Saturday, March 26, 2011

The American Dream: Am I Doing It Wrong?

Luke 9:23-25
"And [Jesus] said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'"

Somewhere along the line, (the majority of) Christian Americans started following The American Dream more than the teachings of Jesus. Maybe they've even been getting the two confused. But if you take a long, hard look at the philosophy of The American Dream, it doesn't exactly fit comfortably with what Jesus was all about.

The American Dream probably encapsulates a lot more than I could talk about in a small post, so let me personalize it. You see, this is something I've been struggling with recently. The reality is that Elliott and I have a very different lifestyle than most people our age. It seems that our lifestyle was all well-and-good when it was just us, but with a baby on the way, our way of life may seem--to some--as reckless to the welfare of the baby.

Knowing that some others thought this caused me to question our lifestyle. I suppose that's normal. But when I started to look closely at what "sensible Americans" preach is best for us and our baby, I realized that it doesn't have anything to do with what the Bible tells us.

The American Dream tells me to hold on to material and financial success.
The Bible tells me to leave everything and follow Jesus.

Luke 5:4, 6-7, 10-11
"And [Jesus] said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.' ...And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink... And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him."

I love this account because Simon, James, and John have just had great business success and they leave it immediately to follow Jesus. As fisherman, these fish are their livelihood. And here, they just got the biggest catch of their lives! And they leave it all! What happened to the fish? Did the crowd take it? The other fishermen? It doesn't matter. What matters is that they left worldly success behind because Jesus asked them to.

Was it prudent? No. Does Jesus ask this of everyone? Not specifically, but we have to be willing to give up anything for the sake of the Gospel. So in our hearts, we better already have left all of our worldly savings and success for His sake.

The American Dream tells me to be independent and not ask anyone for help.
The Bible tells me to be dependent on the body of Christ in all circumstances.

Luke 9:3-4
"And [Jesus] said to them, 'Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there.'"

In order to make a living, Elliott and I ask others for our salary. That's part of our ministry. God called us into the mission field of college campuses, and asked us to take nothing (not that we had anything to take!). We are completely dependent on Him, and we have seen His abundant provision through the body of Believers. And let me tell you: the body of Christ is an awesome entity.

I firmly believe in support-raising as a ministry, because when we ask others to give, we are also asking them to step into a countercultural lifestyle-- a way of living that is so opposite of what the world believes. But it is the lifestyle to which God calls us.

And when I falter in my convictions on the matter, I only need to turn to the ministry of Paul. The New Testament is littered with examples of Paul asking for support from the body of Christ. It's pretty convicting. Here are a few passages to get you started: Acts 18:1-5, Romans 15:20-24, 2 Cor. 1:16, 1 Cor. 16:6, 2 Cor. 8-9, 1 Cor. 16:1-5.

The American Dream tells me to accumulate and consume.
The Bible tells me to share with anyone who has need.

Luke 3:11
"John answered, 'Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.'"

Yikes. Gotta be honest, friends. I have a lot more than two shirts. And shoes. And dresses. And pants. And... everything. Even after purging my closet over a year ago, I still have way too many clothes. I keep holding on because I buy into the lie that I need a specific outfit for almost every different occasion. Or I think I need the clothes to express myself. The bottom line is I have way. too. much. There are so many people who could use what I have, and Jesus calls me to give, give, give.

I love reading about the early church whenever I have doubts: "All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had a need." Acts 2:44-45

What if we, as Christians, lived like this today?? How radical would our lives be?
Or, maybe, a better question: Why are we, as Christians, not living like this today?

The American Dream tells me to store away and depend on my savings.
The Bible tells me to rely on the Lord's provision.

Matthew 6:26
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not reap or sow or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

Ah, yes. We all know this one. We know it, but do we live it?

The world tells me to rely on the savings and investments I accumulate. And yes, the Bible also teaches to store away in times of plenty for times of need (Prov. 6:6-11, Prov. 13:22, Prov. 21:20, Prov. 30:24-25). But I am not to depend on the money, but on the Lord.

If God ever blesses Elliott and me with a surplus of money, we will be wise and save for our children or for a time when we have an outstanding need. But right now, we are in no position to save. And despite what the world tells me, it's okay. Because our finances are the Lord's. All money belongs to Him. It's all His anyways. And we have heard over the last few years of people getting depressed and going crazy because their finances bottomed out in the market. I don't want to despair because I put my trust in money. I want to rejoice because I put my trust in God.

Bottom Line: I've got The American Dream all wrong.
I'm not living it. I'm not buying it. I'm going to cling to the Lord and watch His glory abound.

What about you? Will you join me?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pregnancy and How It's Saving My Life

I'm just going to come out here and say it.
And I'm going to say it so that God has the glory.

For the last five or six or seven or so years, I have been suffering from what is known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I had no idea It had a name. I just knew It ruled my every waking thought. I just knew It must have something to do with my compulsive exercise and obsessive nature about every imperfection of my body. But until my therapist named It last week, I never knew It was an actual thing. I also never knew that not everyone had It. When I started reading more about BDD, suddenly things started clicking. Simultaneously, thoughts of, "That's me!! That's what I do!!" and, "You mean not EVERYONE thinks this way??" flooded into my brain.

And last week was the first week since 2003 that I felt a sudden, complete release.


Am I healed? I honestly don't know. But I do know that I have been praying for God to help me let my self-image go-- that He would help me see clearly and not skewed-- that I would be healed-- since last winter. And all I know is that for the last week, I haven't been obsessing over the size of my thighs or the loss of muscle tone in my arms or the amount of carbs I've been eating or how little aerobic exercise I've been doing. I've just been... being. Existing. Being still before God. Staying healthy and walking and eating right, but not worrying about getting my 5-6 days of intense cardio in.

It's been pretty nice. :)

So what's made the difference? Why this time? Why not last winter? Why not ever before?

Truly, I think it is this little baby growing inside me. God has used this pregnancy to teach me a lot about trusting in Him -- about letting my anxieties go because I literally cannot control my life just as I cannot control how this little baby forms and grows inside of me. Everything-- everything-- is in His hands.

And now I'm at a point in the pregnancy where I literally cannot hide behind my old ways. I can't run any more. I can barely walk fast without my squished lungs causing windedness. I can't worry about eating carbs because if I don't get the grains, I'll be super hungry in two hours anyways. At this point in the pregnancy, there is nothing I can do but let go and allow myself to accept Grace.

So for the last week, I've practiced this Acceptance. When I have a free moment, instead of distracting myself on the iPod or with homework or whatever else, I just sit and accept the Presence of God.

And sometimes I feel the little one wiggling around inside. I touch my stomach or watch her make funny forms through my clothing, and I pray and praise the Lord and live within the gratitude.

Thank You, thank You, thank You.

This is me at 20 weeks. I'm now at 27 (yay!) and a lot, lot bigger (and so is baby!).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When God Says Yes

It's only 1:30 in the afternoon, and already I feel exhausted enough to turn in for the rest of the day. A little baby twirls around in my body, reminding me of why the tiredness and nausea is worth it.

But I want to cry. I find myself despairing. All I want to do is go home and go to sleep, but instead the rest of the day is filled with meetings, homework, and class. Plus, I have a major 45-minute teaching presentation at 7:30 that night.

Did I mention I want to cry?

I think I let a couple tears well up before I softly lay my hands on my stomach, sink into some Brooke Fraser on my iPod, and pray. "Alright, God. You promise strength when we are weak. I'm very weak right now. If I can make it to the presentation and pull it off, I know it will be you working through me. I can't take the credit today."

In reality, I can't take the credit any day. But pregnancy is a constant reminder that I am completely and utterly reliant on the Lord. Every. Single. Moment.

Somehow I muster through until 7:30, and right before my presentation, something clicks. One classmate even mentions a minute before my partner and I start: "Rachel is totally in the zone." Yeah. I guess I am. Somehow.

And the presentation not only goes phenomenally well -- I not only have an amazing amount of energy -- but God even gives me a moment of clarity -- an epiphany.

All of a sudden, it dawns on me: "I'm legitimately teaching right now. I am teaching my class something they've never known before, and I don't even care about the subject. But I love it. I love teaching. This is what I love doing."

I have never had that moment before with teaching. I've had it while acting, I've had it when teaching drama, I've had it when singing. I've never, ever had it while "merely" teaching. I praise God for this moment, because I've been going through, getting my Master's in Education, constantly wondering if I could really do this.

And last night, in my weakest moment, God gave me a resounding YES.