Candles

Dear Reader,

Every spring in a little brick building in northern Wisconsin, a faithful group of believers comes together to celebrate the most joyous moment in history: the resurrection of Christ, which in the Orthodox church is called Pascha. We gather as a church to declare that Christ has risen and has destroyed the power of death. In the Orthodox church, the beginning of Pascha coincides with the church beginning to read the book of Acts together. Historically, new believers during this time were instructed not only to enjoy their faith but to share their newfound hope with others. God gave the miracle of abundant life and the ability to become partakers of the divine nature. At the same time, He commands us to go and make disciples of all nations, and thereby spread these gifts to the farthest reaches of the world. I see this pictured in the Pascha service, where everyone present is given an unlit candle. From just one flame the fire slowly spreads from person to person until the entire church is illuminated. We each receive and then pass it on. Through the efforts of the whole church, we take what was once dark and fill it with light.

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Almost a year ago, my husband and I set out to travel Europe for five months. Hand in hand, with nothing but two backpacks, we embarked on what would become the most formative part of our lives. We began our marriage outside of the myopia that obscures daily life in a comfortable, familiar setting. There could not have been a better way for the two of us to begin this new part of our relationship than by travelling as we did. Not only did it benefit our lives back then, but it gave us a vision for helping travelers and the physically and spiritually poor, a path we wish to hike for many miles to come. While traveling, Stephen and I have begun to see and understand the full broadness of humanity that escapes our daily thoughts. All across this vast globe, billions of people are waking up, working, laughing, mourning, and living out stories not too different from our own. Our world is filled with real people just as important as you or me, whether or not we act like that’s true. It’s sometimes hard to remember all the things we’ve learned while travelling, and for a whole day to pass by with me forgetting that there are billions of others who are living and suffering and dying without hope.

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This September, we are going to continue on the path we started and join some missionaries in a South Asian country. We plan to be there for three months, and to use our aptitude for traveling and learning about different ways of life while helping in one of the most impoverished nations of the world. Our time there will be spent fulfilling the Great Commission, Christ’s last commandment to His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We have the opportunity to share the hope that is within us with people across the world so that they might too know the true joy that is found in knowing Christ. It sounds nice when I write it like that, but the decision to go hasn’t been easy or glamorous. It’s been a hard battle, both internally and externally. We feel the weight of the stress that goes into preparing for a trip like this. We had money stolen from us the same week we planned to buy our plane tickets. Additionally, we haven’t had a lot of encouragement from others along the way; fear, reservation, and raised eyebrows seem more popular responses. We have wondered about this last part. Is there a fundamental dichotomy between what we have been told our whole lives and what we see in the church – between what Christians express in words and show through works?

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Many of us recognize on one level the importance of the Great Commission. But what we believe manifests itself in how we act. If our actions do not reflect a belief that sharing the Light of the World with the world is more important than any earthly goal (and a belief that doing so is within our means) then, at root, we really do not believe something about that. We need to honestly ask ourselves: “Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?”1

Do we really believe that Jesus left us with the commandment of sharing the Kingdom of Heaven?

Do we really believe He cares whether we take action or not?

Do we really believe that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven?

Do we really believe He will accompany us and fill us with His Spirit to make these things happen?

Do we really believe that unreached people are created in the image of God and are made to enjoy His presence?

Do we really believe that sharing Christ’s hope with people who are completely unaware of the True Life available to them – people for whom He died – is more important than catching the latest episode of our favorite show or manicuring that never-perfect lawn?

This is not just a nice (or “convicting”) thing to think about. I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that it can be hard to truly believe these things. Jesus died for the world and told us  it is our job to finish the work he began. We should consider it an honor to rise up and complete this task, but we don’t. So why don’t we believe these things? Why don’t we act on them?

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The most obvious answer, of course, is fear. I feel it in many different forms when considering the desire to help the people in Asia. It is not only the anxiety I feel when researching plane and bus crashes and rabid monkeys, but also the calmer logic that says “it will cost a lot, and I have a lot of other things going for me right here.” It is the doubt that says “I’m not gifted enough to be effective anyway.” It is the reasoning that says, “There’s plenty for me to help in America, God; why don’t you send someone else?” It is fear that encourages us to doubt the truths listed above that we say we believe. It is fear that convinces us that people won’t actually listen and respond to God’s transforming love. It is fear that tells us that our wealth and material goods are what we can truly trust for comfort and security. It is fear that whispers that the power of Pentecost is gone—that the Spirit that worked through Paul and others to reach all of Asia Minor just doesn’t have the same punch nowadays. Fear is of epidemic proportions, and it’s crippling us from really living.

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Interestingly, this fear and doubt seem to only be given credibility when considering our own intentions or those of people close to us; no follower of Christ fears when discussing the concept and importance of the Great Commission in a Bible Study or doubts that the world will be reached before Christ returns. But Christianity is not only a global, big-picture, conceptual religion. It is individual. It only works to the extent that individuals are actually living it. Christ has made claims on your life individually. Yes, it seems safer as a theoretical concept we can impersonalize and distance ourselves from. But it has no power that way.

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Living a real, loving, Christian life is hard. It’s a lot easier to complain to your friends about an issue than it is to try to change it. It’s easier to tell a homeless person to go find a shelter than it is to invite him or her into your house for a meal. It’s easier to point a finger at the sin in our world than it is to befriend someone who’s suffering because of it. But giving into fear is not what we’re made for. We have the power of the Spirit in us, and the gates of hell will not prevail against us.

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We each have a candle, we each have aptitudes and opportunities, and we each have someone standing by whose candle hasn’t been lit. Some of us  might be heartbroken over the number of orphans and children in foster care and the lack of families willing to adopt. Some of us are pained to know that hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry each night, or live in fear of being killed unjustly. Some of us just want to see joy on our neighbors’ faces. For Stephen and I, our travels have instilled in us a compassion for people all over the world from radically different backgrounds and cultures than our own. We can each do our own part. We can actually make changes, not just wish for them. And it will be powerful.

I have the candle in my hand. And I’m ready to share its light.

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Love,

Rae & Stephen

 

1http://www.thetruthproject.org/~/media/files/PDF/ttp_bulletin_insert.pdf

 

Oxford: A Love Story

For our First Anniversary

My time in the British Isles was drawing to a close. At the dawn of my summer adventure two years ago, when I stepped onto the streets of Dublin full of hope and curiosity, it felt as if I was on the brink of an endless summer. The possibilities knew no limits, and my time there seemed as far-reaching as the Atlantic horizon. But the days passed as they always do, and I found myself strolling the stately streets of Oxford come mid-August, watching the sun set on my last two nights in the UK.

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Oxford was a place I had long wanted to visit. It was the home of some of the greatest writers and most beautiful colleges, and thus a fitting location to spend a few relaxed days between leaving Scotland and travelling to France. It was a time to slow down and process what life in Stirling had meant to me and how it had changed me. And for me, the backdrop of history, bookshops, and lush green meadows seemed the perfect place to unwind and do just those things.

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But while I was in that classic city and wandered the winding streets and manicured courtyards, I found I no longer felt completely alone to think about my travels like I had before. In fact, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about someone across the ocean whom I had not seen in nearly three months, yet someone who was one of the most important parts of that entire summer. This person would be Stephen, my amazing friend who is now my husband of almost a year.

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For me, our story had its beginnings in the spring of 2014. Though we had known each other for almost two years, we were little more than distant friends until registration for the Eau Claire Marathon opened that year. A number of our friends signed up for the half marathon, Stephen and I included, and we began to meet at my house on Oxford Avenue a few times a week to run together. Over the months of training we grew from being distant friends to close friends. I was struck by our conversations and how Stephen cared so much for everyone in our group. When I had laryngitis the day of the race, he stuck by me to make sure I was alright. It was then that I began to see the how much he truly cared about me, and in turn came to realize how I cared about him too. It was an exciting time, though for me it was tinged with the knowledge that I would soon be leaving for Scotland. With our growing friendship at such a fragile stage I didn’t know whether it would survive three months of being apart or look remotely the same when I returned. I was becoming more disappointed at the thought of having to leave at such a time when Stephen asked if he could write to me while I was abroad, and all of those worries disappeared.

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His first letter came the night before I departed on a weekend trip to the Highlands. It was the most beautiful piece of writing I had seen. I read the letter countless times and hiked with it in my backpack all over Glencoe. I memorized some of the passages. There didn’t seem to be any way I could create something half so good, but I crafted my return letter on the bus ride back, polished it up in my favorite coffee shop in Stirling, and sent it off with the hope that he would like it. My letter arrived in Eau Claire about a week later, and thus began the days of our correspondence.

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It was a beautiful time, a tender time. It was the days of waiting every day for a letter, walking along the loch thinking of what to write, and hoping desperately that each envelope that I had sent would make its way safely to Wisconsin. It was a time of learning and growing. I’ve been asked if it’s difficult to start a relationship long-distance like that. For us, the beginning our story was fitting for who we are. Things moved forward slowly over those first three months, giving each of us plenty of time to think and pray. Our writing letters allowed us to express who we were more deeply and more thoughtfully than typical first-date small talk, and through writing we formed a real substance to our relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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But despite the wonderful way our relationship was beginning, my mind kept returning to all of the unknowns. It’s a vulnerable thing to allow yourself to fall in love. There aren’t any guarantees. There’s no roadmap or guidebook. You can try to make it as safe as possible, but when you choose to become close to someone you always run the risk of being hurt.  I thought of these things as I entered Christ Church Cathedral for evensong. A small group of us were escorted inside and given hymnals, and I held mine tightly and looked up at the stained glass windows many feet above us. I was fully aware that in just a few weeks’ time I would be back in America again. I knew that part of me wanted to take courage and let this friendship grow, but another part of me wanted some sort of supernatural, lightning-strike moment of assurance that this was the right thing to do before I advanced any further.

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Of course, there was no such moment. But while I was in that service in Oxford, something changed. A passage that we had each sent to each other that summer made another appearance: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Is. 55:8). And the third time it finally sunk in. All of the things I was perceiving as unknown or daunting weren’t so for God. Everything I felt was too much for me to figure out wasn’t for Him. I didn’t have to see the whole future before taking the first step. I was free. I felt a quiet peace and trust that was more powerful than any lightning strike could have been, and the assurance that despite any problems that I perceived, loving my best friend was, and would always be, worth it.

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And so I walked out into the golden meadow of Christ Church Cathedral and found a quiet perch beside a brook. My smile was too much to contain, my heart overjoyed. And I took out my little notebook and jotted down how I hoped that Stephen would be able to visit this wonderful place some time, and how I hoped I could be there with him whenever he did.

A year later, nearly to the day, Stephen and I arrived at the Oxford train station. The city looked exactly the same, felt the same. For all I knew it could have been only two days that I was away. Except that this time, the man that I had fallen in love with in Oxford and had decided to love was with me, and we couldn’t have picked a better place to begin our marriage.

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