Together. Always

This year I’ve come to understand what it means to be content. Not complacent but being able to look at my life and smile truthfully. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, in fact this has been one of if not the most challenging year of my life. I’ve had to balance multiple commitments with work, church, fellowship and a thesis that may have robbed me of most of my brain cells and self esteem.

What’s responsible for this contentment has honestly been the faith community I’ve found myself in. Not only did I find a women’s fellowship which has taken me leaps and bounds over the limits I had put on myself and my relationship with God, but I’ve found a community of young people where Christ knits us together in love and fellowship. Both groups have lifted my confidence in myself and have helped me address my own insecurities. They’re not the reason I’m writing though.

I watch a lot of faith conference talks, apologetics and sermons on YouTube and on occasion I’ll look into the comments. YouTube comments 80% of the time contain the less attractive traits of humanity but these video are almost always filled with encouraging comments and thought filled discussions. On one such occasion there was a plea from a 13 year old boy who explained how he kept trying to follow Jesus and be good and holy but he felt like he was never good enough for God’s love. My heart broke for him because if you’ve ever been accused of being too hard on yourself this boy was exactly that.

The response was the most honest out pouring of love for this boy who felt so alone and so persecuted in his own heart. I commented as well and afterward he wrote to me in thanks. I told him that I could empathise with his fears and that the response from all those who commented was exactly what family is. The church is a family. Not the building, not the denominations, not the arguments but the individuals who live and love Jesus are a family. God through his love gave us a family we never would have thought to ask for. Brothers and sisters who want to walk with us on the path to holiness and people who genuinely want to see us get to heaven.

I was telling my dad about the youth group I’m part of and when I described it to him these were my words:
“There’s such a genuine atmosphere of love and acceptance. I think this is what it was like for the early Christians. They were a community of believers who loved God and each other.”

I really believe the Holy Spirit gave me that.

It’s because of this experience that I’m so passionate about church. It’s not just time out of your week to sing some songs, say some prayers and listen to a encouraging words. It’s an opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries and be part of a community that doesn’t pressure us to be anything other than what God made us. It’s friendship, faith and family.

It doesn’t always play this part and no church is perfect, they’re all lacking in something but they are human. If God is the foundation then they will not fall and instead He will raise them up.

We all need to get our churches to that place. As individuals we need to be those people who love, encourage, serve and support all leaders in the faith not just those in our respective churches and denominations.

Family doesn’t begin in the united joys of heaven. It begins in the day to day wanderings of this life. Take from this what you will saints, but all I ask of you is to love. Love like Jesus. Love like a friend who would give everything up for the sake of a neighbour.

Singleness: the ongoing struggle

I’ve been wanting to write a post about singleness and contentment for a while and it’s funny that I’m writing it now when I’m really frustrated by my singleness and contentment is out galavanting somewhere else.

One of my closest friends has disconnected with our network of young women because she’s had enough of hearing about dating and being a ‘Ruth’, that it actually drove her into depression. If she’s pursuing all these things then how come the Hagars of the world are getting all the guys?

I’ve been in a similar place when I see women who choose differently with regard to chastity or modesty and they’re the ones metaphorically ‘bringing all the boys to the yard‘. It can really get a girl down. Plus I’ve had my hopes dashed more times than I dare to count by unrequited affections. In that respect God’s shown me that I still have a lot to improve upon. There are things He needs me to work on while I still have that freedom.

What concerns me though is how in our women’s network there’s constant talk about getting married and finding a husband. There’s plenty of independence in there as well. A lot of encouragement for building yourself up and taking the bull by the horns so you don’t have to start doing that post marriage.

One thing I appreciated about my growth in church was that we knew and were reminded that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-5), but we were also taught that not everyone’s going to get married and that’s okay. Amongst Catholics there’s an understanding that people will either be priests, religious (nuns, brothers, friars, etc), married or single. Three of these vocations will mean a life of celibacy and serving God (1 Corinth 7:7-8) the latter of which is possible in married life but this is why it’s a vocation, it’s a way you’ve been called to by God.

It’s now that I’ve come to network with more Pentecostal, Evangelical, non denominational etc Christians that I’ve been perplexed by the emphasis on people finding a spouse. There’s plenty of spiritual teaching but dang if someone doesn’t mention a spouse at least once during a session there’s something up. It makes me wonder why this is the case. I know other denominations don’t have priests or people serving from a religious order, but why is it so alien to have someone led to a life of singleness?

Not everyone in the Bible got married. A lot of them just dedicated themselves to God until they went to heaven. This is the whole thing about priests and the religious. The 12 Apostles didn’t get married (or if they did it wasn’t recorded in Scripture), they just lived and died for the faith. I’d love that level of being enamoured with the Father so much that it stilled that occasional ache for my other half (wherever he is).

I’m not saying the Catholic way is the way everyone should go, that’s between each person and Jesus, but I do think the other denominations could learn something. We’re all pursuing that same satisfaction in the Lord (Psalm 42), chasing holiness and if we can help each other along the way that would be great. We’d be showing each other a lot of grace.

19/10/16 I’ve since made a Spotify playlist for the days when singleness doesn’t feel like a blessing. If you’re interested here’s the link Content & Beloved

 

“I choose the sky”

We’ve all had or heard of that one Facebook friend who sees their Facebook friendship as so invaluable that they can bend your will. I mean the ones who write things like
“If you don’t support *insert cause here* then unfriend me”.
I’m often left sitting there with a blank expression on my face followed by an ‘okay’ and an unfriending.
Right, let me be honest. That’s only happened once. The unfriending part.

A guy I studied with, who is one of those guys who’s so cool he reminds me of the ‘cool kid’ in American college movies, is the latest to post something like that. It was a short address on how freedom of speech cannot justify speaking against same sex marriage  (SSM), refugees, supporting blackface etc.

Now the latter two I get it, and this coming from a white Australian I admire him for understanding why these are issues that can strip a person’s humanity. It was the SSM bit that got me and I sighed.

The one other person I remember deleting for using the line mentioned above had the same issue with people who don’t support SSM. I wasn’t friends with her so removing her didn’t faze me but with this guy it’s different. We were friends in the loose sense of the term at one point. So when I read his post, the cynic in me sighed and started getting ready to unfriend him but the rest of me stopped.

Why? Because I still want to be friends with him. That doesn’t mean I’m going to compromise my faith though. No relationship on this earth is worth me adapting or accommodating my faith to make someone else like me more.

Then I thought about this issue of freedom of expression and let’s be honest, it’s not real freedom. There’s an understanding throughout humanity that unadulterated freedom would create pandemonium. Exhibit A: the internet.

The only true freedom I could think of is our freedom of choice. Regardless of what laws or moral codes exist we always have the freedom to choose whether or not to do something. Each day is us making choices, some for our livelihood (will I sleep now? will I eat now? etc) and other choices are those that affect people (will I kill someone? will I park across three parking bays? etc). From that stems our understanding of right and wrong together with what we’re taught.

Which makes things interesting when someone makes up this definition of right and wrong according to their own experiences and perceptions. Thus what’s right for you may not necessarily be right for me.

My ‘right and wrong’ come from God and my views will change when His do. Which leaves me looking at my friend wondering if he understands why I don’t agree with him on the issue of SSM.
There needs to be a point of understanding rather than the argument that I ‘don’t want everyone to love and be loved’. Of course I do! Have you met Jesus? He is literally the embodiment of love and I strive to be that every day. But how are you defining love? It’s not just a feeling. It’s a sacrifice. It’s the Cross. In a marriage, it’s a reflection of Christ and the Church aka His Bride. If that’s not the definition you believe in then we may not believe in the same love.

It’s a hard battle but when it comes down to it, in the face of unpopularity vs losing my place in heaven to go with the popular view, in the words of Emily Wilson “I choose the sky.”

I Thirst

World Youth Day (WYD/JMJ) 2011 was the start of my relationship with Jesus. It was also the first time God began my journey of healing which is still ongoing to this day.

Years earlier, in 2009, my family was struck by…well I’m not sure what it was but we lost 4-6 family members in the space of six months. One of those people was my grandmother. If you’ve ever had a grandparent who made life so much better by just existing and showing you what unconditional love looks like then you’ll understand why we adored this woman. This made losing her so suddenly that much harder. After her passing I went on a vendetta against God. One thing you have to know about me is that I’ve never doubted God’s existence.  I had this understanding that God loved me, that he didn’t want to see me hurt or damaged so I in turn went out of my way to hurt him.

I would embrace whatever darkness and evil was in me. I was intentionally mean and cruel to others. I would go to church and spend most of the time daydreaming about things no one should be thinking about in the presence of God. And yet, in spite of my cruelty God didn’t give up on me. Instead he gave me a friend who saved me from myself and unknowingly set my journey of healing in motion.

Then came WYD 2011 in Madrid and I fell in love with the country and the people. The atmosphere was amazing and really touristy for the most part when we weren’t going for daily mass. But one night we had Adoration, and for those who don’t know this is where you sit in the presence of the Body of Christ and just keep Jesus company. If my facts are right it’s inspired by the moment just before the Passion when Jesus asked his disciples to keep him company and pray with him. So we’re sitting in Adoration in a massive church with hundreds of other pilgrims while an amazing band played music. A couple of the others fell asleep, some people were praying and I was just sort of sitting there.

In that moment, and I will always remember this, the Holy Spirit revealed himself to me for the first time. That wave of peace which exceeds all human understanding (Phil 4:7) hit me and I began to cry. Looking back it was as though the Spirit was saying “I’m sorry. I know you’re hurting and I’m sorry. I know you feel alone and broken and unwanted and I’m sorry but the Lord God, the lover of your soul is here with you, hurting with you and you will never be alone”. I balled my eyes out because I hadn’t even been saying anything, I can’t remember what I was thinking or if I was praying but I remember that feeling because I’ve felt it a number of times since then.

I’ve heard people talk about accepting Christ, being born again etc and I believe I was born again when I was baptised as a baby (there’s a story in there for another day). That was 100% the moment I accepted Jesus. God address the stagnant faith in my heart and I underwent my conversion. I realised how I’d been stuffing things into the God-shaped hole in my soul and how my grandmother was my idol. God began a great work in me that day, it was my River Jordan Baptism Dove descending moment and since then I’m a completely different person.

My WYD experience was my first Upgrade/Leveling Up as a Christian and since then they’ve been several more. I just look back on it and I can’t wait to go on another pilgrimage like that. I hope everyone can encounter God like I did that day because it’s one of those moments which changed me. Like my first Christian crush (ie an elder in the faith whom I look up to and admire) Judah Smith always says, once you meet Jesus and accept him into your life, you’ll never be the same again.

Wellness at 21

A few weeks ago I turned 21 and at last I felt like my physical age matched my mental age. I’d felt like I was older than I was physically since I was about 16 or 17 and when I revealed my age I always felt embarrassed because I wasn’t as old as people assumed I was.

Looking at me now I feel like I fit in my body and my mind is working as it should be at this stage. In many ways I feel that I’m okay with where I need to be and in other ways I’m still a work in progress. I know the latter is the truer statement but humour me while I reflect. I’m coming from a talk given by two comedians on ‘Wellness’ and they each shared their stories and experiences with their personal wellness which got me thinking. How well am I?

I know mentally I’m in a much better and stronger place than where I was five years ago. I practically live off of stress  and my self-esteem takes a punch almost weekly. I still have urges to self-harm when I feel overwhelmed by life and I still don’t pray as often as I know I should. Just thinking about today, I’ve done things which weren’t kind for me to me but I know myself well enough now to know it will pass and I’ll be alright.

I finish my degree in a few weeks and everything around me will change. I will possibly move in with my brother who has a very different belief system to me and we often clash over it but we love each other. I will probably stay in a society which is very different to the one I want to be in simply because going home isn’t an option right now. I will definitely face a lot of fears and things that will terrify me.

For the past three years I’ve been pushing myself towards my career as a journalist and I feel like I’ve drained myself already. Like I need to take a break and just be young and not have my life planned out. I have an idea of what and where I want to be in five years time but I don’t have a strategy or a set of tactics. I just want to feel my age and maybe work in a shop or cafe and not be rushing into the business of life just yet. I still need to get to know myself better.

I made a list of unpopular (as in not widely held/supported in the Western Context I’m in according to my knowledge) beliefs I have at 21:

  • I don’t support same sex marriage. Putting that out there. I support people but there’s a context when okay is not okay and sometimes what’s right isn’t fair.
  •  I don’t support war.
  • I don’t support abortion (though there can be exceptions in cases of rape).
  • I didn’t enjoy The Notebook.
  • I’m saving myself for marriage, so sorry fellas how about we pray for our chastity instead?
  • Everyone’s a little racist and/or is allowed to have unfair beliefs. No I don’t like the fact that someone can look at my skin and think it’s right to call me an ape or think I deserve a lynching. I’d love to squash those ideas out of humanity but I don’t realistically think that will happen completely. I think the spectrum of beliefs define the peaks and lows of being alive in a society. The light can’t exist without the dark and vice versa. Even then where do you draw the lines and when do you steal away people’s rights or freedoms? It’s a hard question but as I write this, this is where I am.
  • I don’t believe we, as in humanity, are the centre of the world. I believe that position will always belong to God.
  • I don’t believe in luck.
  • I do believe in witchcraft.
  • I don’t like swearing.
  • I don’t think there’s a point to shaving my legs.
  • I believe modesty (as in not wearing revealing clothing) is charming.
  • The greatest compliment I can get is being called a woman of God and a follower of Jesus.

That’s what I came up with and maybe on my 25th birthday I’ll look back at this and laugh. Some of these points are defined by my faith, heck I think all of them are influenced by it. It’s still the most important thing to me and always will be.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds and I’m nervous to think about it. I will however take what it throws at me and I will throw it right back at life. I have a great support system and a deeper understanding of the woman I’m becoming. There’s still a long way to go but I’m alright with that. I’m scared but hey, everything I love to do is a little scary. I’m terrified before speaking to an audience, or singing in front of someone, or clicking ‘Publish’ on a post. But they all make me so happy and it’s in those moments that I’m sure it is well with my soul.

I have something to hold on to and I have scores of people cheering me on and I still get scared sharing my beliefs with others but that’s part of my experience right now.

That’s where my humanity and mentality is at 21. We’ll see where I’m at at 22.

I am Satisfied in….?

I am rarely ever completely satisfied with what I have. There’s always someone I can look at and think “Why can’t I do my hair as well as she does? Why can’t my skin be as smooth as hers? Wow look at those legs. If I had those legs I’d be a whole other woman”. It even creeps unapologetically into spiritual life; “Why can’t I pray like that? God, why don’t you ever give me those kinds of blessings? Well, I guess God just didn’t want me to have a solo career as a Christian soul singer/rapper/poet.”

It’s funny because it looks right into one of the basic features of being human; we are rarely ever completely happy with what we have when we are aware of the blessings of others. Now I have to point out, there is a difference between admiring the work of God in someone’s life (for example how he used a friend in teaching an atheist about the truth of the Gospel which leads to them being baptised) and potentially secretly envying them (for example wishing he had used you to take down the whole group of atheists and turn them into a Gospel street-preaching-choir). I mean really, everyone wants to be that person who leads a billion people to God…or maybe that’s just me.

I really enjoy the preaching of Judah Smith. His style speaks to me because even though I’m Catholic and I like that cool, calm and structured way of worshipping, when I go and speak to anyone about anything pertaining to the Bible or Gospel or God, all the characters turn into gangstas. I don’t know, I think in my mind when I describe them in this way I understand what I’m saying a lot better. I’m not quite polished at using that fancy rhetoric, and especially when I’m speaking to someone who has minimal knowledge about anything involving my faith I find it connects better. I’m not trying to make the Bible sound hip and I’m not drowning it in glitter because have you met Jesus? He’s already the coolest guy I know and the Bible’s an awesome read. That’s where I feel Judah and I are similar. We are both wannabe gangstas, he’s just more popular than I am. Anyway, I’ve been reading his latest book ‘Life Is____’ and it’s great. At one point he wonders how happy we would be if we had no information about our friends and neighbours, and I think that has some truth to it.

The other night I went for Bible study and I was feeling good, ready to share my testimony and tell everyone how God had blessed me that week. I was practically buzzing and my heart was singing silent psalms of praise to the Father. As we went around the circle the tone of my heart was pretty solid until we arrived at one person. She told us about how she had been in communion with Jesus during the weekend. She described how she had locked herself in her room and actually forgotten about the outside world because she was just enjoying being with Jesus, talking to him, singing, revelling in his presence. And little me sat up in my seat wondering why God never called me to do that. I wanted that too. It’s happened before with so many other situations where someone wins a prize or brings out the big guns during fellowship bringing everyone in awe of God, and sometimes I think to myself and wonder why my blessings are always so much smaller than everyone else’s. Ironically before I even knew about their blessings I was feeling pretty good about mine. I was feeling invincible. I felt adored by God. Jesus was my anchor and the Spirit was my sail.

My friends and I often acknowledge how humans are rarely ever happy with what they have. We always want someone else’s hair or eyes or complexion or height when God’s already given us a pretty sweet deal if only we looked into ourselves a little more rather than at others.

God is just and after Jesus he really doesn’t have favourites. He is a just and fair God even when we don’t always see or acknowledge it. Besides, no two relationships are identical. The way I relate to God is different from every other people and it mainly consists of an occasional tug-of-war, one-sided arguments, sulking, and lots of smiles and laughter. My day of communing with God may look different to yours because we are different children at different stages of our spiritual development.

Keeping this in mind I’m going to try a bit harder to be thankful in all and every situation he throws my way. When it’s my turn to win a ruler and a friend’s turn to win a bicycle I’ll be happy with my ruler and happy for my friend and their bicycle. It’s just another thing Jesus has to help me sort out; to first be satisfied with him and then be satisfied with everything he gives me. After all he knows best.

The SuperChristian

Are you superChristian? Image source: https://peacefulchristian.wordpress.com/
Are you superChristian? Image source: https://peacefulchristian.wordpress.com/

One of my good friends is Muslim (I only state this so early on because it’s something important to the point of this post). We connect on a number of levels; we’re both from Southern Africa, we work together on our uni’s YouTube channel, we live at the same college, we’re both obsessed with anime…we click. For the summer holiday I went home while he stayed at uni.

When I got back we were both happy to see each other. We were chatting when he suddenly exclaimed with the Lord’s name and that upset me. Immediately I told him not to disrespect my man JC and he asked me what was up with me, had a gone to Christian Camp during the holiday? This wasn’t relevant but I asked him to respect me and so he said he would. Later that week we were in a meeting for our uni’s media team (the one which runs the YouTube channel) and somehow the conversation shifted to the point where someone said something about Jesus. My friend laughed, added to the joke and looked at me. I wasn’t pleased but I wasn’t prepared to make a spectacle of myself. My friend, bless his heart, isn’t always able to read social cues and out-loud stated that they were making ‘JC jokes’. I think the others in the room could tell I wasn’t pleased so we resumed the meeting. I thought because he is ‘a man of his own faith’ he would be compassionate but he persists so I just remind myself of Galatians 6:7 (Do not be deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap), not in a malicious way but in a God doesn’t need me to fight his battles for him.

Weeks passed and this friend fancied a girl. He told her how she felt and when he explained it to me he described her as ‘super Christian’ who wouldn’t date anyone who wasn’t Christian. In my mind I totally relate with her; if anyone wants to go out with me God himself must ordain it first and if we’re not on the same page with that then I can’t commit myself. What got me though is how, when someone actively speaks their faith, I assume he calls them super Christian or asks if they’ve been to Christian Camp (I wish! Who doesn’t love Christian camp?).

It makes me wonder about the experiences he’s had with other Christians. Did they not actively speak their faith, or call him out when he disrespected it? How must they behave that it’s odd for him to hear a Christian stand by their beliefs and how many other people must feel the same way?

Lately I’ve been thinking about a quote from St Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I use this as a bit of a mantra in my day to day interaction with both Christians and non-Christians but my friend’s words have made me wonder if I’m not putting that across. I think I’m still a bit of a spiritual adolescent eating mashed potatoes and mushy peas (ref Hebrews 5:12-14) and I pray for God to show me what kind of ministry he wants me to do. I was offended by the idea that I had to have gone to a camp to want to actively implement my faith but at the same time I think it may have been the wake-up call I needed.

Prepare your slippers ladies and gents! Image source: http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Ruby_Slippers
Prepare your slippers ladies and gents! Image source: http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Ruby_Slippers

I’m not a super Christian. I’m just a child of God, heir to the kingdom, ambassador for Christ, Proverbs 31 woman in the making. I’m only just learning the importance of remembering bible verses and being able to spit them out in conversation. I’m imperfect but Jesus has made me so much more than I knew I could ever be and he’s still working on me. I’m just a bride of Christ, doing what I can to emulate my hero (Jesus duh!) and if an outsider can’t see that or thinks there’s something weird about me wanting to be that then I need to pull up my socks and brush the dust of this world off my sparkly red slippers.

I’m going to a city lined with gold, transparent like glass (ref Revelation 21: 10-21) and I need to make sure people know Jesus has given me that and hopefully (God willing) my friend will be thirsting for a free ticket to ‘Christian Camp’.