We're All Different Stories-- Sharing the Same Story

This past year has been filled with many stories—not my own.

Though serving in a ministry that is predominantly story-telling, 2013 had me listening—a lot. Traveling around the US & Canada, the year quickly became a time of profound community, as I transitioned from being a blur, a faceless nomad, a speaker hired for an hour and never seen again, to a sister, a friend, and a member of many communities.

In the midst of these newfound homes, I became incredibly encouraged about the Bride of Christ. These communities all come from different cultures, races, social classes and backgrounds, and different denominations. I heard stories from 10-year-old girls in the Midwest who overcame addictions to cutting, to East Coast couples in their 30s and 40s once unable to have kids and now being blessed with adoption opportunities & pregnancies, to Southern 70-year-old men who just committed their life back to Jesus and reconnected with their 50-year-old kids.  And interwoven within every story was the same basic outline:

“I was broken. Then there was Jesus. Now I’m not.”

There was no pride. No sense that it was their specific practice, denomination, logistical method, or superior thought that led them to this place. In fact, they didn’t even have the time—or care to push an agenda or institution. They all had the same sense I now feel today—what has restored each of us is what connects us, and what connects us is Jesus. He is the thread that binds us—what made us individually and what pieces us together. And nothing is more important than what He has done. Nothing is worth talking about more.

The Bride is becoming more unified.

I know it. More and more people, pastors, and churches don't care about pushing their personal agendas, or promoting their specific Sunday-morning church meetings, and instead, care passionately about being a part of God’s Church-- capital C, the body of believers worldwide, and just pointing people to Jesus. Walls that used to separate us are falling. Though we used to think we all had our own stories, our own institutions, and our own religious cliques, the truth is that as we look upward, we realize we’re not too different. Really, we’re all... desperate. More than wanting to being right, or superior, we are hungry to know all God truly is, and to love people the best we can. More than the walls that separate us, we want the thread that binds us, and we want to add others on.

May we share our story with more people. And may we take more time to listen to others. It’s encouraging. It’s unifying. It creates a world without strangers. And though we are all different stories, we are all really sharing the same story—of a love that is without prejudice, without hatred, and without condemnation, a love that is healing, and welcoming, redemptive, and life-giving. Join me and our brothers and sisters worldwide in contributing to the Church’s outline, our common story—we all tend to go a little something like this: “I was broken. Then there was Jesus. Now I’m not.

We’ll share this story together.

I Have Big Hair & I Preached in a Prison in Alaska

I have big hair.

I’m young. I’m a woman.

I’ve never had a lot of money. My dad was an uneducated, ex-heroin addict. He later became a preacher… a street preacher; I grew up at an outdoor church in a homeless park. I’m multi-racial—as a youngster I didn’t know whom I was supposed to fit in with or what I was supposed to look like. I was never popular. I was never the best at anything.

I know what you’re thinking: Wow, this girl is crazy amounts of cool.

Obviously not. I’ve never been cool. And not only are all of these things a part of me, some days they still follow me around. I’ve been on stages in this country that I’ve been told I was “the first woman on,” or “the first non-white on.” Seriously. Those are real quotes. I’ve been told that I’m too young to do what I do. I’ve been told to cut my hair to look older. I’ve been told to straighten my hair to look whiter. I’m still looked down on by numerous PKs (pastor’s kids) I knew growing up and some I now meet on the road, because my dad “wasn’t a real pastor; he was a street preacher.” So no, I’ve never really found a box I’ve felt comfortable or welcomed in. And up until these past couple of years, I thought all of these things were negative things—vices that stood in the way of me being effective.

But then I preached in a women's prison in Alaska, and that all changed.

I performed 2 pieces and then shared the Gospel—I mostly preached about sin, true love, and true redemption (really, what else is there?). The response was powerful—I was completely humbled. As the lines of women, both guards & inmates approached me, whether with smiles or with tears, I learned many things. One, they never had a woman speaker in this prison—all had been older men, and it was extremely hard for these women and girls to receive from them. Two, most speakers that they heard from did not come from backgrounds similar to theirs (broken homes, life on the streets, addiction, abuse, etc.—all parts of my own life), and thus they felt like the speakers were better than them or talking down to them. Three, all of these women thought I looked like them. There were Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians, First Nations (what some know at Native Americans), Hawaiians, and more predominantly, Natives (what some know as “Eskimos” – though a derogatory term in Alaska.) The Natives there would pull on my hair, asking if it was real, and then commenting, “You have big hair! You look like us! Are you Native?” I looked like them. I came from where they came from. I didn’t talk down to them. I was young, I was a woman, I had big hair. As I cried out to God in the mountains of Anchorage, Alaska, all my heart could feel was, “You were designed for this.”

In his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren writes,

“Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.”

I have found this to be undoubtedly true. For me, it was my greatest vices, seeming roadblocks, and most intimate sins that allowed the connection between these women and me.

 

Everything in my life had designed me to not be the best, not to be privileged or admirable, but to be at a level that the average person, the sinner, the addict, and the woman in a prison in the woods could hear the Gospel from. It is these same vices that have allowed me to be relatable to various specific groups all over the country. Like Pastor Rick said, others have found healing in my deepest wounds.

What has your life designed you for? Perhaps there are stories in your past that you regret—because of those stories, what groups of people can you reach? Perhaps there are physical traits about yourself that you don’t always love—what advantage does this give you in certain settings? Perhaps you don’t fit in a box. What can you now do with your uniqueness to be a catalyst of a brand new movement? Because of who you are, what you’ve gone through, and what you’ve done, who do you relate to? What deepest wounds of yours can help heal others?

The things that make you unique and specific, whether your struggles or victories, are what God will use—uniquely and specifically, in other people’s struggles, for their victory.

In the Bible we see many examples of God using people’s history and past to reach a specific group of people, one of them being Paul the Apostle. He was a Jew, a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phi. 3:5), but was also a Roman citizen and was taught in very prestigious schools, learning Classic Greek as well as Koine Greek (the dialect of the common people). Because of his broad education and his family history, Paul understood both of these cultures. After his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, & 26), Paul would later become a missionary to reach both groups, both the Jew and the Gentile (1 Corinth. 9). On top of that, he used to be a murderer, and could relate to people’s dark pasts. Living amongst & understanding both of these very different cultures, as well as the many sins of his own flesh all contributed to why he was so effective to the first-century world. He looked like them. He talked like them. He had been where they had been.

He was designed for this.

Perhaps my dad, an ex-heroin addict, was the perfect person to reach the addicts and homeless on the streets. Perhaps Paul, a multi-cultured murderer, was the perfect missionary to reach many societies and tell them about the depths of sin & grace. Chances are, you can’t do exactly what I can do, and I can’t do exactly what you can do. We’re on the on the same team, but we’ve been designed with different skills & roles for different strategies against the same Enemy.

Really, I’m just a young woman, with a dad from the streets, with big hair. But now more than ever, I am excited about how I look, where I’ve been, and who I am.

We don’t have to be everything. We just have to be more of who we already are.

He’ll use anyone and anything… if we let him.

Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel." - Paul

 

I Said, "Yes."

When I was 5 years old, I learned the importance of saying, “Yes.” It changed my theology of ministry for the rest of my life.

My family’s church holds services outdoors in a homeless-congested park in downtown San Francisco (we call it Church in the Park—be jealous of our creativity). My dad was setting up the sound system when he noticed a man far from the crowd, in a corner by the gate, looking down at the cement. As the man rose to get up, my dad handed me a Bible and a pamphlet about Jesus, and said, “Go, run, hurry-- give this to that man, say ‘Jesus loves you,’ and come back to me.” I replied, “Yes, Daddy.” And ran.

My dad leading worship through music at Church in the Park. I'm the little one, just hanging with my dad.

My dad leading worship through music at Church in the Park. I'm the little one, just hanging with my dad.

I was 5. I had not yet discovered the beauty of rebellion, the questioning of advisement, or the distain towards authority. Rest assured, those glorious years were just around the corner, but at that moment in time-- at 5 years old, I had no reason to ever question my dad. I had a good relationship with my dad. If he told me to do something, I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t question him-- I didn’t need to know why he was asking, I just needed to say, “Yes,” and do it.

Life was so very simple.

Was there a time in life when we approached God this way? Was there a time when our desire to please Him was so deeply rooted within us, that when he asked us to do something, we didn’t hesitate—it was enough that he said to? Nowadays I find myself a part of a society that wants to analyze the call of God. When he says, “Go,” I want to know, “Why? What will happen?” When he says, “Go to them,” I want to know… “Why them?” When he says, “Hurry,” I want to look back, pause, question and figure out what the pros and cons are of me hurrying. When he tells me to do anything at all, I want to know first and foremost what the outcome will be. It’s no longer enough that He said to.

Indeed, we have lost our theology of obedience.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Many addicts, convicts, and prodigals coming to the Lord at Church in the Park. 1992.

Many addicts, convicts, and prodigals coming to the Lord at Church in the Park. 1992.

We’ve heard this. But do we get this? We know this by heart. But does that translate to how we live our lives? The Son of God came into the world to save us from eternity without God—the biggest event in our Christian history, and as he was going back to Heaven to be united with His Father, this call was in the last phrase He chose to say on Earth. This was the last thing He told us to do.

That is a very big deal.

But we want to know “Why?” We want to pause and figure out our life plan. We want to rethink our reputations, the costs, and if the reward is worth it. We want this call explained, before we say, “Yes, Daddy.

Because let’s be honest, we’re not 5. We’ve had some trial and error. We’ve had some doubts about God. We’ve been exposed to rejection. We’ve had some lame authority figures. And as adults who have it all figured out and know what’s best for ourselves, someone merely telling us to do something, is rarely enough for us to get up and go.

I remember running to that man on the street, handing him the Bible and pamphlet, skipping back to my dad and exclaiming, “I did it!” and not understanding what I did, or what the impact could have been. My dad would later tell me that night, and try to explain it to me in the years to come, the events that transpired that day.

“After the service, I went up to that man you gave those things to earlier today. He told me that before you came to him, he was about to leave. He had never been to this park before. But he needed somewhere to sit and think. He had a gun in his pocket, Hosanna. There was a man in the building behind us that murdered his niece, and he was about to go into the building and kill that man. But he told me, ‘After that little girl ran up to me, told me Jesus loved me, and handed me this pamphlet, I read it, and I couldn’t go through with it. I want Jesus instead. I have to change my life.’ Do you understand that, Hosanna? I led him to the Lord and he didn’t kill somebody today. Do you get that?”

I remember not getting it. I remember saying, “That’s good, right Dad? Are you happy I did what you told me to?”

My dad smiled, and probably realized then what it took me years to see: the joy of ministry is not the joy of being patted on the back; the joy of ministry is the joy in obeying God. I didn't need to know the outcome. I just knew that he said to-- and me saying "Yes" made him happy.

Years later, hanging out with my homeless friends at the release of my new album in downtown San Francisco.

Years later, hanging out with my homeless friends at the release of my new album in downtown San Francisco.

Decades later, as I live a life striving to obey this call, I remember this story. Days when I’m tired, days when I doubt my abilities, days when I want to analyze God and figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing, I remember this. I remember that man on the street. I didn’t know his story. But I ran. I didn’t know he had a gun. But I hurried towards him. I didn’t know he had the potential to turn his eternity around that day; I didn’t know the impact that small act would have on his life; I didn’t know why on earth I was running down that street. But it wasn’t my job to know. It was my job to obey.

There are times we want to know the impact we have on people in order for our sacrifice and obedience to be worth it. I hope we get set free from that disgusting pride. I hope that you and I reconnect with this child-like heart of obedience. We don’t need to know why God is telling us to hurry towards people. We don’t need to know how we impacted them after.

Life is actually, so very simple.

We just need to say, “Yes.” Because He said to. Lives could be hanging in the balance, relying on us… to not hesitate.

“Go, run, hurry….”

A Homeless Life

I grew up on the streets of San Francisco and spent most of my days hanging out with the homeless, drug-addicted, convicts of the city’s ghetto, the Tenderloin district. If there was one group of people I understood from a young age, it was the homeless. Not everybody had the same story or same life situation, but for the most part, the people I came across had nothing to their name—a few clothes on their back, a shopping cart of belongings if they were lucky, and they roamed the city with no place to call their home. When God opened the doors and challenged my heart to downsize my belongings, become a minimalist, forfeit having a home base, and start a traveling ministry, I knew exactly what it looked like. I knew what it meant to have close to nothing. In order to say, “Yes” to what I was challenged in my heart to do, I threw 2 closets and 3 duffel bags worth of clothes & shoes onto the floor and downsized to two suitcases. I sold & donated large amounts of childhood and college memories, including memorabilia from living in China, furniture, and other random items that once meant a great deal to me. In order to have this traveling ministry, I couldn’t take all of this stuff with me—it would get in the way of me going. Having so many things would weigh me down, and though some of them were extremely important to me, I couldn’t have both. Answering God’s call won out in the end. To this day, everything I own fits in the backseat of my car (about the size of a shopping cart).

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This was not just a physical cleansing—it represented something far deeper. In order to go on the road and be the woman God was calling me to be, I had to let go of a lot of—stuff. I was in unhealthy relationships. I was putting myself in terrible, compromising positions. I was living to please people who did not care about me. I was holding on to hurt, grief, and unforgiveness. I was still allowing myself to be defined by insecurities that have been haunting me for years. And when God said, “Go,” He was also very clear: “You can’t take it with you.”

Chances are, we aren’t exactly alike—perhaps God is not calling you to minimalize your material things to be practically homeless (though minimalizing is incredible—I highly recommend it), traveling from state to state every week. But maybe there is other baggage that is weighing you down from truly embarking on the adventure God has for you. Maybe you need to dump your closets and duffel bags of scars, hurts, painful memories you hoard, and let it all go. Have you felt in your life, ministry, or relationship with God that you just can’t move forward? Maybe it’s because of all your stuff. If we want to obey God, we can’t take it with us.

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I’ve watched thousands of homeless men and women on the streets of the Bay Area surrender and give their lives to Christ. The reckless abandonment they embody as they throw their heroin needles on the ground and kneel in tears crying out to God is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in a conventional church setting. Maybe it’s because they have nothing else. Maybe it’s because they have to have Jesus. There is nothing else to fill the void in their hearts; they are desperate for a Saviour. I want that. I want that desperation for Jesus. I want to throw my pain and hurts on the ground and cry out to the Lord—fully aware that He is all I need, fully aware that I have nothing without Him.

I’m convinced God is calling us to be "homeless"—to not rely on any person, material thing, or earthly identity to define us, but to be rid of all that we put before Him. He is calling us to not hold tight onto our possessions as if they are our home, to not collect our scars as if they are our identity, and to not allow our baggage to weigh us down when God has something new for us. Our home is not here. Our home is far greater of a place than we can possibly imagine. And if we hope to be there—if we hope to recklessly worship God there one day—then we must know, all of our stuff: we can’t take it with us.

Let us be identified by our true home—it’s not here. Let us let go of the load we’ve been carrying—isn’t it heavy? If we want to walk down a road of healing & restoration, we can’t take our past with us—don’t we want to be empty enough for Him to fill us?

Let’s be rid of the old—so He can do a new thing.

Let's make room.

I Travel So I'm Better Than You

“I travel so I’m better than you.” “How could you stay put while there’s so much of the world to see?”

“I’m tired of where I am, I want something new.”

“Everyone else is having an adventure— but I’m still here."

Perhaps some these quotes seem a bit extreme, but in subtler, quieter tones, don’t we hear this from people all around us? I’m captivated by a rising culture that is so obsessed with leaving, transitioning, and “going” that it fails to give justice to the courageous, committed, “stay-ers.” I’m intrigued. You’ve got my attention. Because somehow I’ve been grouped with this realm of pack-up-and-leave-ers. Indeed, people often assume I have a strong nomadic philosophy. I know this because of how often I am asked to speak about traveling, why it’s important, and how we all need to do it. But frankly, I don’t have an extreme conviction about what it means to travel. Don't get me wrong, I think it’s important and necessary to be aware and celebratory of the cultures our world is blessed with, and yes, I encourage everyone to have experiences outside of the comfort they’ve been raised in—I’m a travel bug myself, I advocate for new adventures, and I adore my purple suitcase. But when it comes down to the core of what I do and the fabric of my being— my desire to travel, leave, or “go” is not what fuels me. I've been traveling without a consistent home base for two years—when weeks are lonely, flights are long, and performances are draining, my travel-bug instincts are not enough to keep me going.

My fuel, and my reason, is simply—and only—my desire to obey.

I have no traveler’s theology. I have only a theology of obedience.

"But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you." - 2 Timothy 4:5

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Currently, the Lord has opened the doors for me to have a challenging but fruitful ministry as a nomadic speaker. He has called me to this, this way, for now. That’s why I do it. He said to. “Sometimes God says, ‘Go.’ Sometimes God says, ‘Stay.’ Both require courage, and both require for our pride to get out of the way.” This quote from a teaching I did at a college last year has stayed with me, and remains a part of my DNA. I am currently in constant transition. I currently do not have a conventional day-job. I am monthly, weekly, and daily told to “Go.” So I obey. However, the moment God says, “Stay,” I’ll be happy to obey Him then too. I am not a traveler. I am a servant of the King.

In John Acuff’s book Quitter, Acuff recognizes our current culture’s tension and comments, “At some point we stopped being stayers and formed a long line of leavers. We started seeing motion as a sign of success and transition as sign of progress.” He points out how obsessed we are with those who quit their day jobs and venture off to the unknown, and later urges readers to be “done with other people’s definition of success.” Acuff is quick to unveil what I think is hard for a lot of us to be honest about— perhaps we have success all wrong. Perhaps one’s success cannot be compared to another’s. Perhaps success is different for everyone.

Surely, being exactly where God has directed us is, in fact, success.

The woman obeying her call to spend her days at home to raise her kids to be loving, Godly children—she is a success. The man obeying his call to work the night shifts as a prison guard to be available for the inmates and his co-workers as a man of compassion & wise counsel—he is a success. The girl who is nomadically living out of a suitcase to tell the story of Christ through poetry— if she is being obedient, she is a success. If we compare our callings one to another, are we not telling God that His desire for our own lives might be insufficient? We must allow God’s direction to be our standard, and not the ever-changing opinions of our peers, culture, and world.

Above all else, we need a theology of obedience—the humility & courage to put our agendas and our desires second, and do whatever it takes to "fully carry out the ministry God has given you."Sometimes we need to pack up our suitcases, leave comfort behind, and uproot. Sometimes we need to unpack, grow where we’re planted, and invest in a specific community.

Sometimes, it’s “Go.” Sometimes, it’s “Stay.”

But if I’ve read the Gospel correctly, then for each of us, the call is always, “Obey.”