a miraculous christ

Last summer on summer staff at SharpTop Cove, I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. An important part of Miller’s life chronicled in the book is his time spent at Reed College in Portland. Reed is not conservative, not Christian– a place that many Christ-followers might consider a threat to their faith. I underlined and rewrote words from this book a lot. But the phrase that never seems to leave me is this:

I felt very strongly that Jesus was relevant in this place. I felt very strongly that if He was not relevant here then He was not relevant anywhere.

This comes after he describes the students running around the quad naked and tripping on shrooms and throwing up on the sidewalks.

When I read this book at camp, I felt he was right. Jesus, who is crucially relevant to the message of Christian camps, working tirelessly to bring kids to the feet of Christ, is equally as relevant at a place like Reed College, where it might not be so obvious that these lives of ours are to be all about Christ. But he’s not relevant at Reed in the sense of “these ignorant kids are such sinners that they need Jesus so badly so of course he is relevant.” I don’t think that’s quite it. We can still need Christ even when it’s not obvious. At SharpTop, I spent a month in morning daily devotionals and afternoon group daily devotionals and long days of cooking dinners so campers could be energized for the activities planned in expectation of an encounter with Christ. There were Chacos, intentional conversations, hearts guarded, highlighted Bibles, Enos, and lots and lots of Young Life shirts.

God is easy to spot at camp. But he is no more relevant at Young Life camp than he is at a school that might seem so outwardly bathed in sin like Reed. There is sin at Young Life camp. Pride? Idolatry? Profanity or fighting or bearing false witness? All those things happen at camp. Gathering a bunch of sinners who love Jesus in a place does not mean they are rid of the behavioral consequences of a sinful state. God is 100% relevant in both places. He has maxed out his relevance and although the sins might look different, both places are in desperate need of the bottomless pits of mercy we find in Christ. Several years following his book, Donald Miller said this about Reed College in an interview:

I think before, my faith was lived inside of church culture, and after Reed College, my faith lives everywhere.

I often forget how radical Christ was. His actions, like healing and raising from the dead and controlling nature, all for good, stand in opposition with the way I so often find myself living my life. They show leadership and mercy and compassion while I mostly just show complacency. I live in the sins mentioned above, surely, but also the sin of being a sitting duck in Christian culture. My close-knit group of friends at school would probably be considered extremely religious by the rest of the world: quiet times, church services, blaring worship music, iPhone backgrounds and Instagrams and blogs that all reference Christ– these are all very common. None of these things are inherently bad, but I often forget that just like Young Life camp and Reed College, Christ is equally as relevant outside church culture as he is in my super focused, oblivious church culture.

This upcoming school year will look different for my year: as juniors, many of us are going abroad, headed to New Zealand and South Africa and France and Denmark and really all over the place. What our intensely Christian group of friends will look like while so many are gone is a toss-up. A few of our friends have already started their fall semesters abroad, and hearing from them about the absence of a strong Christian community makes me both worried and hopeful. So much of my life, and their lives really, has been lived in a place where Christ is obviously relevant. Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole are not Christian places when compared to the Bible Belt culture I find in Nashville. I pray that Copenhagen can be my very own Reed College, where I come to learn Jesus’ relevance all over the earth.

Our lives are a breath in the grand scheme of God’s creation, given to us graciously to know him and sing his praises. I pray that although the tune of the praises may change, the song of those finding themselves outside their comfortable church culture will only grow stronger and more joyful.

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finding new rooms

Or, why reality TV doesn’t have to be so bad.

I love reality TV.

The list of the so-called trash TV shows I watch regularly is long and varied. This summer alone, I have dabbled in watching shows like Big Brother, Extreme Weight Loss, American Ninja Warrior, Teen Mom, The Bachelorette, Dance Moms, and So You Think You Can Dance.

My roommates good-naturedly make fun of me about this: I am an avid reader and I love exploring new ideas, new ways of thinking. I love reading books about industries and areas of the world I might never experience: the saga of a famous chef with aggressive tongue cancer (here! so good) or the reflections and musings of a radio host on what makes the most generous person (here–cried this was so sweet and inspirational). On my list are books about women in the military, books about life with an eating disorder, books about the intersection of faith and medicine–you get the idea. If I am not reading several books at once, I will be quoting any one of the seven hundred blogs I read at once. To you. In a conversation where you might not care about it. Promise. I love words and the ideas formed, stories told by putting them together–I think they are one of the ways God invites us to come alive in him.

I understand that watching reality TV, programming meant to entertain, scripted to create shock and awe, riddled with behaviors and speech that can be so sinful–I understand that this could seem to be a conflict of interest in a personality enamored with new ways to think and speak and live. (When I start to think in this prideful way, I remember that sometimes I orchestrate parts of my life to entertain and impress people. Very often, my behavior and speech can be sinful. Really all the time. These traits are not reserved solely for those who choose to go on reality TV shows.)

I’m not so sure that these shows have absolutely zero learning potential. I think my curiosity might stem from the thought that these shows do teach me a little bit more about a world I may never enter, and about people with whose lives mine otherwise would not overlap.

You wanna know my favorite part of a reality TV show?

The glimpses of humanity, of real people created in the image of God, trying to make meaning of this life-experience-business they are having. The interviews in the Bachelorette where one of the Bachelor-hopefuls, frustrated, explains why he wishes the one-on-one date was his this week instead of “the other guy’s”. I love that the contestant’s name, age, hometown, and occupation always flash up on the screen, reminding me that even though this person is competing on a TV show that the whole world either ridicules or idolizes, this person is still a person. A prized creation of our sovereign Lord, desired and pursued by Christ.

The first transgender contestant on this season of Big Brother? Absolutely prized by the Lord.

Abby Lee Miller, ruthless dance coach on Dance Moms? Jesus loves and pursues her.

Any one of the morbidly obese participants on Chris Powell’s Extreme Weight Loss show? The Lord lovingly created all those people for a reason.

When all the contestants are first introduced on a TV show like this, we’re invited into their lives, if only for 45 seconds. When people get to say: “This town and this job and these friends and these traits and morals and behaviors–this is who I am,” that is the good stuff. That is good because then I can remember, really remember and drill down into my brain, that this person exists on Earth right now for a purpose, a purpose designed by a loving God, and this is a person who I have just had the privilege of meeting (please widen your definition of “meeting” for me!). Even if my first instinct might be to mock someone for going on a reality TV show, I have no business doing that.

I recently heard this quote: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

This past semester I learned that each person we encounter is a prized creation of our sovereign Lord, desired and pursued by Christ. Over the past few weeks, I have realized a couple more things about this prized creation business:

Everyone has a story.

Everyone is trying to tell that story.

I love stories.

Staying in the room where I am the smartest (this room is not densely populated, I promise) lets me stay in my comfort zone, believing that my perspective is the most important. Finding new rooms to make myself small and learn about lives I might never otherwise encounter? That’s what I want to push myself to do.

The weight of our humanity’s sin and depth of God’s love for each of us is not moderated by whether we appear on a TV show or choose to engage in more “noble” pursuits. I’d like to think that learning new things on otherwise “trashy” TV shows, along with watching the Snapchat stories from cities around the world and reading books about careers I will never ever have and watching TED talks and signing up for email lists so that other people’s stories are sitting in my inbox and especially opening our lives and homes and stories to people over and over again: this is the way to open the door to a new room. This new room is one where I might not be the smartest but man, am I excited to learn.

talitha kum

Little girl, I say to you, get up!

If God ever has a mantra for someone’s life I feel like this is his mantra for mine.

Jesus says talitha kum, translated as “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” to Jairus’ dead daughter in Mark 5 (also Matthew 9 and Luke 8).

Let’s be clear: I am not dead.

Although sometimes I act like I am: dead in my sin, dead in my habits of fear and greed and pride. Dead in a definition of myself that is not Christ-centered. Alive in a body that feels dead until Christ occupies, restores, glorifies God through it.

A little girl’s life was raised from death by the words of Christ. This story was recorded in the Bible but is also recorded daily in my life and the lives of those who Jesus pursues all around the world.

But I am not quick to call myself a little girl. These are my thoughts: “I am tall. I just turned 20. I am not a little girl.”

However, when I think of myself as a little girl, I am humbled. I am just like the little girl, Jairus’ little daughter, who needed Jesus to speak into her life to be resurrected. She would have been dead without him. So I really am a little girl. I am only 20 years old. I have barely been out of the country. Jesus has buckets and buckets and even dumpsters more sin to rebuke me of–and cities and countries to teach me more all about the people he loves so much.

Five weeks from today, I leave to spend my fall semester of junior year abroad in Copenhagen. I will live there until December, when I will come home for Christmas and to visit my friends here at school in Nashville. Then, in mid-January, I will return to Copenhagen to spend my spring semester there as well.

Yes, hello, my name is Kendall and I am willingly giving up a year of school in an incredible city with wonderful friends, a place where it is “easy enough” to pursue Christ and find a community who will let me play catchy songs like “The Weekend” and dance very very badly for a potentially terrifying year of new and uncomfortable and I don’t speak Danish and also am not blonde and dang you don’t have over 700 churches? Yes. That is what I am doing.

Last November, I found out you could go abroad for a year. And by “you” I mean not very many people do that because why would you pick your dream school just to leave for a year (??? still don’t know) but yessiree that is what I am doing. I was trying to pick out five classes from the course list at DIS, and wanted to take way more than five.

Courtney said, “Don’t some people go abroad for a whole year?”

Dang it Courtney. Yes, that is what I am supposed to do. I get this feeling (this feeling is God I hope) about certain things that I am being called to do (see also: why I cut all of my hair off). It is kind of annoying sometimes and makes me seem like I am a strict Christianese speaker when I say “this is what I am called to do.” But alas.

I asked my parents over Thanksgiving, expecting to hear a hard no, but it was a hard yes. Also heard from them: “When can we visit? Can you live with a family? Can you learn Danish? When can we visit? This is so cool!” I am floored again and again by my parents’ acceptance of my sometimes strange choices (see also: why I cut all of my hair off). If my children ever complain that I am like them, I don’t think I will be mad. They are phenomenal people.

I am leaving for a year because I want to force myself to learn the lessons Jesus will have me learn. Other people can immerse themselves in a culture with just a semester– I am impressed by that and excited for their experiences both this semester and next. I, however, am highly skilled at checking out of a place when it is not my “real life” and waiting it out until I can go home. I did not want to make this mistake with going abroad, to just breeze by for a few months and then go home, back to comfortable America with peanut butter and my friends.

I will live with a Danish family for a year and I will take Danish class, among others. I hope when I am there, I listen hard enough to hear Jesus saying over and over: talitha kum, talitha kum! Get up! Leave your sin. Come see the world I love and love it like I do. So, talitha kum to this semester. And the semester after that! And the rest of life I’m given!!!

Little girl, I say to you, get up!

holy hide and seek

I am highly skilled at getting things backward. The most stunningly ignorant and hilarious example I can think of in this category is when I thought the Fiddler on the Roof song “If I Was a Rich Man” was based on the Gwen Stefani song “Rich Girl”. Release dates aside, please come to your own conclusions here and here.

I’m sorry about that mistake, but probably not as much as I should be because it’s kind of funny.

Anyway, I got and continue to get a lot of my relationship with Christ backward too.

My dad and I have had a few conversations about how he and my mom intentionally didn’t force Christianity down my throat in an attempt to help me find faith on my own. I appreciated that a lot. It worked, in a way. But one time I let this sentence slip out of my mouth to my Young Life leader and knew the jig was up: “Honestly, my parents are there and I’ve had Sunday School teachers and stuff, but I really found Jesus on my own.”

If there is such a thing as holy belly laughter from God, I feel like it probably happened right then. A literal LOL from the God of the universe because HAHA I didn’t find Jesus on my own!!!

Jesus found me.

He never even lost me!

But the way I talked about it, you might think Jesus was that hidden gem of a coffee shop in your college town whose discovery was completely dependent on my willingness to explore “other parts of town”. I was the edgy risk-taker in finding Jesus, he was just waiting around to bless me. Or it was a game of hide and seek where I was searching and Jesus was hiding, waiting to jump out when I found him because the door was left open a little more than it should have been. I was doing the work, he was hanging out.

Lol. Yeeeeup. Jesus hanging out and me, the world-changer!

I held leadership positions in ministries throughout high school and realized that when I talked about Jesus’ role in my life, I was light on the “Jesus” and heavy on the “my life.” I began to realize that I was telling the story of my salvation backward when I took a rough inventory of how many times I said “I” in conversations about my relationship with Christ.

It is a lot.

I like to talk about how I was never forced into a relationship with Christ which was super awesome because then I could really make my faith my own. I found him through being drawn to places where I felt welcome. I loved church youth group and Young Life in high school. I loved my church friends and Young Life leaders in high school. I loved that Jesus was my constant, thank goodness I found him! If not, I don’t know what I would have done!

Never once did I think about talking about Jesus’ work in my life. How he had been working in it for years and years, even before I was born, fighting for my heart against Satan in holy ways to which my actions will never compare. Never once did I think about how this, in the grand scheme of things, is way more Jesus’ faith than my faith. Because people worshipping me would be sacrilegious but more importantly a hot mess-directionless-disaster combo.

I am so thankful that my life is a tiny part of a larger story, that the amount of years I live on this earth do not dictate the work God has done, is doing, or will do. Self-forgetfulness might be the greatest thing Jesus has ever taught me.

This life is not about my noble path to faith.

This life is about how Jesus has pursued my heart since before I came to college and began taking my relationship with him seriously. This is about how Jesus pursued my heart before I went to Young Life camp in high school, or before I accepted him as my Savior in junior high, or before I ever set foot in a Sunday School classroom. This is about how Jesus pursued my heart before I was born a little over twenty years ago.

This life is and will ever be about a Savior who lived a little over two thousand years ago, and how his teachings of Love and Mercy and Grace embodied practically require us to serve him and serve others in his name. He put God-sized dreams in my itty bitty wretched heart and billions and billions of itty bitty wretched hearts in so many precious creations across the world.

Jesus– I want to chase after any glimpse you’ll give of your glory. Your words pick me up and dust me off– I was dead in my sin and you said no. You made me a story of your salvation, to glorify you forevermore. Abba, I can’t thank you enough!