Sunday, June 27, 2010

Perfect love is holding me.

"Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."
- James 1:23

Five years ago, this summer, I was playing on semi pro soccer team in Cleveland. We made it to the playoffs and drove down to Cincinnati to play in the first round against some team from Charlotte. I remember the day vividly. We played at a high school field and the temperature had to be at least 95 degrees, plus humidity. It's one of those games that you try to conserve your energy as much as possible and just try to make it through the first half until the sun goes down and the air starts to cool off.

My team was sitting in the shade getting our shin guards and cleats on, preparing to start the warm up. I jogged into the field house to go to the bathroom. As I was jogging back out to join my team I heard this noise coming from one of the locker rooms. I peaked my head around the corner without them noticing me. It was the team we were about to play. Someone was playing the guitar. The rest of them were standing with eyes closed and hands raised. They were singing songs about Jesus.

I started laughing to myself and thought "wow, these people are freaking weird." I went and got 2 or 3 of my teammates so I could show them how crazy these people were. We all started laughing and had some choice words to say about them. Singing about Jesus before a soccer game? What the heck is going on? Is this a cult?

After the game, in which they beat us 7-1, they asked us to pray with them. We all circled up and everyone put their arms around each other. Their coached prayed. I felt uncomfortable and I don't think I closed my eyes at all, I was just looking around at everyone thinking how weird it was that I was standing on a soccer field, angry after the loss...praying. Again...what the heck is going on? Weird.

Over the next year-or-two, God did a work in my heart & life. I'm not going into all the details here but, let's just say he completely transformed me from the inside out. A life that was "perfect" on the outside was filled with loneliness, confusion, and a 19 year old girl searching for something real. I searched in many places but couldn't seem to find it. Then I found that realness when the Jesus of the Bible jumped off the pages and became real and living, breathing air into my lungs. For the first time in my life I felt significance beyond all the awards I won and beyond all the things I could "do." In a life that was spinning out of control (only on the inside because I had to have it all together on the outside, of course), I finally found something solid to stand on. Something that was Truth. The relentless love of Jesus, through other people. A life that had come alive.

Let's fast forward to this summer. Five short years after that hot summer day. Remember "some team from Charlotte"? The Charlotte Lady Eagles. The funny part? I play for them now. Now I sing songs about Jesus before I play soccer. Weird...I know.

The reason I shared the verse at the beginning (James 1:23) is because I think it's easy to forget who I was. It's easy to forget what I was like and what I was doing & thinking before I collided with the grace and love of Jesus. I have NEVER BEEN THE SAME. Yet, I often take it for granted. I often "look in the mirror" and think that "I'm doing ok" or "I got this (life) under control."

Romans 3:23 says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." ALL have sinned...I have sinned. ALL fall short...I fall short. So...if I DON'T see that 19 year old (lost, lonely, confused) EVERY TIME I look in the mirror, I'm in trouble. Why? Because only if I see my unworthiness can I see God's greatness. Only if I see that I am nothing without Him can I be reminded of the "grace by which I have been saved, through faith- and this not from myself, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

From Cleveland to Charlotte. From loneliness to joy. From confusion to Truth. From anger to love. From persecuting Jesus to living my life for his glory.

...all in the blink of an eye...

Don't ever forget who you were before the grace of God.

Don't ever forget that your sin is no match for his grace.

"My dead heart now is beating,
my deepest stains now clean.
Your breath fills up my lungs,
now I'm free, now I'm free..."
- Charlie Hall ("Marvelous Light")

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blowing things up.

I just returned from Colorado for two weeks of the Athletes in Action Ultimate Training Camps (UTC). This year I was on staff at UTC, but I have also attended camp as a college athlete. We had two separate weeks of camp, each consisting of 100-150 college and professional athletes from around the country. During the week, the athletes learn five "Principles." The Principles teach the athletes how to glorify God using the huge platform/influence they have been given. The main points address the following questions: who or what do you worship? what motivates you? how do you deal with pain/trials? does it matter how you live your life, today? Each of these questions are answered from a Biblical perspective. Athletes are under a lot of pressure both on and off the field and most of the information/images they take in throughout a typical day are from a worldly point of view. Many of the topics addressed at camp are radically different from what our culture tells us. In a world where we are told that pride is a virtue and success and power are important, Jesus calls us to humbly serve others before ourselves.

Let me tell you that God changes lives in 7 days.

Each of the two weeks ends with a Saturday night bonfire. At the end of the first week I laid on a bench next to the camp fire, staring up at the star-filled Colorado night sky. First, I started laughing to myself because I was thinking about how, four years earlier (when I was at camp as an athlete), I laid in that exact same spot, feeling very overwhelmed and a little confused. I had never been in a Christian environment before and, honestly, I thought the people were a little crazy. Really nice...but weird. Then I started to cry to myself because I was thinking about how, three years earlier (my second time at camp as an athlete), I laid in that same spot, staring up at those same stars. My heart felt like it was being ripped into two different directions, but I finally decided that if I was going to really follow Jesus I couldn't do it half-heartedly anymore. It was all or nothing. And I chose ALL.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the lights went on, everything made sense, and it was easy from there on out. That would be a lie. And I'm not going to tell you that I haven't messed up. That would also be a lie. But I will tell you that I have never, not for one day, regretted that decision I made. Through lots of reading and praying and crying and the guidance & patience of others, God has seriously done a miracle work in my life over the last three years. God doesn't ever let me forget who I was before He changed me and I'm very thankful for that...I don't ever want to forget, because I don't ever want to think that I don't need Him.

That, my friends, is how I crashed into the life that is truly life.

I looked around at all the faces. I only got to know a few of them, but they all have a story. Many lives had been changed, some without them even knowing it. It was awesome to be on staff at camp and to be there to guide/mentor some of the athletes. Just as other people had loved me and shown me who the Jesus of the Bible is, I was given the chance to do the same. Humbling. That's the only word, because I quickly realized that most of the issues people were dealing with are so beyond anything I could say or do. I can't "fix." That's Jesus' work. I can just love and point them to what God says is true and He does the rest.

I want to tell you stories. But there are just too many. Open up the Bible and read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). I can tell you that those people you will read about...those are the athletes I met at camp. I can also tell you that those people are me and they are you.

It's a beautiful day for God to change a life. Thank you, God, that you don't need me but you use me anyway.