Love Never Fails

Humans are endowed with an innate desire to have all the right answers. This desire can be seen in the first sin, when Eve ate from the tree of good and evil because she desired to be like God, knowing good and evil. However, I think that knowledge is dangerous and hurtful when it is used solely by itself. I, like many other Christians, have often crossed the line between standing up for what we believe and judgmentally pushing what we believe down other people’s throats. Although my intentions are to be God’s minister, I end up being His scourge. I lose sight of Jesus’s fundamental commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It is easy to look past our own sins and to judge the sins of others. It is easy to get angry with those who don’t agree with our opinions. It is easy to lash out at people who seem to be shoving their opinions down our throats. It is easy to forget that our beliefs are tainted with the sin of our human nature and are thus imperfect.

God does not call His children to win arguments with their neighbors in the name of Jesus. He calls us to love our neighbors, whether they are friends, enemies, or anything in between. Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians that if we “can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge” or “have a faith that can move mountains,” but lack love, then we have nothing. That statement is pretty humbling for me because I easily forget to be patient and kind. I tend to envy other people’s talents while still boasting in my own. I put others down in order to build myself up. I refuse to forgive and forget. I give in to the temporary satisfaction of evil, and I cover up the truth. I fail at loving God and loving others on an every day basis. I can see the significance of love from the effects of my imperfect love and the effects of God’s unconditional love. That’s what makes me so thankful for and dependent on God’s love.

Love is super hard, but God promises that it never fails. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. I strongly believe that if we humble ourselves and love others, despite their different beliefs, opinions, and preferences, then we will flourish. I am proud to be an Erskine student. I am thankful that I attend a Christian school that holds to Christian standards while desiring to “show hospitality and respect to all members of its community,” and to “treat all persons justly with grace, dignity, and compassion in the Spirit of Christ.”

When Your Friends AREN’T Perfect

One of the best things about a small Christian school like Erskine is that the opportunity to get to know your classmates really well and make a lot of close friends. If you have even read half of one of my blog posts in your pasts, you already know this, but I am saying it again!

A great birthday party with friends in the Kennedy Basement!!

A great birthday party with friends in the Kennedy Basement!!

Before I came to college I had this idea that I would simply waltz into the dorm on the first day, arrange my dorm perfectly within a matter of minutes, and then suddenly be surrounded be hordes of close friends who wanted to know everything about me. While that somewhat fairy tale like dream is obviously quite unrealistic, it is not as far off from the truth of my first day at Erskine. No more than 5 minutes after pulling up in front of the freshmen dorms students approached the cart to help me carry all of my stuff inside, setting everything up did not take THAT long, and I did meet several new friends on that first day!

I am pretty sure that everyone reading this is familiar with the concept of soiree at Erskine: on the first night you move in the Student Christian Association hosts a big dance. All of the girls dress up and are randomly assigned a date who escorts them to dinner and (ideally) to the dance. It is a somewhat awkward affair, but for the most part a fun evening with a lot of introductions and new friends! It was on the first night that I met one of my future best friends at Erskine: I saw Tiffany across the room completely dressed up and was shocked that someone my age could be so beautiful! 🙂

Tiffany and her roommate on our first night of college! (Isn't she beautiful, though??)

Tiffany and her roommate on our first night of college! (Isn’t she beautiful, though??)

One of the main things I have learned at Erskine, however, is that having friends is not always going to be a walk in the park on a sunny day with a fresh (non dripping, of course) ice cream cone. In high school friendships are a little easier because, for the most part, they are all by choice. You hang out when you want, where you want, for as long as you want and then you get tired and go home. In college, you share a dorm with a roommate and your college friends may live just down the hall from you. Perceived control goes straight of the window within the first week of your arrival!

For the first few weeks, or even months, everything is magical. Gone are the lonely nights of old when you had nothing to do! Vanished are those times when you wish you had a friend to talk to! All you have to do is open up your hall door and walk around to see if Heather or Lolly wants to hang out. Your new friends are fun, hilarious, and spontaneous! You have never felt so happy, and you feel as if you could love of your new friends for the rest of your life.

Trying to get Lolly's attention so she would come play with us!

Trying to get Lolly’s attention so she would come play with us!

And then, unexpectedly, one of your friends does something crazy. Another says something to you cannot believe that anyone would ever say! Still another decides to ignore you when you need help, to misunderstand what you are trying to say, to do something you think no one in their right mind would ever do! A lot of this happens because of how you were all raised, in your parents’ household you were  never allowed to text while someone was talking to you and then one of your friends starts texting the entire time you are trying to talk to them! You start to wonder what kind of barn that they might have been raised in!

Rest assured most of your friends probably were not raised in barns. What many college students experience is that the people they meet at college, even their closest friends, were not raised with exactly the same set of standards and beliefs. Everyone is different, a unique person with all of their own thoughts and ideas about how things ought to be. That was certainly something I had to realize! Many of my closest friends at college are extremely different people than myself and sometimes wholly unexplainable!

One night we all decided we just HAD to have some Mexican!

One night we all decided we just HAD to have some Mexican!

The good thing about all of this is that through I have learned how to love better. It is easy to love your friends when you are spending a day in Greenville together, talking and laughing about all of your inside jokes! Especially if you do have that fresh ice cream cone! 🙂 It’s a little more difficult when it is late at night and your roommate is having a movie date when you just want to go to bed!  But learning to communicate, to talk about your similarities and differences, to open and share yourself with other people even when you realize they are not perfect is what makes the college experience all the more rewarding!

Sometimes you all just spend an evening together playing board games!

Sometimes you all just spend an evening together playing board games!

He’s Always At Work

Blog Pic 1I have a confession to make. I don’t like hard things. For someone who has long been an avid reader of the Harris twins’ blog The Rebelution and book Do Hard Things, the necessity of such an admission is both humbling and sobering. First, let me say that, as I enjoy a final semester at Erskine and look back on my wonderful years here, it is imminently clear to me how very richly the Lord has blessed me. As a sinful human being, however, I quickly forget my first love, and so, when a painful trial makes an entrance, I often discover just how unsanctified I actually am.

If there’s anything that tends to turn our eyes toward eternity, it is experiencing some sort of acute discomfort or suffering here on this earth. Whether our trial is emotional, physical, spiritual, or relational, a situation that causes us to—at least for a short time—feel that earthly happiness is simply unattainable is an incredibly effective tool that the Lord often uses to cause us to long for heaven. With regard to this truth, Colossians 3:1-4 is a verse I’ve been meditating on lately: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.”

For the believer experiencing a trial of some sort, such verses provide both comfort and great hope. When I find myself responding to hard things with bitterness, asking the Lord, “Why, why?” I know both that He is big enough for me to ask the honest, emotionally raw questions and that such a response, though natural enough, does not honor Him if it’s where I remain. It’s easy to become comfortable and complacent when our lives seem to be going just as we’d planned and we feel fairly in control of our circumstances. Such a state of apathy and illusory self-sufficiency, however, is not one with which the Christian ought ever to be content. We are called to something higher, greater, and richer, by the grace of the One who is faithful never to leave us where we are.

I love this quote of Elisabeth Elliot’s: “Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering. The love of God did not protect His own Son. The was the proof of His love – that He gave that Son, that He let Him go to Calvary’s cross, though ‘legions of angels’ might have rescued Him. He will not necessarily protect us—not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.” How I resonate with her words! I recognize in myself that limited vision of which she speaks, but I am also inexpressibly thankful for the God of comfort who is loving and compassionate, even as He molds and shapes us (II Corinthians 1:3-5).

Growing through Disappointment

Fountain in el Parque (Park) de Canalejas, where I often go on walks

Have you ever been homesick? Although I love my home and family dearly, my honest answer to this question, before coming to Spain, would have been “no”. Even as a college freshman, when I was living on my own for the first time, I never really felt homesick–and Erskine quickly became a second home to me. Thus, I was a bit surprised to find, during my first few weeks in Spain, that I often struggled with homesickness. Not, of course, because I wasn’t loving Spain and the new experiences I was having—I was. Even so, to suddenly find myself in the midst of another culture, away from friends and family and out of cell-phone range, was very difficult at first. As incredible and unique as the study abroad experience is (I wouldn’t trade it for the world!), there’s something about living in another country that tends to isolate one. Assuredly, now that I’ve gotten to know my host mom better (she is such a sweetheart!), have been blessed with some wonderful new friends
hips and a church family, and am more used to Spain in general, Alicante really does feel like home. But I still have my moments.

The park even offers free exercise equipment which, as you can see, is enjoyed by people of all ages

Consequently, when I got the news a couple of weeks ago that my parents—who had been planning to come visit me—were going to be unable to make the trip overseas due to complications following my mom’s gallbladder surgery, I was bitterly disappointed. On the one hand, the pragmatic side of me protested, “but they were going to bring me winter clothes…and now what will I wear?” What really hurt, however, was the disappointed expectation of seeing my parents, traveling with them, and sharing Spain with them. I was so looking forward to showing them the streets I walk down each day, the city I’ve grown to love, and to introducing them to my wonderful host mom, Puri. And so, when I heard that their coming really was an impossibility, I was terribly upset. In light of eternity, I realized that not having my parents visit me in Spain was a small thing…but knowing this logically didn’t lesson the pain I felt at the time. So what did I do? The only thing I know to do w
hen something seems to shake me to the core—I pulled my Bible off the shelf, turned on a worship song, and began a conversation with my Heavenly Father.

The next day, I was listening to the fourth sermon in a series on the life of Joseph that the pastor at my home church has been preaching this month. One of his comments in particular caught my attention. Dr. Ferguson was talking about the way in which God used privation and disappointment to teach Joseph patience and to prepare him for future fruitfulness. Wait, what? Disappointment might be a tool that God might use to work in my life? I wasn’t sure I like this. And yet, as uncomfortable as the idea was (who likes to be disappointed?), it was incredibly comforting to hear. If God used years of adversity to prepare Joseph for a great work, to make him ready and able to bear the strain of great responsibility and leadership, might not God do something similar in my life? My ears perked up again when Dr. Ferguson said this: “You can’t learn character from textbooks, but only from privation, and hardship, and disappointment.” There is was again. Obviously, there was no
getting away from it: God not only works in our lives through hill-top experiences, seasons of spiritual fervor, and, on the other end of the spectrum, times of great tribulation. Sometimes, he also uses a form of adversity that is a great deal more homely and less dramatic—disappointment. And the Great Physician never makes mistakes.

With the sweet friends who recently threw me a fabulous twenty-first birthday party, replete with a delicious meal and a scrumptious chocolate cake

Tongue-tied: Being Humbled and Finding Grace

The following is a blog post that I wrote three weeks ago. I was a bit too sore to post it at the time (often, the lessons God teaches us are painful at first, but grow sweeter with time); but after reading it again today, I am greatly encouraged by how far I’ve come—ever by God’s grace!—in what feels like ages but has been, in fact, just three weeks. Part two of this blog post will be an update on where I am now in the language-learning process, for the patient reader who cares to continue. And now, my thoughts from September 19th:

With my friend Elizabeth--she speaks Italian and some English, and she was such a help to me during the retreat!

How profoundly humbling, and what a great blessing it is, to be shown love and grace by God’s people in another country. This weekend I went on a retreat to the mountains of Valencia with the youth group (which, in Spain, includes “youths” ranging approximately from the age of twelve to thirty) of the First Baptist Church of Alicante. What an experience! After having missed church for two consecutive weeks due to travel, I was so longing for the fellowship of believers. Of course, the weekend was complicated a bit by the oft-frustrating reality of a language barrier. (But don’t you speak Spanish, you may ask?) The humbling answer is that…although I understand my teachers in class and am able to communicate satisfactorily in the classroom setting, communicating with facility outside of the classroom is another feat entirely. In consequence, I found myself, frustratingly limited in my ability to communicate this weekend. My frustration was heightened, I think, by the
fact that I love words and language and therefore hardly knew what to do with myself when I was, in effect, bereft of the gift of rich, deep communication.

Paula and I. This girl has a Spanish father, a German mother, and is fluent in Spanish, English, and German at age thirteen. Wow.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I was able to have some incredible conversations with extremely patient, kind friends who helped me when I struggled to find the right words and who answered my endless questions about grammar and vocabulary. What a blessing that was! At the same time, the more I learn, and the more I improve…the more I realize how far I have to go. This weekend, for example, I discovered that a number of the words and uses of words which I’ve learned in textbooks over the years are not at all used in the same way in real life…at least not in Spain, where a particular variation of Spanish is spoken. To be reminded that books cannot teach me everything was, again, very humbling for an inveterate bibliophile such as myself. In addition, to feel almost mute at times because of my limited vocabulary or because of the difficulty of thinking quickly in Spanish, was profoundly humbling. But what a testimony and example the believers in the group were to me through t
he way in which they welcomed me, cared for me, and loved me, even as I stumbled over the beautiful words of their language.

The delightful group of people who went on the retreat--what fun it was and continues to be to get to know them!

My experience this weekend, and in Spain in general, has helped me realize how incredibly isolated I’ve been when it comes to languages. Yes, of course I’ve taken a foreign language in school ever since middle school. Even so, learning vocabulary and grammar in class is so very different from “living a language”, as my director puts it. I’m beginning to realize how very much I will have to learn outside of the classroom if I’m ever going to have a fair command of the Spanish language. Which is, of course, why I’m in Spain—it’s far more exciting and compelling to learn a language when speaking it well is a necessity for daily living and communication!

Widows Ministry 2011

This past week, I had the amazing opportunity to begin Spring Break by participating in Widows Ministry. Each spring, Erskine students who are part of the Barn join Bill May in his constant efforts to care for widows and widowers who live in the areas near Erskine. Years ago, Bill’s grandfather modeled true religion for his grandson when he took Bill with him to work on various projects for the numerous widows who called on him when they needed help. After the death of his father and grandfather, Bill took up the work that they had begun, and in recent years he has even begun to invite college students to join him in caring for these wonderful friends.
Enjoying some of Mr. Jackson's delicious pound cake
During the week, we Erskine students were blessed to get to know numerous different widows and widowers, visiting with them and hearing their stories. As young people, we so often forget to take the time to learn from and spend time with the elderly; and in doing so, we both neglect what James calls “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless” and forfeit a wonderful opportunity to learn Gardening for Mr. Winkler from those older and wiser than we are. Friends and I were incredibly blessed, for example, by the bubbling cheerfulness and sweet spirit of Mrs. Sadie, who enjoyed watching a couple of us play the Joseph and Maggie playing for Mrs. Sadie piano and thanked us heartily for taking the time to come see her. We also enjoyed a pound cake made by one ninety-two year old widower while we listened to fascinating stories about his life and experiences as a black man living through the Civil Rights Movement.

We were also able to undertake various tasks, such as clear-coating a ramp and pruning bushes. And in between our visits, of course, we enjoyed what Bill wisely said everyone loves—food and fellowship! One of the greatest things about Widows Ministry is that the relationships we established over the past few days are ones which we can continue to cultivate during the school year as we seek to live out James 1:27. This video might give you an idea of some of what the week was like.

Learning Compassion

No one likes suffering. It hurts terribly. It’s painful. But time and again, I’m reminded that, as believers, we should have a view of suffering which is radically different from that of the world. If one doesn’t know Christ, then, yes, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs. But if “anyone would come after” Christ, Jesus himself tells him that “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Which, of course, doesn’t mean that we ought to seek out suffering but does, clearly, call us as Christians to a life of self denial and of rejoicing in the midst of pain.

Yet, even when we know what Scripture says and know what God calls us to, it is terribly easy to become comfortable, apathetic, and spiritually lazy when everything is going well or when one is enjoying a wonderful season in the “Erskine bubble.” We quickly become focused on pursuing our own goals and comfort, or even simply become complacent and distracted, caught up in trivial “struggles” and fears which seem large to us because we’ve lost sight of the eternal and have consequently lost perspective. I was struck the other day by words of Proverbs 30:8b-9a, which declares, “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” This verse points out that, when we begin to enjoy prosperity, our inveterate tendency as human beings is to begin to rely on ourselves, forgetting God.

That’s not to say that suffering in and of itself is more spiritual than prosperity…but it is clear that God often teaches us most during times of hardship, because it is during such times that we are forced to recognize our great need for Him and then run to Him, as the things of this world fade in importance. As C.S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And if you’re anything like me, you’re often quite deaf, spiritually speaking.

Something God has put on my heart recently is the way in which trials often prepare and equip us to be a comfort to others when they experience similar trials. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul declares, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Notice how Paul says that God comforts us so that we can then comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received. Perhaps, then, compassion and loving concern for those in need—whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually—aren’t things that come naturally to us, but are spiritual fruits which God works out in us through the suffering which He allows in our own lives. Paul goes on to declare this: “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Let
us seek, then, to be conduits of God’s grace as the comfort we’ve received overflows into the lives of others.