Entry written on June 15, 2014 at the Senior Social. Papua New Guinea.
If you know anything about my story -- or if you just read the subheading of my blog -- you know that finding home after leaving Papua New Guinea was an adventure I never expected. Belonging was a difficult word for me to swallow after graduation, and to be honest, there were days I didn't think I'd make it to the other side. Things were all out of place, and there were months I would leave so often, the trunk of my car was full with a suitcase of clothes, a box of Ramen noodles, a flashlight and a sleeping bag. I refused myself the opportunity to make many friends because I was afraid of saying goodbye.
Looking back, these are the very reasons why this particular entry is so special. This was written before the love of my life drove away in that Land Cruiser, before I stepped onto that tarmac to say the goodbye that would change my life forever and before I stepped into my freshman dorm room, and clearly heard the words “you don’t belong here”.
I wrote this before I became a girl of three homes.
All of this shaped me into who I am today, and even though I am not finished yet, this journey has taught me two of the most monumental truths.
I am in constant forward motion between the person I was, and the person I will become. Forward doesn’t always mean improvement or progress. Forward means that regardless of what I have faced, and what stands in my way, I am still here. God is still here. Moving.
The act of being in the in between is difficult. Not knowing is an awful feeling, but “not giving up in the gap” is key. I am not where I used to be. I am not where I will be. Praise God. And so much of maturity has to do with what you do in the gap.
When my high school principle gave the powerful message you're about to read the notes on, the UIS senior class of 2014 had just graduated one day earlier, and we thought we had finally made it. We were on the cusp of every new adventure and we were finally adults ready to conquer the world. When in all reality, we had another thing coming. And our principle knew that. He spoke to us that day knowing that our whole worlds were about to be turned upside down, and that we were far from finished. He gave us words that would dramatically impact my perspective on growing up.
To put it simply, God is complicated. Because we are growing up in a flawed and human world, our understanding of “good”, “just” and “loving” is much like a toddler waddling all over the house to search of her parents’ work things so that she can slip her little baby feet into the big brown shoes of her father and rub her mother’s reddest lipstick all across her face.
Imagine little baby Meliah yelling into my father’s phone (upside down) so loud that the neighbors think something’s wrong.
See what I mean?
In broad terms, Christians have a lot more in common with a toddler than we think we do. Wandering around the home that is our lives, we often stumble around as we learn to function with the perspective our new eyes have given us. We get distracted all the time too – shiny new opportunities and the fancy things we can easily get our hands on, quickly take us away from our journey toward discovery. Just as the toddler is unaware of how her father’s shoes don’t fit, we don’t have the faintest idea of how all-encompassing and mighty God is. This isn’t an excuse to do whatever we want and excuse our actions away with “it’s okay, God saved me anyway.” It suggests just the opposite.
The beautiful thing about kids is that their endless curiosity allows them to learn at a pace that is unparalleled to the adult mind. In the first few years alone, a child typically learns how to speak in full sentences, count, walk, run, drink, respond to questions with personality, the list goes on. From the second they are born, children are forming "schemas" (little mental information boxes) about their surroundings. In our example, the child searches for his parents’ work clothes because, to the best of her ability, she is imitating the two most important people in her world. Logic and common sense—two qualities that are developed later on and are considered two of the elements of a mature individual—do not play a role here, but as she sees her mother and father leave for work every day, she learns that hard work is valuable. She learns how communication, love and obedience directly affect her ever-growing world.
The shoes don’t fit because she’s growing. The lipstick isn’t right because she her hands are small and untrained. Growth is not an excuse to sin without shame. Growth is an opportunity to become like the God who formed us. Child-like faith is something of a phenomenon that is discussed in the Bible, and as the loved child knows that she will always be taken care of, we must trust that we are cared for a God who loved enough to sacrifice, and who believes in us enough to reserve us a seat at His right hand in heaven.
Maturity is a necessary and deeply personal process that every person must endure sooner or later, and it covers every faucet of life; the development of the physical, mental and spiritual states come about in vastly different ways, but the destination is the same. It’s a rickety bridge between childhood and adulthood, and more times than any of us can count, we trip over ourselves and the bridge beneath us.
And we aren't alone.
Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and a man who witnessed the real-life power of an extraordinary God, was just as screwed up as us.
He had good days and bad days. Just like us. Here are four key moments of Simon Peter's walk with God, and think about how closely it relates to your own.
“Depart from me, I am a sinful man” -- Luke 5:8
In the moments following a net full of fish in a sea that was empty, Simon Peter instantly recognized the power of the Man on the boat, and fell to his knees. He understood Jesus’ divine power, and Simon Peter immediately recognized his unworthiness.
“You are the Christ” -- Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus asked the telling question, “Who am I?”, and in verse 14, the apostles replied with the answers of others. Simon Peter was the first among the disciples to confess Jesus’ glory as the Messiah. He had opened his heart enough so that God could gift him with the revelation of a lifetime.
“I don’t know the Man” -- Luke 22:57
He had just witnessed the relentless beating of his Savior and friend—a brutality instigated by the angry words of men who just days earlier cried out, “Hallelujah!” His world had became a dark and twisted mess of confusion and everything unknown. In his anger and confusion, he denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. His moments of great faith were reduced to dust
“God has made Jesus both God and Man” -- Acts 2:36
Denying Christ was a monumental misstep. He had betrayed the life and gift of Jesus Christ, and because of the fear and shame, this one decision could have began the degradation of Simon Peter's faith. But instead, he stands up among the Jews, and preached the glory and the promised second-coming of the very same Jesus they pinned to a tree. His faith came full-circle, exchanging his underground faith for courageous proclamation. His denial was not his last mistake, and if Simon Peter is anything like me, it probably wasn't the last time that he doubted God's existence. But by the power and grace of God, he moved forward. He made himself vulnerable, despite his inadequacies, and preached the good news to the men and women who had crucified their King.
I could give you specifics of how my walk with Christ has so closely related to Simon Peter's faith journey. I hadn't even noticed the similarities until I reread my notes in preparation for this entry, and to be honest, it freaked me out a little. Over the years, especially since my return to the States, I have taken some big steps forward, and seen God move in some extraordinary ways because I trusted His hand in my life; but I have also taken some serious steps back. I doubted, I questioned and I even let myself do some bad things because I excused away my faith. I separated myself with the decisions I made because I thought that He was the one walking away from me.
As I reflect on my life since graduation, I realize that the words my principle said a world away are as true to me now as they were then. There will always be something new, a new experience I can chose to grow from or become embittered by, and every choice directly affect my relationships, spiritual or otherwise. Growth is a necessary process that is awkward and difficult, but it is also a gift given to us by a God who cares. In Tok Pisin, PNG's trade language, the word for Lord is "Papa God". When we make ourselves vulnerable enough to slip into the over-sized work shoes of our Papa God, we allow ourselves to walk in the feet of Jesus. When we trust God to move in us, we develop a faith that God will move through us.
To faith we add goodness, then knowledge, then self-control, then godliness, then perseverance, then brotherly kindness, then love.
Imagine then, what He could do with all that.
PS: Here are my notes from that day.