In the Middle of the Night

Every year, over the span of a couple short weeks, I celebrate my birthday, Christmas, and the New Year. I reminisce over the past year and resolve new goals for the next. This year has been filled with what I call alone-in-the-middle-of-the-night moments. Do you ever get those? One of the moments came for me as I was lying awake one night listening to my grandmother’s shallow breaths over a baby monitor and calculating her doses of Ativan and morphine in my head. Another time came when I walked into the basement to submit an electric meter reading, that was due at midnight two days earlier, only to see inches of dark murky water all around. And there was the time I was curled up in pain on the bathroom floor, wrapped up in an old afghan, knowing I had to be at work in a few short hours. And yet another moment came as I was anxiously pacing in the emergency room waiting to hear news of a sick friend. It’s those moments when crisis hits after dark and no one is humanly available to share in my pain. Perhaps the knowledge that I was alone was worse than the actual event. My normal practice would be to call up a friend, but calling is just not a nice thing to do at two, three, or four in the morning. In the silence, my mind tends to run wild with all the things that could go wrong. I flounder to find a sense of peace or organized plan of action or method of processing. My mind tries grasping at something, just one little sliver of brightness to cling onto.
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In the Middle of the Night

Violence In the City: Stories of Three Women

Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. — II Samuel 13:1, 14

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. — Genesis 34:1

Two women. Two stories. Similar plots. Tamar and Dinah. They were beautiful young women living in ancient times, in a culture where men dominated. Lusted after by wicked men, perhaps with an accomplice or two, they were horribly raped and then shunned by their attackers. I can imagine their tears and nightmares continued for nights on end. Both their fathers remained silent and did nothing to console or protect their broken daughters. Because of the times, no one would marry them because they had been defiled. Finally, following the rapes, their brothers carried out twisted justice that only further scarred their already shattered reputation. And then their stories end.

The same rush of emotions flood over me as I read each tale: inexplicable evil, no one to speak up for them, and justice carried out wrongly. We do not see the lives of Tamar and Dinah unfold, but we see just enough to know that God cares. He has allowed their stories to be written down and passed on for thousands of years so that we would know they are important to the story of Christ redeeming a very fallen and broken world. He has heard their cries and He hears ours, too.

Thankfully, we have the privilege of knowing another story. There is a third woman whose name is Mary Magdalene. We don’t know Mary’s childhood or her whole life story, but I can only imagine she was abused as well. She had seven demons in her. She was known as a prostitute, self-mutilator, and participant in countless other sins and erratic behavior. She was a social outcast. Nobody wanted to be her or around her. Until Jesus came along. He cast out her demons and changed her into a different person. If he were speaking to her, he might say something like this:

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. — Isaiah 54:4–5

Jesus deals gently with Mary Magdalene. He welcomes her. He listens to her. He heals her. He protects her. He exalts her. Out of all His disciples and followers, she is the first to witness His glory after His resurrection (Mark 16:9).

Time after time in the Bible, God empowers women with these tender words. Mary Magdalene is not the only one, He also changes the lives of many others: Ruth, Esther, Anna (Luke 2:36–37), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–26), the woman who washes Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36–50), and the women who assist Jesus in His ministry (Luke 8:2–3), to name a few. They are evidences of the glory He receives through the actions of those who have learned to trust him.

Jesus extends this work of healing into the lives of His people today, as countless men and women can identify with Tamar, Dinah, and Mary Magdalene. Maybe you can, too. Especially in cities like Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Camden, violence is rampant and starts in childhood. Screwed up family systems place children in abusive situations. Violence is demonstrated in the form of bullets. Police action may not change the circumstances and may feel more like the enemy than safety. Numerous times I have driven down Collings Avenue in Camden to see grade school or middle school children yelling, fighting, or hitting each other. Their mothers are sometimes standing in the background cheering them on. My own story isn’t the same as Tamar or Dinah or bullied school children, but life hasn’t been easy either. I’ve had people hurt me, and others who haven’t helped me like they should have done. The same pattern of inexplicable evil: no one to speak up for them, and justice carried out wrongly still happens.

Because we have the privilege of seeing how Jesus works in the lives of His people in the Bible, we can know that He will do the same for us. In fact, He gave the ultimate sign of love: He gave up His life for us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. — Colossians 1:13

I can assure you that healing does happen because it’s happened to me. My story has moved beyond any horrific circumstances. Through His great love for me, He has completely changed my life, made me a new person, and still blesses me far beyond what I could ever imagine. He can, and will, make an addendum to any harrowing tale: continued grace, continued healing, and a story to be continued.

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. — Philippians 1:6

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?”

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. — I Corinthians 15:55, 57

I would like to thank my friend Reverend Matthew Fisher for his preaching every Sunday night and encouragement in writing this blog post. You can listen to his sermons at www.villagepca.org.

Violence In the City: Stories of Three Women

Suffering on Mission

I Peter 4:12–19 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Back in March I traveled overseas to do disaster relief work for nine days. Short-term medical missions work and being part of an inner city church plant are two things God has called me to at this time in my life. Our team went to an area that was recently hit by a large typhoon. People have asked me before, but especially with this high risk trip, “Why do you go to far away countries to do missions work?,” and, “Why do you choose to go to a church in Camden?” Sometimes I ask myself the same question. Before I left for this trip, I concluded that it’s because I’m not afraid to die. But I didn’t ask myself the question of what to do when God asks me to continue living for Him in the midst of difficulties.

When I returned home, I had a mild case of various gastrointestinal symptoms, pretty typical when working in a disaster area overseas. Over the course of two weeks, mild discomfort slowly turned into severe symptoms, forcing me to take about 10 days off of work. My skin was in a constant state of hives due to different medications. At the same time, I was in the middle of trying to plan an upcoming move, visiting my ailing grandmother, and preparing for a friend’s wedding. I spent some days barely able to get off the couch, and many other days only able to tolerate fruit juices and liquids. For someone who is rarely sick, just having to stay at home was torture. I spent a couple weeks trekking back and forth to the doctor’s office.

One night, after being sick for a month, I found myself reaching a point of utter exhaustion and frustration. It was very late in the night and I was lying there in bed, flat on my back, my arms stretched out. I had just put a medicated cream on my arms and hands and they were stinging very badly. I was miserable. I was tempted to- maybe I even did- ask God, “Why?”

There in the dark a tear trickled down the side of my face.
I thought of my Lord Jesus Christ.
Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.
And stretched out His arms for me.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate picture of suffering. The recent movie Son of God clearly depicts this. The Roman method of crucifixion is one of the most painful, humiliating, and prolonging ways to die. And yet, he took the pain joyfully upon himself for my sake. My stinging hands and upset stomach were nothing compared to the weight of taking on the world’s sin.

I realized in that moment that my short and momentary affliction was from God. He allowed this in my life for His glory. I was trying to obey God when I went overseas; it was very clear to me that I had to go. I wanted to blame the sickness on Satan and spiritual forces, but a look at Job in the Bible told me otherwise. God has more power than Satan. Job was a very righteous man, probably one of the most righteous men ever to live other than Jesus, but God gave permission to Satan to allow him to suffer. God allowed Satan to afflict Job with the death of his family, financial ruin, and physical illness. Through it all, Job remained faithful to God. His response was: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job’s decision was to continue praising God and give Him glory for who He is.

Now, I don’t claim to be righteous like Job. But that night lying in bed I was faced with a decision: will I continue serving God when it causes me to suffer? I had the option of becoming bitter over the fact that I had become sick while trying to be obedient or I could choose to praise God and find comfort in Him. I decided to start a thankfulness journal and wrote down things that I was thankful for each day. Slowly my tummy began to return back to its normal self, but God taught me a lot in five weeks and brought several important questions to mind.

Serving God comes with a price tag. When missions is no longer “fun,” what drives us to obey God? When the price tag of life on mission starts to hit closer and closer to home, will we continue to serve? Suffering might mean not being able to buy that computer you really need because you’ve used up all your savings to pay for airfare. Perhaps it is foregoing a family vacation because you’ve already used up all your time off for the year or coming down with a strange illness no doctor in the states knows how to treat. If you choose to serve God by living in the inner city, it might mean having your car broken into or breaking up fights at 1 in the morning or finding that the sewer system has overflowed into the street.

Instead of focusing on our temporary losses, let us consider the price Christ paid for us to become His. He gave up everything so that we could have eternal life. May that be our motivation as we strive to glorify Christ in our lives and may we strive to give up our lives so that others could know Him.

Suffering on Mission

Play Me, I’m Yours

[From new author MeG! Written in Chicago with a heart for Camden.]

July 31, 2013

A piano found in the middle of Chicago
A piano found in the middle of Chicago

It’s about 4:30 in the afternoon on one perfectly rare summer afternoon: 78 degrees, no humidity, a barely-there breeze, and slowly tilting sunshine. I’m spending my vacation in an 8th floor studio apartment 2 blocks off Michigan Avenue, where the Magnificent Mile of fine culture, fine dining and couture fashion lies here in Chicago. For now, I sit to play an outdoors piano in the garden greenery of a small tea shop as pedestrians, puppies, and Porsches pass by. The drone of nonsensical noises nearly drowns out the drumming of the old keys. But the playful bright green words would entice any pianist, “Play me, I’m yours.”

And play I do- tunes about Christ, and love, and whatever else my fingers can remember.

It is in my way a small gift to this city of millions. One businessman who approaches me is encouraged by my music. How else can I proclaim Christ as just one mere person? My thoughts naturally drift towards questioning what I am doing in the place I consider my own city- Camden.

How many times have I asked myself, what can I do for this city? I don’t live there or walk the streets there. I don’t drive there except to go to church or Bible study or drop off a friend after church. I joined our church core group a little over 2 years ago with a very brave intentions: I was going to be there and plant this church and lead service projects and mother neglected children and see druggies’ lives changed. I was on mission for God. I was being useful for Him. I was going to change this city for the better.

But changing the city means doing less, praying more, and God changing me. For in my little city church, I find a people who love me beyond my good days and encourage me to turn to a God who loves me even more than they do. I see a God whose love crosses far beyond and knits together any racial, socioeconomic, or generational divide that is present in the human race.

Over and over I’ve prayed, “God, please give us this city,” as though she beckons us with a whisper that says, “Pray for me, I’m yours.” I offer what I can- the only things I know how- a song, a prayer, a tithe, a drive every Sunday, but mostly, a God who has Camden in His hands. I no longer pray for the city to be mine or ours, because if it were, it would crumble to a far worse dust than it is now. No, I pray that the city would be wholly His, by His grace and for His glory.

I end my time by that little garden teashop with a special melody and prayer for the cities of Chicago and Camden: Love IS here, Love IS now. Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow. Love is near, it satisfies. Streams of mercy flowing from His side. Come.

Play Me, I’m Yours