I’m currently trying to figure out how many times Jesus told us to “get” anything. Maybe it was lost in translation, “get this or get that, come follow me,” but what I read most are the words “give this or give that, come follow me.”
Give. Give. Give.
We live in a society that is obsessed with getting, and I’m not at all saying I don’t like getting, I don’t think I would be human if I didn’t, but I do find it awkward to live in a getting-obessed environment when you are trying to follow a giving-obessed man who is so giving that He gave up His own life so that we could be given more life… even if we chose to spend that life getting more and more stuff we can’t take with us.
That said, the rumors are true… I am following a giving-obessed man down a road that is not only different from the rest of society, but makes that society uncomfortable.
After an entire summer of working with high-school kids at a church in San Diego, which you can read about in previous posts, I was asked to stay on for the school year. Though I wanted to return to the comforts of my home in Portland, I felt led to stay in the more challenging environment of investing in the lives of other people. San Diego is beautiful, so I’m not complaining about the environment, but when life isn’t all about you, then it certainly gets uncomfortable and challenging, no matter where you are.
In praying about what my living situation would look like if I stayed, I started the conversation with the Lord about a seemingly impossible seventh-grade dream of mine… living in a Volkswagen. I discovered Janis Joplin in the seventh-grade, along with with The Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, and the Volkswagen. I dreamed about growing up to live as free as the hippies without all the drugs, assuming my dream was just a dream since the sixties were over and drugs scared me at that point.
That dream faded around ninth-grade when I met a boy and my life became all about him. Years down the road when that relationship ended, my life became all about the next relationship, and when there wasn’t a relationship, my life became about whatever other people wanted me to make my life about. I’ve been though more phases in search of an identity than I can count on both hands and one foot, finding contentment in my new identity for a little while, only to feel unfulfilled and not at all like myself.
Even still, I sometimes find myself asking “who is myself?” But I learned in more recent years that I have been asking the wrong question to the wrong person. Instead of asking myself who I was, I started asking Jesus who He was, slowly feeling more and more like myself as I became more and more aware of Him.
As I talked to the Lord about a living situation in San Diego, coupled with the desire to do more for other people on a limited budget, the raggedy little brunette seventh-grader in me surfaced her opinion… what about a VW van?
I won’t lie, my heart leapt, but as a thirty-one year old who already quit her salaried job to be an intern at a church, the voices of my past crept in and told me to get serious and grow up. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but in all my conversations with Jesus, at some point it dawned on me that not only was I sick of stifling my personality for the sake of making other people comfortable, He was sick of me stifling who He created me to be for the sake of making other people comfortable.
The desire to live more simply has been unfolding in the last few years of my life, and even more so since realizing I could actually do more for other people if I lived with less. I’m tired of “getting” for the sake of preserving… getting more to preserve what I have and how people see me is a fear I give much too much power to. So when I decided to cast out the opinions of other people, not the advice and insight, but the opinions, I could see clearly that not only was my dream an option, it was possible.
The longest of stories short, I’m not following a dream, I’m following Jesus, and following Him has resulted in a dream being followed. Yes, I am giving up a lot to follow Him, I am simplifying to the extreme… but I don’t feel like I am losing anything in the process, I mean I am, but I’m not… if anything I feel like I am becoming more and more of who I was created to be. It’s this weird concept of gaining, but not from efforts of getting.
I recently wrote to someone asking for help and the best way I could sum up me living in a van to do youth ministry was this:
I’m not saying this is the direction God asks everyone one to take. My message is not “get rid of your house and move in a van,” my message is “follow Jesus, knowing that following Him looks different for each of us, especially since we are created so differently. Don’t be afraid to ask Him what it looks like for YOU to follow Him just because you’re afraid it might look the same as it what it looks like for me.” I think people are afraid to ask what it looks like to follow Jesus simply because they are afraid of what it MIGHT look like. They forget He knows their hearts and the ways they are wired. Honestly, I’m wired the way in which Jesus is asking me to follow Him.
And I stick to that. Following Jesus looks like me becoming more of who I am, not less. I may have less, much less than what the world says I need, but I’ve never felt more alive. And I think I’m becoming more alive not because I am pursuing a better life now, but because I am pursuing Jesus… a Jesus who cares about that raggedy little brunette seventh-grader in her John Lennon sunglasses, posing in front of Volkswagens.
I don’t know how long this season will last, I know my time with the high-schoolers is a commitment through the school year and the conversation will be revisited then. I’m making plans and holding them loosely, because I know God likes to shake things up.
To those who have always said I need to “get more”… get serious, get married, get a job (hippie), get a life…
I am serious. I don’t have to be married to be of value. I have a job (thank you), and I’ve never felt more alive than at thirty-one years old, twenty-three pounds heavier than her former anorexic self, a few figures less than her last job, and acting on a faith that forces her to step out and buy a van that she doesn’t know how to drive and can barely afford. I made a faith based choice that I would learn how to drive stick-shift and the rest of the money would turn up. Again, I wasn’t banking on people giving me money, I so fully believed that this was the direction God was asking me to take that even if I didn’t have the resources on my person, I knew He was going to provide. I had to act, not because I had all the pieces, but because I had a faith that said all the pieces would come together if I believed even when I couldn’t see. It is one thing to talk about that kind of faith, and it is a whole different thing to actually act on it. It’s scary.
If you don’t know Jesus and you think I’m crazy, read the Bible.
If you do know Jesus and you think I’m crazy, read the Bible.
That book is crazy. I can’t claim to believe it if I don’t take its crazy seriously.
All of this to say, it wouldn’t be an adventure without obstacles, which is where you can come into the story. After engine work and other car troubles that have surfaced, I almost gave up a couple of times, chalking it all up as too crazy and almost audibly hearing the voices that would be coming down on me.
I called my boss/friend/brother-from-another-mother, Evan, and asked at what point I should pull out because I’m being irresponsible and at what point I should press in and not give up. He reminded me why I was heading back to San Diego in the first place… “you’re not coming to be become a professional surfer or a sun-bather, you’re coming to invest in the lives of these kids and simply because of that, the enemy is going to do anything he can to stop you. Press in and don’t give up.”
And so I’m not. I’m not giving up. Certainly not yet. The van needs help. It’s in the shop now and I’m still waiting for totals, but what doesn’t go towards covering the work done will go towards gas money to get back to San Diego and continue the work I started with the kids… along with writing the stories God has called me to live and write.
Yes, I am asking for help, but that is not all. I’m asking you to ask God what it looks like for you to follow Him. It might look like giving time or money to someone or something else… do it, even if it seems crazy. Don’t ignore those little nudges or checks in your spirit, and don’t think following Jesus means you have to give up being who you are. Jesus doesn’t want to suppress your personality or your life, He wants to enhance it. He wants you to live and live well, feeling fully alive as you go, breathing because life is to be lived, not survived. If you are fortunate enough, as I am, to be in a place where survival isn’t your means for living, you are blessed beyond belief already.
If you are in a place where fighting for survival is a way of life, hold on. Please. I may not understand your situation, but I understand the need to hold on, and the lack of desire to keep doing so.
You don’t have to look far into the archives of this blog to find posts that lack the tone of hope and life that this post has. There were times I wasn’t sure I’d ever have anything happy to write about, accepting my fate as the designated downer who other people looked at when they wanted to feel better about themselves. And while I may be experiencing an extreme amount of joy in this process, I know living in a Volkswagen van isn’t going to be all flowers and rainbows. I will face the hardships as they come while embracing joy in the process.
So my challenge to you is this… go to paypal.com or clearxchange.com and send money to firstname.lastname@example.org (or track me down in Portland),
Before you do, go get on your knees, or out in the ocean, or in a tree, or however you best connect to God, and before you ask Him what you should do or how you should help, ask Him who He is. Ask Him about Jesus and ask Jesus who He is (there’s this weird three-in-one thing going one that I still don’t get, so don’t worry if you don’t). Even if you already know or already think you know, I think it is always a valid question to be asked multiple times over the course of our lives…
“God, who are you?”
Or if you’re anything like me, “God, who the crap are you!?!?”
He’ll answer. Maybe in that moment, but maybe not. You might end up giving me money, you might not. But if you got to know Jesus a little more in the process, then it was worth asking you for money in the first place… a question that is hard for me to ask, which may be less about an answer for me and more about an answer for you.
Don’t give up asking if you don’t hear Him right away… and don’t worry, God doesn’t call all of us to live in a van… air pollution would be awful and there would be no where to park. I do not think this is everyone’s call, or even “the call,” this is just what it looks like for me to follow Jesus.
What does it look like for you?
Go ask Him.
I did… and some twenty-years later I’m going to be driving my VW down to Southern California, experiencing freedom in Christ and life in community. And when people holler at me, “get a job, hippie!” I shall wave my peace sign, smile and proudly holler back… “I got one!”
Thank you, Jesus, for being serious, for being the ultimate example of living what you preach, for giving me life, and a job with these kids in San Diego.