never have i found

I was a freshman in college when I had a significant identity crisis. A friend died. I had some issues with depression. I fought with my parents constantly…from 3 hours away. And I realized I’d been hiding behind, and projecting that image, of who other people wanted me to be. My most common phrase was ‘I just need to find myself.’ Cheesy, right? Yeah…well that was also what I like to call…my B.C.

Before Christ.

Here’s the thing, though, I knew without a doubt that I was missing something. Literally. Missing. Something.

By the grace of God I found it, and that part of the story isn’t pertinent here…and actually is in a former post, I think. What is on my brain at the moment is once I found what I was looking for in Christ…no one could ever convince me there was a better faith, object, path…or mission to devote your life to in our world.

All of the things I hated, absolutely hated, about myself all of a sudden became beautiful. The things I wrongly loved about myself…manipulation, lying, selfishness…the focus shifted, and I changed, because I found what made me complete.

Josh Garrels has a phenomenal song that makes me think of this every time I hear it.

‘But never have I found, another one like Jesus.’ [Josh Garrels, “Never Have I Found”]

I looked…at a lot of other things to fill the complete lack of identity that I had, but there was a reason none of those things filled that massive hole I felt inside me. We were created by God to be in relationship with him, and when we are not…everything is out of whack.

When you read the Bible, look at the character of Christ. He is kind. He talks to people ‘society’ didn’t want him to engage. He gets angry when people disrespect his Father. And when he talked to people…he wasn’t screaming at people to believe, he gave them honest words and let them choose. He took an interest…people followed him because he listened, and answered questions. Though, generally it was a weird parable…but where in God’s word do you see it say Jesus wasn’t compassionate.

And the stories could just be stories…until you look at Old Testament then every single piece of Christ’s life was predicted. He fulfilled every single prophecy that had been written. Including…wait for it…dying on a cross for OUR sin, and then…rising again three days later. RISING AGAIN…no other ‘God’ even attempted to claim that feat.

This year for lent, I decided I was going to strip down my mission verbiage and relearn. I felt I needed to better articulate the ‘why’ of mission…God’s mission. Among the various things I have clung to…the ‘why’ of God’s mission is to work toward His Kingdom being renewed, reclaimed, perfected once again…but the ‘how’ is in the character of Jesus.

And, friends, never have I found another one like Jesus.

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molding me

Sometimes I cannot help but relive things that have shaped me. Events sometimes send me in that direction and as God molds us, it can be so very painful…but in the end and looking back things have done so much to make me into the woman I am today. So…I have a story, about the first time I was ever on a mission trip.

It was 1999…crazy, right? I was a freshman at Drake University, and little did I know…I was on God’s radar. Life was new. Life was awesome. Then I got a phone call. It wasn’t a good phone call, and when I heard the person on the other end my roommate was so concerned that she ran to get our R.A. Catherine hadn’t known me long, but she knew I was never rendered speechless and I rarely cried…and I was both. The person on the other end of the phone shared that a mutual friend of ours had been in a car accident. And it was not looking good.

It’s so different when someone dies that had their entire life ahead of them. You cannot help but imagine what could have been…needless to say I was completely rocked when the next phone call was he didn’t make it.

I was in such a different place. I hadn’t bought in to the whole ‘Jesus’ thing yet, and my world was truly turned upside down. I honestly don’t remember much from that week…we sang ‘Season’s of Love’ at his funeral. We had done it our Senior year of high school, so it meant something to sing it at his funeral.

The very next week I’d been planning on going on my first mission trip. Just take a second to think about what state of mind I was in as we left, then let me say that’s when God got to work. My college friends so took care of me, we were really good at that…taking care of each other. When I think of Christian community in action, I think of every single person in our community who allowed Jesus to guide their actions.

God formed bonds on that mission trip that I hadn’t even know could exist. There is the bond between believers, and then there is the unbending, unconditional tie between those that have been on a mission trip together. Two of my very best friends were on that trip…and 9 years out of college, we still have tabs on each other. I’m actually texting with Rep as I type this.

We worked at the Denver Rescue Mission on that trip. What an amazing place. I’d never seen anything like it, and my idea of a homeless person was the stereotypical old man on a street with a beard holding a sign. God was getting ready to rock my foundation of whatever inkling I had of what ‘mission’ was in this world.

The most impactful moment of the trip was one of the days we prepared and served a meal. I don’t think I’ve even close to peeled the amount of potatoes I peeled on that trip in the years since I was there.

I was standing behind the counter and walks in a family…a parent and 2 kids. I don’t even remember if it was a mom or dad, because I was so focused on the kids. Homeless people weren’t supposed to be kids! Small people who cannot defend themselves, feed themselves or any semblance of taking care of themselves. They shouldn’t be on the street…but they were.

It was in that moment that God’s heart for the hurting in our world was brought to life in me. It was nothing to do with quoting scripture. It had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with God’s heart hurting for every single person on this earth and us ignoring those that fall under the Bible’s justice issues. Growing up in suburbia never prepared me for what true injustice exists.

I think this came to mind today because I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days how things scar us, change us and God’s unconditional love. It also came to mind because of the inhuman ties that bind us to those that we work so closely with to see God’s Kingdom on this earth.

I am so blessed to be able to point back to where God’s heart and my heart collided. It is why I am pulled to God’s kids in Russia. It is why my heart cries when I think of the kids orphaned in Africa because of AIDS and war. It is why I have felt called to Haiti. It is why I have been to Joplin 7 times since May. How can you ignore all of those things when God implores us to act when we see injustice?

I write this to honor a friend who had so much potential, and whose death pushed me the final steps to choose Jesus. I also write this to honor my God who had a good and perfect plan for me to work in missions…

//Stephanie//

Forever changed.

‘Another blog’ you say? Why yes, another…but different, because you see, God is in action, swirling and moving…the Holy Spirit is stirring in amazing ways…abnormal? No. But there is a large part of me that thinks, we don’t look for the ways God is moving around us as much as we should. I am committing to start looking at what God is doing around me more closely…expectantly…and what you’ll soon see is that there is this concept of living for Christ that is merged with our everyday lives just waiting to be in action as a part of God’s mission in our world.

This week…I am watching a group of young friends move into their college lives. Thirteen years ago (eik!) I was doing the same thing, though my young friends have a few more things together than I did. You see, Jesus knew me…but I didn’t know him.

It was divine intervention that I was put into a dorm room with an amazing young woman who had grown up in church, on a dorm floor with ladies who truly loved Jesus, and on a campus that housed a group of friends that forever changed my life…

We churched hopped. We went to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship together. We met for Bible Study once a week. We prayed together. We ate together. We worked together. We went to class together. We stayed up until all hours of the night, sometimes studying…pulling all nighters together over a shared pot of coffee. We shared in each other’s lives, as only you can on a college campus. And somewhere in the middle of all of it…I chose Jesus.

Honestly, I had no idea the adventure I was signing up for or the mistakes or missteps or the family I was gaining. Had it not been for that group of friends, on that college campus, on those specific years…who knows where I would be now. Certainly not praying for my friends who find themselves at the beginning of an amazing adventure. And most certainly not working at a church.

I would have never known how to discern God’s call on my life, or have found myself amidst a changing time in our culture where most people in America want nothing to do with ‘church.’ It is time for the followers of Jesus to go cross-cultural in their own country. Why do we expect people in our culture to come to us when our customs, services and lingo are abnormal to them? We must be real, acknowledge our sin and be willing to cross into uncomfortable situations to love people with the rebellious love Christ loves us with. And our new college students will play a huge part.

I am evidence that college campuses are primed for those that know Jesus. To share your life vividly enough that there is no hiding the Christ you serve. No Bible thumping…just life lived openly through relationships.

I find myself in a place where mission is not something you do. Mission is who you are. To your very soul…how you think, how you respond and how you move forward. Mission has been a part of us since God created us, but sometimes we set that part aside and pretend it is not there. Mission is Biblical, but mission as relationship is not muddled by Christianese or verbal theology. It is the dirty reality of everyday life. It is Jesus talking with prostitutes. It is Jesus sharing a meal with tax collectors. It is touching a leper. It is stories. It is life shared across generational, economical or cultural lines.

Mission is extreme love and great risk merged as one. It is dangerous…who wants to open their heart…their life to that possibility of pain, joy and sacrifice. Mission is getting dirty and messy in the love for Jesus. Many of those I have hugged, and sent off this week are jumping in with both feet. Would you care to join us?

\\Stephanie\\

St. Louis City Lights Mission Project in 2001