The first Tuesday of the first week that we were in Austria, Christian and I decided to take the day to go into the city of Vienna and explore a little bit. Once we stepped off of the train, we began our gawking as we spun around with our eyes plastered upwards toward the beautiful buildings, the sculptures, the movement.
Vienna is breathtaking. Everywhere you turn there are beautiful streets, incredible architecture, statues, fountains, parks and cafes.
Rewind to about three years ago. A friend of ours from our ship days, who is from Germany, was studying medicine in Vienna. In one conversation, he told us about this beautiful cathedral called Stephansdom. He said that it is so beautiful that we might very well cry if ever we saw it.
Naturally, we knew this was something we needed to find.
It wasn’t hard. The steeples are raised so high that they are visible from most places in the city. We arrived at the building and sure enough, we could hardly believe its grandeur. The intricacy of the carved stone steeples, the patterns created with the colorful shingles which adorn the roof, the gargoyles, and the great wooden doors…. All of it was absolutely breathtaking.
I have always wondered what it is about these buildings that, although I am not Catholic, demand so much reverence? Why is it that when people walk in to these places, they suddenly whisper or lower their voices? Why do strangers leave bills of 5, 10, 20 euros in the donation box when regular, evangelical church attenders are generally stingy?
As we walked around, not just Stephansdom, but as we have walked around other churches as well, we haven’t been able to help but notice that Jesus, the point of it all, is given the portrait, not of the mighty Son of God, but rather of a malnourished, weak, and powerless “second.” (By “second” I mean second to the divine, maternal, and chosen Madonna.)
The Jesus that Christian and I know—the One that walks with us, teaches us, holds us and heals us—that’s not Him.
Last Thursday I went back to Stephansdom with a new friend that I’ve made. We met up in Vienna for coffee to get to know each other, and what started out as a moderately rough morning due to directions, holiday closings, and my running late, became a completely redeemed time of learning, listening, vulnerability and worship.
After coffee, we found ourselves back at this grand cathedral talking about spiritual warfare… both of us agreeing that there is such a thick cloud of spiritual oppression in this country. It’s not the same one that I have noticed in the US—this spirit of consumerism, material and distraction with access to a real (at least, a closer version to the real) understanding of Jesus on every other corner—but rather just ignorance; a complete misunderstanding of who Jesus, God, actually is.
It’s like this barrier, a “dome,” has been put here. This is Satan’s domain. And the interesting thing is, I grew up misinterpreting grandeur for spiritual health, much like some of those who might live in or visit this continent, this country.
It wasn’t until this conversation with this friend that I saw a parallel, here.
We look at these churches and marvel, much like we marvel at the landscapes, the architectures, the food, the people, the cultures. Much like the steeples of these intricate structures, all of these things were created to direct our gaze upward. Heavenward.
But instead, we settle for the mere admiration of the subject itself and stop there. Worship is lost. And this is just the outside.
What about the inside? What about the heart? Much like these magnificent cathedrals, we enter in to the minds and hearts of the people that fill this place and find a misled reverence, if reverence is even what it is. We find that Jesus is a second. Powerless. One who suffered on a cross and never left it. One who you should feel sorry for, if you feel anything at all.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
If you want an intense and beautiful follow up to that, do yourself a huge favor and read John chapter 17.
The Jesus I know… He is full of life. In fact, He is Life. Abundant Life. Joy. Powerfull. Eternal. The greatest warrior and defender of man.
This is the Jesus we want them to know. This is the Jesus in whom the Church needs to believe. This is the Jesus that I want to be like.
And may our eyes and hearts never be distracted by the external beauty of the lateral.
I'm thankful that we didn't have many expectations for Austria before we came. We honestly didn't know much about this country other than what a few other people told us and what we had researched, so landing here was when we were actually able to begin putting paint on the canvas.
We were picked up at the airport and driven to the place that would be our home for the next three months. I truly had no idea just how little German I knew until arriving here. That has thus far been the harshest reality check. I have little patience with myself in the first place, so language learning is an area where my stamina is being thrown into the fire a bit. But it's so good.
People here are so gracious with me. They are so glad that I want to learn, that even the decent English speakers will only speak German with me and correct me when I make a mistake. Immersion is a beautiful gift, folks. I have also been told by some of these patient Austrians that my German will be quite good by the end of these three months, so I have high hopes.
This first week has largely just been adjustments: adjustments to walking everywhere (he walking here makes walking in Chicago look like a joke), adjustments to dialect differences, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and diet. And although we have both become relatively good at adapting, we keep finding more things that demand some degree of alteration.
For example, do not pet other people's dogs. Dogs are generally excellently trained here. They mostly walk around without leashes and stick close to their owners. They don't bark at each other or go over to other people. They could even care less if they walked by a strange cat on the sidewalk. If you want to pet someone's dog, you should ask them to make sure it's okay. This is a 180* change from Chicago where everyone has a dog, and where most people are almost offended if you don't stop to give their canine at least a pat on the head. This is just one example, and there are many more.
This last week we spent a few evenings with new acquaintances out at heurigens (hoy-ree-gens) which are local wine gardens that only serve wine from their small vineyard, oftentimes across the street or just a few blocks away. You go and sit down, order wine, and then visit for maybe 3 or 4 hours during which time you might decide to order some food... maybe not. The point is that it's an amazing opportunity to build relationships and get to know people because of the time you spend there.The pace here is so much slower. Austrians are punctual, but not rushed. It's remarkable.
Before we left Chicago, people would find out that we were headed to Austria and say things like, "Oh, wow! It's so beautiful! You will love it there!"
To those of you who said that, you're correct, although I will be honest with you: Initially my mind reverted to "Maybe, but it's not just a beautiful place. We're not going so that we can just be somewhere beautiful. We're going for people." I now understand that as cynicism on my part. I think that cynicism stems from this idea that I had, as well as many other American (perhaps "Western") minded thinkers for quite some time; an idea that is less about Europe's need for Jesus and its post-Christian atmosphere, and more about its beautiful mountains, culture, food, etc.
This first week in Austria has been a lot to take in. We have already had the privilege of sitting down for lengthy conversations with missionaries here, hearing about why they are burdened for Europe, Austria specifically. We have learned that up until recently, the evangelical church in Austria was considered a cult rather than a church, and is still viewed that way although technically it has been officially recognized now as a church by the state. (Thank you, Jesus!) However, Austria is also infamous as the "deathplace of missions."
We have learned that one of the difficulties that missionaries here seem to face is exactly the reason why so many people choose Europe as a vacation spot: it's beautiful. And when poverty is not necessarily external, it's easy to forget the severe poverty of soul. It's easy to forget the loneliness. The unspoken pains of unknown identity. The illusions in people's minds and hearts that they are "good" and have "no need" for God. In general, it would seem that the hardest people to convince are people who don't realize they are desperate.
I have found myself on several occasions this week feeling strange-- as though we ought to be far more productive than we've been thus far. Christian and I are so used to having people in and out of our home all the time, running from thing to thing and serving here and there, that now that we are adjusting to Austria-- the most beautiful place I have ever seen-- and slowly getting to know people and just being, well, slow, has made me feel guilty.
Aren't missionaries supposed to be ultra productive? Aren't they supposed to hit the ground running and have hardly any time to rest or make memories or be with their family because of "ministry" obligations? Despite our extensive experiences with missions and travel, this is a first for me. I always had this idea in my head-- this idea that doing ministry in another country meant a certain standard of expectations, namely, the ones listed as questions above.
But the truth is, I have been realizing that these expectations that I've inflicted on myself and perhaps have been nurtured by other well-meaning Americans, are that these are not at all accurate. It all takes time. It is slow. It demands patience and commitment.
Christian and I have been able to go out and explore the area a bit this week, too! It's been such a privilege to go into the city center of Baden, see Beethoven's home (where he wrote his 9th symphony), and also go into Vienna to explore for the first time. We were able to see the Nationalbibliothek (National Library) and Stephansdom ((St. Stephans Cathedral) more to come on our thoughts on that experience later.) It's true that Vienna is a big melting pot of cultures, religions, architecture and food. It is lovely, and being able to go in and get our first impressions was wonderful.
I took some photos of Vienna that are posted below. Enjoy!
** Please bear in mind that I am a photographer. It's something that I believe the Lord has gifted me with, and it's something in which I find great joy. We want to share these beautiful places with you all so that you might see the amazing things the Lord has made. Like I said, I fully acknowledge that these places are unbelievably lovely, but please remember that this is just the cover, not the real life, and that they are not a reflection of the ins and outs of our ministry**
If you would like to know more specifically about what we're doing in Austria and more about the specifics of our weeks here, please subscribe to our newsletter here.
It's summer! This means that so many of us are, or soon will be, traveling via airplane to one of this planet's diverse destinations. Flying is exciting, right? There is just something about that airport smell and energy that get's your adrenaline going just a little bit.
One of our favorite things to do at airports is people watch, especially in international terminals. No matter where you are or what kind of travel you're doing, people never fail to disappoint in the area of travel entertainment.
We, the Neufelds, have certainly experienced our share of international travel. Since we have been married we have spent fairly extensive time traveling to eight countries (not including the ones that we've visited/worked in prior to "I do") on five different trips.
We've learned quite a bit and thought that perhaps we might share some of our thoughts with you all as you might be finding yourselves on the cusp of your own adventure.
1.) Purchase your flights directly through the airline.
This might be up for debate, but in our opinion, what you might save by booking your flights through a third party is not at all worth it if anything (and we mean anything) goes wrong. By third party, we mean sites like Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, Tavelocity and the like.
In 2014, we spent a month in Greece and were wrapping up our time in the east with a visit to Israel via Istanbul. We checked into the Istanbul international terminal and slept on the floor (because it's free and then we didn't have to figure out how to get around Turkey knowing zero Turkish). Anyway, long story short, they cancelled our flight to Tel Aviv due to Gaza troubles so instead of ending up in Israel for one week, we found ourselves in Germany. Geographically we had no complaints because, well, Germany is incredible. However, we had to try to get on our connect flight in Frankfurt instead of Athens as planned which, it turned out, was impossible. So we had all of this crazy stuff to deal with and NO airline could help us because why? We had booked our flights through a third party.
We did make it back to the US, but with an added fee of $800 due to third party "complications."
Yes, booking directly through airlines can be a bit more costly at the moment, but trust us: you will save yourself a whole ton of trouble, time and money in the event of any unexpected hiccup.
2.) Get the travel insurance for the long flights.
And make sure it covers delayed baggage. Typically, we travel light. Christian and I are not the "we have to bring everything in case of anything" kind of people, but for stints longer than one month we opt for the one checked bag for free offer. This is important because, in the event that your airline loses your luggage, you could be out for several days before it shows up again (if it shows up at all). The thing is, airlines deal with this all the time, and unless you have platinum level status and a million frequent flier miles with that airline, you and your luggage are just another number to them.
What's handy is this travel insurance thing. If the plan includes insurance on delayed luggage, they will reimburse you for whatever expenses you had on essentials caused by that suitcase not showing up. All you have to do is notify the airline and file a lost luggage form. This is easily done because as soon as the belt on that baggage claim unit stops and you are wondering where in the world your suitcase is, you simply walk over to the "lost luggage" desk right there in the area, give them your luggage claim number and fill out a quick one page document. They will give you a reference number to "track your luggage" which may or may not work, but this reference number sheet they give you is just about all you need. Call your insurance provider if your luggage has not come within 24 hours. They will give you an amount per diem that you can spend on essentials (up to a certain amount, like $1000 USD), then once your luggage shows up, just photo-copy the reference sheet the airline gave you, put your expense receipts together and send it to your insurance company. They should have you reimbursed within about 10 business days.
As we said, we only do this for the long flights (6+ hours), especially if we connect more than once or switch airlines part way through.
3.) Pack light.
We mentioned this before, but folks, none of us actually needs even half of what we think we need. Traveling internationally as a visitor/tourist and being that person with the humongous trolley full of bags is just such a pain, and also you automatically become one of those people who offers travel entertainment to everyone around you. Or you just become a huge annoyance to yourself and everyone else when it comes to things like customs, luggage check, lifts, escalators and general maneuvering around anywhere.
Maybe you're completely content and happy to do all of this, in which case, this section no longer applies to you and we can just agree to disagree on this. We applaud you for your efforts.
But seriously, bring things (like outfits) that are multi-purpose and have lots of dexterity. Simple clothing basics = many different outfits. If you have a fancy camera, bring one all-purpose camera lens instead of two. Bring one or two paperbacks instead of seven (assuming you will be somewhere for only a week or two, and unless you are actually planning to do nothing but read... which you aren't, so....) Anyway, you get it.
4.) Expensive things go in the carry-on.
Remember that bit about lost luggage? Keep your costly items close, people.
5.) Don't be that person that takes twenty minutes going through security.
Christian and I have a system. Most people that travel much usually do, and we think it's a great system that ought to be shared with the whole world. Please consider this if you haven't already.
We all know that airports have pretty strict rules about things like liquids, electronics, metal, etc. They give us step-by-step guidelines on their websites so we know exactly what to expect, right? Okay, so ways that you can expedite your process through security is by doing some of the following:
This concludes some of our thoughts on international travel! We hope that this can be helpful for you and are excited with you for whatever upcoming memories you have in the making. Please don't hesitate to ask questions. We will do our best!
One thing that I have so greatly enjoyed about our time in Chicago has been how much the artists here do to encourage and challenge each other. It's such a beautiful thing to have friends partner with other friends on projects, exchange services for each other's benefit, and networking together.
I am happy to say that there is a new artist who has been added to the circle, and that is my sweet friend, Kathryn Eastham. I met Kathryn about one year ago, and shortly after we met she shyly confided in me her dream of being a florist. It's a shame how many of us give up on our dreams because we think them so unlikely. However....
Here we are one year later, and Kathryn has officially begun her floral business. I am so incredibly thankful that I received a front row seat to this growth and transition in a sweet friend.
We collaborated on a project together, asking some of the beautiful women in our lives to model, complete with a bottle of rose, and some great girl-power music. This is what we came up with:
One of our favorite things is to walk, especially around places we have left unexplored. This last weekend, I (LJ) was able to meander my way around a new to me Chicago neighborhood: South Loop. And although I had to leave Christian at home to work on his school things, I was delightedly not alone. I was accompanied by two of my favorite ginger-haired people: Zach and his lovely wife, Jordan.
Although the sun was bright overhead (a beautiful scenario for walking, but not necessarily idyllic for picture taking), we decided to venture out of their brick loft and onto the eclectic and artsy streets that make up this little community.
We walked to a local park complete with families picnicking, children on training-wheel clad bicycles, and canopy upon canopy of big, billowy blossoms resting on top of tree branches.The air was sweet and the sun peeked at us as we pretended to be walking through the clouds.
Out of all the Springs I have seen in my life, I think this one has been the best of all.
The thing about being a photographer is that you get to capture the art that is already there.
Lee and Kelsey are two of our new favorite people in Chicago. I (LJ) met them both at our church back in December. And let me tell you... they are two of the warmest, most loving and personable people, and one of the things I love most about them is that they are big into hugs. No shame. And hugs are just great for the soul.
They also have tea-time together every day, which, let's be honest, is completely adorable.
I love that throughout the whole shoot, they were making each other laugh. I love that when I took individuals of Kelsey, Lee was just behind me going "Oh, DAAAANG."
The point is, we both just LOVE these people. Getting to capture these two was a complete privilege, and I hope these photos might shed at least a taste of their friendship and love for each other.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." -Psalm 23:1
We have all found ourselves in situations where we were expecting God to provide for us in one particular way. Where, when we looked at the situation and ran it through our reasoning minds, that one particular way was the only way that we could think of it working. (In fact, you can read another post relating to this here.)
We have a story to share with you, friend, that just happened and was just exactly that.
The last several weeks have been physically miserable. I (LJ) carry a lot, like a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders... like most people. And in the name of "vulnerability" with you all, I struggle in insane amounts with self-inflicted pressure. Whatever your expectations are for me, trust me, mine are about ten notches higher for myself.
"Am I the best wife? No? Well, I should be. Am I the best employee my bosses have ever seen? No? Well, I should be! Am I making everyone around me happy? No? Well, I should be!"
You see? This is my mind, sometimes. Usually. Okay... almost always. And also, I'm a "yes" person and idealist. So basically I think I'm Wonder Woman.
You can see why this is bad, right?
So at the end of last week, I reached out to my small group to ask for some good chiropractors. Christian and I are very much into holistic healthcare (#witchdoctors) and believe hugely in the benefits of chiropractic care. (**Note: This is a fair warning that should anyone come up to either of us and feel the least bit sickly, we will promptly begin to smother them with essential oils, recommending herbs and teas they have to start drinking right away.... You know, things to look forward to should this ever be you**)
Some friends recommended this great family wellness chiropractor in the area, so I immediately called and scheduled an appointment. This last Tuesday was my first appointment. The two doctors were amazing. Loved them, got some x-rays, but the whole time, and basically with every move, I could see dollar signs popping up.
Here's another fun thing about being an adult: Money. Oh, wait. Nope. That's not fun. That's actually the worst.
Especially when you are raising support to go overseas and really need a chiropractor, among other things.
But again, I was thinking, well... if I do need the chiropractor, which I'm pretty darn sure I do, God will make it work!
So after the x-rays and a quick adjustment, I was on my way, scheduled to come in Wednesday for adjustment number two and to officially break up with these people should God not miraculously change my chiropractor's mind to adjust me for free. "It's not you, it's me. Except it is you because you're just REALLY expensive."
All Wednesday I was praying that God would have miraculously changed the doctor's heart. I went in, got my adjustment and walked up to settle accounts. I waited for my chiropractor to tell the assistant that he was going to adjust me for free because well, he just liked me that much... or something....
Seriously, nothing happened. I looked at what they were asking, even offering a payment plan, and I was like, "Sorry... I can't. I hate this. But I can't." Honestly, I was so discouraged that I even started to tear up and with ALL my might was holding it back. But really, crying in public is not my jam, so I said something to the girl like, "Wow, the air is SO dry these days! It always makes my eyes get watery!" to which she replied, "I know, right?"
Suddenly I heard people behind me: It was my friend who had recommended the chiropractor to me. It was so great to see them, and my mind got distracted for the time.
When I got home, I told my husband of my discouragement-- how much I've been struggling with feeling like we have all these things that I consider needs, and how I just can't figure out how they're supposed to work. That's when my self-control took off running and the tears ran with them right down my face.
Folks, this is the part where I emphasize just HOW DANG IMPORTANT it is for you to marry someone who is SO SO passionate about Jesus, because it's times like this when you NEED their faith to be stronger than yours so they can lift you back up and preach truth to you. And really, it's these times that show me and prove to me even further that marrying Christian was the best decision I ever made.
Later that night, I got a text from my friend I ran into at the chiropractor. She commented on how she saw me get "the folder." For those of you who haven't been to a chiropractor, the folder is the worst part because the folder is what tells you how much of your money you can kiss goodbye if you want your spine to be fixed. The folder is a brutal beast.
As we were texting how much the folder makes us flinch she said, "If you don't mind sharing, how much did he charge you?" I told her, figuring it was probably the same all around.
The next morning (Thursday) as I sat down at my desk, my phone gave one of those big buzzes. I picked it up and saw it was from my friend.
"We want to cover that cost for you. Get yourself feeling the best you can feel before you head to Austria. We are in it with you and we love you guys and feel like Dr. _______ is legit and will help you to be the best version of yourself physically. And that's important."
My jaw dropped. For such a normally wordy person, I couldn't think of words. I thought that she must not understand how expensive it is to go as much as the doctor said. I shared that with her and said, "Girl, I get it if you want to rethink this. Like, are you SURE!?"
"Umm YES we're sure."
You guys... it amazes me how the Lord uses people like this to teach us things. It's amazing how the greatest times of teaching about generosity in my life have been through people showing me the greatest examples of it through their actions toward me.
I don't deserve this gift, but that's the beauty of my Father. And that's the real beauty of the Church.
I am learning more and more that provision doesn't necessarily come from the source that I reason it should be coming from, and I'm learning more and more of the real value of living in real Church community.
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." -John 13:35 (ESV)
Do any of you have an experience where God used an unexpected resource to provide for you? Feel free to share!
Honestly, tonight I was just scouring through drawers looking for a misplaced tax form when I ran across the journal the I kept all through 2014.
That was the year that the Lord asked Christian and I to do something extreme. That was the year that He said, "Let's stretch your faith out and see how far you will go." That was the year we dropped everything and went to Greece for a month. Why? Still having pieces of that revealed as time goes on. Did we know what life would look like when we came back? No, but we knew somehow that it would be even more demanding than a Greek faith trip.
And trust me. It was.
By December that year, we were desperate. I, personally, had never felt so low in my life since getting saved.
As I flipped through this journal after its rediscovery, I stopped on the last entry written on the 11th of January, 2015. Here is that entry in its entirety.
"At the beginning of December, the idea hit C and I to look into moving to Chicago. Since Moody's main campus is there he could potentially go for free (or very little) if he's admitted, and I started looking for jobs. I found a lot of jobs there and have been applying to tons. We saw 'Aunt' Carol too, the day after we talked about Chicago. C mentioned our idea to her and he asked if she was renting out the apartment which takes up the whole top floor of her house. She said that she would be so happy if we would rent it because she had been praying for someone to rent it. He asked her how much each month and she said only $300!!! Plus, it's fully furnished and has wifi. She just doesn't have a bed which is perfect because that's all that we DO have!
The problem is that people (or at least many) don't approve of this idea.
So... I'm still waiting for a job, still applying everywhere, trying to believe faithfully and trust. I'm teaching ESL, I'm on the nursery rotation, I'm on the sound booth rotation, and attending Lifeline. In fact, Frances H. asked me to speak at Lifeline next Thursday.
The whole truth is, I'm super tired of this season of life. We are exhausted and ready for a break... a time of calm. I went to ESL registration on Tuesday night and on the way I had a meltdown. I told God that I'd had enough. I'm ready to be done. I know I'm a wuss and not a Job like I thought and asked Him to stop refining us just for a while so that we could have a break. I know and really do believe in His promises. I know He loves us enough to refine us. I know that this will work out for our good. I know He is faithful, loving, gracious and sovereign. Nonetheless, I have broken down too many times. Felt like we've hit bottom so many times. But we just keep falling deeper. I'm tired of inconveniencing people, even though some tell me that it's good because it 'gives people a chance to serve and give.' Still... I don't like it. I don't like going almost 9 months without a place to call 'home.'
God has to do something.
I trust He will. Soon."
One week later, as I was preparing to get up and begin speaking on God's faithfulness even when you're broken at Lifeline, one of the women who allowed Christian and I to live in her home for a few months brought up a piece of mail to me. It was a small envelope with the senders address telling me it was from Moody. Small envelopes are rarely good signs when trying to get into schools... especially ones with long wait-lists.
I opened the letter slowly, afraid of what those first words might be. As I took apart the tri-folded letter, the first words exploded into my eyesight. "Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you..."
The letter was dated the 15th of January. A mere four days after I told God that I trusted Him to do something soon.
Two minutes later, I got up to talk about the faithfulness of God.
I've been reflecting on these last two years in Chicago. God has done amazing things. When I couldn't get a job at any of the nine Starbucks I had applied to in Portland (having worked at Starbucks for 4 years before), I got hired over Skype at one of the top three specialty coffee companies in the world, Intelligentsia. One year later, and I found myself sitting in an office for the first time, carefully combing through Scripture references in John MacArthur's New Testament Commentary.
God gave us a beautiful, huge, bright apartment in exchange for some maintenance work instead of paying rent. He's filled it with people from all over the world almost non-stop. He's given us an amazing church.
And here we are. Christian graduates from Moody Bible Institute in 2.5 months. And today we celebrated my one year anniversary as the editorial specialist at the publishing house.
And due to all this and so much more, the tears come.
This morning I stood looking out my window, the blue sky hidden behind low, gray clouds.
My eyes rest on a church steeple not two blocks away from my window, a cross crowning the top that points toward the heavens.... A symbolic reminder to keep my gaze fixed on the things above. The things to come. The joy that is set before us who know our Shepherd.
The hot air of rooftop chimneys meets with the cold and turns into a white vapor. I watch as a small flock of pigeons circle the cross-crowned steeple. And a song begins to emerge out of my living room speakers: "...even so come, Lord Jesus, come."
My mind wanders to those planes. Planes full of hearts racing with the adrenaline that comes when long-awaited joy is about to culminate. The faces glued to the windows as rubber meets asphalt. Lives on the cusp of reunion, reinvention, relief.
Yet lives that are desperate, perhaps unknowingly, for a reunion filled with joy that will never fade. Reinvention that will be perfect and holy. Relief that is secure, unbreakable, permanent.
Our country, our culture values national security more. And when we, the United States, stand for national security, in much the same way we as individuals should replace the word "national" with "personal." Because we, as individuals, have created a culture that strives for personal security first.
America first. Me first.
We are angry with our president. Rightly so. But are we, the people, so different? More specifically, am I?
When Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and "love your enemies," does that provoke me as much as when the president says no to refugees?
I might argue. I might say that I would never reject someone because they're Muslim (or fill in the blank). But what about my enemy? What about the person who has wronged me? And for some of us, that could just be the person who unfollowed us on Instagram.
And while I believe it right to actively seek justice where justice is lacking, shouldn't it start with me? Isn't justice loving my neighbor? My enemy?
I think Gandhi had a lot of wisdom, and something he said once has really struck me even though I've heard it hundreds of times: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
But being the change means going against the cultural norm. It means saying no to things that the majority approve. It means saying yes to things that might ostracize me from my "groups" (my west coast group, white group, lower middle class group, even Christian group).
I have spent my life, most often with the (sub)conscious worldview of me first, and my best interest.
So if I want to see things change, than my self-serving "me first" worldview needs to become "me first... to change" for the sake of my neighbor and my enemy. For their best interests. So they might see Jesus.
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." - Romans 12:14-21
".... By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35
Christian and I have been married for five years today. I can't believe it. In some ways it feels as though we have been married far longer for all that has happened in our lives in this relatively short amount of time. We have moved five times in five years (although three of those moves were in the Chicago area). We have traveled to Mexico, Paraguay, Panama, Canada, Greece, and Germany since the day we vowed to be each other's in addition to the Lord's. We have laughed (a lot), cried (a lot), been angry, hopeful, discouraged, faithless, and faithful, feeling love, and not feeling love.
Christian has been a student since day one, and after a few years of having no clue what I wanted to do professionally, I finally landed on it only this year at age twenty-seven (see the about tab for more info). (So for those of you who are somewhere around age twenty-three and are anxious because everyone else on social media looks like they have their life together and knows what they're doing, be encouraged.)
A dear friend of mine actually prompted my thinking on my marriage a bit further last week by asking me what I have learned about being a godly wife in the last five years. I'll tell you what... after honest, prayerful consideration, I have arrived at the same conclusions at which many God-fearing women before me have arrived. And please bear in mind that the things I will write below are things that will always offer me continual growing opportunities because the Lord (and Christian) know(s) that I fall short in these things daily, and I say that with full honesty and absolutely zero false humility. But this is what bonds us in this world, women. Our honesty in our struggles, and our strength in uplifting up one another toward Jesus. So here it goes...
1.) Pray. Pray for your man. For his relationship with God. For his growth. That God would fill him with wisdom, discernment, confidence, strength and boldness. Because whether we believe it or not, the way our man is doing in these areas effects us as wives. A lot. If he is not spending consistent time with his nose in his bible, pray that God would compel his heart. If he is afraid of making the wrong decision for your family, pray that God would fill him with wisdom and discernment. If he struggles with knowing how to love you in ways that make sense to you, first of all, please gently mention it to the poor guy (once), and then pray that God would miraculously fill him with the "right kind" of love method.
And women, here's a big one: If he is struggling with confidence in his leadership-- in his God-given role as a man-- or struggling with temptations, pray hard that God would fill him with confidence, strength and boldness in his role and/or in overcoming the toxic, tempting voices of the world.
I am convinced that this is the greatest thing we can do as wives.
2.) Be best friends. Be available to him and prioritize him. I am not a mother yet, but I have seen so many families that revolve around their children, which I can only assume is super easy because, I mean, kids are just so dang precious! But what's more precious? Yeah. Our marriage. Because if we can't do that, our family falls apart and our men feel lonely and unloved.
And ultimately, we need to know how to play and have fun with each other.
This is, fortunately, something at which Christian and I are pretty dang good. In fact, most of the people that have seen us together think that we're siblings because of how we mess with each other. I know this is totally based on the couple, and we certainly have times of total mush (ask our housemates), but our romance is not the catalyst for our friendship... it's the other way around.
We also decided a long time ago that our priority for our life together was to fill it up with as many memories as possible instead of stuff. In fact, this priority helps get these two homebodies out more because otherwise we would probably most often be content to just stay home. But this way, we push each other to go out-- to experience wherever it is that we are and therefore make some seriously fantastic memories.
Also,we talk about everything-- bouncing ideas off each other, discussing what God is teaching each of us-- we pray together, read together, eat together and serve together. This is what makes us each other's best friend.
3.) Serve him. Ya'll... I have been learning that the best way to be my husband's best friend, and to show him my love and respect for him, is to serve him even when I don't feel like it. It also means that I take the time to listen to him. Not hear him, but listen to him. It means that I am quick to forgive him when he messes up or frustrates me. It means that I learn his habits, his likes and dislikes, what makes him feel loved and appreciated.
Back when we were first married, we talked about the big ways that we can express our love to each other in a way that makes sense to the receiver. At the time, Christian told me that affirming words are his biggest way of receiving love, but after observing him and how he responds to words versus random things like making the bed, keeping the kitchen clean, etc, I have discovered that Christian responds most (by far) to these acts of service that I do for him. Also physical touch, but seriously, like we didn't already know that....
And because I am not Super Woman, a short while ago I asked Christian to give me his top five things that I could do to serve him that would make him feel filled up with love. Seriously, it's been SO helpful. That decision to just ask him has allowed me to have significant grace with myself, and also given me the ability to know what to prioritize in my day-to-day.
Another thing that pertains less to the individual and more perhaps to men in general is that there will be times, wives, when we find ourselves needing to take our turn on the backburner. We as women are a crazy capable and gifted gender, am I right!? God just made us freaking power-houses and I love that. But here's the thing: God has made our men incredibly capable and gifted, too. And sometimes God calls our men out ahead of us to use them for something awesome and wonderful. And when that happens, we need to be willing to step back and watch for a bit. Sometimes, that means that we serve our men by waiting for our turn and, in the meantime, patiently watching and supporting, and then rejoicing when we see all of the ways God is growing and using them.
Plus, I have found that doing this just gives me even more ways to keep falling in love with Christian over and over. Trust me, as hard as it has been for me to sit on the back burner in the past, it has payed off big time.
Honestly, there is no greater struggle and no greater triumph than learning to die to yourself.
Well, that pretty much sums up what God has been showing me about what it means to not just be a wife, but more like Jesus in the last five years of marriage. Even though it's been challenging and unpleasant at times, reflecting on it all has just filled me up with so much thanks that God would love me enough to teach me these things, allbeit the action on them still is left wanting in many ways.
It also has reminded me of how great of a gift I have been given in Christian by God's grace and mercy.
*Note: Sisters, if you are single right now, I encourage you-- please, please keep your standards crazy high. Don't compromise on a man who is "okay with your religion" or just "goes to church" or "is open." Hold out for a man who already loves God fiercely, is passionate for His Church, and who pushes you to be better rather than encourages your bad habits (because we all have them). The decision will forever effect the rest of your life, for better or for worse.
**If you are married already and are struggling... girl... first I want to say that my heart breaks for you. I hope that I can encourage you to keep loving Jesus and to serve your husband for God's glory, as awful and as difficult as it may be. I have seen God change a life in minutes (and to be honest, also years), but I hope I can encourage you now by telling you that your prayer, your service-- it's not in vain.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1
Keep praying, keep serving, keep loving.
And happy anniversary, Schatz. Ich leibe dich mit alle mein Hertz.