At our lowest points in life, we often find out who our true friends are. You’ll find out who’s simply a fan of your life and who’s a friend. Fans come and go. Fans are fickle. Fans leave when it’s not convenient for them. But friends remain. And a lot of the time, they’re the people we least expect to stay.
For me early on, that friend was a kid named Jake. My best friend throughout elementary school, Jake was there when no one else was, showing me from the very beginning what a true friend looked like. I have him to thank for getting me through those first few years of school, and I can honestly say elementary school (not to mention, the rest of my life) would have looked so very different if it wasn’t for Jake and his amazing railroad-track haircut.
For a guy in the Bible named Levi, that friend was Jesus. Jesus invited Levi to be part of what he was doing, and in turn Levi invited Jesus into his house, and ultimately, his life.
Jesus didn’t look down on Levi when everyone else did, just like Jake didn’t make fun of me and my curly hair and brown glasses (elementary school me wasn’t all that stylish, okay?). But loving when it’s unpopular is more than just not being mean. Jesus challenges us to do more. It’s not enough to simply not be part of the problem. Jesus asks us to go further, he asks us to invite people in — into our friend group, into our home, into our life.
Who is it that you need to invite in?
One of your coworkers?
A family member?
The weird person in your class?
Someone who doesn’t really have anyone else?
Sadly, adults can often be worse than middle schoolers at lunchtime when it comes to inviting people into our lives. We have our cliques and groups, our preconceived notions. Like the kid who’s afraid that sitting with the nerd will make him a nerd, we’re afraid to reach out because of what it might say about us, afraid of what we might lose.
Think of that person in your life who has messed up. Maybe lost his job. Had an affair. Gone to rehab.
Once part of the popular clique and has now fallen from grace and landed on the outside.
Invite that person back in! Jesus stood with people, he invited them in. When others distance themselves, Jesus gets closer. Closer to the hurting person. Closer to the person who screwed up. Closer to the outcast.
Are you quick to run and hide when it’s not popular to stay? Quick to hope someone else reaches out so it doesn’t have to be your reputation on the line? Or, are you standing firm with someone, no matter what other people say? Are you inviting people in, not closing them off? Sadly Christians are often the worst at this. Not all, but some.
Just imagine what it would look like if we actually lived this out. What if Christians were known as people who got closer, if the church was known for caring about people instead of walking away from them.
Hurting people wouldn’t be left alone. People who made a mistake would know they weren’t defined by their mistake. At their lowest moments, people would be surrounded by love.
In our darkest days, we would experience the love of Jesus like never before.
Want to love like Jesus? Pursue the unpopular rather than pursuing popularity. Seek the unpopular kids (or grown adults) out. When someone screws up, be the person that gets closer as others are walking away. Associate with the non-cool kids or coworkers. Pursue the unpopular.
It’s amazing how much power there is in an invitation. Jesus was the best at making people feel like they belonged. The person who was different felt known. The person who felt left out was included.
Just to warn you, what happened to Jesus when he hung out with Levi will most likely happen to us, too (not sure what happened to Jesus? Hint: some Pharisees weren’t too pleased with what they saw). When we begin to pursue the unpopular, others will distance themselves from us. People will judge and criticize us. Some will walk away from us.
But who really cares? I mean, really. Be like Jesus anyway! Think of Jesus going to Levi’s house. Think of Jake hanging out with the unpopular kid, me. Think of those who have stood by you when no one else did.
And choose to love like that.
Originally published in Gritty Faith Volume 12: The Harvest. Read more here.
By Jessy Paulson
Beauty Amidst The Ashes is a non-profit organization based out of Newell, Iowa, with the focus of encouraging families to engage in adoption.
The foundation of the organization stems from the personal story of Carl Christiansen, the founder. “My birth mom became pregnant at 15 years old,” Carl shares. “She made the decision to place me for adoption. While I was in the hospital with her, my grandparents prayed I would be called into ministry full time. They prayed Isaiah 61 over me…beauty amidst the ashes.”
As Carl grew, he developed a passion for sharing the gospel and a heart for sharing his story of adoption with others. “I served with Youth With Mission (YWAM) as an outreach leader, leading outreaches all over the world. I worked with a lot of orphans and saw that need there,” Carl explains. “God began stirring my heart to take this passion that was within me and run with it.”
Diana Christiansen, Carl’s adoptive mother and the business manager of Beauty Amidst The Ashes, recalls what the early days of the organization looked like, “As Beauty Amidst The Ashes was established, one of the most important things we worked to create was the foundation around who we were and our purpose. We exist to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and to educate and advocate for families and individuals that are connected through adoption. Through doing that, we are really bringing the hope of Jesus to these families and children.”
In the early years of Beauty Amidst The Ashes, the focus was on research and connecting with other groups in the region that worked in adoption, orphan care, and foster care. Carl, Diana, and the team met monthly with leaders from these connected organizations to brainstorm together on how to best fill unmet needs. “We saw these amazing organizations doing amazing things, but they didn’t know what the others were doing,” recalls Carl.
Through this collaboration the HOPE Adoption Conference was born in 2014. The purpose of the HOPE Conference is to bring the resources together into one place for people to connect to many organizations to help them with their needs. It is a place for families, individuals, and churches to find education and community.
At the HOPE Conference, it is emphasized that not everyone is called to adopt, but all are called to do something. The conference includes information and resources about fostering, domestic adoption, and international adoption. With main speakers, vendor tables, and worship, attendees use their voices together to praise God and promote change. Adoption is celebrated and education is encouraged.
“A key element of hope at the adoption conference is connection,” explains Diana. “Connecting not only with the educators and organizers but also with each other. We are all supporting each other in this journey of adoption.”
The foundation of Beauty Amidst The Ashes is four pillars: advocating, educating, equipping, and supporting. Carl, Diana, and the others who work within the organization feel their greatest leverage in advocating comes through their own personal stories of adoption. Each member of the team has a personal connection to adoption which they boldly share through their work.
“God will open the doors when He sees fit. All we have to do is put ourselves out there, tell our stories, and be vulnerable,” shares Peggy Porter, development coordinator at Beauty Amidst The Ashes. “It is a challenge to be vulnerable. Every single day is an opportunity for me to share my story, to let God use that brokenness of adoption and foster care. There is beauty, but there is a lot of brokenness. That is a challenge to relive that trauma when we share our stories, but as an organization we realize it is important to be vulnerable.”
“Our passion is there. We speak with purpose knowing God has called us to do this. It doesn’t come easy because a nonprofit is hard work but it is something that each of us do. We make it the center of our lives to speak our stories,” Peggy continues.
Their testimonies offer the encouragement families and organizations need to continue the long, tedious work of adoption and foster care. The resources provided by Beauty Amidst The Ashes and their HOPE Adoption Conference provide wrap-around support to those in an adoption journey.
As for the families waiting to adopt, Carl has these powerful words, a true testament of his own personal story, “Right now God has a plan for you. His eyes are on you. He is forming that baby right into your adoption story and something is going to birth there. Begin praying for it. Something is going to happen there. Begin praying for your future son or daughter and the potential that they have.”
“As we better grasp our adoption story in Christ, we will better participate in the adoption stories of children.” - Carl Christiansen
Beauty Amidst The Ashes exists to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ by advocating and educating individuals and families about adoption. We share our stories to evangelize, encourage, and empower people. It is our desire to bring the hope of Christ into each life story and motivate people to engage in caring for children who need families.
Originally published in Gritty Faith Volume 12: The Harvest. Read it here.
Anna Picasso is a FOCUS missionary in Detroit, MI.
Tell me your story of how you became a missionary?
I fell away from my faith by sophomore year at the University of Mary while earning my degree in Media Production Communication. In the spring semester of 2018, I studied abroad in Rome where I encountered the Lord in beautiful ways through my classmates, priests, and teachers. Soon after, Courtney, a missionary with FOCUS on campus, invited me into her Bible study. After a few months, I was leading my own. It was because of her friendship and companionship that I came to know the joy of the Gospel and a zeal for lifelong mission. I knew God was calling me to serve with FOCUS so I could give my life away in love.
How have you felt God’s presence throughout your story?
In every moment of every day, God was pursuing my heart. But first I had to open myself back up to Him in order to hear His voice. He wanted His daughter to come back home so He could send her out into the world. St. John Paul the Great said, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.” After a year of mission, I find this to be true! I’ve done and seen so much that would not be possible without God’s providence.
What God Things have been placed in your path to guide the way? (God Things are people, places and events that land in your path, pointing you toward God when you least expect it.)
My spiritual life consists of many little yesses. Yes to life-giving friendships, to joining Courtney’s Bible study, to the sacraments and prayer. God provided these opportunities of small surrender to deepen my faith so that when the time came to give a big yes to FOCUS I could. I am often amazed at all the intricate details the Creator wrote in my story. It's evident to see that He’s always had His hand in it.
What have been your biggest hurdles or challenges? How are you working to overcome them?
In mission, life is constantly shifting, pivoting, and adapting. Though exciting, sometimes it can feel unstable. In those times of uncertainty and doubt, I’m learning to see it as an opportunity to surrender more completely. Answering the call to serve as a missionary also means relying on the spiritual and financial support of incredible mission partners. My relationships, time, finances, desires, work, and leisure become transformed all for God’s glory.
Tell me about the work you do.
FOCUS stands for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. There are nearly 800 FOCUS missionaries serving in 179 locations, which includes 15 parishes across the U.S. and seven international campuses. Our mission is to share the hope and joy of the gospel with college and university students equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship, and friendships in which they lead others to do the same.
How do you feel is the best way to walk alongside another in their faith?
We are given a great gift, a method that has been modeled by our master, Jesus Christ. Christ invites others into lives of intimacy with Him. He modeled the Christian life for us by praying with His disciples, serving the poor, frequenting the sacraments and providing opportunities for them to grow. We are called to invite those we walk alongside with to do the same. In our imperfect human nature, we must allow the Lord to work through our relationships so that both people become transformed.
What encouragement do you give others to help them grow in their faith journey?
My team was faced with many challenges this past year. We were on an expansion campus where FOCUS had never been before during COVID-19. But we rooted ourselves in prayer and service, all while rejoicing over the small victories. The Lord has blessed our efforts with six Bible studies filled with incredibly enthusiastic students. I’ve seen how my personal weaknesses are transformed through God’s grace and mercy. By saying yes to the small things, we can grow in joyful sacrifice and a life filled with adventure.
Anna Picasso is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She attended the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, and graduated with a B.S in Media Production Communication. She is currently serving as a FOCUS missionary in Detroit, Michigan, at Wayne State University. Her favorite hobbies include photography, videography, painting, cooking, and traveling. To learn more about Anna and her story, visit https://www.focus.org/missionaries/anna-picasso.
Originally published in Gritty Faith Volume 12: The Harvest. Read it here.
Most of my life, I have lived here in South Dakota, the land of ever changing seasons and wild prairie winds. Here, it is clear there is a time for everything, a time for turning dirt and planting seeds, a time for front porch sitting in the shade to cool down after a long day in the sun, a time for tailgate picnics at sunset after a hard day of work, and a time for bundling up by the fireplace, watching the snow gently fall through the window.
Seasons give us a rhythm we can rely on, a steady beat from the earth of how things should be.
Most born and raised midwesterners will tell you that they love the change throughout the year. The gradual fade from one season to the next provides us with built in cycles of rest, work, relaxation, and reward. It is a steady pattern we can depend on.
As a farm kid, I fully appreciate the risk and work that goes into a bountiful harvest. The weeks of preparing the ground and planting the seeds, the months of praying for just the right amount of sunshine and rain, and the long days and late nights it takes during harvest season to fully reap the rewards of a good year.
As a creative, I have learned that my work also cycles in seasons. More times than not, I wish the calendar would tell me which season I am in, the same way it tells my dad, the farmer. But unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Instead, I look for other indicators.
For creatives, our planting season is when we are playing with new ideas and following the prompts placed on our hearts. It is when we are meeting new people and sharing the stories behind our work and our why.
Our summer is when the conversation around our work ignites. When people begin to get curious, ask questions, and tell their friends and family about what we do. It is when we lean into honing our skills and techniques and get brave about reaching out into uncharted territory. It is when we grow and stretch, reaching for that audacious dream.
When harvest finally comes, we are delighted to finally find the ones whom our work speaks to most. The people who choose to invest in our work because it feels like home to them. Harvest for creatives is found in the sales of our work, the gallery features, the licensing agreements, the big installments, the recognition, and the everyday conversations from people who are proud to own and share the things we have poured our heart and souls into.
For creatives, our winter is our dry spells, the time for rest and recharge. During this time,we get quiet and introspective. We burrow down deep into books and the work of others, watching and waiting for the spark of inspiration to strike again, just waiting for a little fuel for the fire burning inside of us to create.
One thing that helps me when I am in the middle of an inordinately long season of planting and waiting is to think about what it takes to grow a baby. As a mom of three, I deeply understand the work, rest, and waiting it takes to bring a little one into this world. For women, it takes nine months to grow a baby, but for female elephants it takes upwards of 18 months! When I’m in a typically long growing season with no harvest in sight, remembering that not all babies grow at the same rate helps me keep my perspective.
This fall, I encourage you to reflect on what season you may be in right now. Wherever you are today, know your harvest is coming. The spring and summer may take years, but rest assured the seasons will always cycle, exactly the way God created them to be.
Originally published in Gritty Faith Volume 12: The Harvest. Read this issue here.
Gritty Faith Blog
GRITTY FAITH highlights the stories of fighters, survivors, dream chasers and determined warriors. Filled with the stories, photography and art of those in the trenches, our quarterly publication sparks authentic connections through conversation and art.