Tattoo baptisms

The reality of my line of work is that when students come up to me and say, “Miss, I have something to tell you,” I’ve learned brace myself; typically that phrase is followed by some sort of confession or a pregnancy announcement. But when Lisa walked into my classroom and said those words to me last year, she didn’t seem upset or panicked (as is usual with the teenage pregnancy announcement shtick) so I took a deep breath and tried to shake some of the tension out of my shoulders that had instantly accumulated there.

“What’s up?” I asked as I shuffled papers around on my desk, failing miserably at being non-chalant.

“Uhm, maybe I’ll tell you later. You look busy.”

I didn’t protest and instead tried to take a deep breath and blow it off. Inevitably “DSS happened” and I got swept away with my day teaching, completely forgetting about Lisa and the emotional cliff she had left me hanging on.

After lunch, she sauntered into my classroom for senior English. Before I could say anything, she turned her back to me and swept her hair to the side. As she did so, she revealed a tattoo reaching down her upper spine that read God is love and only love.

“Whaaaaaat?! Lis, I love it!” I stammered, allowing my pulse to slow (incredibly relieved that the thing she was dying to tell me about that morning was just a tattoo).

“You like it?” She launched into a story about how she had been on the verge of making a stupid decision after getting into a fight with her mom over the weekend. “Instead of smoking weed or something though, I decided to go for a “solo” like we learned to do at the conference in Alaska. I grabbed my coat and walked for a few hours while I thought about everything I’ve learned about God at DSS and on our trip— you know, how He’s always there for us… how He loves us… all of that. As I kept walking, I kept thinking about Eric’s words in Port Alsworth: “God is love and only love”. Before I knew it, I was standing outside a tattoo parlor. I decided I never wanted to forget those words, so I got them inked on my back; I want to live my life knowing that God loves me.”

By this point, the bell to begin class had rung and I had an audience of senior girls staring at me like I had lost my mind as I stood next to Lisa with my hands cupped over my mouth and tears running down my cheeks.

“Oh Lis. That’s beautiful. And such a big commitment for someone who wasn’t all that sure about God (let alone, Jesus) at the beginning of this school year.”

“I know, Miss. But I wanted to write it on my heart— I want knowing God’s character to change everything I do.”

By this point, I was in full on water-works mode. “Do you guys know what a baptism is?” I choked out, turning to the rest of my class. (I figured we were studying Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters, so this conversation was mildly pertinent to the rest of my girls for academic reasons.)

“Isn’t it when someone gets dunked in water?” One of my girls pipped up.

“Usually… Does anyone know why people get baptized?” I pressed, doing my best to dry my happy/ sappy tears and put on my teacher hat.

*Crickets*

“Baptism is a public declaration of a person’s faith in Jesus. When someone gets baptized they’re saying to the world that they want to follow Jesus and live their life in a changed way because of the way He has changed them.”

I glanced around the room and met a bunch of empty, unimpressed stares before catching Lisa’s eye.

“Lis, correct me if I’m wrong… but I think that’s what you did this weekend. I think you got a Street School style baptism…?”

She smiled slyly, nodded, and took her seat.

~ ~ ~

My tears that day (as strange as they must have seemed to the rest of my students) were all joy, enhanced by the knowledge that mere months before Lis made the conscious decision to declare her love for the Lord, she doubted His existence, His goodness, His love for her (or anyone else for that matter).

Today, I sat in a similar posture as Lisa had the day before she brushed her hair to the side and revealed her new ink. With my arm extended, I chose to have someone etch Truth into me— similar to the way the body of Christ, my friends and family have done over the last year since our plane disappeared.

IMG_0750It is for freedom – Script by the lovely Katie Brown

“It is for freedom Christ has set us free.”

Those words from Galatians 5:1 are ones I have spoken to myself often since the evening of December 7th, 2016.

I will never forget the out of body experience that came with being curled on my knees on my kitchen floor, clutching the phone on which my best friend in Alaska had just delivered the news of the disappearance of Scott, Kaitlyn, Zach, Kyle, and our plane. I will never be able to stop seeing myself there, nor can I seem to forget the feeling of all of my breath leaving my body as my head was plunged back under the icy waters of grief, not even six months after Kevin and Geno’s deaths. I can still vaguely feel the way my lungs remained contracted for months, unable to fully inhale for fear of breathing in water— my own tears. A very wise friend assured me one afternoon that maybe that season of feeling like I was under water was meant to be a baptism, not the vengeful drowning of me, an “unworthy sinner” by my most Holy God. (Oh how I have kept that wisdom close to my heart.)

The words from Galatians 5:1 are those which I heard the Lord whisper to my spirit upon my first ever flight as pilot-in-command in April of 2016. As I manned the yoke in our Cherokee and screamed, “Oh my God! I’m flying!! I’m flying a plane! Who thought this was a good idea?!” like the spazz I am, I almost audibly felt him calm me: Shhhhhhh, sweet girl. I have set you free so that the freedom of the gospel might be spread to places only planes can go; it is for freedom Christ has set us free.

Those words are the ones which Scott teased me for mercilessly when I said I wanted to get them tattooed on my arm once I solo-ed in the Cherokee for my pilot’s license. In his typical snarky way, He would always extend an interpretation of the verse to include: “do not be yoked again to the slavery of the ground!” where scripture says, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Pilot jokes… they’re almost as bad as dad jokes… (And oh, Scott had such a knack for both.) 

Those words have been my constant reminder that the Lord has not allowed our loved ones’ deaths and Homecomings to be in vain; rather that their transference into the Heavens has been a means by which the gospel has been spread to the very ends of the earth— the most remote Alaskan villages, the Cambodian countryside, humble living rooms all over the US as Julie’s story has been written and read, and all over the world as the body of Christ has rallied our little Alaskan village in prayer.

Those words are a reminder of my calling in life: to be unashamed of the Freedom I carry within my bones because of what Christ has done on the cross, and to call others into that glorious Freedom.

So today, a day where my own grief and the grief I carry in my heart for my dear friends seems strong enough to suck me back under the icy waters, I chose to take a leaf out of Lisa’s book and baptize myself in Truth:

Even here, even now, the Truth remains that God is love and only love. In the midst of trials and sorrow, anniversaries of deaths, and the reminders of dreams and hopes deferred, my God is a God of freedom.

Christ came that we may be set free– that we might proclaim the beautiful, even if tragic, ways that His coming into world and our lives has changed everything.

Jesus, make our hearts believe.

Broncos2016

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Living in expectation(s)

Having two weeks off from work has been an incredible blessing. Considering the fact that it is the holidays, I have also gotten to spend an unusual amount of time with my family. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a HUGE family with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins spread all over the state and country– people who typically don’t spend holidays together, but this holiday season has been different. Because I finally walked in my teaching license commencement a few weeks ago, I have been blessed to have the majority of my family in town at some point over my winter break, which has meant a ton of coffee dates and late night chats in our pajamas.

I love spending quality time with my peeps, but this time around I noticed that something is different in my life– something noticeable and big and sort of scary… kinda like the proverbial elephant in the room that was repeatedly unleashed when a family member would pepper me with the questions that every single 20-something year old woman dreads: “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” “Now that you’re finally done with school, have you started looking into buying a small house?” “Are you thinking of moving home to Pueblo or staying in Denver?”

You see, I come from a rather traditional Hispanic family– one where the expectation is that once you are done with your schooling (I have learned that “done” is an incredibly relative word, typically meaning once you have finished your Bachelor’s) you pack your bags and move home to be near your family in the small town where they are rooted. And for years and years, I wanted to follow that expectation; I wanted to move home and help start a Street School in Pueblo. I wanted to find a little house in my family’s neighborhood where I could watch my cousins grow up, where I could be near the side of my family that I see so infrequently, where I could learn to cook from my aging grandmother… I don’t exactly consider myself a “people-pleaser” but after being asked these same questions over and over again, I realized that part of me wanted to live up to these expectations and please my family.

But then there is the other part of me, the part that is independent and ready to go where ever God is calling me to go. The part that typically takes control of me and leads me about my daily life. After a few seconds of sadness that I wasn’t living up to my family’s expectations for my life, this part of me would regroup and I would respond to the boyfriend inquiry with a cheerful, “Nope” and the moving questions with, “I’m actually thinking of moving to Dallas and then maybe to a jungle or desert on another continent after I’m done with my Master’s Degree to work with refugees and assist with Bible Translation instead of coming home.” After that last sentence I could feel the room turn uncomfortably silent for what felt like a few decades, but what I’m sure was only a few seconds at most.

After the pause and some awkward squirming, my family’s overwhelming response was something to the tune of, “Oh, well maybe you’ll meet a nice boy before then and settle down.”

This is where my teaching training came in handy because as my mouth smiled and said, “Yeah. Maybe,” my brain was screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”

Maybe I’m just crazy and stubborn, (Okay, I’m definitely crazy and stubborn.) but I don’t want to “settle down” right now. And I am tired of my culture telling me that there is something missing in my life. I am sick of being told that as a young, single, Christian woman, I am incomplete until I have a boyfriend that I can marry, buy a cute little house with, and then fill said cute house with cute little children.

I am sick of it.

Last time I checked, I have a brain, a heart, two eyes, two ears, a mouth, and four functional appendages; I’m not incomplete. I am a whole freaking human being! And finding a boyfriend or moving back to the little town I came from won’t make me any more or less of a human being.

Okay, let me hop off my soapbox and get to the point here…

Last week, I met up and had coffee with a dear friend who is not only in the same(ish) stage of life as me, but whom God is also calling to move outside of her comfort zone and into nations on the other side of the world. As Kathryn and I were chatting, she expressed many of the same frustrations that I have been feeling and how she, upon being called to Rwanda for the next several months to do ministry through her photography, felt guilty for not fulfilling her own family’s expectations of her.

She explained that she had Skyped with her home church’s pastor months ago, and had expressed these feelings of guilt with him. After listening to her mixed feelings of wanting to go where God was calling her, but not wanting to disappoint her equally traditional family, he said some of the most simple, but sage words of wisdom that I have heard in a long time.

“You’re forgetting that God created everyone differently. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage.”

As she repeated this story to me, all I could think was, Duh! How had I missed this? How had I forgotten that I am not my cousins or aunts? And that because I am different, I am not called to the same things.

For some reason, there was something so freeing about those nine words. For days I repeated them in my mind. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage. Not every woman was created to pay a mortgage.

These words have reminded me that no, I’m not defective for being a content single woman who doesn’t currently want to be tied to a house with a white picket fence. Nor am I strange for wanting to move out of my comfort zone here in America to the other side of the world some day instead of “settling down” and buying a tiny house here in the States.

I am called, as is Kathryn, as are you. Maybe we’re not called to the same things, but we’re all called to something, be that singleness, married life, to live in the U.S., Rwanda, Germany, or Lebanon… We are different and therefore differently called; what a novel concept!

And who knows, maybe God will drop an adventurous man into my life sometime between now and then, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll get to partially fulfill my family’s expectations for my life and have a cute little family overseas someday, but maybe not. Slowly, I have begun to realize that at the end of the day, none of these things matter. The only thing that genuinely matters is God and that I follow Him and His expectations for me.

So for now I am learning to be genuinely content with where God is placing me instead of living under the thumb of the burdensome expectations of my culture or well-meaning loved ones. It might not make me popular with my family come the next holiday, but I have no doubt that God will work that out when the time comes. He always does…

What has God called you to? Will you follow Him or will you let the expectations placed on you hold you back?

“Are you bound in marriage? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from marriage? Do not seek to marry. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried [wo]man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:27,32)