About Brazil…Some Reflections from a Life Changing Trip and the Power of Being Open

Reflecting can be hard to do. At least for me, as a person who (occasionally) spends a little too much time musing about past life lessons, processing life events presents itself as a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, today, a brief 24 hours after returning to my home country after my three week stay in Brazil, I decided to tackle the challenge.

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Most of my Wonderful Host Family

First things first: Brazil was incredible. I can’t even begin to describe how loved I felt staying with my incredible host family which consisted of my host mother, father, two teenage daughters, a sweetheart of a grandma, and other family members such as my host-great aunt who spent at least part of her time with us. The very fact that I was able to make lasting connections with a family I only knew for two weeks speaks volumes about the nature of these wonderful people.

I also had the honor of participating in several Brazilian activities which helped me at least scratch the surface in beginning to understand their fascinating culture. I was able to converse in Portuguese – at times by myself – with several people for lengths up to 30 minutes at a time (thank you João for the transformational car rides in which you were so patient with us!). I was able to learn how to make some Brazilian food, learn a little Samba, visit old friends, practice my martial arts skills (Mr. Lepkowski, you’d be proud!), see an autopsy at USP, shadow in a hospital, ride in a speedboat under waterfalls, and so much more.

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Practicing Capoeira – A Brazilian Martial Art

However, aside from these things, I also had a bit of a rough time working through some emotional challenges that I didn’t know I was ready to handle. (Get ready for the part of the blog I am slightly uncomfortable to write).

You see, I recently learned I have a bit of a chemical imbalance in my brain. Due to this imbalance, I sometimes feel abnormally anxious and depressed for no pinpointable reason (sure, that’s a word). It often manifests itself in unpleasant physically damaging ways that I am not proud of. On this trip, I had to face this challenge head on.

I suppose many factors contributed to the fact that I had several embarrassing mental breakdowns in several different locations on this trip. But, as one of our leaders, Julie Rushik, so kindly and patiently reminded me, I don’t have to understand my emotions or know for sure where they come from. I experienced the power of being open about these uncertain emotions. Julie encouraged me to share this challenge with the group at the end of the trip, and the moment I did, I felt a burden lift off of me. This is why I decided it would be therapeutic to share with you all through the form of this blog.

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Luciano and Nanda – I was also able to reconnect with Karen!

So, in the end, I realize there is much I need to work through. I know I could feel guilty or embarrassed about what happened, but I am choosing to be thankful. I am thankful because I now have the opportunity to spend time getting to know myself better. I’m thankful because I now feel free to be more open about this with God (as if He didn’t already know), friends, and family. And I desperately hope that it helps me to help others someday.

For all the leaders, both from Roberts and Brazil, who were involved in making this trip happen, thank you so much. So much.

It was life changing in ways I never could have predicted.

Who are You?

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“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” –Romans 8:17

             I decided to write this post about a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately: Who am I? Sometimes I struggle to answer this question because I find it hard to categorize myself into one type of person. Quite obviously I am a white American female, however, that’s not the point. Upon mentally answering the question of who I am in my head, I realized that I define myself as a lot of different things. First, I’m a Christian. I always have been and that’s usually the first thing that comes to mind when I try to figure out what makes me who I am. Then it gets a little blurry. I’m not an athlete, musician, nerd, geek, performer, cook, or any typical categorical stereotype, despite the fact that I enjoy elements of all the aforementioned identities.

However, I have come to realize that I tend to define myself by my performance and achievements. While I am not a performer in one sense of the word, I am very much so in the sense that my happiness often times depends on how well I succeed at a given task. It’s often a grade on a test, a score on an assignment, participation in a group, or a number of other achievement based things. This realization isn’t new; I’ve always been aware of this tendency to some degree or another. But a few weeks ago I realized that my source of joy for that day was the fact that I had done well on a test.

If I had scored one point lower, I would have been devastated.

And I had a real problem with that.

So over the past few weeks I decided to think about how Jesus lived when He was on the earth. Like me (and all of us), Jesus was also many things. He was a carpenter, a Jew, a friend, a teacher, and a son to earthly parents. He had quite the list of achievements too—just look at a few of the miracles He performed. But Jesus didn’t define himself by any of these things. His identity was found in the fact that He was the Son of God. Everything He did was based off this one personal definition. It radically changed the way He lived and treated people.

Well, none of us are sons of God in the sense that Jesus was. But according to Romans 8:17, we, as Christians who share in the sufferings and glory of Christ, are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Another verse that I often turn to when thinking of this subject is Colossians 3:23, which reminds us that we are to work at everything as if unto the Lord, and not to men. Daily I am learning what it means to be a follower of Christ, and daily I am learning to define myself, not by who I am, but by Whose I am.

It’s not that achievements or trying to do things well are bad. In fact, I think that if we desire to live our life for God we should aim to live it well. After all, I’m fairly certain Jesus didn’t run a shoddy ministry when He was on the earth (although it was far from glamoat times. That’s another topic though). It’s just that, in the end, the only thing that really matters is if we knew Jesus and lived our life for Him. In Romans 6:16 it says (and elsewhere throughout the Bible) that, “when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves that to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”

Again, not that achievements or [insert any other God-given talent or gift here] are bad. But whatever we choose to define us ends up becoming our master. When we place, in this case, achievements over God, instead of glorifying Him, they begin to define our worth. Instead of using an academic, musical, sports related, or other gift to point others to Christ and inspire others to grow and find freedom, we let the fruit of our labor, whether it be a fine line between an A or B on a test, a perfectly performed composition, or a winning game tell us whether we are worthy or not. When we become slaves to these material things, not only do they have the power to influence our feelings about ourselves, but they also have the power to influence how we treat others, as we begin to compare ourselves to and look down on those who do not perform as well as us, and become jealous of those who do better. It’s a painful cycle that leaves many people feeling empty and far from good enough.

But when we choose to be a slave to righteousness, the picture drastically changes. Suddenly our talents are not burdensome. Our performance does not define us. A score on a test does not haunt us in our beds at night. When we choose to be defined as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, the very purpose of our life is transformed. When we live for Him, we also live to help others. And we can use our talents to help us do that.

They just don’t define us anymore.

 

The Power of Surrender

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. –Matthew 16:25

First of all, I’ve been meaning to write on here again for quite some time now, but, as it turns out, college has taken up a lot of my time and I’m just now getting around to writing. *sigh*

But nevertheless, I’ve felt compelled to share about a powerful yet sometimes neglected truth I have been learning (often the hard way). It’s an underlying theme all throughout the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, yet I’ve found is far too easily forgotten or, quite simply, ignored. It is, however, essential to living, if we so choose to live out life to the full capacity God has given us.

It is the power of surrender.

In a world full of self-help books and motivational speakers (and preachers) which seek to show us how we can “become our best self,” we often forget our desperate need for Jesus. The truth is, we’re all broken, and no matter how hard we try to fix ourselves, it’s just not going to work. Maybe for a while, yes. But in order to find a lasting freedom in our lives, we have to give ourselves up entirely to Jesus.

How do I know this? Well, I can point to scripture that shows this (I’ll get to that later). But I also know this from the reality of what has happened in my life. You see, from the time I was about 14 years old, I’ve always, from a subjective Christian standpoint, had a “good relationship with the Lord.” I’ve prayed, read the Bible, gone to church, and done all the “Christian” things. But these things, although beneficial (and necessary) for my walk with the Lord, really got me nowhere until I decided to fully give myself up to Him.

And honestly, some of the darkest times in my life have been when I haven’t fully surrendered myself to Jesus. Most of the time, the things I chose to “handle on my own” have been good things, per say, like a close friendship, relationship, or my achievements. Other times, I have chosen to hold back things I knew were in direct opposition to His plan, like a secret sin or unhealthy lifestyle. Either way, every time I have chosen to hide something from God (which really isn’t possible, but I sometimes liked to imagine it was), or hold back something from Him that I wanted to handle myself, I have ended up stressed out, anxious, and generally just plain miserable (even if I denied the fact that I was miserable!).

I have found that freedom comes in surrender to Jesus Christ. And by surrender, I mean giving Him my every selfish desire, my every hope, my every plan, and letting Him radically change me. It’s not easy to do, after all, it’s not human nature to give up what we think we can control. But you see, God does want us to have a rich, impactful, fulfilling life. He desires for us to know Him intimately and to feel fulfilled even when the going gets tough. But we can’t experience that until we completely surrender ourselves to Him.

In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Now that’s some radical truth. I think many of us have been so busy trying to “save our lives” that we’ve lost them in the process.

True living comes from surrendering ourselves to Him. It’s a daily choice, but it’s one of the greatest choices we could ever make. It’s not worth the struggle to fight life’s challenges or even control God’s blessings on our own. One of the best things about Jesus is that He wants to have a relationship with you. So give yourself to Him.  Lose your life for Him a little. I think you’ll find it one of the most freeing things you’ll ever do.