Aug 27, 2012

What Does It Take To Flourish Spiritually?

Here, Kelli Trujillo asks me my thoughts:

I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Marlena Graves. Marlena is a writer and mom of two who works at Cedarville University. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and is involved in Renovare. Listen in on our candid conversation about what it takes to “flourish” — and how to make it through wilderness times.
Marlena, welcome! Tell my readers a bit about yourself.
I contemplate, write, and speak about the eternal implications of our life in God. I am a lover of beauty (especially the beauty of my family and creation) and a justice seeker — trying to overcome evil with good. In addition, I seek answers to these types of questions: What does abundant life look like (John 10:10)? If God is good and we are his deeply beloved children and safe in his kingdom, how then should we live?
See the rest here:

Aug 23, 2012

Maybe God'll Find Him. Maybe he'll find God.

"From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us." Acts 17:26,27

(Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by Andrew Brown - Wikimedia Commons)

His grandma didn't want him. At fourteen, he ate her out of house and home. He took food from the cupboards without asking. So, she abandoned him. Turned him out. He ended up in a homeless shelter. All alone. Without God and without hope in the world. Because of strict regulations about who qualifies for housing, the shelter could only keep him for two weeks.

As the two week mark approached, the shelter called Children's Services repeatedly. "You need to take him," the counselors implored. "He's a sweet boy." Children's Services wouldn't come. And they wouldn't come. They just wouldn't come.

Not even Children's Services wanted him.

Finally, word got up to the top of the ladder of Children's Services; they came to pick him up. He was placed in a foster home. That night, the father of the home had a cardiac arrest. They couldn't keep him. Children's Services came again. This time they acted swiftly in order to put him in another home.

I hope it's a good one.

I hope it's a home where there is some semblance of love and goodness and safety and routine. A home where he won't know the utter despair of being unwanted. Of being despicably worthless in the eyes of those closest to him.

I don't know this boy. I only heard his story, a true story, and sobbed and sobbed. Sobbed my guts out for the millionth time this summer. What can I do? I so desperately want to do something. My insides constrict. They choke up as I write these sentences. Tears spill onto my face. The travesty of it all. The hell of it all. I hold my daughters. They know my love. This is what I want for this boy and all the children and people like him.

I don't know his name; that's confidential. But he has lodged himself in my heart. I pray for him. I beg God to make himself known to him, since God is not too far away from anyone of us (Acts 17: 26, 27). I beg God to take care of him and show him that he is a deeply loved child of God, that he is the apple of God's eye.

I pray he won't believe the lie his circumstances are telling him.

Oh Lord, allow someone to speak and show the love of God to him! Please, God.

I will pray for him throughout my life as I think of him. This one thing I can do.

There are children and people all around us going through hell. People being abused in every conceivable way. People craving the love of God. People craving hope. Why don't we start praying for these invisible ones? Asking God that the invisible ones would be made visible to those seeking to overcome evil with good? Why don't we start asking God to open our eyes so they'll be found by God through us. So that they'll find God through us?

Think of how we can usher fourth Kingdom goodness and light all around us. We can unleash the love and power of God through prayerful action.

This is something I believe to be true: we don't know the eternal implications of our obedience and prayers. I know we don't serve God or pray for others in vain. It's not in vain. It's not in vain, even if right now we see no fruit from our toils.

God is making all things new in and through us. I have hope. Hope for goodness in the lives of those abused and oppressed and forgotten. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

God be with him. God be with you if you feel all alone, without God and without hope in the world. We'll hope and pray for you, when you cannot do so yourself.

Aug 7, 2012

Throwing Starfish Back In

As I've mentioned previously, I had a baby, Valentina. She was born on June 3. So my posts are not as frequent as they have been in the past. Thank you for your grace. However, I do encourage you to check out some of my other posts. You can click on the categories on the right-hand side of the blog.

The other night, after I fed Valentina around 1 am, I desperately wanted to go to bed. I was tired.

I wanted to go to sleep but couldn't. I was awash in a tide of evil and pain not entirely or even mostly my own. There is deep pain all  around me. Lately, lots of it has manifested--even though it's the summer. You see, I am in a pastoral-like position where I encounter lots of people everyday. I live on a college campus. During the academic year, thousands of people cross my visual path. And every now and then, the suffering of others, combined with my suffering for them, and my own sufferings, washes me away. I am left bobbing up and down the river, gasping for breath. Grasping for a tree branch, a rock--anything to hold onto in order to pull myself out. Bobbing up and down the river, screaming and crying out to Jesus to rescue others and rescue me. I grow weary. I grow tired. Yet, I pray as I am whirled and tossed about. I pray fiercely and fervently for those afflicted and oppressed. I pray for myself and my family.

I have yet to permanently go under.

One of my friends stopped by to visit last night, to see how me and the family and the baby were doing. Her unexpected presence was pastoral care. Her presence--a gift. I confessed my exhaustion and my experience of the night before in the midst of preparing arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans)--my staple food growing up, in the midst of Iliana chatting and performing, in the midst of Shawn trying to catch up on some necessary reading--he had watched the girls all day.

In the midst of dinner preparations and dinner eating and daughter performing and husband trying to snatch a moment for himself--she told me her favorite story. It's about the little boy who was walking along the beach where a bunch of starfish had washed up along the shore. Maybe you know it. I know I've heard it at least once.

There were thousands of starfish scattered along the beach. The little boy's heart broke for them, so he began tossing them back into the ocean. A little while after he began his rescue effort, a man who was walking along the shore stopped, and commented, "Why are you doing this? It's not going to make a difference." The little boy picked up a starfish and remarked, "It makes a difference to this one." He threw the starfish back in. "And this one." He tossed another back in. And so he continued, doing what he could, for the starfish he encountered.

My friend reminded me of what I knew, but couldn't feel--that I do what I can, that I throw the starfish back in.

I can't save all of them, but it makes a difference to the ones that I do return into the ocean (all in the name and power of Jesus).

I do this, all the while knowing and thanking God, that there are many a time when someone had mercy on me--and threw me back in.