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~ Written by Samantha Freds

Have you ever felt completely out of place? Maybe you were surrounded by people so different it felt like you were suddenly on another planet. Or maybe, even without being able to put your finger on why, you felt alone in a crowd.

I remember that feeling as a fourth grader, new to a small central school in New York. There was a popular show on Nickelodeon at the time called Rocket Power. Sam, the new kid in the show, got the nickname “Squid” because he was so different from the other kids. Naturally, since my name was Sam and I was the new kid in town, I was also blessed with this nickname. I was an alien in new territory.

I recall a similar feeling when I first moved to Indiana for college. I was 500 miles from home, and away from everyone I knew and felt comfortable around. Sure, I was still in the United States, but everything felt different.

In both these cases, the newness eventually wore off and a new normal was established. Unfortunately, I now have little tolerance for that out-of-place feeling. But as Christ-followers, we are called to maintain our alien identity. This world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven, living on mission here on earth. It’s time we stopped trying to blend in.

Can you name a single alien movie where the vast majority of the people see the alien as normal? Sometimes there are a handful who see past the obvious physical differences. In those rare cases, more often than not it’s a child who befriends the weirdo (childlike faith, I guess). Otherwise, the aliens are rejected or even feared for their differences.

Jesus warned his disciples in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

Why then are we so tempted to fit in? Let’s boldly accept our call to continue Jesus’s mission on this earth, willingly claiming our identity as aliens in this world even if it means we don’t fit in.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Do you think it’s okay that my Jesus isn’t White?” The question startled me, but not because I thought her question was out of line. When I asked her to tell me more, my friend fought back tears as she explained what she meant.

“I’ve been taught the Bible all my life. I have a theology degree. But the Jesus I see in all the books is White. When I think of Jesus, His skin isn’t white, He’s not afraid of dancing, and He speaks my Native language. Do you think that’s wrong?”

Her struggle to understand isn’t rare. But as I thought back through the Gospels, I saw one very strong correlation. Whomever Jesus was sitting with at the time, He found common ground. To the fisherman, He became a fisherman. To the leper, He allowed Himself to be touched so the leper felt accepted. With the Rabbi, He shared common knowledge. To the uneducated, He simply showed them love and reminded them of their worth.

Jesus is the God Who fully commits Himself to love and join together with all people and all cultures. How beautiful to be reminded that God unites us within our differences—even our different cultures—rather than despite them.

May we allow ourselves to learn from each other’s different perspectives of Jesus!

~Written by Tabby McMonagle

“For God’s sake, come undone,” said no one ever. But what if it is exactly what we need to do in order to see God? Personally, I have been trying to hold it together for years now. Not until this past year, when I have come completely undone, have I been able to surrender the control I thought I had.

Growing up I felt like the message I heard was, “Keep it together. Be strong. You’ll figure it out. Keep trying.” All good ideas, but none of them encouraged me to rely on anyone but myself. If I could will it, I could do it.

What a different reality I face today than what I was prepared for! Things don’t always go my way. My good deeds and hard work don’t always get me what I want.

The biggest disappointment was no matter how much faith I could muster, the answers to my prayers were still in God’s hands. They depended on His approval not my persuasion or the faith I brought. In fact, I learned my faith is a gift from God; nothing I do can get me more of it.

How I want to grasp at control. I want to know what happens next. The unknown of my circumstances has me at my wits’ end. My mind, my body; all of it is undone. I told a friend I could probably walk on water, I feel so weak. The Bible says when we are weak He is strong. In the very depths of my heart, the despair I have in understanding I have no control over anything in my life, or in anyone else’s, has me to the very end of myself. I have to put God as my only hope.

When we take life, and all it has to offer, and break it down, the only thing that matters is saving souls for Christ. It has nothing to do with our moment in history but it has everything to do with God’s plans. It is then we realize that we need to come undone. So, for God’s sake, come undone. We need a new perspective. We need God’s perspective.

I am not there yet. I am still sifting through the ashes of what is left of my control issues. I don’t want to look for anything to salvage; I want only to move forward with God’s help. I want to rely on Him; not what I have to offer but what He can do with me as I am. I don’t want to hear, “For God’s sake, keep it together.” For God’s sake, I pray I come undone.

Letting Go Again

~Written by Erin Shuler

Over the past month, I have gone through many transitions and big life changes. Between quitting my job, planning a wedding, and moving across the world to Uganda, two simple words—let go—have been following me around a lot lately. Several weeks ago, I started having anxiety attacks. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, but not to a point of being crippled by fear or sobbing uncontrollably. The attacks came out of nowhere, and I had no defense for them.

Letting go didn’t feel possible. Right before I moved, a friend suggested that I should “let go.” God was in control. I finally realized there was nothing I could do about the circumstances themselves, but I could change how I responded to them. After that, when anxiety hit, I started praying through the attacks. I came out on the other side of an attack feeling closer and more connected to God. He was using my fear and my anxiety to draw me closer to himself and all I had to do was let go.

My anxiety wasn’t gone but it wasn’t as severe. As I learn to let go, I am learning to lean on God. As I left the USA and moved to Uganda, I was once again reminded I’m not done learning the lesson of letting go. I was going to be traveling with another family to Uganda, but a few days before our departure, I got a phone call saying circumstances had changed. Because of circumstances out of our control, I would be making the trip by myself. Deep breath. Let go.

I got to the airport and my first flight was delayed, made it just in time to board the next flight and then sat for over an hour as the flight crew was dealing with baggage issues. Sigh. Let go. I made my next connecting flight just to sit on the runway for another hour and a half. Let go. When I finally arrived, I was exhausted and was without my luggage because it didn’t make the connecting flight in Amsterdam. Okay, God! I get it. I need to let go. I’m clearly not in control!

After sleeping through the night and partially through the next day, I sat on the front porch and drank in the stillness and the quiet. I decided to take time to process and do something to calm my anxious thoughts. Flipping through a coloring book, I found a page which read “Let Go” in big bold letters. As I sat coloring and listening to worship music, the same reoccurring phrase played song after song. Can you guess what it was? Let go.

So, I’m sitting here, working on letting go because my God is never going to let go of me.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I love how you work to serve the ‘least of these’ just like Jesus!” I heard that sentiment quite often working with the homeless community. There was a certain romance people envisioned when observing those of us who ran the shelter. We got to rock babies, love on parents, and see the gratitude on kids’ faces when we provided them new shoes, or a brand new toy. Who wouldn’t love doing that for a living?

What most of our observers didn’t understand was in order to bless the least of these, in many ways, we had to become like them, too. We had to learn how to look at a dumpster and see the treasures. We had to learn why an iPhone was more important than a house. We had to stop expecting them to uphold our moral compass, and had to learn what they determined was right and wrong.

Only when we had done that could we gently nudge our friends to make beneficial changes. It took a lot of work. We were constantly walking the line between compromise and sacrifice.

While working within our homeless community, I learned so much about how gentle Jesus is with those of us who may not see ourselves as the “least of these.” He was willing to become like us to reach us. Although He never sinned, He learned our ways in order to gain our trust.

How is it, then, that we often forget to do that for those we are burdened to love?

~ Written by Viki Rife

If I could go back and raise my children over again, there are two principles that would guide my interaction with them. Especially during the teen years, these two principles are essential.

The first one is “Listen.” Kids can sometimes say alarming things, and as parents we can react without first finding out what they’re really getting at, or why it’s important to them. There is something about a parent respectfully hearing a child out and asking insightful questions that disarms a lot of the rebellion young people feel as their search for independence is thwarted. Try to hear what they are hearing.

The second is “Guide.” Sometimes parents can be manipulated by their kid’s desires and emotional ups and downs without even realizing it. If we want our children to grow up to be mature adults, not perpetual adolescents, we need to invest in helping them see the world through our eyes of experience. They need know what we’ve learned and why we value what we value. Try to wisely help them hear what you are hearing about the direction they’re headed.

As a family, make it a priority to take time to hear each other. Turn off the TV, put down the video controller, and silence your phone. Your example of listening to your child can go a long way to teach them by example how to listen to you!

~ Written by Viki Rife

It was the first potted plant I tried to grow, and it had thrived so well I was beginning to hope it meant I had a green thumb. Then one day I noticed that some of the leaves were turning dark. They got drier and drier. I tried watering more. Nothing helped.

When I pointed it out to a more experienced gardener, she said it needed to be repotted. “Bring it over to my house,” she told me. “I have the perfect pot for it.”

I helped prepare the soil and she removed the plant from its pot and placed it in the new one. Then she produced a big tool that looked like a combination of a knife and a saw. I stared aghast as she started to slice at the roots all around my plant.

“What are you doing?” I cried. She smiled reassuringly. “This plant is rootbound. The roots have wrapped around themselves, and if you don’t cut them so they attempt to grow in a new direction, they will never go deeper.

Have you ever felt like God was doing that—sawing away at the roots that have sustained you? I do. He frequently tears up old assumptions about who He is and what life is supposed to be about. He destroys my comfortable ways of doing things.

When that happens, I need to do what plants do and expand my roots into the rich soil He has provided. He’s acting out of love, because He knows I need to go deeper into His nourishing truth.

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