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Am I Loving Something Else More than Jesus?

We know that Christ’s proximity to us never changes, so if I’m walking through a moment, a week, or a season where He feels distant, there’s a chance there’s something going on in my heart. I question my heart when I’m feeling anxious, apathetic, or overwhelmed. If I’m wondering where Jesus is or having trouble hearing Him, I compel my heart to evaluate: Am I loving something else more than Jesus?

 

That’s not to say that His silence or my emotions are always tied to some prioritization, sin-issue. Sometimes we walk through desert seasons, unprompted by our actions, where He is actively silent. Sometimes our emotions just don’t make logical sense. Yet, in asking these questions, I’m able to better identify if something emotional or spiritual is going on that’s causing whatever disconnect my body and soul are feeling, or if it’s something that I’ve consciously or unconsciously stepped myself into.

 

Over the years, I’ve found a couple of good indicators that help me answer this question honestly. If any one of these things is true of my recent habits or thought patterns, it’s often an indication that something has stolen or is in the process of stealing away my first Love.

 

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1.) If I’m not tithing. . .
This is often the first place I can go when it comes to checking the priorities in my heart. Since I was little, giving generously hasn’t been a strong suit of mine. While the Lord has been gracious, patient, and convicting, it’s still one of the first things to go when I’m keeping a tight grip on my life or am needing some semblance of control. If I’m not tithing or have pulled back on the 2 Corinthians 8:2 and Mark 12:44 kind of generosity I so long for, it’s a good indication that I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

2.) If I’m planning my future with lots of pragmatism, worry, and details. . .
There’s a tension here, because on one level, I need to be planning my future. I’m graduating undergrad college in less than three months, and in just over a year I’ll be done with my masters program. I’m actively taking steps towards what the Lord has my future and I’d be remiss and unfaithful if I wasn’t. In and of itself, the planning for my future or moving towards open doors isn’t a bad thing. However, there’s a difference between trusting the Lord, walking into the things He’s doing and living in a place of control, surety, and self-assurance that often leads to worry. Oftentimes, the more details I’m including or searching for, the better the indicator of my own desire for control. When the focus of my planning is myself, my ability to manipulate the details, and my sense of ability, there’s a good chance I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

3.) If I’m spending lots of time watching TV (especially in leu of other restful things). . .
Another tension one, because there are times when things like watching Netflix or napping are the most restful, spiritual things that I can be doing. There are times where I’ve tried to spend deep time with Jesus and He told me to watch a movie with Him instead – not because studying Scripture, processing what He’s doing, and interceding in prayer aren’t imperatively important but because sometimes I can get so wrapped up in them that I forget to rest. To just be. I’m convinced that anything can be done as an act of worship in the right moments. However, these things of rest can also be a form of escapism if I’m not careful – things to draw me away from dealing with my life, emotions, or relationships. Ways of shutting down because I’m avoiding myself, others, or the Lord. If I’m actively avoiding other things that are restful, such as walks, drawing, working out, writing, or reading, because they might require more introspection and difficulty, there’s a good chance something has taken the Lord’s place in my heart.

 

4.) If I find myself doubting or questioning things that the Lord has said in the past. . .
There’s a place for questioning and testing the work of the Lord in our lives, especially as ongoing maturity lead us to new levels of illumination of who He is. We should approach everything with a level of humility in how capable we are of getting it wrong (that’s the whole point of the Gospel). Yet, when I find myself wondering if things the Lord has done or spoken in the past are trustworthy, it’s usually an indication that something else has slipped into my soul. Because for as capable as I am of missing it, I also know that He is near and who He is can be trusted. Changing views should be a progression of growth and grace, not a sense that the Lord can’t be trusted, and if that’s what it feels like when I think back to His work in my life, then there’s a good chance something else has snuck it’s way in.

 

5.) If it’s becoming easier to justify things that I know are wrong. . .
 Like number 4, there’s a level of growing into maturity and new understandings of what is and isn’t sin, however there are certain things that I’ve established as either universally or personally wrong. Things that I’ve committed to or things that Scripture has previously called me out on are usually a pretty good baseline for what I should and should not be doing. This is less about my ability to slip up or to make mistakes and more about my conviction in justifying things. If I’ve found myself in a place where I’m rationalizing things that I’ve previously committed to not engage with, there’s a pretty good chance I’m avoiding the Lord and something else is competing for His love.

 

6.) If I’m overly critical or praiseworthy of others, in a way that stems from comparison. . .
This is not a sense of encouragement or noticing the work of the Lord in others – this is noticing beauty in them for the sake of putting myself down. Or conversely, this is not a sense of being aware of other’s shortcomings for the sake of growth and care, but rather a sense of hypercritical frustration with who they are. If I’m being judgmental and altogether hateful in my thoughts, actions, or interactions with others, particularly those who’ve seemed to rub against specific insecurities, it’s a pretty good indication that the issue is with me, not them. If it’s proving harder and harder to love others, there’s a good chance the Lord is not #1 in my heart.

 

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They aren’t end-all-be-all markers of my relationship with the Lord. Sometimes these things come up when I’m walking closely with Jesus. This isn’t to say that all six have to be present for me to acknowledge that I’m avoiding the Lord, nor that if only one is present I’m in a good place spirituality. They manifest with different reasons and different intensities at different times. But in general, they are pretty incongruent when my heart is focused solely on Jesus. Which is what makes them a great, practical, often painful, indicators of my true heart condition.

 

books you should read in 2017

You know the child with the semi-boyish haircut, pink dress, and princess slippers, curled up in some corner of the first-grade classroom with a book several levels above her reading level scrunched up against her face? That was me. On more than one occasion, I was grounded from a book series because it was causing me to “disengage and ignore the family.” Books have always been friends to the introvert in me and partners to challenge and shape my ideas. I’m always looking for new ones – inspiring, convicting, challenging, fantastical, and well told stories of someone or someplace else that changes the way I view life now.

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I don’t really recommend things unless I really really like them. I’m not always keen on taking other people’s recommendations because I’ve been told one too many times that something was amazing and it ended up not being my cup of tea. The books that I mention below I’m not just recommending, I’m highly recommending. They may not be for everyone, but they should be for most because they are just that good. This is my it-was-way-past-my-bedtime-and-I-was-still-reading collection. If you’re looking for some 2017 recommendations, here were some of my 2016 favorites:

Denise Ackernmann is a female, Anglican theologian who writes six letters on themes of liberation, feminism, racism, the power of naming, and suffering. Her writing includes experiences growing up during apartheid in South Africa and wrestles with what it means to truly walk like Jesus.

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-04-32-pmNew favorite genre: missionary autobiographies. I’ve made my through a fair share of missionary
biographies and they’re often as inspiring as a biography can get. But, like with any biography, they run the risk of idealizing and romanticizing the tension and mundanity of ordinary people’s lives. To read Helen Roseveare’s stories of being a medical missionary in the Congo, as told by Helen herself, through the lens of Deuteronomy 6:5 and sacrifice, is something altogether profound. You can be sure I’ll be not only re-reading this book in 2017, but exploring her other writings as well.

If you aren’t big into reading or if you want to introduce children to the refugee crisis and what it’s like to be a resettling refugee, this is a beautiful, simple, powerful telling of that story. It’s the story of Kek, a Sudanese refugee who gets resettled in Minnesota. The first person narrative and poetic-styled prose is accessible and pertinent in light of current global issues.

Another missionary story book for you, this one about a catholic priest who worked among the Masai people in east Africa. Amazing stories are in and of themselves worthwhile, but the questions they raise about evangelism, eucharist, ministry, and the overall nature of the church are incredibly presented and imperative for inspiring, personal, and theological wrestling.

This is less of a read-through kind of book and more of a wonderful resource for praying through the countries. It includes petition and praise points for each countries, updated in 2015 and submitted by natives and missionaries of those countries. If you’re committing to more intercessory prayer in 2017, this is worthwhile book to have on your nightstand – the cultural facts will help orient your prayers and the format of the book will help you stay focused (instead of, say, googling the country).

If you want more adult telling of refugee stories, this is a haunting and compellingly told book of nine stories from the world’s largest refugee camp. They can be read individually, which makes this long book more attainable, although the stories themselves may make it hard for you to pull away.

There’s a long compilation of books that I’m hoping to read at some point this year, so if you need more than what I’ve given you above, here’s an abridged version of that list:

Silence by Shuasako Endo

In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord

Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Terrapin by Wendell Berry

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

An Altar in the World by Barbara Taylor

Great Need Over the Water by Stina Katchadourian

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Happy reading and may you find yourself lost in new worlds, captivating ideas, and fantastic stories this year!

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8 Things I’ve Learned About Refugees

This summer I have the privilege of interning at World Relief, in DuPage/Aurora, Illinois. I’m working with the new arrivals and volunteer coordinators to get a closer look into what the refugee resettlement process looks like and how World Relief is doing it as a Christian non-profit.

Suffice to say, the experience is doing more than building my resumé or further solidifying my desire to work cross-culturally. It’s changing my heart.

Despite having traveled to over twenty different countries and being passionate about serving overseas, I didn’t know a lot about refugees before this summer. I thought I’d share some of the deeply impactful and often eye-opening things I’ve learned in my time working with refugees.

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1.) There are 65.3 million people displaced worldwide; 21.3 million refugees. The UNHCR, or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has a myriad of terms to describe and identify the different situations of fleeing people around the globe. The UNHCR was only created in 1950, to help the millions of displaced Europeans after World War II. For someone to apply for refugee status, they have to flee from their home country due to a “well-founded fear of persecution” and life-threatening “war or violence” (USA for UNHCR).

2.) There’s a difference between a country that is hosting refugees and resettling refugees. Unlike internally displaced person (IDPs) who flee his or her home but stays within their home country’s border, a refugee crosses international lines in search of asylum. In countries where there is persecution and conflict, refugees often flee to neighboring countries. Turkey is currently hosting 2.5 million refugees, Pakistan has 1.6 million, and Lebanon has 1.1 million. There are 90 countries where refugees are seeking asylum; there are only 30 countries that resettle (RefWorld). Countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Britain resettle refugees, meaning the refugees go through a process to permanently move to a third country and pursue citizenship there.

3.) Refugees can come from any background, socioeconomic status, family size, or situation. They can come with anything from a backpack to several large suitcases. Some have good English, while others can’t read or write in their own native tongue. A refugee could have been a doctor, a businessman, or a farmer in their country. Refugees are as different as the culture and context from which they come. The reasons refugees fled their homes, their living situation in a host country, and their feelings towards resettlement vary dramatically.

4.) The refugee resettlement process takes years. Think about it: it’s years of dealing with persecution or fleeing your home country. Then it’s years of settling into a refugee camp and being registered as a internationally recognized refugee. Then it’s years of paperwork to apply for resettlement – after deciding there is no possibility of returning home. It takes years for that paperwork to make it through the pipeline and be processed: by the UNHCR, by IOM (International Office of Migration), by the government of the resettlement country, and by the local resettlement organization. You don’t go from fleeing your home, to moving into a refugee camp, to seeing your new apartment in Aurora, Illinois within the year. It can take between 5-10 years for all of these steps to actualize for a refugee.

5.) After all of that, less than 1% of all people who can be classified as refugees end up being resettled. The United States has a cap on the number of refugees that can be resettled. The current ceiling is 85,000 – which includes refugees of all ages and nationalities. The highest ceiling has been 200,000, the lowest was 20,000 after September 11. The individual resettlement cases are handled by nine government sanctioned non-profits. World Relief is one of these non-profits (of the nine, five are faith-based).

6.) After years of waiting, the refugee still has to undergo tests, checks, and examinations before they can be resettled. There is a misconception, often perpetuated by images of refugees fleeing to hosting countries or miscommunications after terrorists attacks, that the U.S. is resettling potential terrorists. Not likely. When a refugee applies to be resettled, they don’t chose the country they will ultimately end up in. Even in situations where they have a U.S. tie, they are not guaranteed to end up in that country or in a particular state. Refugees undergo federal background checks, in addition to numerous security checks by the resettling non-profit. They face incredible scrutiny at every stage of the long, tedious process. In addition, refugees also must wait for medical paperwork, security documents, and, in some cases, an exit visa from the host country. It is incredibly difficult to get all of the ducks in a row, at exactly the same time (most of the documents have delays in mailing and short-term expiration dates). The refugee resettlement process is not for the faint of heart – nor is it for people who might be on a mission to harm a particular country where they may or may not eventually be resettled. It seems not only ridiculous but unjust deny thousands of good, hard-working, caring people and families hope for a safe future because politicians and social media have perpetuated a relatively irrational fear regarding refugees.

7.) Refugees are hard working – in fact, they start out their new life with debt. The U.S. provides a small stipend for each refugee, facilitated through their resettlement agency. This often covers the first few months of rent in an apartment and basic living necessities. However, the cost of traveling to the U.S. is provided by a travel loan through the IOM (International Office of Migration). The refugees are expected to pay this loan back, as part of becoming self-sufficient within the first few months of arrival. While this may seem unfair, it is actually a very important part of a refugee’s transition to the States. The travel loan allows countries to resettle more refugees because it reduces the financial impact on the government (and consequently, the people who are taxed). It also halts cycles of dependance and victimization, by allowing the refugee to take ownership of their own life and ability to provide for themselves. Celebrating the final payment of a travel loan is an incredible experience for a refugee. They paid their way here and have begun to built a life for themselves.

8.) Refugees are people. The numbers are helpful for seeing the big picture and are necessary when looking at how many cases World Relief is taking in a month, how many mattresses the donations coordinator needs to buy, or evaluating the efficiency of systems dealing with insurmountable numbers of displacement. They can also be helpful to see just how great the need is and how small the part we play actually looks in comparison. However, whenever you introduce numbers you run the risk of devaluing each and every person that owns one of those numbers. It’s not just another family that I compile household item donations for – they are parents, and women, and children who are going to gather around a strange table, in a new apartment, and retire to beds with blankets that they didn’t pick. They are real people with real stories and real emotions surrounding their transition here. That deserves our attention because people always deserve our attention.

My Summer Faves

(Y’all, this post has been in my blog drafts since June. JUNE. I figured it was time to either delete it or finish it and get it posted. Since I didn’t have time to put all my recent ponderings into words, here you go.)

Remember when it was warm and sunny and the days were spent by the pool? Back when the sky and ground weren’t both permanently painted white. . .

Summer 2015 came and went. It was filled with lots of laughs, so much babysitting, small but wonderful adventures, many tears, and a crazy pack-up-and-move to Illinois. As I sit here under my heated blanket, I’ve found myself reflecting on the goodness of the Lord from the 102 degree Georgia heat of 6 months ago. I remember watching too much Netflix, building too many bonfires, and drinking way too much iced coffee. Somewhere between stops at Starbucks and corralling children, I found some new favorite things. Not that I necessarily think any of you care about what I found during times of heat exhaustion, boredom, and retail therapy, but it’s helping me bring some warmth into this brutal Chicago cold.

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1. Moleskine brown journals

It’s no secret that I like to write and journal. It shouldn’t be a surprise then to learn that I love moleskine notebooks. But I’ve been avoiding these little brown ones that come in a three-pack for awhile. I didn’t think they were big enough. I was pretty sure if I started writing in them, that I’d go through one a week. Not true, folks. They are the most beautiful little things. The covers are perfect for doodling some Scripture art. The lines are small enough and close enough together that a.) they keep my big ole handwriting super neat and b.) I don’t use them up super quickly. Big fan. I think I’ve already purchased at least two packs. Also they sell them at Target, so they are an easy purchase to just roll into my grocery bill.

 

2. White Sneakers from Target

Because obviously I’m obsessed with Target and I’ve been living in their white sneakers. Actually, until it snowed here in Chi-town, I was still wearing them. Honestly, if they weren’t basically irreparably stained, I would probably still be wearing them. Mine really can’t even be considered white anymore. Although, now that I saw they are cheaper online, I might just be ordering a new pair after I finish this post. They work with jeans, dresses, and, let’s be real, the athletic shorts that I wore everyday this summer. Part of the problem was wearing them to babysit and then having to chase the boys I watched through mud puddles in the backyard. Sigh. Either way, they might just be the best $16 I’ve ever spent on a pair of shoes.

 

3. YouTube Vlogging Videos

I guess this is what the kids are watching these days.  I’m not even into makeup, but somehow I found myself watching way to many tutorials on products to apply and how to properly contour your face. Not to mention all the haul videos. It all started because I had a gift card to Sephora from Christmas that I hadn’t spent. I was just looking for suggestions on things to get, because, lets be real, Sephora is a very overwhelming place to a concealer-eyeliner-mascara, wash-and-wear girl like me. I got way more than I bargained for when I entered into the world of youtube vloggers. Makeup tutorials turned into “what’s in my bag” videos which turned into watching outtakes and feeling like I had become friends with Zoella, Sprinkle of Glitter, Hannah Maggs, Essie Button, Colleen, and JoshuaDTV.

 

4. 94.9 The Bull, Country Music Radio

My family isn’t a big fan of country music, so I soaked it up every time I was in the car alone. Whether it was my middle of the day, sunroof down jam sesh or my past midnight, driving back from babysitting attempt at staying awake, this was my radio station all summer. Actually, it’s been my radio station for awhile, it’s just no one else quite appreciates the southern twang and lyrics about guitars, boys/girls, beer, trucks, church, football and fishing like I do. “Buy me a Boat,” “Kick the Dust Up,” “House Party,” “Young & Crazy,” “Break Up with Him,” and “John Cougar, John Deer, John 3:16” were all favorites from the summer that I’m still listening to with relative frequency. Also, 49.9 helped me realize a new obsession with Sam Hunt, so I’d say they killed it with the summer tunes.

 

5. Bai 5 Molokai Coconut Drink

I love coconut. I LOVE coconut. I’ve straight up asked for a coconut cake for my birthday before. Did I mention I love coconut? But, ironically enough, I can’t stand coconut water. Coconut milk, sure. Coconut creamer, definitely. But coconut water, no thank you. This drink is what I imagine coconut water should taste like. It’s a little sweet and very refreshing. I think it tastes like summer in a cup. Just pour me a glass with one of those little umbrella things on the side and I’ll pretend I’m sitting on a beach in the Bahamas. I feel warmer already.

 

6. Frosted Lemonades from Chick-Fil-A

Not going to lie, I get random cravings for things all the time. I don’t feel like I need to justify wanting rice pudding at midnight or a cold blue gatorade after class. My friend asked to get slurpees from 7-Eleven with me the other day and there was no judgement. The new Frosted Lemonades from Chick-Fil-A were my summer craving. Even though it’s 20 degrees outside, I’m still craving them. I went to Chick-Fil-A several times this summer (in general, I went to Chick-Fil-A ALL the time this summer) where other people got a frosted lemonade and didn’t like it so they gave it to me. I don’t really understand what’s not to like, but I’m not complaining. It’s Chick-Fil-A’s famous lemonade mixed with vanilla ice cream.

 

7. The Body Shop Honey Body Butter

Town Center Mall was a frequent hang out for my friends and I this summer. On the way out, you have to pass The Body Shop. The lady who works there has skin that literally glows and it’s impossible to not be sucked into the vortex when you just “stop in to look.” I think my sister and I spent over thirty minutes in there one day. They’ve got buy three, get three free kind of deals, so obviously you have to buy things because it’s like you are actually wasting money of you don’t (right?). And I told you, the glowing skin lady sucked me in. But honestly, I have incredibly dry skin and this is the only lotion I have found that actually locks in some amount of moisture. I’ve tried almost everything on the drugstore shelves and this is the best lotion I’ve found for my dry skin. Not to mention, it smells so incredibly amazing. Every time I put it on after I shower, my roommates comment on it. Quality product right here. (Also, looking up this links is making me wonder why I don’t shop online more. . .)

 

8. Brooks Ravenna Running Shoes

I told my sister I would do this 5K training program with her this summer, which basically justified buying an actual pair of decent running shoes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Patagonia sneakers, but they aren’t exactly champions when it comes to supporting my weak arches when running. I think I took over 15 different quizzes about what kind of running shoes would be best for my feet. I finally settled on these beautiful things. They are very bright and very motivating, which is really what I need when it comes to running shoes. Also, they are super comfortable. They seem to make my feet hurt less after I run (or walk fast), so they are win in my book.

 

9. Essie Nail Polish (especially In The Cab-Ana)

I’ve always been a little obsessed with painting my nails. I honestly think I am more productive when my nails are painted. I don’t think I’m OCD until my nail polish starts chipping. One of my roommates says its not normal to paint my nails as much as I do, that it’s a southern thing. I think it’s normal. Either way, I rediscovered a lot for Essie nail polish this summer. My sister had this In The Cab-Ana blue color that may or may not have ended up in my suitcase back to Wheaton. It’s just so smooth and wonderful. And if a couple dollars on a nail polish motivates me to type a 10-page paper, then I’d say it’s done more than it’s job.

 

10. We Will Not be Shaken CD by Bethel

Oh my freakin’ word. This CD. I’m still listening to it during my quiet time. If you’ve never heard “No Longer Slaves,” “In Over My Head,” or “Ever Be,” you need to go buy this CD right now. There are not a lot of songs that can put my heart in a place of worship and rest in the Lord consistently. There are multiple songs on this CD that do. I’ve cried more times than I can count sitting with Jesus while these songs played. The prayerfulness of each of song is incredible; I’m so grateful for the worship of the Bethel people!