normal, pt. 2

Note: This post was mostly created on November 13, 2016 as I was digesting my time in Russia while flying back to Denver.

I love languages, and I really love a familiarity with language that allows my ear to hear a new slang in the languages cultures use. This happened when I got to Russia this year. I would ask people how they were, and the response would be ‘Нормально,’ pronounced ‘normalna’ and translated to ‘normal’ or ‘usual.’

It made me smile every time, because my life hasn’t been normal for a long time, and as my coworkers were praying for me and our trip before I left, one wise, discerning friend prayed that ‘with all of the transition’ I’ve been through in the past couple of months that I would ‘be blessed by being somewhere that is normal’…Russia. Ironic, right?

Her prayer could not have been more on target. I needed some normal, and not for just a weekend. I needed an extended period of time. I needed a place that I was known and engulfed by people where our love for each other travels in a beautiful symbiotic symphony. I needed people who had been a part of my Kingdom story for a long time.

I needed ‘my people’ who know and accept who I am as a follower of Jesus that is abundantly passionate about working toward God’s Kingdom restored by seeing orphans loved and knowing their worth, while stubbornly wanting families preserved and not torn apart by poverty and sin.

So when ‘my people’ started replying with ‘normalna’ when I asked them ‘How are you?’ I felt it was the literal touch of God to me saying, “I know you needed this, because I have made you a part of this community to know and be known.”

And trust me, the irony and hilarity of having to go to Russia to find some normal is not lost on me. It’s actually bat shit crazy. But it’s my crazy normal and at some point, I more than simply embraced it, it became such a deep part of who I am as a believer, as a friend, a fighter, as a daughter of the One who reigns…I literally don’t know how to separate it. And that’s the tension I feel around people who don’t get that part of me is unable to be separated from my calling to champion the orphan and their families. And honestly, for someone to truly understand me, they need to really get that who God has created me to be is found in many places outside these borders. They need to see with me, and humbly seek perspective through the eyes of my friends. I am endlessly grateful for those who have jumped into the journey with me. Who keep jumping into this reality, and stubbornly advocate for the same things. Over the last five years, the women God has merged into our small group, lovingly called Fondue Crew, has jumped in with both feet to advocate for orphans in Russia and/or Haiti. It’s no mistake we’ve all landed in the same holy space each week. We are all the same brand of crazy, and they all not only know me, but encourage me to follow Jesus in crazy obedient ways.

img_8127Because this November as I fly back across an ocean to a life in Colorado I wasn’t anticipating…who I am unashamedly is found in Stas’ small for a 9-year-old body exploding across the foyer running with a massive smile yelling ‘Stevovona!’ and leaping into my arms.

Who I am is found in the midst of giggles and shared memories while quoting of lines with my friends after watching a silly movie in Russian.

Who I am is found in the pride of 16 to 22-year-old students who are doing excellent in living independently outside of the orphanage, going to school, taking care of each other and adopting the Russian hospitality gesture of bringing a guest a gift.

Who I am is found in the gruffness of an orphanage director it has taking 8 years to break through his wall of stereotypical ‘Russian stoic’ demeanor, and reach a level of respect and trust that is found in genuine relationships over Armenian cognac and dark chocolate.

Who I am is found in the blessings received in one culture partnering with a different culture to fill gaps in care provided to orphans by the Russian government that controls orphanage budget and care.

Who I am is found in the stubborn belief that each voice has value and that I am called to champion those voices to find volume and boldness for telling their stories in world that tells them their voice is worthless.

Who I am is found in unexplainably being chosen by a new little girl as her ‘person,’ while her specialization in ‘sneak attack’ hugs consistently startled me and was found so hilarious by my other buddy who then joined in by simultaneously attacking my other side in a mesmerizing show of silent planning.

Who I am is found in the conversations with new kids confused about why Americans show up every year and what that means when we are not there to ‘entertain’ them, but to visit our friends.

Who I am is found within the Russian words that get used to describe me like ‘soomachetya’ which translates to ‘laughing girl.’

Who I am is found in taking the crazy open doors to speak into the lives of those I love when the Holy Spirit opens them despite a culture that values private intimacy with God.

Who I am is found in the giddy joy of being present with my friends every year despite past obstacles of living in Haiti, financial reasons and crazy life drama.

Who I am is found in the sometimes obnoxious, yet passionate, desire for others to step into the orphan window of the world to see what God might have for them to be a part of there.

Who I am is found in calling each of them ‘friend,’ not ‘orphan,’ because there is so much more to who they are as individuals and their potential verses the stereotypes that come with ‘orphan.’

Who I am is found in the deep love and desperate desire to see them have a successful future and stable future family, as well as the opportunity to take care of their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Who I am is found in the Kingdom stories I get to point to and say, “God was present there. It is unexplainable. It is supernatural. It was undoubtedly God.”

img_4359Who I am is found in the countless hours spent with kids who want to see the world through a camera lens and talking about why we see what we see in the world, why we want others to see it and how we tell God’s story through it.

Who I am is found in the conversations around a table with friends I only see once a year that feel like our conversations have simply paused then continue a year later.

Who I am is found in reminding the older kids of the memories I have of them when they were much smaller, they are known and someone remembers.

These massive pieces of who I am are found in a small village that takes 48 hours to travel to from the States, then an hour and half drive to get to my friends. It’s not easy. But the things that God uses to create us, are hardly every easy. Russia is where I started claiming and believing who God said he had created me to be for his Kingdom, and many have tried, yet failed, to detour me from that calling. This is where the roots of my life and calling have deepened, strengthened and allowed branches to flourish. Had I never said ‘yes’ to an adventure I wasn’t sure I really want to go on in 2003, I would never have fully stepped in the life God had for me to vibrantly live…it would never have become my normal.img_8553

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tears

2016.2.21 Abby needing near while nene sleeps (2)My hand was on his arm and my voice questioning what was wrong today, when I saw the first tears silently run down his cheeks and drip onto his shorts as he stared across the yard, refusing to look me in the eye, yet unmoving from my vicinity. Thanks to our younger friend, who was oblivious while slumbering in my arms making sleepy sighs and toddler snores, I happened to be firmly planted on the step with nowhere to be.

I kept tossing questions at him, trying to figure out what to do and how to help.

Eventually, his head ended up in my lap, desperate to hide his tears from other peering eyes that would laugh and judge in a culture that doesn’t look at tears as a good thing.

Silence. It’s all I got as I continued to press my friend to help me understand the why as his tears soaked the fabric covering my knee, and empathetic tears threatened to roll down my own cheeks.

Why today? Why this minute? Why so sad?

Everyone has a bad day, but I know him well enough to know there was more going on than just a bad day.

Being an orphan sucks.

And some days, being the friend of an orphan sucks.

It’s not fair. Whatever family catastrophe that brought that child to that moment of being alone is not fair, and it is definitely not God’s heart for their young lives to grow up around 75 other kids.

Many years ago, I had a translator say to a child living in an orphanage, “You did something to deserve being here. You did something to deserve your family not wanting you.”

Bullshit.

No child should ever hear it is their fault, and no child should ever be made to feel less than simply based on where they grow up. The label of ‘orphan’ should never command the future of a child and whether they can get a job, or a spouse that would marry someone without a family to help support them. Yet these social stigmas follow them as they become adults.

The pain in the orphans of this world has become very tangible to me. Not through any tragedy of my own, or enduring the suffering of knowing I was alone in the world. But through my deep, genuine love for my friends. My friend’s tears dripping onto my shorts as his head lay surrendered to my knee, brought tears to my own eyes…eyes that rarely leak. His pain brought about righteous anger in my heart to right the wrongs around him.

The reality is children get their choice taken away. Their age eliminates their choice, and more often than not, poverty holds captive any future hope of reuniting with family.

I champion the orphaned children of the world, because God has called me into their world. He has called me to be faithful to that call, loyal in my friendships and present in their lives to speak, to love, and to actually give a damn about their life. This is not the way it was supposed to be.

Why is there so much apathy in this world? Why don’t more people care?

Why is the fight for restoration and reunification of the least importance, while we choose to live under the oppression of technology, wealth and selfishness?

I don’t have the answers. I can’t solve every problem. I cannot stop the tears from flowing. Even in the moments I am desperate to see them disappear.

But I can choose to be present and make room in an already full lap. I can brush away those tears and say, “I am here. I am praying. I love you.”

I can use the resources God has given me to support those who are funding their care. I can help fund their education so the cycle doesn’t repeat itself as they grow into adults. I can purchase things from businesses that are creating jobs to keep families together.

I can use my God given voice to call out those that refuse to hear our God who is calling his church to stop rebelling against the things of his heart, and fight against the injustice of this world.

Because our silence has made us rebellious against God.

Because our apathy has made us rebellious against God.

Because our inaction has made us rebellious against God.

Because our impure motives have made us rebellious against God.

Because our misuse of resources to help others has made us rebellious against God.

And while rebellious nature is ingrained in who I have been created to be, I refuse to be the one rebelling against the one who redeemed me through the blood of Jesus, brought me into Kingdom life and where my hope is placed in seeing this world restored to rightness and every tear wiped away.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be morning, nor crying, nor orphans or widows, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ [Revelation 21:3-4, with bolded addition by me]

Because that is a future I can fight for, to know that my friends who the world calls orphans will have no reason for tears to escape their eyes, and their young lives will never again be impacted by death and poverty.

Because we should give a damn. Because we must refuse to let apathy and distraction dictate our God ingrained calling to actually be a community of people that love God so intentionally that we choose to fight for a world where people are loyal in their friendships to orphans, to speak worth and value into those hearts, and to fight for those kids to be in families.

Because each time I see the tears of my friends falling relentlessly, I choose to not be silent, I choose to be obstinate against apathy and I choose to be rebellious for God…not against him.

gather

IMG_9079 (2)And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [Acts 4:31-35]

Every time I read Acts, I just cannot shake this feeling that were we in the same time period…these would be ‘my people.’ I function in a pretty awful state when I feel disconnected from my people. God didn’t create us to be alone, so when we sequester ourselves for whatever reason, it creates feelings of loneliness and isolation that God never intended for us to feel. We need people.

When my people gather…watch out, because craziness is about to explode all around us. Laughter. Antics. Cuss words come into play at some point. Wine is normally involved. But what is really happening is connection and within that community connection, God functions at his highest through us. God is growing us to be a community of Kingdom storytellers. When I read Acts 4, it is hard to miss what occurs AFTER they prayed together. *Enter visual of Haitians praying together simultaneously, each verbal prayer individual to that person.* The Holy Spirit fills them, and they CONTINUED to speak God’s word with boldness. It bears repeating…they were in their normal rhythm of community when the Holy Spirit SHOWED UP and they continued to speak boldly. This wasn’t an unusual day. This is what happens when believers gather. 

While I was back in the States during November and December, I was looking forward to studying Acts in person instead of over text or Facetime. But each time we got together, something else needed the focus and we needed to be present with each other as listeners and express ourselves as the fighter at each other’s back. We needed to know we still operated as a whole, not women who are separate and alone. We needed prayer. We needed to feel the value of those God has given to walk with us in this journey. Each time we gather in the same place, we need to remind each other over and over again this is true. Every. Time. It’s true.

In the times we cannot gather in person, we gather in our group text. Sometimes the conversation that gets tossed around there is utterly ridiculous, other times, incredibly serious. But it is our connection point throughout the week when we cannot be physically present with each other. It’s amazing how often, as super strong, independent, Jesus following, insanely gifted woman…that each one of us feels alone. That, friends, is when we point out to each other, is not the heart of God. It is the work of those that fight against him.

We’ve been reading through Acts together, and when I read these moments of community, like in Acts 4, I do think of my people. Of how much I miss their passion for God’s Kingdom. Of how much I just miss them in general. To them I am not weird, I am just how God created me. I value the same in them, especially in all of the ways each of us has been pulled into the orphan window in Russia or Haiti. At the end of the day, each of us needs to know the rest have their back. When shit hits the fan, we do not run in the opposite direction. We operate as a solid unit. We know we are better together, because time and experience have proven that over and over again. So as I raise my glass to my people in celebration of what God has done, is doing and will do among us, I crave all the more the next time we gather in one place.

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We have been trying to get a photo with all of us in the same place for well over a year. There is zero documentation of us together. Haha! It’s actually very ‘us’!

disciplines

There are certain things I am good at and certain things I am not good at.

Running for instance, I suck at running.

Swimming…I can hold my own, as long as you have no competition aspirations for me.

Numbers. Just don’t. I can’t even.

Words. Addicted. LOVE them!

I do know how to read a clock, but I struggle with being on time. Not because I want to be rude and disrespectful, but I am normally caught up in a conversation or God moment I cannot gracefully end in a timely fashion.

When it comes to actually being disciplined at something, I rarely excel. It’s probably part rebellion from order, yet also part that I naturally operate in the whim of a moment. I love spontaneity. I love conversation, and if that conversation happens to go three hours I won’t stop it to be somewhere else because that time is priceless and sacred. I am Spirit led, and in the midst of that, it’s hard to continually be consistent in a daily rhythm outside of washing my face, brushing my teeth and collecting my hair into a messy concoction.

Something I struggle with in my spiritual life relates to the exact same things when it comes to a rhythm of that life with God. How do I make time to know him? How do I know his voice? When do I learn from his word? When do I make time to give thanks?

I have always, always sucked at ‘quiet time.’ If I plan it, then I fail, then I feel guilty. It’s an awful cycle that I truly believe God wants me to be free from. Not ‘scheduling’ time with God doesn’t make me any worse of a believer than a believer that does get up at 6a every day to read their Bible. I have time with God, but I don’t force myself to do it every day at 6a. No one wants to see me at 6a, not even the one I serve. He created me with distaste for mornings, so it doesn’t surprise him. When I feel pulled into that revelation of his word, drawn to something to pray or bust out in my current favorite worship song…that time is sacred. It is spontaneous, and I love it!

That all being said sometimes I need to be challenged to be in God’s word more often.

Several years ago, some friends and I got a crazy idea off of an Instagram photo-a-day rhythm over Lent. We blogged the word they had posted for the photo theme every day for the entirety of Lent. It was actually really cool, and this year, we are attempting it again. It was a sacrifice, as Lent is the time to sacrifice pieces of you to draw closer to Jesus. It was a challenge in the whirlwind of a chaotic life, BUT we did it. And we had no regrets. Plus we were drawn closer as a community as we shared the struggle of our commitment. We’ve done various things over the last several years, but nothing has been like that first year.

As each of us are currently in a wide array of seasons of life, who knows what will actually happen. I’m convinced I’m not even going to make it to the first Sunday ‘off day,’ because I have a group coming into the airport today and will be here until next Monday. That takes a LOT of time out of the next week.

But. I am willing to try. And not give myself a guilt trip if I fail. Technically, this is an extra post…so I should get a bi-day, right?!?! Leave it to me to break rules before we even get started…

Here’s to a delightful Lent season where we can all grow closer to Jesus as we walk the path to Easter.

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torn

Shattered into a multitude of pieces is what my life typically feels like. You would think I am used to it by now. I want to be so many places all at the same time. It literally feels like a ragged ripping with a painful element of being torn…how is it this possible to feel comfortable and natural through different cultures, languages and continents?

It is an unexplainable feeling to be torn for completely different places and friendships.

I love Russia. I deeply love my friends in Russia. I value those friendships as important and transformative to my life.

I love Haiti. I deeply love my friends in Haiti. I value those friendships as important and transformative to my life.

See the dilemma?

This morning while driving through snow, I was reminded how drastically different these two places have been created. From general structure to temperature, landscape, architecture, politics…you name it and most everything is all on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Except for one, hospitality is completely in sync with one another. Each place would do anything to make a guest feel welcome.

But for me, there is a common denominator for both firmly within the orphan window of this world. Each has different orphan situations…social, political and poverty orphans…both places have an overwhelming abundance of children aching to be championed by someone who genuinely cares about them, listens to their dreams, encourages their worth, and is willing to fight with them for their education and future. Someone to be a friend in the times their cultures tell them they are not worth the time and effort. Someone to make them feel they are not alone, and they have been created for good.

Ultimately, someone who supports locals within their culture to step into a variety of scenarios with unconditional love and friendship. My greatest dream is that the number of people within their country to make them a part of their family increases exponentially until all orphans throughout the world are taken into families within their home culture and no orphanage needs to exist to raise kids. It could be that this will not happen until this world is restored, but I believe God is continually raising up and calling people to be that champion in their own country.

There is no escaping examples of orphans in the Bible. Moses in a basket floating down a river. Esther’s parents dying, then being taken in by her cousin. Jesus being adopted by Joseph, for just a few.

There is also no escaping God’s mandate to seek justice for orphans, because, he is their protector, and as agents of God we are not invited to participate, but instructed to participate in protecting those who need to feel chosen and loved unconditionally. Don’t take my word for it, look for yourself in Psalms 10:17-18, Psalms 65:5-6, Jeremiah 22:3, James 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 10:17, Isaiah 1:16-17, Zechariah 7:9-10 and Malachi 3:5 to name a few.

My life is proof that each created life has a unique calling and purpose within God’s Kingdom that is theirs alone. My life is whole and I would never trade what I have been given for a different life…it’s just my kind of crazy.

As one who is anointed and called as someone to speak into the lives of others, when I started coming to Russia, I lacked the maturity to speak well. Some would say I still lack maturity, and for certain situations I wouldn’t argue but for most I would argue they really don’t know me. I’ve done nothing to deserve the insane blessing and transformation of the journey into the orphan window over the last twelve years. I’m not worthy of that honor, but when it comes to the orphan window of this world, God has tuned me to the same frequency as his heart for the orphan and widow. For that I am ever grateful for being able to exist within so many different perspectives.

As I ride to Velikoretskoye listening to what I like to refer to my ‘Kingdom focus’ music to drown out my torn heart, I am not ready to leave my Russian friends…even though it is time. Oh, how I long to be hugged simultaneously by my Russian and Haitian buddies. These kids are meant for greatness. They are meant to transform the world with their gifts and talents God created them to possess. They are created to be good people, shitty situations come on them and choices get made for bad things…but they were created for good.

God moments have been written into every aspect of the last two weeks. Some small and others massive, then in an unexplainable realm, every time my Russian buddy would run to my legs and wrap his small arms around both legs in a tight hug, exclaiming ‘Stephanie Stevovona!’ with a high pitched giggle, I would simultaneously feel one of my Haitian buddies doing the same on my opposite side, yelling out, ‘Éstefony!’ I genuinely hope it works in reverse once I return to Haiti. 

Looking at our time in Velikoretskoye, God was everywhere, just as he is present all over the book of Esther, yet his name is not written into the pages.  His name may not have been spoken out loud and his word may not have been quoted, but his heart was represented well through relationships, conversations and goofy inside jokes that continue to build our community with each other. Many moments I am hoping to share and celebrate, while others are more likely to stay between me and my creator. We will see what ends up getting shared from our visit with our friends. 

I hate that I am torn. I love that I am torn. And I am learning and growing to live within that love/hate tension through my deep love for the orphans who find themselves in the orphan window of this world, because I am created as a voice to inform those who are unaware and a friend to encourage those who didn’t deserve that injustice in the first place.

I’ve been redeemed and set free through grace for this calling that I humbly walk into as one who is deeply in love with Jesus and choose to journey within that calling…fully knowing I will continue to feel the tension of being torn as I love my friends all over the world.  

 

truth

Note: I’ve felt led to share an open letter to my community of Jesus’ loving, sarcastic speakin’, community driven and radically living ladies who laugh with me and love me despite my inherent ability to sometimes be an asshole. Friends, three years ago this month I followed a crazy whim that the Holy Spirit had put on my heart to experiment with a small group Bible Study using the Tangible Kingdom Primer. Since that moment, we have had so, so many crazy adventures together, intense prayer and read some books we know we don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole again, as well as some we keep recommending to others. But best of all we have waded through the muck and fell headlong into God’s heart for his Kingdom to be realized through loving others and genuinely caring about those around us every day. The unique thing about our DNA is that our focus has consistently been grounded on the perfect cornerstone of Jesus Christ. He is our launching pad into incarnational living that is creating each one of us into storytellers who perpetuate the stories of The Storyteller. We have seen friends sit among us and then move on by their own choice. We have seen family members pass away. We know each other, and not just know in the general sense, but known in the way God has created us to be open and honest with each other within community. We have countless crazy Kingdom stories. We have become excellent listeners. We have struggled through so many aspects of life together, responding each time by encircling our friend while carrying, motivating and loving them through the shit this world throws around. We have celebrated victories in life, jobs, friendship, marriages…because if a group who calls themselves Fondue Crew doesn’t know how to celebrate, who does? I know we all realize this…but I think it is important to remember where our roots are, and how we have been grown together with Jesus at the core in order to see where God is leading us. So many times as groups grow, they get to a point where they think they have learned all they will be able to learn from each other and feel they need to move on. Other times individuals believe that they don’t really belong any more. Sometimes the group gets too big and someone gets a brilliant *sarcasm* idea to multiply and grow new groups, only causing division because it was an idea of man not Spirit. Other times the ‘B’ word slides in and convinces us we are too busy for that weekly check-in and storytelling. When our group had just formed, I bought a book, ‘Community is Messy,’ but I never read it. Mostly, because I knew our foundation was built of the power of the one who reigns over the entire universe and if it got messy, we would draw on that power to figure it out. I’d never felt as intense discernment as when I felt the pull to start this group stubbornly centered on Kingdom life and living incarnational lives, telling Kingdom stories with a commitment to only do studies or activities pulling us deeper into that sent life. God was doing a lot in my life and redefining what I thought mission was into what God meant it to be, and he was calling me to share that ‘doing’ mission was not his heart and that Kingdom vision was right at the center. The one tie that truly binds us is our deep, passionate, loyal love for the One whose grace saves…the Master Storyteller. The stories we tell point to his Kingdom and without those stories to glorify God we are not living the lives God has called us to in this world. I am in a dual state of extreme gratitude for how we encourage each other, but also a feeling of disconnect, which goes against why God formed our community. We are strongest together when we are weaving our lives into His Story. What I do know is the world we fight for puts us in direct conflict with the forces that fight against that world being realized. It makes us susceptible to so many things. We cannot ever let ourselves believe the lie that we are separated from the community God has brought us into. We must believe the truth of God’s heart, the truth of his Holy Spirit leading and the truth that there is a purpose for our community. When we start listening to the lies that we don’t have time, it’s been too long and it will feel weird to be back or you feel uncomfortable with someone in the group…we allow ourselves to believe the lie that we are better on our own and we don’t belong in community.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” [Ephesians 6:12, NIV]

For months I’ve been allowing myself to believe the lie that my voice doesn’t have the right to speak alongside your voices. Allowing myself to hear I’ve been gone for too long. Without time spent with you, without knowing what is happening in your daily lives…I’ve allowed myself to believe that I am too far away, I am not needed and I am separate. Within those thoughts, I’ve been holding on to some things I felt God wanted us to hear. But it is time to share God’s truth… Friends, we have failed to fortify ourselves against spiritual attack and we are getting picked apart. We are digressing into our own minds and not being honest about where we are at right now. Myself included. We are loved by the giver of life, so intimately, that we are chosen. We must embrace this truth as a community, but also individually. You are chosen.

“As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” [1 Peter 2:4-9]

We need to trust each other explicitly and know that while we first trust Jesus, we without a doubt we have each others’ back. That means honesty and not hiding away when things get tough. We need to actively communicate our struggles with each other and know we are supported. We need to hold each other accountable to telling Kingdom stories and living Kingdom lives through blessing others, listening well, being present, committing to prayer and seeking growth in God’s word. We need to realize how uniquely we each are made, embrace those differences and celebrate how specific our gifts are as we use them to fit together into God’s perfect puzzle. We need every single one of us.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” [Ephesians 4:11-16]

We are uniquely called to love deeply all those around us, yes, we will be assholes, but our intentions remain pure. It means conversations with people at work, school and on long drives that we wouldn’t normally jump into. It means spending money a different way. It means being outside our comfort zone. It also draws on a willingness to surrender ourselves to allow God to use us. It means transformation. It means we will sometimes get hurt, but it also allows us to love and encourage each other through that pain. We need to commit to reconciling our relationships with each other through love, and live gracefully. We need to shelf excuses that keep us secluded from community. We need to stop the busy, acknowledge boundaries and know that God seeks to use us everywhere we go…while discerning God doesn’t mean for this community to be sacrificed on the altar of busy. Everything we have been through, read and learned has led us to this specific time and place to be what God needs from us…BUT we are asked to listen and filter out the busy to hear. We have served side-by-side in various aspects: Harvesters, Russia, Haiti and Spofford. We keep seeking the voice of God on where that ‘one thing’ is in this world for us to dive in together, but we are truly a beautiful image of God because our eclecticness is unique. How many times have you looked around our group and thought, ‘How did we all end up here?’ What God has brought together has meaning, and it is special. We are all different and each called in a different way, and I am convinced God will make us strongest when we use our differences. I am convinced that it isn’t that we have one thing for us all to be about, but God has made each of us about different things within a common passion. We each have an innate passion to champion those in this world that are forgotten. It looks different with each of us, but each of us is doing this within our own calling. I could look at each of you right now and call out that area where you are living to champion those the world forgets. We are called to community, and that community is called out as individuals…to then come back to community to heal, share and love deeply in a safe place. This world is hard. God knows it is drowning in sin, but he also knows there is an end with his victory and he has given believers a place to retreat back to and feel safe until he has healed this world.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord and in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” [Ephesians 2:14-22]

The truth is, friends, I need you in my life. I need you to keep reminding me that God has built us together to be a dwelling for the Holy Spirit. I need you to point to the Kingdom when I miss it. I need your stories. I need our community, because I know I cannot do this life alone…and honestly, I really don’t want to, even if you are two plane rides away. Community is messy, but we are called to life lived together. I am beyond blessed to have you all in my life cheering me on and championing who God has called me to be.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same king of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Peter 5:6-11]

bless

I once heard ‘bless’ interpreted as the tangible touch of God, and it has been burned into my vernacular ever since. I just love the thought that we can feel God’s love for us through the blessings that pour into our lives every day, coupled with the fact that we could be a part of blessing others to feel that tangible touch of God. Beautiful cycle, right?

Several years ago, I first heard several folks in the Kingdom movement realm talk about acronyms they use for small groups to develop missional habits. Missional being that all we do and say alerts others to the reign of God. Michael Frost talks about ‘BELLS’ as Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn and Sent as a rhythm for small groups to adopt in order to have opportunities to tell Kingdom stories, as well as to hold each other accountable to living well within their Kingdom life. Frost says, ‘It is a really handy tool for mobilizing Christians up, in and out into mission. That is, up into deeper connection with the Triune God; in to a stronger sense of community with other believers; and out into the neighborhood. The fact is we all recognize the need to live generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighborhoods. We want to live our faith out in the open for all to see.’

Bless is rather straight forward in blessing three people throughout the week, at least one of whom is not a member of your church. And while most people think of a blessing as something monetary, it definitely does not have to always have something to do with money. It could, but more likely is the blessing of spending time with someone, doing something for them, telling them they are doing a good job or giving a hug when someone needs it.

What group of folks hates eating together, right? I’ve seen so many frustrations and tensions dissipate within a single meal sat across a table from others. Eat is intentionally sitting down to a meal with three people throughout your week, with at least one of them not being a member of your church. So many times I’ve heard folks say, “I really like the stuff you talk about and want to live more missionally, but I cannot add another thing to my full schedule. It’s impossible!” Eating with others adds nothing into the schedule, because you already eat three times a day, right? Which means all you are doing is choosing who will be across the table from you in one of those moments throughout the week.

Listen. I honestly think this one is so incredibly important, because when we choose not to listen to each other we are choosing not to learn from each other or respect the other person as a viable contributor to community. It is the same with the Holy Spirit, when we choose not to listen to the Holy Spirit we are telling God that we don’t think the Holy Spirit is a viable part of the Trinity in a world where it truly is the most active piece of God we have with us. The missional habit of Listen is choosing to give one period of your week to listening for the Spirit’s voice. That looks different for everyone, but once you choose to intentionally listen, you will be amazed at the things you hear and how you respond. As a Spirit-led person, the entire Kingdom becomes increasingly real to you.

Learn is a commitment to learning the characteristics, stories and things Jesus said to help us grasp a hold of our life with him. When you learn about Jesus, you tend to take on those traits as well…give or take an asshole decision every now and then…it’s no fluke that my small group that has been pouring into missional theology for three years refers to themselves as ‘recovering assholes.’ When learning more and more about the character of Jesus, we tend to also have a spotlight put on our sin and humanness as well. We are all in the process of being transformed, but without the commitment t learn more about the heart of God through Jesus, we have no example to spark that transformation.

Sent embodies action. Frost says that the habit of sent is committing to journal throughout the week all the ways you have alerted others to the universal reign of God through Christ, and it has a lot of different outlets. Know how to answer where you see God reigning through Christ. Is it in the beauty of God’s creation? Whether it is nature, music or art? Is it in how we treat others? Is it in how passionate you are about injustice in this world? What makes your soul sing in this world? What makes you most angry? When you look at the emotions you have surrounding a situation, at their core, does it go back to how God has uniquely created you to build toward his Kingdom on earth? What forward motion are you participating in to see God’s Kingdom come into its’ full power and restoration? Living sent is about alerting AND demonstrating the universal reign of God through Christ. It’s both together, not one or the other. When you commit to journaling when you see aspects of this habit in your life, you will more increasingly see how God has placed you to live sent.

IMG_6371When I saw these habits several years ago for the first time, I sensed that my community wasn’t quite ready to tackle all habits at once. So we moved forward in other ways, then last month when I sense this was the right time, each person was excited and had a certain aspect of giddiness at the accountability to live out what we’ve been talking and learning about for so long. I’m anticipating a TON of stories to be told over the next couple of months, and I cannot wait to see how God continues to move in us.