For Auld Lang Syne

“Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and old lang syne?” 

Auld Lang syne means times long past. As I think back on the times long past in 2016 I feel the same bittersweet nostalgia that the song brings up in people. Hope and joy for the new year and happiness and sadness at the past year all fill me as I hear that classic tune while the ball drops.

2016 was probably the hardest year of my life so far but also one of the best. I lost people who meant a lot to me and have to reconcile that they won’t see 2017. The election cycle and turmoil in the world made for a frustrating year. But despite all of the hardship, 2016 had amazing times and it is those times I want to commemorate. 

The pictures above are small but encompass all of my favorite people and moments of 2016!

“For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.”

La Viña

We go to a Spanish-speaking church so usually I only catch a word or two. I love the worship and I follow along with the verses but other than that I’m lost. Today, at Viña, I really felt like I was supposed to read through John 15:1-17 again, about Jesus being the vine, and this is what God gave me:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. [Jesus is the perfect life and God the Father is in charge.] He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. [Those who don’t believe in God are separated from Him. Those who believe are saved by faith in the Word and through this faith produce good works. God disciplines us so we can do even more good.] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [We cannot do good without Jesus. He is our strength and source of life. We must remain filled with the Spirit in order to pour into others.] I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. [Jesus is the vine, not us. We are the branches, lower and dependent. If we remain prideful, thinking we don’t need God, we’ll accomplish nothing. If we continue in unbelief, we’ll go to hell.]  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. [Our good works are a product of our faith and they glorify God. God’s glory is the point of life.] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. [To be in the presence of Jesus, we believe and are forgiven by grace. But then to continue in His presence and love, we keep his commands. Just as Jesus did to stay in God’s presence. But we aren’t perfect so it’s a balance of grace and truth.] I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. [Jesus isn’t telling us this to give us a list of things we must do, to give us a burden or demands. He’s saying this to tell us that following and remaining in Him is the best for us and will bring us the most joy!] My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. [That’s it: love each other. No tricky rules, no long lists. Just love each other. That’s all Jesus commands us to do. Now, true love, to the point of dying for someone, is hard. Jesus did it for all of us and so we are called to do it for each other. In our sin we fail, but grace calls us to always keep trying. And there is no sin in true love, nothing hurtful, so to love, even to just love ourselves, we have to give some things up.] I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. [The curtain has been torn. Jesus is the image of God the Father, the Truth. We now know God and can confidently speak to Him because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.] You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. [Grace is a gift, not earned. We come to faith when Jesus calls us and He’s called each of us for a specific purpose. We can do good things apart from God, but only through God will they make a lasting difference. Only through God will we have the strength to keep producing good fruit. We must know Jesus and trust Him fully in order to understand that we ask Him for His will to be done above our own and that’s what the Father gives.] This is my command: Love each other. [Love everyone: black, white, gay, straight, trans, questioning, confused, Christian, atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, old, young, good, bad. The people you don’t like and the people who wrong you. Everyone. Love in the way God says to love, extending grace and sharing Truth.]

Two months come and gone: Mourning & Dancing

Costa Rica, you’ve been so good to me. Aka, God, You’ve been so good to me. How is it possible that 2 months have already passed and tomorrow I get on a plane to go home? I’ll be leaving an even bigger piece of my heart here for sure. I’m eternally grateful for the work being done by Face of Justice but more so, for all the people I’ve met here. God is working wonders on the streets of San José. It’s so funny to me looking back on my first post and how worried I was about coming here: would I make friends, would people like me? I can honestly say I’ve made some of the best friends and met the most amazing people here, that have changed my life. 

The thing I think I learned the most in Costa Rica is that life is complicated. Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4 say, 

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance

I have realized that oftentimes these seasons overlap. We weep and the next minute, we’re laughing. We mourn one thing, while we’re dancing with joy about another. Life isn’t black and white; it is gray. Living in the tension of this gray area, this happiness and sadness is difficult. I’m excited to be getting home to friends and family; I’m sad about leaving behind friends who have become family here. I’m sad to be leaving this ministry (and about having to go back to stressful school life) but excited for what’s ahead. What I’ve seen on the streets, the life my friends live and the abuse and injustice they face makes me sad; yet I can rejoice in what God is doing in their lives and I can laugh with them. I’m still mourning for Benji while simultaneously enjoying the life I am still living.

Mourning and dancing.

Life entails both, together. All we can do is praise God in the good times and the bad, holding on to the truth of His words.

“How He Loves” is a familiar song to any Christian but the other night I was struck by the line, “All of a sudden/ I am unaware/ of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.” It was like I was truly hearing the words for the first time. All of our afflictions, our suffering, the pain in this world is completely eclipsed by the glory and beauty of God. It doesn’t mean that the pain doesn’t hurt or that we aren’t allowed to feel it. It means that we can look at our suffering, feel the pain, and bring it to God, saying “This sucks but I’m going to give more significance to You. I’m not going to give this pain the power and be overcome by it. I’m trusting You with it.” Because ultimately, the weight of glory, the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, dying the death we deserve outweighs all of our pain. He has already conquered death.

He loves us so.

I am in the underworld

I am with you in the underworld.

I am with you in the darkest part of your heart.

That secret that no one knows about?

I know it. I love you still.

I am with you in the red lights.

I am with you in the beauty and the pain.

I am with you, just waiting to be called on.

Talk to me, I’ll listen.

Yield to me and you will live a life you could never imagine.

Through me, you will produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I am the Holy Spirit.

I am with you in the trenches;

I walked through them myself.

When you fall short and aren’t enough,

I am enough.

I walked this Earth. I ate and slept and breathed.

I got tired, hungry, angry, sad, happy.

I laughed. I cried. I taught. I healed. 

I loved.

I was tempted, yet did not sin.

I died. I took the wrath you deserve and died in your place.

I rose again. 

I defeated death.

Now you can live freely in me.

I am Jesus.

I created everything in existence.

From the smallest atom 

To the farthest reaches of the universe.

To you. 

I created you.

I knew you before the creation of the Earth and I know the number of every hair on your head.

I have no beginning and no end.

I am the Alpha and the Omega.

I am just.

I am sovereign. 

I am to be feared, in awe and reverence.

I am holy.

I am loving.

I am merciful.

I am creative.

I am the Father, God.

We are one.

Quick update

Life has been so busy here! With teams in town, the rhythm of life at FOJ is completely different and it took some getting used to. I’m tired most of the time from such full days. The two other interns left so I also went through a period of homesickness, realizing that they were back with their families and friends. 

At the same time, I’ve been here over a month and a half now. My routine, daily life, and ministry seems normal. I can comprehend a little bit more Spanish and I feel at home. This is wonderful! But at the same time, it’s easy to get complacent. Life feels a lot like it does back in the States now and that includes ministry feeling “normal”. It’s easy to feel like, “This is just life here. This is what we do and how things are. It’s not very shocking anymore.”

I never want to be complacent in ministry. My heart will always break for my friends on the street. So the challenge lately has been to not get lazy, to continue seeking God here. The newness and novelty has worn off, but He’s still working here and when I pause to really reflect on it, I’m again filled with awe and wonder. I’m awed by the way that God is pursuing His children through love and how justice is slowly coming to this place. Having teams here also helps remind me of the power of God working here, that these are amazing experiences I’m privileged to have on a daily basis, because it is new to them. I’ve really appreciated the reminder.

It’s also amazing to sit back and think about the global Body of Christ and how it truly unites us all. I can now say that I have great friends from all over the world: Costa Rica, Mexico, and from all over the States (Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Massachusets, Texas, New York, North Carolina)! 🙂

“Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced”– Psalm 105:5

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”– Ephesians 4:15-16

One Month: Seeking Justice

I can’t believe I’ve already been in Costa Rica for a month! I’m so thankful for all of the experiences and people God has brought into my life and how many prayers He has answered through this time. I started writing this post the other night and I think it highlights all that I’ve learned in my month here: 
The team just left for street ministry. Tonight I’m staying back because we have a team here so spots are lacking but honestly, I needed the break. I’m tired and my heart is heavy.

Heavy for the pain in the world. For the countless lives lost. Pulse. Christina Grimmie. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Five police officers. Turkey. Europe. The Middle East. For Benji and Jordan, people my own age, lost far too soon.

My heart is heavy for the countless stories of pain I have heard and witnessed in Costa Rica. Most recently, last night at the Del Rey, men saying they’ve been coming for 20 years and calling it the “8th wonder of the world.” Today at Casa de Pan, a home where the children with the hardest cases from Costa Rica’s child protective services are adopted by a loving couple, we were told some of their stories. Absolutely horrific stories. One girl broke over 35 bones in her body as an infant and was burned with cigarettes. One autistic boy was left outside in a closed cardboard box that smelled so bad, his adoptive mom thought it was a dead animal. One boy watched his father be beheaded by his uncle. Another watched his stepdad choke his mother to death and says he relives it every day. Our team has just taken to the streets where we encounter the same people every night, desperate to get out but who can’t because they are trapped by drug addiction or economic difficulty or countless other reasons.
Where is the justice in this? Where is God in all of this brokenness? That is what my heart screams. 
The thing is, the world is broken. It is full of sin and we are living in the consequences of our sin. God gave us free will because it would go against Himself to make creatures in His image that didn’t have free will. And because loving Him by force wouldn’t be love at all. He delights in our choosing Him. Unfortunately, free will also allows for sin and for its horrible effects, like the things written above. So no, God isn’t causing these horrific things; we are and He cannot deny our free will to stop them. God is sovereign, all powerful, and perfect beyond our comprehension. Who are we to question Him? We must trust that something is going on here for good…
God is still waging war on the Enemy and sin and death and the war has already been won through Jesus’ blood. It is now us fighting in the battles, working for justice, striving to turn our backs on our flesh and work for what God desires. Yes, God will one day make everything completely right but He didn’t tell us to wait for that day. Jesus said to finish His work, that He would send the Advocate, that we would do greater things in His name.
We are called to love, heal, and work for justice and peace. But we can only do this through dependence on God. Otherwise, we’ll burn out, we’ll turn back to our own selfish desires, we’ll become lost, confused, and discouraged. Radical justice is accomplished by radical love which is only possible through radical dependence. I have seen this justice being accomplished through my time here. Through the love of a 70 year old couple who gave up their entire lives for taking in children, one at a time, raising them and loving them, in order to heal the wounds of their past. Through the team at FOJ that takes to the streets every week, radically loving people, no matter what, hoping to one day see change and restoration in a life. It is harder to see how justice is happening in the States, I’ll admit. I don’t know what the solution is to all of the violence because it’s certainly not simple. But what I do know, is that again, it starts with love. Loving each other enough to listen, enough to care and to try to understand. Loving enough to work for change in our communities, relationships, and government. In my own life, as I work through my grief over Benji, it has been loving myself enough to be honest about my struggles and to invite people in to my story. It has been loving my friends enough to be there for them in their own grief and confusion.
I have learned that there are no quick fixes. The world is complicated and broken and a lot of times, just plain hard. We don’t understand why things happen and what God is doing in the world. But I know that God is bigger than my pain and confusion. That I cannot fathom his wonderful works. That I can trust that He is still good. I have learned and seen here that Jesus is the light of the world. And the darkness has not overcome the light and cannot understand the light.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”– Isaiah 1:17 

The Gates of Hell

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.” He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.  His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.” 

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”? But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked man; call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out. The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.

– Psalm 10

Last night, we had a prayer vigil at the gates of hell: the Hotel Del Rey. This hotel is the largest brothel in Costa Rica. It is owned by a wealthy man from the States who pays off the government. There is mafia and cartel presence at this hotel. Drug dealers surround the area, selling anything you want but mostly Viagra and amphetamines. Although anyone would ensure you that this isn’t the case, underage girls are available around and sometimes in the Del Rey. Just last night we saw a girl who appeared to be 12. So it’s happening. There are men old and young, from the States and all around the world who utilize the Del Rey. Wealthy men. Powerful men. This is simply vacation to them. There are women everywhere, in and around the hotel. All of this is happening with police officers standing right on the corner. They know what goes on and choose not to do anything. Last night the most we saw them do was check the young girl’s ID and tell her she needed to go elsewhere. 

This is where we were last night. And last night our focus was not the women; most will not engage and are focused on working. At the Del Rey, our focus is on the men. We talk to the taxi drivers, the pimps, the drug dealers, the homeless, and the clients. Most of the dealers and homeless know the FOJ team and will engage, drinking coffee and chatting. The clients will less often engage. These are not easy people to love. In fact, it’s easy to hate these men. One man from the States told us he has been coming here for years and that this is his “playground.” Women are not toys. These women have value. Many are there by “choice” but if you saw their drugged up, angry, hopeless faces you would not be able to argue that they desire to stay in this “profession.” Another man from the States condescendingly and with amusement asked if we “knew where we were.” Yes. We do. I wanted to ask, “Do you? What does this place mean to you?” One homeless woman we engaged with was older, at least in her 50s, maybe younger but she looked weathered. She was so drugged up that she barely knew what was going on around her. She wasn’t allowed in the hotel but she desperately tried interacting with any man she saw, hoping to make money. 

The Del Rey is the most spiritually dark atmosphere I’ve ever been in. The Enemy is active there, waging spiritual warfare. It is an oppressive, hopeless place. People are lonely, looking for love and cheap thrills, desperate and trying to make money, attempting to fill up the ache inside themselves. Men come to the Del Rey thinking, “I’m in a foreign country. No one knows me. No one can hold me accountable. I can do whatever I want.” 

In the midst of all this, we stand on our corner, offering cookies, coffee, and tea. We stand as ambassadors of Christ, offering hope and freedom and light in the darkest of places. It’s uncomfortable. People don’t understand why we’re there. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they pray with us, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get mad because even though we don’t say a word about their actions and we never argue with anyone, they feel the Spirit of conviction simply by us being there. Last night, I wasn’t praying as much as I should’ve been. It was easier to talk to my team members because the darkness was so overwhelming around me. It was so easy to be enraged and sickened by the interactions around me. Thank God for His grace. That in the midst of all that, with the little praying that I did do, God was working for good. Some of my team members had amazing conversations, some hard ones. Although it’s hard for me to see, God loves those men just as much as He loves me. He calls us to pray and to penetrate the darkness with light. But not with condemnation, with love and the free gift of grace.