Monday, July 9, 2012

On Heaven as it is on Earth

“On Heaven as it is on earth.”

I do recognize that this is a direct misquotation of the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive me for that.   I hope this is in no way sacrilegious or dishonoring to the magnificence and glory that we will surely one day encounter in heaven.  But I think it is a pretty powerful thought.  Let me explain.

The other night—a sleepless one, where there was nothing in particular restraining me from sleep, yet a continuous sequence of nothings rendering the fading hope of a little kip as elusive as a vanishing cloud under the burning summer sun—I found myself visiting a blog that I had read through just over a year ago.  Many, to be sure, may have also been exposed to the incredible journey of Katie Davis—a 21-year old adoptive mother of 13 little Ugandan daughters, founder of Amazmia Ministries, currently (and most permanently) living in Uganda.  Along with thousands of others, I have at times been quite drawn to her bold story of love, sacrifice, obedience, and blessing.  At 19 years of age, she left home, her boyfriend, everything she knew, and took on the role of Mommy to 3 precious little girls.  I don’t mean to glamorize her life, or exonerate her sacrifice above any other.  I certainly don’t think everyone needs to move to Africa (not to mention, alone) and adopt 13 children, but I do think her example is living proof that we can give EVERYTHING to God.  Absolutely everything.  Nothing could ever be too much.  Katie’s life is so completely full.  Every day is a mission field.  Every day seems to hold incredible adventures, blessings, and trials.  Yet, in some ways, her life is even normal.  She loves her daughters as they love her, they read stories together—laugh, play, get sick, get better, and eat dinner together.  I imagine Katie even has days, just like I do—where we wake up (or lie awake) and think—“What in the world am I doing here?”  I am sure there are, or have been, days where Katie wanted to quit.  I am sure there have been times where her heart felt like it was ripped out of her chest, where the hurt was so deep or loneliness was so great that even breathing became a chore.  And then, there may have been times where her heart maybe even felt numb, or almost desensitized to the world moving around her.  I am sure there are days Katie almost talked herself into packing up and moving home—that her sacrifices there weren’t really needed, or that perhaps the easier road was really where God wanted her.  (I realize I am speaking for her quite a bit here, but even the Savior of the world asked God to “take this cup from [him].”)  But then, looking at the pictures of Katie, surrounded by her loving, precious, happy family—I thought of how incredible it will be one day, when all of those souls are gathered around her in heaven and are no longer her adopted children, saved by grace after enduring trials we have never even imagined, but they will be whole creations, at one with her in the Creator.  I thought of her whole family in a mansion grander than any on this earth.  I thought of the love and fullness that Katie and her family would experience in heaven because of their obedience, sacrifices, and love here on this earth.  And I prayed for a second, “Lord, on earth as it is on heaven…”  And that is when it clicked.  

Bounce back.

Almost 3 years ago, I went on my first study-tour to the Near East with George DeJong.  We actually began our journey in Egypt, and worked our way over to the Sinai Peninsula, through Jordan, and up to Israel.  We followed the journey of the Hebrews as they were taken out of captivity in Egypt and in to the Promised Land.  A year later, I joined Ray Vander Laan on a trip through Israel and Turkey.  There, on the rugged Turkish hills—land forgotten and unnoticed by most “visitors” to the country, land that our feet came to know so well, and land that taught me so much about the story of our God and His people—I remember a small little faith lesson that I believe was a bit unplanned (as so many of Mr. Ray’s are).  I think we had passed a bit of trash on the road, or—given the scorching desert heat—perhaps his stance on global warming came in to question.   But I remember he was commenting on our role as Christians to be good stewards of the land, the earth.  He said that we had been given dominion here to rule over the resources God placed here in a way that would honor and glorify the Creator.  Now—this particular concept was not necessarily new news, as I had been working for a youth mountain hiking ministry in Colorado for the previous 7 summers.  There I developed an appreciation for the land and learned about our relationship with the natural world—the Creator, and His creation.  Mr. Ray also told us how diligently the Hebrews would work and tend to their land.  They saw their land as God’s charge to them and their purpose would be fulfilled in the honor with which they tended the land.  They would pass on their fields generation to generation, always hoping to leave the land better, more fertile for the future generations.  

But what Mr. Ray said next was new.  It did bring entirely new light to my idea of Godly Purpose on this earth.  He said that part of the reason the Hebrews were so diligent in their tending of the land was because of their dutiful commitment to their God-given dominion over the earth, but another aspect was a result of their their understanding of the Covenant.  Part of God’s promise to Abraham was certainly referring to a Promised Land land flowing with milk and honey, where they would not be enslaved.  But the other Hebraic understanding included the comprehension of a place to serve God, and then extend His kingdom.  Each square foot of land that the ancient Jews would work, was a square foot of land that had been reconciled to God.  The Jews thought of their service as literally bringing down the Kingdom of heaven, in accordance with the ancient prayer, “on earth as it is in Heaven.”  

And I have never been one to “get into” end times studies or even postulate too extensively or concretely on the reality of heaven, but this next discussion made a lot of sense to me.  Mr. Ray said that perhaps (just perhaps—always only a suggestion), there wasn’t a new place that we would ascend to in order to enjoy eternity, but maybe this earth was really it.  Maybe this earth was also part of the “all things reconciled to Him…” from II Corinthians 5, or from Acts 13, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that he may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of the restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”  

God’s ordained Words, the very Words of God—a period of restoration, not recreation.  

We will dwell on the new earth—yet, perhaps not an entirely new world or some floating pearly city in the sky. 

And this realization gave me a renewed sense of purpose.  The work I do here is actually aiding in the restoration and reconciliation of “all things.”  Under this interpretation, I can participate in the ushering in of the new earth.   I can be a part of that force that Rv. 21 refers to as the new Jerusalem descends like a bride on this earth.   

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  (Rv. 21.2)

What we do really matters.   This understanding makes the purpose of God’s creation, salvation, and reconciliation so much more relevant and immediate.  I can be a part of this “on earth as it is on heaven.”

***Disclaimer:  I am not saying the above is necessarily “correct” Biblical interpretation, but I am merely suggesting (per Mr. Ray) that this is perhaps a layer of how we can understand Heaven, earth, and our place there within.

Which is where I jump back to Miss Katie’s story.  She is doing it.  For her, it is happening.  She is ushering in the grace of God and the reconciliation intended for us all.  She is serving with the diligence, determination, and immediacy that the descent of the new Jerusalem and the establishment of the new earth will require of us. In going back to her blog to confirm a few details for this post, I noticed for the first time that the tab of her blogspot reads "on earth as it is in heaven."  My heart is pricked with the ironic confirmation of her work.  In her daily, constant, loving, tried, and true efforts, Katie is partnering in God's story to bring a piece/peace of heaven to this earth.  And even now, the truth is evident--in so many ways, her world already resembles what I envision to be the nature of heaven.  How cool is that. For Katie, perhaps it may be “in Heaven as it is on earth.”

And maybe, someday, for me as well.

Thanks for reading.  Stay Dusty.


**Disclaimer:  If I have misrepresented the views of either Katie Davis or Mr. Ray Vander Laan, please feel free to let me know (if you are either of these two--highly unlikely!!, if you were there, or if you can provide me with the correct details from a reliable source).  Gracias.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Me Who I am, Was, and Will Be

The other day I was watching old home videos with my mom and sister.  If you have ever done this--be it after a holiday, for a momentous birthday, or even on any given Saturday afternoon--you may be able to relate to the strange nature of the paradoxical disconnect between who you once were and who you are as you watch the videos.  There is a bizarre intrigue as you see yourself played out, being supposedly you, yet there are parts of you that you never knew you had carried all of these years.  And then there are those moments that you can almost feel--where you and the younger you almost converge in the camaraderie of a singular shared experience.  I watched myself opening gifts Christmas morning--and I shared the excitement and endearment of certain long-awaited treasures.  I remember loving certain outfits, and playing my first CD on my new Sony Boom Box.  Yet as much as I could relate to these experiences, I still felt as though I watching a stranger, or perhaps a daughter or younger cousin.  

Except for those very revealing moments that disclosed my most innate nature, I knew the person before me must surely be me.  

Every birthday, I wanted to light the candles.  I loved fire.  I have always known that the beauty and mystery of a flame has long-intrigued me, but to see myself at six and seven staring at candles, helping start the fire, wanting to light the candles--I came to realize that this was really a part of me.  An affection towards fire was not something that randomly developed and grew to my present fetish, but the intrigue started much younger than I had imagined, and was probably fostered through the encouragement of such terms of endearment as "my little pyro," or "Little Miss Brittney and her fires."  This grew with me, matured, and remains today.

Or there is my avoidance of the camera.  I would strategically place myself behind a beam, wall, or the face of a friend to avoid the shutter.  But then there were other times, when in a "better mood," or when I had decided, that I would ham it up for the film crews.  I was willful and peculiarly shy.  Even today, I have been know to get a little more than perturbed if Mom starts snapping more than five shots.  I do better with photos and video now, but I do not by any stretch enjoy being on front of a lens.  Yet, in my own world, and when I choose, I can film videos of myself, take creative photos, speak publicly.  But just as when a little girl--right when my stubborn will decides.

And then I watched a gymnastics recital from when I was about six years old.  This was perhaps the most telling.  The first shot, I am sitting exactly as the teacher was--arms crossed over my knees, my dangling legs again crossed at the ankles, my back straight and off my chair, and my chin held high in anticipation of the activities that would display my hard work over the course of our classes.  I was first in line to perform every skill, and I had the face of a soldier headed in to battle.  My every move was calculated, precise and with eagerness and attention to "doing it right."  My mom, of course, thought this was absolutely adorable, but I saw what was really happening--I was a little girl so desperately eager to please my gymnastics coach, my parents, my peers, a little girl wound up so tight around being the "good little student" that everyone told me I was.  I was so determined to perform with excellence that I could hardly enjoy the experience.  There was very little of that glimpse into my recital where I allowed myself to just intrinsically enjoy being a six-year old in gymnastics--I was there for everyone else.  I am 27 today, and have dealt largely with this trait, but there are still hints of this inclination that I am forced to face on a regular basis.

But the videos are evidence.  I am me through and through.  

I also watched others on camera.  Seeing the slight indications or glaring tips of everyone's personality was thoroughly enjoyable.  Loved ones passed danced across the screen and their memories came alive in my heart as though we were together again.  Images of youth rang strong, as my much-younger-then grandparents bounced around at birthday parties, Christmases, and family gatherings.  

My sister was absolutely adorable.  I watched our dynamics unfold and develop over the years and saw the traces of the friendship we now share that were rooted in our interactions in the early days.  She was beautiful, precious, gentle, and endearingly bashful.  Today, she is still beautiful, precious, surprisingly gentle, and--although perhaps undetected by outsiders--still a bit endearingly bashful.  We were taught how to care for each other and I really do think we were something like best buddies.  She is now my closest confidant and one of my most cherished counselors.

As if for the first time and after years gone-by, I saw the way my mom's caring, gentle hand would brush our hair across our faces or gently stroke our backs as we obliviously carried on with our lives--in that moment so naively unaware of the abundant love she poured on us--and this refreshed point of view made the love I have for her swell in my heart.  She loved us so incredibly.  Her care was almost oozing out of her from the screen.  And I watched her watching herself, but her love was no surprise to her.  Yet for me--I was amazed.

And I watched my dad.  His steady hand, patient conduct, and soothing presence stood out so strong.  Something struck me about his manner behind the camera.  Perhaps my deduction came in observation of the contrast to my behavior, but he was so utterly humble on camera.  He never needed to steal the limelight, nor say too much.  But he also never seemed to particularly avoid the lens or be intimidated by the idea of himself being filmed.  He was just there--so easily, humbly and true.  There was no pretension to his demeanor, and no lofty air in his conduct.  He was so comfortable in his own skin, and it was so cool to observe.

Seeing all of this gave me an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the life I have lived and love I have experienced.  I found pieces of me in the little girl I have always been, I saw aspects of the dynamics I missed being a child, and grew a stout appreciation for the role my family and friends have played in my life.  

I thought about these videos a lot over the following days--mostly remembering funny snippets, or reminiscing on some of the blessings brought on by the footage.  But I also began to steady on how much of me today was so much a part of me then.  From the smallest little intrigues, to my mannerisms, reactions, and appearance, to the even deeper core of my personality.  I began to wonder about change, and how far I have really come from that little girl.  Certainly, I have made many strides in various areas as a result of my experiences, education, and natural growth.  But those very deep layers of my personality that are so apparent to me in the video are even more complex facets of my being today.  I have now learned to cope with them, hide them, project them, protect them and even embrace them at times.  Yet I am still me, for better, for worse.  

I don't even begin to think that change for the better is beyond any of us at any point, and I certainly wouldn't put anything past the Love of God, so although I see tremendous hope for real change, I think the substance of change may be different than I once considered. 

I thought my pride, pretension and insecurity would be something that if I practiced hard enough and wanted to rid badly enough, would just vanish.  I thought it had maybe been a phase, or a coping mechanism, that would pass, or I would mature beyond.  But I see these presenting themselves at five and six years of age, and I am all of 27 years-old now (I know--not that old), and still have to deal with these issues.  I am getting better at recognizing the sneaky areas where these vices will rear their ugly heads and I am more aware of the patterns that have, in the past, lead to indulging or justifying the ramifications of these behaviors.  But I think these videos taught me something about the nature of change.  

For, iron cannot become copper, and copper cannot become gold (baring an alchemist).  

But an iron rod can become a useful hammer.  

A copper plate can become a penny.  

And a golden nugget can become a ring.  

I can really only be exactly who I am, but I can always work on how I am.

And in realizing this, I felt an incredible sense of freedom.  It was as if the burden from the guilt of not quite having rid myself of all my vices after such effort was lifted.  

And then I remembered my dad.  He didn't seem to feel the inclination to apologize for who he was.  He had accepted that.  I am sure if you were to ask him, he would recognize that he is no more perfect than anyone else that the videos may have caught.  But he need not make excuses for where he was.  I think he may realize that this life is a path and we are all working our way through it.  

I want to be careful not to waiver too far to the other extreme of absolute ambivalence towards our shortcomings, but there is a peaceful beauty to the hopeful acceptance of them.  

And I think of the way I imagine Jesus to have been with people.  There is a profound humility to his presence that runs consistent in all of the Gospels. Although he works with an incredibly assured inditement, his grace and humility level His purposed mission.  I think of the way people responded to Jesus--sure, He has His enemies, those opposed to His claims--but the people that He met, those that had been cast out from society, broken, ostracized from the very roots of the faith He proclaimed that encountered Him and were changed.  They felt the acceptance and freedom in His manner, which was the very mechanism of their revival. 

I think of myself, and the person I want to be in this world.  The person I want to be for me, for God, and for His ultimate purpose.  I want to be free like Jesus.  Purposeful.  Assured.  Yet human.  

I have so much yet to learn.  And so much more to grasp.  Yet in allowing myself the freedom offered in the person of Jesus, I come to understand how my own shortcomings, and my personal journey with them, will lead me to be not only an iron rod, but a hammer.  Not only a copper plate, but perhaps a penny.  And not only a golden nugget, but maybe one day a golden ring.  

Stay Dusty.