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.

Gracious Grace

I’ve been reading Judah Smith’s book ‘Jesus Is____’ as of late and I have to say, it’s brilliant. I am biased though because I have a deep appreciation for Judah’s way of preaching. God revealed him to me last year when I was going through a dark patch and he does have an aura which speaks to my heart. He’s a brilliant example of a man of God.

The book explores the various things that Jesus is, e.g. love, merciful, etc.. In a chapter of his book he discusses grace and how Jesus is grace. Grace is one of those aspects of faith which had surrounded me my whole life but until I was out of my comfort zone and the word was being tossed at me I had to investigate what this grace thing is. I suppose for each person grace has a different definition. Even for me the meaning evolves and fluctuates depending on what’s going on in my heart.

For now I’ll define grace as knowing and acknowledging that Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and his love for us, means we have been forgiven our sins eternally through his mercy. Your definition may differ from mine and that’s alright, why not share it in the comments. While I have this definition God’s grace has been blooming for me fairly regularly and sometimes I even realise it.

I was reading ‘Jesus Is____’ yesterday and I had a bit of an epiphany. Remember that sin I said I struggle with? That one sin which pops up when I least want it and I’m foolish enough to slip away from holding Jesus’ hand. I slipped again last month and looking back I felt nothing, I didn’t feel guilty, I didn’t feel happy, I didn’t feel dirty, I didn’t feel clean. I just felt average, and that terrified me. Usually I end up feeling disgusting and filthy. I feel guilty and hated and dark and like I’ve just dragged Jesus’ name through the mud.

I was so used to condemning myself and making myself feel like trash. I would pull an Adam & Eve and try hide away from God because I just wouldn’t feel worthy. I felt like he would strike me down at any moment because I was wasting his time and wasting oxygen by praying for forgiveness. I hated myself as much as I hated my sin.

Reading about grace yesterday made me realise something. Over the past few years my relationship with God has grown and improved so much. Heck, I was praying at the bus stop and I’m sure I made the people around me very uncomfortable but I didn’t care. There’s still a lot of growing room and I look forward to the years to come, but looking at the old me and how I am now my heart is glad for how far I’ve come. I’m still only an adolescent spiritually but even that is a blessing because I’m not an infant any more.

What was revealed to me was, even as a mere adolescent, God’s grace is constantly on my life and in my heart. My self-condemnation was me not believing I had grace. I was stuck in the idea that I had to force myself not to sin to make God proud. I’m not saying not trying not to sin doesn’t make God proud but I was trying out of my own power and not letting him lead me. When I sinned and I didn’t feel anything I believe that was because I knew I wasn’t condemned. I was disappointed in myself but I knew God would be with me and I didn’t need to worry about it. He doesn’t condemn me so who am I to condemn myself?

I don’t know, I guess that’s just a little testimony for me. Before I couldn’t comprehend the concept of grace or why it was there. When I was merely aware of it I believed it just meant I was forgiven and still needed to do the right thing to make God happy. Now I’m at a place where I try to give Jesus the reigns and I follow him. Sometimes I fall but he holds out his hand every time and like a child I run to grasp it.

Grace and peace, brothers and sisters.

Lessons from God: For Love and Sushi

Our God never ceases to teach us lessons and I’m grateful for each lesson he throws our way. I’ve been struggling with how to love people in spite of the things I know about them. So my gracious God stepped in.

One of my housemates is Brasilian and she invited me to join her and her friends for homemade sushi. I’m trying to be more social and outgoing so I agreed to go (I mean hey, free sushi!). I was particularly nervous because I would most likely be the embodiment of the language barrier. Unfortunately not that many people speak Shona in comparison to Portuguese. I agreed to go and before we left I prayed for the night to go well and I put it all in God’s hands. The first test was walking through the streets at night in the dark. I continually had to remind myself that I’m protected by the Holy Spirit and nothing can touch me. I think I passed that test…I hope.

When we arrived at her friends house they were all very warm and welcoming to me, even though I was the only one in the house who didn’t understand Portuguese. One of the guys, who’s English was more polished than some of the others, made it a point to speak to me and make me feel welcome, and even once the whole house was filled with foreign tongues I felt good.

As the night progressed I began to observe each member of the group and my mind slowly ticked into realising that all the males were gay.

I’m sorry, it wasn’t until I left my home after 18 years of no exposure, that I actually met and interacted with people who were openly gay. I still remember when I met a lesbian in one of my classes and I panicked. Internally my cells were tensing and all my hormones were going into flight or fight mode. With time I’ve calmed down but loving people who are different to me in this way has been a challenge I haven’t given up on; I’ve struggled and I’ve prayed about it. I still felt uncomfortable when I made that realisation though, but I tossed it aside and reminded myself “they’re just people”.

With time I forgot and became too engrossed in trying to crush everyone at Mortal Kombat and tasting various authentic Brasilian drinks prepared by Brasilians. I felt pretty privileged.

When it was time to leave, it was back to walking through the dark streets.

Just before we left the first guy who had welcomed me looked at me with such intensity and made me promise I’d protect his friend (my housemate). There was no reason for him to be worried for her and he said it in a joking way, but the way he said it and the way he looked at me made me feel that I really wanted to be his friend. I could genuinely come to love him.

Once we were on our way suspicious rustling made me jump and grab on to my housemate until I was sure it wasn’t a person or a dog or a zombie coming to attack us. Further on the glow of a flashlight in one of the on-campus daycare classrooms made me even more panicked. My housemate laughed, calling me a scaredy cat but I wanted to protect her more than myself. Don’t ask me why, that’s just how I am. Again I had to remind myself of the power of God’s Spirit walking with us.

After a severe internal struggle I decided to call the security services and report what I’d seen. One of my mottos in life is ‘Evil prevails when good men keep quiet’ and my heart just wouldn’t let me rest until I had reported what could have been a thief potentially darkening the lives of the children who play in the room almost everyday.

As I lay in bed, reflecting on the night I couldn’t help but smile. I’d been so nervous and God had just gone and protected me, given me a great night and helped me step one step closer in loving all my neighbours. The people I had felt uncomfortable around were the ones who made an effort to assimilate me into their group. My shaky faith had had to grip on to the only one who always protects me. Then I had the audacity to wake up on Sunday morning and tell God that I was waking up so early for him. That night proved how much God doesn’t need me but I run to him every time.

I genuinely think he shakes his head and chuckles at me most of the time.

I’m grateful for every lesson though, and each time he catches me when I stumble. I’m going to continue working on love and I’m going to make sure my mustard seed of faith moves mountains and makes them dance.

Only You

(if possible, please listen to this as you read. Thank You)

“Have you come to a decision about your church situation?”

I was asked this question by a dear new friend of mine. As most of you will know I’ve been struggling with people criticising Christians and, narrowing that down, Catholics.

I went silent on my blog while I was back home with my family. It was fulfilling, enriching and reminded me of everything I love about the church I was born into. I have tried the others and I’ve enjoyed myself dearly. Everywhere I went I saw and met people who had dedicated their lives to Jesus. Some made me feel so at home, as though I were someone they’d all grown up with. Others never really made me feel like I’d ever fit in and when I bump into them now they act as though they’ve never met me. Maybe they feel like I abandoned them, or I’m a traitor or just another one who will be thrown in the fires of hell.

I’m back in a place where I’m being judged and occasionally I feel attacked. Even though I’m not brave enough to go door knocking or evangelising in the streets I’ve grown enough to even seriously mention Jesus in a group of people whose spiritual affiliation is completely unknown to me. I felt terrified that I’d be ridiculed to put my relation to Jesus out there and the great thing is nothing happened to me. I didn’t feel attacked and I relaxed a bit more on my heart and the tiny cross inside I grip to so tightly.

I know that as a Christian part of who I am is meant to be someone who goes out and calls people to God and I’d love to do that but, with Jesus as the roots to my tree, I need to grow and branch out a bit more. I don’t want to hide my faith under a blanket or only whisper my prayers in public. I want to be loud and proud about what I believe in. Now, this has nothing to do with my church back home. Everyone back home is so focused and ready to praise God at the slightest suggestion, and they do it in a way you can really feel.

The thing I love is how all the people I’ve encountered over the past year, with flitting through group after group, just adore God and everything about him.

So the next time my friend asks me that question I’m going to give her this answer;

My time at home reminded me of everything I love about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as well as my family, friends and myself, and yes, especially everything I love about the Catholic church, and all the Christians in it and those in other churches too. It will be a sad day when I put what church someone belongs to before Jesus and my relationship with him. He will always come first and I’ll leave judgements like that to Him. When I was growing up, up until I left for university and even when I go home, my friends and I were able to praise and worship and pray together. We are Catholic and Methodist and Pentecostal and Anglican and who knows what else. We all love God and we love Jesus and we put him first. As long as that’s the foundation to their faith, then we’re all in this together.

Dear Father,

Thank you for loving us. Thank you for love and your light and for family and friends. Please be our guide in all our struggles and may we remember to put you ahead of everything because only you can save us. Only you can heal us. Only you can fix us. You and only you.

Amen

The Little Things

One of the worst feelings we must experience as humans is being sick. Whether it be a flu, cold, infection, whatever. There are few things we dislike more than being ill in any way, shape or form.
Over the past few days I’ve been fighting one of the worst colds I’ve had in years. I think what made it worse was having no one there to fight it with me. No mother to make me soup. No father to talk to me. No brother to make me laugh. No dog to comfort me. I haven’t had to be so sick and so alone before, as far as I can remember.
I’ve been trying to close the gap I’ve been feeling between the Lord and I recently (obviously self-induced) and so I’ve been sleeping with my Bible beside me and listening to The Good Christian Music Blog on YouTube (beautiful songs, I highly recommend it). Earlier today I went to the kitchen and one of my housemates had washed my dishes because she knew I wasn’t feeling well. We had a really good chat as well, just getting to know each other. Then a favourite song of mine by Jeff Schneeweis came on.

I realise that I’m just listing things that happened today but for me it’s the little things that make me happy. I’m not one for crazy gifts or huge declarations so these little things really brightened my day.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m in a good mood when I’m singing. I haven’t been able to sing for a while because of this cold but I sang this evening. What better thing to use your newly recovered strength on than singing? Especially when that singing is completely dedicated to God. It’s such a good feeling and it really has made me feel good.

I pray that you’re all healthy and well, I praise God for your lives and for the gifts and talents He has blessed you with. Smile! It’s the little things that can make someone’s day.