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.

“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. That doesn’t mean I have hate for those who experience same sex attractions. We are all human and we are all deserving of the same amount of love and respect. I support you in your humanity, but I don’t agree with every decision you make. Isn’t that just part of life?
  •  I don’t support war.
  • I don’t support abortion (I’m stubborn about this one but there is no condemnation in my heart for those who choose otherwise. I just feel all human lives are equally precious, from beginning to end).
  • 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.

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’.

A Recap, A Lesson, A Drag Queen.

My gosh…You know those moments when you’re in a situation which tests you so much you just don’t know whether God is teaching you or the evil one is trying to break you. That’s pretty much where I’ve just come from. But first let me recap.

I apologise for my time away. It basically parallels how my relationship with God has fluctuated. There were so many times when I was sitting at my laptop begging for inspiration which just wouldn’t come. I accepted that saying it’ll come when it comes.

In the time I’ve been away I’ve been very close to God and I’ve felt completely separated from him. I’ve learnt so much about him. I’ve had to describe why I believe in him and his ways, praying that I was speaking with Heaven’s accent. I’ve felt completely invincible as I was able to feel the swaddling cloth of his protection and the Holy Spirit glowing like the sun within me.

I’ve also felt alone and abandoned. I’ve felt like a hypocrite. I have felt like I rejected his kingdom. I felt like I knew everything and that I made myself invincible. I felt like I barely knew God and I felt as though I was embarrassed to shout Jesus’ name. I fell back into the hooks of the one sin which breaks me every time.

So I gave myself until Thursday 19 June 2014 to clean up my act and get back to where I need to me, and I must say I wish I’d done it sooner but I knew that would be the best day for me. I feel that contentment of when you’re in the Spirit and you know God is smiling at you. I had my Prodigal Son moment and now I’m back and he’s throwing a feast for me.

So that was me today, strong in Spirit, praising God, having that 24hr conversation I love to have with him when my good friend and housemate brought home her friend who says he’s bi-sexual but I sense much heterosexual masculinity in him, and her new friend, a heterosexual cross-dresser. Literally I prayed ‘Lord help me’.

I’ve never met a cross-dresser and he’s so much different from what I’d anticipated. I was apprehensive at the beginning but eventually I found myself sitting very comfortably close to him. He told me the story of his cross-dressing and I just had to remind myself of the 4 words I go by when I approach those with same-sex attractions; Respect, Compassion, Dignity, Love.

We proceeded to watch a comedian and my friend warned me before each instance of blasphemy (as comedians tend to be these days). Whenever I hear comedic blasphemy I withdraw into myself, protecting my God and my faith (as if God needs tiny me to protect him). This time I prayed. I repeated the ‘Our Father’ and ‘Glory Be’ in my head. Initially my first thought was ‘hey, you don’t need to tell them I’m Christian’. I know, I’m so embarrassed for myself. But this time I chastised myself and when she warned me again I kept quiet. I didn’t laugh, and I began to pray.

When it was just me and my new acquaintance sitting together I prayed again, because I thought it was too much of a coincidence for me to meet one of the types of people I’m most adamant to stay away from the day after I resolved to return to God. We sat there, just the two of us watching videos on YouTube and I thought to myself, ‘if someone had told me 2 years ago that I would be sitting alone, very close to a cross-dresser and feeling comfortable’ I would’ve vowed to never leave my parents’ house.

I asked the Father many things and I hope he shows me the answers. I also thought of my strong Christian friends from our little Bible study group. One would have begun on the ‘you must repent’ angle, one would have taken out her subtle Biblical books/companions and the other would have begun a well meaning discussion on…something…she’s unpredictable. The thing with me is I try to approach everyone with love which I feel is good but it may be my downfall one day. We must love unconditionally but we must also live and evangelise. Given the opportunity and the right starting point and I like talking about all the sides of God and the Bible and my beliefs, but in other situations, which unfortunately for me is most of them, I’m truly apprehensive. It’s something I pray to God about. If you have tips please make sure to share them.

So yes, here I am, different from when I left but still relatively the same. God, I believe, is still teaching me things and he has me on a path. I’m not sure where that path will take me or what his plan is but hey, isn’t that what makes it fun?

Dear Heavenly Father,

It’s good to be home. It’s so reassuring to know that you are always ready and waiting to welcome me back when I stray. Thank you for your love, and your light and especially for Jesus. Thank you for giving us a brilliant example of LOVE in human form. I pray that you shine your light upon the path I’m meant to follow and shut every door not meant for me. I put my life in your hands, for you alone are the Holy One, you alone are Lord, you alone are the Most High, and for that I am forever grateful.

In the Blessed name of Jesus Christ,

Amen.

PS I just noticed God is presenting me with a lot of people I never would’ve let myself encounter before. I guess before I would’ve regarded them with negatively and yes, even hatred, but hey, it’s probably still too early to be guessing! Praying for your spiritual journey my brothers and sisters ❤

All Men Amen

So Lent has ended, Easter is practically here and once again I find myself a ball of emotion. You’ll probably wonder why.

Believe it or not every year I forget or denigrate the sacrifice made for us by Jesus during his Passion, until he was nailed to that cross. That cross which is the ultimate symbol of love for man. His flesh was torn away, his blood shed, all for people who didn’t even care at the time. Every year as the most sacred time for all Christians arrives, my heart breaks.

This Lent was very difficult for me this year, God knows why. To you I will say my sacrifice fluctuated in a depressing way now that I can reflect on it. Last night, Holy Thursday, I couldn’t help but feel so weak and so humbled by everything the Lord does and has done and will do. To think, in that Garden of Gethsemane (it all started in a garden and the end began in a garden) for the first and only time Jesus and God almost didn’t agree on something. From the beginning of time the Trinity were one and they made everything and they made everything good. This one time, fully aware of what was about to come, Jesus didn’t want to (“Father, if thou are willing, remove this cup from me” Luke 22:42) and yet he was willing to do it for us, because to him we are worth it (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him” John 3:16-17).

I ate my Easter eggs yesterday because for the rest of the weekend I don’t want to think about a fluffy bunny, or hiding eggs or chocolate or hot cross buns. This weekend I want my eyes focused on the Lord. I want to think about that cross and weep and glorify him because I am not worthy, we are not worthy, and he loves us anyway.

Dear Father

Open the eyes of our hearts Lord. May we look at your cross and feel your love. May our souls bless you. May our souls forever thirst for you. All that is within us cries Holy are You God! Holy are you Lord of Hosts! Holy is the King of Kings! You are the beginning of all things. We are not worthy of your love and sacrifice through our own humanity, but through your glory and mercy which you allow us to experience. Forgive us for the times when we forget our value to you and your value to us. Wrap us in your arms and clothe us in your light. You are all we could ever need. We bless you and we glorify you because you are the only one who deserves our love and our glory. We strive to be the children you want us to be. For the times we stumble, please pick us up. For the times we are lost, take our hand and show us the way. Guard us from evil and may all temptation flee from us. You are all we could ever need Lord. You are our beginning and end, for ever and ever.

Everybody say

AMEN