Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bigger Than Us

One of my pet peeves, among many others, is how serious people take college and professional sports.  What it comes down to for me is that most of the players have an inflated view of themselves, which is continually inflated by the general public, who apparently think that being able to run fast and play with balls is deeply moving and fantastic and worthy of millions of dollars.  It's an unfortunate cycle.

I tend towards the camp of, sports are fine, but does playing them cure cancer or care for orphans or really do anything that makes a difference in my world?  I guess you can figure out what my answer to that would be.

Being that we are in the middle of "March Madness" and my husband is an avid KU fan (yes, he is currently weeping in shame), I get a little irritated when people sit around talking about sports statistics and news as if it was interesting or all-encompassing.  I don't get into sports...I'll watch them, I've enjoyed playing them, but I won't get anxiety about "my" team losing or become ecstatic that "my" team has made the playoffs.  Heck, how is it your team anyway?  Do you own the team?  Are you on the team?  Does someone you know and love have a vested interest in the team?  You get my point.

So I was thinking about this the other day after I had been forced to listen to some more basketball updates and I began to internally scoff at those who spend so much of their life thinking about, watching, and talking about sports.  Those poor unimaginative people.

But then I asked myself what it is that I get into.  There are plenty of things I love but one that may affect me the most is Story.  I love to get into stories and characters.  When I read a good book or get to know great characters in a movie or TV show, it's almost as if they become a real part of my life.  I even find myself thinking about those characters at times other than when I'm reading the book or watching the TV show.  I compare their experiences to mine and find symbols in their existence that say something about the world.  I get completely invested in what will happen to them, so much so that I feel anger or sadness or happiness for those characters when things happen to them.  And then, when the book is over or the TV series is cancelled, I feel a sense of loss as I say good-bye.

Now I could make some pretty convincing arguments about why this is different or better than an obsession with particular sports teams, but I think at the heart of these very different interests and identifications is the same core need in us all: the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  By grafting ourselves into someone else's story (whether fictional, athletic, or otherwise) we have broadened the narrative of who we are and what we're about.  There's no reason for Andrew to root for the Jayhawks, except that he's from Kansas...which, by that logic, would mean he must also root for corn farmers and mullets (haha, just kidding, Andrew).  So it's not really about that.  It's about finding something that piques your interest and then grabbing at whatever loose straws will connect you to other people, ideas, and movements involving that interest.  These things connect people instantaneously.  You love the Kansas Jayhawks?  You've watched the A & E version of Pride and Prejudice?  You're on my team!  We can be friends.

So, I guess if I'm honest I'm seeking the same thing Mr. Constant-Stream-of-Sports-Updates is, the reassurance that I'm not in this thing called life by myself and that there is daily proof that the world has meaning greater than just what I bring to it. 

I suppose as long as what we graft into our lives is also part of and representative of God's story I can't cast stones at someone else's interests....even if it does make me want to bang my head against a brick wall.  But, please, let's make a deal, Sports Fans...I won't regale you with all of the latest happenings of Bilbo Baggins, or Coach Eric Taylor, or Elizabeth Bennet if you can talk about something other than sports for at least a few minutes!  Thanks.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Do I Know God is Real, You Ask?

Bible Study tonight was full of great questions.  How do you know God is real?  Are God and Satan equals?  Do you have to be baptized to go to heaven?  How do we know we should believe the Bible?

As a Christian, questions like these simultaneously make you excited and stiffle the urge to groan aloud.  It's hard to be peppered with all the "hard" questions and feel so inadequate in the face of such weighty inquiries.  But most of the time when I hear these questions I also hear the gentle knocking of Christ on the heart's of people He is beckonning to Himself. 

Sitting around our Bible Study circle tonight were young adults who love the Lord, some who don't, some come from a history of life in the street, some are still dabbling in it.  But each of us were unified through a desire to know something about the Lord.  Some asked questions, others did their best to answer and I sat back thrilled at the sight of a community of young people working to lead one another into a better understanding of the Lord.

Sometimes these questions come from the most unlikely of askers, and it is then that I know the Lord is up to something.  There is no way this person would ask this question without spiritual prompting, I think to myself.  At times like this I remember Ecclesiases 3:11, which says "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

How do I know God is real, you ask?  I know He is real because we are born with eternal questions in our heart and if we stop to contemplate reality we can't help but ask them.  I know because I see His hand constantly moving and shaping people and drawing them to Himself.  I know because I see young lives, that by all logical standards should be crushed and ruined and hopeless, unfolding before the Lord in His glory.  I know because there is no way to make sense of the world without God.
God is real and He is at work in the city!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Love My Life

Sunday night Andrew and I were sitting with some colorful characters in a restaurant that I will not name, recommend, or revisit due to its pandering to an unwholesome male clientele; however, as I looked around and listened to the slightly crusty conversation going on around me I thought, So many people don't get to live my life. 

In the course of 24 hours we had spent time with Moody seminary students as they volunteered their time at World Impact; we had taken a friend and neighbor to lunch for his birthday where we had a few candid conversations about life and race; we had spent time sitting on our porch with some neighborhood kids; and then we were in a ritzy area of St. Louis at an unexpectedly risque restaurant with guys who some people would get a little nervous about if they passed them on the street. 

I love the fact that God has blessed us with the opportunity to have such diversity in our lives and what those opportunities mean for how we get to see the world.  Most people live in a neighborhood with people who generally live and look like them, they go to work with people with whom they have a great deal in common, and spend time with friends who reflect the same culture and values as they have.  But our lives look a little bit different than that.

I have been told that I am a pessimist, and it's true, I generally see the fact that the glass is half empty before I notice that it is also half full.  Being in inner city ministry can be very hard, and it is easy to focus on those hardships, but the last few days God has given me a joy in the uniqueness of my experiences. 

One of the conversations we had over our friend's birthday lunch was the use of identifying with those of your own race as "my people."  Now, I have nothing against identifying with a culture or race as part of your life and heritage, but "my people" shouldn't be white people or middle-class people, "my people" should be God's people...which is ALL people.  So, I can say without any hesitation that in Christ, my white-suburban family members are "my people,"  the kids I love and play with on our porch in North St. Louis are "my people,"  and those rough-around-the-edges guys we had Sunday dinner with are "my people" too. 

I feel so blessed to live a life that encounters so many of God's unique people.  I have learned that how you see the world partially depends on how much you are exposed to it and not everyone has the opportunity so readily available to them.  As an inner-city missionary I have the privilege of coming from a comfortable, Christian, background, yet I am also privileged to live in a black community and a neighborhood that knows poverty.  I get to claim wonderful Christians around the U.S. as family and partners in ministry and I get to live in a neighborhood and culture that would otherwise be foreign to me.  I can have just as comfortable a conversation with a seminary student as with a guy who wears Mr. T necklaces, shades, and has a creepy tattoo on the back of his bald head, and I think that's just how Jesus would want it.

I love my life.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Break 2011

We had less staff this year, fewer volunteers, and not as many kids as usual for our annual Spring Break Program, but that didn't stop us from having a great week or from seeing God provide in beautiful ways.  In fact, the longer our staff feels stretched out thin and blowing in the wind, the greater our understanding is of just how big and how good God is. 

He provided us with some quality volunteers, who worked very hard for us all week.  He brought us just the right amount of children, even if we thought we could've handled more.  Most of the week we had 11 or 12 kids, but on Friday we had 22!  This was still below our usual Spring Break numbers but a significant change from the rest of the week.  It was almost as if God gave us that day just to prove that He always knows best :).  While the day went well, it definitely was right on the edge of controlled chaos, and gave us a tiny taste of what things would have been like if we had still had our usual 30-40 kids.  All I really could say by the end of Friday was, "Thank you, Jesus, we made it!"

The kids had a wonderful time on our "Ramblin' Road Trip" in which we learned about difference cities in the US, as well as the ways God wants us to go in life.  The theme verse was "Teach me your ways, O Lord, show me your paths." Psalm 25:4 (Or Pslams as one dear little boy called it).  We "went to" Washington D.C. and Chicago, to Lebanon, Kansas, and Yellowstone National Park, ending the week at Knott's Berry Farm.  It was fun finding ways to incorporate the themes of each day into our activities (but don't tell the kids that Digiorno's is not Chicago style pizza haha). 

All in all, it was another great Spring Break and God is continuing to prove faithful to us in our times of need!  Here's a few fun photos of the week:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Paper Pregnant

I heard someone refer to their upcoming adoption as being "paper pregnant" and I liked it.  Waiting for a child, no matter how God brings them to you, causes worries, joy, massive food consumption (stress induced or not), room preparations, feelings of panic that your life is about to change forever, insecurities, lots of informational reading, tossing and turning at night, and impatient excitement.

However, in adoption, unlike in pregnancy, you endure these things often for over a year!  Being more abstract than an increasing belly, people forget there's a child growing in your heart if not in your body.  And like the feelings of discomfort when a baby is almost to term, adoptive parents huff and groan and become exasperatedly impatient as we wait...and wait...and wait...

In pregnancy you mark time by weeks and trimesters, adoptive parents mark time by application deadlines, home study approvals, and licensing dates.  Here's how we've marked time this past year:

February 2010- We both felt God call us to adopt now.
March 2010- Filled out applications with One Heart Family Ministries to start licensing classes.
June 2010- Begin licensing classes and start our home study (and lots of paperwork).
August 2010- Finish 9 weeks of foster licensing classes, lots of paperwork, and complete our home study.
September 2010- Finish adoption licensing classes.
October 2010- Wait....and take First Aid and CPR certification class.
November 2010- We're licensed foster parents!
January 2011- Get our first foster placement call but decide it's not a good fit for us.
March 2011- We're licensed adoptive parents!  We are searching and waiting and praying...huff...groan...huff :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

His Most Excellent Harmonies

A close friend and neighbor came to Andrew and I struggling with some heavy things last night.  This isn't the first time this friend has been overwhelmed with the negative thoughts and experiences in their life.  I empathize, because I too am someone that can get lost in the depth of my sorrows and frustrations, falling further each minute into a darker place.

Immediately I thought of a verse that I have shared with this friend before and have spoken to my own mind many a long night.  I found these verses in The Message to read like this:
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. Philippians 4:8-9
Before all you Bible snobs start questioning my spiritual soundness for quoting The Message Bible, read those verses again and really meditate on what they say to your heart.  I think it is a beautiful rendition of those verses, culminating in "God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies."

Our worried and burdened hearts can know that God makes all things work together.  That part of the statement has nothing to do with us.  God will make all things work together, without our help, but the really beautiful part comes next.  Paul says, if you stay your mind on what is true and live submitted to Christ, God will work you into His most excellent harmonies.

When I read that I thought about life as God's song...His story written and sung through His creation and His people.  When people sing in harmony it fills out a song, giving it depth and width and beauty, yet if you hear just one person's part the delivery flattens and seems to make less sense.  Sometimes all we get to hear is our piece of God's harmonies and it can become easy to focus on how much our story doesn't measure up to the fullness of our dreams.  Yet, the reality is that our piece is only one harmony in the fullness of God's song.  And that part does depend partly on us.  Will we allow God, through submission, to work the varying notes of our lives into his grand performance?

Friend, God makes all things work together...and that means you too.  But He doesn't stop there.  If you are faithful to dwell on truth and live for Christ, He will make you more than functional; He will work you into His masterpiece of beauty.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Status of Hearts

On Facebook you can look for someone's relationship status by looking in their profile for the heart followed by a description: "In a Relationship,"  "Married," "Single," "It's Complicated."

I wish that people's spiritual hearts came with the same forthrightness.  Maybe following them around could be a little notice that tells you: "Sold out for the Lord," "Not even close to interested," "Confused," "Wounded," or "It's Complicated."  I suppose most of us would be carrying that last one around quite often if we're honest.

But instead, as a Christian and a missionary, I am asked to take up the delicate task of reading hearts with no obvious tag lines.  I must be able to read people well enough to know when they are spiritually open, press them when they are needing to be challenged, and nurture them when they are spiritually needy.  I am not responsible for the status of their hearts, but I am responsible for offering Christ in ways that reflect their individual needs.  It can be a little daunting at times.

But, praise God that He does not make us carry out this task without His very own divine intervention.  It is the Lord who changes the status of hearts.  There really is nothing more exciting than watching someone's heart begin to soften before the Lord and nothing more humbling than being able to participate in the process. 

Right now at World Impact we are in a season where people are experiencing a collective spiritual hunger in a way that none of us have previously experienced.  We are seeing young men, who have been participants of World Impact programs for years, open their hearts to the Lord and other men and women who are genuinely asking questions.  Some of the statuses of their hearts have changed from "I don't care" to "I want something more"  and a few have newly taken up "I follow Christ."

God is moving in unexpected ways as we pray specifically for those that God has brought to us.  We are nonplussed at the strides some individuals are taking, while still burdened for those whose hearts are so hard.  Please continue to pray for us and for the status of hearts in our neighborhood.  Pray that God continue to swell the hearts and minds of individuals with a yearning to know Him and pray that we, as missionaries, can be discerning enough to see how God is prompting each one.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Anyone who knows me knows that making decisions comes about as easily for me as sharing my feelings.  But, then you'd have to know me to know that I find that difficult too; so difficult, in fact, that my mother used to tell me I'd rather take a hot poker to my eye than share my feelings.  I don't know how she came up with such a graphic analogy, but the answer is, yes, yes I would. I feel the same way about major decisions.

It's not that I'm incapable of making decisions, but for me they bring along a weighty burden that I dread.  I get performance anxiety.  I never want to make the "wrong" choice.  Along with the burden I place on myself to "choose correctly," my mind does constant spirals, thinking through every option and every possible consequence for days on end, doing cerebral somersaults that are exhausting.

Currently, Andrew and I are wrestling over the decisions necessary as we continue to pursue adoption.  This whole process has been so open-ended it has nearly caused my over-thinking-control-freak-performance-anxiety-ridden self to have a heart attack.  Ultimately, I know that God will bring us the right child or children, but it's the in between time that drives me nuts.  Our process is especially open-ended because we've been open to fostering in the right situation, but also looking for children available for adoption...each of which requires different approaches.  And then there is the incredibly complex and confusing bureaucracy that is the foster system. 

We're now finding out things about the process that really would have been helpful to know months ago as we try to move forward.  And, of course, there is just my usual impatience.  Once I do make a decision I want to be able to get closure on that decision...which is obviously not how this process works.  And then there is the burden of responsibility that when you choose to adopt not only is your future held in the balance, but also the future of a little child who has already experienced enough pain and trauma for a lifetime that it can be paralyzing.  One of the challenging things about this journey is that most people don't have this same experience and there is no way for people to really understand what this is like.  And so, I begin to feel alone in my head that is full of exhaustingly complex thoughts.

I'm finding it difficult not to hit a wall of frustration.  It's hard to focus on the things I need to get done today, when I am worrying and thinking about this process and thinking about the child or children God has for us waiting out there somewhere.  But, I'm realizing that this process will consume me if I don't make an effort to release things to the Lord each day.  I feel like that means committing to an even more exhausting wrestling match with my brain as I try to wrench free my worrisome thoughts and give them to the Lord, but ultimately I know that is the only avenue to peace.

Andrew and I are so excited about adopting and are, sometimes impatiently, waiting for God to open the right doors and fervently praying for wisdom as we try to make the best decisions as we wait.  We're ready for the end to be in sight, but, in the mean time I guess God is working on some more sanctification in my life.  Sometimes I think I'd rather take the hot poker to my eye.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Update

Dear Team,
Desire: many people describe this word in various ways. Let me introduce you to Mike and how he recently expressed desire. I (Andrew) met Mike 10 years ago. He was in my 5th grade summer class. What a ball full of energy Mike was and still is! Even as a 5th grader, I recognized the great attribute of leadership that he expressed. It has not been the easiest 10 years for Mike but he is now 22 years old and consistently coming to our Thursday night Bible study.

Our Bible Study has been averaging about 10 guys every week, most of them coming from our basketball program. It starts at 6:00 p.m. and lasts for one hour, but for several weeks we had guys straggling in late up until 7:00 when basketball starts. Because of the interruptions we finally had to make a cut off at 6:30, meaning that if people did not show up by 6:30 they would have to wait until our basketball program starts at 7:00.

So the following week after we made this announcement, Mike rang the doorbell at 6:00 p.m. on the dot, ready for Bible study. He came to tell us that he had ordered some food across the street at the Chinese restaurant and he would be coming right back. He wanted to make sure that we did not start without him. He had confused the times and he thought that we were going to make the cutoff at 6:00 p.m. instead at 6:30 p. m. Mike did not want to be left out of the study.

This is the kind of desire that is being fleshed out in North St. Louis. There is no incentive to come to this Bible study—we do not have even have snacks! We are going over the basics of Christianity and these young men keep coming with a desire to find out what that looks like. It is an encouraging thing to witness their desire for deeper understanding.

It would have been easy to give up on Mike. His zeal for Christ has not always been active. But, we consistently prayed for him and let him know that we were always here for him. Seeing Mike grow from a 5th grader to a 22-year-old man has been such an honor. I fully believe that Mike and others from this Bible study will be the next leaders in our local churches. I take great comfort in the words found in Jeremiah 33: “Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without man or beast,’ in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord: “’Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.” Thank you for sending us to this city and allowing us to participate in what God is doing in these young men’s lives!

Let’s take this city for God!
Andrew & Adria Medlen