Gentle Reminders of Love in Suffering

This story starts with loss. With pain and suffering that still assault me.

32 years old. Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend. Uncle. Gone.

Too young. Too loved. Too unexpected.

Too heart-wrenchingly painful.

When loss confronts us there’s nothing to say or do to explain it or fix it. There’s no sense left in the world. Only suffering that causes one to doubt God’s goodness. Only more pain that causes more anger.

When loss confronted me I felt betrayed, confused, and heartbroken. There were no answers to silence the questions rising up in me.

So I walked away from God. It wasn’t in an instant. It wasn’t obvious. At first, I clung to God. But over the months I went to church less, I read my Bible less, I listened to K-LOVE less, I saw my Christian friends less, I prayed less. It wasn’t a bold choice, but rather a passive erosion, this distancing myself from God.

There were terrible days and there were bearable days. There still are.

 

Over the past 8 months, God has never walked away, not boldly, not passively.

Sometimes when I’m angry, I want the person to walk away. To leave. To give up trying. But in the end, that would hurt more. I’d be lonelier, more broken.

God also didn’t rush me. He didn’t shove the good news of his everlasting love down my throat. I didn’t want to hear it. I would’ve rolled my eyes at the promise of supposedly good news. Depending on the day, I still might.

But do you know what God is doing? He’s gradually reminding me of his goodness. Soft, sweet, gentle memories of a time when I loved to sit in His presence.

The past couple weeks He’s brought up songs or verses that once meant something to me, to us, in this love story God’s writing with me. And I’ve found, these memories, and my God, they still mean something to me.

Music has a transcendent quality, how a single song can carry you to another time or place, bringing a fresh encounter with old memories. When God handpicked the song and verse I needed to hear, when He spoke those words and melodies into my soul, I remembered another time. I remembered many other times. Times when I felt lonely or overwhelmed and yet God met my every need. Times when He pulled me from the miry pit and gave me a firm place to stand.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40: 1-3

But what God gave me wasn’t just a memory of another time, a former time when God loved me and cared about me and answered my prayers. It was also a gentle reminder that God still loves me. Evidence that He still cares enough to speak to me, through a song, a verse, a memory.

It was the little glimpse at hope, at promise, at love, that I needed to make it through another day.

It was His unfailing love. His unconditional love.

A promise that He will never leave me, or stop loving me, or give up on me.

 

Yes, I am broken, and angry, and lonely, and bewildered in this life.

Yes, it’s a new battle but the same battle every day.

Yes, there are bad days and there are better days.

Yet, He loves me.

The days I seek Him. The days I fight. The days I distance myself.

Yet, He loves me.

The days I feel His love. The days I feel tears on my cheeks and anger in my heart. The days I don’t feel anything.

Yet, He loves me.

A few of my favorite things

As I head home in just 30 hours, (I’m sorry, but where’d this entire semester run off to without me?) I’ve been reflecting on what I’ll be leaving behind. I wrote these memories to share my experience with you, and in hopes of keeping them alive just a little bit longer.

Some things I’ll miss forever<3

 

Hearing a native Boston accent – and still being surprised by it, since it wasn’t as common as I first expected.

Being able to say I’m a Harvard student. Maybe it was just the extension school – but I have a Harvard email so… that’s pretty legit.

Yep. That just about sums up the first two. | Shirt Designed by AFH

Yep. That just about sums up the first two. | Shirt Designed by AFH | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The way everyone knows the righthand side of the escalator is to enjoy the free ride, and the lefthand side of the escalator is for doubling your speed. Maybe this happens everywhere, but I just noticed it here – and it’s like passing on the highway.

Walking into my room and finding Cristin resting on the floor – her usual choice for a quick rest. And about 3 weeks in, realizing how much I would rather lie on the floor than climb into my raised bed.

Cristin in her naturally comfy resting spot | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Cristin in her naturally comfy resting spot | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com


Our tuition going to things we really enjoy
 – like monthly Charlie Cards and a final dinner at The Melting Pot:) Yes. No more college food please.

Being just 20 minutes from Fenway Park – and having family that loves me enough (or maybe loves the Red Sox enough…) to drive up and take me to a game! And yes we won the game… and the World Series 🙂

Love These Two | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Love These Two | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Red Sox Game | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Red Sox Game | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The unique stores, the delicious food, and the never-ending options. I could wander this city for years and never get bored.

One of Many Outdoor Markets | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

One of Many Outdoor Markets | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Love This Restaurant | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Love This Restaurant | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Endless Possibilities Include Trampoline Parks and Foam Pits | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Endless Possibilities Include Trampoline Parks and Foam Pits | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The Best Spanish Food | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The Best Spanish Food | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com


Music in the city.
While waiting for the train underground. And especially listening to music from the pianos that move around the city, left out for the community to play.

The balancing act of riding public transportation. Except while eating a lettuce wrap on the way to see Hillsong — then it’s preferable to sit down.

Emerging from underground and trying desperately to figure out where I was — um… for anyone who knows me and my absolute lack of direction… I think I did pretty good! I mean… I can get to class alone now – and that’s halfway across the city. Just… don’t ask me to take the silver line buses.

Early Morning in Boston | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Early Morning in Boston | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Speaking of silver line buses – I’ll kind of miss those crazy transportation moments – like when the bus got stuck on the sidewalk trying to let an ambulance through. But you know what I loved in that moment? Even though some passersby were annoyed, the community came together to help. People were quick to step into the road, direct traffic and guide the bus off the sidewalk.

The Infamous Trolley | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The Infamous Trolley | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Every time I remembered I hadn’t exercised all semester… someone would remind me – “but you’re walking all over Boston.” Why, yes, yes I am. I’ll miss that natural exercise.

The forever-on-repeat Oceans, and a free Hillsong concert with my Gordon-in-Boston girls.

Hillsong

Hillsong Concert | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Interning with Prosperity Candle! I prefer hands-on experience to a classroom any day. And I love, love, love Prosperity Candle and their mission of empowering women – so I knew my work mattered. Plus it was a lot of fun to write blogs all semester for the job. (Yeah, that might explain my absence of blog writing here.)

Special house moments – like carving pumpkins and decorating the best-looking house on the street. (I can’t take credit for the decorations but… I do love them!)

The Beautiful Place We Call Home | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The Beautiful Place We Call Home | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Danielle Decorating, Even Outside | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Danielle Decorating, Even Outside | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Danielle, Being the Den Mother We So Love | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Danielle, Being the Den Mother We So Love | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Pumpkin Carving | Photo by Danielle Merdin

Pumpkin Carving | Photo by Danielle Merdin

Being less than 5 miles from my best friend:) Now that I think about it, this is the closest we’ve ever lived to each other!

The biggest, sweetest, fluffiest, dog (commonly mistaken as a bear or lioness) I have ever seen. Meet Beacon.

Danielle was Making Curtains and Beacon was Too Comfy to Move | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Danielle was Making Curtains and Beacon was Too Comfy to Move | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Stealing — no rescuing — yes, rescuing Katniss Everdeen from the movie theater dumpster.

Riding Home from the Movie, with Katniss above My Head | Poster Design Property of Lionsgate | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Riding Home from the Movie, with Katniss above My Head | Poster Design Property of Lionsgate | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Katniss Made it Home | Poster Design Property of Lionsgate | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Katniss Made it Home | Poster Design Property of Lionsgate | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Christmas festivities and lights – especially the tree lighting at Faneuil Hall. Completely crowded but an experience to remember! When you’re shoulder-to-shoulder and backpack-to-shoppingbag with eight people at a time, you make many immediate friends…or enemies. But I loved the shared joy and laughter. And on our walk to the T, the pure magic as the snow began to fall. There was a connected excitement even as everyone had left for home. The crowded city brings people together. And I love it.

Waiting for the Tree Lighting | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Waiting for the Tree Lighting | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Tree Lighting | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Tree Lighting | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Park Street Church. Per usual, I was often home on the weekends. But when I was here, I loved spending Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights at Park Street. The people I met in this place will be forever in my heart.

A home filled of our 50 Richview family, cooking together, praying together, laughing together, and just sharing life.

Amy and Cristin Serving Community Dinner | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Amy and Cristin Serving Community Dinner | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

A Joy-Filled Home, Even When the Heat Broke | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

A Joy-Filled Home, Even When the Heat Broke | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Our View from the Prudential |Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

Our View from the Prudential |Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The City Lights Our First Night in Boston | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

The City Lights Our First Night in Boston | Photo by jackiespaige.wordpress.com

These are the memories.joy.community| I will miss

But if I have any say in the matter: Don’t worry Boston – I’ll be back.

This post was written as part of the Weekly Writing Challenge: Multimedia Storytelling.

Love with No Borders

This post is late in coming, but the events and people are still close to my heart.

This summer I spent a week in Haiti. It was my first experience flying alone, my first experience flying into another country, and my first mission trip where I knew no one going into it. As I reflect on that, I honestly don’t know how God convinced me to go. But for some reason I really wanted to, and I’m so glad I went.

Landing in Port-au-Prince I first realized the lack of airport signs – I just followed the crowds and the workers pointing, and hoped I’d find my luggage and my teammates along the way. My first experience of the Haitian culture was a live band playing music as we entered the airport. I loved the welcoming atmosphere and wished our airports in America could have a similar environment.

I eventually found my luggage (and had to convince the workers it was truly mine since I’d lost my luggage tag). And our team slowly found one another.

Pulling out of the parking lot was just the start of our journey. A couple men literally bounced a car up and down to lift it out of our way. The bus driver artfully squeezed through and we were on our way!

Yes. That's how close we were.

Yes. That’s how close we were.                       – Photo Credit: Brian J. Smith –

After a slow, long, eye-opening, and, at times, heart-breaking drive through the streets of Haiti, we arrived at our new home. We climbed the steep, dusty hill and entered a surprisingly huge and beautiful home. And the view from the house was incredible.

The view from our house.

The view from our house.

The family hosting us was wonderful, and they will always hold a special place in my heart. They had a daughter my age, and many of us quickly became friends with her, despite the language barrier.

Some of my favorite memories were the dance parties we had with our host family in front of their house. The Haitians taught us some of their dance moves, and we taught them dances, like the Cupid Shuffle. Dance was such a blessing to me, because it is a universal language. When we danced together, we could communicate and experience joy despite the verbal language barrier.

Spending time with our host family and their neighbors.

Spending time with our host family and their neighbors.

There were 13 people on our team, and it was amazing to see how united our team was and how quickly we bonded with each other.

Our team with one of our translators.

Our team with one of our translators.

One of the most impactful experiences was meeting Meloonda, an 8-year-old girl who was severely affected by the earthquake 3 years ago. At the time, she was only 5 years old and she was trapped under rubble with her two siblings and her mom.

When she was brought out from under the rubble, people thought she had died and prepared to bury her. Her mom, Clarice, believed that Jesus could make her live again, and would not let the people bury her. She took Meloonda to a church and a doctor, and learned that she was not dead but in a coma. At the time, Meloonda could not move, talk, or even smile.

When we saw Meloonda, she had the biggest, most joyful smile, could say a couple words, and loved to stand and even dance if someone held her arms. She is a living miracle. Her mom’s love for and perseverance with Meloonda were inspiring, as was Meloonda’s incredible joy. Meloonda teaches me to never give up, but to see hope in even the darkest situations; she is evidence that God brings beauty out of ashes.

I will never forget Meloonda’s feet resting on my legs, tears streaming down my face, as my team sang, “Jesus Loves Me” over Meloonda.

Meloonda.

– Photo: John R Andersen Photography –

Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes Jesus Loves Me.

That’s the simple truth I want us to remember. Jesus loves every single one of us.

If you’d like to see more photos form my team, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/96899459@N08/sets/72157634118324193/

“Greater Things Have Yet To Come”

For those of you who have had a real conversation with me about college, or talked to me more recently, you’re probably aware that it has been hard for me, and that I’d rather be home than away at school. (To describe this sentiment: last year my mom and I were talking about whether or not I would go back to Gordon, and I told her if I didn’t go back there was nothing I’d miss. It’s safe to say that, as my mother, this concerned her a little.)

So I think it’s a great sign that I was actually sad to leave college this year. I had grown to love, and would soon miss, things at school.

This year God brought me friends who prayed with me, kids to love on, and teenagers to mentor. All of which have been wonderful blessings.

But with close friends and invested relationships, there’s always a heartbreak at the end. The hardest part for me was leaving the girls I tutored this semester in Lynn. During the last few weeks of College Bound, God broke my heart for these girls even more. I felt a burden and love for them that only He can give. As I prayed for the girls and gave them a glimpse of God’s love, I was so thankful for the time God gave me with these precious ones.

   College Bound   

And as I said goodbye with so much sadness, I had to trust God. I had to remember that He alone saves. I was humbled and blessed to be used for a time, but God is not done. He will continue pursing these children, because He loves them. Because He desires all people to be saved. Because His love is everlasting and unrelenting. Because He is love.

As I left Lynn that day I played one of my favorite songs, “God of this City” (and I kept playing it all week).

“You’re the God of this city. You’re the King of these people. You’re the Lord of this nation. You are…For greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city…There is no one like our God.”

Although it was time for me to leave Lynn, and the people I had come to love, I knew that God remained. I prayed over the neighborhood and community, and I trusted God. Because He is sovereign. He is big enough. He is present. And He is trustworthy.

I know that though my time in Lynn is over, at least for a period, God remains, faithfully working in Lynn, touching lives every single day.

I believe in a God who was at work before I came, moved powerfully while I was there, and will continue to reveal himself and His saving grace long after I am gone.

Finding a Calling

When I left Cornerstone (my high school), I had no idea what I wanted to major in. Well, that’s not entirely true, I actually had too many ideas of what I wanted to major in: education, psychology, social work, business, communications, law. And there wasn’t a single one that stood out more than the others. And this bothered me. I’m a planner and I like to know what’s coming next, and to feel like I’m in control. But God had another plan, and by His timing I would learn patience and see His hand at work, see that He was in control all along, and I never needed to worry.

I was interested in event planning, and the summer after graduating I interned with my youth pastor as he helped direct The Hartford Project, or THP. My plan, was to gain experience in event planning, even a week-long event like THP. But throughout the summer God mostly grew my love for the city and the people of Hartford and afterwards I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into event planning.

Entering college in the fall, I was an undecided major, or as Gordon says to be more positive, a “deciding” major. But I didn’t look at it positively. Instead, I felt lost. At one point I was asking my roommate why we were even in school. Being an art and education major, she responded reasonably by saying, “I don’t know about you but I’m here to learn how to teach art and how to manage a classroom.” Oh, right, that makes sense. But why was I in school? What was the plan in all of this? Would I graduate better prepared for the world, ready to enter any profession? Or would I be just as lost in four years as I was right then?

Well, first semester I explored the idea of law by taking a politics class. I thought I could practice law, working for Hartford residents. But once I realized how much I HATED doing research, I decided being a lawyer was not a good fit for me.

So where could I turn next? Education certainly seemed like an option, so I registered for 3 ed. classes in the spring. One night I was on the phone with my mom, talking about how education just didn’t seem right for me, for a variety of reasons. And she pointed out an obvious fact I couldn’t see on my own: my heart wasn’t in teaching; it was in helping the people of Hartford. I never wanted to teach for the sake of teaching, I wanted to teach because I liked kids and wanted to work in the city.

But what work did I love? What talents had God given me? I loved planning; I loved organizing and running things. And that all sounded like a great fit for a business major. Near the end of my first year of college, I finally declared a major – Business Administration. And two minors – nonprofit management and urban ministry. It was a perfect fit – combining the practical talents and passions that God has given me.

Last summer, after completing my first year of college, I again interned with The Hartford Project and another organization called Urban Alliance. My desire to work in the city only grew as a result, and I learned so much about nonprofit organizations and the work God is doing in Hartford.

This past semester I took 3 business classes, and found confirmation that God is calling me into the field of business. One class in particular, intro to management, was taught from such a strong Christian perspective. When I tell people this they are often confused or surprised. They wonder how business and Christianity can be connected. But thanks to my professor, thinking about business from a Christian perspective seems natural now. God created work, and in the Garden of Eden, before the curse, work was good. And management, well that’s all about people and relationships – who better to look to for guidance on relationships than God?

In business, as in all areas of life, God uses Christians to restore His Kingdom. So whatever majors or careers you enter into, even in your current classes or jobs, remember God is present there too. Yes, He can call you into business. Just like He can call you to be a missionary, a teacher, a journalist, or anything else. Because God has purposefully created you. And He has a unique plan for each of you. Who God made you to be fits wonderfully with God’s plan for you. And if you don’t feel prepared, He will provide what you need. If you lack direction, He will show you where to go, even when it’s just one step at a time.

And it’s in taking the first step that God further reveals His plan. So even today, remember He is with you, He will guide you. It’s okay to try one thing, and keep searching until you find the right fit. Because as you step out in faith, God will continue to show you the next step, in His perfect timing. We might get stressed out, wanting to know more now. But God has been teaching me this comforting truth: God already knows the plan; He is in control and we can trust Him.

Image

Something’s Gotta Give. (Part II)

>>> After rereading this blog, I realized it is much more of a call to action (perhaps for myself) than a spilling of my thoughts. But the call to action pours directly out of my thoughts, concerns, and internal conflicts. So instead of only laying out my mental musings, this blog post presents somewhat tangible reactions to those thoughts, which help illuminate the thoughts even more. <<<

Maybe after reading Part I of “Something’s Gotta Give” (scroll under this post if you haven’t read it yet) you think something like: ‘Giving to those in need is good, but I still want to buy gifts for friends and family. Even if they don’t need them, it shows I care.’ Yes, gifts are a great way to show you care, and this too can be done in ways that benefit others.

Perhaps the worst effect of consumerism is that it can contribute to the suffering of others. This has begun to disturb me to the point that I can’t look at purchases or even gifts I receive the same way. The other morning I unwrapped an advent gift and found a beautiful pair of silver earrings. But here’s what happened in my mind: “Those are so pretty. Were they made in a sweatshop?”

You see, “Those were so pretty” came first. My initial reaction was still one of consumerism, or more positively, a reaction to superficial beauty.

But what lies beneath the façade of beautiful jewelry? Is it a working child? An underpaid mother? If the jewelry is created in such a way that devalues humans and strips them of their beauty or their dignity, how can the end result be sincerely beautiful? How can I wear those earrings without thinking of the slaves who made them? Or the underpaid and starving people who operate the machinery they’re produced on? Something has to give.

This leads me to my unabashed call for fair trade purchases. Fair trade includes environmental concerns, forbids child labor and forced labor, and pays fair prices to producers or artisans. (See the link at the bottom for a complete list of fair trade standards.[i]) Forced labor is especially common in coffee and chocolate production, where fair trade has perhaps gotten the most publicity. Other organizations offer fair trade clothing, jewelry, toys, and more (some example companies are listed below).

I’ve recently been learning more about fair trade products, and am trying to make more fair trade purchases. It can be challenging, and I haven’t yet found a way to do so with all or even most purchases, but it’s definitely something worth working towards.

Many of you may be done shopping for the holiday season, but if there are still people on your list, would you consider one of the fair trade organizations listed below? When you give to family and friends, would you consider also giving dignity and livelihood to those who produced the good? What a blessing this could be!

Fair Trade Organizations:
(Some products are more expensive than others, if you’re looking for a great deal you’ve got to shop around – but isn’t that true of most places?)
http://fairtradeusa.org/holidays
http://www.tenthousandvillages.com
www.globalgirlfriend.com
http://www.noondaycollection.com
www.freesetglobal.com
www.equalexchange.coop
http://www.deansbeans.com/coffee/index.html
www.yellowlabeltoys.com

>>> Please comment below with any thoughts or ideas. Thanks for reading! <<<

Fairtrade cotton farmer, Ibrahim Keita, 28, in Batimakana, Kita, Mali©Simon Rawles

Fairtrade cotton farmer, Ibrahim Keita, 28, in Batimakana, Kita, Mali
©Simon Rawles

Something’s Gotta Give. (Part I)

>>> After editing this blog, I realized it is much more of a call to action (perhaps for myself) than a spilling of my thoughts. But the call to action pours directly out of my thoughts, concerns, and internal conflicts. So instead of only laying out my mental musings, this post presents somewhat tangible reactions to those thoughts, which help illuminate the thoughts even more. <<<

     As I told a friend recently, I’ve been thinking through a lot lately. Much of which centers on consumerism, injustices, and fair trade (I’ll get to fair trade in Part II). Don’t give up on me just yet. I don’t mean to scare you off by sounding too idealistic or extreme in the words below. But please hear me out. Something’s got to give.

     How many gifts have you bought this season? How much money have you ‘saved’? I’d say I’ve bought about 12 gifts thus far (not too mention the random assortment of products I’ve bought for myself). And how much money has this added up to? Roughly $100. As I look at these numbers I think, ‘Hey, that’s not half bad’. But there’s something bigger going on here. None of my friends and family need the things I am buying for them. This is not a problem in and of itself. I mean, giving gifts can be a great way to show people you care about them. The tragedy is that there are people, all around this world, and in our own towns, who actually need gifts. They don’t have enough money to fill their kids’ lunch boxes, let alone put a Christmas dinner on the table. Beyond mere poverty, people suffer from forced labor (an estimate 2.5 million[i]). Disease also threatens many. As just one example, over 500,000 people died from Malaria in 2010[ii].

These statements are somewhat unrelated, but the basic point is this: There are people in this world in real need.

Why can I spend $100 on gifts for people who have plenty, while so many suffer? Given the prosperity in America and the unquenchable consumerism, something’s got to give. Something in my heart, something in all of our hearts, has to give. To let go of our desire for more, and to give others the more they need.

I know there are hundreds of options for giving at Christmas, and I’m sure many of you have taken advantage of these opportunities, and that is such a blessing. Maybe you gave gifts to Toys for Tots, or packed an Operation Christmas Child box. Maybe you bought baby chicks for a struggling family through Samaritan’s Purse or cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless last month.

At this season, when giving is often seen as little more than a task of gifting, I hope we may together remember how God has blessed us, and joyfully give to those in need. Not as another task on our list, but as an act of love.

I found this quote online recently, and I think it worth restating:
“Christmas is not your birthday.”
… or your friend’s, or sister’s, or father’s either.
>>> Please comment below with any ideas of how to give to those in need, or how to give more simply. Thanks for reading! <<<