Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

Humanizing our Demons

We live in a world ruled by fear.
We are constantly reacting to that fear.

We are taught to fear. We cling to stereotypes because it helps us feel safer. We are told to fear the unknown because it is out of our control. We think those who “look like me” are safe, so we demonize those who act, talk, worship, and dress differently.

We now know what to fear. We must fear the “Other.”

The Other.

The non-American (or whatever country you might call home).
The one who doesn’t speak MY language.
The one who dresses weirdly.
That one who prays differently.

They are the “Other.”

We consider them untrustworthy, violent, hate-filled, unschooled, and barbaric. We throw labels at the unknown and wish to believe that everyone who is like the “Other” falls into those labels. We want to believe that the stereotypes are real.

But, heaven forbid, if they dare attempt to label me as “Other.”

It always baffles me when people get offended by stereotypes that they themselves use. I’m not saying that stereotypes and labels are good, not by a long shot. But, we as humans are delusional if we think we can use these “tools” with impunity and not expect to have them thrown back at us.

We need to humanize our demons. Or, more correctly,  what we have deemed to be our demons. The boogeyman that haunts our ideal world. The simple fact of us not trusting those who look and act differently than us.

In our actions of demonizing a culture that we don’t understand nor make any attempt to understand, is in fact demonizing US to THEM. We become the demons of their fear.

Honestly, how can we expect the world to care for the blight of a people group, if we cannot even care to shake the hand of someone who looks nothing like us?

Because we fear, we attack a person rather than an ideal.

The reason I started to think about this, is due to something that really should not have been news. It should have been common decency, but instead it went viral.

A man in the UK made the decision to sit next to a woman in full Muslim garb on a crowded train.
The reason this is so important is that on that packed train, people were making the very distinct decision of refusing to sit near this woman. There were empty seats around her. People were standing because they were choosing to demonize a woman with the stereotypes that have been put on her religion and culture.
This man on the other hand, vocally denounced this demonization by saying, “I’ll sit here!” Even though no other words were exchanged between them for the ride, this man declared that woman as “human” despite the actions of others.
When that woman got up for her stop, she supposedly said a whispered thank you to the man who ignored the mob mentality and rose above it.

This should not have made the news! But, it did because of how rare it is in today’s society for someone to go against the group and against fear based hatred.

What do you think Jesus would have done if he was on that train? Do you really think that he would have been standing in the group of people attempting to ignore the covered woman?

We want to believe that what we know is right. That nothing can be wrong with our stereotypes. That these ‘safe’ labels are truth. And that no one is harmed by them, but rather protected.

It’s time to start humanizing people again. No matter what religion a person professes, they deserve to be seen as human. When we place labels on someone, we remove our ability to see them as human. We no longer see them as a child made by God. A child that God loved so much that he sent his Son to die on a rough wooden Cross to save. We no longer see God’s love when we look at those who we refuse to see as human.

While drastic comparisons are sometimes hard to swallow, it’s also easier to point to instances that have gained historical perspective: One of the most effective actions of the Nazi regime was to dehumanize their enemies. The Jewish people were seen as lesser, in some propaganda they were equated to rats.
The same thing could be seen in the slave trade. Beasts of burden and the lesser race were all labels placed on the kidnapped Africans. These are the same labels that are being placed upon those pressed into hard work under atrocious conditions even today.

We live in a world where placing labels on others gives us power. It makes us feel a pseudo safety that disappears like vapor when people refuse to cave under the pressure of the stereotypes.

In many ways, when we dehumanize others we are in effect demonizing ourselves because we deny the image of God in those we are dealing with.

When we refuse to release our labels and assumptions regarding someone else, we devalue them. We make them lesser in our eyes. We become elitist in our ideals.

We also make it easier to not reach out a helping hand when they are in need. We don’t see them as worthy of our time and money. They don’t belong.

Sadly, the stringing our safety nets of false thinking can devalue the personhood of another person so much that we find their deaths to be acceptable.  Perhaps slightly sad, but to be expected because they were “Other.”

It is much easier to kill someone who is nothing like you. To kill a person who is so vastly different from what is considered safe, is easier than realizing that he is just a man who works hard to provide for his family. Or she’s just a woman who is worried about her mother who is in the hospital.

It’s time to start seeing God when we look at each other. It’s time to start humanizing humanity again. We must not let fear rule us.

The world is only going to change when we start seeing that something worth fighting for, can be found in the eyes of a stranger.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.
~~ 2 Timothy 1:7

Teach Me to Love

Racism.
A nasty word that gets the dander up around the world.
As it should.
I’ve been watching America become more restless and more divided as accusations of police brutality are reported on while African- American men are being buried.
I watch churches and ‘well-meaning’ Christians be part of the divisions, as angry words are thrown like daggers at their brothers and sisters.
Ferguson and New York, two towns that have created waves across America.
Two men died, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But, they aren’t the only ones.
The spotlight is being shined hard on those with a badge.

Does racism play a part in these deaths? I don’t know.
Does it play a part in the trials of those held responsible for the deaths? I don’t know.
Does it play a part in the everyday life of thousands of people? This, I do know.
Does the church need to step up and really face this issue head on? YES

I’ve been quiet about this issue, not because I’m afraid of working on it, but because so many people are adding their voice. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what you really think when you get everyone else’s opinion. But, silence can be even more damning that misspoken words.
There is so much anger right now.
Righteous anger is good, anger bound in hate is not..
No matter what type of video or reports come out, I do not know exactly what happened because I wasn’t there. I can’t say if an officer defended himself or acted out of hate. I can’t say if the men who died acted in violence or if they were innocent.
There has been accusations on both accounts.

I refuse to add to those accusations.
Adding to them will not help anyone. It just causes more anger.

So, the question I ask myself is this: “What does God want me to do?”

He wants me to love. Love people on both sides of the argument. God does. He commands his followers to do the same. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

There are no distinctions on who to love and who not to love. There is no command to not love someone. It is a blanket command to love EVERY single person that you come in contact with. “One another” does not mean to love the person who looks like you, talks like you, prays like you. God makes no distinctions. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.…(John 3:16-17)”

So why do we decide that God doesn’t mean “THEM”? Why do we, believers, decide that we live in a “Us vs. Them” world? It isn’t God who is causing this hatred, this distrust in our hearts. It’s not just our interactions of white vs. black. It’s all interaction with all races. I’ve heard some people honestly say that racism is only against the ‘black’ population… No.

No matter what color of skin you might have, what culture you might come from, what ethnic identity you might declare– you will have people hating what you ‘stand for’ in their eyes. We are surrounded in a world that ‘-isms’ us to death. And you and I will always be hated by somebody for something.

We do not live in a world that is ran by God’s command to Love one anotherBut, that doesn’t mean that can’t be one who does. I cannot influence one other person to love those that their history says to fear, if I do not live in love. 

The news with all of it’s fear, makes me honestly look at myself. What do I believe? How do I react? Am I fearful of the unknown? Do I believe in stereotypes? Do I let other people’s fear influence my relationships?

The only way the world will change in reaction to racism, sexism, class-ism, etc… is if individually we change. The only way that is going to happen is if we ask God to create that change in us, in all of it’s uncomfortable, painful, awkward, grace.

If you allow me the grace to change, will you be my friend? The only way I will learn, is if you help me understand. Teach me. Perhaps, you and I can change the world, if we look through each other’s eyes.

God loves you. He loves me. I pray we can both love each other. All lives matter. Because God has created us equal. No man has the power to say we are not royalty, for we are God’s children.

Sticks and Stones

Words. They have power. They can heal or they can wound. They can make us bleed or make us laugh. They can totally shatter a life or build us into unstoppable forces.
Words.
Do we acknowledge the power behind the spoken word? The written word?
NO.
We still cling to the idea of that old adage: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We tell ourselves just to brush off the verbal abuse, the little digs, the large brush of a slandering tongue.
“They’re just words. Words have no power over me. I can forget them…”
But, in the secret parts of our hearts and our minds, we mull over them. We hoard them deep in those secret parts, where they fester.
We build scar tissue around them, where it tightens, strangling our actions, our personality, making us insecure and bitter.
Personally, I rather have someone hit me. Someone throwing stones at me to drive me away, to beat me with sticks, rather than call me names. Because bruises and breaks hurt for a short amount time, while words can create a monster that hides in me.
It doesn’t help that well meaning adults tell little kids to buck up and move on, “Did he hurt you? No. Words don’t hurt. Move on.”
How many of those adults never went after their dreams because a ‘well meaning’ adult said that they would never succeed?
How many struggling children failed out of school because one teacher never said, “You can do it.”
Think about your words the next time your frustration is slipping it’s leash.
Think about your words the next time you are angry at a loved one.
Think about the affects those little words will cause, how they might crumble a wall or build one inside their heart. How those words may affect their actions in the future.
We all have the power to tear someone down or build them up.
Which will you choose?
Remember, God says some pretty harsh things regarding the power of the tongue. Perhaps we need to become aware of that power and try to leash it.
What do you believe? Are the sticks and stones more hurtful? Or is it the words that crush our spirits?

xkcd

From a popular comic: http://xkcd.com/

Proverbs 15:1-4
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

annerexic-slogan

the repercussions of words

Muddling God’s Love

I was talking to a friend the other day about what we struggle with in regards to our relationships with God.

She mentioned how she feels that while she believes she’s forgiven, she doesn’t necessarily always feel loved. She says it is because of how her parents always said they loved unconditionally, but it was when she acted a certain way or got a certain grade, that she felt she was loved better.

I, on the other hand, feel loved unconditionally and forgiven, but not always worthy. I was blessed with a family that has always loved me unconditionally, so that’s not what influenced my relationship with God, but rather living in a society that always picks on the different. My history in Special Education and the way ‘typical’ people treated those in the program has influenced me to the point where I believe God doesn’t always see me as worthy.

Other friends say that they struggle with God’s love because their father disappeared from their lives, or due to the abuse they survived at the hands of their mother. I’ve heard of some people who struggle with God’s love because of how someone sexually abused them or terrorized them in a different way.

The thing the really strikes me about this observation though, is not that God’s love is hard to accept, but rather how our broken relationships affect our spiritual relationship with our Father. We put on God all of the brokenness that others have placed on us.

Our relationships with other people influences how we see God.

Horrible acts, indifferent attitudes, unreachable expectations, all done by another human, paints God in the same color we see those who do us wrong.

Because we feel the brunt of the actions in this physical realm, we expect God to do the exact same thing.

This is how sin disrupts our relationship with God.

Because of “Bob’s” abuse, “Sally” doesn’t trust men. God is spoken about as a Father. Sally doesn’t trust God because he is a man.

Because of “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s” legalistic way of running their home, “Billy” thinks God is only a judge and never loving, that he expects you to follow all the rules and to never do anything wrong.

Because we have men and women who profess love in God, but condemn one another, non-believers think God hates everyone.

Our sin is the barrier that hurts our ability to fully trust God’s character.

What do you struggle with in regards to God’s character? Do you know?

I think we really need to be honest with ourselves and to take a deep look at how outside relationships have hindered our ability to fully rely on God.

The next question we need to be honest with ourselves in regards to is, how do we help muddle God’s love for those who are watching us?

Our actions will always affect another.

We are Story

Stories. We are surrounded by stories. There are ones that catch our attention and refuse to leave us. Others we carry for just a small bit of time before moving to another one. But, always, we are surrounded by stories. For example, the quotes that are placed here probably bring to mind the stories they are attached to, here’s a quick rundown of their power:

“Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, the Consulting Detective, came on the scene in 1887. This character has the ability to still catch our attention, so much that we have two big networks doing their own version of the story (BBC and CBS) at the same time. There are movies such as Robert Downey, Jr‘s and Jude Law‘s version of Sherlock Holmes not to mention Basil Rathbone‘s classic version. Also the famous cartoon version The Great Mouse Detective (1986), that I grew up with and which started my love for the Sherlock character. Other versions come and go and the rabid fandom lives on. Doyle wrote such an amazing character that when he tried to kill off Holmes in the paper serial of his day, the readers rebelled, wearing black armbands to mourn the character. Doyle had to bring back Sherlock Holmes because the readers were so invested in him. We still are!
Doyle wrote a story that has stuck with us for 126 years.

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” – Jane Austen “Pride and Prejudice”

Jane Austen wrote in 1813, Pride and Prejudice. It is a ‘classic,’ required reading in most English Lit classes. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy still have the power to gain our attention. Austen’s book is considered one of the most beloved stories and is much studied in scholarly circles. It has seen many adaptations over the years.
Austen wrote this romantic story 200 years ago, and still we hold it dear.

“Please take it,” says I, “and don’t ask me nothing—
then I won’t have to tell no lies.” – Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written in 1884, is another classic. It too has seen it’s share of various adaptations in movies and television shows. It also has seen it’s share of the ‘politically correct’ wars. I remember when I was in middle school hearing the various reasons of why certain words should be changed, and it’s a debate that is still going on. But, still we hold onto the story. Something about Finn’s coming of age in a changing world, grabs our attention and refuses to release us.
Twain wrote it 129 years ago and still we debate it.

Three stories out of the billions written since the first letter was shaped. Three stories that are just the brink of not only the stories of the English speaker, but of the world. Even if we have never taken the much needed time to read these classic works, most of us know of them. How could we not when even in this day and age we speak of these century plus stories?

We are story. We as a human race are made up of stories. We seek to understand the world around us and when we do, we tell others of what we have discovered- in story. Is it any wonder that when God spoke to us in the written word, He chose to do so mostly in story form? 75% of the Bible is in story format while 15% is in poetry. The small percentage that is left is letter and prophecy, which even there if you look closely, might have story format woven into it. The Bible as a whole is a story. We often forget in our search for truth that everything from Genesis to Revelation is related and part of the same story.
Why would God chose the form of story to teach us?
Because it is how we learn.
We love stories because it helps us realize that we are not alone in this world. We want to know that someone else, even if it is a fictional character, has felt a little bit of our fear, a little bit of our love. We want to know that we are not the only one to ever feel this way. We want to believe that the monsters that haunt us can be killed. G.K. Chesterton put it beautifully when he said “Fairy tales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.
Every one of us is in the midst of our own story. We have our own villains and heroes who interact with us on a daily basis. We become our own hero and our own villain as well. We become the evil in our autobiographies when we refuse to shoulder the weight of the hero’s burden, turning to the easy way out. Our stories are connected with each person we come in contact with. Sometimes we have the reoccurring characters that we come to love or hate, while there are the stock characters that show some aspect of our own character, but do not seem to have much impact on our lives. Our story is not alone in this vast world.
Our stories are but part of the larger Story. We become who we are through the lives of our relatives, the shape of their existence directs where we might show up in our own narrative. There is a reason why numerous people seek to understand their genealogies. It is because they feel adrift; without knowing who they are, they do not know who they will become.
Historians seek to understand that which has passed beyond our understanding. They seek to decode how the past still has power over us today. They wish to understand who we, as the human race, are and will become.
We are all connected. It’s not some mystical otherworldly belief. It is simple truth. Our stories slip into each other, they weave in and around every person we speak with. We never have to be alone. Since the moment Adam was given speech, he was speaking in story. God communicated with him about the world he created for him. How did Eve learn about the world she awoke in? Adam taught her what God told him, probably walking with her where he had tread with God. Pointing at certain things, he conveyed what he had himself learned.
Stories are not just what is between the covers of a book, nor is it only that which we find on the screen. We communicate our part of the narrative when we tell a friend about our day, when we write in our little journals about the person who caught our eye.
Our stories will not always be of love and adventures. Most of us will write in tears and blood at one time or another, while joy seems to be fleeting. The climax of our story will not truly come till our death, and even then, it might just be a bit of a cliffhanger until we see where we stand on the other side of death.
We are not alone. We need not seek a fictional character to be understood, when we can look to the person beside us. Though admittedly it is easier to handle a character’s reaction since they don’t talk back.
Wherever you are in the midst of your own narrative, know you are part of something so much bigger. You a very important part of my story. For you, I would wear a black armband.
Read well my friends and find comfort in the stories that are unfolding!