely a year away, that day that I will watch nearly 70 people cross that same stage and fight the tears because this time it’s us.

                This year is my first and last year as a senior at RVA. I know that sounds silly, because most people only get one year as a senior; but that’s just it. We only have one year, and then we’re gone.

                The key is to remember what God taught me last summer: people are important. Every gift He’s given us, every moment we’re allowed—they’re all meant for us to use to love God by loving people. Jesus spent way more time telling us about the times He spent with His friends and followers and… and… just people than He ever spent telling us about what He learned in the synagogue.

                Sometimes I ask Him why He expects me to love people that I know will soon leave me. Sometimes I wonder why He wants me to tear my heart so that I can love someone that will fly away. And sometimes I wonder why He bothered loving Judas. The only answer I can fathom is that it’s worth it. The pain, the tears, the goodbyes… to have loved is better than these. I cannot say that memories alone are worth it, but if the future is added to the past, present pain is well worth the cost.

                I know that the chances of seeing all of my heart put back together again are as slight as my chances of ever living a boring life. But I also know that the joys of the past will shape my future. The people I have known and loved this year will continue to affect my life. To be friends is to change, and change is never completely reversible. The only thing I can seek to do is be a positive change in the lives I’m put here to share. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Painful Pilgrimage

I knew this summer would be hard. I knew I would struggle with issues I wouldn't foresee. I knew it would be exhausting. I knew I would just have to endure it. But I didn't know how much it would hurt.
C. S. Lewis once said, "We don't doubt that God will do the best for us. We're only wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." I find that's the story of my life. I don't doubt that I'm where I'm supposed to be and going where I'm supposed to go. I just worry how much it will hurt. "Will I pull through? It's gonna be tough. Can I do it without making a mess of things?" Since the beginning of our family's journey away from normality, we've struggled with being okay with being weird. I never was a "normal" kid, but I never owned it until I found others just as weird as me. It was always harder when I was surrounded by "normal" people. The pastor's kid stands out in a small town because no one thinks she's cool. The missionary's kid stands out in a youth group because nobody understands she's just a teenager wanting peer fellowship, not an exotic display item.
But these things I accounted for in my preparation for furlough. I have dealt with them before, and I know they are only side effects of following Jesus for me. Feeling left out occasionally is nothing compared to what He did for me. Neither is heartache, but I wasn't prepared for that one.
I've read books about being a "Third Culture Kid" ("TCK," it means someone who spent much of their developing years in transition between two cultures). I've had friends talk about this very thing. But nothing warned me sufficiently.
I'm homeless. It's not that I don't have a roof over my head; I do, and I'm very grateful for the blessings God has given me. No, I don't have a place to call my home. There is not one place that I can point to and say, "There. There is where I am most comfortable and where I look forward to returning just so I can be there." All my life I have had that. Even when I was in transition between Oregon and Uganda, I considered Uganda to be my home, even though I'd never been there. Once I reached Jinja, when I felt homesick I just decided that Oregon was my home. Wherever I was, the other place was what I missed. I had my heart split two ways and halves on opposite sides of the world. Now no part of my heart can rest on any continent.
Jinja can no longer be my home, because I have packed all my things from there and prepared to move to school. Oregon cannot be my home, for I feel so out of place here it hurts. Kijabe, Kenya (where my school is) cannot possibly be home, for I don't live there yet and it is only temporary anyway. Nothing fits the definition anymore.
I wish I could be normal. I see all my friends and family here, in Oregon, with their houses that have been their singular homes for years. They have all their earthly possessions under one roof. I wish I wasn't always having to think, "Where is that? I know I have it, is it here or there?" I wish I had a church to call my church home. I have attended so many different churches in the past year, I've lost count. I haven't had a chance to settle into any of them. All these things I wish, and each wish cuts a little deeper into my heart, piercing it with the pain of self-pity, for I have none of them. I wallow in the slime of selfishness a while, and then I wake up.
I get on facebook and see what these sacrifices have gained me. I talk to friends on the other side of the world, and I realise that my home does not have to be on this earth. I realise that I don't have to fit in with the "normal" people--there's plenty of weird ones out there just like me. And when I look for them, I can't find a single "normal" person anymore. We are all so weird (aka unique) I can enjoy everyone's company, and it doesn't matter if we understand everything each other says.
I know of one place where I know I am understood. I know there is one place that I will go to and rest. There everyone will understand and no one will say something that makes me hate my ethnicity. Everyone there will share the same love and purpose I desire so fervently to culture in my life. There is one place I can call home and not have any scruples about it.

"I've got a mansion / Just over that hilltop! / In that bright land where / We'll never grow old. / And someday yonder, / We will never more wander, / But walk the streets that are purest gold. // Don't think me more poor / Or deserted or lonely. / I'm just a pilgrim/ That's heaven-bound. / And though I find here/ No permanent dwelling, / I know He'll give me / A harp and a crown!"

("Mansion Over the Hilltop," the hymn my mother sang as my lullaby when I was a baby. Even then, God was preparing me for my life. He is so Awesome!)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Freedom

Have you ever seen a little girl pick up a kitten? She holds it tight and squeezes it, showing her love, or so she thinks.
If you have, then you likely have felt sympathy for the poor kitten. As it squirms and kicks and meows for freedom, it's easy to take the side of the underdog--or cat, as the case may be.
Then a few years later, we have an elementary-school age girl still in love with cats. But when she grabs a kitten, it still squirms. She holds it looser, gentlier and her only goal is to make it purr. Even with these good intentions, the small cat is terrified, not knowing the comfort and love it's being offered, and cries for freedom. When it finally wrenches free, the girl sags her shoulders and sinks to the ground, dejected and hurt. The kitten has its freedom, but is alone once again, never having known what it missed out on.
Seems like a lose-lose situation. But it's one we create everyday, even if we don't ever touch a cat. It may seem a bit far fetched, but I can picture my God as holding me like that girl held the kitten. His desire is to have fellowship with me, to fulfill what He created me for. Rarely do I care what He's trying to do, it's uncomfortable at the moment and I don't know what He's doing! I'm not in control, so I shouldn't be here. When I leap the bounds and leave His arms, the sense of what should be freedom is instead replaced with fear, worry and even depression. The farther we get from what were supposed to be doing, from where were supposed to be, the less freedom we find in our heart of hearts.
It is only when the kitten stops squirming that the girl could pet it. Therefore it is much easier for God to teach, mould and love us when we just hunker down and let Him!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

May 2012

Looking back on 2012 brings to my mind one prominent month: May. What happened in May? My father's heart had arrhythmia trouble. It lasted only a month, but it still affects me today.

I remember waking up on a Saturday morning and thinking I could watch "Justice League" all by myself because the little boys were gone and nobody else would be awake yet. But there dad sat, in his favourite seat on the living room couch, staring out across the orange-tinted yard through the front windows. He told me that his heart was having the same trouble he had had with it in America, and he didn't know what we would do about it. As I sat beside him and placed my head on his chest, all I heard was the horrid rhythm that couldn't stick with the beat. Buhm bummm bmpp BUM bum bum.

The whole next month he couldn't walk across the room without resting, and couldn't sit up long enough to finish a movie with us. As we (us four kids) heard our parents discuss insurance troubles, we began to wonder what it all meant. Would we have to go back to America? If so, how long? If they didn't fix it, daddy couldn't work here. Would that mean moving back to Oregon? I remember one day momma told us kids to pack our bags. When we asked for how many days we needed to pack for, she said she had no idea. When are we leaving? No clue. Where are we going? Not sure yet. It's not easy to pack when you don't know those three things.

Eventually, it all worked out. Daddy and momma went to South Africa and we stayed with our good friends/neighbours. But what amazes me even more than how God healed daddy is how He sustained us throughout the uncertainty of it all. People I have talked to about it say that they couldn't imagine how frightening it must have been for us kids to stay in a foreign country with our parents in another foreign country for serious medical work. I say that's it's a pretty simple matter. We just continued on the same way we did before--with God's help. I believe the only reason us kids didn't freak out or break down crying from stress is the prayers that people sent up on our behalf. In place of those afore mentioned emotions, we instead felt a peace and even close to an excitement. We somehow knew that whatever would happen to us next would be okay, no matter where we or our parents were. They might go to America and leave us here. They might come back soon. And I can't lie; there were a few times I wondered if they would ever return to us. But the busy lives we stepped into for the week our parents were gone kept us focused, and the silent strength and faith of our hosts added to the God-given peace we felt. I think on this and want to thank all of you who prayed for us, and thank our God for blessing us.

To be quite honest, I see the "scary" month of May as a trial I grew through. It taught me to forget what I thought was going to happen and just wait and see what God would do. We were supposed to go to Kenya. We waited, and God sent them to South Africa. The money it cost them to go to South Africa was supposed to toss out my braces. We waited, and God provided the money for both. I will always remember that month--May 2012--and praise my God.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not Goodbye

I hate goodbyes. Parting ways with friends is one of the hardest things in life.  Even though I know I will see them again someday, my heart knows it will miss them while we are distanced. There really are no words to describe what happens to one’s heart when part of it leaves. When you send off part of your family, there is no way to convey the words that need to be said. I guess the only ones that matter are just these: I will miss you, Don’t forget me, and Have a good time. They just don’t suffice for the emotions welling from my heart.

This is not goodbye to two of my favorite people in the world. Never will I say those two words to you. In the two years we’ve been friends, the only parting phrase we’ve said is, “See you [Wednesday],” or whatever day we have plans for next. You befriended me when I was new to the land. You put up with me when all I was was wasted space. You made me feel appreciated and like you enjoyed my company. Thank you.

I’m sure if you’re reading this, you know who you are.

I am not sending you off, because for that I would have to let go of you. I am not letting go, because you are a part of me. As you cross the border, know that part of my heart goes with you. This summer we have bonded in ways I never thought possible. My guarded composure was loosened little by little until I felt you knew me better than any other souls in this world. You know my quirks, my shortcomings and most of my blonde moments. You have shared in my successes and helped me in my failures. You have stood by me while we marched through a sea of troubles, and we’ve been through much together. Whether it be eating a cow’s tongue, playing Halo or Just Dance, swimming or Truth or Dare—or just hanging out and talking, our lives have become intertwined.

I know you will gain experiences in this next step in your life that will grow you and teach you much. I pray that you will enjoy this season. Know that I will miss you, but learn as much as you can. I hope to join you next year—then you can show me the ropes.

See you in November.