Category Archives: My Stories

stuck in Montreal

I’m currently avoiding two research papers, so I thought I’d engage in some good, old fashioned procrastination and tell a story. A couple weeks ago, I told you a little about what the Lord was doing in my heart over our Spring Break adventure to Europe. This is one of many stories from that trip. It’s not a deep or profound story, just a funny one. It’s the story of fourteen college students who were just trying to make it back to the States. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy a laugh on this dreary Thursday night.

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It was a spring break for the books. What had initially started as a few friends dreaming about a post-graduation trip had spiraled into this much larger group of best friends planning to galavant through Europe for twelve days in March. The week was jam-packed with six countries, thousands of miles of driving rental cars, a new hostel every night, and long days of sightseeing and skiing. By the morning of our departure from Belgium, we were exhausted but our hearts were content. The week had been full of the kind of laughter and memories that don’t fade with time.

A 5am wake-up call on Tuesday morning had us all packed up and ready to make the 3 hour drive from Brugge back to Brussels. Speeding through traffic, the biggest concern of the morning was whether or not we would make it back to the airport for an 8:30 rental car drop off. There were also concerns about whether or not people were going to be sick in the cars; traveling sickness, dinners that don’t sit well, and fervent driving made for some tense moments. Yet, consistent with the flawlessness of the rest of the trip, each of three cars made it to the airport on time. Saying goodbye to the one member of the crew with a different flight (which would be to his ultimate benefit), our group of thirteen settled down at our gate. We boarded our 10:30am flight from Brussels to Montreal.

Knowing all about jet lag, we knew not to fall asleep on the flight. There was some light dozing, especially given our general exhaustion and early wake-up, but we knew that we were going east-to-west. And we knew that it was daytime in Chicago. We had to stay awake to reset our body clocks. So we entertained ourselves with movies, conversations, and reminiscing about the trip. We rotated seats, found comfortable positions, and shared all the food we had stowed in our carry-ons. Towards the end of the six hour flight, attention shifted from entertainment to preparation; we had 45 minutes to make our connecting flight and everyone needed to be ready to go. No one was getting left behind. We were all going to make it back to Wheaton by 5:30pm. We’d be back in time for people’s Tuesday night classes (after all, we’d already missed the rest of Monday and Tuesday classes – per a calculated decision to visit Paris and Brugge).

The flight debarked and we jogged through Canadian customs to our next gate. Delayed. We hadn’t yet sat down when we got wind of the storm that was looming overhead. Rumors of canceled flights buzzed all around us and the airport quickly turned into a ghost town. Canceled. Deliberations about what we would do if the storm got worse began, while everyone maintained hope that it wouldn’t come to that. After talking to AirCanada representatives, we were all put on an 8pm flight, optimistic that they were still going to try and get flights out in what was quickly becoming a dangerous blizzard. It hadn’t even been an hour after getting our new boarding passes that we were informed that all flights out of Montreal had been canceled. We were definitely not making it back to Wheaton by Tuesday.

We were given taxi, meal, and hotel vouchers for the night. Deciding to enjoy the now empty terminal, we took our time at dinner, enjoying another night of being together. We picked up our checked bags that had never even made it onto another plane. Through Canadian customs again, we finally made our way to the taxi pick-up. Little could have prepared us for what we saw next – a line wrapping around the baggage claim terminal several times. Shocked, we asked around to see just what this line was for and how quickly it was moving.

It was the line to get a taxi. It was rumored to be four hours long.

9pm turned into 10pm, which turned into 11pm Montreal time. On our Belgium schedule, it was nearing 5am. We’d officially been up for over 24 hours. And you could tell. Everyone was losing it.

Taxis were having trouble getting through the blizzard, meaning they were coming infrequently. And there were a lot of people trying to get out of the airport. Committed to the idea of sleeping in a hotel bed, and having already waited for three hours without much progress, we ordered Ubers. They weren’t coming fast, but it was more promising than the taxi situation. Splitting up, we said goodbye to half the group and piled in an Uber XL.

17265106_10203060488990244_7776941568471860566_nWhat followed was the most surreal Uber experience of my life, aided by the sleep deprivation I was operating from. Our Uber driver insisted on keeping the windows open, to keep them from fogging. As we were being snowed on in the backseat, traffic turned what should have been a 15 minute drive into a 2 hour one. We barely moved outside of the airport terminal for the first 45 minutes. Even though the other group’s Uber had left after ours, not taking the highway had saved them several minutes. Although, at one point they had gotten stuck in a snow back and had to push the car, so I suppose it all evens out. When they reached the hotel, apparently they asked if we had checked in yet. Obviously, we hadn’t. The only logical assumption was that we had crashed and died. Yet, without international data plans, they had no way of contacting us. And we had no way of reassuring them that we were still just stuck, wet, cold, and sleepy on the highway.

After the most expensive Uber of our lives, we finally pulled up to the hotel. The lady behind the desk handed me a key. I grabbed my backpack and upon finding that we were unable to work the elevator, we hiked up to our room. My friend following close behind, I unlocked the door and flew into the room, wanting to crash upon the bed. Much to my surprise, there were already people in the beds. Hm. We’d been given keys to someone else’s room. Pushing my friend out the door, shh-ing her along the way, I dropped my stuff and ran back down the stairs. I was hysterical. Uncontrollable laughter made it difficult to form coherent words. I managed, between laughs, to get out that someone was already in that room. The woman asked if I was serious. I was. It was 2am. I was very serious.

We finally got to sleep. In a room without other guests.

The next morning, we made our way over to the airport bright and early, ready to get home and convinced we couldn’t miss our 1:00pm flight. At least it wasn’t snowing anymore. We hadn’t even all gotten through customs and security when talk began circling back – the flight had been canceled. Sitting at the gate of yet another canceled flight, we watched this time as a plane took off for O’Hare. Too bad all the flights were full. Too bad the airports were all backed up.

The kind AirCanada woman informed us that the next open flight was scheduled for 11:15am – on Thursday. Everyone lost it, in their own personal way. Anger. Tears. Silence. Verbal processing. This meant missing almost an entire week of classes, job interviews, meetings, and appointments. Our homework was hundreds of miles away and we were still stuck in Montreal. Going back through customs to the front desk, we inquired about hotel and meal tickets. Since it was only 2pm on Wednesday, we had a long way to go until Thursday.

One of the guys who’d planned the trip chatted with the woman. Was there anyway that any of us could get on a flight before Thursday? I’m not sure what happened in those fifteen minutes that he talked to this attendant, but somewhere, in his persistence, she found 9 seats on a flight from Montreal to Toronto, then Toronto to O’Hare. The catch? It was leaving in thirty minutes.

Like in a scene from a movie, we threw nine passports at this woman and proceeded to have nine passports and eighteen boarding passes thrown back at us. We exchanged them while we ran. She said she’d work on the rest of the paperwork but that we needed to go. Calling the gate, she demanded that they keep it open for the nine students who would be running up to it. Then we sprinted. Through security. Through customs. With all of our luggage, because there was no time to check anything. This motley crew of college students was not about to miss the flight. And we didn’t.

Now, one would think that’s where the eventful proceedings end, except that when we got to Toronto, settled into the gate fifteen minutes before boarding, there was an announcement over the loud speaker: can I please see MacMath, McDonald, Westergren, LaRusso, Bergthold, Fritz, McGee . . . That’s us. We shuffled over, like the desperate students we were. She asked if we had any of the necessary paperwork to get on the flight, besides the boarding passes; we didn’t. She said she’d work on it while they began boarding. The paperwork never came. Even though we had boarding passes, they wouldn’t scan without the other documents. Whether because they sensed our desperation or were convinced they could work out the details later, the kind people of AirCanada let us on the flight. Officially undocumented, having been through Canadian customs multiple times, with a dozen previous flight registrations, and carrying luggage bigger than the overhead bins – we finally boarded our flight to O’Hare.

I’ve never been so relieved to see the Chicago skyline. There may or may not have been tears.

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And so concluded the extra day of spring break that none of us had anticipated. It was the most surreal traveling experience that I’ve had to date. A memorable 48-hours with some of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

And I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

The Old, Old Story (revisited)

Yesterday I posted something that I had been asked to write in one of my classes (the Old, Old Story). We were given two pieces of paper and ten minutes to write our retelling of the narrative of Scripture. While colored beads and the Roman Road crossed my mind, I ended up telling the story that I posted on Wednesday night – the story of the Bible as the story of love, as I’ve experienced it. I posted that first because it’s what I wrote first, what moved my heart first. But the significance of the assignment didn’t end there; the next week, to our surprise, the professor handed out two more pieces of paper and slowly, methodically, and gut-wrenchingly took us through the narrative of Scripture again. This time, it was through the lens of suffering. Story after story left a bitter and painful taste in my mouth. “Why does no one ever tell the story this way?” I wondered. And now that I had begun wrestling with it, in conviction and distress, I found myself crying out like the Israelites: “where the heck were you in all of this, God?” As he finished his presentation and left us in a room with our blank papers, I wrote the story again. I told it a little differently this time:

In the beginning God created

. . . everything.

He created beauty, nature, time, and space. It was so very good.

Then God created man and woman. He loved them; He loved them so very much. He loved them so much that He walked with them and talked with them, in perfect, unbroken communion. That was good too.

Then sin was introduced to the story and the Enemy of God, this fallen angel, convinced the man and woman to doubt their God. As this relationship with God is ripped apart, as God in His perfection can’t live among their sin. The world fell under a blanket of darkness. The story continues, however, it is full of much pain.

Man and woman worked the land with toil, while siblings began murdering one another. Languages are confused and the earth is flooded. There is death around every corner. The people of God wander in the desert, now dying because of famine, and the ones that live are sold into slavery. It is generation after generation of hardship and of suffering. It is the cries and tears of a people who wonder where their God is and why it seems as if He’s abandoned them.

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Yet, God allows it. He cries along, as the story continues to challenge, oppress, and hurt the ones He loves. The thing is, there is no easy answer for why He allows it. It’s not the kind of story you put in a children’s book because, for all the moments that God is faithful and pours out His love on people who continually reject Him, there are an equal number of moments where it’s just hard.

However, for all the suffering, God’s sovereignty is present in it all. He mourns, laments, and cares for His people, until, in His perfect timing, He physically enters into the scene. God – the triune, relational, omnipotent, omniscient God – takes on the form of a servant, takes on flesh, and walks as one of us.

He walks as one acquainted with all suffering. He feels for us, with us, and as one of us. He grieves the loss of loved ones, lives in poverty, flees his home, faces abandonment, rejection, and false accusations. Until ultimately, His love for us brings Him to the uttermost suffering. Physical torture, emotional strife, as the weight of every sin is placed upon Him. Bearing every punishment that we, the sinful, broken, unfaithful people deserved. He suffers not only with us, but for us. For the sake of repairing what we broke, what we deny, and what we could not atone for.

He doesn’t stay defeated, however, but rises from the dead. His power breaks death and hell. He ascends to the place of perfection – where there are no tears, pains, or suffering. He repairs the relationship so that we can enter into holistic communion with our all-loving, all-holy God. . .

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. . .and that’s where we are going to end the story for now.

It feels trivial and almost sacrilegious or inappropriate to move onto some glorious explanation of heaven, Jesus’s second coming, and the eternal hope of the world in God’s ultimate victory. Because, while that is a very important part of the story – a beautiful, integral, necessary part – it doesn’t feel fair to move on just yet. Because the whole beginning isn’t fair and there’s no way to overlook that now (although, I didn’t seem to have a problem often doing it up until this point). It’s not fair that David lived as a King while the Israelites were enslaved for 400 years. It’s not fair that everything, except Noah and the animals, were destroyed in a flood or that Abraham and Sarah couldn’t conceive a baby for 100 years. It’s not fair that Job lost everything or that Naomi’s husband and sons all died. It’s not fair that today there are 6.3 million people who have fled everything and often everyone they know. It’s not fair that Allie’s dad died of cancer or that Ezra had a brain tumor that took his little seven year old life. None of it is fair.

It’s also not fair that Jesus died on the cross for the sins that we deserved to pay an eternal price for. It’s not fair that Jesus repaired the relationship that we broke – that we continually break. It’s not fair that God Himself would be acquainted with suffering, suffering that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t owe us anything and yet He felt for us, with us, and because of us. It may not be fair, but it’s just, and His sovereignty overarches it all – whether it makes sense to us or not. It’s not fair, but it’s love. And love seldom makes sense.

This is a story of incomprehensible love and suffering. Both love and suffering contain some level of meaning and philosophical reasoning (the class I’m taking this semester on Suffering proves that). But it doesn’t mean that we need to move on from the affective just yet. Because when I look into the eyes of a refugee who has just lost their home, family, and freedom, I can’t just jump to the glory. The narrative of Scripture itself doesn’t just jump to the glory. The point is that glory has come at an incredible price – sometimes the price of our sin, the sins of others, or the price of a world that groans because this is not the way it was created to be. We need to be okay with sitting in that, lamenting in that, for a minute. That was the whole point of what I learned at the Home of Hope and wrote about in “because I’m with you.

It’s okay that we can’t move on to, “but glory!” just yet.  It’s actually necessary. Not only would that diminish painful experiences, but it also neglects a view of the Gospel that highlights the empathy and embodiment of Jesus. The incarnation was not simply about Christ becoming Love and redeeming our sins unto Himself; it was also about walking as one of us, suffering and being tempted as we are (Hebrews 2:18, Philippians 2:8).

It is a sad reality, one that I have clearly, albeit non-consciously, fallen into. The reality that we only see the Gospel via the lens of beauty. While it is a true and necessary lens, it is incomplete if it ignores the pain of millions of people (if I allow it to ignore my own pain), including our Lord, past, present, and future. There is a necessity in lament that we, as American evangelicals, or perhaps as humans, are often uncomfortable with. It is why we prefer movies that have resolution, move on quickly from news articles that end in depression, or get squirmy when people cry in front of us. This narrative, this old old story, has the most glorious, pervasive, incredible ending and victory that we would imagine. However, that does not mean we need to jump there just yet. To overlook or brush past suffering is to discredit and delegitimize so much of our human experience, including the experience of our Lord. Lament is heavy, but it’s beautiful and it’s an important lens that we need to look through. It allows us to see ourselves and the world with a heartbreaking reality, to cry out for God with the same kind of gut-wrenching cries He used, and it ultimately frames hope in its magnificent, brilliant, eternal light.

The Old, Old Story

In the beginning, God created . . .

. . . and He created everything.

Every star, every blade of grass, every rock that has eroded into the sea. Night and day, every animal, every insect, every wave, He created. It was all beautiful and very good. Then, He created man and woman. He loved them and He was in relationship with them. God walked with them, talked with them. He loved them so very, very much.

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But, then sin is introduced to the story, as the Enemy of God, this former fallen angel, distracts man and woman away from their First Love. God, in his perfection, can’t tolerate this sin. Yet He loves His people, so thousands of years pass as He constantly draws His people back to Himself. It makes Him sad and angry, but He loves these people so much. Sin keeps getting in the way, but story after story God faithfully and relentlessly draws near to the ones that He created, sustains, and loves.

Then we reach the climax of that love – God the Father, in His mysterious, triune, relational nature, sends His Son, and extension of Himself, to walk among us. To be like us. To serve us. To be tempted in every way. To model the heart of God for us. Ultimately this Son gives up His own life and perfection to die a humiliating, horrific death, as the blameless sacrifice, as we could never atone, to repair the relationship. He brings us into the fullness of God’s infinite love for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserved, because of His great love for us.

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Yet it wasn’t merely His death that is significant, for three days later He rose from the dead, defeating both death and sin, repairing the breech, and drawing us into communion with God. He left His very Spirit, His Holy Spirit, to indwell us, that we might know and remain in fellowship with God, even on earth. The perfection of this fellowship that we will ultimately come into, as we step across eternity and live in eternal relationship with God in Heaven (or when Jesus returns to completely heal the earth).

It is the grandest story of love – of a God who created everything in love, who drew an unfaithful people to Himself in love, who chose to walk as one of us in love, who paid the price for the sin that we deserved, in love.

Love who rose again, defeating death and sin, who sent His Spirit to testify to our souls of that love.

This is our God, who daily, minute by minute, is displaying, speaking, and proclaiming His great love for us.

We confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We repent of the ways in which we reject Him and His love. We believe in who He says He is and all that He’s done for us. We go out and continue to tell people of this great love of our great God!

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overseas.

I let the papers slide from my hand into the recycling bin and climbed onto my bed. Across the room I could still see the corner of the support letter papers I’d printed out, mocking me from the trash can. Pictures from previous trips lined the bottom of blank pages where I’d planned on writing heartfelt pleas for summer funding. If you didn’t want me overseas this summer, Lord, why not start with that? Why lead me to meeting after meeting, sorting through a dozen different opportunities and organizations, to find one that I was sure I sensed You moving in, only to have it all fall through?

I’ll spare you the details of my angered, and often one-sided, spats with the Lord and suffice it to say that those pleas of winter break 2015 led into what would become the transformative summer of 2016 – all without leaving Wheaton, Illinois.

You make me laugh, Jesus.

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A year ago, I couldn’t force my way overseas; I know because I tried. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – nothing fit, felt right, or worked out in the end. In typical, omniscient God fashion, He knew better. Little did I know that I needed both the refinement and redemption that would come from a summer working at World Relief in Wheaton. So, with initial begrudging, I let the Lord do what He wanted to do. I should’ve expected this, but as it turned out, the last year has been so clearly the Lord; way better than any plan I had tried to concoct for myself.

I could take you through the successive, crazy, it-has-to-be-the-Lord-because-otherwise-it-doesn’t-make-sense chain of events that has followed since the summer (but let’s be real, He’s been moving in those kinds of themes for a lot longer than the winter of 2015). I struggle to find a starting place and would you even believe me if I tried? Maybe later I’ll start writing down some of those individual stories. They aren’t necessarily grand or exciting, just lots of little moments and random connections that the Lord likes to break through in.

I’m looking at my calendar and three trips overseas sit in front of me – trips that I didn’t plan or go looking for. Trips that scream the name of Jesus and the continual call to simply trust what He’s doing. A trip to Europe with friends, better friends than my lonely and scared freshman year self could’ve dreamt up, exploring the countries where a missions organization that I’m considering works. A trip to the British Isles with family, an unexpected blessing that has opened the door to potentially meet missionaries working with refugees in a context that I’ve been praying about for awhile. And a vision trip, to a country in the Middle East, where I’ll get to experience what the Lord is doing in refugee camps up close, and tangibly discern further what He’s leading me into long term.

I say all of this for two reasons:

  1. because I would love your prayer as I go on these trips and take the next eight months to really press in, pray, and discern not only what the Lord is doing in the moment, but what He may be leading me into long term. It’s all the normal prayers for direction that anyone with an impending graduation date (although mine is a little extended because of a master’s program) needs, with a little extra tacked on because if He’s asking me to raise support and move halfway around the world, that can feel just a little daunting. (If you want a prayer card to tuck in your bible or stick on your fridge, let me know!)
  2. because every story, be it stories of the details or the overarching narrative of the past year, points directly back to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of Christ! I don’t know where you are at in terms of believing the Lord or what you need Him to do; I don’t know what He’s doing in your life or what situations of dependance He’s put you in (or perhaps you are running from). But I know this – He is more gracious, powerful, and wise than we often give Him credit for.