Reflecting on Community: Northern Ireland Part 1

Aside

Just over four years ago, I studied abroad in Northern Ireland. It was there that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I still remember those months as being some of the hardest, most joyful, most eye-opening days of my life. God used that time to not only give me abundant life, but also to give me amazing gifts. I have had the opportunity to return to Northern Ireland twice since leaving in 2009 and each time I return, I learn something more about myself, my friends abroad, and the Lord. Most recently, I was in Northern Ireland visiting friends, two of whom were getting married. I was asked to be apart of their ceremony as their Scripture reader, and I couldn’t decline such a beautiful invitation.

Arriving

There is always this haunting calmness that comes over me when I go back to Ireland. I’m a rather anxious person, so when don’t feel stressed, I know that it is something special. One of my friends, Ruth, picked me up from the airport in Belfast, Ireland. I saw her and skipped over to give her the biggest hug someone could give after not seeing such a close friend in over three years. We didn’t have too much time to gush over the fact that I was back in her presence because we had to surprise my friend Leanna (the bride). You see, I told Leanna I was coming in on June 6th. That’s what she believed the whole time, the best kept transcontinental secret ever. When Leanna saw me standing next to the car when picking her up, she was speechless. It was really one of those “fist pumping” moments to hear her say over and over again, “I can’t believe you’re here.”

After a weekend in Dublin with loads of banter, a week in Belfast doing life and a wedding to boot, I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and selflessness that my friends showed me. It was over three years since I had seen them, but the moment I stepped off the plane, it’s like the piece of my heart that had been missing since 2009 was returned.

The Importance of Community

My friends in Northern Ireland made me realize the importance of intentionality with my community, both near and far. Without the time and effort they invested into an overseas relationship with me, everything we had come to create in our friendship would have fallen by the wayside. If we hadn’t been texting, skyping, facebooking and emailing, I would have been so concentrated on getting to know everyone all over again, that I wouldn’t have been able to cherish “doing life” with them.

I hope to take this lesson and apply them to my community in Minneapolis. I want to be more intentional about investing in my small group, my friends from college and my colleagues at work. I want to be able to cherish every moment with them as people who I care deeply about, rather than letting relationships die off. My community is too important to me to let that happen and by God’s grace alone, I won’t let that happen.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10: 24-25

We are called to be intentional with one another. We are called to live with one another through our joys and our sorrows. We are called to hold one another accountability. I feel honored and blessed to have people that I’m able to be intentional with, and by God’s grace, I won’t take that for granted.

This is my battle: Comparison

“She’s so pretty. I wish I had hair like hers so all the boys will like me too.”

“Gah, she’s so skinny. I better get to the gym.”

“How am I ever going to get a promotion? I am not as talented as those other candidates.”

“Why does he always text her? Will I even be good enough for that?”

This is a look into my mind. I try to beat these thoughts down with a bat every time they surface, yet I still daily struggle with comparison. I am never good enough. I am never smart enough. I am never pretty enough. I am never enough.
I realized early on in my life that this was an issue, but the outward appearance of the effects of comparison came out as anger, jealousy, and self-deprivation. I was an athlete. I played softball and honestly, I was pretty good. I was on traveling teams, competing for titles, regional championships, and I thought I was unstoppable. Until I got benched for the first time in…ever. I sat there, not saying a word, only comparing myself with the pitcher that got to start before me.

“Was my fast ball not as fast as hers?”

“Did coach like her better than me?”

“How can I be like her?”

This started the downward spiral of how comparison has daily affected my life.
When it wasn’t softball anymore, it was other things. I would compare myself to my friends who were dating, engaged, or married. I would compare myself to people in my classes and my grades to theirs. I would compare myself to women in the church and the ministry we were involved in. The list goes on. Many times these comparisons would turn into jealousy and I do not handle jealousy well. It was a lot of me closing off to people. It was a lot of stuffing my feelings down further and further inside me. It was a lot of not choosing to believe Truth. It was me choosing to not believe God is who He says He is and not believing that God created me perfectly in His sight.

Coming to the realization that comparison was being the thief to all joy set before me was (and is) a long road. This road is one with lots of tears. It’s one of lots of heartache. It’s one of a lot of yelling at me and Satan. I’ve lost close friends of mine because of it, and I’ve had to attempt to repair many other relationships because of the weightiness of my sin.

A close friend of mine recently sent me a passage out of Galatians 6:4-5 in The Message version of the Bible. It said “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others…Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

This was the first time I had read this Galatians passage in The Message, but it really spoke to me. God is telling us that we were created for a purpose, we get to live in the image of the Lord and He’s allowing us to come into our own without comparing ourselves to others.

These words mean freedom to me. It means that I live under the Truth that God is the almighty Creator and I am His beautiful, wonderful creation. I don’t have to compare myself to others to figure out how to feel better about myself. I get to look in scripture and in Gospel community and toward God to show me my beauty and worth.

Seeking out this Truth is a daily task that needs to be done. It’s hard and frankly, I fail a lot at turning to God instead of turning to comparison. But I’m finding the more the Lord is sanctifying me, it does get easier (like lifting a 100 pound weight to lifting a 90 pound weight-still hard, but easier). Each time I choose to seek out Truth, I feel that much freer to live as God created me in Christ. This is a freedom worth fighting for.