More Real

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Where do I begin? Now that I’ve reached the end?

I could not fall asleep the other night because my head was spinning and trying to process more.

How do I live in regular life with all these new things that God has taught me?

I came to Hillside with an expectation. I came to find some sort of arrival. I came to find an answer. A solution.

But Jesus gently reminded me all summer that’s now how it works. I did not leave with a concrete answer. In fact, I left with more questions and challenges. Having a concrete answer is not the walk of faith.

The challenge is integrating how much more real Jesus, missions, and living eternally have become to me into my regular life. It’s building the realness so that it stays real and becomes more and more real so that I keep growing and asking questions on this whole journey of sanctification.

I yearn for peace. But we don’t grow in coasting and being relaxed. We grow in turmoil and laying down our lives. Christ is my peace and satisfaction, not my life situation. Peace is not some magical wave that will wash over me and make everything clear and perfect in my life.

If there’s any answer to be had, it’s Jesus Christ. He is at the center. He is my Lord and my love and my life.

Jesus has shown me a better way to live.

And then I’m caught up in unspeakable joy and gratitude for these amazing people who have become my family. I remember when I came to visit in May, one of the things Kris said to me before I left that day was that we are family now. That stuck with me and always will. They mean the world to me and I will always be grateful for them.

So, I continue to process as I transition back to school. Sometimes, my time at Hillside feels distant, and other times it feels so near. I’m often frustrated with my current environment. But sometimes I fail to open my eyes more.

It seems I have here so much more than I thought. Coming back has been hard, but also encouraging. I realize I have friends who do understand, who listen intently to my experience, for they have felt these things too.

It’s not about what I do. It’s about what God does, and He will always get the work done, and no matter where I am and what I do or am unable to do, He will get it done.

Right now, for some reason, it feels hard to pour my all into what He’s given me to do now. But that is foolish and disregarding the work God is doing here. I will do the tasks He has assigned me now to the best of my ability, being motivated by love for Him. I will do them well because He must be served and glorified, because He has become more real to me.

The Start of the Last

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Today was the start of many lasts. Pictured above was after Kennedy and my last social media team meeting with Cameron and Cassandra. Tonight will be our last staff dinner. It was my last time today being a part of the art team book club discussions. I also had my last weekly lunch meeting with Cassandra, who has been my internship mentor for the summer. It feels strange and hard and in ways I’m not excited to leave. I’m ready to be back in Lynchburg, but I’m also just not that excited for school to start for a number of reasons. I will miss the daily challenge and global perspective I have gained here, but it will also be good for me to go back to “regular life” and see how God will challenge me to apply what I have learned. I want so badly for my friends to understand all this new perspective, but I cannot and will not force anything upon them. That is not healthy or encouraging. I know adjusting back will most likely be difficult and rather emotional. It’s easy for my brain to say:

Where does this leave me? Where do I go from here? When I am alone, suddenly countless thoughts bombard my brain, making me realize that I have still so much more to process. And there are things I know I will need to work through, but I have no idea what they are yet. I sit frozen in thought, wanting my musings to materialize into something tangible and categorical. I feel different. I’m still Adara. But I feel a little older. I still have so very much to learn, and it will take a lifetime to even scratch the surface. But I feel eager for more, to bring the hope of Christ more effectively into the community I will return to.

I feel that art will be a particularly difficult challenge. I want to pour my new convictions into my work, but it may not prove effective or successful. I’m excited to bounce ideas off my peers and see what might cause them to respond to what I am passionate about. Art is hard in that it significantly helps to enable my my work to reach a vast audience, making it more effective.

Talking with Cassandra over lunch today was very helpful in this regard. Cassandra has been an amazing support this summer and I’ve loved hanging out with her. She’s funny, intelligent, wise, and extremely caring. She is also an artist, graphic designer, and the director of Communications at Hillside. As a result, it was refreshing that she understood my questions and concerns. We talked about the communicative differences between graphic design (direct, immediate message) and studio art (more susceptible to freedom of thought and ambiguity). I realized that I try to create direct messages through paint, and that is not always very easy to do without written communication that accompanies it. It’s like studio art almost should be more conceptual. Cassandra and I agreed that there is a richness, beauty, and power to studio art that should enable it to stand alone apart from words. But, words are certainly needed sometimes, especially when communicating art from a faith basis, as seen in Gallery Edit’s artist statements.

So, as I enjoy these lasts this week to the fullest, I also am trying to mentally prepare for the transition back home. It might not be all that I hope for it to be, but it will be exactly what it should because it is what God has given me right now, all for His purpose and His glory.

This Family

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Yesterday, we spent a few hours during the afternoon helping Cameron and Cassandra move into their future home (their apartment is sooo cute oh mah gahhsshh). Even though it was tiring, it was so fun to work together to move all their furniture into their new place.

While we bent our backs, raced up and down the stairs to the fifth floor, and acted as human seat belts as we carefully transported the couches and tables in the back of Kris’ truck, I realized that I’ve learned just how much I’ve started to feel a part of the family here. I have been so welcomed into this community and it’s been amazing to be valued, encouraged, and challenged during my time here. These people are deeply caring, generous, hilarious, selfless, and incredibly loving. They have impacted me. I don’t know where the Lord will lead me, but I am forever grateful for the community I have here in Richmond. Last night during the opening reception of our new First Friday exhibit, I soaked it in as much as I could, and especially when we went to Max’s afterwards and we were all laughing and enjoying each other’s company around one table, I knew even more that this was exactly where God wanted me to be this summer.

Eternal Art

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I guess school is selfish. Earning a degree is for you. Yes, many people work in careers that aid the well-being of others, but it’s still for you. That’s ok and everything…I mean, we have to make money to eat and live. But I’ve realized a conclusion about art, specifically. I think art has an especially significant tendency to make it all about ourselves. We paint more, design more, write more, play music more, dance more, etc. to better ourselves and find enjoyment and fulfillment, and even affirmation and identity. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s too easy to become self-obsessed, to seek the praise and approval of professors and peers, and to be so hard on yourself when your work just doesn’t measure up to whatever standard you have created for yourself. Again, there is nothing wrong with being motivated and improving your skills as you continue to develop your artistic voice. But I just don’t want to do it for me anymore.

Last semester I experimented a lot more with creating art that sought to give a voice to others. In many ways it was successful, but it did not touch everyone the way it did for me. I live with the knowledge and frustration that no matter how meaningful the work is that I make, it just won’t be the full experience for most people. They cannot fully see it through my eyes or the eyes of others. I cannot fully give that experience to people through paint. I cannot choose how people respond to my work. And I cannot impart judgement on anyone for it. I cannot ask my friends what the mission is behind their work. That’s not my journey.

So often missions is not seen as a real career. But there is also the issue of elevating missions too high and making it the end-all-be-all. Again, it is about glorifying God through the work of the entire church body. Not everyone will be a pioneer missionary, and not everyone will be able to donate large sums of money to the church to further God’s work. But we each do what God has given us to do to the best of our ability.

This dilemma remains: I want to keep improving my skills and not lose motivation to gain a stronger artistic voice, but I don’t want to do it for myself anymore. How do I become better without doing it for me?

The detail of the above painting I am working on is a portrait of someone who deeply impacted me this summer. It’s hopefully going to be sent to the Middle East to be a part of launching a new art gallery there as a venue for disciple-making and church planting. I feel a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment in painting this piece than much of the other work I have done. The portraits I did last semester were done to give individuals with mental illness a voice, and I certainly found purpose in that beyond myself. But I want it to mean even more. I desire for it to be a part of advancing the kingdom. I do not now want to elevate some paintings above others because I begin to idolize the better motive. Gosh, it’s tricky.

I want to do things with my life that have eternal value. Coming to Richmond is part of that. Staying in school is part of that too. Drawing and painting on a regular basis is also part of that. I’m not sure how it all fits together, or how I will continue to work through newfound knowledge that I cannot give people the perspective I so desire through art. That just has to remain in God’s hands. It always comes back to Him and His capability despite my weakness and inability.

Obeying Both

The statistics are staggering. Within my classes this summer, I have learned that 42% of the world is unreached, 1% of mission resources go to the unreached, and 99% of mission resources go to reached nations. Furthermore, according to more research done by the Joshua Project and related missiologists, there are approximately 900 churches for every one unreached people group, and 78,000 Evangelical Christians for every one unreached people group. There are plenty of resources to evangelize the unreached parts of the world, but the awareness among churches does not appear to be as plentiful. What do we do with this? Do we abandon everything and go to a dark corner of the world and become pioneer missionaries, knowing that whatever dangers may befall will not matter in comparison to the immense need out there?

But look around you. What about the homeless, the hungry, the abused, and the neglected on the streets of our own cities? What about the countless immigrants and refugees who desperately need help finding work and adjusting to Western culture and the English language? Why go so far when there’s so much need in your own backyard? How do we make the case for world mission? Should we prioritize that over the immediate need around us?

During my time here this summer, I have wrestled with these questions immensely, and I still am at this very moment as I write. Having grown up in a church and a home passionate about both world missions and serving our neighbors, I have equated the two. I see both as equally vital.

I will attempt to come to a conclusion to this question of making the case for world mission, but I confess that I write with uncertainty and am processing this all as I go.

I feel that the most appropriate place to begin is with the life of Jesus, who is our ultimate model and example. How did He do it? Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-Cultural Connections, takes a look at this. In speaking about the difference between task-oriented and relationship-oriented cultures, he writes:

Reading the four Gospel accounts, we see that the amount of time Jesus spent with people is quite impressive: with individuals, with his disciples, with the masses, in people’s homes, on the hillside, on the road, at the well and in the towns. Everywhere he went, he invested heavily in people’s lives. At times He needed to be alone. At other times He seemed preoccupied with the task…Jesus related to people and took time for that, yet He kept His task in focus.

Jesus was living out a perfect balance of both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Matthew 22:36-40 gives us the Great Commandment: “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 28:19-20 presents the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Everywhere Jesus went, He deeply invested in people’s lives while staying focused on the task given to Him by God. He was moving in a particular direction instructed by the Father, but remained fully present during each step. The same should ring true for us. Our identity lies in the relationship we have with Christ and we must live our lives in pursuit of completing the task given to us without ignoring those immediately around us, wherever we are in the journey of life. Our task is not our identity, but rather the evidence and proof of being a new creation in Christ.

This is not to make our lives about some climactic calling. People change constantly through new experiences and unexpected forks in the road. God has different tasks for different times to accomplish His greater purpose, which is to be glorified by people from all the nations. Jesus is incredibly passionate about world missions, for those are His last words to us during his time on earth. And yet the greatest commandment is to love Him, which is primarily shown by loving your neighbor.

So, I suppose, the questions still remains: how do we obey both commandments at the same time? Those convicting, eye-opening statistics remain.

I believe this is where the body of Christ comes in. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” We all have different roles assigned to us that make our witness as believers effective. That is why we are one body, united in Christ, with many different parts. Some will be pioneer missionaries, and some will complete the general mission of the church in the backyard. Many of the most sincere, genuine Christians I know serve across the street and fund missionaries to do the work of pioneering.

To close, both commandments are crucial, and yes, I strongly believe that something must be done about this great imbalance of going to the unreached. The statistics should not be ignored. Perhaps God desires me to be a part of that. I do know yet, but I trust Him to reveal His will for me. The important thing is that we must be serving wherever we are. Are you not serving your neighbor also when you have entered a new culture to perform cross-cultural missions? Our neighbors are wherever we are, and we trust God to lead us not to some climactic final destination on earth, for this is not our home, but to give us the strength to press on with an open mind at each step in the journey. God is using His entire church to complete all the various elements of the greater task of Him being glorified, and I have no doubt that it will be done because it is the work of the Spirit, and not of man.

Two Weeks

Today I am almost two weeks from finishing my internship. I’m thinking about what it will be like to return home to Lynchburg. I’ve visited Lynchburg twice this summer, and while both were refreshing, wonderful weekends, it felt strange to go back and then return here. I get different things in both places. One is a daily, global perspective where I constantly feel the weight of the unreached. The other is developing my art while serving my community of students and grad school.

I want to remember everything I’ve learned here in Richmond. What I mean is I don’t want to forget the things God has convicted me of and put on my heart this summer as I become sucked into my assignments again. But if they are things He has for me in the future, He will remind me. He will bring them back, and continue to lead me where I must go. I also have to remember that I’m in school for a reason, just as God brought me to Richmond for a reason. I will, by His strength, remain faithful in the tasks He has given me, with an amazing amount of new information, inspiration, and perspective that I hope will enhance my art and opportunities in Lynchburg. I’ve made so much about me. I long to keep turning it all outward.