Tag Archives: faith

In the Stretching Moments

17 Nov

fullsizerender-1

For over three years, I’ve been walking on a broken foot.  Every step towards something or away from something was taken on a foot that wasn’t healed. Because I didn’t know it was broken, I walked on it anyway.

Often times, my foot would was sore and swollen. My podiatrist assured me I was fine, just suffering from tendonitis.  She told me to keep doing my normal activities and gave me a strong painkiller.  So I worked out, jumped, played, drove, shopped, and swam.  I walked on a boardwalk, on a sandy beach, on the sides of beautiful rivers, chased children and puppies, and I stood.  When I stopped taking the painkiller, which masked what was going on in my body, it hurt too much to stand. It hurt so much to walk, at times I would fight back tears.

Right now, it hurts too much to stand.  Sometimes I fight back tears.

So I’m in physical therapy, learning how to stretch my muscles and tendons because my broken foot doesn’t work properly.  It can’t do what it was designed to do—to roll from the heel to the toes—to carry me from place to place.

The muscles in both feet are atrophied. Therefore, they’re learning how to be strong again through stretching and bending and pulling and aching.

And the stretching out hurts.

As stiff muscles are pulled this way and that, they burn and the burning makes me nauseous.  Yet I keep stretching because I know my foot won’t always be broken.  I know that the stretching will provide the healing I need.  I know the muscles will become strong.

My foot isn’t the only thing that’s broken.  In fact, in many ways it has taken a back seat to my broken heart and crushed spirit.

See, I was doing life broken and crushed I didn’t realize it.  From the business (busyness?) of doing ministry and life, my spirit had become atrophied.

And now I’m in the place of the stretching out—finding a new place to belong, putting myself out there to make new friends, healing from wounds that are still bleeding, and pulling on  muscles that are rigid. 

I’m opening my hands before God, for He is the One who gives and takes away

The stretching out is uncomfortable, but I’m trying to see it as a gift.  Everything God gives me or allows to happen in my life is part of the stretching.  He is making the hard places malleable and builds strength in the weak places.

The stretching is necessary if I’m ever going to walk right again…and I don’t just want to walk, I want to run!  I want to run the race He has given me to run.

It is strange how God still allowed me to walk broken and to do ministry so crushed, yet that’s His mercy.  Maybe we’re all broken, but He only makes us aware of the areas of brokenness as we can handle them, as we become ready for Him to heal them in our lives.

I’m walking broken—physically and spiritually and emotionally—but I am still walking.  Isn’t that really the point of this race we call life?  Whether we rest or run a marathon, we keep on going.  Whether we’re warming up for a sprint or drinking Gatorade on the sidelines, we look at what is ahead, not behind

And sometimes we’re in the stretching, the waiting and the trusting for the moment God will let us run loose.  We will be stronger, faster, and more like Him because of the stretching.  The brokenness and the stretching is all part of the life race. 

Unlike other races, It’s not about who wins.  It’s about how we get there.  Because we were made to run.

*This post was heavily inspired by Jennie Allen’s RESTLESS Bible Study and Ann VosKamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  I highly recommend both resources!

A Deafening Silence

13 Aug

Silence can be deafening.

It can fill a whole room, a whole body, a whole heart.

It’s a lonely, depressing ache that goes on and on.  How I wish for the breath to say something, to find words, to hear my voice.

The silence is emptiness and emptiness is deadly, dark and meaningless.

Silence, for me, was a way of coping.  As long as I remained quiet, as long as I pretended I had it all together, then maybe I would be OK.  Or at least people would think I was OK.

But I wasn’t OK.  I was falling apart.

My secrets ripped me apart, caused me to hide in the shadows, and question my existence.  Did I deserve to take up space, resources, air?  The thoughts were loud and angry.  The train whistle cut through the silence several times a day.  There was life somewhere outside of my apartment.

It’s hard to imagine someone like Robin Williams, who has the resources to access the best doctors, best medicines, and best therapy could fall into the deafening silence.  There’s a cruel irony in entertaining the masses, yet dying inside.  Tears of a clown or something like that.

Those of us who have been there or are there or live with constant battle against the darkness know what it’s like.  The silence only makes the illness more pronounced because the angry thoughts swirl around, the clichés become tormenting (“Why don’t you…?” “Someone has it worse.” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” “Trust in the Lord”), and it’s a sad, lonely place.

If someone like Robin Williams couldn’t make it through the pestilence of mental illness, specifically depression, what hope is there for the rest of us?  We swallow our pills, see our therapists, practice using our coping skills, and hope against hope we’ll make it.

We hope and pray that we won’t end up like Robin Williams all the while wondering if we will.

There’s a choice in suicide.  There’s always a choice.  It’s just hard to make sense of what’s up and what’s down in mental illness, which doesn’t make sense at all.  Yet everyone seems to have an opinion on depression, anxiety, PTSD, and so forth.  Just like week someone told me I couldn’t possibly have PTSD because I’ve never been in combat.  Oh, yes, I’ve seen combat, just not in the military.  The world is its own battlefield.

The reason why I’m alive, the reason why I didn’t tighten the noose around my neck or jump in front of that train was this—hope.  No matter how small, God placed that hope in my heart when I was a little girl.  Though I had run away, battered and bruised from the Church, His hope kept me alive.

It may sound overly simplistic, but maybe it is that simple.  Maybe hope really is an anchor to my soul—an anchor firmly rooted in Christ Himself.  Christ died every possible death so that I could live.  Through the brokenness of my life, He shines forth.  Into the deafening silence, His voice speaks.

Into the deafening silence, His voice speaks the words of hope I desperately need to hear.  His soft whisper drowns out the angry thoughts.  His truth slices through well-intentioned, but ill-timed clichés.

In a world that judges, God accepts me just as I am and uses me despite my weakness.  Because of God, I have meaning and I don’t have to be silent anymore.  I can speak out of my weakness because He has made me a display of splendor.

In the deafening silence, His sure whisper can be heard.  Perhaps it’s in silence, God can be best heard.

Worn

8 Aug

“I’m tired.  I’m worn.  My heart is heavy from the work it takes to keep on breathing…”

The lyrics to Tenth Avenue North’s latest radio single, “Worn,” seemed alien to me a week ago.

What a difference a week makes.

The thread holding me together unraveled when my foot doctor told me that I would have to wear my walking boot for another 3-4 weeks.  It didn’t come completely undone until I was fitted with a new walking boot because the one that was guarding my left foot was falling apart.  Tufts of stuffing were sticking out from the places where the fabric wore thin.  The heel wasn’t quite so high and there were visible scraps from where my boot fought the sidewalk.  The copper permanent marker declaring me as “LOVED” was fading from the front toe bed and the velcro straps didn’t hold like they used to.

The boots were only made to last 6-8 weeks, my doctor explained, as I stared at her in disbelief.  My boo t had lasted me for 12 weeks, and it simply wouldn’t not hold out for another month.  Instead of ridding myself of the old boot, I was given a brand new boot.  Then the technician who fitted me with the boot threw my old boot in the trash bin.  I wanted to pull it out.  I’m not sure why.  Was it a sentimental attachment?  After all, we had spent the past 12 weeks together.  Was it a rejection of the new boot?

I left it in the trash can and hobbled to the car.

I was worn.  Worn out.  Worn down.  Worn to the very fiber of being.

A few days have passed, but the feeling of being worn still lingers around me.  It’s not that I doubt God will heal my foot; I know He can and He will.  My faith isn’t lacking and I don’t believe God isn’t in control of this detail.  I know He will use this for my good and His glory.  I know it is better for my foot to heal in this boot if that’s what it needs, even if it’s not what I want.  I KNOW all this.

I am just worn.  I’m tired of hobbling around with a walker or cane.  I’m tired that going out of my apartment requires extra planning.  I want to go shopping at places other than Walmart and Target because they have the riding shopping carts and I don’t want to ask Sarah to put the heavy transport wheelchair.  I don’t want to sit alone in the narthex of the church during the 9:15 AM service while the rest of the praise team chats outside at Lemonade on the Lawn.   I want to take my dog for a walk or just be able to walk to the mailbox.

Instead of getting closer to these goals, I feel like I’m trudging along the same path.  I want to be grateful that my right foot is finally healed or that I have the ability to drive and get out on my own.  I want to be thankful for medical treatment for my broken bones.  I want to sing “Blessed be the Name of the Lord” without tears streaming down my cheeks.  I know God is good; I know He is.  Some days, like days when I’m worn, it’s harder to feel like I believe it.

Even though I feel worn, I am making a conscious effort to remember that in my weakness, God is my strength.  I can’t do it anymore, and really, that’s a beautiful thing because this is something only God can do.  To Him be the glory.

On my own, I am worn out, dried out, and hopeless.  Yet God promises to never leave me, never to forsake me, and to renew me.

When I got home from the doctor, I found my copper Sharpie and began to adorn my new boot with words including Habakkuk 3:19, “He makes my feet like the hind’s and enable me to go to the high places.”  The Amplified Bible says it like this: “The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!”

I may be worn, but God is not.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

My Dusty Ol’ Blog

15 Aug

It’s a little dusty here on the ol’ blog.   Yet the urge to run my fingers over the keyboard to share my heart with you is growing stronger every day.  Finally, this week is quieter, and I’ve discovered this moment–a pocket of peace in the midst of busyness.  My review copy of Andrew Peterson’s upcoming album, Light For the Lost Boy is playing in the background (review forthcoming…for REAL!) 

Something in me says, “You need this, too.”  Maybe it’s the still small voice of God, maybe not.  This may be the elusive thing I haven’t been able to grasp, despite all the amazing things God has allowed me to do.  My gift is to write my soul’s thoughts to encourage the Church, to reach out to my fellow travelers as we meet heart to heart through words.

This blog is a solitary act of worship, an expression of my soul to connect with yours.  Oh, how I’ve needed this!  Oh, how I’ve neglected this.

I won’t make blanket promises to do better to keep you, my reader, captivated by Backseat Writer.  Now that I’m out living life, something I so longed to do when I chose my word for 2011 (read post).  Having achieved a “life” with meaningful activity for the glory of God, I feel it hard to “fit” in the things I love, like blogging.  I’m still learning how to find balance between my weakness, my work, my worship and quiet times with my Creator, and this precious heart expression called a “blog.”

Now that I have an unhidden life, I have to be more careful with my words, for I do not seek to injure others, nor do I want to reveal too much.  I must consider what I can share knowing that my friends at church, people I see face to face on a weekly basis (or more), may think of me.  It’s a slippery slope, though sometimes I think that life is a slippery slope, which is why we must always God’s direction or we may fall.

As I navigate this new path laid out before me, I ask for your prayers.  Like Solomon in 1 Kings 3, I like I’m very small and unable, but I am asking God for a discerning and wise heart, for I’ve no idea what I’m doing.  (If you want to take a gander at what I’m working on, head over to http://www.bethanyumchurch.com/women.)

As always, dear friend, let me know how I can be praying for you and let me know what God is doing in your life…and what music you’re listening to on your iPod (or listening device.)

Book Review:: Blind Hope by Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher + Giveaway!

22 Jul

While well-written, Blind Hope: An Unwanted Dog & the Woman She Rescued by Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher was, well, typical.  The book amounts to a “Christian Soup for the Soul” story about a woman who adopted an emaciated Australian Shepherd mix.  The bits about the dog, Mia, and her relationship with owner Laurie were interesting, heartwarming, and beautiful.  However, the story was broken up by written conversations between Meeder and Sacher which ruined the flow of the tale.

I imagine the detailed accounts of these heart-to-heart talks between the two authors were supposed show the audience how much Laurie was learning about her relationship with God through her relationship with her dog, Mia.  Honestly, my biggest problem was that there was nothing new or fresh about this dog tale.

Because I’m a dog lover, I wanted to love this book.  Though the tale is touching, the story was too simplistic to hold my interest.  But maybe this book is for you, which is why I’m giving away not one, but TWO copies of Blind Hope.

Amy’s Grade: D

To enter to win one of my TWO copies of Blind Hope, leave a comment below telling me the name of your dog (or if you don’t have a dog, what you would name your dog.)  Contest ends June 29 at 11:59 PM EST. Be sure to leave a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win!

*With thanks to Waterbook Multnomah for my review and giveaway copies!*

Faith Like My Dogs

12 Dec
Maddy (left) and Cassie (right)

Maddy (left) and Cassie (right)

My dogs think I am the greatest person in the world.  While they adore my mom (“grandma”) and my best friend/roommate (“Aunt Sarah”), there’s only one person they call “Mommy” and that’s me.  As I type, one of the little ones (Madalyne, two year-old shih tzu) is curled up in the covers of my bed.  She’s  staring at me ready to follow me should I arise from my chair and head into the kitchen, check the mail, or go to the bathroom.  The other (Cassie, nine year-old peekapoo)  is lying in the living room ready to fiercely bark at any intruder that might even think about trying to enter our apartment.

One such potential intruder is J.D., the one year-old lab that lives across the hallway.  I’ve tried to explain to both dogs again and again that J.D. is not their enemy; he is merely going outside to do his doggie business.  When I’m talking to them, they look interested in what I’m saying (Maddy tries to lick my face), but my words never seem to sink in.  Sigh.

Potential Intruder J.D.

Potential Intruder J.D.

At night, I feel one little fur ball by my side and another at my ankles as they cuddle with me in my bed.  On the darkest of nights, when sleep doesn’t come easily, their presence is a saving grace.  As I lie awake, praying and talking to God, my two dogs are the only witnesses to the words uttered in the darkness.  Not only are they privy to the sacred, they also watch me get dressed (and undressed), go to the bathroom, and so on.  If they weren’t dogs, I would think they were perverts.

When I leave the apartment, they look at me with their big, sad eyes.  It’s as if I’m crushing their little worlds, and sometimes it feels like a sucker punch in my gut.  When I return, there is a canine celebration of jumping, licking, tail wagging, and toy tossing.  Hooray!  She is here!  They run around in a frenzy for several minutes, even if I was only gone for a minute or two taking out the garbage or checking the mail.  And it makes me feel worthy, wanted, and loved on the inside.  I like being their hero.

It seems slightly egotistical to enjoy being the center of their universe.  I like being needed, revered, and followed.  I can say anything–anything at all–in a certain voice, and they’ll go nuts with unbridled joy.  It can be the Pledge of Allegiance, one of my writings, or “What a good dog.”  I also delight in my dogs–the way they play together, romp about the apartment looking for mischief, and how they interact with their world.  It’s generally amusing and slightly innocent.

As much as I enjoy being fixated on by my dogs, I realize that there’s a God who delights in me.  Of course, He doesn’t follow me around like a puppy and certainly doesn’t relate to me as though I am His pet.  However, the adulation I experience from my dogs is a bit like the adulation I should give to God–I should constantly focus my attention towards Him.  While my dogs do things that aren’t “Amy-centered” like chew on bones, eat their kibble, and bark incessantly at nothing, they are constantly aware of where I am at work and what I am doing.  They live their lives around me, and when I’m not around, they know I’ll return.  I’ve always returned before and I will return again.

Why, oh why, am I so prone to wander?  I’m a lot more intelligent than my dogs, yet I am not constantly aware of where God is at work and at times, I don’t care what He’s doing in my life (or in the lives of others).  I get bogged down with the worries of the world, my own personal failings, or the crisis of the week, and I lose sight of Him.  I’ve built my life around my belief and trust in God, but when I can’t see Him, I’m not always confident He’ll “return”.  He’s always been there, even when I can’t “see” or “feel” Him, but I lack faith.

You’d think a creature who greets another by smelling its butt wouldn’t have a lot to teach us about faith, especially since it lacks the brain power to even consider deep issues of theology.  Yet as I gaze upon the little shih tzu sleeping on my bed, so confident I love her and will care for her, I feel a pang in my chest.  There’s a little voice telling me that I am just as loved and can be just as confident in my Father’s provisions for my life.  And I can wait just as rest just as peacefully in His grace.

Hitchhiking with ASBO Jesus Founder Jon Birch

6 Sep

All cartoons are courtesy of ASBO Jesus’ Jon Birch.  Click on the image to view the cartoon in full, and check out all of Jon’s work at http://asbojesus.wordpress.com.

By Amy Sondova ASBO Jesus is a phenomenon not even founder Jon Birch saw coming.  His site speaks about controversial issues in the church such as female pastors, cutting, abuse, but Birch uses few words—he lets his cartoons tell the story.  And just because they’re animated doesn’t mean they’re so easily dismissed.  Millions flock to The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus each week to check out the latest cartoons, comment on social issues, and find encouragement in the community.  Jon, who lives across the pond (that is, in Great Britain) took time out of his work to do a Q&A via e-mail.

Not everyone is familiar with ASBO Jesus, what exactly is your site about?

It’s a blog where I put up cartoons on issues of faith and the church. Sometimes satirical, sometimes empathetic, sometimes ridiculous. Over time, quite a community has grown, so I’ve used the cartoons to stimulate discussion. The purpose of the site is to say things, or bring things up for debate or thought which are often thought yet seldom said (at least not in public) by people of faith. Having said that, the site is open to people who have lost faith, or are still working it all out (Aren’t we all?)

ASBO, itself, is a British term for “anti-social behavior disorder”–why use this term in conjunction with your cartoons?

It was my wife, Clare, who put the two words ‘ASBO’ and ‘Jesus’ together to make a title for the blog. It came out of an interesting conversation we were having about ‘if Jesus were alive today, in our culture, would He be given an ASBO’.  We concluded, rightly or wrongly, that He probably would. It seemed to us that He was killed for being what the religious authorities and others deemed ‘troublesome’, so at the very least He would be given an ASBO.

Also, in Britain, ASBO’s generally end up being given to those on the margins of society.  Jesus very much identified with those on the margins, so the name ‘ASBO Jesus’ seemed to me to fit the bill beautifully. It is quite possible that the intriguing, possibly controversial, name is one reason why the blog started to get a lot of hits. That is more of a happy accident than a pre-planned thing.

Where did you get the inspiration for the site?

I did cartoon # 1 just shortly after my mother died. Still shocked and beginning the process of coming to terms with a profound (and very sudden) loss, I started cartooning. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a welcome distraction, perhaps it was the need to try and say meaningful things.

I do know my mother understood the empathy I have for the marginalized and in the last conversation I had with her she encouraged me to carry on being myself, to carry on loving those who others might judge. These things are hard to put into words, but she told me of a wonderful gay doctor who had been very good with her.  She smiled and said, “You would have loved him.”  My mum was cool; I’d like my life to do her justice.

There are, of course, many inspirations for the cartoons I do.  Not least, these days, the conversations that go on at ASBO. Sometimes it is the conversation that sets the agenda for the next cartoon. I hope my site is a service.  I hope it is edifying and helpful. I also hope people find it funny… at least sometimes; I do.

How have your cartoons made a difference in how Christians think?

Wow… I don’t know for sure that they have. I do know that some cartoons have made people think though, because people have said as much on the blog. I would like to think that sometimes the cartoons enable people to think again about things that maybe they thought they knew. There are some subjects that some people have entrenched views on, but hopefully through the cartoons and through the ensuing conversations; there is a way for them to at least hear another view.

I’d like us all to think again really, about all sorts of things. We are, none of us, always right.  We are, all of us, sometimes wrong.  I am no expert and I don’t pretend to be. My own cartoons often lead me to ponder things that I otherwise might not.  I am often learning from the insights and experiences of people who contribute to the comments on the site. Without their input the cartoons would have dried up a while ago.

Why do you think your site has become so popular?

I think it is, in part, because from the start I tried to make sure I joined in with the conversation. To begin with, in the blog’s infancy, I would simply say ‘thank you’ if someone left a comment. Later, when people got brave and started offering views, I would try to engage. Essentially, I like people; and I hoped to make sure people who took time out to respond would feel appreciated.

As I said before, the name of the site has in some ways helped. Also, I have found that very often, people will use an ASBO cartoon on their own blog and link to my site; this has generated a lot of traffic. There are a few very well known bloggers who have referenced my work or used a cartoon; this has flagged the site up for people’s attention.

I also think that people return because they are interested in the comments left. Some of the conversations have been truly inspiring and involving. I am amazed at the willingness of some, to be honest and soul searching. Somehow, although the blog is open to anyone, it seems to have become a safe space to debate, try out arguments, empathize and also to have some fun. Long may it remain that way.

Sometimes though, I think that people enjoy a laugh in the day. ASBO sometimes provides that. Life is often intense and we all need some relief.

What cartoon has been the most controversial to date?

Cartoons on sexuality always stir things up. Sex sells, even in Christian circles. It is interesting that a cartoon which is controversial to one person isn’t at all controversial to another. The one that brought the most comments was a cartoon about gay partnership and marriage. This was too much for some. Although the cartoon was not prescriptive, it was done to elicit a response. However, I have to say, that the majority of the conversation was positive and fruitful. There are some lovely people in the ASBO community who I can trust to set the tone of the conversation. ASBO has become for me as much about their personalities as it is my own.

Christ was controversial. A cartoon site which searches for Christ is bound to be controversial. Some subjects are controversial simply because we are afraid to discuss them. I find this a little ridiculous and try to be open to bringing up anything which I think ought to have an airing. Some of the stronger (maybe not even funny) cartoons I have done are the ones I am most pleased with. A cartoon on self-harming, which I was prompted to do, is still my favourite. I did a lot of heart searching before I posted it, but again, the conversation that ensued told me that this was a subject that really needed to be out of the closet, I was pleased and amazed by the warmth and sensitivity of many of the comments.

When you raise a subject like this, you will probably be affecting those for whom this is an issue. I would only want to have a positive impact; I would want to help the situation, not worsen it. I hope that is what happened. I can only judge by what I read in the comments, but given the amazing variety of people who commented and the things they said, I think it was helpful. I am very pleased I managed to pluck up the courage to post it.

It seems that drawings can communicate a very real message in a less intimidating way, why is this?

Maybe ‘a picture paints a thousand words.’ Maybe they are a bit like parables. Maybe the simple characters are appealing in some way. Maybe it makes a refreshing change for people. Maybe it invites comment and response. I am not entirely sure. I do think though, that a simple picture can encapsulate a lot. Certainly in Britain, there is a strong tradition of cartoon satire; it is a well understood medium of communication. Also, even a simple cartoon can draw you into its world, so you get a different way in to thinking about the world we live in. these are just some thoughts; I don’t really know.

I’m sure there are some days when you get a ton of complaints and you just feel down, why do you keep going?

I’ve not had tons, but I’ve had a few. Complaints don’t really worry me, provided people are complaining about what I’ve said and not what they thought I said. I’m making comments on things, so I guess I’m fair game for those who disapprove. I’ve not censored any comments (except spam). Someone once wrote something like ‘why don’t you do something with your life, like kill yourself or die or something?’ I didn’t even censor that. It’s there still. That sort of silliness is very rare; you can’t let that sort of thing bother you. I do sometimes get down, but that’s me, it’s never anything to do with ABS Jesus. To be honest, I’m my biggest critic.

When you’re not making the ASBO Jesus cartoons, what else do you do?

I make a lot of animations, produce a lot of music and run proost.co.uk with my partner in Christian crime, Jonny Baker. I’m a trustee of a Christian youth charity in my home town. I’m about to start work on a graphic novel with a very good writer friend of mine. And I’m trying to get our home sorted out… it’s looking a little less like a building site than it was a while ago. I have a wonderful wife called Clare, a scruffy dog called Gromit, and am blessed with wonderful friends and family. Right now I’m finishing off a few animations and preparing stuff for Greenbelt (a big UK festival)… I have the Olympics on in the background as I work.

Print copy of interview.

“Done Living” and The Bucket List

29 Jun

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Justin McRoberts. He’s one of those artists I’ve heard of, but can’t say I’ve ever listened to his music. His latest album, Deconstruction, showed up in my mailbox due to the wonderful work of his publicist, and I can’t stop listening to the CD. One song in particular, “Done Living,” has been working on my heart.

While he wrote the song for his grandmother, like any good song, it has more than just one meaning. For me, it’s been an amazing reminder about life. I’ve mentioned the horrible go I’ve had of things the past few months (since the end of December) and I can’t stay that I haven’t thought about what it would be like to not exist. Sometimes the pain just seemed so burdensome, that I thought my heart would break thus killing me instantly. Other times, I just wished it would. I felt like Elijah, who after the battle with the prophets of Baal, just says to God, “Let me die.”

Of course, I’m still here (and doing better). The simple lyrics of “Done Living” are ones that sound pretty but aren’t always easy to ingest and are even harder to play out, but they are beautiful. Time and again, the listener is met with this verse: “The question isn’t are are you gonna die/You’re gonna die/Will you be done living when you do?” I thought, that’s a good question because right now I live like I’m dying, but surely I’m not done living. Day after day I’ve been asking myself, “Am I done living?” I know that I’m not. But when it is my time to go, I want to be done living. I want to have lived life to the fullest and I can’t do that if I let fear or sickness or doubt or pain or whatever hold me back. I just have to live (Hence, part of the change was evidenced in my massive puddle jumping expedition a few weeks ago. You can read about it here.)

bl

Then tonight I watched the movie The Bucket List with a couple of friends starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman (who Sarah and I like to pretend is our father). Two guys diagnosed with terminal cancer meet while sharing a room in the hospital. Together they come up with a list of things to do before “kicking the bucket” and go forth to do those things. While I thought the movie would be a laugh-out-loud comedy, it was more of a touching drama with some amusing moments. It was cool to see two old guys learn how to live again, and to have integrity in death. Plus, Nicholson and Freeman make a fantastic acting duo!

I thought about making my own Bucket List, but being the overachiever that I am, I would probably panic if wasn’t completed by next week. Instead, I think I’m going to try to live so that I’ll be done living when I’m through. I’m going to publish that book that I’ve been mulling over in my head, move out of the state of Pennsylvania in a couple years, I’m going to go on safari in Africa, take pictures in Alaska, sing on-stage with a rock band or singer, and go snorkeling. I’m hopeful I’ll get married, adopt some kids, and own that horse I’ve always wanted, too. Who knows if any of these thing will happen? I mean, I could write a book that really sucks. The question isn’t whether I will do these things; it’s whether or not I’m going to live like these things are possible. I serve a God who dabbles in the impossible to show mankind the full extent of His power and glory, whether on a hunt for lions in Africa or with a beautiful sunset in Pennsylvania.

The question isn’t whether I’m going to die; I’m going die. Will I be done living when I do? How about you?

The Girl I Was

22 Apr

By Amy Sondova I once knew a little girl who believed that her dreams were within her grasp. All she had to do was imagine a better tomorrow and it would be so. A dandelion was a beautiful flower and an animal was a magical friend. Off she would romp through her neighborhood greeting everyone who crossed her path, eager to chat with anyone who would give her time.

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk were her special form of art along with painting and drawing. Some days she dreamed of being an artist other days a veterinarian and still other days, it was beyond even her imagination. Her backyard was a far-off land of adventure in which she conducted archaeological digs for dinosaur bones and buried treasure, form secret clubs for girls only (but the boys were eventually allowed to join), and lie out on the grass to stare at the clouds above.

She loved to go to church and wear pretty dresses (although she could have done without the restrictive tights). Coloring pictures of Jesus and friends was always a delight as well as putting money in the offering plate. She loved to sing songs about God, even pretending to read the hymnal when she had not yet learned to read.

Then came children’s church filled with Bible lessons that caused wide-eyed wonder among the crowd. One of the best teachers was a woman named Helen who was a missionary in Haiti. While on furlough, she told stories about her work on the mission field, showed slides of the children there, taught songs in other languages, and let them touch her special Haitian crafts. Jim Elliot, Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael—their lives all came alive for one hour one Sunday a month during children’s church.

As church came to a close, this little girl and the other children would run to “the candy man” to get a hug and a tasty piece of hard candy. It wasn’t just the candy that made him special; it was the horrible polyester suits and the big smile he wore. The candy man was one of a kind. There was also Pappy who didn’t give out candy, but showered the kids in love and attention. When he died, Sunday mornings lost a little bit of their magic.

Life lost a little bit of its magic as she grew. Chalk became something the teachers used to write on blackboards, not a fun drawing medium. Church became less about wide-eyed wonder and more about memorizing the Bible and learning the right words to say to help save friends from the fiery clutches of hell. The candy man died and there was no one to replace him. Helen the missionary went back to Haiti for a few years, but the story of Jim Elliot never ceased to amaze the girl.

The backyard became a place to cry out to God as the chilly air caused goose bumps on her arms. She would stare at the moon and stars marveling at their glory. The universe seemed quiet when the sun set and the moon appeared. It was as if all was as it should be, and yet she felt unrest. Suddenly, church wasn’t a place of refuge, but one of horror–one that held the dark, shameful secrets of her childhood. School wasn’t much better as she felt like she never quite fit in. The razor strayed on her wrist starting a lifelong struggle with self-injury.

It occurred to her that God was not kind, not just, and maybe not even real. Yet she couldn’t deny Him, try as she might. She believed too deeply and imagined far too much. She knew He loved her, even when she believed that He just didn’t like her. As a teenager, she thought her prayers fell on deaf ears. It would be years later until she could look back and recognize the blind faith she once had, faith that was so precious to the heart of God–faith that’s jaded and imperfect now, but yet grows every stronger.

Even now when the world is filled with horror, when life breaks her heart, when people seem less than images of deity, she looks back. Pulling from deep inside her, she remembers the smell of a summer morning after a midnight thunderstorm, the earth was fresh and wet and she knew she would find a dinosaur bone that day. The feel of chalk in her pudgy hands as she wrote, “I love Jesus” across the public sidewalk is a comfort. She remembers the hot macadam under her bare feet as she romped about cradling her best friend, a guinea pig named Darcy, to visit all the neighbors.

She had a relentless faith in God, in people, and in herself and though her tender heart filled with sorrow at times, soon her joy melted that sorrow. She was a little girl who thought and dreamed that anything, absolutely anything, was possible. Now that girl is a woman in her late 20’s wondering, hoping, praying, and believing she is a still a bit of the girl she once was. She wonders if it is possible to open wide her heart to the limitless possibilities of God once again, to believe as she once did, and if she can ever reclaim her child-like faith which made her heart burn so brightly. She will never be that child again, but the girl she was once deeply influences the woman that she is today.

Print copy of scribble.

Covert Christianity

16 Apr

Written in 2006

By Amy Sondova Today the Christian book man came into my mom’s store to replenish their inspirational literature stand. He and I have a little ritual that takes place each month. He looks at me oddly when I request some of my favorite authors like C.S. Lewis and Philip Yancey. They’ve done demographic studies, he says each time, and they know what sells. Maybe it’s futile to try, but today I did it again. I told him that we’ve had requests for some quasi-Christian books—ones that Christians can give to their unsaved friends to offer them hope. He didn’t look at me oddly this time; he looked at me with disgust. They didn’t have books that hid the message of the gospel, he curtly replied. I half-expected him to ask me how I could suggest such a thing. But he didn’t. He simply went about his work. For months, the rack has been housing books such as Amish Home Remedies and Good Clean Jokes to Drive Your Parents Crazy. Not exactly offering moral inspiration to the masses, is it? Yet my request showed fruits of a benign faith to this man.

Sometimes I wonder if I really am hiding my faith under a bushel. I mean, I have a Rock for Life bumper sticker and a Christian fish symbol on the back of my SUV. I try to be Jesus to the people I see (at least most of the time.) I’ve just never been one to walk up to a stranger and ask, “Excuse me, do you know where you’re going when you die?” I did it on a mission trip to Philadelphia once when I was in high school. I hated doing it. There just seemed something wrong with harassing people on the street with the gospel.

Yet these people so desperately need to know who Jesus is and what He did for them. They’re crying out for God’s love and they don’t even know it. Sometimes my burden for the others is so strong, I want to run up to someone, grab them by the shoulders, and shake them while screaming, “Jesus loves you! Do you understand that? He died on the cross for you and you act like it never happened. Please love Him back!” Tears of sincerity would be pouring down the contours of my cheeks, yet I’m fairly certain a simple assault charge would be my reward for this type of “witnessing”.

Street evangelism can be effective. I’ve seen people sob right there on the sidewalk and give their lives to Christ. Children, who came from the poorest of households, prayed for the first time in their lives. These are sacred moments. It feels as though we should take off our shoes in reverence because it is at these times that we trod on holy ground. Still I can’t help but wondering what happens to these individuals once we go home and return to our normal lives.

Personally, I like relational and servant evangelism. Both types of evangelism offer more than the “Here’s-a-tract-and-call-me-in-the-morning” witnessing approach. Relational evangelism was the crux of my relationships with marginal kids in the senior high youth group. Since our church is huge, it was easy for a few kids to slip away from youth group. Fortunately, I knew every nook and cranny of the church (probably because I used to sneak away from youth group, too!) Other adult leaders forced these escapees to return to the youth room. I, however, had a different approach. I just sat there with them and talked about music, weaponry, art, and whatever was on their minds. Sometimes the conversation would take a surprising turn towards God or Christianity, and they shared their hearts. They stayed in the youth room when I did talks, and then eventually stayed every week. It wasn’t because of me though; it was God in me and even then it was God.

Our youth pastor was a big proponent of servant evangelism. One sizzling summer afternoon we gathered the middle and high school students together for a project. A group of over 70 students and leaders trekked to the super Wal-Mart conveniently located next to our church. We were armed with Windex, paper towels, and garbage bags. Our mission was to wash the windshields of the cars in the parking lot. The only indication of our presence was a streaky windshield and a little card telling the car owner that we wanted to show him or her God’s love in a practical way. My mission was to be the keeper of the trash bag in which the kids deposited used paper towels.

As soon as they hit the parking lot, groups of boys ran to the hot rods while the girls began a systematic sweep of the area. The middle schoolers ran from car to car trying to bless as many people as possible (or trying to see who could wash the most windshields). Oh, well, I thought, at least they’re learning about how to serve. They really seemed to be having fun as they started to belt out, “I love Jesus; yes, I do. I love Jesus; how ‘bout you?” Customers were pleasantly surprised to see our teens serving God. I was, too.

An elderly couple and their two grandchildren exited their beat-up station wagon and were immediately approached by a couple of kids. “Can we wash your windows?” one boy enthusiastically asked.

The old man looked down and softly replied, “No, thank you, not today.” The kids ran off to the next car. A couple of girls and I were nearby picking up paper towels some of the boys forgot to throw away. While his wife and children walked away, the old man lingered behind watching us. Then he turned to us and asked, “Well, how much does it cost?” I looked at the girls indicating I wanted them to respond, but they remained tight-lipped.

“It doesn’t cost anything. We’re washing your windows to show you God’s love in a real, tangible way,” I said with a smile. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

The old man’s eyes filled with tears. “No one has ever showed me God’s love like this,” he choked. He was moved beyond words.

“Can we wash your car windows, sir?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes,” he said, “Please do.” Excitedly, the girls raced over to his car and got to work. He thanked the girls for their service and joined his family at the entrance to the store. The girls and I then prayed for that old man, his wife, and grandchildren. And somehow that sticky blacktop became holy ground.

A little while later some students decided that washing car windows wasn’t enough, so they began washing Wal-Mart’s windows. A few decided to return carts abandoned by careless shoppers in the parking lot. A couple of Wal-Mart employees stood at the entrance and laughed at the teens. The employees then blessed us with a whole role of smiley face stickers and thanked the students for their work. One of the kids replied, “No problem. We just did it because God loves you.” Then he put a smiley face sticker in the middle of his forehead. He was Jesus in the flesh. They all were. Smiley faces stickers and all.

Thinking about it, Jesus talked a lot and followed up His words with actions. He spent time with people, talked to them, and He served them. In fact, He was the ultimate Servant Evangelist dying on a cross for our sins. So here I sit in the shop writing this article while Five Iron Frenzy blasts from my laptop. I’m not wearing my faith on my sleeve, nor do I take issue with those who do. There’s a place for all of us at the Great Banquet. I can only hope my seat is near the saints with the smiley face stickers firmly attached to their faces.

Print copy of scribble.

%d bloggers like this: