Prayer Beads, Bloody Knees, and Learning About Jesus

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I was seventeen. She was at least seventy-five.

I was a Nazarene pastor’s kid. She was a devout catholic.

I had an easy life. Her scars sang of a life of toil and pain.

She knew Jesus. I had never really met him.

Growing up in the Nazarene church (much like other churches, I assume) spring break mission trips were the norm. Raise some money, take a week, fly somewhere impoverished, and make people’s live better by building something, painting something, or putting on some sort of church program.

These things are all fine and good. I think exposing teenagers to other cultures and a life of simplicity, rather than their life of excess and opulence, is a healthy thing. It does a lot of good for a lot of people.

I went because it was spring break, it was Mexico, a few friends were going, and I was the pastor’s kid. Seemed like a no brainer.

We built church classrooms, hung out with kids, poured concrete, you name it. It was great, hard, sweaty work. We felt accomplished though, like we had done something incredible for the Kingdom. And honestly, I still believe that we did, we just didn’t understand it at the time.

As cliche as it sounds, that trip changed my life. Just not in the way I had expected.

Towards the end of the trip, we had an off day. Some of the local pastors had decided to take us to see one of the more “touristy” attractions in Oaxaca, La Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman, known to the locals as “the church of gold.”

This former monastery and catholic church had been fully restored, and the interior consists of over sixty-thousand sheets of gold.

Breathtaking.

I remember when we were there, the sun was pouring in through the oversized windows, causing the interior of the church to glow, literally.

We walked around, snapped a couple photos, bought a postcard, and were ready to go, congregating in the courtyard of the church

Then I saw her.

At first, I didn’t know what she was doing. Begging maybe? Asking for money, maybe food?

She was draped in a thin, almost see-through, dress, if you could even call it that. Rags, really. She was on her hands and knees, clutching something, and her knees were bloody, leaving little stains on the cobblestone courtyard.

Then it hit me.

She was crawling towards the church, clutching her rosary beads in her frail fists, mumbling to herself. Little prayers, audible only to her, offered up in reverence.

I asked one of the pastors with us about her, and what he said will be with me for the rest of my life.

“She lives on the outskirts of town, and once a week she comes. She crawls here on her hands and knees, clutching those beads, to pray, and to confess.”

I have never to this day, known or seen devotion to anything, like that little frail old lady showed me.

I complain if I have to park too far away from church. I complain if the coffee isn’t brewed the right way. I complain when the music isn’t right, or a visiting pastor is teaching on something I don’t like or don’t agree with.

She crawled on her hands and knees across filthy streets, across God-knows-what, and up the cobblestone courtyard, to offer her prayers to her creator. She was frail, old, weathered, and absolutely beat up. Her knees were bloody scabs, probably just healing by the time she left the following week for the church.

I learned more about Jesus in that moment than I ever had before, or ever have since. I learned what devotion looks like. I learned what sacrifice looks like. I learned just how fickle and feeble my faith is.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know anything about her. But I know she loved her God.

Maybe some day I’ll love my God like that.

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The Power of “Me Too.”

My good friend Micah said something last weekend that I’ve been mulling over. Something that has given me an incredible sense of hope. During his talk at the Faith & Culture Writing Conference, he said,

“Sometimes all you have to say is ‘Me too.’ Say it anyways.”

I wrote it down, tweeted it for posterity, and went about my day. To be honest, he said so much other incredible stuff the conference that it slipped my mind.

Then, on Monday night, as I was going through all my notes from the weekend, I re-read it, and it resonated in the deepest part of me.

There is beauty in knowing that we’re not alone, isn’t there? There is an incredible amount of comfort and family in knowing that we are not walking through this world by ourselves.

You’re not sure if you believe in God this week? Me too.

You can’t remember the last time you opened your bible simply because you wanted to? Me too.

You can’t remember the last time you prayed and felt God speak? Me too.

You love God, and hate him, and are angry at him, and are amazed by him, and adore him, and can’t stand him, all in the same breath? Me too.

At the end of the day, the thing that draws me to is not perfect theology, eloquent sermons, or the right answers. It isn’t people who have all their ducks in a row, and have their crap together.

The thing that points me to Jesus more than anything else is admitting my doubts and struggles and fears, in painful vulnerability, and then hearing someone saying,

“Me too.”

 

I Am Not a Tool

 

I spent the majority of this past weekend at a writing conference. It was my first, and I was somewhat apprehensive about attending. I’m fairly introverted by nature, and hanging out with people I had never met, but only knew through twitter/blogs seemed daunting, and a little weird.

But I went.

One of the keynote speakers for the weekend was a blogger and author named Sarah Bessey. Sarah wrote a beautifully disarming book called Jesus Feminist. If you haven’t read it, I would highly suggest picking up a copy. She is quiet, but profound. Shy, but bold. Introverted, but a prolific speaker. I found myself crying 4 times throughout the course of Sarah’s words. She was incredible.

During the closing session, Sarah asked the crowd’s permission to pray over us. Shockingly, none of us objected. And then Sarah said some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard spoken:

“Thank you God, that we are not tools to be used by you, but co-creators with you”

I came undone.

The theological implications of this concept run much deeper than I am qualified to explore, but I believe what Sarah said to be absolute truth.

I am not a tool. A tool is mindless. A tool has no desires, no passions, no wants, and no longings. A tool simply does what it is forced to do. It is tossed in a drawer, thrown around, dragged through the mud, and then put back away once the person using it is done.

The need for a tool suggests the inability of the tool-user to accomplish their task. A hammer is used to pound a nail because we are unable to use our bare hands. A screwdriver is used to turn a screw because we lack the dexterity for that task. A jack is used to lift a car because we are too weak to do so ourselves.

To suggest that we are tools to be used by God, I believe, maligns and cheapens the character of God, suggesting that God is impotent and unable to accomplish what he desires. I don’t love my screwdriver. I don’t love my power drill. I love my children. I love their art, their ramblings, their sentences that are verbose and overcomplicated. I love it when they are exactly who they are.

That old adage, “God doesn’t need us,” I believe, rings hollow. Does God need us? In a way, no. God is God, and God gets to be God. We don’t.

But does God limit himself to a degree that compels him to rely on us in some way?

Absolutely.

To suggest less relegates us to being tools. To simply being a means to an end.

You are not a tool. You are a co-creator with God.

I don’t believe God uses us. I believe he partners with us. God is relational, not dictatorial. I believe that in a very real sense, God needs us. God needs you. God needs you to create art. God needs you to write. God needs you to make beautiful films. God needs you to write plays, poetry, paint paintings, take pictures, and everything else that gives your soul hope.

Thank you Sarah. Thank you for speaking words to my heart that I needed to hear. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not a means to an end. I’m beloved. I’m enamoring to my creator. I’m captivating to his eyes. He is proud of me, and he is proud of what I create.

And he is proud of you as well.

You are his beloved.

Could This Seriously Happen?

This weekend, I’m pitching my memoir (although it sounds pretentious for a 30 year old to have a memoir) to a literary agent. 

Pieces: A Memoir of Shattered Faith, and Impossible Restoration

Holy crap. I can’t believe I’m going to do this. But I have a story to tell, and I believe it’s worth telling (most days.)

If you’re the praying kind, say a prayer. This will get written with or without an agent/publishing company/etc. But it sure would be nice to have some professional help. 

Commence freaking out