Arrived in South Africa!

So, I’m wrapping up my first week here in South Africa, and it’s been absolutely incredible.

My flights last Monday and Tuesday were smooth and easy. I had a layover in the Amsterdam airport, which is basically a giant IKEA, and then when I arrived in South Africa, where my entry was completely problem-free. There’s a lot of paperwork minors have to fill out beforehand to enter the country, and when I reached passport security, the officer didn’t even give those papers a look.

I’ve been really blessed by my host family, John and Myrtle, as they’ve taken great care of me and offered me a gracious amount of space to myself. They live in a safe, spacious home in Pretoria, and I’ll be here a few nights a week or so. They make me feel like I’m part of the family. I have my own car to use, and I’ve quickly adjusted to driving on the left side of the road while sittingon the right side. A ton of the drivers, especially the taxi drivers, are wild here, so I fit right in on the road.

On Friday I ventured out into the townships for the first time since I’ve been here. I went with a kind man named Julian who works for Abba’s Pride, and we delivered food to a few daycares out in the townships. These villages are so different than anything we’re used to in the States. Poverty takes grip of communities like a disease, and violence follows. It’s a vicious, tragic cycle. As we drove along, we passed people selling fish and fruits and vegetables on the side of the road, and we drove by houses made of thin scrap metal. We passed an internet cafe inside of a shipping crate, and a KFC in a tiny brick building in the center of a township. Julian and I talked about the state of the country and the effects of poverty.

The important thing to realize about poverty is that it’s much more than just a lack of material goods. Poverty is an emotional and psychological position of despair and lacking, and a feeling of helplessness and unworthiness. Short-term missions come to places like this often, and sometimes they give the locals clothes or money or food, or they paint a playground or build a well, and they don’t have the locals help any. When outsiders come in and help a community, especially if they weren’t asked for help, a lot of times they just hurt the locals more because the outsider confirms the idea that someone in poverty can’tdo it on their own after all. The feeling of helplessness is confirmed, no matter the good intentions. We spent time studying this dilemma and watching videos on the book When Helping Hurts that covers this topic.

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With that in mind, Abba’s Pride works hard to equip pastors and teachers to lead their communities better themselves in the long run. Lonnie, with his wife Debbie, started Abba’s Pride, and they both work full time for the organization. Their daughter Becca and her husband Josiah are also full-time workers, along with a few others. The ministry takes great care to help townships alongside locals, making sure that the locals have skin in the game in big projects, and making sure that locals can take over projects and do it on their own after a while. I feel really blessed to be part of such an awesome ministry.

Lonnie and I drove out to visit Pastor George in a township called Winterveld. On the Pastor’s family land, we spent time with locals and helped work on a project: putting a high quality water well and tank in place for irrigation of the Pastor’s upcoming farm. Right now, the family land is just huge empty land, but Pastor George has 11 families involved in starting a community farm, with each family taking care of their own section. The land has been in the family since 1982 or so, and some of Pastor George’s aunts and uncles live there now. I spent a lot of time with one family member, named Sully, and we talked for awhile and then went on a walk with his goats.SA17-1.jpgA few generations ago, George’s family had a witchdoctor come to their land, and he and the family built an altar to the devil there. There’s a lot of ancestral worship in South Africa, so at the altar they buried bones and teeth of their ancestors, and the witchdoctor planted a single rose atop the altar. He told the family that every week the rose would need to have a blood sacrifice to stay alive, a sacrifice from a goat, or else evil would come on the family. So they would make a sacrifice weekly, and George told me that the first week his family didn’t do this, one family member actually died. So the land had been cursed for a long time, but Pastor George was the first in his family to become a Christian, and other family members followed suit. Last week, Pastor George called his family together and they decided that the altar must come down. So they prayed and prayed and then dug up and destroyed the altar and all the bones with it. They prayed over the land more afterwards, and he told me that at first he and his family were scared something bad might happen. But nothing happened, and his confidence in the Lord grew. Pastor George told me, “Now, we believe that this family is free, and free forever, even the generations to come.”

 

It was really awesome to go out and see God working here in such tangible ways. I’m really thankful for Pastor George and his story, and he kindly let me film him telling the story. It’s really cool to be a part of something like this that we know will bring the Lord lots of praise, and I’m really excited to put that project together and share more of what the Lord is doing.

1 John 3:16-18 says;

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

This is a really incredible verse, and I’ve been praying that I would keep a selfless, serving attitude, knowing that Christ first laid down his life for me. Here I’m truly getting the opportunity to love with actions, and I’m able to speak truth into people’s lives and share stories through photography. I think all of us get a little too comfortable just loving with words and not actions.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to a village to stay with a pastor, Pastor Silas, for two weeks straight. I’m really stoked to just do life with him, and be totally immersed in a township like that. I’m sure I’ll have stories to tell and pictures to share when I get back to my host home!

So until then, live loved and love well my friends.

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Shifting of Seasons

I’m about to enter a new season. I know a lot of us are. Some of us are moving to college, saying goodbye to possibly the only home we’ve ever known. Others are heading back to high school or middle school, or back to our jobs, starting a new year with newfound struggles. Still others may be heading into or out of tense emotional seasons, or seasons of shifting communities and relationships. I’ve always felt like this time of year specifically is a time of a lot of changing seasons. So, in this final blog post before I enter a completely new time in my life, I wanted to write about the importance of seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Virginia Beach is comfortable to me. It always has been, it’s where my family and my best friends are, it’s where I know my way around, it’s where I grew up; it’s home. But if I’ve been in a season of living at home, that season is coming to a close. And something the Lord’s been teaching my friends and I lately is that we need to keep our hands open throughout change, being okay with not being in control. I can’t hold on to home forever, and like Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything. I have to keep a loose grip on the things I’m comfortable with, because they’re starting to shift. I bet for a lot of you, you’re going through the same.

Josh Garrels has a song about seasons changing. It’s called Rejoice & Lament, and it goes like this:

Learn this lesson well, my friend
There’s a time to rejoice and lament
Every season will find an end
All will fade and be made new again

There’s a lot of truth there; season change and we need to be alright with that. But seasons are not permanent, like Josh says, every season will find an end, and all will be made new again.

In another song, called Season of Rain, he says:

Praise the Lord, when it’s all gone wrong
Everything fades but our love shines on
Praise the Lord, when your hope is gone
Everything fades but our love shines on

You might be in a season of hardship, or you might just be entering a season of newness. But something that’s crucial to remember is that God is in control of these seasons, and He who knows what’s best for us uses seasons to build our faith. He uses seasons of hardship and pain to fortify our faiths, building it deeper and stronger, so we can come out of that season trusting the Lord more. Other times, He uses fruitful seasons to give us a glimpse of Heaven, encouraging us to push on in our journeys.

What we have to remember about seasons, although they can be used to bring good, they don’t define us. Just because our surroundings change, that doesn’t mean Christ’s heart changes. No matter what season we’re in, we’re still called to pursue and praise the Lord more and more, like that last song says. If we don’t do this, and let our circumstances define us, we negate the purpose of a season altogether. In the same way that my Dad’s cancer is helping us pursue Christ more, seasons are used to bring us all closer to Christ. Turn to God’s Word when you don’t know what to do, because when life is like a rushing river, and the water is rising fast, God’s Word is a steady rock that sits dry above the roar. And remember not to be overcome by a season. In seasons of hardship, God never calls us to do nothing. 1 Peter 4:19 says:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

That verse is clear as day. Keep pursuing Christ and doing good no matter what you’re going through. To my friends starting college, hold home loosely in your hands, and don’t be dragged down by the newness and by missing what’s comfortable and known. Push hard for Jesus in those times of confusion, in shifting communities, in shifting lives; Jesus remains the same and desires pursuit no matter what. Apathy isn’t excusable. Seek life in times of death, seek light when all you see is darkness.

So, here I am about to enter a wildly different time of life. I leave for South Africa in ten days from today. It’s kept me up late a few nights, and my heart is full of a lot of emotions. This blog has been a joy to write in for the past few months, and I’m not sure what it’ll look like while I’m in Africa, but my intention is to post more regularly, probably once a week, and to write stories and share pictures from the villages I’ll be staying in. Stay tuned for this next season, and I’d appreciate prayers throughout this major shift of life.

Don’t stop fighting for the Lord no matter what you’re going through.

Spray-painting Jesus

When my Dad was my age, he and his buddy John wanted to do something reckless late one night. But my Dad and his friend were also passionate for Christ and spreading the gospel- constantly looking for ways to live like Jesus and tell more people about Him. However, teenage kids are gifted in the area of rebelliousness, even if they want to live like Christ. My Dad and his buddy decided to take the best of both of these passions, so they grabbed a can of spray paint, quietly snuck of their houses, and discreetly rushed to a big intersection nearby. During the day these streets were packed with cars and bustling with traffic, but in the stillness of the night, it was just the two of them there. They crept out into the middle of the road, pulled out the can of spray-paint, shook it up, and spray-painted the name “JESUS” in huge letters across the black pavement.

After I heard this story from my Dad a few times, it got me thinking: what if sometimes, instead of actually living like Jesus, we just spray-paint his name somewhere and leave for good? I think a lot of times instead of loving people well and investing in them, instead of speaking truth into people’s lives,  and instead of really showing grace and kindness, we just do a name-drop of Jesus’s name and tell people we’re Christians, and then do nothing about it.  My Dad and I have driven over that road a few times since then, and the thing about spray-paint is, it’s not permanent. Going no further than telling someone you’re a Christian, or when two Christians are friends but don’t talk about Christ, or believing in God but not living like it, is worthless.

1 Corinthians 5:20-21 says:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Ambassadors is a heavy title to carry. That means we should expect all of our words and actions to be held to the highest standards by the world.

I leave for South Africa in a little less than a month. I’ve been learning a whole lot lately about what it looks like when I don’t just spray-paint Jesus’s name places, but I let that paint cover all of who I am and really start to live like it, and really bean ambassador. It’s really scary to let God into every crack and crevice of your heart. Honestly, I struggle a lot to do that, even though I feel like I am; but a lot of times I don’t. I’ve also been learning a lot lately about what real community looks like when it’s centered around Christ. My friends and I have decided to paint our conversations in ways that glorify Christ and point to Him, in ways that make us vulnerable with each other, in ways where we can be completely truthful, and in ways where we can know one another’s hearts fully. This has all been preparation for my trip and for the rest of my life, and I think we should all try figuring out how to let Jesus define all of us instead of just some parts of us.

Another thing I’ve been learning in this time of preparation is that I can’t just spray-paint love onto my friends. It takes real actions and sacrifice, it takes being uncomfortable, and it takes vulnerability to love a friend well, something I’m definitely still working at. John 13:15 says:

There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for their friends.

A memory stands out to me about a person who grasped the meaning of sacrifice to show how much he cared about me; that person is a teacher who taught me back in middle school.

So, I played ice hockey in middle school, and even though I wasn’t great at it, it was super fun. My sixth grade history teacher was named Mr. Waskiewicz, (had to pull out my yearbook to double check the spelling on that one- I’ll call him Mr. W from here on,) and Mr. W was a great teacher, one of the only ones from middle school that I remember well. But it isn’t because of his teaching or his personality that I remember him – it was because on one Monday afternoon I invited him to come to one of my 7:30pm hockey games, which was 45 minutes away from my house- and he came. He showed up, on a school night, on a night he could’ve spent with his wife at home. I didn’t grasp how great this act of kindness was for a few years, and I don’t know if he knew the Lord, but I would bet that he did. I do know that he cared about me and he showed it, and it meant the world to me.

Friendship takes work. Faith takes work. You can’t build a strong relationship with Christ or with your friends by just sitting around and talking about how to do it better. Or sitting on your couch typing about it. Love does stuff, and love is long-term. It doesn’t just spray paint words or phrases here and there and then run away. I’m learning that I can’t put a pause button on either of these things and expect them to remain good or unchanged. I also can’t just text or post about God or my friends and expect that to be enough. (Check out my good friend Vicky’s post on that specific topic here.)

So, what have I learned that I can take with me in the next part of my life? What can you take with you no matter what you’re going through next? Faith and relationships have no pause button, and they take long-term work. Spray-paint is temporary, and cheap name-drops of Christ don’t do anything; live like Christ.

Keep working at these things, and keep pushing on. It’s worth it.

The Intentional Life

Last week I took some middle-school kids to a WyldLife camp. If you’ve never heard of WyldLife, it’s YoungLife for middle-school. If you’ve never heard of YoungLife, you’re missing out. So we were up in Maryland at this camp called NorthBay, and it was an incredible week. One thing camp helped me to see was the beauty in intentionality, or doing all things with purpose. YoungLife is full of intentionality, games and programs almost always have purpose to put peoples’ hearts in the right place and to illustrate different aspects of the gospel. I think these kinds of intentional things are awesome and I always find myself desiring more intentional living. So why do I always feel like I’m just stumbling through my weeks haphazardly, even when they’re full of Christ-centered activities and relationships?

When I asked one of my friends on the last day of school what their plan for Summer was, their simple response was “I’m not doing much. Just sleeping and watching Netflix.” Maybe for some of you reading this, that’s your plan for Summer too. Maybe you’re even still waking up from a nap, or maybe in a tab next to this one you have Netflix open on your computer. If so, that’s okay. But I think my friend’s plan for his Summer is a complete waste of time. If our actions don’t have meaning, then how can our lives? Maybe I feel like I’m stumbling through life because I forget to look to Jesus for strength and purpose, I neglect to have that child-like faith that Jesus talks about. There’s a reason Jesus tells us to love like kids and believe like them.

Remember when we were little, and every day was full of awe and wonder and joy and curiosity? How did we all become so lukewarm towards life? How come we live without joy and wonder, when Jesus can give us that? I want that again. I want a childlike faith again. But we don’t live in that bubble of blissful ignorance that toddlers do. When life feels like it’s falling apart, when the weight of the world is crushing, when death feels brutally close, when nights are full of tears, when sin won’t let go of our thoughts, when bitterness won’t stop eating at our hearts, when God feels lightyears away, what do we do? How can we find the beauty between all of the madness of the world?

Wow, this post just became deeper than I expected. The thing is, I can’t write about trying  to be purposeful in every day life when some days life is already impossible enough. But I really think Jesus has called us to a purpose, a dedication to Him and glorifying Him and making His Name known, that we are obligated to live out as believers. And when our lives feel like Hell, I can’t think of any other way to deal with it than to continue fighting to glorify Christ and continuing our purpose.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and again in 7:20, Paul says that we were “bought with a price,” meaning we “are not our own.” I am not my own. You are not your own. Jesus bought us back from sin and we owe Him our lives. This is a heavy heavy verse, and on my hardest days I’ve been turning to it a lot lately. I’m reminded that whatever I’m going through, I’m still called to this intentional service. Living intentionally is a crucial part of furthering our relationships with Jesus and serving Him fully, and Christ is the ultimate example of living intentionally.

In John 13, Jesus intentionally shows his love and humility to his disciples by taking on the role of a servant and washing their feet. In Matthew 8, and again in Luke 17, Jesus purposefully goes and heals lepers, people who were ignored and untouched by the rest of the world, to show that the Kingdom has no bounds or prejudices. Even when Jesus was on the cross, about to die, Jesus intentionally asks God to forgive His killers and then tells the man on the cross next to Him that he would be with Him in Heaven. Jesus did so many other things with purpose too, and He was going through insane pain and struggle. It’s not as if Jesus had a hidden agenda all the time; that’s not what intentionality is about. It’s about loving people where they’re at, and meeting their needs instead of twisting their hearts and desires so you can serve them in a way that’s convenient to you.

Here’s the thing about intentionality though; what you’re actually doing isn’t the main focus, but it’s how you’re doing those things that really matters. Let me explain. My friend works at a coffee shop down at the oceanfront and she tells me that some days, even while she’s just making coffee or cleaning up the shop, she intentionally looks for ways to be an example of Jesus. One time she complimented a girl who looked like she was having a bad day and brightened her whole afternoon because of it. She’ll look for people who aren’t satisfied with their drinks and seek something better for them. Her occupation doesn’t really matter at all, she’d be showing Christ to people in small ways no matter what she did. And I think we should too, no matter our circumstances.

Paul lives incredibly intentionally. In Philippians, Paul is writing to friends while he’s in jail. He probably expects to die in that jail cell, yet chapter 1 verse 13 says that he has made known to the other prisoners and guards who Jesus is. He’s still living with meaning while staring death in the face. We should be this intentional too, and I hardly do this on my good days, when I’m not locked in a jail cell about to die.

This Summer, I challenge you to live an intentional life, even on your worst days. Try to add meaning to your days, and try using your pain and struggles as a tool to glorify God, as a testimony to His grace and power by continuing to trust Him despite the pain. Hear me clearly: some days, the most intentionality you need is to continue pointing to Christ in your pain. I’ve been swimming through a lot of murky waters in life lately, and a lot of uncertainty clouds my view. But I can tell you first hand that glorifying Christ is the best way to get through that murkiness. We need to live in a way that nudges people towards Christ, or sometimes even shove people towards him with all our might. We’re all human though, and we can’t live perfectly intentional lives all the time. That’s okay. Just remember to look to your Creator, and in these next few months, try to make life matter.

Secretly Awesome

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook aimlessly and stumbled upon an article called “Dear volunteers in Africa: please don’t come help until you ask yourself these questions.” This seemed like it applied to me oddly specifically, so I clicked on it.

The first question the article told the reader to ask themselves was, “Would you still go if you didn’t have a camera?”

Well, I’m going to be a photographer. So, that’s tough.

But, I was thinking about serving in general, and the thought occurred to me that it might actually feel different to go serve if not only we took zero pictures, but if no one else knew we were serving there in the first place. Imagine going across the globe to serve an orphanage or an organization or help out in some other way and not telling anyone and not taking any pictures to brag about what you’re doing on social media.

Would you? Seriously, think about all of the publication and posts about trips before people go on them. Even for my trip to South Africa, I’ve had to post stuff all the time and send out support letters and sell shirts; it’s almost like advertising to raise money so I can help people. I think all of this is super important for me to raise enough money to go and serve, but imagine if no one knew about my caper and I just left. It’s hard to be prideful if you don’t advertise what you’re doing in the first place, right?

So, what if you really did go on a missions trip and took no pictures? Obviously assuming your job is not a photographer; that’s a little different. One of my best friends is from South Africa, his name is Samora, and he lives here in the States. Often when he and I are together, we’ll somehow find a post on social media from someone who’s helping out in another country. The post goes something like this: there’s a picture of an African kid or group of African kids smiling and laughing, or looking very sad and hungry; or a picture of an American teenager posing with a little African kid on her back. The caption reads something like: “(Country name) has my heart,” with a cheesy emoji, or “Meet my new best friend from (Country name.)”

Here’s two disclaimers real fast: 1. Posts like this don’t really have bad motives behind them, and 2. I have posted cheesy stuff like this.

Somewhere along the way, the comfortable Christians like me missed the point. Tell me, honestly, what’s the purpose in posting a picture like that? I’m not attacking anyone here, but we’ve gotta have a heart-check with things like this. What if we did generous things and gracious, caring things without people knowing? Does that take any value away? It shouldn’t, right?

The other thing is, posting a picture of sad kids in poverty doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. This is sort of on a different topic, but if I don’t know a kid’s name or story, then why should I post a picture of him? Here’s another disclaimer: I don’t remember the name of the kid in the cover photo for this blog. I did at one point, and I taught her in an English class when I was in South Africa awhile ago. The point is though, it makes way more of a difference if we get to know people in need and really love them and help them. Sure, take their picture after that; you’re real friends now. I’ll talk about this topic more in-depth some time later, but we’ve gotta remember that those kids aren’t some specimen just to have cute pictures taken of.

When I’m in South Africa as a photographer, I hope to take pictures that tell real, true stories, that are beautiful and honest, and that show people as real humans, with a beating heart and raw emotions; not just a sad face used to get sympathy. Abba’s Pride (the organization I’ll be serving) does a great job at getting to know communities and really serving people selflessly, and I’m so excited to join them.

I remember the first time I learned about serving selflessly in-depth. I went on this crazy church retreat in middle school, and the theme of the weekend was “Secretly Awesome.” I still have the tee shirt from it; it’s all red, with the words “secretly awesome” in a slightly different shade of red written across the back. Over the weekend, we talked about what it looks like to do awesome things without people knowing it was you doing them. We also talked about what it would be like to do awesome things not expecting anything in return.

That’s an upside-down world view to most. But I think our world has twisted what “giving” is really about, and almost without us realizing it. To be secretly awesome, a person doesn’t look for any self-glorification. Sometimes, that person doesn’t even reveal their identity so it’s impossible to credit them.

I have a few people in my life who are secretly awesome. More than a few, actually; let me tell you about some of them. For those of you who don’t know, I work at a frozen yogurt bar. It’s awesome. I keep the store clean and make sure everything is ready for customers, and then ring them up. A few months ago, an old friend kept visiting me at work; actually, he’s the Dad of an old friend of mine. Every night he would visit me, he would leave me a Chik-fil-a sandwich, and he barely accepted my gratitude when I tried to thank him. I never even asked for him to buy me food, he just started doing it, and he normally doesn’t even stick around long enough for me to thank him. He’s not looking for any self-glorification, he’s not looking for anything in return: he’s just being kind.

Another friend who’s been secretly awesome lately is an old family friend of mine. The family now lives in Maryland, and they are really awesome. For the past few months, they’ve been ordering my family large meals from restaurants and they’ve had them delivered to our house, paying for them in full before they reach our door. They don’t even live in the same state as us, they have no interest in gaining something in return; they just love us.

These people don’t care if anyone else sees the good they do. When I go to Africa, would I do things differently if I didn’t try to show anyone the stuff I was doing, but focused on what God was instead? When we go on trips and when we help others at home, I think we’ve got to double-check where our motives are at. Are we helping to point people to God, or are we looking for a cool Instagram opportunity, or for other people to think more highly of us? As you go through your day, think about doing things solely for others and the Lord, and not so you can get praise, but just to help people for the sake of helping.

Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Take this question to heart: If no one sees you doing something awesome, would you still do it? Together, let’s all work on doing things humbly, out of love, and for the intention of giving God the glory.

Gideon’s Army

Last time I updated my blog, I informed the reader of a hopeful surgery that was set to take place April 18th for my Dad’s cancer. Friends, if you haven’t heard yet: that surgery was canceled shortly after my Dad took to the operating table. Once the doctors had started the surgery and made the first incision across his abdomen, they began to inspect my Dad’s insides and quickly realized that the cancer was worse than they had expected. Tumors were more prevalent than the last scan showed, and the procedure was deemed too risky; if just one large chunk of cancer remained in my Dad’s abdomen, it would grow back at twice the rate of before. So, that news surely took us all by surprise, and we were confused as to what the Lord was, and still is, doing.

In the book of Judges, there’s a story about a man named Gideon who’s confused by what the Lord’s doing, too. Gideon was an Israelite, but in his time, his people’s land had been overtaken by a people called the Midianites. Gideon is called by God to fight for Him and take back his land, but he’s afraid and it takes him awhile to fully trust the Lord. Initially, an angel appears to Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” But Gideon doesn’t understand why God would let another people take his land, so he says, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” I get that, Gideon.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my good friend Mrs. Sandwell after my family and I returned from Pittsburgh. We were talking about my Dad and his cancer, and we spoke about the surgery and the confusion around what the Lord’s doing. She said something to me that I hadn’t thought of before; she said that she wasn’t too worried that the surgery hadn’t taken place. If God chooses to heal my Dad at this point, she said, absolutely no doctor could say that the cancer was healed because of  any medicine or procedure or anything of the Earth- but the Lord would get all of the glory. If our prayer throughout all of this is for God to be glorified no matter what, than maybe this is indeed an answer to prayer, as confusing as it might seem in our limited human perspective.

What Mrs. Sandwell said reminded me of something that happened to Gideon later in his life.

Gideon goes on to lead an army of 32,000 Israelites to fight against the Midianites in Judges Ch. 7. Before they even went into battle, though, God spoke to Gideon and told him something crazy. He said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into your hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that their own strength has saved them, announce that any man who is afraid should turn around and go home.” After Gideon tells his army that message, 22,000 men leave him. So now Gideon is left with just 10,000 men to fight an army of 135,000. The odds are very much against him and his army, but God wants Israel to know that their own power can’t save them.

After Gideon’s army is reduced to 10,000, God tells him something else wild. God tells Gideon that he still has too many men, and He tells Gideon to cut the army down to just 300 men. Three hundred men. That’s 1/5 the size of my high school, that seems like absolutely nothing compared to what the enemy has. Then, God uses Gideon and those 300 men to defeat the entire enemy army to take back Israel. Because the army was so small and because every odd in the world was stacked against Gideon, the Lord got all of the glory from the victory. No one could say that these men were just ridiculously good fighters or that they got lucky, the glory had to point towards God.

If my Dad is healed at this point, no one can say it was good medicine or luck. No doctor can take credit for his healing, and honestly, it would be hard for any man to find a single logical or scientific reason for his life other than the Lord. This is my prayer, this would really bring Jesus into the spotlight more than any other opportunity for healing yet. It’s hard for me to see an outcome where God would receive as much glory as this possibility and prayer, although I know that even if cancer takes my Dad’s life, God will be glorified, and we try to praise Him regardless.

There’s a really great story in Acts that embodies the attitude I want to hold towards not only this struggle, but every other struggle in life as well. In Acts 5, Peter and some other apostles refuse to stop telling people about Jesus and his resurrection, and so they get flogged by a group called the Sanhedrin. After this, it says:

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

This is so insanely awesome to me; the apostles are beaten because of Jesus’s name, and they can only rejoice. Pain and struggles strengthen our faiths and force us to draw closer to the Lord. As one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, said:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We are a deaf people, and pain certainly forces us to draw closer to the Lord and each other.

This also isn’t to say that we shouldn’t keep pursuing options in recovery and healing with my Dad; God didn’t defeat the Midianites directly, He used those 300 men to kill them. God works in a lot of different ways, and we’re not giving up. Maybe God intends to use something that may seem small or improbable to heal my Dad- who knows.

Here’s the tough thing though: God might not heal my Dad. I hope He does, but He might not. But God will still be good, and God will still get the most glory; I just don’t understand how yet, and maybe I never will. I’m okay with trusting that the Lord will be glorified no matter the outcome of my Dad’s cancer, and my family can live in the confidence that Jesus reigns supreme and totally knows what He’s doing. I challenge you to live in that same truth no matter what you’re going through as well.

Seasick Sailors

“I have been to the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Israel,” said my friend Ms. Ennels the other night,  “and it is beautiful. There are streams running through it and flowers sprouting everywhere, and it is flowing with life. It is a beautiful place.”`

In a little over a week, my Dad will be having a complicated, daring surgery in Pittsburgh to clear out his abdomen of cancer. The doctor, named Dr. Bartlett, is brilliant and very well-experienced on this type of surgery, called HIPEC surgery. In fact, here’s an article about Dr. Bartlett and this specific surgery for another patient- but let me tell you, it’s a brutal surgery, comparable to ripping open my Dad’s whole stomach and continuing to slice and burn every last visible piece of cancer.

Friends, here’s the thing: Cancer has nothing on our Creator. And that’s super easy to say, but so much harder to put real trust into. In Psalm 139, a passage of scripture that’s very close to my heart, David writes,

“You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.”

That passage is so incredibly, indescribably beautiful and powerful. The God of All Things knows my inmost worries, my doubts, all of my questions and fears. And He loves me and you so much, and He can provide for us in incredible ways because of it.

I think the toughest thing about Cancer is it’s ability to tear the body apart from the inside while leaving very little trace of damage on the exterior. It’s easy some days when stuff is going well to get distracted by negative and dark possibilities, but that’s not what we should be focusing on in life. Even though we might be in the Valley of Death, it’s important to look to the streams and flowers around you, and you can’t live forever in fear of possible failure. Even though we should be prepared for whatever happens, it’s not something worth dwelling on. Still, these moments of distraction are rare, and I think it’s just the devil trying to distract us from living in the here and now- one of his favorite tricks. That guy can go to hell.

Cancer- and anything else that throws life off track like this- comes with inherent beauty. Like my good friend Ms. Ennels said, sometimes in the midst of death and darkness, there is incredible growth and goodness. My family has grown much closer because of Cancer, and we’ve become more real with one another. When you trust Jesus with everything, that’s when real joy comes- and we’ve definitely been experiencing awesome joy in the midst of this craziness. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all grown closer to Jesus and learned to lean into Him not just on our tough days, but every day. A few years ago I thought being a Christian was just a part-time job, but over and over again God’s shown me that it’s absolutely full-time to live for Him.

In that same Psalm as I mentioned earlier (139), David writes in verses 11-12:

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Nothing is too much for our Creator, even darkness is like day to Him. Our darkest days, when we think that peace and safety is impossible, God is not intimidated or deterred in the slightest. Let the phrase “Darkness is like light to You” comfort you when you’re awake in the middle of the night questioning God, or when you feel like you’ve lost control of life, or when you feel like you’re not good enough. God is good enough, He’s in control, and He turns darkness into light.

While this surgery is indeed brutal for my Dad and the recovery will certainly be long, the outcome looks very hopeful. It seems like to reach safety sometimes, you’ve got to bravely endure a tough, unknown path. I  think God does that on purpose, and that’s exactly what my Dad’s doing. I have full faith that we’re all going to come out the other side loving harder and clinging to God more because of the road we endure.

Here’s an awesome image of God that He’s been pressing on my mind a lot lately: imagine us, humans, all out at sea. Each of us is like a sailor, but we’re seasick sailors because we’re sick with sin. We’re seasick in the middle of the beautiful blue, stretching out forever in every direction. Except it doesn’t quite seem to stretch out forever, because it;s stopped abruptly by the horizon. Seasick sailors, if you didn’t know, always look to the horizon to clear their sickness; it’s a steady, unchanging object they can set their eyes on and steady their swaying hearts with. If we’re seasick sailors, then God is our Horizon. We fix our eyes on Him, and He settles or stumbling, broken selves.