The Need for People with Sight–Part 1

Duck #109

“If you were like that, I’d be very interested in how you live your life…”

This was the response to a comment I made at a party on Saturday night. I don’t really remember what we were talking about. Party banter tends to vary.  At first everyone’s a little nervous, scanning the room for familiar faces, searching conversation for subjects that feel like the shoes you decided to wear that night. You know the ones. The ones you slipped on as you told yourself, “Well, if I don’t end up having a good time at least I’ll be comfortable and relatively stylish.” We all have a pair. Mine are pair of black booties. Attractive, yet basic, but not boring enough to be completely overlooked. They’re somewhere in the middle, depending upon the rest of my outfit.

I wear them often in the fall/winter because they’re in. And I want to be in. I want to be seen. We all do. We all have a desire to be noticed, cared for, loved…

Remember the first time someone noticed you after you’d been silently begging and praying to be acknowledged? Maybe it was during lunch on your first day of middle school, or maybe it was by the guy or girl you’d been crushing on, maybe it was by a teacher or coach you’d been trying to impress. Regardless of where, regardless of the person that did the noticing, being noticed felt good. That moment told you, “Hey. You matter.” It’s empowering and dignifying.

Because I know what it’s like to be seen, I continually feel convicted about ignoring other people. So when the news of another senseless, hateful, mass shooting took place on American soil, I cried. I couldn’t help it. The most recent slaughters via a gunman happened at two of my favorite places to attend–a concert venue and a place of worship. (I hate everything about that sentence. *sigh*). In a matter of minutes stories broke and social media was flooded with news about what had happened. Amid the carcasses of paragraphs wet with words like, “opened fire,” “death toll,” “loud screaming,” “music,” “church,” was this repeated phrase: my thoughts and prayers…

I scrolled Twitter. I lost count of how many times I was reading those same 20 letters over and over again. . We say it all the time. It’s a sweet, hallmark-like sentiment. It rests on the cusp of empathy and apathy. It often translates as, “I recognize you, but not enough to really do anything about it.” Now, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that phrase inherently. There isn’t. I’ve said it myself. What I’m saying is that I don’t think that phrase is…enough.

But what if I actually mean that phrase? What if I really am thinking and praying about the victims and these horrible situations? What if I don’t have anything better to say? What can I actually do?

I hear you. 

However, if you would consider yourself a follower of Jesus, let me urge you to consider two things:
1) Prayer shouldn’t always stop at prayer; often it must move us to a decided action.
2) The Church should be the primary place where people not only feel noticed, but are actually seen. (To be explored in a subsequent blog post.)

I’m a huge fan of the Gospels. I love what they so intimately tell us about the character and person of Jesus. Take the first chapter of Mark for example. At the beginning of his ministry (a crucial time of action) after performing several miracles, Jesus “rises very early in the morning, while it was still dark…[departing]…to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (v 35). Understandably so, the disciples frantically search for their leader letting him know that everyone has been looking for him. Jesus’ reply? “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (v 37).

I don’t know what the disciples were thinking, but if I were them, I’m sure I would’ve been thinking something like Why on earth did Jesus take this time to pray? Doesn’t he know that we have so much work to do, so many people to meet? He called us to follow him and become fishers of men. We can’t do that if He’s off by himself praying all morning. We have to act!! I think what the disciples failed to understand is the beautiful partnership that prayer and action have. Prayer re-centers, re-grounds, reshapes, reorients, and realigns our actions. To act on behalf of the kingdom of God without prayer is pointless. We are too weak to move towards people, and see them with dignity aside from Lord’s help.

What we see Jesus doing in Mark 1 is carrying out an understanding of prayer and action. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t know what’s at stake–the literal souls of his beloved. To save them, he must act. He knows that. Jesus takes the time to pray so that he might act well.  And what happens next? Jesus’ heals a leper. One of the most dirty, outcast members of society comes to Jesus and asks to be made clean–“moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched [the man with leprosy] and said to him…’be clean'” (v. 41).

Jesus noticed him. Jesus saw this man–broken, unwanted, dejected–and touched him.

We are not Jesus. We were not sent by the Father to save the world; but we have been commissioned to see people–to care for the sick, feed the poor, love the widow and orphan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always want to do those things. I wish I did, but I’m usually “too busy.” Prayer changes that. Genuine prayer for the world around me won’t let me ignore the needs of others. I can’t always just think and pray about the tragedy that just happened, I won’t ever see anyone if that’s all I’m doing. I must pray because I must know how to act.

I don’t know what this means, exactly. What does prayerful, wise action look like in the case of senseless gunfire and death? I’m not sure. But I do know that it looks like far more than a pithy post from behind a computer screen.  There are people, created in the image of God, that are begging to be seen. Will we see them?

 

[picture found at nbcnews.com]

…such happenings

Duck#90

 

The car was crammed and I think we were all laughing about something. Probably. We were probably laughing, or singing along to Taylor Swift as one of her songs played through the speakers. He spoke a bit louder than the laughter, louder than the music. Just enough so that we’d pay attention to what he had to say–“Selfishly, I wish that woman hadn’t sat down and talked with us…because now I’m thinking about her, ya know?” He shook his head. “Like if I pretend that she’s a character, I don’t really have to think about her, but I am because she’s not a character…she’s a person.”

“Yeah…” was really all I could think to say.


The food was delicious. I make it a point to get Pad Thai every time I go to a new Thai restaurant because it’s the most basic entree on the menu and I like comparing different flavors of the same dish.  With sleep dragging my eyelids farther down my face, I was trying to concentrate on the noodles and peanut sauce–admittedly, I wasn’t in the mood for deep conversation. We kept talking and I jokingly made a comment resembling, “Well, I told God this is how it was gonna go…” I had naively kind of told God something, but I’m old enough to know that He doesn’t operate according to my demands. (Consequently, it’s astounding how quickly I forget this.) Everyone laughed and then she said, “I mean, the Lord is out to ruin our lives.”

“Honestly, yeah…” was all I could really think to say.


 

Connection and Interruption. These are the two things (I’m kicking myself, because I can’t think of a better word than “things” right now) that the above stories have in common. I’ve come to realize that I have an issue with both. Why? Well, because both interruption and connection leave me exposed, open to the elements, naked in front of the people I’m with, vulnerable, defenses down. The part of me that wants to pretend she’s gotten a hang of “this-whole-life-thing” would rather not talk about my erratic fear of exposure, the irritation in interruption, or the clamor of connection. But I don’t have things figured out, and I’m growing as a person, so here we are…

Last week I spent time in Atlanta, Georgia for RUF intern training–one of my favorite weeks attached to this job. It’s a beautiful week of the following: good teaching, belly laughter, a few tears, and quality time with some other really awesome interns. I love it. I say it all the time, but it really is impossible to leave an RUF training and not be reminded of the fact that God is at work–not only that, but that He is for you, that He loves you, and is desperately trying to pursue and change you to be more like Him. It’s wonderful. I’m back in State College now, and I’m trying to process the week–what I loved about it, what I learned, what stuck out to me, why I feel like a part of me is lost in the middle of the Westin lobby, sitting on that sculpture that’s not actually meant for sitting, but always manages to be used as a bench anyway. I think it has to do with the two words I mentioned in the previous paragraph: connection and interruption.

If you talk to friends from college that know me well, I’m pretty sure they’d tell you that I love having conversations with people, and I really love when those conversations turn into deep conversations and accidentally end up lasting far longer than anticipated. I had a good handful of conversations like this while in Atlanta. My love for such conversations still remains, but something I’ve learned about myself since graduating is that I love my time. It is far more precious to me than I thought (which can be a good thing), but I also love talking with people on my own time, when I want to talk with them. I realize how terribly selfish this is. I don’t intentionally try to do this, but I think that sometimes I walk around desiring to connect with people, but nobody can tell because that desire is covered up in the same way that my eyes are covered up when it’s sunny. I can still see the sun, I can still let it touch my face, but not enough to burn me.

In the Lord’s humor and kindness, he’s beginning to rip off my sunglasses so that my face is exposed to the sun. He’s allowing human connection (with “friend-terns,” friends in State College, and recently just people in general) to interrupt my life and ruin my plans–as if my life is really mine to plan. I want to know people and I want them to know me, but only so much so that if something goes wrong, I have the upper hand and will have preserved enough of myself not to feel crushed. As you can imagine, I’ve been hurt a number of times before because of the close contact I’ve had with people. But I can’t live in a bubble.  I was created by Love, in love, to pour out love. I need my life to be drastically interrupted and I need to connect deeply with other people, especially other believers. I need my plans to be ruined because the design I have for my life is a mere stick figure in comparison to the Lord’s Sistine Chapel.

Remember those two stories I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well, the first was about a woman that came and sat down with a bunch of us on our last night out in Atlanta. It would have been way easier to ignore her and not hear the parts of her story that she shared with us and to not let her connect with us even a little bit. But that’s not what happened. We listened to her for 10 minutes or so, she told us about her children,  we got in the car, my friend made his comment, and I though I probably won’t ever see this woman again I’ve suddenly found myself praying that she would know the Lord’s goodness. The second story happened yesterday at lunch with some dear friends. I don’t even really remember what we were talking about. It may have been dating or marriage (the friends I was with are engaged), but the words spoken to me interrupted a pattern of thought that I’ve had for the last few weeks. The Lord isn’t out to ruin my life because He is trying to punish me, but because He loves me, because he knows that I don’t want what’s best for myself.

I want connection, but sometimes I’m scared of it. I need interruption, but I worry it’ll cost me too much. There’s no life in keeping all of me to myself. I need to find the people that I can intentionally let into my quirky little world, and still allow myself to walk amongst other people with a posture that isn’t overly irritated by their contact with me.
I’m glad that woman came down and sat with us and that my friend couldn’t ignore our connection with her (Okay, honestly I’m still wrestling with that comment because it inadvertently exposed personal sin I don’t want to deal with, but it was good. I’m glad he said something). I’m thankful my friends wouldn’t let me think that I can make plans for my life and expect the Lord to cater to them. I’m learning that often it’s good to be left exposed, open to the elements, naked in front of the people I’m with, vulnerable, defenses down–it is then that I can allow the Lord to wash me with His grace, clothe me in righteousness, and fill me with a love that is meant to be shared. I have been far too loved not to let other people stand in that love with me.

So don’t run away from interruption; allow yourself to connect with people, even for just a moment. You’ll be amazed at what the Lord can do in and through such happenings…

 

[Dear Lord,
thank you for allowing my life and my thoughts to be interrupted. thank You for allowing me to connect with people. help me not to cast off these occurrences as insignificant, but help me to seek to further your kingdom through them.]
<3Amen

 

Discovering Beauty in THE PEOPLE

Post Grad Duck #17

This post should be much easier to write than the last, but for that reason I may find it harder. When I finished writing about the town, I wanted to immediately start writing about the people, but I decided to give it some time. I’m glad I waited, because in the days that followed I had such lovely interactions with so many people here–I felt more inspired to organize my thoughts. I want to write about them all, but I only want to share a few; and that is exactly what I will do.

Before I even crossed the Pennsylvania state border, I felt loved and encouraged by so many people that I hadn’t met yet. From states, and hours, and miles away I felt…wanted. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want to be wanted. Many times, that’s much of the reason that we like helping other people–it’s a good feeling to be wanted, to be needed. While I was finishing up my time in North Carolina, that’s exactly how I felt by my unmet students, unmet boss, unmet friends, and unmet church family in Pennsylvania.

“Jayna, I can’t wait to meet you!”
“We’re all so excited that you’re coming!”
“It will be so nice to have a female intern again!”
“It’s such a blessing that you’ll be here!”

It was phrases like these that compelled me to take a leap of faith, despite my fear, and move to a place where I literally knew no one (trusting that my feelings of  wantedness actually translated into actually being wanted).

Well, here I am 4 months later and I was right. I am wanted. That feels a bit weird to type. I am wanted. My gut reaction is to assume that I sound prideful and arrogant, but I promise that I say those words with the utmost humility. I am honored to be wanted. And, dear ones, you are wanted right back.

Regardless of my fear of getting too attached, my heart has done just that. It’s made its way into the various lives of so many here and started to create a home. As a result, there is now a piece of one of my most vital organs that beats for those I’ve gotten to know during my first semester here. When I first moved State College, I tried to keep my heart locked away. When I started to feel deeply, as I so often do, I tried to ignore what was happening. But the people here are stronger than my feeble attempts to play a game of keep away–My Heart vs. Their Love & Kindness.

A quote that I love from a book I love goes like this, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once.” How true those words are. I’ve fallen in love with the people here and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was teetering on the edge and before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the cliff. The landing wasn’t harsh, and the fall was less scary than I imagined.

At the bottom of this fall I have found these three: understanding, joy, and perspective. All under the umbrella of love, I have been met in ways so personal.

Among my friends/roommates I have found understanding. I have found people who want to get to know me for who I am and have pushed me to be me. It’s simple, but true. Moving to Pennsylvania meant that I left some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. There is a huge part of me that resolved to believe I wouldn’t find anyone like them here. And I was right. The friends I have back home are one of a kind, but that did not mean that I wouldn’t find people with whom I could be myself. The relationships here are different than ones elsewhere, but what a winsome adventure its been. I have been understood and gained understanding at a very basic level. Things don’t always need to be complex. New people means new experiences, and leaving my comfort zone is good.

Among my students I have found joy. The undergraduates with which I spend my time are so different from those at Appalachian. Because of such stark differences, I was afraid that it was going to be really hard for me to fit in.  An no, it was not the easiest transition, but over time I gained my balance. I wish I could explain how much my students make me laugh or how encouraging they are. They are talented, and beautiful, and kind, and passionate, and ambitious, and hard working, and loving, and wonderful. They accepted me with open arms and haven’t thought twice about whether or not they made the right decision in doing so. Their stories are beautifully broken and the potential they hold is so bright. I feel so loved by them and simultaneously feel like I don’t deserve them. They are changing me and growing me for the better.

Among my church family I have found perspective. Initially, I was anxious about getting to know members of the congregation that are not in my same walk of life–I had never really done that at my previous churches. However, I have learned of new ways to serve, new ways to share, and new ways to give. No place is perfect, but I have enjoyed seeing the ways in which this body of people does excel. What a joy it is to know people in my church that are years older than I. What a treat it is to be greeted by such compassion and wisdom. What an honor it is to meet weekly in Bible study with such beautiful women to discuss Scripture and pray for each other. What a blessing it is to see the importance of serving the local church and communing before and after service. Oakwood Presbyterian is like an ecosystem of sorts that both feeds and pours out to the congregation and the community. Such a way of living is necessary, not optional. I’m seeing this firsthand.

I’m left in awe. With each people group that I’ve gotten to know, my first reaction was to shield my self with fear. On the contrary, each people group has shown the character of Jesus: love. I’m thankful, humbled, and–although only for a short while– at home.

IMG_9780.JPGSo here’s to you, people. Thank you.

[Dear Jesus, what a gift it is to be surrounded by so many of your beautiful children. Thank you for sharing them with me.]
❤ Amen

Go Ahead, Ask…

Duck #43

Traveling is really fun. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, it’s inspiring. My current location is Dallas, Texas. I was really excited to visit Texas because I’d never been here before–and on my list of states that I want to visit, Texas was next on the list. Next up is Oregon, but I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to get there…

Anyway, back to Texas. Everything here is so…big. I guess “they” were right when they said, “everything is bigger in Texas.” It really is. There’s so much. In addition, everything is so flat. When you drive around, you can literally see for miles without interruption. Sure, there are buildings and a few trees, but nothing like the mountains of North Carolina that I’m used to. Because of the vast amounts of space, I feel like anything is possible. The sky is the limit, and that seems ridiculous because of how much bigger the sky looks here. It’s not, in fact, bigger; but when you look up and there’s nothing to break up your line of sight, you feel really small. That’s a good way to put it–Texas makes me feel really small. Not necessarily unseen, just small.

I like feeling small. I think most girls do. (Insert feelings of insecurity or something along those lines.) It probably has something to do with wanting to feel protected. That feeling is probably also why I sleep with the covers almost completely over my face. Because I feel protected, and because that’s the most comfortable way to sleep (in my opinion).

But feeling small isn’t really what I want to talk about, maybe another time, but not now.
Right now, I want to talk about questions…

I’ve been asked quite a few questions on this trip. I’ve stayed with 2 families. (1st: my pseduo aunt and uncle, and then my real aunt and uncle + their children, my cousins.) Both families haven’t seen me in a while. The first since I was 5, and the second has seen me sporadically over the past 6-7 years, but not long enough to really spend much time with me. And what’s the best way to get to know someone? To ask them questions.

I’ve been asked easy questions, hard questions, open ended questions, close ended, and questions that lie various places in between. I’ve liked it and I haven’t. I want to be known, but I don’t always want to be exposed. I want interest to be taken in me, but I want to be selective with what I share. The questions that I’ve been asked have been acute, specific, detail oriented. They’re like this because there’s so much ground to be covered in a short amount of time. Nothing has been forced, quite the opposite, just direct. I like it, but it’s weird…

At school, we talk and ask questions all the time. My best friends know what to ask and when and why. Their direct, straight forward, minute, detailed questions don’t bother me, they’re welcomed…regularly. Why is that? Probably because I’m around them so much, probably because we do life together. My aunt and uncle and cousins are a part of my life, but they’re also apart from my life. So, when the deep questions get asked (which I love) it makes me nervous at first because I know that the only “follow up” that will ensue, will only really happen while I’m here, with them in the flesh. Not to discount the age of communication we live in, but it’s way easier to keep in touch in person, is it not?

Questions are good, but they’re dangerous. They allow you to get answers, but once you get those answers, you have them. In that same way, if you’re the one giving the answers, once you’ve given them, you can’t take them back.

So I write this post not to say that asking and answering questions is bad. Because it’s not, it’s good, really good. Instead, I write because I want you, reader, to think about the questions you ask, the way you ask them, why you ask them. I want you to think about the answers you give to the questions you’re asked. I want you to appreciate good conversation, I want you to appreciate the beauty of yes and no, sharing and holding back, pondering and blurting.

Ask questions. Answer them, too. Don’t be afraid to go deep, but don’t shy away from the surface level dance that may need to take place. Sit in silence, laugh and listen in the loud. Talk and think. Along the way, learn about other people, appreciate them for their similarities and love them for their differences. Know yourself and learn even more.

I’m learning this too, and what a cool lesson this is.

[Jesus, thank You for the mind you given me and for the beauty of conversation. Teach me how to talk and listen and learn and love like You.]
❤ Amen

“Me, too…”

Duck #20 Have you ever stopped and thought, “life is really hard,” but then coupled that thought with, “but it’s SO good!”? That’s where I’m currently residing. It’s funny, I’m sitting on my couch, looking out the window and watching the snow fall and swirl around–that’s exactly what I feel like my thoughts are doing […]