My 21st Birthday & Why I Don’t Drink

Chiva-ing with Friends

Chiva-ing with Friends

I am 21! Woohoo!

The past few days have been really fun. My friends threw me a Frozen-themed surprise party on Thursday, order I went out for Japanese food Friday night, viagra and then on my birthday I had cake with my host family (for breakfast) and then went out on a Chiva (an open-air party bus) that night.

Turning 21 in Ecuador is kind of anticlimactic because 21 doesn’t mean anything here (as the drinking age is 18). But, sickness let’s be real, it would be pretty anticlimactic in the States, too, since I don’t drink. Throughout the past two semesters of study abroad, I have gotten the chance to share with some people why I don’t drink, and I thought this was a good opportunity to share with all of you! I made the decision that I was not going to ever drink alcohol when I was 18, before I left for college. But I haven’t actually shared why with a lot of the people in my life. So here we go!

I’ve shared quite a bit on this blog about my long-term struggle with disordered eating and an eating disorder, as well as my journey with depression. The past several years of my life have been a difficult, beautiful, miraculous, painful, and blessed fight to live in freedom and be filled with the joy of the Lord. In many ways I am so thankful for this battle because it’s taught me who I am and shown me the strength and love of God. I am living a freedom-filled, redeemed life and it still amazes me every day.

However, because of my life experiences, my genetics, and by virtue of living in a fallen world, I know that I have a propensity towards depression and anxiety and using unhealthy coping methods to deal with these really hard disorders. Do you know what disorders are most commonly co-morbid (happen alongside of) alcohol and substance abuse? Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders (binge eating and binge drinking are really two sides of the same coin). I am so thankful for my recovery story and everything the Lord revealed to me during that time, but I am not at all interested in having to battle with and recover from another disorder. I think there’s a reasonable chance that if I drank alcohol, I would eventually struggle with alcoholism.

I love what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:

“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. 

Here’s the thing: I believe alcohol is permissible for me (and all followers of Jesus). In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to find out that Jesus is a bit of a wine aficionado, since the water he turned into wine seemed to be pretty rockin’. But that doesn’t mean that it’s beneficial for me. And I do not want to be mastered by anything.

Galatians 5:1 says:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yolk of slavery.

I don’t want to be burdened by a yolk of slavery. God and I decided together that I would not drink alcohol, even after turning 21. This is not a decision I’ve made out of fear, rather it’s a decision I’ve made out of my love for the life God has given me and out of respect for my own body.

There’s always some difficulty when we make decisions that are different from the norm. I honestly have no interest in drinking alcohol–it just does not appeal to me and I truly believe that’s a result of the Holy Spirit working in me to make life easier for me. What is hard, and I’m sure this will get harder as I move back to the States as a 21 year old, is feeling like I’m missing out when I’m with my friends who are drinking. Or encountering people who feel judged by me because they are drinking. Or people who think that I’m a really boring person because I don’t drink. However, living the freedom-filled life God calls me to is worth it, especially because I know at my core that His opinion of me is the only one the truly matters.

Often when we speak of freedom, we mean that we can do anything we want. However, I submit to you that many of the things we do in our freedom actually make us slaves. Just because you have the freedom to drink does not mean that drinking keeps you in freedom. This is true for both Christians and non Christians.

Nothing is impossible with God. I love this from Francis Chan: Something is wrong when our lives make sense to nonbelievers. I think that’s largely true. There’s a lot of things in my life, and not just with alcohol, that don’t make sense to those who don’t know Jesus. And it makes complete sense that it doesn’t make sense! God calls us to live our lives in ways that don’t necessarily seem practical or in line with the norm. And the more confident you are with your identity in Christ, the easier it will be to follow him and be obedient to what he’s called you to.

In conclusion:

~I have made the decision to not drink alcohol at all, ever. Sooo close friends and family you should probably just accept that now ;)

~I am not judging you if you drink. I do not feel uncomfortable if you drink around me. Last semester I would go out to clubs quite a bit with my friends. Yesterday I spent my birthday night on a Chiva with lots of alcohol. It doesn’t bother me, as long as you’re respectful of me!

~I believe that Christians are completely permitted to drink alcohol, although I challenge you to make sure you’re doing it in a way that honors God.

~It is completely possible to not drink alcohol if that’s what the Lord is speaking to you.

I’m really excited to see what 21 brings! I’ve received some promises from the Lord that I’m so excited about! And thank you so much for everyone who made my birthday special. It’s hard to have a birthday abroad, but it was a good one :)

The Meaning of the Cross

Picture from liftjesuscross.com

Picture from liftjesuscross.com

Did you know that, more in the place and time that Jesus of Nazareth lived, it was actually very common for someone to come forth every few years, claim that he was the Messiah, gain a huge following, and then be crucified for his message? This chain of events is not unique to Jesus. In fact, there is an incident in the book of Acts that alludes to this historical fact. Peter and other apostles are called before the Sanhedrin (the full assembly of the elders of Israel) because they have been preaching the gospel, the message that “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you have killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those whom obey him” (Acts 5:30-32). The Pharisees are furious when they hear Peter say these things and want to kill him and the apostles. But one Pharisee, named Gamaliel, stands up and addresses the Sanhedrin, saying this:

Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He, too, was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. ~Acts 5:36-39

Jesus, the leader of an entire movement, had died. He was crucified on the Cross. And yet his movement did not die out, as was the pattern of the day. It grew to even larger numbers and greater strength than it had when he was alive. And two thousand years later, the message of Jesus Christ is still spread and embraced around the world. Miraculous works are still being done in His name. Lives are still being transformed. What Peter wrote to the first century church still holds true today: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy -1 Peter 8.

How is this possible?

I would propose a few things. First of all, that Jesus Christ truly is the Word who became flesh, God who, out of his immense love for creation, humbled himself and came to live on earth. Second, that on the third day, He did rise again and that His resurrection was witnessed by many. Third, that He did ascend to Heaven and is seated on the throne, constantly working to bring restoration to this world and His creation now. And this whole chain of events starts with the Cross.

The Cross is, I submit, the most powerful moment of all history because of what happened in the spiritual realm as Jesus died. I believe that effects of that spiritual battle caused those who witnessed the crucifixion to realize that something greater was happening, signs that caused the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus to exclaim, “Surely he was the Son of God!” ~Matthew 27:54. But I also believe that most of what was happening on the Cross, the reason the Cross is seen as victory in the Christian faith, was not seen by the human eye.

The Cross and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection are the cornerstones of our faith, but if we do not understand them, or do not understand them well, we could be left with a skewed picture of God. In my next two posts, I will present the two most common understandings of the Cross, Penal Substitution and Christus Victor. I don’t think the Cross can be narrowed down to just one meaning or one explanation, and it will always be surrounded with a certain sense of mystery and wonder. However, I hope that by using Scripture, we can uncover more of the beauty and victory of the Cross and more of God’s character. The Cross was an ugly symbol of death that Jesus transformed into one of triumph because of his love for us. And that is an amazing thing.

I hope you stick around for these next two posts and we can discover the meaning of the Cross together.

Note: In my previous post, Selma and the Cross, I briefly discussed another perspective on the Cross, which I think is also very important. That perspective comes from Liberation Christology. Here is an excerpt from that post and, if you’re interested, I suggest you read the full post:

“The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion is deeper and more beautiful and mysterious than we can ever know, but I am confident that a part of its significance is to show that the Lord Jesus suffered and died in solidarity with the countless women and men who have, throughout history, been strung up on trees, been beaten and mocked, been scorned and objectified, been made to feel as though they are forsaken by God.”

Selma and the Cross

Photo by Spider Martin

Last night I had the privilege of seeing the movie Selma for the second time, generic and today is the 50 year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, discount rx when over 600 marchers were brutally attacked on the Edmund Petus Bridge in their attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery.

It’s incredible to think that 50 years ago, generic Black women and men were fighting to gain the right to vote and today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, our African-American president addresses the nation from the Edmund Petus Bridge.

It is also striking to watch the movie to realize how true it is that Selma is now, and to sit with the realization that Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, delivered from Alabama’s capital 50 years ago, is just as poignant and relevant today.

A few weeks before the march from Selma, Alabama, black activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a state trooper. And today, young black men and women continue to be shot and killed without consequences for those who kill them. While watching Selma, the absolute disregard for the value of black lives by the police force, government officials, and white U.S. citizens becomes apparent. And yet today we still have to continuously proclaim Black Lives Matter because it is still clear that they don’t to many policemen, government officials, and white U.S. citizens.

In the movie, Dr. King speaks with Cager Lee, Jimmie’s grandfather, after the death of his grandson. Dr. King says to him, “There are no words to soothe you. But I know one thing for certain: God was the first to cry.” Mr. Lee responds, “I believe that,” and as followers of Jesus, we need to believe that, too.

The Cross is the most horrible, powerful, and beautiful moment of history and cannot be contained within a single meaning. The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion is deeper and more beautiful and mysterious than we can ever know, but I am confident that a part of its significance is to show that the Lord Jesus suffered and died in solidarity with the countless women and men who have, throughout history, been strung up on trees, been beaten and mocked, been scorned and objectified, been made to feel as though they are forsaken by God.

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” –which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks split…When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” -Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51, 54

The darkness, the tearing of the temple, the earthquake…I believe that is how God cried, how He mourned the loss of His son who had died feeling utterly forsaken by his Father. And I believe He still responds this way when His sons and daughters are murdered and beaten. We have a Savior who joins us in suffering and sides with those who are persecuted. While the Cross gives us the comfort that Jesus is not outside of our suffering but that he suffered in solidarity with those, like Jimmie Lee Jackson, who are abused and killed, the Resurrection gives us the hope that restoration is coming because no lie can live forever.

Dr. King knew that the Cross is the most powerful moment of history where love for enemies and non-violence converged to utterly destroy evil. He knew that hate and fear are agents of destruction and that love has the power to overcome both.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.

Today as we remember Selma and the countless Black and White lives that were lost in the struggle for civil rights and human dignity, let us also remember that our fight is not over. As followers of Christ it is our responsibility to continue with this struggle, to continue loving our enemies, to continue calling out the image of God in everyone we encounter, and to continue to fight for race-equality in our nations.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! Our God is marching on! Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!

He Who Could Not Be Contained

He Who Could Not Be Contained | www.heismakingeverythingnew.com

We’re entering in to the Easter season. It’s a time of wonderful expectation, try knowing that joy is coming (He is not here, He is risen!). And yet before we arrive victorious (and we’re confident victory is coming…most of the time) there’s the time of waiting. We know that pain and death is coming. The Savior of the world will die. And the world will never be the same.

The word of the Lord for this season of my life is very much like the process of Easter. He is teaching me to persevere and keep walking in faith and acting out of obedience, even though it’s painful, even though I can’t always see the purpose. But I’ve been promised that at the end, I will see victory.

I’m learning how to be present in the waiting. In the marching. In the mourning. In the night season.

And sometimes it feels really lonely. Sometimes so lonely that I start to wonder if God is even with me or if He left a long time ago. But one of the most beautiful things about Easter is that it shows how desperately God wants to be with us.

I’ve been (slowly) reading through the Old Testament and over and over again God shows that the longing of his heart is intimacy with his children. While reading 1 Kings, I was struck by something Solomon said after building the temple of the Lord: But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built. (1 Kings 8:27). 

Solomon was right that we cannot build anything that contains God. But God, in His infinite power and love, can contain Himself. And that is exactly what He does. God strips Himself of heaven so He can truly dwell on earth. It’s all so He can be with me, with you. 

The thing is, we don’t walk alone when we’re walking through the night, waiting for the victory. He is with us and often just acknowledging His presence at our side is all we need to keep going. 

I love that Solomon asks a rhetorical question, one whose answer seems so obvious…Will God really dwell on earth? And centuries later God answers the question with a yes in Christ.

The Day I Met My Sponsored Child

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When I was 16, medications God really put the nation of Kenya on my heart. I did a huge project on Kenya, focusing on the kids who live in the slums of Nairobi. After completing my project, I felt like God was calling me to do something about everything I had learned. I decided to effect change in the nation of Kenya by making a difference in the life of one girl through child sponsorship. Compassion International is a world-wide non-profit organization that believes that we can transform nations by making a difference in the life of individual children, releasing them from poverty in the name of Jesus. Compassion is a highly respected organization that consistently gets high ratings for its financial responsibility, transparency, and effectiveness. Compassion is not just about donating monthly to help meet financial needs of a child living in poverty, but also about building a relationship with your Compassion child, writing letters to encourage them and let them know that there’s someone who believes in them and their dreams.

For the past 5 years I have sponsored Fresiah, a girl my age who lives in Kenya. I am ridiculously proud of her and thankful for our relationship. In Kenya, most girls don’t finish school, especially those who are living in poverty. Fresiah is 20 years old and has graduated from school and is making plans for college. It has been amazing to be a small part of her life and see how child sponsorship really does make a difference. Fresiah is now equipped with an education and dreams and a desire to give back to her community by becoming a policewoman. Empowering children, especially girls, has the ability to absolutely change our world for the better. And showing children that they are valuable and loved by their sponsor and by God brings the Kingdom of God to earth.

One of the sad parts about sponsoring Fresiah is that I most likely will never meet her in person. But before coming to Ecuador, I realized that I could make the difference in another child’s life not only through another sponsorship, but through meeting them. God really laid it on my heart to sponsor a girl in Ecuador, and so that’s what I did.

I chose to sponsor Emily because of her proximity to Quito, where I am living, and because she had been waiting a long time (I want to say over 200 days) for a sponsor. I received her first letter a few weeks after choosing to sponsor her. She told me about herself. She asked me to pray for her family. She thanked me for choosing her. And she asked me if I love her like she loves me.

Living in a country with widespread poverty, where Compassion sponsored children live, can be incredibly heart-breaking. Quito is filled with street children who work shining shoes or selling gum, who ask for money so they can eat and go to school. It feels really overwhelming to constantly see these kids and know that I can’t help them all. I can give them a smile and a small amount of money, but I can’t change their lives. But I can help Emily. I can make a difference in her life.

I started planning my visit with Emily last semester and earlier this week it finally happened! Oh my goodness this girl is a sweetheart and so full of life! I spent the day with Emily, her mom, and her two younger brothers (who are 7 years old and 8 months). Compassion picked me up in a van at my apartment in Quito. I got in the car and saw Emily and her family. She immediately gave me a huge hug. It was the best. On the car ride she asked me about all my favorite things–color, shape, school subject, animal, game, candy, food, you name it! I learned that she wants to be a math teacher when she grows up–she really loves school and math is her favorite. We also both love chocolate candy and chocolate ice cream.

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We first went to the mall where we mostly just ran around and went up and down the escalators, a HUGE source of entertainment! Then we went to Emily’s town where there was a carnival going on. We played foosball and did the bumper cars and went on a small roller coaster. It was so awesome to see Emily and her brother just get to play and have fun. We had lunch and then went to Emily’s home. I realize as I’m writing this post that I didn’t take any pictures of Emily’s town or her neighborhood. I think part of it was that I was busy focusing on her, but the other aspect is that I’ve traveled around Ecuador a lot and have seen dozens of these towns that look the same and struggle with serious poverty, and so I didn’t even think to photograph it.

Both of Emily’s parents are unemployed right now and are living in a floor of a house owned by a family member. The house is located in a more dilapidated area but inside it is very clean and nice. I got to see Emily’s room and all her school work (she gets excellent grades) and toys.

Emily’s mom told us about how Emily had waited so long for a sponsor (or godmother, as they say in their Compassion project) and how when they had heard that Emily had been chosen they had been SO EXCITED! And then they couldn’t believe it when they heard that her godmother would be visiting. Emily opened the backpack of presents I had brought for her, including things like notebooks, The Jesus Storybook Bible in Spanish, a stuffed animal, markers, clothes, and candy. She was so sweet in that she opened a package of candy and immediately gave each of us a piece of chocolate. And then she went to try on a bunch of her clothes! She was so cute.

Saying goodbye was hard. And it was hard, too, to explain why I can’t visit every week, even though I live so close. Every child visit is organized through Compassion and takes a lot of planning and does require that you pay some fees, meaning I will probably only see Emily one more time before I leave Ecuador.

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Some Reflections on my Visit:

  • Your sponsored child absolutely loves you. I have only been sponsoring Emily for a few months but she already loves me with all her heart. Children tend to have such an openness and vulnerability about them. They give love so easily. Sponsorship is  a way you can show a child how much you love them and care about them, and visiting your sponsored child or writing them a lot of letters is a way you can teach them to continue to love exuberantly, instead of teaching them to grow cynical and distrustful.
  • One of the hard things about the trip is that Compassion couldn’t tell me how old Emily’s siblings were (or how many she had) and so I had no idea how to bring presents for her siblings. During my visit, I learned that there are not enough spots in the Compassion program for her younger brother to be sponsored. Both of Emily’s younger siblings spent the whole day with us and her younger brother got to do all the things Emily did, but it was clearly still very hard for him to not have a sponsor and not get the gifts that Emily got. If I see Emily again, I will know about her brothers and be able to get them gifts, but it was a hard thing to see her brother feel left out and not as special as his older sister.
  • While we were at the carnival in Emily’s town, a rural, poor city south of Quito, we saw a father come to the fair, find his daughter, grab her, call her a bitch, hit her in the face, and drag her to their car. From what I gathered, she hadn’t asked for permission to come to the carnival after school. I was stunned and horrified. Everyone saw a father abuse his daughter in public and no one did anything. I desperately wish I had known what to do, or that I had done something. If I were in the U.S., I would have stopped that man, called the police, gotten the license number of the car, gotten child services involved, etc. But I was in a different country, different culture, with a language barrier, and was with Emily and her family. In Ecuador, the majority of children are abused. 41% of Ecuadorian children report being hit at home. 21% of Ecuadorian children have experienced sexual abuse. 70% of Ecuadorian children have been victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or negligence. Many people view this abuse as normal. And a completely inadequate and inattentive police force does very little to protect children or women. I think the only mildly encouraging thing about witnessing this abuse is that Emily asked questions about it and did not act as though this was something normal for her life.
  • Emily and her family live about a 30 minute walk from school, crossing some major roads on the way. Therefore, Emily and her brother take the school bus. However, the school bus is not free. Her parents pay $30 a month for the school bus service. Can you imagine being a family living in poverty, most likely making less than $2/day (or nothing if you’re currently unemployed) and having to find the money to pay just for your kids to get to school? For as many problems as the U.S. school system has, we at least offer free education and transportation to and from school. That is just not the case for much of the world.
  • After I had said goodbyes, I rode with the translator from Compassion back to Quito. She said that she was surprised that Emily had a house, because most of the children don’t have a place to live, and that Emily was very lucky. It should break our hearts that for many children around the world, the very real reality is that if they have a roof over their heads, no matter how small, they are luckier than many of the children around them.

I am so thankful that I got to do this visit and meet and connect with Emily. This girl really is amazing, and we have quite a bit in common. We’re both driven, lively, and a little bossy with our younger siblings ;) My sponsorship of Emily will most likely continue for the next 10 years or so, and getting the chance to actually meet her was an amazing experience for both of us. I know it will make it easier for us to connect through letters and pray for each other as we continue our relationship.

But, as I’ve tried to convey in this post, there were parts of my visit that were really disturbing, unsettling, and sad. I think that’s probably how it should be. We shouldn’t be able to see poverty and not get unsettled by it. I am thankful that I still get heartbroken when I see street kids, that I didn’t come away from my Compassion visit with just happy feelings. Living in Ecuador I’ve seen middle and upper class Ecuadorians treat the poverty and abuse prevalent in their country as very normal. I think it sometimes takes an outside perspective to see the extent of the problem in another country, I know this is true for me when it comes to witnessing the prevalent issues in the U.S. We have to fight to not become complacent just because something is prevalent in our communities or because we don’t feel like we can do anything to help. We can’t help all the children of the world, but we can help one. And I’ve seen in the lives of two girls from across the world that it truly makes a difference.

I would love to answer any questions you may have about child sponsorship and very much encourage you to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion.

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