Monday, December 26, 2011

Being the One Waited For



I stepped off the airplane and moved down the ramp with my luggage. I flew into Grand Island, NE this time, a small town with an even smaller airport. As I walked toward the single gate, I see my dad right in front, looking and waiting for me to get there. He hugs me, grabs my luggage away from me and we head out to the car.

After we're buckled in and on the road, his cell rings. He answers and I hear my brother's voice say "Has she landed yet?" I laugh at the tone of his voice. Our plane was 30 minutes late, but I knew Randy was impatient for my arrival. He's always been that way.

After a few minutes, my dad hangs up the phone and tells me that Randy has prepared a vehicle for me to drive for the week if I need it; being from a family of farmers we rarely have a shortage of extra pick ups and SUVs around. He asked if I wanted to pick it up on the way or if Randy should take it up to the house. I told him we could simply stop by the shop to pick it up to save him a trip. (After all, it is a 12 mile drive.)
Dad and I made our way through town with Mom's list of things to do before we came home on the dashboard in front of me. We stopped at my brother's bank (he's a fancy VP there) and dropped off some cookies for his co-workers. I needed to stop at Walgreens to get the liquids that wouldn't fit into my quart-size bag on the flight. Lunch stop at Valentino's (my favorite pizza!) and we were finally on our way home.

I realized something I've never thought about before: Jesus is not the only one people wait for during the Advent season. I was someone my family had waited for, too. All the preparations had been made, from the flight pickup, to the car, to the sheets on the guest bed being cleaned. I hadn't been home since last Christmas. In some ways, it felt like it had been forever. In others, it felt like I never left.

As we get older, move away from home and establish a life separate from our families, coming "home" feels different. I waited for it, desperately homesick, needing a break from ministry and from Arizona. I needed a break from people needing me, and I needed to be in a place where I could just be me, and not the one others expect me to be. I am blessed that my family gets that. They get me. They even made preparations for me and waited for me.

Not everyone gets that. How blessed am I?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Hush of Advent

I'm teaching a two-part series on Advent on the 11 and 18th of this month, so I've been studying, writing, and researching about the history of advent, the scriptures associated with advent, and how the church practices (or often, doesn't) it. I write a lot of curriculum. It’s part of my job; it’s what I love and a big part of what I am called to do. But this one has been tough. I’ve had a hard time motivating myself to get it organized. I’m put it off in lieu of other things. I have not been able to sit down and write this one easily. And it took me a while to understand why.

On the Meyer’s Briggs personality test, I am an INFJ. When I first tested for this in seminary, I was borderline N/S and F/T. Then when I had to do my family genogram (http://www.genopro.com/genogram/) for my Marriage and Family Counseling class, I discovered something very interesting. I had my immediate family all take the Meyers Briggs and the rest of my family all tested as S’s and as T’s. My counseling professor (Dr. Zink) told me this is why I am on the borderline of both N and F, saying that I was probably naturally an N and F, but my environment (i.e. family) forced me into acting more like an S and a T. (Then, of course, I recall how Dr. Zink told me those were the two that are the hardest to be different from your family. Story of my life – once a black sheep, always a black sheep.)

What does this have to do with Advent? Weirdly enough, snow.

Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while know the love affair I have with snow. It’s God’s cruel joke that he called me to a church in southern Arizona, because of how much I love snow. I love that after the beautiful fall colors fade to brown, snow blankets the earth with sparkly white jewels than shine in the sun. Snow settles the earth down, because people don’t like to drive in the snow (it’s dangerous). They don’t go outside (because it’s too cold). Snow makes the word stop. So it should be with my heart and Advent.

I think there is some beauty with Advent being the start of the church calendar and it’s a season of waiting. “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;” – Ps. 37:7

We are called to wait for the revealing of God’s will in our everyday life. The season of Advent is about celebrating the second coming of Jesus, which hasn’t come yet. So we wait. Advent is not part of Christmas. It’s preparation for Christmas. It’s preparation for his arrival. Because I’m introverted, I prepare in a “put my head down” kind of way. I’d much rather be in my head, think it all through, then carefully work through it outside myself. I don’t always get that luxury, but that is my preferred way of functioning.

This is where I am making the connection – the “S” side of me (the sensing side, which prefers experience over intuition, the concrete over the subjective.) In other words, the things which use our 5 senses: touch, smell, site, hear, taste. For me, seeing snow sends me inside… it makes me quit and reflective. Snow does, in many ways, represent a kind of death for me. The bugs die, the plants die, the grass dies. My environment of snow is a way the sensing side of me triggered my heart and mind to become reflective. Snow is a way the world is hushed.

But here in Arizona, the season of Advent is when you go outside. It’s 70 and beautiful. The sun shines, it’s finally comfortable weather after 6 months of 100 degree temps. This is not the time southern Arizona calms down. This is the time it comes alive. Winter visitors come in droves, traffic picks up, tons of bicyclists hit the road. This is not a quiet time for Arizona. And my brain, after years of living in the snow in December, is wired to shut down this time of year. And I realized this is always helped me celebrate Advent properly.

So this season of Advent feels very strange to me. My first winter here I had so much on my plate at work that I barely got through the season and survived. This year, I was in a position where I could delegate more work, and therefore, have more time to focus on the things in my gifting and strengths. And here I am… struggling with one of my strengths. All because there is no snow.

Ok, well not “all”. I’m pretty sure I have some fault in this. I need to figure out another way to quiet myself. I should, anyway, even if I do live in a place where it snows. Snow just made it easier for me. Now I’ve just got to do some hard work.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Homesick


I found myself caught off-guard tonight as I looked at a photo my friend Jim posted on facebook of his new baby boy. The next photo was one of him, his wife and he now oldest son, sweet, smiling and happy. I began to tear up.

Three people my second year in St. Louis changed me, and he was one of them. Not because of anything in particular he did, but because of a shared experience we had. These three people mean the world to me, and yet our shared experience was just that: a shared experience. We haven't really been in touch since I moved to Arizona... just a few emails and some ichating, and the occasion twitter convo.

I long to be back in that experience with them.

I recognized the feeling. The feeling of homesickness. The feeling of love, protection and support you get from being around those who understand you. I know that's rare for many people, and perhaps even a bit more so for me. I've lived a somewhat transient lifestyle. From Nebraska to Kansas to Colorado back to Nebraska to Missouri to Arizona. Probably somewhat unusual for someone my age. Right now, I don't really have a place I can call home. But I find my home in the people who changed me, the people who get me... and as I ponder this more and more, I'm realizing it's the people who don't demand things from me, but just love me and support me for who I am.

Sure that a lot of this is coming from where I am at in my life right now, I can't help but feel self-indulgent and kind of like a baby. When I was growing up I pretty much consistently demanded and expected to get my way. Thankfully, my parents rarely gave in to me, determined not to spoil me. I still was, to an extent. I lacked for nothing. But I didn't always get my way so I do feel somewhat grounded in my life. But God also wired me to care for people, and I often do that instead of care for myself. One of the ways I was cared for while in St. Louis was having this shared experience with these three people. I miss them desperately. And I'm in the process of trying to understand if it's because I just miss them... or because the burden of ministry work is getting to me and I need to step away and take a vacation. But I worry that taking a vacation would just result in me thinking about work the whole time. BUt I know that I long to be back in community with those three people, who made a class project so much less painful than it could've been, because they loved me for who I was, valued my input and made the pain of the final presentation (a story in and of itself) endurable.

Am I homesick for my old life? Am I homesick for support? I hate that I can't figure out why I feel homesick. Because that means I can't solve this problem. Without knowing the root I'm require to just sit here and grieve. And I don't even know what I'm grieving!

Help me understand, Lord. Help me understand.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Top 10 Best Characters in Bad TV Shows

It's been a while since I've posted anything pop culture related, and if you've been a reader for a while, you know it used to be a very common staple around here. But my pop culture tendencies have been satisfied at work in the last year, as I've had the chance to work pop culture into two classes I've taught and two curriculums I wrote.
But here I am getting that itch again and had an idea today as I was watching a bad TV show. Often bad TV shows have at least one character that is somewhat likable, and sometimes even very likable. I have my own guilty-pleasure TV shows I watch from time to time and was trying to figure out why... and voila! I realized the show is usually somewhat redeemed by one great chracater that I either love or love to hate. Either way, love is involved. So here we go:
10.) Bruce Van Exel on "Judging Amy"
Richard_t_jones
I was a regular watcher of Judging Amy for a couple of seasons back in the day, before A Brenneman began to annoy me and her character even more. But one consistently great character on the show was Bruce, Amy's co-worker at the courthouse. Bruce was, in many ways, the moral center of the show, as well as the person who grounded Amy the most. We all need that person in our life. Plus... he's soooooo handsome.
9.) Jane Deaux on "Dharma and Greg"
Shae_dlyn
Dharma and Greg was never a great show, but never a truly horrible one either. It never become a "can't miss" for me, but even today I'll pause on it if I see a re-run airing. Try as they might to make Greg and Dharma interesting characters, Jane was far more interesting and completely hilarous. Shaie D'Lyn didn't get near enough screen time, but when she did, she stole the scene. (Well, mostly the whole espisode) And she made the show completely worth watching.
8.) Deputy Andy Brennan on "Twin Peaks"
Harry_goaz
I have a long/hate relationships with Twin Peaks. I loved it when it first aired on TV, though at the time I never had the chance to watch it all the way through to the end of the final season. And I was pretty young when it first aired, so that was probably a good thing, as the material was inappropriate for someone my age. There were many things about the show I loved, but also many I hated. As an adult, I realized now much of my hatred is due to me not fully embracing Lynch's surrealist style and just letting myself go and really be in the story.
That said, whenever Dupty Andy was on the screen, I was in full-on love mode. Adorably dim and sweetly innocent, Andy made the underground seediess of small town America seem less painful. I recently rewatched the whole series on Netflix, and while I still don't love it, I can honestly admit it scared the crap out of me. No TV show has ever done that, and for back in 1990-1991, that was pretty-ground breaking for public television. And one of my favorite moments is when we see Andy putting put posters around town and he has scotch tape ALL over his face. So funny.
7.) Piper Halliwell on "Charmed"
Holly-marie-combs
I admit it: Charmed is a guilty pleasure of mine, particularly Season 2-4. But I will be the first to admit that the show is mostly crap-tastic. However, Piper, first as the middle sister then as the oldest sister, was consistently the most watchable character on the show. But then again, she was up against that brooding anger of Shannen Doherty and the obnoixious attitude of Alyssa Milano. (And don't even get me started on Rose McGowan. Ugh.) Too bad they saddled her with the worst husband ever and some really bad dialogue. But Holly Marie Combs almost always brought honest emotions to even the worst of the material and makes it worth it for me (some of the time, anyway. No episode in Season 8 is watchable at all).
6.) Mallory Keaton on "Family Ties"
Mallory_keaton-family_ties_cool_funny_interesting_amazing_200907301818274970
I loved Family Ties when I was a kid, but I watch it now and it's painful. Meredith Baxter Burney chews the scenery in every episode and Michael J. Fox's portral of the arrogant Alex Keaton is not enduring, but simply obnoxious. But the character of Mallory Keaton, and Justine's decent portrayal of it, always rang true to me.
5.) Birttney Pierce on "Glee"
Brittney_on_glee
Okay, so I'm not exactly sure I could quailify Glee as a "bad" tv show yet, but there have been some serious low points in the brief time it's been on the air. However, those are easily outweighed the by the high points. (Rachel and Kurt singing Defying Gravity, everything Arty does (though he is sadly under-used), the development of Kurt and his father's relationship, Rachel singing Streisand at Regionals, Puck becomcing human, how they handled the gay bullying story-line, Sue doing Vogue and all her hilarous hair jokes, for example). So it was a tough choice for me to pick which character to put on this list, but week after week, Brittney has the best line of the episode: "I think my cat is reading my diary." "I was pretty sure Dr. Pepper was a dentist." ''When I pulled my hamstring, I went to a misogynist.''
4.) Miranda Bailey on "Grey's Anatomy"
Chandra-wilson-2
Holy cow, has this show been bad. Really, really bad. But it has also had some really brillant moments, and many of them are because of the bad-assery of Bailey, brillantly played by Chandra Wilson. Bailey cuts through the crap of all the soap drama, and when she makes one of her awesome yelling speeches, I am reminded of why I give the show chance after chance. Of all the characters on the show, I feel as if she's been the least subjected to the typcial character assasination that often happenes on long-running shows looking for new plot devices. Bailey's been consistently hard-working, utterly compassionate, ethically upright and a great teacher to her interns. I cannot say that for the rest of the cast of characters.
3.) Genevieve Gorder on "Trading Spaces"
Bl-genevieve3
Okay, I realize I'm stretching it a bit since she's an actual person, but here is why I picked her: in a show that eventually became a virus - on every single day and twice on Saturdays - this original and creative show idea become soooooo stale and awful. But Genevieve always brought style and personality to the show an in general was just... fabulous. I was always happy when she was one of the two designers in an episode, which happened far too little in the later days after she got her own show. I appreciated how she really listened to what the homeowner wanted and needed yet still made it her own style. That's a rare combo in a designer. Especially on that show.
2.) John Cage on "Ally McBeal"
Macnichol
In the same vein as Grey's Anatomy, wow... this could be a really bad show when it wanted to be. But the character of John Cage was written brilliantly and acted even more brilliantly by Peter MacNichol. Despite all the so-called "feminism" of the show and the whining of Ally about her love life, the quirkiness of it all won me over (even if the last season was truly awful) and the biggest part of that quirkiness was the character of John Cage. He consistently made me laugh with his bathroom dismounts, his pet frogs, his "fresh bowl" and his Barry White dancing. He left as the show went awry (smart move) and the Biscuit will always hold a special place in my heart.
1.) Pacey Whitter on "Dawson's Creek"
Joshua-jackson-2
I never watch Dawson's Creek while it was on the air, but I had a friend who who urged me over and over to watch it so I relented and watched it on DVD. And it's really, really bad. Bad chick-rock music, ridiculous dialogue, unrealistic portrayal of teenagers and far too much angst. But Pacey, Pacey, Pacey... he was the show's star (though only deemed the "side-kick best friend"). He also managed to stay free from character assasination, and the writers did a decent job keeping his character, especially his strong sense of justice, intact during the show's 6-season run. Despite my hatred for the Dawson character and his flaring nostrils and my disdian for Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson's redition of a wounded kid with hero-tendencies and what looks to me to be the best hugger EVER, made this show bearable for me to watch. Even if it was just once.
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Understanding Ezekiel 18:24


Because I mentioned Eziekel 18:23 on Sunday evening in the wake of Bin Laden death, I managed to stir things a bit. I've had more time to process what I was feeling and experiencing (and yes, I cried again earlier this evening, as I read Jim Wallis' response to this issue (www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/how-should-we-respond-to-bin-laden-death_b_...). No, I haven't changed my mind. I don't anticipate that I will. But watching several people on twitter and facebook throw out scripture to support whatever opinion they had was interesting and sometimes painful for me.

I do believe that all people, with good guidance, can come to understand scripture better, and certainly "as a whole"... knowing that while it's hard to understand, it does not contradict itself. Just because I have been to seminary and perhaps have an understanding of proper exegesis a bit more than the person who hasn't doesn't mean I am smart or better or that everyone can't understand, too. I am an educator at heart, and wish to respond to this verse (Ezekiel 18:24) which was one of several thrown out by those who oppose my view, after citing the verse just before it.  I believe in the importance of taking his word seriously and thoughtfully

Sidebar: In case you aren't sure of my view, here's where I am at: while I am relieved Bin Laden was captured and is no longer a threat in the war on terror, I cannot, in good conscience, celebrate his death... because he is a lost soul. I tried to picture Jesus Christ in the crowds of people surrounding the White House and who gathered at Ground Zero, and I realized he wouldn't be waving a flag, and chanting "U.S.A." in celebration. Jesus taught us lessons in parables, and the parable of the Lost Sheep is one that first comes to mind. The Lord pursues us and wants us to come to know him, and he would leave the flock to find just one who is lost. What compassion and love! He wouldn't rejoice over one who has rejected him, but would weep for his lost soul. Because I believe this, in no way means I discount God's wrath. The two are simply not mutually exclusive. I can believe in his compassion and his justice without compromising the gospel. After all, Jesus' very act of the cross proves my point.

Ezekiel 18:24 says this:

But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In the case of this passage, the prophet Ezekiel is speaking of God's judgement on Judah and Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C, and Ezekiel was sent to prophecy about the visions God gave him beginning in 593 B.C. Honestly - I find Ezekiel to be one of the most difficult books in the bible to understand. It's hard to get through. It's repetitive and sometimes confusing. But the more we know about its purpose (i.e. the original audience the book was written to, as well as the original audience that Ezekiel was speaking to) helps us comprehend it better.

At first glance, one would almost think this verse points to the Arminian view that a person can loose their salvation. And if you can loose your salvation, than it stands to reason you can earn your salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us this isn't how salvation works.) So where does the good comes from? Us? Nope. There are two reasons why this isn't the case: First, there is no one righteous without the grace of God. We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and are only able to choose good because of his grace (Romans 2:15). Knowing this, we have to look at the verse a bit more to fully understand it, because as I said earlier, the Bible doesn't contradict itself, so closer examination is necessary.

Here's the kicker: Verse 21 and 22 consider the wicked person who then repents and lives rightly before God. Verse 24 considers the opposite scenario. Sandwiched between these is the central declaration of God's “pleasure” (verse 23... the verse I cited) in repentance, and a denial that he has any pleasure in the death of the wicked. (My source here is the ESV study bible)

To further prove my argument from verse 23, (that the Lord doesn't delight in the death of anyone), is Ezekiel 33:11:

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

There is no way I could fully cover this topic, (I'm not smart enough!... and I have a life) but I hope this briefly illustrates the importance of not taking scripture out of context. And to close, I will also say that while this verse (24) does say that a wicked person will die, it STILL doesn't support the idea that we can rejoice in such death. We are called to live lives that honor the Lord and reflect his image back to the world. If God doesn't take pleasure in the death of the wicked, why on earth should I?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Justice and Mercy

A twitter post led me to turn on CNN at around 8:15 tonight. And unless you live under a rock, you know why.

I sat there stunned, not sure I should believe what was being said until I heard it from Obama's mouth. I watch the CNN coverage as they showed people starting to gather outside the White House at Lafayette Park. I did a google search. I watched twitter, searching for #binladen hash tag (man... I'm in the digital age).  I was stunned.

Then I cried as Obama said "The images of 9/11 are seared into our memory." I listened as Obama as he said these eloquent words: "The American people did not choose this fights. It came to our shores. It started withe the senseless murder of thousands of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle and sacrifice we know well the cost of war." Yeah, I was in full-blown tears by then.
As the crowd got bigger outside the white house lawn, I simply couldn't join in with their cheers and chants. My heart was breaking, though I couldn't identify that emotion until later. The celebration didn't feel right, but what was I supposed to feel?

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? - Ezekial 18:23

God's justice and mercy are two of his characteristics that many of us have a hard time reconciling. I fully understand that my sin deserves a great wrath from God. I also fully understand that his mercy is so great that I do not have to feel the full force of that wrath thanks to the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. I also can identify with the feelings of vengeance we all had after 9/11. 9/11 hurt and we all felt the pain of what was happening. It wasn't just the death of thousands of people... it wasn't just the attacks on American soil. It was the shattering of our invincibility. It was the shocking realization that our world would never be the same again. Though we were the #1 nation of power, we were not immune. Realizing and experiencing that through the images of wreckage from those airplanes changed everything for us. Our world was altered and I sincerely believe that's where much of our vengeful thoughts and actions came from.

I relived part of 9/11 tonight and I admit...to know Bin Laden is dead is a huge relief. I am proud of our President, our troops, the Pakistani intelligence that helped, and the courageous soldiers who went into that compound in order to make this world a safer place. But could I rejoice? Absolutely not. A member of the congregation I serve said that celebrating justice and celebrating death were inextricable in this situation. When I read that I realized my tears were not just of remembering that fateful day almost 10 years ago. I was crying because my heart was broken. Another soul condemned to hell's devastation reminds me of the brokenness in this world, how our sin has messed it up, and that the celebration of a death is expected in the case of one who does evil things.

But God's vengeance is not something to celebrate. It is something to be fearful and be in awe of. His great and bountiful mercy is something to fall on our knees and be grateful for. My choosing not to celebrate, but rather mourn, on this historic day doesn't mean I believe we shouldn't have gone after him. We had to go after him. But I simply cannot picture Jesus in that crowd outside the White House, waving a United States flag and chanting "U.S.A!"

He is weeping for another lost soul. And I am weeping with him.

We must reach out beyond justice to mercy
Going more than halfway to forgive
And though the distance seems so far
The love that used to hold our hearts
Longs to take us beyond justice to mercy

-Susan Ashton, "Beyond Justice to Mercy"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Who's House Am I Serving?

Elephant_skin

Being a people pleaser leads to heartache 100% of the time.

This is an aspect of my life that I hate. There is this 18 inch space between my head, which know I cannot please everyone, and my heart, that wants to make everyone comfortable and happy. I fully realize I can't give everyone what they want, but I do believe in the power of compromise in order to help people feel comfortable and happy. This is often where I get into trouble.

Last night was the finale for our Wednesday night ministries until we start back in the Fall. The last night is always pizza night, which people love. I'd planned a simple night for everything else - the kids would sing some of the songs they learned, the bell choir kids performed some of their songs. They would do this during sinner, and then they would get to eat. Then we brought in a local reptile guy who has crazy creepy crawly things like scorpions, snakes, lizards and spiders. It was such a fun night for the kids. The adults and the youth groups opted to stay instead of go to their class (I asked the leaders to let them vote on it the week before). So the room was full of adults, students and kids, enraptured by this guy telling us about the creepy crawling things from Genesis, then the snake from Genesis 3, then eventually reminding us that like all the creepy crawly things that have a purpose (to eat other bugs, for example) we so much greater than them, so God must have an awesome purpose for us.

It was a lovely way to end the 12 weeks.

Then this morning I get a nasty facebook message from someone (not a parent) upset they missed the kids singing because they couldn’t come to dinner because of a food allergy. So I’ve spent the last two hours going through all the things I did to make sure people knew what was going on the last night, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. I’d made announcement during the last few weeks of dinner, I’d communicated via email with everyone teaching and the pastor, who teaches the adult, knew exactly what was going to happen. The kitchen staff knew what to expect…

I get this message and nearly break down because of this. What is wrong with me?

I have a long, torrid history with criticism. Just when I think I’m getting somewhere something like this happens and I feel like I’ve taken three steps back. Once again, I find myself seeking my identity in what others think of me rather than just doing what I am called to do to the best of my ability. Is it ever possible to get over this? Is it ever possible to take criticism with grace? Is it possible top take it without it getting personal?

Will my skin get any thicker? And will I learn who's house I am serving?



 

 

 

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Longing

Broken_heart-

Aside from giving up coffee and soda for Lent, I also gave up going to Starbucks. I love their tea, their smoothies, their lemon loaf... so I would have had many other reasons to go there aside from the "no coffee" rule.

I live in a town that has Starbucks in three different grocery stores. I was at one of those stores yesterday, and as I walked through the Bakery section, Starbucks was on the left and the smell hit me. Mmmmmmmm. I love the smell of coffee, especially the smell of Starbucks coffee. It immediately transports me back to seminary, because there was a Starbucks on every corner and it was a great place to study. You could usually find me at one of their locations on Thursday and Sunday nights, as well as Saturday mornings. (I lived in a house with 5 other girls so the house was not the best place to get some work done.)

Does anyone else feel their heart hurt when they long for something? I was exploring a Doctorate program at a seminary a few days ago and I got this ache. I feel it when I miss someone, or when I remember a tough time in my life, or I feel it when my heart breaks. It really just does feel like an ache... and painful sense of longing for something that I want to be different in my life. Sometimes it's something I can change, sometimes it's something I can't, sometimes it's something I need to work on, and when it comes to Lent, I recognizing it's something I want to WANT to change. I didn't feel that ache at Starbucks yesterday, but I didn't recognize my emotion as "longing" and it got me thinking.

How lovely is your dwelling place,

O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints

for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

to the living God. -Psalm 84:1-2

In desiring a grande soy carmel macchiato, I saw that my soul longs for the wrong things. So often, my soul longs for comfort (see my previous post). As I read through Psalm 84 today, I was struck by the last two verses:

For a day in your courts is better

than a thousand elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;

the Lord bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does he withhold

from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts,

blessed is the one who trusts in you. - v. 10-12

I think it's no coincidence that the last verse mentions trust in the Lord. It's given me much to pause on this day.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

An Early Lenten Lesson

So, my first 5 days of Lent started out wonderful.... with me being sicker than a dog.

I woke up Wednesday morning without a voice and by the afternoon I was so weak I could do little more than lay on the sofa and feel sorry for myself. I was scheduled to speak at a women's conference on Saturday, as well as lead worship at th e start of the day. So I did whatever I could not to talk in order to save my voice.

Saturday morning came and I made it through, though not sounding great at least I had some voice. But after leading worship for 30 minutes, then giving a 45 minutes workshop twice I promptly went home and crashed. When I woke up I was starving (as well as feeling a bit sorry for myself that I wasn’t at my peak that morning in front of over 100 local women). I heated up some leftovers and made a decision: to open and drink that Diet Dr. Pepper I had on the door in my fridge.

Let me back up:

I gave up coffee and soda for Lent this year. Soda is a common thing for me to give up - I drink far too much of it, it's expensive and it's bad for you anyway. This is the first time I've felt I needed to give up coffee. I'm not a "need a cup every day" kind of person. But I do find myself gravitating toward to more often than I have in the past, so I added it to the list.

So... back to Saturday. I opened that can of soda, heard that fizz of carbonation, and thought about Lent. Even before I open the can, as I was puttering around the kitchen making myself a plate of food, I kept thinking "Will I or won't I? Should I or shouldn't I? What does giving something up for Lent really mean, anyway? I'm not sure I really care that I stick to this anyway."

I took the first few bites of food and felt this almost sizzle-like feeling in my mouth. I wanted that soda. So I took a drink.

And it was disgusting.

I hadn't had soda since Tuesday, and my taste-buds had already adjusted. Each time I've given up soda for Lent in the past it's been hard to go back because it simply tastes so syrupy-sweet and decidedly saccharin. I had to ask myself why, when there was tea and water available to me, that soda was where I went for my "default"? And I can't really explain it... other than to say there is this satisfaction that happens in my brain when I take me first few drinks of any kind of carbonation. 

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know where I'm going with this. 

Everyone, in one way or another, has a way they comfort themselves. For some it's taking to a certain friend. For some it's certain kinds of food or exercise. (I had a roommate in seminary who worked out 3 hours a day.) Some people like a good nap or watching a movie as a form of comfort... maybe it's reading a great book with a great cup of tea in your hand. I realized that soda had clearly become a form of that for me. I felt bad. I wanted to feel better. I think soda can do that for me. What was humbling (though not nearly humbling enough, for my great pride got in the way) for me was knowing that I have a much greater source of comfortable available to me. <span style="font-weight:bold;">And this, my friends, is why we celebrate Lent. To discover our idols, knock them off their pedestals and put what rightly belongs on the pedestal in the first place: God.</span>

The God of great comfort is waiting in the wings, wanting so badly to be the one I run to when I need comfort, satisfaction, and well, just to feel better. And I am choosing soda instead? What is wrong with me? It is in these kinds of revelatory moments that the devastation from the Fall brings me to my knees. I weep and mourn for the brokenness in my heart and in the world.

But as the season of Lent doesn’t last forever… neither did the Fall.  Jesus is redeeming the world, our hearts, and his people. May I not only live in the light of that fact, but learn to live in the light of his willingness and love for comforting me when I need it the most.

 

O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

 

For you have made the city a heap, 

the fortified city a ruin;

the foreigners’ palace is a city no more;

it will never be rebuilt.

Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;

cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

 

For you have been a stronghold to the poor,

a stronghold to the needy in his distress,

a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;

for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall

-Isaiah 25: 1-4

 

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hope

When most people think of the book of Joshua, they don't think of the word hope. After all, there are some kings that get hung from trees, a man named Achan and his family stoned to death because of their sin.... death, destruction, war. These are not exactly cheerful buzz words.

But I find many of the words in Joshua comforting. I guess because there is no logical reason that blowing trumpets would bring some walls down. It doesn't make any sense those spies survived the trip to Jericho without getting caught, or that a bunch of stones could part a river to allow the Israelites to cross. It was crazy to think that all those men who were circumcised just before going to battle would actually be able to fight at all. Ouch.

All the odds were against God’s people. But there is one great truth that lies over the whole book: “The Lord fought for Israel.” (10:25)

Over and over you read impossible story upon impossible story… and God is always faithful to his people. He fulfills promises, he grants them victory, and once again, gives his chosen people what they don’t deserve: the Promised Land. That gives me hope.

Just as God’s word never returns void, I know that he always has my back. He always fights for me. I know this information, for he’s done it for me over and over again, and I’ve seen him do it for so many of the wonderful people in my life. And I can always open his Word and see how he has continually pursued us, never giving up on us. Never giving up on me. That gives me hope.

But as a wise man once said, “the longest distance in the world is the 18 inches between your head and your heart.” I believe in this hope. I really do. But am I living like a believe it? Am I living in the light of the gospel’s hope? Has it penetrated my heart?

Hmmmm. Something for me to think about.

 

 

 

 

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Memory Lane


Today a classmate of mine was buried. After a long battle with cancer, preceded by a brain aneurysm in 2004, the Valedictorian of my class died early Tuesday morning. I found out via facebook.

He and I were not close, though there were only 20 kids in my graduating class (I'm a farm kid from the rural mid-west. My town had 370 people in it.) J.P. was always kind of an awkward guy, very interested in classical music, science and learning in general. He seemed kind-hearted to me, and one thing that always sticks in my mind was his unwillingness to compromise. You see, he was what a rural mid-west town would call "nerdy". He wore the same grey corduroy pants every each, and olo shirts of various colors. He had big thick glasses and very pale skin. He was too uncoordinated to play sports and could barely manage to march to the right beat in band. Yet he was light years away from the rest of us on his understanding of math and science. He was proud of that, and didn’t care that he didn’t act like or dress like the popular kids. (At least, it didn’t seem as though he cared. It’s quite possible he did, behind closed doors.)

He was made fun of a lot. So was I. I knew the pain of being laughed at and called names, so I tried not to make fun of him when others did, though I am sure I was unnecessarily mean to him at some point. He was to me, so I am sure I was to him.

I’ve never had any desire to keep in touch with my high school classmates. Most of them were pretty horrible to me, and any fond memories I have of high school were in spite of them. I learned early on that I needed to find other sources of friendship and trust, so I kept myself at a significant distance from the 20 people I sat with in classrooms years after year… day after day. When graduation day came I never looked back.

Facebook has changed that for me, to an extent. I was friends with four people from high school, and since J.P.’s death, two more have friend requested me. I’ve never attended a high school reunion and probably never will. This is something my mother has always found strange, because she loved her graduating class (she was also the homecoming queen, so her high school experience was a lot different than mine). So the wounds I have from that experience are still there… they may always be. (I have a thing about wounds. To read more, click here.(I even talk about Troubadours.)

I was intrigued by how the facebook messages from classmates unfolded. One gracious classmate took charge of getting us organized to send flowers. We all took turns calling those who aren’t on facebook yet to let them know what the plan was. So many talked about how much he would be missed and how their hearts were breaking. There was much talk about how we are a “family”. While I’m sure these sentiments were heart-felt, I found myself unable to join in with the reminiscing… with the resounding agreements that we must all get together soon. I know there this whole idea of “buying the hatchet” and “letting bygones be bygones”, but my heart just doesn’t work that way. I am sad that my classmate died such an early death. He was probably intelligent enough to help find a cure for cancer. It saddens me to know his quality of life was so poor near the end. It saddens that his parents and sister lost him so soon. But do I miss him? No. I don’t miss anyone from high school. And I’m not sure what to do with that information. On the one hand, I see the point of moving on and letting a grievance past. On the other, I don’t care to let my classmates think I’m okay with how they treated me or J.P., God rest his soul.

One of the strongest characteristics of those with my personality type is a strong sense of right and wrong, and innate sense of justice. There are reasons why this is good... and I’m struggling to decided if t his is one of those times. My mother, with all her rosy-colored glasses, wants me to let bygones be bygones and let myself enjoy my graduating class at this stage in my life. I simply don't want to.

Right after our 10 year reunion, I was performing some Oleo Spots at a melodrama. (The musical numbers in-between acts). One of my classmates was there, and she grabbed me afterwards and asked me why I didn’t attend. Gently (I promise) I said to her, “I just didn’t want to attend a reunion with people who I know don’t like me.” The mature adult in me knows I should get past this. The petulant child in me doesn’t want to budge. The Generation Xer in me wants to not care. The counselor in me wants to do the healthy thing, work through this and forgive. I’m wondering who will win.

This trip down memory lane has not been an easy one. It would be easy to roll my eyes at these facebook messages about us being a “family” (though it’s very possible they aren’t talking about me when they say that). It would be easy to go on without contact with these people and never attend a reunion. I want the easy way right now. What do I do with that?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Being the Better Person

I had a friend back in college who blew up at me once - and it was for something pretty silly. He was mad that the costume designer in the play we were both in wouldn't sew a button on his shirt. I was the messenger (I don't remember how or why) so I was the one who felt the brunt of her message. He yelled, threw the shirt back at me, and caused a big scene in the green room. This guy was a good friend, and how he treated me was inexcusable. I let him know that. And he stomped away.

The next day in the cafeteria a mutal friend of ours came up to me and said "I think you should say something to him." So my reply was, "Why? I didn't do anything wrong. He should come to me if anything." Our friend's reply was "Sometimes it's best to be the bigger person, no matter who's right or wrong."
I knew our friend was right, so of course I had no reply. But I was still my stubborn self and did nothing. That evening, I was apologized to for the whole button incident, and I forgave him just like any "good Christian girl" would do. He and I remained friends - it was really no big deal. But I remember it to this day. Why? Because "Sometimes it's best to be the bigger person." Those words are still with me.

Oswald Chambers wrote about the importance justice plays in forgiveness. From Daily Thoughts for Disciples:

It would be an immoral thing to forgive a person who did not say he or she was sorry...I cannot forgive my enemies and remain just unless they cease to be my enemies and give proof of their sorrow, which must be expressed in repentance. I have to remain steadfastly true to God's justice. There are times when it would be easier to say "Oh, well, it does not matter. I forgive you," but Jesus insists that the uttermost farthing must be paid. The love of God is based on justice and holiness, and I must forgive on the same basis.

One of Chamber's biggest faults in this line of thinking is that forgiveness means dismissing the act you are forgiving. I disagree. The very act of forgiving, whether the person asks for it or not, says "It mattered. It hurt me. But I need to move on and not carry that hurt with me anymore." If it didn't matter, it wouldn't hurt.
Where is my justice, as a forgiven sinner? My punishment is served, done, completed. My sin - not in part, but the whole - is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. 

Because I bear it no more, because it's nailed to the cross, - this is my reason to be the better person. This is my reason to forgive. It's always been about what he did for me first, not what I think it right or wrong.






Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wisdom

The 6th post for January Reflections...

Wise: Who is someone currently involved your life that is wise? How do you think they got this way? Send them an email with an attachment to this post to tell them how much you admire them.

The wise of heart is called discerning,
   and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. - Proverbs 16: 21

I have a lot of wise people in my life. But I am only going to tell you about one. Her name is Jennifer and I had the privilege of living and knowing her during the most difficult times of her life. She may not be considered by some as "wise" in the traditional sense. But she is wise where I need her to be wise when it comes to our friendship. 

When most people think of what a wise person is, they think of someone who is great at giving advice, who is gifted at discerning God's word, someone who has great life experience behind them, and/or someone who makes good decisions. I think that up until I met this person, I would have narrowly define wisdom this way, too. But I've come to learn that wisdom is so much more than that.

Jennifer knows who to discern my heart almost better than anyone else can. She can discern what it is I need in the moment, what words I need to hear, what encouragement and what kink-in-the-butt. She knows when to give me space and when to pursue. She is incredibly gifted a discerning because I NEVER give anyone hints about what I want or need. She reads me really well and there are very few people in the world that can do that. Many have tried, many have failed. She's just always understood me. (well, maybe not the first couple of months we knew each other...)

I think this is a gift Jennifer was given by God, though she certainly has lived enough life to have a certain amount of wisdom. But when it comes to discernment, I feel that's an impossible thing to learn. I believe it's simply innate, and part of me thinks God made it that way so we couldn't screw it up so much.

There is something about having someone in your life who just knows you... who gets you. (And who still loves and supports you anyway.) God help me be that person to someone. And thank you so much for sending Jennifer to me.

 

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Books

I'm a couple of days behind on January Reflections. Here is the fourth post from Jan 17-19th.

Reading: It is said that we are what we eat. Likewise, we are what we read. What are you reading to feed your mind and soul currently? 

I love, love, love to read. I love the sappy chick book (that eventually becomes a chick flick) I love a great mystery. But I also rarely read fiction. Non-fiction is more my style, and it's usually something really nerdy like "Love in Hard Places" by D.A. Carson, Pia Desideria by Spener or Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James A. Smith. One of my greatest vices is any book about culture. On my "favorites" list of this genre are "Catching Light: Finding God in the Movies" by Roy Anker,  Eyes Wide Open by Romanowski, Culture Making by Andy Crouch, and A Matrix of Meanings (this one will change your perspective permanently!). I got hooked on these when I did an independent study on Twilight and the middle-aged woman's obsession with these books. I worked on that last Fall while in Covenant and actually ended up writing a curriculum specifically for the "Twi-Hard" audience.

Right now, the books feeding my soul are "Gilead" by Marilyn Robinson, "The World is Not My Home" by Michael D. Williams and "Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without HierarchyRonald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, and Gordon D. Fee.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." -Cicero

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sleep... Rest... Comfort... Safety

The 4th of January Reflections '11

Sleep: What can you do to improve your quality of sleep? Take a short glance around the Bible to see what it has to say about sleep and then share it with us.

I'm weirdly feng shui about my bedroom. I'm a firm believers in the feng shui of arranging your bedroom. Don't  place the bed in front of the door because you will be thinking about what's outside the door: i.e., the many things there are to do, which will not help you rest. It's also important to remove all the work from the room, for the same reason. It's bad to have a computer or desk in your room... it's bad to have unfolded laundry in your room (which I currently do, lying on the chest at the foot of my bed.  Work and rest are the opposite of each other - to have conflicting messages (albeit subconsciously) can contribute to unrest. It's also best to not place the bed under a window.

According to feng shui, the bedroom is to be a place of sanctuary. This is what will help aid in the best sleep possible for you. Let me be clear: I'm not an eastern religion sort of person. But I do believe that environment plays an important part of the way you live your life, the way you learn (that's the educator in me), and more importantly, your attitude about life. When I went through the capstone experience at the end of my master's degree, I learned a significant part of my philosophy of education is the safety of the environment. ... and I read about feng shui 10 years ago. (I believe that means it's part of the way God wired me, right?)

Psalm 4 is a beautiful expression of what is means to be able to rest in safety:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? 
                     Selah

But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
   the LORD hears when I call to him.

 Be angry, and do not sin;ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. 
                    Selah

Offer right sacrifices,
   and put your trust in the LORD.

There are many who say, "Who will show us some good?

    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!"
You have put more joy in my heart
   than they have when their grain and wine abound.

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
   for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

I think the word "Selah" might be my favorite word in the Bible. I think it's because I almost never pause and rest. But each time I do the Lord shows me wonderful and gracious thing. He shows me himself. My rest, while I may subscribe to some tenants of feng shui, is completely dependent on God's grace. The quality of my sleep can be improved by resting in the peace and comfort God provides for me each day, rather than trusting in myself.

Much easier said than done.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The 'Stuff' of My Stuff

The 3rd of January Reflection '11

Stuff: Do you like stuff? What stuff do you have that you could do without? Is your stuff well used? Organized? Burdensome?

I like stuff entirely too much. What I hate is the stuff I can put into a spot, so it lays around until I can figure out where it "belongs". This is usually office 'stuff.' I have a ridiculous weakness for beautiful journals and have far too many empty ones. I love all things paper related, including notepads, notebooks, folder, pretty binders, magazine files and such.

The stuff I could do without is a bizarre compilation of dishes I've acquired over the years. I like too many different kinds, so I had the worst time settling on one type. I resorted to collecting bowls so that I ended up with several that didn't match but that were fun to have around. Alas, they took up too much space in my new kitchen, and I have limited cabinet space in my new home. So most of these bowls and dishes were recently donated. I still, however, have my grandmother's every dishes tucked away in my buffet, along with some random glasses her daughter (my aunt Janice) recently sent me. One day I hope to find the perfect curio cabinet to display them. Any ideas? Someting not too big, modern, black or walnut would be good.

Most of my 'stuff' is well used. This is mainly due to, until recently, always living in a pretty small space on a VERY limited budget. I'm not too much of a pack rat - and my rule (typically) is that if I haven't used it in 3 years, it's time to go.

The stuff in my life I find burdensome is the emotional stuff. The stuff I can't truly throw away. The stuff that stay in the dusty parts of my mind and the corner of my heart. The stuff of sin that weighs me down and all too often keeps me from rejoicing in the perfectly fit yoke Christ has given me. It is not organized stuff, but it most certainly does feel heavy.

 

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Disappointment

So.. the second set of choices went up for the January '11 Reflections 'challenge'. 

Homemade: Tell us why you like store-bought or homemade things more? Share with us anything that was homemade by you this year?

Singleness: Everyone has periods of singleness in his or her lifetime. Did you enjoy those days? Who do you have involved in your life who is single?

Disappointment: What things were left undone this year? What were you too afraid or indifferent to do? What are you going to plan differently for 2011?

Fashion: What is one current fashion you love and one you hate? Share a photo of a fashion blunder you have made. 

Scripture: What is the last Scripture verse you heard or read? What was God saying to you?

I read this and went "oof-dah". Then I ignored it. Then I went back and decided to do Disappointment. (Then cried just at the thought of delving down that road...) Then I decided to do Homemade, 'cause that's an easy one for me. But anyone who knows me knows I don't do easy and remain happy with my choice.

The reason I went "oof-dah" is because I knew that I would eventually do Disappointment. I just didn't want to. And part of me learning and understand who I am recognizes that the reason I don't do easy goes back a long way... and makes my heart go places it doesn't want to go, but know it needs to go. (Darn you, stupid seminary counseling! Why are you still with me!?! I graduated already!)

What I feel is left undone from 2010 is seminary. I remember crying and crying when I was first called to Arizona, because I knew I was called to go and yet I also just didn't feel done with St. Louis. I didn't feel done with seminary, I didn't feel done with learning what I needed to learn before moving on. I now no of these kinds of things are ever really undone. But it hit me hard once faced a true realization that I was leaving.

I also know that once again, a certain relationship was left undone. This is not the first year it's felt this way and somehow I doubt it will be the last. I will never feel "done" with this person, yet I know it's highly unlikely our paths will cross again. We will forever be phone friends, I don't doubt that. But this is one friendship I didn't want to move to that place. For some reason I always pictured us in the same town, perhaps even in living in the same apartment building like we used to, closing out our days together in my living room with a glass of wine. We know both own home and each live in a different state than the one where we met. I miss this friend almost every day and that feels undone. I realize in understanding this disappointment that I am missing those days with this friend. Things were easier in my life than they are now.

Fear is a tragic thing. And self-protection can be the biggest obstacle to fulfilling our calling. Because in that self-protection lives of fear of facing our mess and letting the world see our mess. But God most often uses our mess in our calling. I was afraid to move to Arizona. But I did it. I was afraid to leave St. Louis where I found a wonderful support system, a wonderful church and pastor, and amazing friends. How often does one get to lead worship with their pastor by their side, and be dear friends with his wife? Not often. God gave me a community in St. Louis and I remember being so afraid that wouldn't happen. 

But I was too afraid to talk to my cousin about his drinking (not confront, just talk to). I was too afraid to confront a friend about her selfishness. I was afraid to say goodbye to people very important to me.

I was indifferent to this year's Christmas program I somehow ended up being in charge of. I was indifferent to the feelings of a volunteer that I was sick of babying. I was indifferent ... well, lots of times.

In 2011 I will recognize my indifference and find a person who isn't indifferent to be part of it. So far my selfish friend has been very unselfish with me since I left St. Louis, so that's an interesting development there. As for my cousin... I don't know. I really don't. I will also not avoid this kind of stuff - admitting my failures and indifference. Recognizing my disappointments and working through them will be part of my growth this year.


 

 

 

 

 

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Monday, January 03, 2011

A 2010 Moment


As I walked into Foundation Grounds coffee house in in Maplewood, MO, I would be lying if I said my heart was beating fast with nervous anticipation. I stood just inside the door, coming out of the cold February wind, and scanned to room for him.

My eyes settled on Christopher, whose head was buried in his Macbook. I braced myself, said a silent prayer, and sat down across from him. He looked up, smiled, shut his laptop screen and said "Thanks for coming."

He got up to get me a cup of coffee and as he returned to his seat, I saw him sigh. It was a big sigh... and I knew some big stuff was coming.

Christopher and I met three months previous through some friends of mine from church. I went to his booth at the John Burroughs School Unique Boutique art show and was in awe of his textiles. His scarves were beautiful and 100% green. I loved them and loved his philosophy of reusing things such as tires to make thread to weave stunning patterns. We talked about the Food Network and his husband of 12 years. We hit it off and my friends from church (little did I know) kind of had an ulterior motive in introducing us.
Bill and Julie loved Christopher and knew he was a searcher. They also knew he was a bit sour on Christianity. For some reason, they thought if he met me I would be a person able to answer Christopher's questions. Fast forward three months, where I found myself in a coffee house answering said questions.

When he and I first planned the time to meet for coffee that afternoon, I told a few close friends that I needed to be bathed in prayer. Christopher has a genius IQ and got his master's degree as a teenager. (He had a doctorate, too. In Math or something far beyond me...) Who was I to respond to what I knew would be great and really tough questions? So people prayed. Thank goodness.

For the next three and half hours, I listened to his story of why he hated Christians and why, after getting to know Bill, Julie and me he no longer did. He asked question after question... and all the right ones. He said stuff that gave me goose bumps. "I've read every word Jesus said over and over. I can't find a contradiction. He was so kind and loving. That's a dude I aspire to be." And then the heart stopper: "When I realized I wasn't bitter when Julie used the word "church" around me... and when I found out you were a seminary student and I liked you, I knew something was up. The bitterness that used to hit me whenever Christianity was mentioned didn't hit me anymore. I didn't actively pursue that healing. I knew it was outside myself and I knew I couldn't ignore it." Seriously.... goosebumps.

That afternoon at that coffee shop was beautiful and surreal. I was honest. I helped him understand a lot of misconceptions he had about what Christians believe. I have very little memory of the specifics of what I said, because it was very clear that it wasn't me saying it. I just remembering feeling guided and protected... and that God was pursuing Christopher. All I needed to do was get out of the way and try not to mess up God's plans. I still tear up when I remember that afternoon. I will never forget it.



http://thegloriousimpossible.com/pages/january-reflections




The Meaning of Emptiness




For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,  
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
-Isaiah 55: 10-12 (ESV)

Emptiness takes on many forms for me. I remember being asked by the search committee that called me to Arizona "How do you think you will handle moving to a place where you don't know anyone and leave many family and friends behind?" I also remember thinking "They have no idea how much of an introvert I really am."

Being alone is not much of a problem for me. I've often wondered if there was something wrong with me because of this. But much of my strength comes from knowing that no matter where I am in life (with or without the intimacy of family and friends geographically nearby) that if I'm in the center of God's will, he will sustain me. I know this because I've lived it.

But I also think emptiness can take the form of dashed expectations, or a time of spiritual dryness, or even a hardened heart. There certainly can be an overlap with these things and people, but I've also found myself empty of joy. Empty of compassion. Even empty of devotion to something I once found myself completely devoted.

I learned these times are not to be ignored. Sometimes it takes a while for me to even realize I'm in the emptiness, but once I do, if I don't ask myself why and delve deep with my heart and mind to find out why I'm there I run the risk of a significant, prolonged drought. And I what I often find so fascinating about the way I function in these times of emptiness is how it almost always takes a person to show me my emptiness.


There isn't much rain here in the desert. And I only experienced a tiny bit of snow when I was back in Nebraska for the holidays. It even rained in Phoenix that night my flight left. Just as Isaiah says - the snow and rain cause something to happen. (We just don't always get to see it or may see the results months later, in the Spring.) It brings fourth and makes the earth sprout. Can I learn to trust that God does the same to me? That the times of dreary rain and cold snow actually mean something... and have a purpose?

 "For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, o give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile." -Jeremiah 29:10-14

What I adore about this oft-used passage is the context. God promised prosperity for his people... but after 70 years in exile. We often use this passage to sooth someone's pain or to inspire then to move forward... but God didn't actually restore their fortunes until many, many years after (so many that the generations that heard the prophecy from Jeremiah wouldn't live to see it come true.) So it probably seems weird that I love the hard part, but I do because I've been there. I've been in the hard places. I am there now. And understanding that God's promises to his people may not come true in my lifetime is not fun for me to hear. But it does help me grow into a deeper trust with him. There are peaks and valleys when you are a child of God. I prefer the peaks, yes. But the valleys show me deep and wonderful and mysterious things. They show me God's providence and love for his people. They show me the effects of the Fall, which in order to fully understand God's grace we must be aware of such sin and brokenness. This is part of my emptiness. This is part of the world's emptiness.

But his promises are never empty. I don't always understand why he chooses to fulfill the the way he does sometimes. But they are never void, because he is never void.

That's something to rejoice about.

... in fact, that's something to clap your hands and break forth into singing about. I think I'll go join the trees. :)