Not sure how to say it

So these past couple of weeks have been full of epiphany-type moments, and I've been wanting to share them but not knowing how. Here's my best shot:

I hope you all have the kind of mother that I do. Whenever I was really excited about something, she wanted to hear all about it. If I was sick, she would put a washcloth on my forehead and stroke my hair until I fell asleep, only waking me if I needed some more medicine. Or if I was upset about something, she would just let me cry, no questions asked, and wait for me to speak while she held me.

Did you know that God is like that for us? Did you know the times that he relates our relationship to that of a mother and child? One of his names is El Shaddai, God Almighty Who Nourishes and Sustains, coming from the Hebrew word "shad" meaning breast. This is the characteristic of God that I think of when I'm in pain, my mental image of God in my sorrow. A couple of examples:

"Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15).

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Matthew 23:37).

Even Paul as an apostle of Christ describes his relationship with the Thessalonian church in this way:

"But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7)

One verse in particular makes me think of my relationship with my mother:

"You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?" (Psalm 56:8)

God knows our every tear, and he records them. To me, this says that he really, truly cares about us. He is never ashamed of our tears. He is compassionate, and he understands, just as he showed us through Jesus as he wept various times in his life.

Our suffering is temporary. We know this. We have a hope that someday our tears will be wiped away, forever. Even more, our tears are meaningful, valuable, healing, growing...

Our joy doesn't come from just ignoring our pain, distracting ourselves from it, or convincing ourselves it doesn't exist. And yes, we do have joy, and it is within the pain, through it, in this hope we have, that our pain echoes something beautiful in eternity.

I was crying for a close friend, and crying for a boy I've only ever seen on a video screen, when suddenly God reminded me of 1 Corinthians 15:58 - "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." The context is the resurrection of the dead - because of this hope, our labor is not in vain. I knew this when it came to things like mission work and Bible studies. I never thought to apply it to my relationships with my best friends, my work for children on the other side of the world... these things are not in vain, and not just because he loves them, but because he loves me. He loves me enough to let me do things that are valuable in my life, that change other people, that change myself.

God is my everything, in joy, in pain, now and forever.


Adventures and such

We've been exploring more of the city lately, partly thanks to our friend Tara Linn moving here a couple of months ago. I had still only gone to one museum (Chapultapec castle: way cool) until recently - now I've gone to both Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo's houses and to Bellas Artes. I've discovered a love for the Mexican mural, one of my favorite types of art. They're huge and colorful and they always tell a story, very emotionally and politically charged. There are graffiti murals all around the city too. I'm going to miss them someday.

Tara Linn also discovered this hole-in-the-wall used bookstore through her friends at work. It's run by a bunch of middle-aged artsy/philosophical type folks. I've been with her a couple of times, and we've seen really cool watercolor art, eaten way too old "fine" cheese, and learned some of the native Aztec language, Nahuatl. We do repeatedly have to turn down their kind offers of wine and fine beers though, haha. Tiffany and Tara once went downtown to this mad-crazy art festival which apparently happens every Saturday that they told them about. Hopefully I'll make it sometime.

Today, Tara Linn and I went exploring at the Tlalpan Forest. It's really a lot bigger than I'd realized. I'd gone running there before, but just stayed on the small track. This time however on different trails we found a bee hive, plants I'd never seen before like short curly trees and strange worm-like flower stalks, giant wood creatures, crazy gnarly trees and newborn baby trees, vibrantly beautiful flowers, several shrines to Guadalupe, and probably a bunch of other things I'm forgetting. We decided before we left to go on the big track all the way around the forest, but we got lost. After winding around tiny paths and getting totally direction-confused, we started hearing screams and machinery noises. Thinking of construction and maybe a kid's club, we tried to go towards the noise to end up in the outside world again. Except, we suddenly saw the high arches of rollercoasters and I realized, we're right outside of Six Flags. How bizzare. Then we noticed a wall to our right, and had no idea how we'd gotten ourselves into this narrow, semi-pathless area... we continued on, hoping for a street or something, almost lost hope at the sight of a very high fence, but made it through a gate that said "No robes las plantas" (don't steal the plants). We made it on a bus safely in the end. :)

I'm beginning to feel at home in new ways here. Not to mention disorganized passion plays and $11 tickets to Six Flags (on purpose this time)... Who knows what adventures we may have next?


A good book I'm reading

My sister Lindsay gave me a book for Christmas called Into the Den of Infidels. It's a few stories about Muslims who became Christians. It's been really great for me to read, giving me fresh perspective on my faith and reminding me simultaneously of the need and hope for the Muslim world. One guy wrote this and I've been thinking about it a lot lately:

One day, many questions arose in my mind and totally changed my life from an ordinary one to a life full of surprises and changes. This day was the day I started high school. That period is very important to everyone, in my opinion, for in that period one starts to search for one's identity, to scrutinize things taken for granted.

Each of us has inherited our religion, language, race, and gender. No one has chosen any of these factors, important as they are and very effective in forming us. We deal with this compulsory inheritance with ourselves, with God, and with others. For example, we as Muslims are born and raised to hate Jews and Christians, and to believe that Muslims are the best people in the whole world. No one could ever imagine that the others (Jews, Christians, etc.) could be right at all. This idea of others being right never even existed, not once in a blue moon.

Very few people would think of examining the things we inherited, or of questioning how right this inheritance was. If we ask others (Jews and Christians) to examine their inheritance and correct it, it means we are very sure that they are wrong, and we consider them blind because they accept their inheritance without examination. It would be appropriate if we would to what we asked of others. (It's logical that you treat people the same way you would have them treat you.) I think that examining our inheritance and trying to discover the truth would make us deeply rooted in the good areas and more flexible to change the areas of ignorance and vanity. Surely the true God loves people who search for the truth, the light, the good, and the better life.

This has been what I've tried to do for a long time, starting even before this man says, way back in middle school. After a lot of questions and tears and confusion for many years, I finally decided to really give my life to Christ when I was 19. However, I still examine these things all of the time. It's a bit of a different process since I have decided to be a Christian and since I've grown to trust God and the Bible, but nonetheless I'm always asking questions about what exactly [this] means or if [that] really is compatible with God's word or if I can really believe the implications of [that]. It's not easy. But it's good.

I especially find myself examining my faith when I'm studying with others, even more especially when they have an inheritance completely and utterly different than mine, like my friend Momoko from Japan. She asks questions that I would have never even thought to ask. And it's not easy to find the answers together, but it's good, because like that man says, "Surely the true God loves people who search for the truth, the light, the good, and the better life." Or like the Bible says, "And without faith it is impossible to please him [God], because whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Have you examined your inheritance? Have you changed your faith over the years, pruning and growing? What have you found? What would you have me find too?