It is Well with Her Soul

Today marks the anniversary of the day my friend Esther Boyalapalli passed away after fighting medulloblastoma for two years. To learn more about Esther’s story, please click here. The following is adapted from something I shared with my InterVarsity fellowship a few years ago.

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Esther BoyalapalliIf you have been around OneWay in the last few years or so, you have inevitably heard about Esther Boyalapalli, accompanied by an assortment of adjectives: loving, caring, strong, unwavering, faith, beautiful, perfect, godly, prayerful, and the list goes on and on. All these can accurately be used to describe Esther, but my goal is not to talk about how amazing she was, but how I saw God work in her, and what I learned from knowing her.
Esther and I both came into UT in the Fall of 2005 and became plugged into OneWay. A couple of my earliest and clearest memories of her are from RISC 2005 and a memorable trip to Kerbey Lane that a couple of us freshmen went to. And when I think about Esther at that time, the first thing that comes to my mind is her smile that stretched from one side of her face to the other, a smile that really was infectious and contagious and hardly left her face. She spoke so demurely and with a grace that I know left an impression on those who came across her. I had the privilege of serving with her on Outreach team my sophomore year and really get to talk to her and see where her heart was.

In the summer of 2007, I received the news that they had found a tumor, and it was definitely a reeling hit. She had mentioned to me about her headaches, but a tumor? My initial response was, seriously, God? Of all people, You had to let Esther go through this?? Couldn’t You find someone else?

And there I revealed a huge misconception that I had, and indeed, I think a lot of people have: that because someone is “good” and does “good things,” they do not deserve to have bad things happen to them. Because Esther was such a “good” and “godly” woman, then it was unfair that she had to go through cancer. It is a sinful idea that one person is inherently above or better than someone else, and pulls us away from what the Gospel teaches us about grace and suffering.

The next year or so, Esther went through chemo and treatment, and it seemed like she was on the right road to recovery. She started driving and was going to start school again. The huge weight behind her eyes began to lift, and you saw the joy and cheer there. Then, in the Spring of last year, the tumor resurfaced.

On July 3, 2009, Esther walked from earth into eternity.

I had the opportunity to talk to her parents, and Esther’s mom told me that Esther had some of the same worries and frustrations that everyone else had, this “why me?” frustration. Just because she was Esther, didn’t mean that she was exempt from doubt and fear. In that fear, she held onto God, and she learned what it meant to truly trust her God. But when the second round came, her mom said that it was as if a transformation happened in Esther. She was no longer scared or bothered by what was going around her, it seemed like a peace just enveloped her. And it was something that God did in her, not a peace she mustered up on her own.

Right there, in Esther, in her story, I saw the transformative power of faith in Jesus! Here was a girl that you thought had it all, down to her walk with Jesus. If I have ever known a Proverbs 31 woman, a woman who’s heart is after God, it seemed Esther was her. But through this ordeal, she learned to really hold onto Christ, and His promise, that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And she clung to it, because that’s all she could cling to. And God took her heart of fear and doubt and misgivings and gave her a heart of trust, of faith in something larger than her and larger than medulloblastoma. You could literally see how God was shaping and changing her.

I believe, and I believe the Bible attests to this everywhere, in the absolute and complete sovereignty of God. The last couple of years, but especially the last few months for me, I see how there is no such thing as “chance” or accidents. Esther’s cancer wasn’t an accident. But it was something that God gave her to shape her into the woman that God wanted her to be. For us, when suffering and trials and hard times come about, and the Bible is clear that they will, we will have fear and doubt and worry and feel pain.

But in those moments, we don’t stay in that fear and doubt and worry and pain, we look at the hope and promise of Jesus, that He works all things for the good of those who love Him, that He had a plan for us that He wrote out before we were even formed in our mother’s bellies. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. We put our faith in that promise and glorify God with our lives. We have a hope and assurance that death is not the end of the story, that death has no victory over us because our victory was won on the cross in the person of Jesus.

Easier said than done, right? As I was writing this, I thought about what this looked like in my own life, and I was convicted in realizing it’s the same thing: clinging to faith, clinging to Jesus. Our strength and hope is not in anything we can find or create in this world, and it is certainly not in ourselves. We run to Jesus.

There was a guy named Horatio Spafford that lived in the 1800s who was a prominent lawyer in Chicago. This guy ran into a sea of bad luck. First, he lost his only son, and then shortly after that, the great Chicago Fire swept through the city in 1871, which ruined him financially. He had invested in a lot of real estate and the fire destroyed pretty much everything. Soon thereafter, he decided his family needed a vacation, and chose England because his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there. Delayed because of business, Horatio sent his wife and 4 daughters ahead of him. While crossing the Atlantic, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all 4 of Horatio’s daughters. He received a telegram from his wife when she reached England that had only 2 words on it: “Saved alone.” He then sailed over to England, and the captain of the ship showed Horatio the spot where the previous ship had sunk and his 4 daughters had died. Horatio Spafford then went to his room and penned these lines:

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roar, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘it is well, it is well with my soul’

How’s that for suffering well?

We rejoice because death did not win over Esther. Because of Christ’s work, we will see her again, with a renewed body, having fellowship with her and all who have been redeemed by Christ!

Esther’s story is not ultimately about how great of a person she was, but how great our God is. It is about clinging to the the only true solid rock. I don’t know why He chose her of all people to suffer through and die with cancer, but I know that God formed the universe and trees and animals and humans and protons and neutrons, and He’s been doing this a lot longer than I have. He knows what He’s doing, and looking at Esther, I know that He loves us.

Defining Us

What defines America?

Is it our culture? Our religion? Our politics? Our landscape? Our race?

And therein lies the tricky part. You can’t compartmentalize America into any of those categories, because we are more than just that. There is more than one culture in America. More than one religion represented. More than one way of thinking, of looking at things, of living. We are the steamy stew of the West, a cauldron of every culture, religion, and idea on earth.

I was recently asked to write a very brief article on how Christianity has enriched America. I did so, and you can find it alongside other articles about the impact of other religions and faith ideas.

Now, let me lay some things out. I very much believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. He is not just “a way”. Jesus takes our brokenness and redeems it, restores us to how things should be. And if you are a follower of Christ, your role is to be His image, to restore the world through Christ.

This article is not meant to be an evangelistic piece, but was solely to show Christianity’s role in our country, and to encourage others to learn more about the faith. Several other faiths and ideas are presented on this website, and they all talk about how America has been enriched by their ideas. I think it’s a very good idea to engage in dialogue with other people who don’t think, talk, or act like us. How do we know how to reach those who don’t know Christ if we ourselves don’t know who they are or what they really believe?

I also encourage you to check out the website. The movement is called DefineUS and it’s purpose is to highlight the diversity in our nation and for greater dialogue between people who think differently.

You can find the link here. To read my article, simply click on my picture.

And if you don’t know yet… I’m the Indian guy with the beard… and a cross on my palm.

So what defines America? Well, that’s a tricky question. But what defines a Christian?

Simple. Jesus.

The Disappearing Friend Trick

We’ve all been there.

You’re best pals with someone(s). You hang out, you talk, you text, you tweet, you call, you Facebook each other. You share joys, pains, jokes, complaints, and stories. You think, “What was life like before they were in my life?” And you can’t remember.

And then, presto shazaam, abra cadabra, they’re gone.

Poof.

Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. Maybe it was gradual.

[Cue the sad music] You started texting each other less. Less Facebook stalking. Less calling. And even less hanging out.

And who has time? You have your new friends to hang out with, friends that share your interests now. Friends in the here and now. Friends that don’t ditch you. And hey, life moves on, friends or not.

And if you can identify with any of the above, rest assured that someone has felt the same way about you. You’ve blipped off someone’s radar, enough for them to notice. And miss you.

But life get’s in the way. Sometimes it may seem unavoidable.

You move. Work takes up your time. Your interests or priorities change. Drama/conflict. You go to a different school. You grow up. Insert excuse here.

Perhaps it’s not that you’ve found a new group of friends, but you’ve pigeon-holed yourself into a hermit-like loneliness. You’re trying to do life on your own and you think you do it just fine. And you complain that everyone has ditched you.

I can look back at my life, and especially the last 7 or 8 years and think of many friends that I had that simply aren’t in my life any more, or have taken a far lesser role in the production that is My Life. Friends from high school, from church, from college. Most recently, when I moved back to Dallas from Austin, I experienced this. This sense of loss as everyone, myself included, moved on with their life.

At first, I felt myself as a victim, thinking that all my friends had forgotten about me or made new friends. And then I realized that some of them may have felt the same way about me, that I had gone MIA.

And no one is to blame here. Life got in the way. Circumstances change situations. Sometimes I sit and think, “Whatever happened to what’s-his-name?” And I leave it at that, just thinking.

Have you ever felt like your relationship with Christ is something like that? That maybe you’ve grown distant? That you guys don’t talk as much, that maybe you and Jesus aren’t on best terms? That you constantly seem to screw it up?

But what does the Savior do? He pursues. He doesn’t leave you be, but if you are His, if you have known Him, He will not let the embers of relationship grow gray. He stirs your heart to remind you that He is still there. That God is still there.

Shouldn’t we emulate this in our other relationships?

Sometimes, we blame others for burning bridges and being “shady.” But truth be told, sometimes we’re the shady ones. What effort have you made lately to keep in touch with a long lost comrade? How fervently do you pursue them?

But today, I challenge you to do something else. Don’t play the sleight-of-hand in your friendships. Today, call up someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Text them. Arrange to meet up with them and hang out.  Rekindle a relationship.

Well, what are you waiting for?

experiencing nights of Passion

Dancing to the bass-pumped rock music. Amicably jostling the sweaty strangers around me. Making vows of celibacy to my true love.

Uncomfortably squirming yet?

No, not that kind of passion. Not just any rock concert. And not just any object of love.

In the Spring of 2008, I attended the Passion conference in Arlington, TX. To put it simply, Passion/268 Generation is a conference whose sole purpose is to make famous the name of Jesus, to make Him the single-most satisfying object of their affection. Boasting a worship line-up of the likes of Chris Tomlin and David Crowder, and speakers such as Louie Giglio, Francis Chan, and John Piper, the Passion Conferences have become a bit of a phenomena amidst young Christians. Energetic and moving songs coupled with Christ-exalting messages have equaled 10 years of thousands of believers uttering the official mantra, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” (Isaiah 26:8)

Passion 2011 just ended off with the last stop on their tour this weekend in Fort Worth. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go, but I’ve been reflecting upon my own Passion conference experience from a couple years ago….

The messages were simple but powerful calls to live holy, to show justice, to love just as Christ loves us. They challenged us to make a difference on our campuses, to increase Jesus’ renown by our words and deeds. And man, we were on board with that idea! We were on fire (inside joke). A few of us who had gone to the conference decided to meet up and pray, to fast, to pass out food and water to the homeless on the streets of Austin. And we did it!

And then we stopped.

“Is this really effective?” “What’s the purpose behind this?” “Okay, this is cutting too much into my life. I’m out!”

We stopped handing out food and water. We stopped fasting. We stopped meeting together…. And we stopped talking about the experiences that had so touched our hearts. Passion 2008 became just a fond memory of a great conference.

We all relish great “experiences” and think that we grow during those events. On the contrary, we’re so overwhelmed by an experience that we’re not able to focus on any one thing. It’s sensation overload!

Bam! Pow! Wow, wow!

You’re hit with truth, enlightenment, emotion, conviction… Should I continue through the gamut?

The thing is, you’re left with just.. An experience.

Growth does not occur during the experience. It happens as you reflect upon what you experienced. Then you’re able to see the truths and figure out how to apply them to your life.

When us conference-goers stopped reflecting upon the conference and implementing the decisions we made, we stunted our own growth and development, as Christians, as people.

You will “experience” something extraordinary at times in your life. Maybe it will be a sunset. A good book. A piece of music. A dream. A downright heavenly piece of pie. Don’t let that encounter woefully collect dust on the shelves of your memory! Write it down! Talk to someone about it! Ruminate on it. Let God use it to change your heart, to change you.

Prove that your life has been affected by it.

Glorify God through it.

Publish… or perish

Well, I started off with a zeal.

Yeah! Let me create a blog! Shed insight into my mind! Make my voice heard!

I created accounts on different blogging sites. I asked the “experts” of blogging about their preferences. I posted identical intro entries on all those sites.

And then, I left them for about 9 months.

What happened to that zeal? What happened to that inner passion to write and effectively have an online outlet? Truth be told, I just became lazy. It seemed too much effort for my own entertainment.

But one of my professors, Dr. Jeremy Roberts, told us something that one of his professors told him when he was in seminary: “Publish… or perish.”

It’s the idea that words, and what you do with them, have an immortal quality. Our lives as humans are fleeting, and physically, we’re going to die. As my old pastor, Matt Carter, is fond of saying, “the last time I checked, the death rate in the world is hovering right around 100%.” Homer, Shakespeare, the apostle Paul, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. None of them are around anymore…

But their words are.

And so they live on because of those recorded words. That’s how they’re remembered and interpreted.

Now, I have no grandiose delusions of including myself in such a category. Maybe I’ll be the only one to ever read these posts. But it’s better than hoarding those posts in my unorganized mind.

So I encourage you, stranger and friend… Publish.. or perish.