Always bring snacks (and toilet paper).
Start packing earlier.
When in doubt, pray first.
Don’t be afraid to speak the language, even if you embarrass yourself.
Be a listening ear for verbal processors before lecturing.
Care deeply about the nationals and get to know them individually.
Missionaries are sinners, too.
Always confess your sin and seek forgiveness first.
Look like you know where you’re going, even when you have no idea. Walk with purpose. 🙂
Comparison is deadly, hinders ministry, and dishonors Christ.
People are not less intelligent just because they speak less English than you do.
Deep conversations are worth missing sleep for.
Allow at least 30 minutes of extra time in the morning so you’re not rushed.
Talking to Mom and Dad won’t magically solve your problems.
Spiritual warfare is a constant reality, and it affects things more than you know.
That person you have the hardest time with can grow to be a kindred spirit.
Sometimes loving and serving looks like being ridiculous on stage––deny yourself!
Sing loudly and dance how you imagine in your head.
Don’t live for affirmation. It won’t satisfy or bring lasting joy.
Don’t underestimate the power of reading Scripture throughout the day.
Keep an internal dialogue with the Lord––thanking, beseeching, praising, processing.
It’s okay to smile and be warm behind a microphone.
You’re probably less awkward than you think you are.
Too much sugar throughout the day will make you irritable at night.
The world will not end if you don’t check Facebook for a few days or don’t respond right away.
God is always working, even when you can’t see it.
It’s okay to be sweating a ton––wear dark colors if you don’t want it to show!
Forget “cool.” You’re called to be faithful, not enslaved to others’ dictates/standards.
It’s better to humble yourself and admit when you’re not okay.
If you’re tired and rambling, just stop talking and go to bed.
Having no concrete schedule is actually really freeing, even though it terrifies you.
Notice little details to anchor memories to.
People love and affirm in different ways. Learn to recognize and appreciate those ways without being enslaved to them for happiness.
It’s not about you.
Just do the dishes.
Choose the adventure.
When you’re weak, that’s when you’re strong.
Music isn’t your savior.
Always go to the bathroom before you leave—you don’t know where the next one could be. 🙂
He is able to do far more abundantly than all you can ask or think.
“So, how was India?”
It’s hard to find words to respond to that inevitable question.
Certain words swirl in my mind:
But words can’t do justice to the daily sounds of vegetable vendors calling out their wares, the voices of an Indian congregation singing jubilantly, the variety of languages heard as an audible backdrop to the Taj Mahal’s majesty.
I will tell you, though, that I have never been humbled so consistently. I learned so much in 6 short weeks, and learned to love ferociously––to love my wonderful team, the lovely nationals, the mesmerizing place.
My time in India challenged me to appreciate the beauty of life, its challenges as well as its high points. In new ways, I saw that true fullness of life and joy is only accessible through Christ.
Some favorite experiences included:
Fellowship with Indian believers at slum small groups
Exploring the city––taking rickshaws, the metro, walking around
Deep, soul-nourishing conversations with new friends and teammates
Cultural immersion: from the food to the clothing to witnessing temple worship
Being caught in a monsoon at midnight––after being locked out of our flat!
What sights I saw. From the begging mother pounding on my car window to seeing an elephant casually walking down the highway…alongside a camel.
Countless other memories could be recorded: English and computer teaching, developed friendships at an academy and kids’ camp, and several stunning scenes.
But more than all that, I saw God at work tangibly and beautifully in an oppressively dark place.
Spiritual warfare is real, friends. The problems and heartbreaking realities of India––its poverty, corruption, and hopelessness are large and seem impossible to overcome.
But I hold Christ to His Word. He promises that every nation will bow, worship, and glorify Him as King. And I pray India will be lit afire for the Savior of the world, to magnify and exalt Him.
“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” –Psalm 86:9
Nothing compares to the glorious and exceeding joy I had to share the gospel in at least 4 different settings––3 of them in front of larger groups. After all, that is my life’s purpose (Acts 20:24).
Was India easy?
Was it worth it––to build friendships entrenched in eternity, to see God’s miraculous love fully and abundantly on display?
Yes, it was worth it. God knew I needed to see my pride as the ugly monster it is––to view my insufficiencies so He would be my sole strength.
I tasted more deeply of His goodness––I saw more of His sustaining grace. Toward me, my team, and the people of India.
All through 120 degree days, frequent 12 hour workdays, late talks, sweaty afternoons, vibrant colors, loud laughs, heavy cries, and great praise.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” –2 Cor. 4:7
The power belongs to Him alone. And yet, in His perfect providence, He ordained my team––8 other weak vessels and I––to be His ambassadors and servants.
So. How was India?
6 weeks of life-altering experiences, lessons learned, and grace lavished. I will never be the same.
And by God’s grace, I will see my Indian friends again. If not on this earth, in eternity, when every tribe, tongue, and nation will encircle the throne of the Savior who loved us and commissioned us to proclaim Him in all the world.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown,
And love beyond degree!
This, the darkest day in human history, is the one on which my hope hinges. Brilliantly bright hope in the midst of bleak blackness.
Good Friday. How can it be good? What agony my Savior suffered on that cross, in that garden, at the hands of hatred-filled men––bloody, beaten, despised, mocked, and killed.
I marvel at the glories of double imputation––my sin and just punishment imputed to Him; His righteousness imputed to my hopelessly bankrupt account.
Christ’s death secured for me eternal life. What a grand, incomparable paradox. His triumphant resurrection is the lifeblood that gives me strength to carry on.
I am ashamed of my sin-induced amnesia. I chase after flitters of light on grey, routined walls––fleeting, unsatisfying shadows. I never lift my weary head to the Source of any and all light. “Christ alone” must be my battlecry as I traverse a world so fraught with lesser lights.
My sin lingers, insidiously aiming at the utmost, and I am helpless to save myself. We all naturally wallow in the dark mire of iniquity. But now, His victory in the cross and resurrection give us the fortitude to fight vice relentlessly and chase after that truest light.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.” –Isaiah 53:5
For now, it feels like my flesh, Satan and the world are all triumphing, rejoicing over my prostrate body like bloodthirsty villains. I do not always hold onto Him in this spiritual war. But His is an everlasting grip. All I can do is cling to Calvary and in the power of His resurrection, walk––slowly but steadily––toward the light of a brilliant future:
“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” –1 Peter 1:3
My flesh deceives me into thinking sin will have the greater payoff. What a lie. Sin leads to death. There is nothing benign about destructive malevolence. Christ suffered the full wrath of God for that sin. How can I do anything now but live for Him alone, before His face alone, all for His glory.
My blessed Redeemer has saved me from the shackles of sin, from the bondage of my flesh. I am in awe of His sovereign saving grace––an inexhaustible grace. But I must never seek to exhaust that grace by my sin. Christ is the champion Warrior, conquering sin and death, and He reigns now and forevermore.
May His name be lifted high as I sojourn and battle on, seeking the greater light and clinging to Him all of my days.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do.
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
and the son of man that You care for him?” –Ps. 8:3-4
I saw more stars than I ever had on a late November night in remote Williams, Arizona.
My brothers and I had slipped outside and shivered under a brilliant night sky glowing in 30 degree air. Gripping mugs of hot chocolate, we traced our initials in the frost on the car and exhaled foggy clouds of breath. We talked, laughed, pointed at the sky.
They soon returned inside to our host’s home––a solitary glow of warmth in a high desert landscape of near desolation. The conversations drifting from inside resonated with the sweet melodies of Christian fellowship.
I stayed and sat under celestial resplendence, vulnerable and coram Deo––before the face of God. I found the constellation Orion and smiled at its familiar form, one I knew from even the minimal scattering of stars in San Diego suburbia. The longer I spent in the darkness of that night, the more stars came to light. The vast sky was a bright reminder of the glory of His limitlessness. I stared at the stars and pondered.
Here, although I was several hundred miles away from home, I couldn’t escape my fears, doubts, heart wounds. These, my Achilles’ heel, lingered like a malignant shadow.
While sitting under this breathtaking view, I wrote this prayer––one I continue to echo for 2017.
God, You are altogether worthy of my trust and my praise. Help me to see my own wretchedness––the ways I seek to dethrone You. You are the Lord of the galaxies and here tonight, witnessing the awe-striking splendor of those galaxies, I bow. I confess. I seek Your face, Lord, rather than demanding Your hand. You are righteous and just in all Your judgements. You do all things well for Your glory and through Your grace. I must cling to truth. I am my own worst enemy. Pride claws at my best motives and I scream in my heart toward image-bearers of you. How can I?
The Lord of the universe––asteroids, black holes, fiery Jupiter, distant Neptune and Andromeda––condescended to minuscule, insignificant Earth. Oh, but Earth is magnificently significant in your gloriously perfect plan of redemption. Fallen man reconciled to his Creator, to live in loving communion with and worship to Him for the rest of his days––and all eternity. Stars sing His praises. And one day, in ultimate perfection with all of God’s redeemed, so shall we.
Now Lord, quicken my soul to do Your will.
Stars give me perspective, reminding me of my littleness and God’s great magnitude. He is both transcendent and immanent––a mystery more lofty than the knowledge of the universe itself.
“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
He gives to all of them their names.” –Ps. 147:3-4
How can the One who gives the stars their seemingly immeasurable number be the same Great Healer of wounded human hearts?
Pause and consider the stars. They are but a glimpse into the incomprehensibility of our God’s grandeur.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
On a cold December night six years ago, I met a little girl named Emily. She was four.
I remember watching Emily hop around her new room in torn pink Ugg boots, once inside the foster home she called “the Christmas house.” She jumped from the bed to the bookshelf to the corner filled with toys. She giggled and beamed.
Emily’s euphoric joy was so unexpected, considering the circumstances she had just come from. Neglected and found by the police, wandering the streets at six in the morning. Nonetheless, she was full of elation. My family and I crammed in her room, lying on our stomachs and watching her spin from one object of delight to the next. Just like a small, bubbly fairy with freckles.
When we adopted her several months later, we gave her a new middle name––Joy. Emily Joy.
I didn’t feel much joy at first.
When she ran to our dad after work before I did, yelling, “Hey, hey! Guess what I did today, Daddy?”
When she managed to wear plaid, polka dots, and pernicious pink all in one outfit.
When she grappled for attention and manipulated and hit and hurt.
I didn’t like it. So I avoided her attempted affection with short remarks and rolled eyes.
Only in the last few years did I see how selfish I was––I was the one who grappled for attention and manipulated and hurt. Slowly but surely, I opened my heart to Emily Joy.
I saw her caring spirit in spite of the loud ways she helped others. I saw genuine love beaming through the face framed by crooked bangs––a face I had irrationally resented. I realized I was not worthy of her love, just as I thought she wasn’t worthy of mine.
Today. Six years later. We talk about meaningful topics and laugh and write stories together. I’m still making up for the wasted years of my teenage angst and pride. All by God’s grace.
Adoption is a beautiful picture of our undeserved adoption into the family of God. May His love be on display in our forever sisterhood. I love you, Emily Joy. I’m sorry it took me so long to express it.
You like to tell people, “I’ve been adopted twice––into the Arend family and into the family of God!”
So now, let’s pursue our Heavenly Father together.
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God!”
–1 John 3:1
Four weeks ago, I walked onto the broken streets of Skid Row with trembling hands.
That day haunts me.
Everywhere I looked in that downtown Los Angeles district, I saw visible, blatant expressions of human degradation. I saw image-bearers of God in the literal gutter.
The people I met still haunt me, with hearts worn so ragged on their sleeves and all earthly belongings pitched under a sidewalk tent. Divine strength guided me to set my face like flint, having diminished personal dread but increased fear for lost souls.
On the corner of 6th and San Pedro, I dialogued––knees on the sidewalk––with 59-year-old Rachel, who toted a Mary Kay hat and plastic grocery bag of good works.
She recited Ephesians 2:8-9 from memory and smiled benevolently. So I took its context, the far-distantly memorized Ephesians 1, and shared its truth with her––a dying woman in need of redemption and forgiveness of sins offered by the richly gracious Savior (Eph. 1:7).
The gospel was a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere laced so heavily with smog and smoke and cursing cries and seductively rhythmic music. The background soundtrack of cursing and sleazy hip-hop echoed off dirty buildings and through alleys cluttered with trash and people. I collected every weight I witnessed in that spiritually desolate and depraved place.
Three men huddled together and smoked. Yelling resounded. The place smelled like hellfire––a strange concoction of urine, sweat and smoke plumes to go with a medley of sights and to some extent, horrors.
On one stretch of sidewalk, a misstep meant stepping on syringes to my left or a sprawled, passed-out man on his back to my right. I wanted to kneel down, grab the outstretched palm facing the sky and feel for a pulse on his wrist. He barely looked alive. A few steps later, a crouching drunk man gestured, squinting through bloodshot eyes that wandered and glazed over every sight with alcohol-soaked perception.
My heart fractured time and time again.
Though secure in Christ’s all-sustaining grace and the truth of His atonement, I was shaken to my core.
“I’m too intoxicated to fellowship, man,” JJ said to a guy in our group, leaning against a camping chair perched on the sidewalk and smiling the slow smile of the inebriated––a smile that sent my stomach into lurching. In sudden sobriety, he said, “I’m a Christian, but I guess this makes me a hypocrite…”
“How does a broken man get out of LA?” Darryl asked honestly and hungrily––hungry for hope, like the others wasting away all around us. “I want to believe in Christ. I do. I’m sorry, but some people are just too far gone. How can a man who has only ever done wrong his entire life be saved?”
“That’s the gospel!” I wanted to cry out. “I am also a wretched sinner and unworthy recipient of His grace. But praise be to God for His redeeming love!”
Instead, I stood in stunned silence as I beheld the visceral, exposed insides of a tortured conscience.
Darryl walked away with tear-filled eyes.
It’s been weeks since I visited Skid Row but I’m sure not much has changed. People are still there “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
A few days later, I shared the solemn burden of my heart with my entire university in a chapel interview. I looked out on a sea of souls and said, “There is absolutely nothing preventing us from being in the exact same position they’re in––except the restraining mercy of God.”
Sin cannot be euphemized. Nor should it. Apart from Christ, I’d wallow in the same depths. But God.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”—John Bradford
That Sunday, my heart was troubled. I transitioned so jerkily from the sweat-stained Saturday streets of Skid Row to the spotless Sunday-morning pews of a well-respected church. Row after row of collared jackets. Well-respected and beautiful people. Among all the bright faces, I saw Andre, Byron, Rachel, Darryl, Robert, JJ, and Michael.
These people are still out there somewhere. They’re hurtling down a hell-bound track, unless the sovereign God of all men resurrects and redirects their souls into submission to His Word.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” ––Romans 10:14–15
Their names and faces and voices are stuck in my head like a recycled radio tune, beckoning me to come back.
I beg the Lord to take me back––to take me anywhere where rebels may be redeemed through the proclamation of the Word. There is too much of an urgency to wait around.
I want to stride into our fallen world with an unshakable confidence and living hope, despite a sea of weakness and propensity to fear. May “His strength is enough” be my battle cry, as the Word of truth flows through my veins and thoughts and the gospel flavors every word spoken.
We should not flinch from looking at the reality of sin-saturation, seeing with wide-eyed devastation the wreck of a world we live in. But we must take our eyes from these dismal images and pray they drive our hearts to Christ.
There is no sweeter life’s mission––to trek broken streets and reach lost souls for Him.
When you told me your mom recently died the air in my lungs evaporated.
We were standing in a lengthy line at the bookstore when that sad, haunted smile crossed your face. We had barely known each other a week. I no longer cared about my overpriced textbook––I wanted to leap across the divide of unfamiliarity between us and embrace you.
I wanted to tell you I know what it’s like to scream with the Psalmist: “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?” (Ps. 42:5) Your heart feels such indescribable agony––your throat physically closes off and refuses to inhale oxygen.
Instead of verbalizing my lament, I stammered a shaky “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry for saying “sorry”––a sad, scrunched-up apology for my inability to cure you of your suffering. A few weeks later, you stunned me. You said I remind you of her––your mother.
I wish I had known Tammy.
Known her when all she loved was being under the trees near your forest home as she cared for outcasts. “The mountains and trees that call you were her home,” you said.
That was before the devastation of cancer.
I haven’t experienced the death of someone so close to me, but I do know something of the pain of loss. At times, it is excruciating when you miss someone that much––your spirit hardly stirs because it is so crushed.
These are the times when you cling to the promises of God with clenched, trembling hands, knowing He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
On Earth, we march to the beat of weary hearts and fatigued steps. But we will one day join all the saints in eternal, celestial song.
“High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.”
I urged you to meditate on the victory of Christ that one Saturday night when we ate Little Caesar’s under smog-layered stars.
What a joy––that we have a Great High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
In our pain, we know He is intimately acquainted with our griefs, the sorrows over which He has triumphed.
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).
There will be a day when we will join Tammy in ceaseless praise, singing a new song to the Lamb––our Redeemer, our Comforter, our Lord.
I love you. But He loves you infinitely more.
And now she gazes at her Savior. (1959-2016)
In quiet moments, my mind revisits cherished memories – like a late-summer swim in the dimming waves of a San Diego sunset with a kindred sister in Christ.
Gliding through the water, we faced the distant horizon of the sea and the horizon of our futures. Sunset orange, crimson and purple melted down to light up the ocean around us.
Brilliant colors in the sky faded into dark blue, and our voices sailed over the waves in soul-nourishing conversation. We became misty-eyed as we pondered the mercy of God in light of our insufficiency.
We are prone to nautical wandering – we truly don’t know how to navigate the ocean-like immensity of the future.
Time is an ever-fluctuating and vast sea with an unreachable horizon of tomorrow. Still, we feign knowledge of the unknown future because of our natural craving for control. Desperately and hungrily we reach, longing for a sure stability of safety.
We might as well try to conquer the ocean. Time is unforgiving – she has no concept of care for individuals caught in her flooding tides.
But the Eternal One alone commands the sea of time.
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” –Mark 4:41
He is all-merciful and all-powerful, even over the inevitable and oft ominous currents of time. I aspire to be a woman always basking in humbled wonder at the great magnitude of His providential and sustaining mercy – even when the future looks like a murky expanse.
Looking back, I remember the taste of rippling, moonlight-drenched waves, the depths of His faithfulness, and the arrival of hope. I see a season of euphoric joy sometimes eclipsed by shadowy pain and sorrow.
Looking forward, I gaze toward the horizon of the future. I do not know what it holds, although I seem to glimpse fragments–a journey to India, a not-so-far-away college graduation, and post-education ventures into the exhilarating unknown.
I do not need a precise awareness of what my future holds because I know the sovereign One outside of time. The Alpha and Omega who knows the beginning from the end in His timelessness.
My grandmother’s words return to me: “You may not know what is to come, but you know the One who knows.” Security in the face of a fast-approaching future is only found in pursuing Him, the One who holds all the waters of time in His hands.
“You have lion eyes,” my dad said. “Like mine.”
I inherited his eyes – brown and molten gold in the sunlight, and I long for the heart behind those eyes – reflecting both warm tenderness and fierce flashes of fortitude. Instead, I wake from care-ridden nights of fear, tossing and turning the tables on myself.
As much as I long to have lion-hearted valiance, my eyes too often dim with hesitation and weariness. I turn my gaze downward, rather than setting my mind’s eye on eternal things.
I can only be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Only then can I “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6). This is a faith-driven fearlessness in the face of the most menacing foes – even death itself.
We must have a reverent fear of God, awestruck and speechless in light of His infinite holiness. Through this worshipful fear, we move forward with a bravery provided through our Great High Priest, the Lion of Judah Himself. His atonement guarantees that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
This mercy and grace will carry us to a place of fearless determination, where our lives are spent for the gospel. It fuels a willingness to “run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
Eyes that blaze with lion-hearted courage are only possible as we gaze on Him who redeemed us. Filling our eyes with the Lord’s splendor and majesty, we behold His glory and reflect that glory with the brilliance of unshakable hope in our “sure and steadfast anchor” (Heb. 6:19).
May we run in His strength alone, pursuing lion-like boldness, confident joy, and courageous devotion.