Friday, February 19, 2010


Man, having just had a 20 minute or so conversation about music with a friend of mine has really put me in one of those moods where I just want to soak in some sweet melodies and drink tea.

And that's just what I'm doing.

All I came here to tell you was to listen to a certain piece of music. No uber-spiritual advice or ramblings this evening. I think there is something perfectly spiritual about the beauty of music, and that it is a gift from the Lord for our enjoyment.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Bill Charlap is just wonderful. Go listen and be pensive! :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Does This Fit on a Candy Heart?

Happy post Singles' Awareness Day -- affectionately and cleverly abbreviated in these parts to S.A.D. I hope you blew ungodly amounts of money on the half-price chocolates at Wal-Mart and ate yourself into a sugar-induced coma.

I didn't do that, but kudos to you!

I did not take much pride in embracing this variation of the traditional holiday on February 14th; in fact, it shamed me half to death never to have had a real Valentine. I know, I know, I'm 20. The previous opportunities for Valentines to be found could only have really resulted in a note taped to a locker, or one of those candy-grams student council would sell, or something equally insignificant.

At least, it would have been insignificant to me. I assure you my male interests during my primary education were not especially headed towards any lifelong commitments, or even dates where Taco Bell and the mall movie theater were not involved in some form or another. But living in that little snow globe back then, where having a date to homecoming was not only a matter of life and death but also highly unlikely, it was next to impossible to see how anything could possibly change.

To be honest, I don't really know what it was about me that kept me in the little "no boyfriends" club. Perhaps God was just adamant that I not experience anything like that in my youth. Perhaps my pride in putting up this very independent facade in effect put up that barrier that frightened away the poor pimpled gentlemen of Orange County Public Schools. I was always inclined to think it was because I had body odor that I could not detect, or that someone had written GROSS -- STAY AWAY on my forehead with an ink that everyone but I could read.

I came into college with these hurts on my heart. Sure, I had been approached before, but when I was, it was rarely in a way that made me feel any better about myself. If anything, I felt kind of robbed or empty. I had pinned hopes and dreams on certain guys who I thought could fill the hole in my heart but none of them made an effort to fit, assuming that they fit that hole to begin with. Nothing about my past seemed to be a blessing in that area of my life, and I eagerly awaited for the circumstances to change. I was tired of this. Thus, when I read this, I got pretty pissed:

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am." I Corinthians 7:8

There are many times in this life that the very thoughts in my head were expressed in italics and with much punctuation, such as this: what?!

I would not accept this. In fact, it did occur to me that perhaps some later writer added this to Paul's letter, and that he couldn't possibly have meant that. Perhaps the canon we all thought to be true was a lie because someone let this passage get put into print. God created Eve because Adam was not meant to be alone! What on earth makes sense anymore?!

I tried reading articles and commentaries geared towards college students to gain some perspective that might open my eyes to getting this, maybe twisting it into something that Paul said but didn't mean and explain it all away, to little avail. I was not comforted by the idea that God wanted singleness for some, and relationships for others, and that he knew best. I wanted it either to be up to me so that I could fix this myself, or that the blame could be shifted on the many fools who passed up such a gorgeous and optimistic gem like me. I didn't really find solace in the idea that I'd be free to do more things. All I could envision was a future where I was living all alone, with no one to watch the History channel with at night, in a hut in Somalia as a missionary serving God. Then God would let me be killed by a band of thieves. That would be my reward for going it as a bachelorette: dying in Africa.

If you were not previously aware of the power of my imagination and just how half-empty my glass could be at times, well... now you are.

At a point, I stopped and wondered: what on earth gave me the grounds to think such things? There were so many times that I thought God had failed me before, when really he was up to something I would like the entire time. I recall when I got my rejection letter from Yale University on one day, and then a very measly financial aid offer from Rollins College on another. The thought of going to a public school, heaven forbid, gave me dry heaves. I felt so abandoned in my dreams of being some laureate scholar because I thought I had something going for me that would get me into these places.

Yet I take a look now at where I am and would have it no other way. When I first examined how this turned out, I really had to humble myself, hands in the air, surrendering the truth: "God, you knew what you were doing. Forgive my unfaithfulness and doubt. My blessings here are boundless."

I still wasn't ready then to believe that my relationship status could be the same story. I kept begging God for proof that this was a good thing, and that I had a reason to hope that I would be satisfied in the future about it. I wanted evidence that I would either have even a shot at finding a Mr. Lara who finds Russian writers enigmatic and doesn't find my 300 laugh variations annoying... or, actually be content without him. No amount of encouragement from my sisters in Christ helped, nor my mother, who lovingly advocates seeking a career as a UN diplomat and then settling down when I'm 40 with a nice man and his savings account. (90% kidding, Mom!)

When I asked for proof, boy, did I get it. And my proof, I mean a serious smack in the face.

I was lying in my bed, asking God just to explain it to me. I mumbled under my breath that his ways might not be my ways but, either way, I wanted them to make sense. And he just blew my brains out. Questions just began popping into my head one after another.

Do you even have the time to devote to that sort of thing, Lara?

Well... no. I barely have enough time to talk to the friends I already have as much as I want to.

Haven't I given you plenty of tasks to do for me that you're already up to?

Eh, I guess. Co-leading a bible study, praying regularly with friends, raising support for a mission trip, and just being a good friend to everybody -- believers and not -- is a pretty hefty list of things to pay attention to.

Haven't I shown you that other people do like spending time with you and value you?

I suppose being asked out on the occasional coffee date and answering my phone a couple of times a week isn't a bad sign.

When have I given you reason to doubt me?

When you are seized by conviction, it is one of the most terrifying but satisfying feelings you'll ever have. This regret that it took me so long to begin to understand gripped my insides like a vice, but at the same time I felt the tension flee my cowering shoulders. God knows what he's doing. He's shown me plenty of times that he has a plan for me, and it's a good one. I have always had things in my immediate future to look forward to. The only times I really grieved were the times I tried to look further than I had any reason to see.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

The blessings I've had all along came rushing in. It's nice knowing that I can just get up and go whenever I have a chance to do something crazy, be it fly to Bosnia or whatever. I don't have to worry about the needs of anyone else. I don't have to balance my time spent with friends and doing God's work with time spent loving someone else the way God calls us to when marriage comes into the picture. I don't know how much time I am going to have to go by my maiden name, and I kind of like it, so I can't just let it go to waste!

Now, I am still quite confident that I want Mr. Lara to come sweep me off my feet with orange roses in one hand and pita chips in the other. (I'm a quirky gal to impress.) However, I have a reason to hope and be patient. God's timing is the one timing that I have nothing apart from, and it's not up to me to go and get things going for myself. Stepping off the path God has carved for me is a fairly disturbing thought when I think of the glory to be found by staying on and trekking.

I am loved and protected already by the most important I AM.

"Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires." Song of Solomon 8:4

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Good News?

You remember that feeling you had around the end of 8th grade? Maybe your life is diometrically different from mine, but I recall this sort of queasiness that had more than one emotion rolling around in my stomach. It was excitement for what was coming up, that I was finally taking another step in my life, maturing (however little you mature at 14), and just moving forward. But there was a very noticeable amount of fear and anxiousness as well, not knowing what lies ahead, what challenges were next, and whether or not I had what it would take to get through okay to the next great leap.

Either way, middle school is middle school; you can't sit in the middle forever.

I've grown very comfortable and have flourished in the middle. I greatly enjoy the hour or so that I spend reading the word of God and meditating on it every day, and praying. I see the benefits of confessing my shortcomings to him and thanking him for his grace in washing me of all the awful things that I've done. I delight in meeting with brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage them, talk about the Lord, and be held accountable for the actions I do and the thoughts in my mind. Basically, I'm doing the this whole growth thing people talk about, I'm doing it well, and frankly, I love it. I don't even mean to sound prideful about this, but I truly think I am coming to know what it even begins to mean to walk in the Spirit.

I am a vessel that keeps being poured into. God pours into me constantly through the bible and through the people I talk to -- my discipler, my good friends, and even just the situations I find myself in every day. I feel the wisdom rising within me like a level of water as it is just being dumped into my soul. It's satisfying to come before the Creator of the universe and believe that he is good, and that he is doing good things in me.

Like a bucket, though, there comes a time when there's so much water that it is plumb full. It has to go somewhere. There's an inevitable point where it'll start running over the sides and dripping through the cracks and holes.

Things don't just stay in the same way forever.

Here I am at the precipice of the next part of my walk with God. I knew it was coming. It had to. A person can't pretend to know Jesus if they don't know what his very last words were:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Matthew 28: 19

It's not that I've kept everything to myself; I love talking about what I believe and answer whatever questions people give me. And I talk about God. But even when I try to go about my life here in Florida with a missional mindset, I tend to step back into my comfort zone timidly. It terrifies me half to death to share the gospel sometimes.

Why? I know a lot of Christians have this trouble too, and I want to know why it seems so hard. I can think of a lot of reasons. Frankly, I sound like an idiot. I'm throwing my life away on the belief that there is a God who sent his Son, who is fully human but fully divine, to die on a cross and come back to life as a sacrifice for my sins, which have separated me from God, who is holy. I would be eternally sentenced to being severed from God if I did not pray to the Lord that I want to follow him and repent of my wrongdoing, letting Jesus cover my debt with what he has done. My life is now about telling other people that they can have the same thing if they just have faith that these things are true and seek to please God because of his goodness.


But this is the clincher: What if it's true?

Here is the crossroads at which we all must face when we consider the above claim: it all boils down to whether or not Jesus was risen from the dead. If he wasn't, then we who live like he was are to be pitied above all people. (And yeah, Paul said that! Love that guy!) But if he was, if he rose from the dead three days after he was crucified, then everything is true. The prophecies about him are true. The Old Testament, which he affirmed in his own teaching, is true. The people who saw him and testified about it, and then went out and shared this truth with everyone around them and often were brutally killed for it, were true.

I believe this is true.

I see the fruit of this truth every day. This heart was a nasty place before I turned to Jesus Christ. I look like I have it all together but I don't, and I certainly did not before. I cared so much about me. This life was about filling my needs, using people to meet those needs, and making sure that I was my own god. It never worked. Times of crippling loneliness, hunger for acceptance, fear of rejection, and so many other evils were the victory of the dark forces in this world over me. Convincing me that I was my own savior effectively rendered me broken and hopeless.

If it weren't for a loving God alive and pursuing after me like a shepherd after his sheep, I would have no reason not to keep turning to those other things to satisfy me and make sense of this world. Although they did not serve this purpose for long, there were moments of temporary contentment to keep me coming back to the drug that is pride of life.

But I encountered the Lord of all exactly where I was, and he assured me that he had greater plans for me. He knew what was best for me, and offered me a place in his family as a daughter to him. He saw the way that sin and depravity were chains on my ankles that bound me to a sinking ship, and that I was going to choke on the storming waters around me if I let myself stay in bondage. God held out his hand to me to be lifted from such a fate, and find new life in the ways he knew would be best for me and show the world how awesome and mighty he is to save -- and love.

The biggest problem Christians must have with sharing the gospel is forgetting how good the "good news" really is! When I took the time to write all that, I hadn't even meditated on just how glorious that is until I typed it just now. To think of what could have happened to me if I had not taken his hand! Even a fairly successful, fairly healthy, fairly comfortable girl in the United States needed a savior. The ways I have seen God bless me in planting me to grow by the streams of his wisdom and love can lead me only to stronger, fuller belief. The bucket is pretty full. It was high time that I tell other people about all the wonders God has done through my life and how he would be thrilled to do the same through others.

And so, dear readers, I can officially say that I have been accepted on Summer Project to a little town called Sarajevo, Bosnia.

No, that's not in Africa.

I will be spending 7 weeks living there to meet other college students in Bosnia, building relationships with them, getting into deep conversations with them, and sharing with them the joy that Christ has given me.

The call is enormous. If you didn't know, Bosnia experienced great civil violence 15 years ago. Bosnian people suffered genocide, as did other people who live in former Yugoslavia. Many of them say they are Muslim, but most probably have apathy for any kind of belief anymore. With so many obstacles, I keep doubting that a pansy like me could even open my lips to speak to people who have seen such different things.

Yet I accidentally left out the real last words of Jesus, after telling us to go make disciples of all nations, before ascending into heaven to be with God until the day he returns for his people:

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20

If Jesus rose from the dead, this promise is true, and I am glad to be a slave to the gospel for all the great promises in store for those who are faithful.

On a practical note, it's going to take a butt-ton of financial support for me to get there. I mean, this is into the thousands of dollars range, as you can well imagine. If you feel called to help send an ambassador of Christ to this part of the world, please email me or call me, or just find me walking around if you know where I am. (If you know that and I don't know you... we may have a problem.) Above all else, I request your prayer that I will be prepared for the mission before me and that I would die to myself so that Christ can shine through me to the people of Bosnia, but money would still be very, very nice, haha. Just pray it over, or ask me any questions:

I believe that the only God is a God who desires to have people of every nation, tribe, and tongue fall in love with him and beg for him to pardon them so that they can spend eternity in his presence. It might sound like God is being super arrogant, but think about it: God does not lie, and if he did not say he was and is the greatest thing ever to be, what would make sense anymore? He humbled himself enough to become man and die a humiliating death just to reconcile us to him, and that, my friends, is worth begging for money to tell people about.

Enough of that. Good night, and God's grace.