Soon after I became a believer, I had a dream…
A warm, sweet breeze blew through my hair. Every breath was delicious, the way I felt we were always intended to breathe. I was standing atop a tall tower with arching windows on every wall. The walls were made of tiny stone, cemented together. Running my hands along the base of the window, the stones were smooth and an array of colors. I looked over the land. Turquoise, olive, hunter, every kind of green plant filled the world below this tower. Bright orange blossoms popped amongst the green.
Turning to look though a different window, I noticed the room was filled with fountains. Two-tiered, three, and four bubbled out water. I dipped my hand in: cool. At the base of the fountains I noticed piles and piles of skeleton keys. Strange, I thought. Just then, I noticed my name engraved on one of them. I picked it up and pulled it out of the water, it turned gold as soon as it was out of the flowing stream. I saw my mother’s name on another key, excited I pulled it out to. But as soon as it left the water it turned to ash, and was gone. Rushing, I found my brother’s name, pulled it out and it was ash. My fathers, ash.
I woke up sobbing.
I was talking on the phone with my mom on the subway. She shared that last week she went to visit my grandma. They went to church where the VBS students sang the verse, Philippians 4:6-7 “6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. “
She said that she thought that God had written that verse for her and at just the right time she heard it. Dumbfounded, I said, “Oh yeah, Mom.”
She continued to share that she has had this emptiness in her, that she knows only the Lord could fill.
I asked, “Do you believe that God created you and that he has a plan and purpose for your life?”
“Yes” she responded.
“Do you believe that sin has separated us from God and because of that sin, God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to pay the debt of our sins through death? But now, in the resurrection of Christ, we have a bridge to God”?
“Do you now know that you have eternal life in Christ, if you but ask God to come into your heart?” “But abundant life can begin now!!!”
I chuckled, I got really excited at the end and started getting a tad confusing. We spoke on what assurance of salvation is and that our response to God’s sacrifice is found in Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
She asked for prayer that she wouldn’t be anxious and that she would find a church.
A gold key.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
There were two extremes today: a southern Baptist worship service in Harlem and a gay pride parade in the Village. I’m taking the approach of just exploding my thoughts, with no real conclusions.
The church service had a piece of freedom I often miss at my typical church services back home. There is a scale of expression during worship, from the still pew sitter ending with the arm raiser foot stomper “Alleluia” chanter. Here, in Harlem, wherever you landed on the scale didn’t matter-reminding me of our audience of one.
Following the service we met two elders who shared the history of Bethel Gospel Assembly. Two black children accepted Christ at a tent revival in the early 1900s. Sadly, for the time, they were not allowed to attend the church that held the revival because of their race. A woman of that church told them she’d come up to Harlem each week and give them Bible Study if they bring their friends. A gathering of believers began shortly after-amongst them the first pastor of the, now, Bethel Gospel Assembly.
We rode the #2 home and enjoyed some pancakes and omelets at the local diner. Walking home, we noticed a large number of rainbow flags all traveling to 5th Ave, we’d heard that it was Gay Pride week. A parade was taking place in the heart of the Village.
I wish I could adequately describe the feeling I had when I walked nearer the parade. A weight in the low part of my abdomen pulled my feet to a stop. Cheers from herd of motorcyclists joined those of the spectators around me. The New York City Council banner slowly walked by with shouts of “C’mon New York show your pride!” An eruption of noise responded. Instantly I pictured Moses, coming down the mountain to see the Israelites draping their bodies over the golden calf.
I want to weep.
I want to see healing in the sexual brokenness.
I want more honesty in the church.
I want to stop reading about Catholic priests.
I want to have parades that honor God.
I want to talk about it.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
On Tuesday, 20 students arrived from Cali to Maryland, from Nebraska to Kentucky. Each with their own set of emotions, perspectives, and expectations—me too! This week was a mixture of missing home and really thrilled to meet new people. We had two days of orientation: covering topics of “Mastering the Subways: learning the metro card swiping speed”, “Evangelism”, and “The Forever-Changing Schedule”. During these days we joined the 4 other tracks ministry to NYC this summer (all five are-Inner City, Arts, Bridges, Epic, and Campus).
Thursday is where Flesh met Vision.
Alphabet City-located in lower East side of the village. Named appropriately because of the streets: block A, block B, C, and ending in D. I learned that this part of town is known for its punk nature, high drug use, and never-ending graffiti. Blocks A, B, C and D are the last on the subway line and they are referred to as “Attention”, “Beware”, “Caution”, and “Danger”. Block D, being the worst. In the past 20 years, much has changed in Alphabet City. The parks were cleaned up of all the used, dirty needles. Graffiti was removed and replaced with fresh paint. Petty crimes were gone after-from the philosophy that if we go after the smaller crimes the larger ones will take care of them self. Now it’s a tale of two cities. The West side of Alphabet City has been gentrified and the East still remains with many of the same needs-violence, hunger, housing.
We walked from A to B, stopping just before C at Graffiti/ E 7th Street Baptist Church. (www.graffitichurch.org) Here we met Kareeme Gubran. Kareeme shared how this little church started in a 10 x 10ft. store front. They moved into the neighborhood in 1974 to begin offering childcare, food, and clothing for those in need. The church now has grown, increasing its capacity to give through GED classes and much more. But as the neighborhood has changed so has the vision of Graffiti. Trying to find ways to bridge these two cities. Kareeme expresses:
“We are committed to living out the New Testament Scriptures through personal relationships with the risen Christ. We do this "living out" through serving others, and helping others find ways to serve.
We value worship, diversity, devotion and enthusiasm.”
Kareem introduced us to another friend, a renowned drummer from Eastern Europe. He came to America, first seeking to live out his passion for music in the secular world. God quickly showed him that it’s of greater value in heaven to use his passions to give ultimate Glory to the Risen Christ. He now plays drums at a homeless shelter.
Flesh to vision.
We walked on. Found our way to the house church and ministry home for Abounding Grace Ministries (www.aboudinggraceministries.org) We met Pastor Rick Del Rio, the founder. He shared with us that God had given him this compelling sense that he needed to seek the face of the Lord. So he drove off to Kentucky. There he prayed for vision-God gave him the picture of a truck filled with food and his boys handing out sacks of food to those in need. He drove back to New York, told his wife and 3 young boys, packed up their belongings and moved to alphabet city. The picture of the truck below is the vision realized. Rick would stand in his truck and preach the message of Christ, people from the streets would come out of the dark and pray to receive Christ. At first they didn’t come, no one did. Rick would give an alter call and the street would be empty. One evening after they were packing everything up, this elderly woman approached them. She said she heard Rick preach and ask anyone to come forward that wanted Christ. She was 13 floors above, listening from her window.
Flesh to vision.
We ended our adventure at the Bowery Mission: a men’s homeless shelter, food program since 1879. Here we joined the lines for a meal and met some of the residents. The Bowery serves 3 meals a day, first to the residents and then to the public, averaging 300 meals a day. The residents are in transition programs. Two programs are offered, each lasting 6 months. They use tools such as Holistic Hardware and WorkNet, teaching life-skills and job-skills in a biblical format. Many of the staff we met were men that had graduated from the programs.
Walking into New York, you begin to see the flashes of bright lights, advertisements every 3 feet, cute skirts, shoes, and bags passing by you. “Oh, I want that.” “I want to look like her.” “I wish I had…” These thoughts flood your mind. Comparison. Dissatisfaction. Envy. Greed. A warped mind.
One of the project leaders mentioned that cities that are built out of sin continue to show evidence of the same sin decades later. New York City was built out of sin, people trying to avoid the “Protestant cities” and the taxes-they were greedy. Today, idols of greed, firmly planted, fill the city.
It’s hard to describe this-and I’m sure it comes across as being some “overly-spiritual-sensationalism” but I assure you-your mind feels attacked by greed.
We need to guard our minds. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3). The mind is a battlefield: prey to the cunning schemes of the enemy, but created to steadfastly think upon the Lord. God is our watchmen over the tower of our mind. He knows us completely and we cannot hide our hearts. Surrendering our thought lives to God is not just means to more consistent victory; it is the safeguard against finally being given over to a depraved mind.
I give you my thoughts Lord, make my mind steadfast. Remove the idols that have taken root in my heart. You are faithful to your Word. Build your kingdom in my heart, my mind.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The students arrive in 5 days! This morning I woke up with that “thirsty” feeling-where you can barely go one more moment without God’s word. You must run to the well and drink it in.
In my cup, God answered a prayer.
I had a hard time coming to New York this summer. In all honesty, I had so much going on at home and making plans for the future that I didn’t give much thought to New York. I cataloged it as: that quick adventure before things move on again. Upon arrival, this aching sense that God had something more and I was to find out-and better seek and find-fast. I had to repent too, that my motives fell short of God’s glory and landed on my comfort.
Yesterday, I prayed, “Lord, I ask for your vision for New York. Consume me in what you’ve planned for this land.”
Today, I saw:
A hope for New York
--- a rising of the fog: the deception of the enemy that the voice of scoffers is mightier than the Lord, the loneliness and escape pursued, and the weeping in the hearts of many.
God is lifted high.
He speaks truth of love and mercy, offered to all-drowning out the scoffers. He offers reality that, YES, you can live an abandoned life larger than yourself. He wipes away the tears of the widow, the orphan, the lost, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the invisible, the untouchable, the broken, and the prisoner.
He has come to redeem all.
I see The Most High on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe spreads through the streets of Manhattan.
All are filled with an everlasting joy. The song of the redeemed resonates, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty the whole earth is full of your glory.”
I pray for these 21 students, 70 in the whole project, that they would be captured by your vision Lord. That they would throw off everything that hinders. I pray their eyes would be FIXED on Jesus-fixed with dove’s eyes, that they would consider Him, day after day, consider his character again and again. That they would not grow weary or lose heart. They would not labor in vain but would take the fruits of their labor and allow Jesus to own the results.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Above is Grand Central Station
(My first day)
The New Yorker’s breakfast is the delicious, well balanced meal. Starting afresh with a blended taste of cigarette and apple, green or red makes no difference.
Building muscle is essential to the New Yorkers physique. Every 5 feet you will find the “water hole” aka a coffee shop. Everyone walks with a fresh cup in hand, you must alternate between right and left hands to evenly distribute weight as you bulk up biceps. Between don’t walk signs, reps of 10, raising the cup to mouth is expected.
The true Fitness guru wears the appropriate fitness clothing. This may include: a business suit with hula hoop, eighties black balloon pants with 6 inch heals- or really anything eighties.
Lastly, for a true Pilates experience, commutes are maximized in New York. Directions: enter subway car, stand between doors-near hand rails, do not hold on to these rails, stand keeping your feet under your shoulders, anticipating the start of the train keep balanced. You will work your calves, shins, even the balls of your feet-hoping not to fall desperately into the lap of a bystander.
I plan to return to MN as fit as a New Yorker.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
On my way to New York, first stop Indianapolis to see my YOUNGER cousin get married. Airports, more often than not, make me nervous. Security guards look at you suspiciously, strangers walking past each other, odd superficial conversation. I think it makes me long for authentic human connection. The Lord blessed me with such this morning. Walking through the MSP airport, a steaming cup of Carabou in hand, I heard, “Lauren!” There was Megan Horter from Grafton, ND. She was on her way to Spain, super jealous by the way. What are the chances of seeing a North Dakota girl in the airport? It was a blessed coincidence.
On the airplane, sitting next to an empty seat, my eyes were lead to a recently found passage.
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” Isaiah 54:2
This was written to the barren women of Israel, who felt ashamed that they couldn’t have children. This has been a challenging year in many regards, causing me to surrender big things to God in honor of His timing and perfect will. I’ve been given the desire to be married and to have a “brood of children.” This is God-desired passion and I do look forward to the day. As of now, I’ve often assumed that I cannot see this passion met until I marry. So I’ve fought with God! To be honest, we’ve had words for years. I’ve asked him for a husband and, regrettably, once when I saw no answer I attempted to find my own. It failed. This cycle of surrender and taking back, surrender and taking back, has been exhausting. Though, I’d imagine that as long as flesh lives this cycle will continue.
The box that I put God in, however, barely holds his pinky toe. The expectation- that having children is left just for the married woman- is busted down by the verse in Isaiah. Who’da thunk?
My home and heart can be enlarged, my love (granted by God’s spirit) can be stretched wide-for the kingdom of God and the children of the Lord.
I DON’T even have to HOLD BACK!
It’s meant to be lengthened wide and strengthened by the Strengthener.
This excites me, especially on the brink of New York. People are meant to be invested in, without holding back. God given passion for children can be used by the kingdom for spiritual children. My prayer for my heart as I meet this 40 wonderful college students is that God will have enlarged my capacity, that He’ll fill me with love for them, that I won’t think that just because this is a short season that it’s not worth the investment, that my mind would be opened wide to be a learner and listener, that I will be strengthened by Him.