Beautiful timing.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

My internship with International Justice Mission finished up on Wednesday with the end of the first annual Northstar conference in Atlanta, GA. The conference was initiated by IJM’s Student Mobilization team for the purpose of equipping college student leaders with an interest the work of justice/the modern-day abolition movement. During our last evening session, I was sitting next to Gary Haugen (IJM founder) as Louie Giglio took the stage and began publicly thanking Gary for his faithfulness in IJM for the past sixteen years. I just sat there, glancing back and forth from Gary to Louie and having this weird out-of-body experience, thinking to myself, “HOW did I get here?”

What’s true is that there is no explanation for the things I’ve done, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and the things I’ve experienced other than the gift of God’s grace. Let me say that again – it is by God’s grace that I’ve ever done anything noteworthy. When I look back on my life and trace God’s hand throughout it, it is so clear that I’ve had little to do with anything.

I had nothing to do with so many of the things that have made me who I am. I had nothing to do with the fact that I was born into a loving, whole home and raised by parents who love Jesus and love each other really well. It had nothing to do with me that I was given the opportunity to be educated. It had nothing to do with me that my parents taught me the importance of hard work and helped me believe in my abilities. I’ve just tried to do the best I can and squeeze a lot out of live as God directs my steps. Sometimes I do that with a pure heart, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’ve run from what he wants for me and doors have slammed in my face. Sometimes I really screw things up and forget the purpose for which I was created, and try to make life about achievement.

I like this quote from Dallas Willard:

“Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless, well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God. Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning (an attitude).

Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other, remarks on his own efforts for Christ: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (2 Cor. 15:10) The supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.”

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect. Until a few years ago, I felt pretty good about getting what I want and doing things myself without ever really, truly understanding my need for God. That’s a problem for many reasons, but especially when it comes to grace. You see – we need grace, and without it, we’re doomed to a life of never meeting the expectations we set for ourselves. But we can’t rest in grace until we realize we need it.

God wanted to show me some things about His grace this summer. He wanted to show me that walking with Jesus is different from working for Jesus. So he put me in a community of people who valued intimacy with the Lord over worldly success, over popularity, and over charm. He put me in a community of people who live as if what they believe is actually true; people who are desperate for God because they’ve put themselves in positions where they are sure to fail unless God shows up. People who were exercising faith, not just struggling to have faith –  “Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. Most of what we think we see as the struggle OF faith is really the struggle to act as IF we had faith when in fact we do not.” (Willard)

God chose to put me in such a community, and he chose to do it in the world’s most powerful city. Have you ever been around people like that? In case you’re doubting that they exist, here’s some of them:

God used these people to sharpen me in the Proverbs 27 iron-sharpens-iron kind of way. My friend Laura taught me the incredible value in having a friend who is willing to gently call you out on the junk in your life and won’t let you justify your way out of it. My friend Katrina taught me a lot about thoughtful question asking and active listening as a way to draw people out. My friend Kevin was an amazing example of someone who knows how to have A LOT of fun while still taking intentional time to think through and reflect on (and write out) things that God places on our hearts. My friend Hannah taught me a lot about the value in being vulnerable and real and asking yourself hard questions. My friend Michael taught me a lot about being intentional with people and seeing how “inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on…” (Hebrews 10:24-25). My friend Nathaniel taught me a lot about what a kind, solid, wise man looks like and was a great example of humility and integrity. My friend Ellen made me better by being one of the most genuine, authentic people I’ve ever known.

I could go on and on, but I’m leaving in an hour and a half for Las Vegas, so this post will have to be continued at a later date, or on a later plane.

To end, I’m so thankful that God put me in D.C. this summer, that he surrounded me with the most amazing community I’ve ever witnessed, and drug me through some challenging stuff this summer. I am thankful that he closed other doors, that he didn’t let me come last summer, and that he didn’t let me breeze by just going through the motions of life. This summer I was built up in faith, surrounded by people whose lives demonstrated God’s love, and who will have an influence on my life for many years. And on top of all that, I learned something about my career and what jobs I might be good at…which hilariously seems so secondary. He certainly made this summer beautiful and immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.

Perfect Moments

As far as this blog goes, I have struggled to know how to share my experiences this summer. Many of them have been profound but are still being worked out in my mind, others are too personal to share, and still others feel personally significant but not worth sharing. Today I was at my IJM desk reading an article that spoke of perfect moments. The author described these moments as “experiences shared with others when time stands still.” My mind immediately flashed to the movie The Sandlot, where Benny and Smalls are running to play baseball on the 4th of July and stop to stare at the fireworks as America the Beautiful plays. They’re captivated by the moment and, as silly as it sounds, I always get chills thinking about it.

When I read this, I realized the best way to share my summer with you was through snapshots of these perfect moments. Times when phones have been unplugged and hearts have been wide open. There have been so many in the 35 days that I’ve been here, and I don’t doubt that there will be many more.

1. Day one of IJM orientation. Gary Haugen is delivering the most compelling word on God’s heart for justice from Exodus 3. He speaks of what it looks like for someone to live in the absence of fear and shows us videos of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Mother Teresa is feisty and arguing with some men about her determination to bring aid to Lebanon and carefully addressing the needs of disabled orphans in Calcutta. “I have found the paradox,” she says, “that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.”

Martin Luther King Jr. on the day before his death – “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” I’m in a dark room full of strangers and we’re all crying. I’m overwhelmed with the opportunity I’ve been afforded to be here this summer. A perfect moment.

2. Our commissioning ceremony at the end of IJM Orientation. All headquarters staff plus 80 new interns, fellows, and employees gather in a small conference room to celebrate new beginnings. It’s a rite of passage and I can’t wait to start working. We sing, take communion together, and thank God for the opportunity to partner with him in what he wants to do through IJM. We sing together and are individually prayed over by our mentors. I pause and know that I’m standing in one of the most anointed workplaces on planet earth. A perfect moment.

3. A regular night on the town that turned nostalgic. Colin, Taylor and I head to the district of Adams-Morgan and laugh about how in the world three people from Elizabethton have somehow ended up in D.C. together. Colin and I have been best friends since 7th grade and Taylor was his college roommate. We reminisce, as always. We go to buy THE LARGEST pieces of pizza you’ve ever seen in your life and our conversation digresses into hilarious laughter as we people watch from bar stools and drip grease all over ourselves. I’m feeling as young and free and happy as I’ve ever been. A perfect moment.

4. A sunset drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Myself, my friend Laura, and her sister Lynne are driving back to D.C. after a day at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. We’re salty, sandy, sunburnt, and full of coconut shrimp + crab bruschetta. The air conditioning doesn’t work in Laura’s car so we have all the windows down, our hair is wild, and we have country music blaring into the open air. The Bay Bridge is a two-mile arc over the water and the sun is setting, so I’m singing my lungs out and driving into the sky that’s on fire. A perfect moment.

5. The Hungarian Dance Barn. Colin and I meet up to explore the National Mall on Independence Day. We’re walking around checking out the Folk Life festival, which (from what I gather) is a celebration of endangered cultures and languages. We turn the corner and see a big circular wooden structure full of screaming, stomping people so we weave our way right into the middle. I spend the next twenty minutes trying to keep up as a tall, lanky, foreign man leads all of us in these crazy, loud, FUN line dances. It is sweatier than senior prom and therefore verifiably the sweatiest day of my life. Afterwards we get Lebanese food from a food truck and pineapples from hispanic ladies on the street corner and spend the next twenty minutes trying to guess the names of people walking by (we’re yelling names at people). We make a bet that whoever gets a name right first has to buy smoothies. We both lose so we both buy smoothies. So we both win? A perfect moment.

6. July 4th Fireworks. I’m on the roof of a huge house and have a 360 view of all the fireworks in the city. The sun has already set, it’s 75 degrees and breezy, and I’m surrounded by all the DC people I’ve come to love. I’m sitting cross-legged on a ledge but have the urge to stand on the corner of the roof, so I climb up and spread my arms out, laughing at the house next to us where people are screaming and dancing to “Party in the USA”. Dozens of fireworks light up the sky and fire trucks rush around trying to manage what I’m sure are plenty of firework accidents. I take it all in and consciously decide to never forget the moment. It’s perfect.