Friday, December 22, 2017

The Day of College Graduation

It seems so surreal that today I will be driving onto campus one last time as a student. How many hundreds of times have I done it without thinking? This place has been where I came to learn, work, serve, and goof off with friends but it has also been home. As I spent entire summers in New Orleans and Portland, I always took comfort in knowing I was coming back to the beauty of Lake Johanna (except for that one summer you couldn't go swimming because of the bacteria), the trails on the other side of the baseball fields and library that make it feel like you cannot possibly be a few miles away from 5+ Caribous, the Billy's teppanyaki and the ridiculous line that comes with its presence, and the friendly faces of Barbie, Festus, Dale, and Katie in the cafeteria. When life has been beautifully unpredictable and other kinds of unpredictable, the God-loving and Christ-following community of UNW has been one of the constants the past several years - whether that was to celebrate or cry with me.

It hasn't been without struggle. Classes have stretched me (like Chemistry class second semester of freshman year) and piles of papers to write have gotten to me at times (I had 7 to write during the first 3 weeks of December in addition to projects, exams, readings, and other assignments). Yet it gave me strength to work all day and all night again and again knowing that I was doing all this for the glory of God in order to use this information and these skills for Him. However, the thing that has been the most difficult is the pushback I received as a woman pursuing ministry. I am forever indebted to my best friend for the countless times her sweaters soaked up my tears. I am also forever grateful for my parents who wrote me letters, spoke encouraging words over me, and received my late night phone calls with grace. Professor Payne and James Earley have been two of my greatest supporters at UNW but there have been many others too along the way. My pastor Matt and my entire Story family have been an encouragement more times than I can count as they have helped me understand my gifts and discerned my calling. For all that struggle, I am grateful. Those times proved to be some of  the greatest times of growth in my relationship with the Lord and He comforted me beyond measure again and again. So even in the pains of university life as I faced paper after paper after paper and struggled with my place in ministry, I find myself thankful for it all.

The past 4 years and 3 months cannot possibly be described. The reality is I am a very different person than I was when I first stepped onto campus many years ago. I have grown and changed in so many ways through amazing classes, the words of wise and thoughtful professors, chapels that challenged and inspired me, and the experiences of working so much within Local Outreach. Streetlight alone has changed my thinking and my heart in so many ways as I have heard people's heartbreaking stories, shared in their victories, and mourned with them over the loss of one of our beloved sisters. Through UNW's classes, chapels, staff and faculty, and of course my fellow students I have come to know and love Christ more and more everyday.

Even though this is the moment I have been working for, over the last few weeks I have struggled more than I anticipated to leave this all behind me, especially with the large number of lasts that I have experienced. Now, of course, I am a great sentimentalist, so while not all these things are even notable to some, they have been important to me. In the last few weeks, I have had my last praise chapel, last class, last Streetlight, last teppanyaki at the Billy, last Nest ice cream run, last time watching movies in the Stud elevator, last time walking through the Stud to discover you no longer have to go to the store to buy bread, and last time doing a lot of other things.

This afternoon I will be putting on my cap and gown, which has spent most of its time in my possession under the bed because I didn't know what to do with it. These two simple items represent so much. They symbolize a lot of hard work and to me represent the countless ways I have been supported by my parents, other family members, friends, and UNW staff and faculty. They also symbolize a movement from student to alum and represent the end of a significant season of my life and the beginning of a new, unknown one.

In less than 6 hours I will be crossing the main stage in Totino and by the time I will have made it across someone will have put the case which will soon hold my diploma in my hands. The only other time I crossed that stage was two years ago to sing "Jingle Bells" with my Greek class. (That is a story for another time.) I do not know which is a more odd thing to think about.

The whole point of my rambling is this: I will always be grateful for UNW and the impact that it has had on me. Thank you to all who supported me on this journey. Here's to the Lord's faithfulness as we celebrate today and all which it represents. Here's to the promise of the Lord's continued presence in the months and years to come as new experiences and opportunities await.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

America, Who Are You? God's People, Where Are You?

America who are you? Underneath the red, blue, and white? America who are you? I wonder who you are tonight. America who are you? Is God still on your side? I want to see a nation rise above the fear and fight that haunts these streets tonight. 
- "Looking for America" by Switchfoot and Lecrae

Brace yourself. This post will be long and it will contain controversial views and you probably will not agree with everything I have to say. I ask that as I share my thoughts and my heart that you listen openly and then respond as you will. I want to share with you what I did today and why. I spent the first part of my day attending classes that teach me all about God and what it means for me to be His, just as I do everyday. My day continued with conversations, homework, chapel, and attending a protest in Minneapolis. I attended this protest because I want to stand with my brothers and sisters who are refugees. From what I know about God, who I am, and who my refugee brothers and sisters are, I believe this was right. I will tackle why I did so. Then I will address why I chose to take action through protesting. Finally, I will address what the protest itself was like and finish with a few concluding thoughts.

I stand with my brothers and sisters first and foremost as a citizen of the kingdom of God. Didn't see that one coming, did you? As a citizen of the kingdom of God, I see my first priority to be to follow the wonderful ways of my good and wise King. Throughout the Old and New Testaments my King has not merely suggested but commanded His people to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, stand up for the oppressed, give a voice to the voiceless, and welcome the stranger in. (If you doubt this, see the following samplings of Scripture: Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Exodus 23:9, Job 31:32, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 58:10, Matthew 25:31-46, Philippians 2:3-4, Malachi 3:5, Hebrews 13:2) And if you don't think refugees are suffering or in need in any way, I would humbly ask you to open your eyes wider. As a citizen of a greater kingdom, I know that each person is made in the image of God and thus has immeasurable value. So much value that in fact the value of the life of a refugee from Syria or Somalia or anywhere else is actually the exact same as your own. Imagine that. There is no hierarchy in this kingdom. Inconvenient for you? It is sometimes for me too because it means I have to look beyond myself and recognize that maybe I am not any more important than everyone else.

The second role I come from this is that of an American citizen. I only have two notes on this point. One is the obvious fact that it is quite ironic for a bunch of fairly recent immigrants to push away a newer batch, especially when they are in a very critical position. I myself am just a third generation American born girl whose family came here from Sweden. Second, I want to address this safety (or as it is probably more properly labeled - fear) driven side. I acknowledge our need for having security as a nation. However, the argument that our vetting process needs work is extremely weak. You can read up on our very thorough vetting process for refugees as it stands here. Also, there has not been one American killed by a terrorist from any of the countries that have had the ban placed on them.

Third, I come looking at this issue as simply a human being. I know it is very easy to dehumanize refugees, especially when you don't always see pictures or hear personal stories or know any. However, I have. I have seen pictures, read stories, and known refugees. Nothing will turn your heart so quickly towards these people like truly knowing a few of them.

So that is why I am for the refugees. Now with the list of things I can do to support this cause, why choose to protest? I will be the first to admit I have never protested anything and I did not really think I ever would. I am not a huge fan of crowds, especially angry crowds like the media often shows. And at the end of the day, I do not think protesting alone will change everything we want to have changed. But I do believe it is a strong start. It causes people watching the news and government to recognize the thousands standing together to fight an issue. These protests serve as conversation starters and can lead to great change in thoughts and actions.

Finally, if you are still with me I hope to share what it was actually like to protest today. I went with two of my fellow local outreach leaders from the university I attend who lead a ministry that reaches out to the international community (I get the great privilege of being a tutor through the ministry to a sweet Somali family) as well as a friend who is heavily involved in our multicultural group on campus. We rode in to Minneapolis on the light rail. One of my fellow students and I sat by an older woman. She asked the woman how her day was and where she was headed. Much to my surprise she was going to the protest. When asked to explain her heart for the cause she explained that she is a retired social worker. At the conclusion of this conversation we met a couple of other college kids going to protest. Then we saw dozens more protesters flock onto the light rail over the course of the next few stops. When we arrived at government plaza we then encountered thousands of protesters. We shuffled our way through the crowd and took our places. We held our signs displaying history, current data, quotes from the statue of liberty, and Bible verses & shouted in unison both our grievances and supports. Everyone else did the same. I was shocked to see the immense diversity of people there. Literally everyone was there. Young moms. College kids. Retired people. Singles. Couples. Families. Friends. Natural born citizens. Immigrants. Asians. Hispanics. African Americans. Scandinavians. Introverts. Extroverts. Politically-minded. Non-political. Christians. Muslims. Atheists. It was an incredible thing to see people stand up. Not just for themselves but for their brothers and sisters. I reflected upon that as we stood there in the cold. What would it be like to be preparing to come to America after a long waiting process & have one man and his bandwagon tell you that after all that time you actually cannot but then have thousands of people you have never met fighting for you? The whole protest was peaceful. It was filled with compassion and a desire to see justice. 

I hope that in this next season we truly do see people stand up for one another like I saw today. What if we actually lived like this - like we were our brother's keeper? What could that look like in your household, neighborhood, city, state, country, or world? I hope we see Americans set aside their "America first" attitude long enough to look into the eyes of the people they are trying to turn away. I hope the church thinks twice before deciding to "not get involved in political matters" and truly be the Church that Christ would ask us to be. I hope we all make choices we are proud of. I hope that when your children or your grandchildren ask you about this some day you will be able to tell them you fought for the refugees. This is my hope and these are my prayers.