Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Artwork

It was an incredible piece of art. Every piece was different.  They were all different shapes and sizes and colors.  They all had their own special qualities.  Despite how different they were every piece fit intricately with every other piece.  One could almost say that it was a living piece of artwork, as the pieces shifted in their relationship to each other as time went on.  Each piece supported every other piece.  Some days it appeared as if all the pieces came together to support one piece.  Other days they supported another.  Some days they were close together.  Other days they drifted apart.  No matter what happened though, all the pieces stayed together and they were beautiful.

Together, they were beautiful.

One day however, one piece decided that she was doing too much.  She felt that she was holding up another piece too much.  She told her that.  She told her that she needed to find other pieces to hold her up.  She wasn’t going to do it anymore.  The piece fell to the ground, shattered and crushed.
She began to doubt that the other pieces were going to hold her up.  Maybe the weight that she brought to the piece of art was too much.  Maybe she didn’t belong. Maybe her shape was too different for this piece of art.
She lay on the floor, full of cracks, her edges chipped.

She hurt.

In her pain she cried out to the Artist, longing to know whether she had any worth left.  She did not know how to exist outside of the piece of art she had been in.  She knew the Artist had a plan for her, but from the floor, with her very being cracked and her edges chipped, she could not fathom what the plan was.  From the floor, from her pain, she felt the Artist gently pick her up.  He held her close to himself, and then, with His infinitely big, and infinitely gentle hand, He pulled back a curtain that hung at the edge of the piece of art.  He held her up so that she could see. 
The new portion of the piece that had just been unveiled was even more beautiful than the portion she had known before.  The Artist indicated a new spot.  It looked different than her old spot.  She looked at Him with confusion.  There was no way that she was going to fit in that spot. Her edges weren’t the right shape. She had too many cracks.

The fall had been hard.

She protested to the Artist, she begged to go back to her old spot.  She knew that place.  She knew how the pieces in that section of the art worked, how they related to her and how she related to them.  She begged Him to let her go back to the place that she knew.
He heard her protests, but being the Artist, He had better plans for her.  He refused to place her back where she had been.  She watched with dismay as the place where she had been began to close over and the other pieces moved around, shifting, holding each other up, without her there.

She felt forgotten.

Slowly, gently the Artist began to polish her.  He smoothed out her rough edges, He repaired her cracks. Very carefully He placed her in the new spot He had planned for her.  At first it was super awkward.  She didn’t know these pieces.  They didn’t know her.  They didn’t know how to interact with each other.  She missed the security of her old position. As time went on they learned how each other moved and worked.  They became their own piece of art.

 And together, they became beautiful.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fearfully and Wonderfully made

Warning:  This blog post contains images of alpaca fetuses at about 3 months gestation.  If you would rather not view them, I advise closing this window and not reading any further.

This is the last cute picture in this post.

Isaac came in from the barn with a report that he had found an amniotic sack in the upstairs pasture.  One of the mamas had spontaneously aborted.   We went out to see what it was that he had found.  All the mamas were safely 3 months pregnant, so a lost pregnancy was a bit of a surprise.  Mom opened up the sack and this is what we saw:
Two tiny baby alpacas.  The one on the left had been stepped on by another animal in the pasture, but the one on the right was perfectly intact.
Not quite 5 inches long, this baby (had it not been miscarried) would have weighed 15-20 pounds by next summer
His sex had already been determined.  He was most definitely a “he”.  The hindquarters of the other fetus had been crushed too much for us to determine the sex.
Since his skin was still so thin we could see all the tiny blood vessels that supplied his body.
His tiny split hooves were already completely formed
Both babies had completely formed eyes
You could already see his nose and the spot where his ears would grow

He even had and itty-bitty tiny tail
Every single rib was formed and attached in the correct spot

As we examined these two tiny babies I couldn’t help but feel and incredible sense of awe and wonder.  They were approximately 3 months gestation (we don’t know for sure yet which mama miscarried, so we can’t be certain on length of gestation at this point).  Alpaca babies normally have 11.5 month to 12.5 month long gestation periods.  These tiny twins were only about ¼ of the way there, yet they were completely formed.  Every last detail, ears, tails, noses, genitalia, ribs…it was all there.
Psalm 139: 13-16  talks about how we are fearfully and wonderfully made.   If our G-d gives such attention to the formation of an alpaca baby, how much more attention does he give to the formation of a human baby?
He knows us before we are formed (v16).  These twins were completely formed ¼ of the way through their gestation period (and probably much sooner than that, I just didn’t get to see them).  ¼ of the way through human gestation is just over 2 months.  Some mommys are just confirming their pregnancy at that point, but the baby is already completely formed.
I don’t know what became of these twins (Both my little brothers declined to take them to school for show and tell…they likely ended up on the manure pile), but I do know that they gave me a wonderful reminder of how fearfully and wonderfully made I am. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Call to Prayer

On Sunday I posted about the reality of the spiritual battle in this world.  On Monday a dear friend put out a call for prayer against the battle raging on her campus.  On Tuesday more than one speaker in class talked about the reality of spiritual warfare and how we need to be prepared and to fight.
Now I write to all of you and ask you to join us.    Whether you believe it or not, we are engaged in a very real battle.  Most people can’t see it.  Many people ignore it.  However, no matter how much you ignore something, it doesn’t change its reality.
As Christians, one of the most dangerous beliefs we can have is that this battle is not for real. That’s exactly what Satan wants us to believe.  If we believe it is not real, they by default we believe that we do not have to fight, for we would not fight something that is not real.
This is a lie.  It is real.  The Bible tells us so.  Ephesians 6 tells us that we do not war against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness.  1 Peter 5 tells us that our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion.  Jesus himself tells us that he has given us power over the authorities (Luke 10).  Why would he give us power if we didn’t need to use it?
We use our power by praying.  That’s how we tap into it.  And that is the purpose of this call to prayer.
On Friday, November 19 students at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids will be joining together in a prayer walk at 4pm, with the intent of praying into this battle.   They have invited people all over to join them in prayer, from wherever they are.  So I ask you, will you join in fighting this battle with us?  From wherever you, on Friday at 4pm Michigan time (or really whatever time works for you), please join us in prayer for this battle.  The victory is ours; we just need to use our power.  This war is real.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Some one is trying to kill me!"

What bothered me most was how real it was. The detail was exceptionally clear.  Some people even had names and I could remember little, seemingly insignificant, things about them - hairstyles, hearing aids, glasses, clothes... It was so vivid it felt real.  I was shaking as I lay in my bed, absolutely convinced that someone was trying to kill me.
The logical, rational part of my brain knew it was just a dream.  That part of me knew that there wasn't some person out there who was trying to kill be because I knew something.  That part of me knew that some one named Alyssa hadn't been mistaken for me and killed in place of me, that I wasn't running from the authorities, that I wasn't getting ready to be disappeared for my own safety.
But the illogical, emotional part of brain was terrified.  I was shaking. Someone was trying to kill me.  Someone had been killed in my place and I didn't know who I could trust or where I could go to be safe. I couldn't tell if the people offering me refuge were being genuine or if they just wanted to get me somewhere where they could get me dead.  For that part of my brain, this nightmare was real.
I couldn't shake the feelings that accompanied these thoughts, so in the safety of my room I gave them permission to exist for awhile. As they existed I thought about them...I allowed myself to entertain slightly irrational thoughts for awhile.  Was it possible that someone was trying to kill me?  Did I know something that was important enough that someone wanted me dead?  As I sat with these slightly irrational thoughts I began to realize they weren't so irrational at all...the answer was staring me in the face from the pages of my open catechism (I'd been working on a lesson plan based on Q&A 127 about "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil").  1 Peter 5:8 --> Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
"a roaring lion looking for someone to devour"  that sounds like someone is trying to kill me for sure.  Thankfully I have devil-lion fighting skills and that stupid devil doesn't get to devour me.

The more I thought about it in this light, the more it made sense.  Someone was killed instead of me.  Except it wasn't a girl named Alyssa, but a man, who was fully G-d and fully human, named Jesus.  And I do know something that someone (ie: that jerk of a devil who is prowling around like a lion) wants me dead for: I know that Jesus didn't stay dead, but rose again for the salvation of the world. As far as not knowing who I could trust, that fit right in too.  The devil is the father of all lies and is super good at deception.  Sometimes he can appear trustworthy, but really he's just being tricky and trying to get me where he can make me dead.

Maybe I think too much about life or maybe G-d decided that He wanted to send me a reminder of how real this battle is that we live in every day (since I obviously wasn't getting that from my lesson plan work).
I like how Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.
                                        -Ephesians 6:10-18

This is no little game, this is for real.  Thankfully G-d is on my side and through Him I have devil-lion fighting skills and the devil doesn't get to kill me, even though he is trying.  Take that Jerkface!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


It was a relatively mild Saturday, likely one of the last for this weekend, so we decided go on a hike (we being a group of seminary students).  Here are some pictures from our hike:
Let's go on a hike!  Lindsey is really excited about this hike.  It was a choose your own adventure hike. 

Olga trying to balance her camera on a makeshift tripod 

Seminarians in/around a really cool tree.  I was in the tree earlier, but I had come down. (Photo by Olga)

Rope swings are simply meant to be swung on. 

This looks like the best possible route to take. 

 How many seminarians does it take to read a map?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reconciliation: When Sorry Isn't Enough

The wound was made unintentionally, as many wounds are, but it hit me deep, down to the very core of my being, like many wounds do.  I felt as if I had been shattered.  I felt angry and betrayed, but most of all, I felt hurt.  I heard the words, “Joy I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.  I didn't mean to hurt you.  I'm sorry.”  I heard the words, but I turned away.  I didn't want to hear them. The word “sorry” felt about as effective as putting a band-aid on a severed femoral artery.

I went to bed that night with tears still running down my cheeks.  I hadn't spoken to anyone all day.  The hurt was raw.  I listened to the voice of one of my friends as she sang me a song (it had been recorded on my voicemail a few weeks earlier, so I could listen when I needed it).  She sang about love as strong as a hurricane and a grace as big as an ocean.  Usually the song brought me comfort, but tonight the only ocean I could see was full of razor sharp teeth, waiting to swallow me up. 

The devil oscillated between trying to get me to blame myself entirely for the wound and trying to get me to push the entirety of the blame onto someone else and resign myself to the position of victim (in reality, there was blame to share).  He was throwing lies at me thick and furious, trying to draw me down a road that I did not want to travel. I was filled with terror; terror so great it drowned out the pain from earlier.

I lay in my bed, tears of pain mingling with tears of terror.  I hardly knew where to turn or how to proceed.  I texted a few friends and asked them to pray, but I knew I was going to have to fight on my own as well. I prayed the Lord's Prayer over and over and over again, the words choking under the tears. Sometimes they came out in English, sometime in German,sometimes in a choking, sobbing mixture of the two.  Eventually I gave into exhaustion and fell into a restless sleep.

I woke the next morning with a heavy heart.  I worked my way through the day in zombie-mode, not talking to anyone, avoiding the person who had wounded me like the plague (this is a bit of a trick on a small campus), not eating, not smiling – simply existing, hoping that the band-aid would hold, willing myself to accept the apology and forget about the whole thing.  I worked hard to exhaust myself all day – physically at least, the mental and emotional exhaustion was taking care of itself. I stayed up late, struggling to focus on school work and then finally collapsed into bed.

The next morning I woke up with a headache and an upset stomach.  This whole band-aid thing wasn't working out so well. Sorry just wasn't going to be enough.  Every fiber of my being wanted to curl back up and go back to bed, but I had classes to attend and I couldn't justify skipping.  I didn't have a fever and I wasn't puking.  I can't remember a thing we talked about in class, but I know that by the time class was done, I knew that I had to take a step to make things right.

It wasn't going to be easy. It meant tearing the band-aid off and revisiting the pain. It was time to lance the wound before it healed any further (For more on this metaphor see: A Band-aid will never fix it all the way).

What happened next was beautiful.  We hugged, I apologized for holding anger, she apologized for hurting me, we both accepted the role we played in the situation, and we prayed together.  We prayed to a G-d who is in the business of restoring relationships, a G-d who knows what betrayal and hurt feels like, a G-d who forgives us so that we can forgive others, a G-d who had the power to bring restoration to the relationship.

Reconciliation: the art of “bringing again into unity, harmony, or agreement what has been alienated.” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible).  It's a beautiful thing. It's what G-d has done for us and what He gives us the strength to offer each other.

Reconciliation – The better band-aid.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Parent's Night Out

There are many things about seminary that make me smile - having a playground in my backyard, having awesome roommates, roommate grocery shopping, Kollen Park, the Aquatic Center, having chapel every day, and the list could go on...However the one thing making me smile right now is Parent's Night Out.
I don't know how long ago it started or who's idea it was, but I think it is marvelous.  Basically, seminary students who are parents get to drop their kids off at the student lounge and seminary students who are not parents watch them.  It's a win on both sides...Parents get some time off from their kids and we get a chance to play with their children.
To me it's a picture of community, of building each other up. Parents get refreshed by having some together time without children and we get refreshed by being able to forget about school work for a time and play with kids. In community no one person can do everything themselves, we have to support each other.  When we do, we all win.
There wasn't much to that, but I thought I'd share anyways.  

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I wish you could see

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball (or two or three or four) and the only way you can respond is through poetry.  So here's another one:

I wish you could see
I wish you could see what I can see.
I wish you could see how much I love you.
I wish you could see how much potential you have.
I wish you could see the difference you make in my life.
I wish you could see what I can see.

I wish you could see what I can see.
I wish you could see how steps you are taking are in the right direction.
I wish you could see how strong you really are.
I wish you could see how proud I am of you.
I wish you could see what I can see.

I wish you could see what I can see.
I wish you could see that it will get better.
I wish you could see that this pain won't last forever.
I wish you could see that there is a light at the end of the road.
I wish you could see what I can see.

I wish you could see what I can see.
I wish you could see that you are beautiful.
I wish you could see that you are special.
I wish you could see that you are precious.
I wish you could see what I can see.

I wish you could see what I can see.

jep 02.11.10