Ashamed of My Gospel

ethiopia visit.jpg

I left a part of my heart in the blood-red Ethiopian soil. I don’t know if I’ll ever reclaim it. These months back feel like a skin I need to shed, and I’m wriggling, tensing muscles and prying myself loose.

I’ve said before I’m not the same girl I was when I boarded that plane.  But the truth is that we are never the same day-to-day. If life were time lapsed, each day would show the indents and soul creases accrued when we brush up against a lifetime. Each day adding another layer to our story. And some days remove layers, scrape them clean off like a dirty film.

Africa did both.

Before and afters litter the years of my life. Sometimes they are an improvement, often they are not.

I have a pair of walking clogs I wore when we weaved our way down the path to the huts. They sit in the entry way, they still have African soil grooved into their soles. And I do too.

I am restless and contented and I’m making my peace with this tension. How can a soul be stirred up and kindled white-hot for the things of God and then asked to simmer and stay and dwell in suburban obedience?

I dreamed of being a world changer when I was young enough to think that meant suitcases and passports and no ties to keep me from living radically. But I’m older now, wiser maybe. I see world changing doesn’t begin with a stamp in a passport or selling all your possessions.

It starts with knowing God. It starts with asking what He wants and sometimes that means all of those things but often, I’m finding that obedience is just as hard when the grand adventure that awaits you is paying bills and loving your neighbor and shopping for groceries with a gaggle of children in tow. Sometimes it’s purging the soul of excess.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see God in the ordinary rhythms of our lives and it takes a mighty blow to remember we are on holy ground. Walking each day in the grace and glory of a life redeemed and a call to make it known among nations and neighborhoods, near and far.

I find I struggle most when I am swept along with the current of a culture that can’t ever fill those soul holes.

We are rampant with desire for all the wrong things. And I think back to the patches of sunlight breaking through the mango trees littering the ground with dappled light and I remember sitting on the slimmest wooden bench hoping to God my weight wouldn’t snap it in two. These are the things I thought about in that hut in Ethiopia as I sat with my sponsored daughter. I was filled with joy and remorse.

I thought about the weight of my soul and my body lumbering down the narrow path, reeds and stalks snapping against my bare arms because the path wide enough for two Africans to walk side by side barely accommodated me. How far I’ve wandered in the filling of my life.

Traveling to the third world as an overweight American changed me in ways I’ve yet to reckon with.

I carry my excess, my sin, on my frame, visible for every emaciated and waif-like child, every villager who hasn’t got enough. But then we all do, don’t we? Some just hide it better. Who of those people could see our sprawling homes or our overstuffed closets, our shopping carts overfilled and our appetites for more. Only mine was visible because it rolls off my body and bulges at the seams.

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I am ashamed at the way we represent the gospel that sets us free. I am ashamed of the bondage I bring with me.

I know a grace that covers the brokenness. Oh how I know this. But I want to believe the gospel. I want to believe he binds and makes new. I want to see the new creation fully alive.

I flew home with the promises of God whispered in my ear. You are free, child. You are filled. I believe them.

I step tentative toes on the scale and see barely the tiniest dip. It doesn’t match my restraint. But I’m not on the quest for an after that dons skinny jeans or poses with fat pants that could house 3 of me.

I am in search of an after that means my gospel is truth. Only Christ in me, the hope of glory. Nothing else fills. And I know the sum of my parts and my soul are not measured in numbers but obedience. I find my appetites are quelled. My soul doesn’t salivate for more, only my spirit seems unquenchable.

I have tasted God.

Alia Joy

Alia Joy is a cynical idealist, homeschool mama to three little ‘uns, wife to Josh, book wormy, coffee dependent, grace saved, writer of random musings and broken stories, collector of words, attempter of all things crafty, lover of mustard yellow, turquoise, Africa, and missions. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and three children and loves to visit big cities because there are no decent Indian, Moroccan, or Vietnamese restaurants close by. Maker-upper of words. Disliker of awkward introductions and writing in the third person.

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When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

Alia Joy

Alia Joy is a cynical idealist, homeschool mama to three little ‘uns, wife to Josh, book wormy, coffee dependent, grace saved, writer of random musings and broken stories, collector of words, attempter of all things crafty, lover of mustard yellow, turquoise, Africa, and missions. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and three children and loves to visit big cities because there are no decent Indian, Moroccan, or Vietnamese restaurants close by. Maker-upper of words. Disliker of awkward introductions and writing in the third person.

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The Seasons of a Dream

I’ve neglected my children.

I made allowances for my need to write, to follow hard after dreams. But I’ve done it all wrong.

Because a vacancy moved into their lives as the rabbit’s hole of my laptop screen beckoned and swallowed me up.

But didn’t my ministry and passion need to be tended too? The reading and interacting. The tweets and status updates and link-ups. The silence and time to write.

It seemed I killed my blog just when I was seeing fruit. Just when I had built up subscribers and was feeling like the hard work was paying off.

God was being glorified, right? This is after all, the dream He gave me. The call I was responding to. The call I felt God confirmed in so many different ways. 

She told me I have the potential to be great. That I’ve got a voice and skill and passion and that if I learned to combine those with a little direction, I could really rock this whole writer thing. Maybe get published and have a real book on a real shelf instead of piles of journals stacked in old boxes in the garage.

She said that as an encouragement to me, her eyes warm and expressive, the kind that make you nod like a puppy and lap up anything she says, because after all, she is living this dream. And when my feet finally landed back on earth, I was giddy with dreams I’d always held but never dared speak aloud.

I wanted to rip her words from the air and type them into a crisp contract I could present to God to sign.

After all, everything I’m passionate about, everything that makes my fingers fly at the keyboard, everything that inspires me and draws me out to splash around on a canvas of words starts with God’s glorious inspiration.

The breathing of words and story into the wounds of my past, the joys of my present, the fears in my moments, and the dreams of my future. It only seemed right that any platform built is going to shine directly on Him.

 But I couldn’t get past the Holy Spirits prompting that I was getting it wrong. Again.

I’ve found myself failing at the dream.

The time to write and pour myself into this ministry of words is spotty at best. The time to invest in those dreams, spaced and erratic.

And the kids are ready to be tucked in and pleading for one more story and I’ll lay there resenting my time  being used up on another rendition of “If You Give A Mouse a Muffin.”

Bed time

Because I feel like the poor child in the story, being overrun with requests, each one leading to another. If you put your child in pajamas, they will decide they only want to wear the batman ones, and you will remember those are in the wash, so you will bribe him with another story, and if you read him another story, he will fall asleep on you, so you will have to carry him to his bed, and if you carry him to his bed, he will wake up and want another story…

And I’ve bought into the urgency of now.

I see other bloggers succeeding, and I know they deserve it, but I’m also grieving and feeling left out.

I can’t keep up with the pace or demands of blogging, and mothering, and homeschooling, and ministry, and mentoring, and being a good wife. If you add in showering, cooking, and keeping house, you have the trifecta of failure.

I’m looking for dead weight to cut and I see nothing but my words. So the blog often goes silent. And numbers dive.

And I’m mourning the dream, pity washing over me when I remember, “It’s not a loss, it’s a sacrifice.”

It is laying my dreams and promises of God on the altar, trusting that in His time He will provide.

It is trusting that the path I’m on isn’t a race to the finish line but a slow steady obedience, each step moving me forward closer to Him, where dreams are birthed. It is trusting that blogs can be resurrected from the dead or slaughtered completely and it makes no difference as long as I’m faithful.

I have friends waiting on the Lord. Bleary-eyed new mothers craving a full nights sleep and shirts free from spit-up and days when they’ll have the energy to fix their hair again. Women facing vacant rooms in a once loud house, longing for Thanksgiving break, knowing  their kids will be visiting instead of just home. Friends who long for things I so easily take for granted, when kids climb up onto my lap asking for more of mommy.

I forget God created seasons. We brush past eternity every time we stop to really see where God is in each one. And that, when we choose what might seem like a sacrifice, it’s not a loss at all, because nothing is lost which is released into His hands.

Alia Joy

Alia Joy is a cynical idealist, homeschool mama to three little ‘uns, wife to Josh, book wormy, coffee dependent, grace saved, writer of random musings and broken stories, collector of words, attempter of all things crafty, lover of mustard yellow, turquoise, Africa, and missions. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and three children and loves to visit big cities because there are no decent Indian, Moroccan, or Vietnamese restaurants close by. Maker-upper of words. Disliker of awkward introductions and writing in the third person.

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