Saturday, June 23, 2012

Friendship, Vortexes, and Drunk People...

 Just returning from a trip, I reflect. I met some interesting people, experienced new things, and watched God protect Beth and I from what could be some tough situations.

I had no idea that Europeans backpacked throughout the States. I guess it didn't occur to me that they would find our country worth their time... I was oh so wrong. After meeting people from all over Europe and hearing about their travels, I am more interested in seeing some of these places they speak so highly of in the USA.  There's  only 6 more states for me to visit to meet all 50 (New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Vermont, and Michigan). I'll get there someday.

My friend Beth is a British pal of mine, who I met during my time in Cairo. She was going to be in Arizona for a bit, so it only made sense for us to meet up, and explore. I have really missed her, so 4 days together was quite the treat. Meeting up in Phoenix and picking up our rental, is where I would have expected the craziness to begin. But my adventure really began in the San Francisco airport at the gate, waiting for my departure to Phoenix...

For some reason, strangers will often pick me out as someone to listen to them blab. In most cases, I don't mind enjoying a bit of small chat, hearing someone's story, joking around and passing time...especially in an airport. But twenty seconds into an awkward conversation with one particular woman, had me looking for an out. I bolted, and avoided her. Why? She was bragging about how smashed she was after spending the morning at the bar. She was loud, obnoxious, and totally unaware. I wasn't in the mood to deal with being her buddy.

As I got onto the plane, I forced a fake smile as she took her seat right next to me. Ugh. "Isn't this cool, we get to sit together?!!!!!" she asked. I responded, totally putting on a show, and trying to look positive.  "Just be nice. Christy," I kept saying to myself. "It's only two hours."

During take-off she couldn't stop whining of wanting to get even more wasted...wondering when she could buy the beer. Since we weren't at the proper altitude, I couldn't escape with the use of my i-pod yet. Although I did consider using it anyway...the flight attendant was way up front and wouldn't be able to see me. 

When it was finally time to serve drinks, my seat buddy ordered three beers. "There's no way they will serve her all three I thought." I was wrong. No questions asked, they happily accepted her credit card. "Wonderful" I thought..."Hopefully she'll be a sleepy drunk."  Wrong again.

Throughout the remainder of the flight, all the passengers sitting near us got the pleasure of listening to her music as well, (her head phones were on full blast), so we too could enjoy the mixture of sappy love songs. But the best part was when she decided to sing along. You know what I mean, when someone knows half the lyrics, and sorta does the hum thing to the words they don't know. Yep. Oh wait, then she decided to do MOTIONS to the song. I about died. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

At one point she insisted I too take part,  by jamming one of her earpieces into my ear. "It's my love song to my fiance'!" she shouted. After about 10 seconds, I took it out, telling her I knew the song, so I didn't need to listen to it.

She ordered another two beers, but was told we were almost landing so they would only bring her one. She then proceeded to go into detail with the flight attendant as to why she needed to get trashed, and her nerves of meeting her fiances kids for the first time. The flight attendant listened sweetly as she poured the beer. I sat there, eyes glued straight I pondered whether or not to say something to the flight attendant.

During the last bit, as she fell deeper into a drunken state, I watched as she picked up her i-phone to call her fiance, thus having an argument... (yes we were still in the air). At one point, I put my head down, but suddenly felt her hands all over my back as she decided to give me a back rub. How sweet of her.

I will stop there...there's more, but you get the picture.

As I deplaned, other passengers commented  to me on her behavior. So, I made sure to politely inform the flight attendant responsible of my opinion of the ordeal as I walked out. I was ticked.

I should feel bad for the woman, but honestly, was just annoyed and excited to be reunited with sweet Beth in a few short moments.

Throughout the course of our trip, some interesting things caught our attention.  Prior to visiting the Grand Canyon, Beth and I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of exploring and hiking around Sedona, a beautiful area between Flagstaff and Phoenix. Funny thing was, the moment we arrived, both of us commented on the heaviness of our spirits. "Something in this place isn't quite right," we said. Yes it's beautiful, and the hiking was extraordinary. But something was off. We felt it.

We later discovered that Sedona is known as being one of the top New Age destinations in the world, primarily due its energy vortexes, which draw people from around the globe.

Well, that explains the sick feeling in our spirits.

We prayed for continued protection on our trip. God intervened. 

Upon our arrival to our hostel, we spent the first evening chatting away with the fun Danish girls who shared our room. The following evening, it appeared as though we would have the tiny room to ourselves. Hopeful that this would be the case, Beth asked the front desk if we were to be expecting any roommates later in the evening. They replied by saying the woman who was scheduled to room with us,  had been asked to leave the premises because she was clearly insane.

What? Yikes. Thank you Lord for sparing us that ordeal. I wondered what it would have been like sharing a room with a crazy woman. Would she have gone through our stuff? Or would I have awoken to her standing beside the bunk staring at me as I slept. Ha! Eery...

We did end up sharing our room with Belgians. They were fine. Not as much fun as the Danish, but at least not crazy. 

Everything everyone says about the Grand Canyon is true. It's vast. It's stunning. It brings a calm. I often think about the Native Tribes who lived near it, and wonder what they thought of it. 

 The tourists (like us) are a lot of fun to watch. Nothing beats people matter where you are.
After a long day of hiking, walking, and soaking up the sun, Beth and I chose to rest on the edge of the canyon. While we were sitting side by side admiring the spectacular view of the sun setting, a harsh wind gust came and picked up my backpack, dropping it right on the edge of the canyon.  We both gasped, as I reached to snag it. The most difficult result would have been losing the only set of keys to the rental car. Thank you Lord.

We enjoyed the simple things as well, like the giant elk which calmly weaved through traffic...freaking us out, but leaving us be; the sweet elderly people who worked in the shops; the kind foreign backpackers who love this country and appreciate its beauty; the families who excitedly tour the Grand Canyon, reminding me of Seifert family road trips in the summers; delicious Mexican food; ancient Native American ruins; and park rangers...haha. I just love park rangers. 

It was also special for me to be able to introduce Beth to Taco Bell and the Cracker Barrel! And did you know that Arizona has Chick-Fil-A?? So that was literally our first stop. We sat in the HERTZ garage at the airport,  Googling where the nearest Chick-Fil-A was located. HA! found one. And off we went.

 Prior to my trip, I emailed Chick-Fil-A to see of their plans to expand to the northwest. They kindly replied with a gentle "no".  :(

Actually, I am quite frightened of heights...

One fatal fall per year...aproximately

We couldn't escape Egypt even if we tried...haha. But sad news, we hate to see.

The trip landed right at the perfect time for both of us, due to tests and trials we are both working through. It's nice to have a block of time with a close friend to just talk as you drive through the beauty of His creation. The timing was right on. 

In moments of darkness, I was thankful for His presence, His guidance, His protection, and how He spoke to me during those few days. Amongst this period of life, I am reminded of blessings like wise friends, who know truth and claim it, listening ears, and prayerful companions. Thankful to God especially for the rich friendships He has placed in my life in many capacities. 


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Once Upon A Time...

For I am sometimes ashamed of the gospel of Christ...

There is no logic when discussing the foundations of Christianity with those on the "outside." When it came down to opening up about my religious beliefs to other "religious people", I seemed to have no problem...Muslims, Mormons, Catholics (well, with Catholics there tends to be some tensions), Hindus, Buddhists, worries. They have their own stuff they claim...they deal with harassment as well...they get it.  But it was when I found myself discussing my beliefs with the non-religious sect that I would begin to panic.

Because when you really stop and think about what the Bible teaches... it sounds silly.  

This is pretty much what some people take away from the beliefs of Christianity:

Once upon a time, there was a "forever spirit" who existed. Let's call it a "he". He decided it was time to create. He spoke, and suddenly millions of planets and far away galaxies popped into existence. But one tiny planet, was made for a very special purpose...he called it earth. On this earth he placed living creatures called animals and people. People were superior to animals but they all lived happily and cordially in this beautiful paradise. The "forever spirit" was happy, the people were happy, and everyone was at peace. aaaaaah

One day, a wicked snake like thing began to speak. During his conversation with the world's first woman, he asked her to eat a forbidden piece of fruit, which totally went against what the "forever spirit" previously warned her about. She did it. This one action introduced dark evil, we'll call it sin, into the perfect paradise. The "forever spirit" and the king of the "dark world" began fighting. Thus bad stuff started to happen, and a horrific downward spiral began torturing mankind for thousands of years. The curse was in full force...

Then one day, during the time of the Roman rule in Israel, a young village girl got pregnant, but the weird thing was that she says she had never had sex. She says that the "forever spirit" was responsible for putting this baby inside of her body! Now listen carefully, the baby is the human form of the "forever spirit." The baby grew up, and was special. He was perfect, and many people hated him for it. They also hated him cause He claimed to be the creator of their world, just in human form. 

One day in his early thirties, he was murdered. But the strange thing, is that after he was buried, he came back to life.  This is a depiction of how the "forever spirit" is winning in his fight with the evil world that first made itself known years prior in the paradise garden. 

Now, those that believe that the death of the "human forever spirit" is the necessary payment for people to live eternally in another perfect paradise...full of peace and no pain.  The rest of the people, who don't believe this will be cast into a horrible dark pit of fire, and burn eternally. 



But in all seriousness, that is how it comes across at times. Now obviously I left out key theological foundations. Please don't freak out. I only meant to simply cover the basics. But look how creepy our "basics" can appear...
That's one of the struggles in sharing's complex, and so involved...and it can be especially challenging knowing what to share and when, with those asking questions.  But  thankfully, I  have never put too much pressure on myself. It's not like "I have to say the exact right thing." I am gladly used as a tool, but the outcome is up to God and His work within individual lives.

Now some people say to me, but Christy it is so simple, thus throwing a tract, or colored beaded bracelet at me. Don't even get me started on "salvation tracts." Honestly, if a person is introduced to Christianity, and 5 minutes later "joins the club" I am alarmed and concerned. It should be a big deal, not something to be taken lightly.

So back to my initial statement...

Yes, I have the tendency to be ashamed...or maybe embarrassed is a better word. It's a blow to one's ego when others look and say, "You gullible, emotionally driven, illogical girl," which then dismisses any respect they had for my intelligence, or valuing my opinions.  Umm...I don't want to be seen as any of those things...I do care how people perceive me. I do.

I know the Bible and its teachings can seem ridiculous. I know Christians constantly give themselves bad names with nasty hypocrisy. I have watched self proclaimed Christians promise "rainbows and butterflies"  to people in efforts to sway them to become Christians (AAAHHHH!).  I know we can appear judgmental, arrogant, and self righteous. Sometimes, I don't even want people knowing I am a Christian. It's less drama that way sometimes.

I know.


I also know first hand the power the Holy Spirit. I have seen strong (or sometimes even small) Christian faith move mountains. I have been in the presence of miracles. I have experienced the power of God, and how He works in even the small details of the lives of His own. I believe the Scriptures, and the power they hold.

Being a Christian is not easy. God does not promise painless lives for those who love Him (regardless of what some people say). But He does ensure that when we seek Him, He will show up. The benefits of knowing God far outweigh the "problem free" lives on earth that many of us hope and live for. 

I am learning the benefits of "sucking it up" when I get squirmish about sharing my faith. Basically, my whole perspective has been challenged...and it's been quite humbling to learn more about myself in relation to this whole topic. It's still hard for me at times, cause I am slowly working through so many of my own questions, but I am gaining confidence in my role as a believer to stand for truth.

 I am not going to explain the changes on my blog, it's not for everyone to know... but the painful events of the last six months have done more than rock my faith, they have shifted my view of the gospel...thus altering my life’s course, and what I desire within it. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

More of my story...

What defines us?

The last few months, as I have been walking a very strange, yet weary road. I have found myself lost on a rabbit trail of self reflection. I don’t necessarily think it has been a good thing. Actually, I would say with confidence that it’s not. Normally I would indicate self-reflection as a positive part of the life of believers…quite a vital responsibility and necessary task. But, in my own journey recently, it has consumed me, even holding me back from confidence to make any major decision at all. Basically, it seems I don't believe that even God is capable of working through my own sin and selfishness.  

I fear that any road I choose will only be tainted with self.  Why? Because I see it all around me, I witness it within my life’s patterns, and I am watching its effects in Christian ministries of all capacities. In my judgmental spirit, I get uneasy at the thought of “being like that.” This isn't kind, merciful, or appropriate...but I can assure you that it's there, festering in me. In some ways it has paralyzed me. The Holy Spirit says,  "Oh Christy, you are not leaving room for God's grace in your own life...and by the way, stop picking apart the way others live theirs."

Last year, I wrote a piece titled “Disney Says Follow Your Heart…Oh Dear.” That was the beginning part of this mental captivation on this particular concept. It was that entry which led to this seed being planted and taking root..."this seed" being my sudden (but late) awareness of the dangerous impact of Christian ministry on those who do it.

Now for the question I posted earlier. What defines us? It is natural to slip into being defined by a specific trait that characterizes us, giving us confidence in who we are. This is the attribute that draws the most attention, or that we are most proud of, most consumed by, or even brings us the most pain. It’s where we find our identity, fulfillment, purpose, or completion. We don’t often choose it, but a label slapped on us by those around us.

It's not wrong to be known for something, identified by a trait, or carry a particular reputation. In my experience, the danger comes when we find ourselves clinging to  this trait or reputation, as the root of our identity. 

I hadn’t thought much about this, but it was revealed to me recently, in my own pursuit of a plan, that maybe my rush to have a goal was tied primarily to needing to be defined by something…needing an identity again.  Yikes. 

For most of my life, I never lacked in this area. I was known throughout my “various worlds” (Charlotte, Cairo, Washington)  for different things. Having a certain reputation or identity was never an issue. I was always known as the “Seifert sister who…” or “the teacher that” or “the American girl…” or “the one that…”

I found my identity in what others thought about me…or how they identified me based on things I had accomplished, goals I had, talents I exercised, or my personality traits. As I would hear of patterns developing in how people referred to me, I would slip into, “Well, I guess that means I am…” both positive as well as negative aspects to my character and personality.

Then everything changed. After ten years, God brought me home. I was no longer any of those things that I was known for previously. I was just me. I didn’t have any special trait, job, talent, or dream to attach myself to. Thus the enemy slithered in, whispering these thoughts to me, "Uh oh, Christy. Now what? What defines you now?"

This is a question any of us could ask ourselves. What carries our identity?
Is it….

Our career?
Our marriage?
Our lack of?
Our ministry?
Our call?
Our talents?
Our dream?
Our children?
Our morality?
Our Biblical knowledge?
Our Spiritual Maturity?
Our ability to lead and counsel?
Our Godly example?
Our appearance?
Our strength through trial?
Our reputation?
Our theology?
Our ministry?
Our personality?
Our pain?
Our unique story?

As I think through how ministries in particular work today, I see a thread occurring that terrifies me, because I have been/am there. Thoughts and statements like the following frighten me the most:

I am faithful, therefore God has blessed me…
This call/vision is what I was created for…
I am trusting Him, and will see fruit as a result…
It’s time. Now I can begin what I have been working towards…
I was created to do this job…
I am the right one to do this... 
This is what gets me out of bed in the morning...
I live for this... 
This couldn't exist in its best form without me...

What if that fruit is pain? 
What is He allows these ministries, these visions, these calls, only for a short season? What if they are part of the plan, but not the end result? 
What if He changes things in the middle of what we see as 
the “purpose”? 
What if He closes the door? 
What if He allows change in direction? 
What if He allows destruction?   
What if I end up with little or no praise?  
What if this was created so it could then fall apart?
What if He takes me away from this and gives “my work” to someone else?
What if the point of this whole thing is to humble me?

I am not saying it is wrong to work toward something…to cling to a dream, a call, a vision, and to be dedicated in accomplishing it. I can only hope we do strive whole heartedly to what He calls us into. What makes me uneasy is when we allow these parts of our journey to define us…finding our purpose and identity in these elements. 

Because look at it this way… 

What happens when "that one thing" is removed? 
What happens to who we are in Christ 
and our relationship with Him? 
Are we only serving Him for the benefits of His blessings? 
or to get a good reputation? 
Do we yearn to demonstrate ourselves as "humble" 
so others will notice?
What is the "high" we are receiving from it that 
keeps us going? Is it His glory? 
It should be. 

I wonder how often that truly is the case.

Are we more consumed with what others think about us and our need to gain their approval? 
Are we driven by this need to be seen as “a martyr” or selfless? 
Are we overly obsessed with appearing "unmaterialistic"...thus mature?
Are we determined to make ourselves appear as “the good friend”, “example mother”,  “sacrificial missionary” or the 
“compassionate one who puts others first?” 
Do we find our identity in pain and pity from those around us? 
Do we feed off our hunger to be noticed, whether through our confidence, our faith, our generosity, or our even our humility?

What fulfills us? What do we want others to think about us? How far are we willing to go to ensure that it happens? Just because we are pouring into a ministry that God is using to change the lives of others, does not mean we have the right to claim it as “ours”.  Just because we see fruit does not mean we are responsible for those blessings. Just because we have a God given passion or desire for something does not mean we can throw ourselves into allowing it to consume us. Just because He may answer “yes” to our prayer does not mean it is ours to control or claim. No project, job, call, person, or desire should hold the entity of our identity. And just because we pray for His glory, does not mean we are selfless in that either.

It bothers me that my mind has gone there…picking things apart to this degree. Not trusting Him to rise above the sin in my life is stupid on my part.

Prior, I was always confident about aspects to my Christian life, never questioning too much, never digging too far beyond the basics, just allowing God to be God, and asking for His faithful hand to guide me, (although I always questioned things, that's always been me). But, I was lighter on my feet. It’s not like that anymore. 

Based on recent events, I can’t help but want to go deeper in understanding my responsibility in what it means to be His. Today, I hate it. It feels like a burden. I guess the more we see the hold sin has on us, the more we identify with how it rots through even the most "pure" parts of our lives. There is no escaping it, but that cannot remain the focus...we have to leave room for God's grace too. Yes there is sin, and sometimes we find it in the places we least expect it, but there is also grace. And that's something to cling to, right? I think reflection is a tool, but overuse just shreds the soil...we need to be careful with it. Being paralyzed by fear of our own sin is not necessarily a safer option.

Why can’t it be as simple as we seek Him, and He helps in keeping us on track? I think it can be.

I know that He is allowing me to see these issues as a reminder to be careful, but...I certainly don't believe He wants me to be fearful within my reasoning and processing. That's no good either. 

I have come to the conclusion that even our striving to understand Him more, can serve as an unhealthy obsession, hindering us. At some point we gotta just let go, and say, “I am a sinner, but Your blood covers me, providing grace in moments of my own selfishness.” Lead me, and show me the necessary truths to bring You glory.

And then leave it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tough Day. I was unsure what to even say to my God. When I opened my mouth, I found myself at a loss...with only these words to speak:

"I'm confused. I'm fearful. I'm unsure. I'm angry. I'm lost. 
I'm weary. I'm timid. I'm terrified. I'm discontent. 
I'm tempted. I'm "innocent". I'm "right". 
I'm curious. I'm tired. I'm struggling. I won't. I will. 
I'm proud. I'm sad. I'm irritable. I'm unsure.
I'm incapable. I'm uncomfortable.  I'm trying. 
I'm Your's..."

He answered me with this...

God gives. God takes away. He ordains. He changes. 
He confirms. He allows. He strengthens. He upholds. 
He speaks. He leads. He agrees. He declines. 
He answers. He blesses. He shushes. He restores. He builds. He purifies. He closes. He opens. He cleanses. He plans. 
He listens. He watches. He directs. He carries. He provides. 
He knows...

 The following by John Piper
"You see, their mind was small,
And they could not see painful times
Apart from dark and hidden crimes.
Beware...God is kind,
In ways that will not fit your mind