I’m baaaa-aacckkk! I’m talking the exuberant, focused, joyful Jessica in full swing.
Well…I started my Monday morning decorating plates in ceramics and writing a blog – both fine forms of productive procrastination – so maybe I’m not TOTALLY back, but graduation is mere weeks away. It finally feels in my reach, and that keeps me trucking along.
What a month this has been. Obviously as the semester unfolds, I have not been nearly as diligent in my blogging. I miss it dearly, I’m in “it” – writing – for the long haul, but it just has not been a priority this season. Regardless, here’s a recap of both how the weather has had a hold on me and the incredible things that happened this past weekend.
I am unofficially but probably pretty accurately diagnosing myself with SAD, seasonal affective disorder. The blues have a fairly strong hold on me every winter, and I don’t realize how down I had been until the snow melts. I am still fairly cheerful through those frigid first “-ary” months of the new year, but when the sun’s rays warm my chest, when the flowers begin blooming, when I wake up to the birds chirping in the morning, all feels a little more right in the world. I’m now recalling that the same thing happened last year in DC. When I think of the majority of my experience there, I still sum it up with the word “cold,” but a week before I came home, the cherry blossoms finally bloomed. I meandered around the tidal basin and soaked up the magical combination of flowers and sunshine, and that was the only medicine I needed. Even though the weather continues to hover in the 30 to 50 degree range, (it is the end of MARCH Mother Nature; you have my full permission to respond appropriately with a 35 degree increase whenever you’d like), Spring is officially here. As the calendar page turns over, so, too, does my outlook on life.
In December, I bought an early-bird student ticket to the SPARK conference, which was this past weekend. The docket of leading Christian speakers was impressive, but as it approached, I was not super stoked to go. Had I not already bought my ticket, I probably would have backed out and gone hang gliding with Outdoor Adventures. I’ll always be a believer in Jesus, but I am not always the disciple I have promised Him I would be. Balance is not my strength. By Jessica standards, I was slacking in school for the first half of the semester. Now I have begun giving my honors project the attention it deserves, but it has come at the cost of morning quiet times of Scripture reading and prayer, in giving God the first fruits of my day.
So I dragged my butt over to the conference Friday night. I half-heartedly sang along with the opening concert-style worship music. Yeah, there were flashing lights and mainly white middle class attendees. I suppose that is to be expected… this is Roanoke after all. Regardless, Jesus does not care who you are. He wants your heart, He wants you to serve Him, for His glory. The atrium was set up with over thirty kiosks of well-meaning nonprofits addressing some kind of social world injustice – orphans, poverty, slaves, sex trafficking. I often find myself either paralyzed by the massive need in the world or running away and trying to deny its existence in my first-world America. I deeply care about all of it, so when I am not doing something to address these, I’m wracked with guilt. I know I should be engaging it and being Jesus’ hands and feet. International Justice Mission, where I interned last spring, also had a booth set up, and Roger, who I knew from my time there, was understaffed. He very excitedly invited me to man the table whenever I wanted.
I love helping, and it was a pleasure to be advocating on behalf of IJM as I wish I did more consistently. Being the extrovert I am, it was also a really great cop out to meet people and hear their stories instead of sticking with my Roanoke friends. I’d often end up asking more questions to them than they did about IJM. As I told people about IJM’s work, though, how investigators rescue the poor from violence, prosecute the perpetrators, and provide restoration to victims in aftercare, I knew I was doing something that God cared about, and that felt right. I felt more alive, and the work I do to make A’s – though those are good and my current job right now (for ONE MORE MONTH!!) – it tanks in comparison. He cares about people, and I do too.
I took one other step of action this weekend. Many people are familiar with Compassion, International. It’s an organization in which, for $38 a month, you can sponsor a child to go to school and be provided for physically, educationally, and spiritually. You also get to write letters back and forth to each other to keep in touch. I have sponsored a sweet Indian girl named Celcia since 2012. When they invited people to sponsor a child, the idea of sponsoring two kids seemed really financially stretching right now. But I realized that I could go in with my siblings. We could all contribute $10 a month and actually change someone else’s life. I shot out a group message.
We’re all in, but Cain laughed and gave me a hard time when I talked to him later. “Yeah, no pressure, Jess. Let’s just be like Jesus.”
Really though, sponsoring a Compassion kid is a lot like Jesus’ individual love for us. I get so overwhelmed with all the need in the world, but addressing that need often starts with looking at one person and choosing to help him. “What you cannot do for all, do for the one.” So….welcome to the Compton family Aude! We’re so excited! (I am, anyway).
I have been following this Jesus long enough to know when the Holy Spirit is tangibly present, and He was definitely around at this conference, waking up our hearts to the things that are close to His. If we’re following Him and doing what the Bible says, then we’re being real disciples of Christ. Sometimes there are specific callings, but a lot of the time, He just wants us to go anywhere, do anything that we love, and glorify Him in the process. He loves you, and he wants your love in return. Things may not go the way we plan or think they should, we may not see why something is happening. Those answers only come in with some hindsight. But we have to live our lives going forward, trusting that hindsight will show us why things work out the way they do.
Beth Guckenberger of Back2Back Ministries is a down-to-earth forty-something mama. She and her husband have officially adopted 10 children and run an orphanage in Mexico. She didn’t sugar coat anything she said, but it was incredible nonetheless. She shared the ways that the city she lives in in Mexico, which was flooded with gang violence and drug cartels in 2013, has been transformed by the power of Jesus. A pastor connected with the new police chief and began speaking to the policemen for five minutes at role call every Saturday. Nothing monumental took place when he came, but the city started changing. Soon he was invited every day for the whole thirty minutes. Eventually peace was restored to the city, and looking back, not one policeman had been killed since the pastor began visiting the headquarters and sharing the gospel. When people felt safe enough to start going out for tacos and playing soccer again, the new mayor asked who to dedicate the keys of the city to. You police chief? You pastor? Nah, they said. Jesus Christ. And they mayor did it! Which just sounds preposterous and kind of silly, but He was to be honored. Seeing that success, all of the other surrounding cities consecutively did the same. Of course, not everyone understood it; the newspapers made jokes that if your faucet started pouring out wine, you could thank Jesus. That’s okay, though. The Lord we serve is still up to incredible things, and even if I don’t feel like I am a part of it sometimes, it is affirming to hear those real-life miracles happening.
Bob Sorge also spoke. For over twenty years, however, following the removal of an ulcer in his throat, the literal act of talking has been a challenge for him, and he has to limit himself to speaking for less than one hour a day before it becomes too painful. If you have fifteen minutes, watch this video his son made for him that he shared with us. Absolutely worth it. I had heard his story before, but the clip shows the way God has worked through Bob, how we can trust that someday He will make us all new creations.
Then there’s Bob Goff, author of Love Does, and one of the most hilarious, free-spirited men I have ever met. As a lawyer, he’s loaded, but he uses his money to love others and have a good time. Like, you know, flying private planes and playing the drums, because why not?
“You know what I do when people don’t like me? – I mean, I’m a pretty likeable guy, I think, but there’re a few out there.”
He bent down and pulled off his shoes and what does he have on? Fuzzy, bright pink socks. This is not surprising at all. It’s just so Bob.
“I take off my shoes. Literally. I get humble. We should hold on to the innocent, eight year old version of ourselves, but we should constantly be striving for the next better, more humble version of ourselves, too.”
“And you know what else? Comparison’s a punk. I mean we just got to listen to an NFL football player talk about loving orphans. How are we supposed to compete with that? You’re not! Be YOUR best self, the person God has made YOU to be. Nobody else. You are awesome!”
The whole time he is just laughing and smiling and you can tell he loves his life. He loves his neighbors – intentionally and extravagantly. He doesn’t think he’s special; he’s just doing his thing.
“You should also hang out with people that really creep you out, that are way different from you. Those are the ones that need you.”
You know who Bob hangs out with? Ugandan witch doctors. Undercover, he asked them if they would sacrifice a child for protection against evil spirits. No problem, $30. This always fills Bob with righteous anger. So he invites them to be a part of his school. They only read the Bible and Love Does. When they’re inducted, Bob kisses them on the forehead. He says he loves them. Then he cups their face and pulls it really close to his.
Whispering, he says, “And if you EVER kill a child, I’ll kill YOU.”
Now that is love. Weird love. But so weird it’s kind of refreshing.
Spring and SPARK… they’re responsible for re-awakening my soul after these past few frigid, tough months. I am not only revived, but they have helped remind me of my purpose – to love the downtrodden and the oppressed, to bring hope and restoration to those with whom I interact. I’ve got a lot ahead of me in these next few weeks, but I’ll just keep plugging away at it. As I do, I will not forget that these dwindling days are to be cherished. Sometimes I wish I could go be just like Beth, feel like I’m honoring God and saving little children all in one fell swoop. But as Bob said, comparison’s a punk. I am to be me. Soon I think that will mean pouring into kids at camp and students at school. But right now that means being studious and loving my classmates. It means hiking mountains with them and letting professors know how much they have influenced me. It means doing my very best on my honors project, because it matters, and I believe it will bring a little more peace to the world someday. So here we go. Back to the books for three more weeks!