It was a late, hot, and humid night during my summer as an intern with InterVarsity’s Urban Project in St. Louis. I was in the kitchen when our director, Gerry, (a man who became like a spiritual father to me) stepped in.
Gerry is naturally very fatherly to many people. He asked me how things were going. I had sort of a traumatic experience at the start of the internship and had wanted to quit the experience afterwards but chose to stay. We talked for a bit on how I was doing since then.
He got to talking about how his affections for us interns were of that of a father and sharing about his favorite moments with his own biological daughter. Throughout his eldest daughter’s childhood, he cherished the times when he just got to “hold her awhile”. Gerry said even on her wedding day, he asked to hold her for awhile before he gave his baby away. He put his arm around me and gave me his signature sloppy, wet, stubbly kiss on the forehead. “I’d like to just hold you awhile, if that’s ok” he said to me.
I treasure Gerry’s relationship with me. My father was never physically affectionate nor have we ever had a close relationship. So the way I relate to male authority figures is a bit strange and Gerry’s handling of our relationship should’ve (at least I would’ve expected) been uncomfortable to me but that night, I just felt like a truly cherished daughter. I’ll never forget that night… wasting time with my “Dad” and letting him hold me for awhile.
“When was the last time you wasted time with God?” -Calisto Odede at Urbana 2012
When was the last time I wasted time letting God’s presence hold me for awhile?
It’s a thing that I have to choose into. That kind of intimacy, security, and safety I found under Gerry’s arm that night is something I’ve yet to really get used to. But I’m thankful for the tangible taste it gave me of the unconditional loving embrace of our Heavenly Father. And the good news is our Abba Father is always asking, “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to hold you awhile.”
It might sound counter-intuitive but it’s hard to say yes to sometimes. Unfortunately, I think that’s the case for many of us who’ve never felt truly cherished. It’s scary. It doesn’t come as natural to us. But could I encourage you today, as I encourage myself, let Him hold you awhile tonight.
My dog occasionally has this problem with his hind leg. Not sure what it is though I’ve done some internet research that suggests perhaps it’s a condition called luxating patella, which is common with chihuahuas.
The reason why we haven’t brought him to a vet is because it happens rarely and he’s always fine after he relaxes. But still, seeing him hobble around so scared as to what’s happening with his legs (so much so he’ll pee where he stands) never fails to break my heart. He’s usually back to normal within a couple of minutes but I still despair in that short amount of time.
Tonight, I feel especially heart-broken to sit by and watch him hobble around scared. When he started limping, I knew it was the same little leg spaz that would go away soon. But I couldn’t help but follow him around nervously, fretting over his situation.
The worst of it all is that I want to do something to comfort him. He looked so miserable and scared. He limped around in circles sometimes stopping to look up at me almost as if he was looking to me to do something. But holding him seems to make it hurt even more. There’s something in my not-being-able-to-do-something that wrecks me so much. The fact that he can’t advocate for himself the way a human can. The fact that the most I can do is stand idly by, futilely trying to convey my love and caring presence to him.. to no avail.
I’ve been reading the book Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin. It’s a memoir about Mother Teresa. Critics of Mother Teresa (hard to imagine that people actually had criticisms about her) often pointed out that her approach to poverty was misguided or that what she was doing was unproductive. Sort of along the lines of, “why are you feeding the poor directly instead of “teaching a man how to fish”.
The book has been teaching me faithfulness to the small things and redefining what I think is meaningful or productive. As her famous saying goes, “small things with great love.” Feeding the poor directly or caring for their immediate and specific needs may seem, in the long run, “unproductive” but in Matthew 25, Jesus claims these small things not only loving acts to the person but to Him personally.
I find this to be troubling. Troubling because I like to know that my efforts are productive. Troubling because it’s exactly the kind of faith Christianity demands: faith despite what isn’t seen: the immediate fruit of my work. Trust in His sovereignty in the midst of very real suffering.
I’m troubled because I want to feel like I have some control over suffering in this world. The delusion that I could control suffering around me was comforting because it sort of temporarily pacified that chaos I felt within. Because accepting reality is to acknowledge that life is completely and utterly out of my control and when I’m being real with myself, I’m not ok with that at all. So I relentlessly seek control without being conscious of it.
Tonight, Grace takes the form of a little puppy dog with a shotty back leg to show me my powerlessness. To show me just how deep my broken need to be able to fix everything runs. That it’s not about being able to control the suffering around me, but incarnating Christ in the midst of suffering. (I should probably take a moment to say that this post isn’t actually about me incarnating the love of Christ to my not-actually-dying puppy)
Mother Teresa’s critics might be correct in saying that what she does may not yield any worldly productive result. It won’t change anything about the system for her to sit by a dying man on a street corner in Calcutta. But to that one soul, even if just to be present and dignify him as a human being made in the image of God, perhaps Mother is incarnating the love of Christ. That sums up much of what I’m reading about Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta and Mary Poplin’s experience with the Missionaries of Charity: being present among the poorest of the poor, the dying, the ones who can’t advocate for themselves, who don’t have the means to help themselves or the ability to let you know how to help. I wonder if I could sit by the bed of the dying poor and accept the fact that I am not God.
I guess what I’m saying is: freaking out about limp puppy dogs is revealing within myself a heart that doesn’t trust God. I’ve put so much importance and trust in my own power to accomplish things but a limp puppy dismantled it so easily. Incarnating Jesus in a broken world is much less glamorous than I want it to be I think.
The question I’m asking myself tonight is: Am I willing to follow Jesus, to be his hands and feet, even if it means not be able to do anything other than performing the mediocre miracle of simply being present in suffering and incarnating the love of Christ?
I’m currently working at a cafe/gift shop in a hospital. Tonight before my shift ended, a baby was found abandoned in the women’s bathroom.
I know that they make this an option for people who want to give up their baby for whatever reason but… I suppose the reality of it never hit me until tonight and I’m not sure how to take it all in. I spent much of the ride home in tears.
I guess in my own life and experience, when a baby is born.. that’s cause for some serious celebration. Balloons, gifts, a crowded room full of smiling faces… weird pictures that end up on Pinterest of the newborn in weird positions… I’m ashamed to say that the reality that this isn’t the norm for all babies didn’t really hit me until tonight.
Can I just say that I don’t think it’s in God’s good plan for the world for babies to be left alone in a dirty bathroom?
When I was born, I had people. I had a loving father, mother, and older sister followed by a whole team of extended family and friends who rejoiced over my birth. I was born into a community of people on my “team”. They would love, support, and pull for me all the days of my life.
Someone should be on the kid’s team. That baby should have a team of people pulling for them. There should be a team of people who care that they’re born and alive and healthy today.
This might be completely futile but… I’ve got some words on my heart tonight for this kid. Perhaps just a prayer but we believe in a heavenly Father who cares right? We believe that our Abba Father not only hears but is present and at work in our lives every moment of every day right? Even if not very often at all, would you consider joining me in lifting the child up in prayer whenever it comes to mind?
Talk about a rough start little one. I’m sorry it went down like this. But I don’t mean that to say that you’re going to finish a little short behind everyone else as a result… because I think.. You’re gonna do just fine, kid. I’ll bet on it.
For whatever reason, your mother thought it was better this way. That’s hard, but I’m willing to bet that she whole-heartedly believed that this was to give you the best shot at life. I’m willing to bet she’s hoping with everything within her that you get adopted by a stellar family who loves you and gives you every good opportunity they could possibly muster. And I hope that too. I pray that for you.
The truth is, I believe you have a Heavenly Father. An awesome Father who knew you before you even took any form in your mother’s womb and He’s loved you from the beginning of time and will hold you till the very end. I believe that you were created in His image so you are NOT nothing. You are NOT of less value. You are NOT less wanted. The truth is: You are a beloved child. And you have a Father who is jealous for you.
Kiddo, you might never know. But you got at least one person on your team right now. I’ll pray for you. I’ll think of you. I pray that God, our Father, pours out His grace and mercy in your life and that love, joy, and mercy would follow you all the days of your life.
The possibilities set before you are endless. I’m excited for you! And… maybe this is abuse of prayer power but I hope you become a big nerd.. because nerds are awesome. Or don’t.. that’s weird. I won’t tell you how to live your life and you’ll be perfect no matter what. I guess what I’m saying is, never be ashamed of who you are.
Little one, you’re gonna be just fine. This is only the beginning. Wherever you end up, consider me on your team. I’ll be praying for you. I’ll be thinking of you.
I want to share something I came across today. InterVarsity posted this link today as the establishment of christian fellowships on university campuses is being challenged.
“This past year, InterVarsity’s ministry has been challenged on 41 campuses (most recently at the University of Buffalo and Vanderbilt University). And while InterVarsity does not enjoy such disagreements, they do provide an opportunity to showcase the value of having an InterVarsity chapter on today’s campus.
So InterVarsity would like to know: Do you believe that InterVarsity makes a difference on today’s campus? If so, how is InterVarsity a positive influence in the university world?”
It got me thinking back to a conversation I had with a student leader back when I was a freshman on campus. We were talking about InterVarsity, its purpose, and the future of our fellowship. We got to talking about our presence as a body of Christ on campus in the present and started dreaming about what it would look like if InterVarsity became such a presence on our campus so much so that if we ceased to exist here our absence would be mourned.
Why? Because maybe..
The people in InterVarsity were the ones who cared. They were the ones who were active in student life on campus. They responded to the needs of the campus, they were in tune with relevant issues on campus, whether a death in the student body or a natural disaster halfway around the world, InterVarsity students were the first to respond. Maybe the people in InterVarsity were the ones pushing the envelope of reconciliation on campus and doing justice. Maybe they were the ones who were not just relevant in their own little pockets of campus life, but they engaged the whole campus. They were the ones who cared.
So the above page from InterVarsity really has me thinking. Does our campus need InterVarsity? Are we a positive influence on campus life? As a ministry, what do we exist for?
In my understanding and in my time in InterVarsity, IVCF exists as a ministry to the university not a ministry who happens to be on a college campus. We are on campus on purpose. InterVarsity is not a place of escape for the Christian from the world. It is a place where transformation and spiritual formation happen to go deeper and engage more holistically with the world around us. We are called to be a redeeming influence among university people, ideas, and structures. God said He was making all things new, not all new things. So, we do not exist as a ministry for the sake of ourselves, but we exist for the sake of His purposes for the world around us: the campus. We are called to be partners in God’s plan of redemption, renewal, and restoration of a broken world.
So if InterVarsity ceased to exist on our campus, would it matter just for the members or would campus life suffer a significant loss? On campus or not, does it make a difference?
For those of you still on campus, this is not a critique but an invitation to dream with me and the student leaders who have gone before you. Does it matter if we’re on campus or not?
Brothers and sisters still on campus, may I humbly submit to you a request: do better than us. If we believe that this dying world needs Jesus, may we live out that radical kind of love and life that the campus can’t simply live without.
When this vision was first presented to me as a freshman, I remember being so enamored by the idea of it all. What a wondrous vision: The kingdom of God advancing into Geneseo. I hope and pray that it would fill you as well with such awe and wonder. That it would be fuel for these dreams to be brought into fruition.
I love the Geneseo campus, down to every last bit of brick and mortar. It’s been a blessing that God has entrusted the campus and its people to me to love for a short while. I believe He makes us caretakers of this place while we are called to be there as students. With each new class of freshmen, I am blessed and encouraged to see future leaders and disciples of Christ who will be the hands and feet of Jesus on campus. As a former caretaker of the campus, I am delighted to leave it to such wonderful people. And I humbly ask of you again: do better than us.
”Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. -Phil. 3:12-14