Back from the dead

The title is a little dramatic, but if you could see inside my head and my heart you might agree.

“What is the gospel?”  This is perhaps one of the most profound, simplest, and most telling questions you can ask somebody.  I think you’ll get one of four responses.

  1. A blank stare (either from somebody who does not care about Christianity OR from a churched individual that has never considered this most valuable question.).
  2. A quick answer “the good news”.
  3. An answer that is a result of Christ’s transforming power in their life.
  4. A valuable conversation, and view into someone’s heart.

About a month ago ago, I was with a group of leaders preparing for a new season of home groups, and the answer to “What is the Gospel?” began to dissect my heart. The answer we discussed: “Death & Resurrection”.  The longer I consider this, the more profound the truth is.

Years ago, I buried a future in photography to serve others with my camera during the heart of wedding season.  (Check out some posts here)  This was a calculated risk, I’m comfortable when I have control over sacrifice … however, the majority of the time, God asks us to sacrifice the things we don’t have the control of, and that will inevitably die.  One year ago today, life in Hungary was difficult, but it was coming together, or so I thought.  The dreams in utero were slowly coming to life, and at moments I sensed the toil coming to an end.  Rather than the difficult work of growing something into life, I experienced what I can’t explain as anything other than a still-birth and the grief that goes along with it.  Failure, or at least perceived failure had paralyzed me.  I’ll be honest, what was harder than getting on an airplane was the thought that I was burying a dream and returning from Hungary.

The number of blogs and instgram posts I’ve seen in regards to grief recently has been disproportionate.  “Grief keeps us connected to the thing we have lost.” (A life overseas) Perhaps that’s where it comes from. I think how difficult it is to endure 40 years in the desert, 3 days in a giant fish, 400 years of silence, and 3 days and nights for Jesus in an empty tomb … the death of a dream. Why do you think the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, (Numbers 14)?  I’d wager its’s all they’ve known, they wanted connection with that and were impatient for a resurrection, for a new life.

I think once grief is walked through, a new life can be awakened.  And you know what? NEED A RESURRECTION, new life, new promises, true and lasting joy.

I found this quote while working on vision, and looking ahead in my life … “The soul never thinks without a picture.” – Aristotle I doubt he was talking about photography at the time, but as for me, I remember the most when photos are involved.  Pictures,  wether they be word pictures, drawings or a photograph, awaken the soul.  A different part of the brain, one that makes human connection more authentic, more possible because suddenly emotion is no longer unexplainable, it’s become visualized and personified.  So, if death and resurrection is a picture of the Gospel, what’s a picture of your life?

Running on Empty

Running as sport is something that I’ve never appreciated.  When I was a in middle school, the majority of girls played field hockey.  I didn’t like this idea for two reasons: first, who plays sports in a skirt?  and second, I hate running.  One look realizing that field hockey practice was almost as tedious as what the track team was doing and I realized it wasn’t the path for me.

In 2015, when I arrived in Hungary I made a decision that I was going to be conscious about being active and caring for my body (check out this previous blog post) and along with that came the concept of running.  To some, running is life giving, it’s been a means of exercise and endorphins for years and remains a way to destress.  For me, it was the opposite.  It lasted about a month and a half until a few things happened…

1. The weather got colder.

Circumstances often dictate activity… as the seasons change often times our activities do as well.

2. I compared.

Guilty as charged I had a roommate (Mandy) who ran literally most of her life, when I realized that I couldn’t keep up with her rather than still pursuing something that was good for me, I was discouraged and quit.

3. I got insecure.

As I recognized that I never would be as good a runner Mandy (self-inflicted) it wasn’t an encouragement to be better than “Lauren was” a self-condemnation that I’ll never be as good as Mandy in any sense.  Guys your “lie detector” should be going off in full effect right now. Sure, I wasn’t as good as her in many ways, but that’s because my gifts & strengths are just different than hers… (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Truly, “comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt.  So as I sit here, nearly 6 months to the day after boarding a plane back to the United State I see how comparing my life “here” to my life “there” is an equally dangerous thing.  I’m missing out on moments of joy in Pennsylvania when my mind is preoccupied with what “could have been” rather than what is.  You see, being in America is exhausting, at moments I’ll be honest I feel like a failure… this isn’t where I planned to be, and I have lost some ability to relate to certain people, and gained a new sense of compassion and connection with others.  Ultimately, being in a place of humility birthed in truth is freeing.

So what’s the point, how does this tie together, a running fail a year ago and my life today?  It’s easy to be “running on empty” when others or past experiences dictate how you live & feel about yourself.

About a month ago, I decided on a whim to run a 5K, on 2 weeks notice… Did I win?  No way!  Did I set any records? only my personal record (last time I tried to run a 5K I walked 3/4 of the time). Here’s a shout out to Pepé who ran beside me encouraging me through the moments when I said “I can’t do this … or …  without you by my side, I’d be walking right now.”  Am I going to become a runner?  It’s pretty unlikely, I actually haven’t run since that day!

I’ll wrap with more words from Mr. Roosevelt I was reminded of yesterday…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

How are you taking risks these days?

Hungarians know how to celebrate!

What do Pink Floyd, flowers, flames and fireworks have in common?

No, it’s not the letter F, they’re each a symbol of the graduation celebration I attended this evening. It’s fascinating to me that this “ballagás”occurs before the students take their final exams. It’s almost like an encouragement to press on until completion.

I couldn’t understand much, and didn’t come with a translator for the evening, but fortunately it was in an open square where people were roaming there weren’t long lecturers, and there was plenty that was visually stimulating. I want to share the interesting moments with you and compare them to the graduations I’ve been to in the states!
The ceremony began inside of the school as the students walked through the classrooms that have enriched their lives over the past few years. Then, class by class they exit the build in a line. Instead of walking to “pomp and circumstance” these students walked through a “torch tunnel” to the beat of “auld lang syne”, everyone carrying a balloon in one hand and the other on the shoulder of the person in front of them in line (It almost felt like a tribal council from survivor). As they were walking, family members and friends would hand them flowers or balloons.
The next bit was all in Hungarian and I understood a few words, like “work” but that was about it.

Then the fun began.

A band made up of graduates covered “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd from the podium which happened to be about 20 feet up on the school’s balcony. After the song, the lights go out and the balloons glow because of a small light inside, out come students come with LED

juggling clubs and put on a color-guard/bluemangroup-esque light show performance to the song “drive by”. Since were no caps to throw in the air, the balloons floated off into the sky as the students look forward to the next season in their lives. To close the evening with a bang, there was a short fireworks show, the lights came back on and the students were free to leave, and presumably begin studying for their final exams!

This evening will long be a time of memories,

not just because of how creative it was or how much I enjoyed the cultural experience. Namely it’s special because it signifies the relationships that I am growing here. It’s an honor to be invited to such a milestone event in a young persons life, and for that, I’m thankful. It seems that months of being present are continuing to bring to a season of integration.

Have you experienced any cross cultural celebrations? How was it different than your ‘norm’? Would you please share a story or photo?

Why We Build Fences

Fences are incredibly common in Hungary.  Nearly every house has a fence with a well secured gate around it. Here fences are used to keep some people in and other people out. In the past 2 months, I’ve seen two fences built before my eyes. 

This past October, I traveled to Zákány, Hungary and observed weary migrants as they crossed the border from Croatia into Hungary.  When we arrived, the military was constructing a towering chain link and razor wire fence.  I heard the rumble of the truck, the ping of the nail gun and the groans of hard working men and women.  Clearly, this fence was designed to keep people out.  Yet that day, an opening was left in the fence.  After the day turned to night, I watched men, women and children walk a well worn path through that opening, then they lined up like cattle, to be boarded onto a train.  The joy and weariness was evident in their eyes.  Men in wheelchairs, babies swaddled in their parent’s arms, children smiling in the midst of exhaustion.  But they were soon to be on a train to a new life.  They were moving from a place where they were afraid to live.  With the hopes of being integrated into a new life.

While many refugees are moving from a life full of fear, they are moving into a place where their presence is now inciting fear.  This is the second fence I’ve seen built, it’s a fence built with fear. It’s not something that you tangibly see, but it is dividing.  Today, our words which are magnified and displayed for the world to see on social media are often being published without much thought given to the repercussions.  The desire for comfort is often manifest in fear.  Likely because we don’t know how else to respond.  I want to live a nice life so I best pad my retirement account rather than be generous… I want to maintain my friendships so I won’t call you out on gluttony… I want to be safe, so I’m not going to let anyone new inside my fence. This fear has an opportunity to be more lethal than any razor wire fence being built, and has the potential to divide.  It’s shrewd, because most of the time we don’t recognise it’s it is growing. 

LEP_0784 If you know me personally, I’m not one for politics so I’m not going there.  But what I can’t ignore is sharing the strain I’ve seen in friends arguing over this issue. It’s a bit more “real” to me here because I’ve seen snippets of their trek with my own eyes, I’ve heard heart breaking stories and recognise it’s only a portion.  Do we know intentions of others?  Certainly not, and honestly, I don’t even know my own intentions half the time.

But here’s the deal, there is one call: love.  What does love look like?  If someone is hungry, you give them food.  Thirsty?  Give them water.  Naked?  Share clothes.  And you know what, I believe “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:12)  So, dear friends, let’s let go of fear, and embrace love.  The world is changing and we can stand by and watch it change or we can be a part of transforming lives.  We build fences to keep people out, but what if we let them in?

The Dirty Duck

On Wednesday I watched an international crisis with my own eyes. I held weary hands, walked alongside feet that walked 3,000 miles, laughed with children, listened to stories of pain, and was present for just a moment in many lives on a life changing journey.

One of those moments I will never forget.  

After hours of sorting trash from useful items as people abandoned belongings at the “catching point” to head towards a refugee camp, I watched as a young girl saw this stuffed duck in a pile of rubbish.  When she saw it her eyes lit up and she had the biggest, most genuine smile I have ever seen.   This excited girl picked it up, and ran to her family, squeezing it.  I think many parents would see a toy ground in the dirt and hay in a strange place and immediately chastise their child for touching such a thing, wash their hands and get along with life.  As the day progressed, we continued to work, and out of the corner of my eye, I didn’t recognize the girl, but I recognized the dirty duck, still in firm grip of her hands.

When you’re in crisis, everything is different. 

The truth is this girl probably didn’t take the duck onto the next part of the journey, when your family has one backpack for all your personal belongings, unfortunately a toy won’t make the cut.  But for that moment, she had a companion, she loved it and it brought her joy.

You see, as I was at the “catching point” for a moment that day, it’s our hope that much like the dirty duck we brought joy to the lives we touched.

Would you share about there a moment when a stranger brought joy into your life?

Now, go and do likewise.