Lè kè m’ par kase ande

“When my heart is torn asunder…”

As many of you know, a couple weeks ago, I went to the country of Haiti on a medical mission trip. Going into this experience, I knew that I was going to “experience” God. I had been on countless mission trips in the states during middle school and high school. I felt like I knew what to expect on the spiritual side of things at least. On the medical side, I had never done anything like this before. I figured that I would see some interesting things, gain some experience, do some soul-searching with regard to my future career, and just see what the medical field is all about. I came back with more than I ever thought I would. God truly changed my life there.

Before even leaving the country, I knew what I was going to be walking into when I arrived in Haiti. I knew that I would disease, destruction, depravation, and poverty. And yes, I did see all of these things, but I saw something that I felt like I had never seen before: faith. The people of Haiti have the strongest faith I have ever seen, stronger than in any American church. And I felt myself become physically ill with my own country and myself. We are far worse off than the Haitian people. They have something that we don’t have as a whole. They have what matters in life.

Suddenly, everything fell apart in my mind. My entire way of thinking was changed. We have all of this money, food, clothing, entertainment, you name it. But we as a nation are headed down a path of destruction and a path that leads away from God. I cannot even describe the freedom I felt being there. I had nothing but God and people. And Jesus’ command suddenly made so much sense. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I finally understood that at least to some degree.

We have put so much pressure on people in America to look a certain way, be a certain way, act a certain way, etc. That doesn’t exist there. All of these arguments that we get in about doctrine and churches and everything that goes along with that do not exist in Haiti. The pastors of surrounding churches all meet together and talk about their congregations and their personal walks with God. They have a united church. They are doing things right. I never realized the depravity in America and especially in American churches until I experienced what a real church was supposed to be like.

There is no way to describe this feeling. There is no possible word combination that can make you feel this freedom. There is nothing I can say or do to make anyone understand what I experienced or how God truly changed my heart. I so desperately what to go back. In fact, I never wanted to leave. That place, those people, that church has my heart. I want to be there so badly. I have made friendships with the Haitian people in one week that are stronger than most relationships I already had. I realized what it meant to have a relationship in which the foundation is God. I always thought I was doing that, but I wasn’t. That is something I am now changing and working on.

This all brought me back to one verse that I have talked about before and that God always kept in the back of my mind and on my heart. However, the week I spent in Haiti helped me to truly find this renewal. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Christianity is all about the renewal of your mind. It is changing the way you think. Once we change how we think, we will change the way we feel, and then the way we act. This is when lies and sin begin to disappear. When we align our thinking with God’s thinking, our lives will change.

I discovered so much about myself, and even more about God and what it really means to follow him. My life will never be the same. I still maintain relationships with my Haitian brothers. I have seen how a church, God’s church, can stretch across oceans. I pray every day that I can be in Haiti with these people. It is truly where my heart is. I have never felt such a peace or such a freedom. I wish I could describe it in words, but it is not something that I do not think can ever be described. It must be felt.

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Ex Gratia ; Sola Gratia

So I made one of those permanent decisions recently. I got tattoos. Finally! But I thought since I got them in Latin, and Latin is all mysterious and what not, I should probably explain a little. So here’s that.

As you can see, my left foot has the words Ex Gratia tattooed on it. Ex Gratia is latin for “from grace.” This sounds pretty Christiany, huh? Well, hold your horses. This is actually a legal term. It refers to a legal act in which on party does something for another simply in favor or in kindness. There is nothing the receiving end can do about it. It just is. Now we apply this to Jesus for my case. Jesus did this for us. Sometimes I just need to be reminded of the simplicity of the gospel. Jesus took my sin. Not just emotionally or figuratively, but literally and legally. I am no longer indebted to it. To me, this phrase Ex Gratia is like Jesus saying, “It is finished.”

What I also love about this is that the meaning becomes deeper each day. It also serves to remind me that grace comes first. Just like the legal aspect of anything always has to come first. You walk into a bank and what’s the first thing they have you do? Fill out paperwork. You go to school, what do they  make you do? Paperwork. Just like legality comes first, Jesus grace comes first. I don’t need to sin just to receive grace. I have received grace first, so therefore I flee from sin.

On my right foot I have something similar (but completely different) tattooed. It reads Sola Gratia. This phrase is one of the five solae propounded during the Protestant Reformation. This phrase means by grace alone.” This is also something I need to be reminded of daily. I have struggled tremendously in the past with both extremes of legalism. I have thought that doing everything right will save you, and I have thought that nothing that I do matters because I have grace. Both of these are lies, and hopefully that is evident when they are written out. However, I have also struggled with this middle ground issue. I hope someone can relate to this. I struggle with believing God is a god of karma. Now, don’t worry, I am not going all new-agey on you. Although I will realize in my head that there is nothing in my power that I can do or accomplish or say that will save me or save anyone else, I often struggle with thinking that accomplishing more things will make God happier with me. Therefore, I think God should bless me. It is a simple, small lie with catastrophic and far-reaching implications. This tattoo reminds me that I cannot put God in my debt. God will never owe me anything because everything is already his by grace alone.

Together, these tattoos remind me that I belong to God. I am marked forever, and not just on my body. This is something that Satan uses against me, so I’m going to literally wear my struggle. Battle with me. Image