Category Archives: Do Something

Guest Post: Whiplash

I only had the privilege of living with Jen in college for a year, but that year was one of transformation and change and following God’s will for both of us.  After our senior year, Jen went on to Princeton, where she competed seminary and has since been working at a church in North Carolina.  I have always admired Jen’s way of looking at life, and have appreciated the conversations we’ve had since leaving college.  It is a privilege to invite Jen to share on the blog today.  

By Jen Christianson

Sometimes my life as a minister gives me whiplash.

Today, I spent the afternoon in a retreat to close our summer internship program, celebrating a summer of grace and growth, and grieving the end and the necessary goodbyes.

Immediately after, I drove to the nearest hospital to visit with a congregant in his eighties, who’d survived a tricky heart surgery. He has a long road of recovery ahead, but in so many ways it’s a fresh chapter: life snatched back from death.

The end of one chapter. The beginning of another.

There are too many days like this, sometimes. Too many funerals and baptisms in the same week.

At times, I find it easier (but never actually easy) to strike a balance, and then there are days I scarcely know what to do.

I had a lot of those days in Kenya.

I visited earlier this summer with a group from my church, seventeen other travelers on a ten-day trip to reconnect with friends and ministry partners in and around Nairobi.

For fourteen of us, it was our first time there. And so everything was jarring, everything new, everything a revelation.

And I had whiplash all over again.

Except it looked like this: laughing children next to open sewers in the middle of the slum. Students learning in broken down buildings without light, without air.

Joy next to suffering. Light in the darkest places. Abundant hospitality in villages that know only poverty.

How can it be? How does this happen?

I kept remembering the question from John 1, the incredulous tone: Can anything good come from Nazareth?

And the answer: come and see.

Come and see that even in the midst of great hardship, there is blessing. Come and see the people who laugh and sing even when their stomachs are empty. Come and listen to the friends that we met there, young men like Jeff.

Jeff lives in Mathare, Nairobi’s second-largest slum, giving shelter to half a million people in an area about half a square mile. He is an exception to many rules, not a statistic: he has not succumbed to drugs, alcohol, violence or gangs. He spends his time in a ministry that seeks out young people in the slums, to make sure they know the same path is open to them. He spends Friday nights in church.

But to walk the streets where Jeff grew up, to stand in the classroom he spent years in as a student, and to sit and hear him talk about a God who protects and provides for him is to be profoundly confused. At how this kind of faith can grow, well – here.

I felt that way. Until one night, in our group devotions, when a fellow traveler made this observation: “the people we’ve met,” she said, “have so little. But because of their faith, they have so much. We have so much, and yet, because of our faith…we really don’t have much at all.”

And then I realized: I want Jeff’s faith.

I want to cling tightly once more to the idea that God cares about me, and is at work, all the time, doing something good in my life. I want to sleep secure in the conviction that God protects and watches over me. I want to pray with confidence that I will be heard and answered – even if it’s in ways I didn’t ask for or don’t understand.

I want to walk with intention again, the life of a disciple. To be guided by faith. To follow wherever God leads.

And I’m learning that God often leads straight into a whole lot of whiplash, that messy pairing together of things that just don’t go, that don’t make sense.

A savior who comes to a peasant girl in a stable. A Lord who eats with criminals and lepers and prostitutes. Life out of death. Hope out of despair. Light out of darkness.

The life of a disciple, I think, means witnessing to this kind of illogical, confusing, astonishing, grace and power. It means standing in the middle of these contradictions and proclaiming “yes” to all of them. Yes, God is in these both; yes, something good can come out of Nazareth.

It means remembering that the God who made us all will make it all well, bring it all together, in the end.

Thanks be to God.

Here We Go Again

Two weeks ago, I packed up my life in boxes, loaded a truck, and drove south.

If this sounds like deja vu, you’re not wrong.  I did this almost exactly one year ago, too.  And it was just as hard.

Last time I moved to the cornfields, this time I moved to the mountains.  Last time I only crossed one state line, this time I crossed four.  Last time I left behind a group of trusted friends and “adopted” nieces and nephews, this time I left behind all of that and a fiance.  Last time I knew it was a temporary move, this time I hope it’s permanent.

Funny how God calls you outside of your comfort zone, lets you get comfortable and then moves you outside of it again.

In my case, it has literally been moving me across the country.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I can be a little bit like Moses, stuttering that I don’t have what it takes, that I’m not worthy, that God has to have the wrong person.  But God still manages to use me, to change me, to grow me into a woman after His own heart.  All because I choose to follow even though I don’t really know what He’s got in mind.

If I hadn’t gone to Michigan, I wouldn’t have the incredible friends and adopted nieces and nephews that I do.  If I hadn’t gone to Indiana, I never would have met my fiance.  If I hadn’t gone to Tennessee…well, we’ll see what God has in store.

For now, I’ll start by opening my home to people, teaching my students, opening my office door, and getting involved in a church.  And I’ll keep my ears and my eyes open for whatever God has in store, knowing that He has prepared me for anything He calls me to do.

The Hollywood Version

By Kristen Entwistle

We all face battles in our lives, struggles, suffering.  It’s different for each of us.  For me, the looming giant in my way is a little thing called cystic fibrosis (and all it entails).

I’ve often told people that I can’t do the ‘sick kid’ books and movies – you know, the tear jerkers like My Sister’s Keeper: the girl who dies in a car crash, giving her organs to save her sister with cancer; or The Fault in Our Stars: the two cancer patients who fall in love and then one of them dies; A Walk To Remember: the handsome young man falling in love with the sick girl, giving her the ability to make the most out of her last days; or even the Fox TV show Red Band Society: the teenagers who live in a hospital and become fast friends because they’re all sick.

I’ve read those books, tried to watch those shows.  But they don’t really depict real life for those of us with any disease, at least in my experience.

The reality is that life is often hard physically – the treatments, the demands on our bodies from the therapies – it can take a toll, sometimes ones that you can see, but many times ones that you can’t.

The reality is that life is often hard emotionally – only people who have been through what we are experiencing can really understand.  And though you try to sympathize and understand (which we appreciate greatly) what we are going through, the reality is that we often go through it alone.  We don’t want to burden you with our fears, insecurities, and all of the baggage that comes with a chronic illness.  We’re trying to spare you – but it often means we are left alone.

The reality is that life is often hard Spiritually – reconciling our struggles with a good God, the creator of everything, and why He is allowing these things to happen in our lives.

The reality is that life is often hard mentally – having few people to lean on because they are scared away by your disease, storing it all up inside and only falling apart behind closed doors.

The books and the TV shows almost make it look like it’d be fun to be sick.  They romanticize it.  They say that you’d be unique, different, and everyone would just love you for who you are, no matter what.  That living in a hospital would be cool.  That it’s not scary to have a real idea of how long you’ve got left on earth.  That no one treats you differently.  That your life isn’t different from anyone else’s.  That people will fall in love with you in spite of your sickness, never rejecting you for your disease.

Pardon my French, but I call BS.
Complete and total BS.

Life is not often like it is portrayed in movies and TV shows – sick or not.

Real life is often messier than the media portrays it. 

Real people aren’t stick skinny and eat ten calories per day.  Real people play in the dirt, and that’s okay.  Real people don’t have it all together all the time.  Real people struggle, fail, fall, and scrape their knees.

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Although my life has not been as pretty and prefect as the media may portray it, it’s actually been so much better.  Because I live alongside other real people, who help to pick me up when I fall down, and who take my hand when they fall down.  I live alongside people who are struggling with hard things, and get to watch as they grow in faith and shine His light so brightly even in the midst of all of it.  I get to invite people into my life, and get to pour into theirs.  I get to play with kids, who bring genuine smiles to my face no matter what else has happened that day.  I get to see God work in amazing ways through my friends, and get to let Him work through me.

I’d rather have real life with Christ any day of the week than the romanticized version we see on the screen, no matter how hard it is. 

Wouldn’t you?

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Waiting On The World To Change: Down Bourbon Street

By Kristen Entwistle

A few months ago, I took a trip to New Orleans for a scientific conference.  The famous Bourbon Street was a ten minute walk from our hotel, and we ate dinner in the French Quarter nearly every night.

My first trip down Bourbon Street was crowded and I was mostly just trying to keep track of my group so that I didn’t get lost in the throng of people.

My second trip down Bourbon Street, I got to take a better look around. 

And I didn’t like what I saw. 

Every other brightly lit sign enticed people to come into strip clubs and sleezy bars and questionable establishments.  (To be fair, there are some reputable and higher class bars/restaurants on Bourbon Street).  But it’s not just the signs that these establishments use to try to get people to come through their doors.  At every strip club, there is at least one bouncer telling people to come in and that it’s free and what they’re going to get when they go in.  And in the doorway, there’s always at least one scantily clad (sometimes not at all clad) woman moving her body to get the boys on the street to come in.  And then there are the college students, clearly on spring break, on the balconies above the street, throwing beads down to the people walking through the street, whooping and cat-calling for anyone they (in their drunken state) found attractive.

My third trip down Bourbon Street, I was tired and not really paying attention to what was around me.  It was raining, and I was mostly trying not to get our group lost.

My fourth trip down Bourbon Street, I was overwhelmed.  The line from a song that came to mind: Waitin’, waitin’, I’m waitin’ on the world to change.

I was filled with sadness at the things that I was walking past.  My heart broke for the people for whom this was their only reality, for whom this may be their only option for a job.  I wanted so much to yell up at the college students on the balconies, “There’s so much more to life than this.  Don’t waste your life chasing things that won’t satisfy.  Come to the well, where Jesus will freely give you Living Water, and salvation.”

But when the bright lights and pretty beads and glittering storefronts beckon, it’s a hard sell for anything else.  The Church doesn’t dazzle in the moonlight or have a glowing sign.  In fact, our lights are usually off and our doors locked at the hours that Bourbon Street is open.

bourbon 1

We’ve got to do more than just wait on the world to change – because on its own, it won’t.  But I’m not suggesting we go hand out tracts on Bourbon Street, either.  Let’s start by living life so that people can see whom we serve.  Let’s love like Jesus loved, no matter what people have done or how different they are from us.

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And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be doing more than just waiting on the world to change.