Monday, March 2, 2009

Every singe way I feel right now...

The other night, my best friend gave me an incredibly beautiful reminder of why my life must be as it is, and why I wouldn't have it any other way- even when I want to give up.

She called me from a show that she was attending of a well-known and well-loved St. Louis band called Theodore, and held the phone for the entire set. Not only are the gentlemen in this band quite talented and accomplished musicians, but they are friends as well, and their music holds for me a strong, personal sense of nostalgia and is so close to my heart in many ways.

There are definitely obvious reasons for this, such as the fact that they hail from my hometown and remind me of all the people and places I have left behind there. Also, coupled with the fact that they have been friends and coworkers themselves, is the fact that my best friend lived with them for a period of time and is in a committed relationship with the drummer. She has been one of the most influential and inspiring people in my life thus far, so their music is a constant reminder of how much that friendship has meant to me and changed me for the better. But another, much more abstract reason for this sentimental connection, is because some of the greatest memories of my happiest times have also been at Theodore shows, and one in particular stands out to me.

Every year, in St. Louis, there is a one-day music festival of the best talent the local scene has to offer called the Riverfront Times Music Showcase. This past summer, the RFT was held the day before I was scheduled to leave to go to Thailand and I almost did not attend. At the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to go to a few of the shows that friends of mine would be playing. The last set of the night for me came from Theodore at the Vintage Vinyl on Delmar. In that crowded room filled with people, I remember a certain moment, as they began to play my favourite song, thinking to myself that everything, absolutely everything, was perfect.
I was surrounded my dearest and closest friends listening to wonderful band that I knew very well. I had just made amends of a fairly hurtful situation involving my old band, and remembered just how much I loved and cherished them as well. Not only was I standing with the people that knew me and loved me the most and best, but also with a certain boy by my side who, at that time, was winning over my heart. And all of this was mixed with the fact that I was getting ready to embark on an adventure that would take me to the other side of the world to see things I never had before. This was my scene, this was my city; these were my loved ones, these were my passions. This was my beautiful and wonderful life.

But as amazing as that feeling of contentment and perfection was, it was actually very short lived.
I think back on it and remember how fleeting it was and how though that moment was marked with the utmost happiness, it was also marked with something else as well. Something much deeper and darker that was bubbling under the surface of my soul. For weeks, I had been consumed with such giant fear and apprehension of not knowing what was going to happen to all of this that I loved so much while I was gone; or what would even happen to me once I got to where I was going.
Little did I know that my entire life was going to change.

In Thailand, nothing happened like I had planned that it would, and I am forever grateful for that. In Thailand, I discovered the depths of my heart and the roots of who I really am. And that change that I had feared and dreaded so much crept up on me ever so quietly after I returned and turned out to be much less terrifying that I had thought. And much more liberating than I could have dreamed. More than the change that had occurred around me, I found a change within myself as I began to burn for things that previously, I had not even the slightest bit understood. My heart broke and broke and broke when I was there, and after I left, something in my spirit tried as hard as it could to distract me and make me forget it- it was too painful to be committed to these things. I wanted that happiness back. I wanted that comfort back. I wanted that ignorance back.

But my fears could not cry louder than the burnings in my soul for long. For reasons that I don't know if I will ever be able to fully explain, I was jolted in the gentlest of ways and found myself in New York City. Here, the things I dreamed and imagined in Thailand, that I never could have seen coming in a thousand years at that Riverfront Times show, have started to come to fruition.

There are moments when I look back longingly at that night and at that life I had in St. Louis: friends, boyfriend, bands, shows, coffee dates, community, parties, little time to myself, constantly surrounded by others, being known- and sometimes it gets me down. Sometimes I regret that I don't have that in the same way anymore. Sometimes it makes me feel a strange sense of alone.

But those moments are few and far between if I am to be completely honest. I wouldn't trade the life I have now and the decisions I have made for anything. Even though it has been rough and trying, it has grown me in such necessary and beautiful ways. And this cause, that I hold so very deeply in my heart and is so much more than a "cause" to me is worth absolutely every ingle ounce of that sacrifice of that happiness I once had- because this, what I know now, is true TRUE joy. To see these captives one step closer to freedom. To see their liberation on the horizon. To see the dreams given to me by my God within reach of being realized. To be a part of this grand movement for the Kingdom and to feel so much love constantly swelling in my soul for the ones I know, and even the ones I don't yet- is worth EVERYTHING.

An even in the midst of the news I recently received- somehow, I have peace.
Chuai and Na, two of the women in my family in Thailand recently left their homes in the village to work in the bars. "Bars" is a polite Thai-sort-of-way to say brothels, because that's what they really are. Na is Prang's youngest sister and has a nine-month old son who is constantly in and out of being ill. Her phone is off and no one can reach her. On top of that, Prang has been in the hospital. She has blood in her ears, and has been very ill and very discouraged. They can't seem to figure out what's wrong.

My heart is so broken and I have hardly been able to think straight ever since I got that phone call. I don't know what to do other than pray, and I am grateful that even in that, I am not alone- THEY are not alone.
But it's just not right.
Nothing about this is right.
Nothing about this is okay.
It should never be this way for anyone... ever.
I know the numbers, I know the statistics, and yes they alone are enough to move me as it is, but this... this is different.
This is personal.
This is family.

I feel their hearts so strongly within mine and the fact that theirs are broken and hopeless devastates me to my core. And all I can do it wait. And hope. And pray. And work here as I wait to go back to them. They are family to me... and there are many, even here, who are family to someone. Somebody loves them, somebody misses them. Somebody needs them, somebody cares for them. And I will do whatever I can and give whatever I have in order to rescue them and help them to know that they are loved.

This is worth everything. They are worth everything. And it requires much change and much sacrifice on my part- change and sacrifice that I am finally ready to make. Everything in my life is going to look very different soon- the result of a year and a half of fighting and wrestling with the fact that what I felt I needed to do, I did not want to. What I felt I was asked to give, I did not want to. What I felt I was asked to leave behind, I did not want to. Jesus' words to the rich ruler (Luke 18:22) have been the words He has been whispering to me for a long time, but I was too afraid to listen. I was too enamored by my comforts, too enslaved by my possessions. But that sacrifice has become intrinsically linked to their freedom... and I will now no longer question. I will now no longer make excuses.

Change is coming.
Rescue is coming.
Kingdom is coming.

So as I write this and the sounds of Theodore fill my apartment again, I find myself in that same state of nostalgia. I think back on so many things and realize that though I had feared what I did not know was coming, I am glad that I did not know. If I had, I may have run away at what it had appeared to be; I may have been too frightened at how scary or trying it may have looked to me at the time. I would have missed the great upside-down beauty found in this life of broken-hearted sacrifice. So I am glad that I did not know. I am so very grateful and that I had no idea.
It has been the most liberating surprise of my entire life.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What then shall we say?

That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet". But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are lead by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself interceded for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called, He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified.
What the shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own on but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall ring and charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.