The Fight for Joy: A Turning Point

On December 31 every year, I love looking back over the last year and reflecting on what God had done and major events that occurred. But this year was different. As midnight approached, I stood and watched a crowd of 2,000 college students at Cru’s annual Christmas Conference in Indianapolis worship in the New Year (pictured below). I realized at this point that I hadn’t done my normal reflection. And, to be honest, I didn’t want to.

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I didn’t want to think about all the changes that happened, the pain of major transitions and trials, walking through circumstances and situations that I never asked to walk through, the lack of joy I experienced throughout the year, or even just that a lot of what happened didn’t go the way I expected or wanted it to go. Throughout the past year, and probably longer than that, I’ve found myself on a roller coaster, most of the time being on the losing side of the fight for joy.

In a nutshell, in the last year, I finished a thesis, graduated (pictured below), went to Europe, visited countless doctors in order to seek healing for years of exhaustion and a barely functioning body, raised support to spend a year in fulltime ministry, watched most of my closest friends move from Athens and start new lives elsewhere, celebrated the marriages of three of my best friends, started an internship with Cru, and walked through a lot of confusion, disappointment, failure, and hurt from the past and the present.

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(For the sake of this blog, I forced myself to look back on the past year. I’m thankful God pushed me out of my stubbornness to do it, because I know it’s good for me. And through looking back, I’ve also been able to see how He’s worked.)

But I’m so thankful that the Lord, in His kindness and grace, didn’t leave me in that state. A turning point really came in October when my friend/roommate/coworker/boss/etc. asked me how my fight for joy was going. And then opened the floodgates of my tear ducts. The truth was I wasn’t fighting for joy. I was stuck in a wilderness of hopelessness, thinking that things would never change. That I would never change. I couldn’t see what God could possibly be doing with my heart or how any of what He was doing could be good for me.

As the tears streamed, my friend reminded me of simple truths. Truths that I knew but wasn’t believing. Along with Scripture, these words still ring in my head:

“The Lord shows His kindness and grace by refining your heart.”

“In His kindness, He doesn’t leave you as you are. The Lord cares too much to leave you unchanged.”

“We don’t get to choose how we glorify God, but we can choose whether we walk through it faithfully.”

“We need to praise and thank God in all circumstances.”

“My life is not my own.”

“God works all things for the good of those who love Him.”

“Sanctification is a privilege, not a punishment.”

“God wants to take you from slavery to sin and your own heart to the freedom that He’s already given you in Christ.”

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Seeing joy in Christ has been the theme of the last few months for me. I’ve noticed the theme in conferences I’ve attended, Scripture and articles I’ve read, songs I’ve listened to, and in the lives of the girls I disciple on campus. And God is putting these words constantly into practice.

Since October, the fight has become harder, but these truths and the promises of God are sinking deeper. It’s amazing how God uses circumstances and situations to show me my brokenness and need for a Savior. But God doesn’t stop there, He shows us that He has already overcome our brokenness and sin, and that we have freedom and victory only through His blood and the Gospel.

So, what’s my New Years resolution? To fight for the joy that God has already provided for me. To pray constantly that the Lord would open my eyes to see His kindness and grace in all circumstances, not just the ones that go the way I want them to go. To walk through my circumstances with thanksgiving and trust that God will not leave me unchanged. That I would see and experience the Gospel. That my heart and actions would glorify my Savior.

And I desire the same for you. In my next series of posts, I invite you to walk with me through my continuing fight for joy and the simple truths God has taught me in the last few months. I guarantee that the fight is not easy, but God wants us to experience the joy and the freedom that is in Him.

For today, I leave you with the words of Psalm 51:7-12.

“Cleanse me with hyssop,and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit,to sustain me.”

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Mumbai: A City of Extremes (12/20/2010)

Immediately after I stepped off Lufthansa Flight 934 at midnight, the murky humidity hit me like a stone wall. That same humidity was incessant the entire week I was in Mumbai, India.

My first impressions of the city were those seen through the dusty windows of a 1970s bus, which took our group of Ohio University students an hour away to our clean, air-conditioned hostel in Mumbai Central.On the rickety bus ride through the city, we passed homes with tin roofs and walls made of billboard signs. There were families sleeping on concrete sidewalks with their only extra clothes hanging on thin lines of rope.

The faint smells transitioned from diesel fumes to dust, from manure to burning tires. But, as we neared the hostel, the city began to smell like smog and traffic. In fact, the weather for Mumbai often reads “smoke” or “haze” on weather.com.

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we had finally arrived.
Culture Shock
Mumbai is a city with two different worlds: extreme wealth and abject poverty. On one hand, it is home to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. But on the other, Mumbai has nearly 1.2 million people living on 20 rupees per day, or less than 50 cents, according to The Times of India.
Many Americans don’t see the side of poverty that I witnessed in Mumbai. Everyday, I watched children playing in the chaotic streets, children who were dressed in outgrown, filthy T-shirts and shorts. Dirt and dust were the only things covering their delicate feet. Young children carried their infant siblings.

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Everywhere I went, children held out their hands asking for money. The only English words they knew were “food” and “money.” Although we were told not to give the children money, we were told to treat them like children. We crouched to their level and asked them, “Aapka naam kya hai?” or “What is your name?” in Hindi.
The children would immediately respond by putting their hands down. Their faces lit up as they gave their names. Then, I would open a bag of Chickadees cheddar snack crackers and give it to them. And, usually, they smiled and walked away.

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Nearly half of Mumbai’s estimated 20 million people live in slums or shantytowns. Entire families live in 9-by-9 spaces, which function as the kitchen, bedroom and living room. In terms of material possessions, these people have virtually northing. But, they do have community. They depend solely on each other for love and support, and they can relate to one another.
One evening, I walked through an alley by our hostel. Shanties aligned either side of the street. As I wandered down the street, families gathered for their evening meals, and children ran around playing with the other neighbor children. On a single mattress without shelter, one young woman read to her sleepy infant. A grandmother, mother and two chil
dren slept outdoors on a cot. It’s almost as if the people in the shantytown are tucked away in a completely different world. Upon exiting the street, sure enough, there stood the main road with an illuminated McDonald’s and three-story shopping mall.
 

The Taste of Mumbai

In India, it seems as though everything has a zip to it: omelets, plain rice, McDonald’s sandwiches, you name it. But one thing I found particularly odd was the masala soda and masala spice chai. Masala is generally a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. So, I’m pretty sure you can imagine what masala soda would taste like. Many of us tasted the beverage, and we all had similar facial reactions. Our faces puckered up, and we struggled to swallow. The drink resembled carbonated salt water. One sip was enough for me.
Although many of the others on my trip were craving pizza by the end of our week, the food was one of the things I enjoyed most about India. But I tend to like strong flavors and spices. I’ve heard that most international food served in America is completely different from the native cuisine, but I did not sense much of a difference between American-Indian food and authentic Indian cuisine.
Because of religious restrictions, India is a vegetarian’s paradise. Restaurants are labeled either “veg” or “non-veg.” Even if the restaurant is “non-veg,” rest assured that there is always a vegetarian option. For example, I sampled the mildly spicy, lightly fried McVeggie at McDonald’s. Or at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the menu includes options such as the Veg Zinger, Veggie Snacker and Veg Rice and Strips.

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A Heart of Change
Nervously, I followed a group of four women through narrow, damp alleys.Where am I? Fear and confusion started to set in. Those feelings increased with every step. The men who passed me stared, and I felt uneasy.
I was told prior to this walk, that I was going into one of the darkest areas of the city. And I sensed the weight of that darkness.
Ten minutes later, I, along with three other women from OU and four Indian women from the Mumbai Aruna Project, arrived at a run-down, four-story building. We walked through the doorway and could see nothing. My heart pounded. Our eyes struggled to adjust as we staggered up the filth-covered staircase. Then, finally, sunlight appeared from a room at the top of the steps.
The Indian women instructed us to take off our shoes, enter the illuminated room and sit on the large couch. We obeyed.
As we entered, ten Indian women — all of whom were between 14 and 25 years old — sat on the couches laughing, putting on makeup and styling their beautiful black hair. They are my age. My age.
With the help of the women with the Aruna Project, we were able to converse and interact with the girls. Their eyes sparkled as they laughed. But we knew that behind those young faces, there was something different about their lives. Something we, as American women, could not understand.
After saying our goodbyes, we entered another room. And that is where my heart sank. The girls in this room told us they were 15 years old, but they were obviously closer to 10. I can still see the face of one child with round glasses and pigtails. She could not have been older than nine. How could anyone do this to his or her child? I thought. Each of these girls sees an average of seven men every night. Prostitution is the only life they know.
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The majority of the women were sold into the slave trade by family members when they were between the ages of 7 and 11. These 40,000 women are forced to attend to the more than 300,000 men who go to the brothels every night.
The sexual slave trade is like a cell, the women at the Aruna Project told us. (Many of the women who work at the Aruna Project were once prostitutes, and they can speak from experience.) When these little girls first enter the brothels, they are kept in chains and not allowed to see the sunlight for a few years. During those years, the girls are psychologically and physically abused. They are beaten down so that when they are finally released from the chains, they will not want to leave. As the girls get older, they are given more “freedom,” but if they go outside the brothel, they are accompanied by a pimp. Eventually, they are allowed to travel by themselves; however, they must pay.
We often wonder, Why don’t they just run away? As a part of the psychological abuse, the women begin to believe that the life of prostitution and sexual abuse is better than life on the streets. To those women, life on the street means having no food, shelter or money, all while still being sexually abused.
But there is hope: the Aruna Project.
The Aruna Project is a Christian organization dedicated to the rescuing of women and children from the sexual slave trade. Because of the years of abuse these women endure, the Aruna Project must build relationships and trust with them. The Project offers counseling, health care and skills training so the women will be able to function independently in society. Since the organization started nearly ten years ago, it has rescued more than 150 women.
The Project not only rescues women, but it also reaches out to their children. Aruna has a partnership with the Salvation Army, which provides a home and schooling for the children of prostitutes. I had the chance to visit the Salvation Army and play with the children, ages five through 14, who study the core subjects, as well as English and the Bible. It warms my heart to know that these children are the future. Let’s just say that that was the best way to spend my last day in India, with hope.

(See the original post here.)