Plot Twist

I love plot twists.  I love when you find out the good character is bad, or the bad character is good, or the main character is dead after all, or the whole thing was a dream.  I love finding a movie with a good plot twist and showing it to all my unsuspecting friends, one by one, relishing the moment of revelation and the “Wait, what just happened?!”  If I were to watch them by myself, they would lose their luster after a while, but I never cease to be amused by watching other people’s jaw drop and vicariously feeling the disorientation of surprise.

Game 6 of the NBA finals had plenty of its own little plot twists as well.  For a while I thought all was lost, until Allen made that incredible 3-point shot with 5 seconds left on the clock, tying the Heat and the Spurs.  Fortunately, nobody else was home to see my manic state as I screamed and punched the air and bit the couch pillows.   When the game went into overtime, I thought I was going to die of a stroke not knowing how it was going to end.  It was pure torture, but the delicious kind, where you’re on the edge of your seat in anticipation.

That was all anybody talked about here in Miami for the next week. “Can you believe Game 6? Snatched the championship right out of the Spurs’ hands! Did you see that shot by Allen?! Man, don’t you feel bad for the people who left early because they thought it was over?”

People definitely thought the game was over that day at the Praetorium so long ago when the crowds shouted “Crucify!”…when Jesus was led away to be stripped and beaten and crucified.  That was it.  There was to be no political revolution, no reclamation of Israel.  He must not have been the promised Messiah after all.  And these disciples, who had left behind their jobs and families and followed this guy on faith for the last three years — well, what were they supposed to do now?  The cause that they had given their lives to ended up being a lost cause.  It was over.  There was shock and confusion and grief.  And Judas Iscariot was one of those people who, sadly, left too early to see the end and celebrate the unbelievable victory that God was waiting to spring on the unsuspecting:

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Col 2:15).

For Jesus, death wasn’t the end of the story.  It was only the lead-in to the most glorious plot twist in history.

His whole life, Jesus told weird stories about upside-down values in this alternate reality He called “the Kingdom.”  And not only did He tell these stories; He lived them out.  The Kingdom was where the first were last, and the last were first.  Where the people who worked all day got paid the same as the people who worked for an hour. Where the whores got more grace than the religious leaders.  Where the filthy half-breed Samaritan was the hero.

It’s where the cross turned from a symbol of shame to a symbol of victory.  Where a stolen body was a resurrected body, where the grave yielded life, where the carpenter’s son from Nazareth proved Himself to be the living, breathing, conquering SON OF GOD, who defeated death, scorned its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God Almighty.

I think any sense of apathy, any lack of wonder, on our part is simply the result of forgetfulness.  Those of us who have heard our whole lives that “Jesus died and rose again” can forget all too easily how ridiculous, how unbelievable, how incredible this whole thing was.  God forgive our complacency!!

The gospel is a roller coaster of emotion that we have unfortunately numbed ourselves to.  We know how to receive the message in an appropriately churchy way, never experiencing the waves of shock, the convulsions of grief, the hardly daring to hope, and the struggling to make sense of it all.  We can’t understand the doubting of Thomas, the glorious dawning of reality, and the immeasurable joy they must have felt.  We can talk about hearing it “as if for the first time,” but if we truly heard it that way, we would all either be on our knees in awe or dancing in exuberant celebration.

But perhaps the closest we can get is simply to share the story with others who have not yet heard it.  To smile to ourselves as they listen with bated breath, leaning in expectantly so they don’t miss a word of the riveting drama.  To share in their joy as they see the majesty of God’s plan of salvation unfold.  Perhaps the closest we can get to experiencing the story is to do just what Jesus instructed: Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, sharing the story, telling the miraculous news, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us.

Because He is with us always.

Through the ups and downs of life.

Through the confusion, the hesitation, and the joy.

Through every plot twist.

Always.

To the very end.

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All Things New — mp3

Oh hey guys, I got a lovely surprise this afternoon from Dean Barham of Woodmont Hills Church, who was thoughtful enough to send me an mp3 of my communion thoughts yesterday, so I thought I would share it with you.  Here it is via Soundcloud.

All Things New — communion thoughts by Lauren Calvin

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All Things New

This morning I was given the opportunity to share some communion thoughts at Woodmont Hills church of Christ, where my professor, Dean Barham, is the preacher.  First, I just want to say how much I love Dean.  He is one of the most humble, transparent, and sincere men it has ever been my privilege to know.  I am so grateful for the way he pours into his students to equip them for ministry and then gives them opportunities to live it out, like he did by inviting me to speak today.  Second, I want to say what a blessing it was to be a part of the Woodmont Hills family this morning.  They were so accepting, encouraging, and supportive.  But really, it wasn’t just for this morning; they are my family.  And I love that in the body of Christ, community has nothing to do with distance.

When Dean asked me to speak on Thursday, I knew within an hour what God was laying on my heart to share; not anything really creative or impressive to put the spotlight on me, but a simple telling of the story.  It was like I had no other choice; the entire talk, wording and everything, just kinda came together in my head before I could even consider anything else.  When I told Dean what I was thinking, he responded, “That’s perfect, because we’re actually going through the Story right now.”  How amazing is that?

This was my first time speaking outside of a small group or classroom setting, and it was such an incredible opportunity to get to share with my fellow Christians.  Of course, there were a few inevitable mistakes.  Attempting to go note-less, I lost my place second service and there was an awkwardly long pause.  Amazingly enough, afterwards a man came up to introduce himself and said (not kidding), “I’ve heard the story before, but the way you told it was so powerful.  When you paused like that to let it sink in, it brought me to tears.”  Exhibit A: God can use mistakes.  Ha!  But just because of the timing of this opportunity and a thousand other little things that I don’t have time to write about, I feel like this whole experience was God confirming my calling and giving me confidence to continue sharing the story.  So…here’s pretty much what I said this morning, run-on sentences and all.

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I don’t have anything super original or ground-breaking to share with you this morning, but I do have something beautiful to share with you: the same beautiful story that has been told for thousands of years, of God’s plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.  The church has come together to tell the same story for so long because it tells us where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  It’s the story of God’s redemption.  It’s the story of God fixing broken things.  It’s the story of God making all things new.

And God has been in the business of making things new from the very beginning, when the earth was formless and empty, and with a word He spoke the universe into being, and created everything that is good and perfect and beautiful.

But then sin entered the world, leaving an ugly dark splotch on the first page of God’s story.  So a broken-hearted God sent a flood on the earth to start over again, to cleanse the earth and make it new.  And again we chose to turn away from God.

But even then, God still had a plan.  He chose a man named Abram and gave him a new name, and promised that through his descendants, through God’s chosen people Israel, all nations on earth would be blessed.  For through Abraham’s line would come Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Centuries later, when Israel was in bondage in Egypt and the promise was all but forgotten, God came through again to redeem His people and lead them out of Egypt into a new land, a new life, a new hope.  Their exodus from Egypt came to be known and remembered as the Passover — the celebration of a new freedom.  God made a covenant with His people Israel and set up a standard to show them what it would look like to be a community of God.  But Israel too went their own way and turned away from God.

And at the most crucial moment in human history, God sent the promised and long-awaited Messiah, from the line of Judah, His own Son, Jesus Christ. He came to live and walk among us, to die for us, to bring peace with God.  But Jesus was not the political Messiah everyone expected.  He ushered in a new standard, exemplified a new way of life.  He showed us what we were created to be, what we could become, and what we could look like as God’s people.

As Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with His disciples, this too He gave new meaning.  As Israel came together year after year to reenact the drama and tell the story of a new life, we as the church still come together week after week to tell the story of Jesus and celebrate the new covenant: a covenant not of justification by human effort, but a covenant of grace.  A covenant of one sacrifice, once for all.  A covenant written in the blood of the Son of God.

And as we gather to tell the story this morning with Christ in our midst, 2nd Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  But even there, God isn’t finished making things new.  He will continue to redeem and restore until the creation has been brought back to the potential for which it was created.

In Revelation God tells us that there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  He says “Behold, I am making all things new…there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  It’s done, it’s gone…and the new has come.  So now we take communion as a symbol, but a symbol is all it is.  It’s only a shadow of what is to come.  Paul says in 1st Corinthians 13 that when the perfect comes, the imperfect disappears.  For now we know in part, but then we will know fully; now we see dimly, as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.

When we see Him face to face — when the old order of things has passed away and we sit at the table with Christ in the presence of God and all the saints who have gone before us, when these elements are no longer a symbol but a glorious and eternal reality — it will be the biggest kingdom celebration the world has ever seen, because He will have made all things new.

So we take communion to remember Christ’s death and resurrection, but also in anticipation of the coming kingdom.  So as we gather together to break bread with Christ in our midst, think about the concept of renewal.  As we invite Christ to be here with us, as we say yes to His transformation in our hearts and in our lives, looking forward to the redemption that awaits us, as we commune together as the body of Christ, day by day, moment by moment, He is making us new.

Published in: on March 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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graphomen

Graphomen.  It’s a great little Greek word that looks like this: γραφωμεν.

Fun fact: If I ever got a tattoo, that’s what it would be, on my left wrist.  (I love the permanence of the concept, but I’m not so sure about the permanence of the ink.)

Why?  What does it mean?

γραφωμεν simply means, “We write.”

Who writes?  God does.  I do.  We both write, together.

I’ve always loved paper — the way it feels, the way it smells, the cleanness and smoothness of it.  I’ve always loved to write by hand; that’s how I process my thoughts.  Even my class notes bear witness to my love of pen and ink, with painstakingly bolded words, side comments carefully set off in little boxes, and headings bordered with flowers.  I’ve journaled since I was six years old.  But even then, I couldn’t stand to mess up a page.  If I made a mistake, I would tear out the page and rewrite everything just so I wouldn’t have a scribble marring the creamy perfection of my spotless page.  It’s taken me years to get over that OCD tendency.  In fact, I just succumbed to the temptation last week, rewriting two whole pages because I wrote something stupid.

My life has always been a whole lot like that, too.  I was always mortified by mistakes and wanted to rip out those pages, burn my bridges, and start over with a clean sheet of paper.  I always had a desperate desire to be in control.  Life doesn’t work that way, though.  I realized that the more I tried to take control, the messier my story got.

So last January, I surrendered the pen to the Author and asked Him to write my life story.  Since then, I’ve stood back and watched in awe as the rich ink filled the pages with beauty and purpose.  Instead of trying to write my own story and fix my own conflicts, I just got to read it, eagerly anticipating the turn of each new page.  It’s a mystery, it’s an adventure, it’s a comedy, it’s a romance.  It’s taken me places I didn’t expect.  But it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever had the privilege to read.

And on my journey, I get to share bits and pieces of my story with you.  A long time ago, I felt like God was telling me that He had given me a gift for writing so I could use it for Him.  Thus, this blog was born.  It’s just the account of my journey.  What He writes in my story, what He writes on my heart, I write on my blog to show you what He can do through an ordinary person like me.

Please take a minute to watch this video, I promise it’s worth your time:

 

I took a break from blogging for about a month because it had become more about me than about Him.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that it had become a way for me to receive affirmation from the blogging world based on how many views it got.  I had turned my gift into an idol, and I really just needed to “clear the stage.”  But I’m back now; He’s busy writing, and He’s asking me to pick up my pen again to share what He’s doing.

γραφωμεν.  He writes.  I write.  We write…together.

And so the story continues….

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Girl in the Mirror

26790_379253246924_2837817_nSometimes I look at the picture of this little girl and think about her future.  Don’t her eyes just melt your heart?  What wouldn’t you do for that little shy smile?  I watched her grow up, so I know her story.  She’s had a good life, and she’s done well for herself, but it hasn’t always been easy for her.  You know how it is:  She grows up and realizes the world isn’t quite what she thought it was.  And looking at her picture sometimes, I want to keep her in her safe little world of innocence, keep her from the pain of disillusionment.

Because I feel helpless knowing that she will one day feel the pain of a broken heart.  That she will make wrong choices that will lead down questionable paths and end in disappointment.  I cringe knowing that one day, like so many other girls, she will take a knife to that soft, perfect skin just to watch the blood trickle down.  Looking into those warm and trusting eyes, it tears me apart knowing that they will lose their sparkle one day — that they will have seen too much of the world to shine with naive expectation.

One day she will begin to question everything she ever believed in:  Santa Claus.  Prince Charming.  God.  Herself.

This little girl doesn’t know what it’s like to feel alone.  But one day, she will.  I look in her wide-eyed, innocent face and see her future, and I desperately want to shield her, to protect her, to tell her that there is an easier way.

But as I reach out my hand, I see that I am simply grasping at a mirror.  And as I look deeply into the eyes of the woman I have become, I see that there wasn’t a better way.  I took exactly the road I had to take to end up where I am, right now, standing here gazing at my reflection and looking back on the life I’ve lived.

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I had to make stupid choices to gain wisdom.  I had to be influenced and controlled before I could discover who I really was, and I had to hate myself before I knew what it meant to love myself.  I had to doubt before I could believe, I had to be broken so that I could be made whole, and I had to experience the imprisonment of shame before I could truly raise my hands to God in freedom and victory.  I had to live the life I’ve lived, every step of the way.  I always did what I felt I had to do to get by, so I really couldn’t have made any other choices.

And realizing this, I realize that, as much as I may want it to be, my job is not to keep other girls from the same struggles I went through.  I see the same look of excitement and wonder in their eyes, and I want to.  Oh God, I want to.

Others, I see the dullness and numbness beginning to replace the sparkle as they learn how broken the world really is and how ugly life can be, and I want to heal them.  Oh God, I want to.

But I can’t — it’s not my life to live.  And I’m learning that as desperately as I want to keep them from experiencing pain, I have to love them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

I know that some of them will starve themselves to find acceptance.  Some of them will cut themselves to feel again.   Some will compromise themselves for affirmation.  Some will experience loss and abandonment and depression.  And the thought of it breaks my heart.

But…

The best I can do is to equip them to live faithfully, to make the most of their lives, to find their own healing.  The best I can do is walk alongside them on their journey and share the little I know about life.  To let them make mistakes and to cry with them when they’re broken.  To pray them through as they sort out who they are and why they’re here.  To teach them enough of the Story so that they can faithfully improvise no matter what stage they’re on or what costume they’re wearing.  And to be a faithful audience to the story they write.

This is my ministry.

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stories

In getting to know someone, we’re bound to hear bits and pieces of what made them who they are, and we start to piece it together to understand them. This is how relationships are formed. But it’s rare that we actually sit down and listen to someone’s life story as a whole. And it’s rare that we tell it, too. For one thing, we feel awkward telling people about ourselves without an invitation. For another, we’re not sure how it will be received. It’s deeply personal, and it makes us feel vulnerable, putting our entire lives out on the table for someone to scrutinize.

But I think sharing our stories with one another is a very healthy thing to do. Then we realize that none of us really has it together. We can better understand where the other is coming from. We can help each other recognize our own biases. We can learn from each other’s mistakes. And most importantly, we can accept one another for who we are. Not just the polished parts of our life, and not just what we’ve had control over. All of it. All of US.

I heard, like, 2 testimonies growing up. And it was more about the terrible lives they lived before they found Christ, and it seemed to be a way to admonish the younger folks not to make the same mistakes. Hence I developed a bit of “conversion envy” — feeling like I had nothing to share because I’ve always been the “good kid.” And because of that, it sort of blinded me to the incredible things that God has done in my life. So when I was asked to share my testimony during training week at Deer Run, I kind of panicked: “But…I don’t have a story!” As I put my notes together, though, thinking about the places and people that have influenced me, I came to realize that I did have a story. It may not be full of fireworks and awesomeness, but it’s a story that no one else has. It makes me uniquely me.

I’ve shared my story three times now. Not a super long and detailed version, never over 20 or 30 minutes’ worth. But each time, I think it provided a very healthy framework for establishing a relationship with other people. The first time I shared it was to a room full of 30 people, who became the most supportive team I have ever worked with.

The second time was on the concrete steps outside the bath house at Deer Run at 11:00 at night.  I was sitting outside journaling when one of the junior staffers came up and asked, “Um, now may not be the best time to ask you this, but…what is your story?”  I was kind of taken aback at the simplicity and sincerity with which he asked.  He was asking me to talk about…me!  So we shared our stories with each other, and we ended up developing a close friendship.  When he junior staffed with me a couple weeks after that, we worked well together because there wasn’t anything we couldn’t be super open and honest about.  Weeks later, when we parted ways, I may or may not have cried my eyes out.  Granted, a good deal of that was camp emotion; but it was more than that, too.  I wrote in my journal later that day that he had gotten through my defense mechanisms in a way that nobody else ever had, and now I see why.  It was that simple question: “What is your story?”  He didn’t want to know what I hoped to do with my life, or what I’m good at or what I could do for him.  He wanted to know me.

The third time was actually quite recently.  I walked into Starbucks to meet a classmate, wearing tacky thrift store jeans, a hoodie, no makeup, glasses, and my hair thrown up in a messy bun.  For a few minutes we worked on a class assignment together, and then I was like, “Hey, uh, can I hear your life story?”  So he shared it with me.  I’d heard snapshots of it that made me want to hear the whole thing, and hearing it gave me a renewed appreciation for where he has come from and how to understand him.  Then he asked me about mine, and we just spent time talking and asking questions and being real with each other about our lives.  He later told me that I had a beautiful story and that it was a privilege to hear it.  My story?  A privilege?  There was powerful affirmation in those words.  It seemed to convey that he wasn’t evaluating my looks or intelligence or potential — that maybe he saw something of value, not in any of those things, but in who I am.

I say all this to say that nothing builds community like openness, and nothing generates openness like a simple invitation to tell one’s story. If we as Christians are to be a community of people that live and love and work together, we need to dig a little deeper than surface-level talk. If we know each other on the story level, I think there would be a lot less judgment and a lot more understanding. That “annoying person” would become an understandable person. It would be a lot easier to cry with someone if we knew why they were crying. It would be easier to correct someone if you knew why they acted the way they did, and it would be a lot easier to accept correction if you knew you were understood.

So let’s get coffee sometime. I’d love to hear your story.

P.S. Paragraphs 5 & 6 were edited by my mother, the English major. This is why there are two spaces between each sentence and more commas than I usually use. “Being real about your lives? What does that even mean? That must be an extrovert thing.” Haha I love her.

Published in: on November 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Story Never Written

Each of us has a story. Written in our own handwriting, some pages spotted with tears of the journey, our stories are uniquely ours and a testament of our lives to everyone around us. The days of our lives flow onto the pages like the smooth ink of a pen, leaving our mark upon the world. Some stories are emotionally charged, fast-paced roller coaster rides, while others are like informative textbooks. Some seem like fairy tales. Others, sadly, read more like tragedies or horror stories. And some are cut short without a satisfactory ending as the world mourns an early death.

But by far the saddest stories are those that are but empty covers with a collapsing spine where the pages should be. There is no title page. The author has no name on the cover, and there are no pictures in the book by which to recognize his or her identity. There is nothing. This story, like all stories, was supposed to change the world by its unique plot, but its pages were ripped out and burned. The world will never see what was meant to be.

 Those hundreds of pages that should have been filled with stories of birthdays and first dates and school and friends and life were exchanged for a single sentence in another person’s story: “I decided to have an abortion.”

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 1:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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