The Parasite Mentality

 

Highbridge, Kentucky

Highbridge, Kentucky

A few weeks ago, I wrote a journal entry. And I was planning on keeping that to myself, because it’s personal. But after some conversations with people, who all seem to be going through (or have gone through) similar times in life, I felt a nudge to share it.

So, you lucky person you, you get to read what has evolved from a journal entry.

Jonathan Powers (the steward of the World Gospel Mission Student Center at my college campus) was speaking Sunday night at an event. He was talking about how we need to be open to whatever God is calling us to do to invest in our community and to contribute to spiritual vitality in those around us.

And this kind of struck me. I came to college with the mentality that I would get so much from my college; that I would grow and feed on the wisdom of those around me. I was fully prepared for my college to invest in me. Which makes me sound kind of like a parasite. And now that I have taken time to reflect, that’s just what it is: a parasite mentality.

Too often we (the millennials) base our decisions on what we can get, or experience. Just this past weekend, I was making plans with friends, but before I decided to commit, this thought ran through my head: “Well, hold on. Wait and see what your other friends are doing first”. Geez. Sorry guys, I really do value you.

This parasite mentality: “What can I get out of this?”, has gotten me into a lot of trouble. I go to a small, private Christian school, Asbury University. But I was drowning freshman through junior year. I starved myself of spiritual growth. I couldn’t understand it. Well, no, I didn’t have a “home church”, but I went to mandatory chapel services three times a week. And I wasn’t really involved in a small group, but I had a small group of friends, and that counts for something, right? The summer after my sophomore year, I no longer considered myself a Christian. And I hated myself. I hated how easily I had lost what I had believed to be a thriving faith. Not able to handle the guilt, I looked for a scapegoat. I started to hate Asbury.

Obviously, Asbury had failed to feed me spiritually. How could they have left such a fertile, willing soul to flounder this badly? Where was the lifeline that they were supposed to provide me?

This past spring, I went through an awakening. I did a pretty blunt review of my life. And my life looked a lot like crap. I read through some old journals from my high school days. I saw a thriving, spiritually healthy girl in those words. I broke inside.

I guess I’m in a place where I don’t feel like I can or should contribute to my community because it doesn’t feel like my mistakes and sins have been redeemed yet. But then I think, ‘That’s a stupid way to look at it because when will I ever feel like God has redeemed my sin?‘. So I guess I want to be vulnerable, and willing to do what God wants.

I still hesitate to identify with Christianity, and still struggle with my own doubts. But my faith is much less about me now. I learned the hard way that the parasite mentality is fundamentally wrong. Yet it permeates our entire society. I just watched a documentary on Netflix called “I Am” that addresses two of life’s biggest questions:

What is wrong with the world? And what can we do about it?

Courtesy of Rama's Screen

Courtesy of Rama’s Screen

The documentarian is actually Hollywood director Tom Shadyac, famous for making movies like Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura. As he climbed the ladder of success and achieved the American Dream, he found himself unhappy and disillusioned. I viewed life as a ladder to be climbed. Except instead of climbing, I figured it would be more like an escalator and my peers and professors would lift me up to the top.

Asbury never wronged me, I wronged myself. I don’t know where you might be, but understand that it doesn’t matter where you think you are on this journey. God uses imperfect people. The more I think about it, the more I think that’s the point. How else could God demonstrate his perfection than by working through imperfect people to do really great things?

Personally, the only way I could kill the parasite mentality was by thinking about others above myself. In the end, it’s really not about me at all. I am not special, unique or a game changer. I am one in 7.12 billion people on planet Earth. I have a very small margin of influence. Which is cool, because God can still use that margin. So, dear reader, it’s your turn to kill the parasite mentality. Love God. Love others.

Who are you?

Don’t you love how everyone is telling you what to do?

Let’s think about it. There are an infinity of quizzes, blogs, articles, and tweets telling you who you are, what you should do, how you should live, where you should go, what you should believe.

Is it possible that EVERYONE is going through an existential crisis?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed I am constantly bombarded by people posting the results of quizzes. “I’m an extrovert! What are you?” “I’m left brained! Take this quiz to find out what you are!” “22 things you should do before you turn 22!” “10 things a woman should look for in a man!”

Is it possible that no one knows who they are? Have we all missed that moment in life where we have direction and understanding of who we are?

It’s frightening, but also very sad, that so many feel the need to find their “directions” to a happy life via blogs and quizzes online. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but that post about “50 Ways to a Happier Life” is not going to make your life any happier. If anything, those types of posts make me feel inadequate. For instance, that 22 year old who has traveled all over the world and speaks four languages and is a national geographic photographer in her spare time: “Well jeez, I haven’t really done much with my life after all. What’s wrong with me?”

NOTHING. Nothing is wrong with me. The steps you took to get where you are in life, are not the steps I am taking to reach the same place in mine. That’s the difference. Your life. And mine.

Part of the development of the psyche is the realization of self. Somewhere between the ages of 1 and 2, a child realizes, “I am me”. As children grow, they begin to develop personality traits, and being to shape their character. Of course there are times that call for self-reflection and realization. But what does it say of our generation or society when we turn to quizzes and blog posts to tell us who we are, and stop experiencing life for ourselves?

Rick Warren puts it nicely on this post from rickwarren.org.

What this means is that you abandon any image of yourself that is not from God. You stop accepting what others have said about you, how others have labeled you, and how others have defined you.

You’re not defined by your feelings. You’re not defined by the opinions of others or by your circumstances. You’re not defined by your successes or failures. You’re not defined by the car you drive, the money you make, or the house you say you own when the bank really does.

http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/embrace-your-identity-in-christ#.U9gdn4BdXT5

Let’s look at this lovely verse from Psalm 139. You might find it often on Pinterest or nicely painted on a canvas.

I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

The phrase that catches the eye is this: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. It’s a beautiful truth about your identity. However, it is preceded by an equally important truth. “I praise you”. We find ourselves when we are praising/living for God. As Christians, our identity is intrinsically tied to God and how he created us.

I, personally, am done. I, the kid who grew up sneaking into Mom’s office to read personality books, am tired.

I choose to live life for myself, and make these realizations about myself through experience. I choose to no longer rely on someone else (who does not know me) to help figure out who I am. I choose to be me, and learn about me without quizzes, blog posts, or Facebook.

And now, it’s up to you. To live life by experiencing it for yourself, or vicariously living through articles you find online. YOU decide.

Change

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 

Jeremiah 29: 11-13

 

A ladder on the exterior of one of downtown Monroe's historic businesses.

A ladder on the exterior of one of downtown Monroe’s historic businesses.

Nobody likes change. Scratch that.

Nobody likes their plans getting upset. (Which leads to the whole…well, are they “your” plans or “God’s” plans? And his are bigger than yours, right?)

I have been drafting this post in my head for two weeks.

And even after two weeks of crafting the words in a different order, mulling over a creative metaphor, and generally just dragging my feet…I keep coming back to simplicity. News is best understood in its simplest form.

After living in Clarkston, on the outskirts of Atlanta, for one week as an intern with The Mission Society, I made the decision to go home.

I was so blessed and challenged by my one week in Clarkston. I learned about the culture and history of Burma from my host family and their church family. I learned about hospitality customs in Nepal from my next-door neighbors. I learned about how The Mission Society is investing in inner city Atlanta through John and Katheryn Heinz. And I witnessed Jesus moving in a community that has experienced more conflict, persecution, and change than any I have encountered before.

The refugees of Clarkston are so willing to share their stories with anyone who genuinely wishes to learn about their past, their home, their hearts. Whenever my family would return to the United States from living abroad for years, I often felt overlooked and unheard. You take away someone’s humanity when you disregard their story. It’s easy to look at a community of refugees and immigrants and list all of the problems. It’s hard to go sit in their living rooms, share a meal, and listen. I think listening is the key to the heart.

God is faithful and I learned more than I imagined I would. I am continuing to learn. Due to some miscommunications, along with some prodding from Jesus, I was convicted that my summer was not meant to be spent in Clarkston with the Mission Society.

I moved home three weeks ago. I spent my first week back looking for more opportunities in the city of Monroe, Georgia. My mother’s family is from Monroe. I grew up “doing furlough” in Monroe. My biggest fear for a long time would be that I would end up moving back to Monroe. And yet, here I am. But more importantly, God is here.

Through my parents’ church, I got connected to a local ministry called FISH (Faith in Serving Humanity). I was immediately attracted to their mission statement:

Because Jesus Christ calls His believers to be in service to the poor and needy among us, F.I.S.H. endeavors to respond to the needs of Walton County residents for food, shelter, utilities, clothing, medical care and transportation in verifiable situations.

The community at FISH is incredible. Their twelve staff members work with a crew of approximately 200 volunteers, who share the love of Jesus by loving members of their local community. There are times when statistics make everything seem hopeless. I have seen the hands-on love of the people at FISH restore dignity and love in the lives of hundreds of individuals here in my hometown. And I am beyond blessed to call myself part of this community.

So, in keeping this simple, funds I raised before this summer are now being transferred from The Mission Society to the FISH. The majority of the funds will go directly as a donation to the non-profit as they provide medical, dental, financial, and food services to the local community. A portion of the funds will be budgeted as my stipend.

I want to be transparent with those who have so generously prayed over my summer and given financially to the ministry God has led me to. Shoot me an email with questions about FISH, my summer, pretty much anything.

Change can be unnerving. But in change, I have found hope and joy through Jesus. And I am thrilled to continue sharing that life of hope.

Fourteen

Atlanta is one of 14 United States cities with the highest rate of children used in prostitution.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a seminar held by a United Methodists Women’s Circle on the topic of sex trafficking.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, sex trafficking is defined under these guidelines:

A person commits sex trafficking when he/she: a) recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides or obtains another person to engage in sexually explicit conduct, or knowingly subjects a person to engage in sexually explicit conduct, for which anything of value is directly or indirectly given, promised, or received by any person; b) uses coercion or deception to induce or obtain sexually explicit conduct from another; or c) induces or obtains sexually explicit conduct from a minor person age 17 or younger).

The first time I heard about human trafficking was in 2007, after the release of the film Amazing Grace the year before. It was during an assembly held at my high school, in which we were made aware of the very real problem of sexual exploitation of both adults and minors.

The statistics are appalling. And I had no idea how much happens right here in Atlanta.

The FBI released a report with statistics in which Atlanta was found to be in the 14 US cities with the highest rate of sexual exploitation of children.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation did a comprehensive study of human trafficking in Georgia. They found that 63% of law enforcement polled in the State of Georgia said they did not feel adequately trained to handle cases involving sex trafficking.

Innocence Atlanta posted statistics revealing that 40.4% of all suspected trafficking incidents were child-related and classified as “prostitution or sexual exploitation of a child”.

It’s easy to lose hope when looking at the numbers. But the fact that there are people behind these numbers sparks me to action. There is hope. Groups like youthSpark are working on prevention and care for victims of sex trafficking. The Polaris Project is actively combatting modern-day slavery. Not For Sale envisions a world in which every person knows that they are not for sale. There are several pro-active organizations listed on the End It movement’s website.

You can get involved. You can help. You can take action.

Atlanta is one of 14 US cities with the highest rating of children in prostitution.

Let’s change that number to 13.

Learning to be a Learner

This past week I spent four days in Norcross, Georgia to complete my Greenlight internship training.

And it was INCREDIBLE.

While I could regale you with hilarious stories about the four of us who were there for training, I will hold back. Instead, I want to share three things I learned that stood out to me the most.

1. Be a learner

All four of us girls are going to live in cross-cultural environments for two months this summer. That’s an exciting prospect, as well as stress-inducing. Thailand and Peru might sound a bit more exotic, but Clarkston has been dubbed America’s Most Diverse Square Mile by Time Magazine. Point being, we will all be in places where we are unfamiliar with the culture. We were given the advice to approach this experience as a learner. We aren’t there to sell anything, we aren’t pushing agendas, we are simply there to learn.

2. Everyone should be able to follow Jesus within their own culture and their own language. 

It’s sad to me that this seems like a radical statement. Christianity is generally given the face of the white North-American. This is hardly true. Christianity looks like this:

And this.

The term “Christian” has garnered a negative connotation over the centuries, from the Crusades to Jim Jones. If the message Jesus taught is true, everyone should be able to follow him without giving up their culture and their language. As the author Darrell Whiteman said, ‘”Jesus” is God spelled out in a language humans can understand’.

3. Prevenient Grace

God is already in Clarkston. I am not taking him there. I am going to find him there. In the midst of transition, fear, and unknowing, God is there. It seems to me Jesus always had a knack for showing up where he was least expected, and where he was most needed. I have no doubt he has already been working in the lives of those I am going to meet this summer. And I am so honored and thrilled to go with the purpose of learning and sharing their stories.

This post was a bit wordier than I like, but I felt so strongly that I should share what I have been learning recently. And this is just a portion.

What do you think? Have you ever had a cross-cultural experience? I’d love to know what you think about missions or cross-cultural work. Get the conversation started! You know you want to.

P.S. We had fun exploring Atlanta, too. Pardon the crappy phone quality. I think the quality of the subject makes up for it. ;)

Piedmont Park | Atlanta

Piedmont Park | Atlanta

Hotlanta

Hello!

I am back in beautiful, hot Georgia. After the craziness of finals week, I feel a lot like this.  So many papers were written that I am not entirely sure I even know how to properly construct a sentence anymore. All words sound the same right now.

But I survived! And I am pumped to start my internship next month. You have no idea how excited I am to get to know Atlanta and the people in Clarkston. As June approaches, I am rapidly checking off things on my to-do list.

Prep for Documentary – check.

Get camera and audio equipment – check.

Sunscreen – check.

Prayer – check.

This summer is going to stretch me and I am praying that as I learn about the different cultures around me, I will learn more about myself. Please continue to pray for me as I prepare for this summer of missions and service. Pray that I will build lasting, meaningful relationships. Pray that I will not lose sight of the vision I have for this documentary and that I will not grow discouraged when things do not go as planned.

And if any of y’all want to help a girl out, I am still in the process of raising financial support for my 2 month internship with Centerform. If you have a few dollars to spare, shoot me an email and ask me how you can support me this summer. At this time, I am also accepting any and all suggestions of restaurants/coffee shops/awesome places to visit.

This is getting real. I’ve definitely still got butterflies in my stomach but I am growing more and more excited as June gets closer.

Stay classy!