Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We need a hero

Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Role models are getting harder and harder to find.

I work with a youth group, and I spend a lot of time with 12-20 year old girls jumping into young womanhood. My girls are not your typical teens- they are smart, funny, pretty girls, and they talk about all kinds of things that girls should talk about... but very rarely people in the world they can admire. Don't get me wrong- we're your typical youth group, The advertised world, whether music, television, even politics, offers very little for people to look up to. 

It's not that many of those out there today don't have good things that make them worth looking at: Take Selena Gomez, for example. She is a young actress and singer whose messages are increasingly bright and perky. She keeps a clean image and a good face. But there's always a but... I mean, come on, she's dating Justin Bieber! 

Okay, maybe that's not the tragedy... but Selena Gomez spends little time in the lime light. She's cute, she's funny, she's leading a teenage life free of the Hollywood scene- she's too boring for media. 

The people prominent in the news are the ones making a stir and causing trouble, and that's what their known for. Everyone knows Lady Gaga- they know that she is crazy, changing the music scene, and getting people all over to tap their feet. Her song lyrics and music videos inspire controversy and talk, and rumors about her circle constantly. Everyone knows Lady Gaga, and many people think she's a bad influence for young woman. But did you know that this same singer wrote the song "Speechless" for her father, to prompt him to get his health back in check? Did you know that she has cleaned a bad cocaine addiction out of her life because she knew it was ruining her? These things are the toughness that makes up her beautiful side. Consequently, they are the least apparent. 

One of my favorite examples of this is P!nk. P!nk is in the news every time she does something horrific. This woman has done a lot of great things with her life, and has a heart for woman who are in trouble or being abused. Recently, she's become a mother. You wouldn't know any of that, though, because the bachlorette candidate is in a lot of pain because of the rouse that is her reality tv show.

Here's a few that I bet never even made your radar. Donald Miller wrote a book called "Through painted Deserts" which chronicles his life after selling everything and taking a road trip across the country to spend life without materialism. His book chronicles the love story of Paul and Danielle as well, who have a strong marriage, even now, ten years later. Jeremy Camp lost his first wife years ago to cancer- rather than going out and giving up, he wrote the song "I still believe", a tribute to keeping faith under personal fire. 

And more recently, one of my heros is Tiffany Jantelle, a girl my age whose passion in life was to save animals. She was recently killed while trying to save an injured dog in the road. (Read her story here) Tiffany's death was the result of one person's poor decision to drink and drive- but it is also a testament to the kind of hero she was. She gave her life to save one of God's living creatures, something that she believed was important. Tiffany is the kind of hero I need to believe in- someone who has something they want to stand up for. Someone who risks everything to stand for it. This is a girl that should be commemorated. 

Instead, today's CNN top news is about What beauty is and who gets to have it. It's an ironic and sad fact. The system is all messed up.

Every person should have their own heros. But I know that when it comes to my girls, I want them to have the kind of heros that embody the faithful lifestyle they are going to lead. 

Of course, for me and my girls, and all the kids in my youth group, and all of the people who share my faith, our role model is our Messiah- the man who came, died, and rose again so that we could live forever. He is the best role model that I could imagine. And I'm finding that those who embody what he taught, like Miller, Camp, and like Tiffany, who understood sacrifice, are the ones that show us how to really live. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The voice of (un)reality

"The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation." C.S. Lewis

I am a daydreamer of the worst kind. I have had full conversations with people where I haven't heard a single thing that they've said- I've read their non-verbal cues well enough to figure out where to smile and nod and where to shake my head, and the next thing I know, someone is hugging me, telling me I'm the best listener ever, and I've made their day by just being there.

Dear friends, if I'm not actually responding to what you've said, I suggest you quiz me. 

I'm pretty sure the daydreaming epidemic started when I learned to read. Even as a child in school, my teachers would be talking and I would be staring out the window, listening to Tumnus play flute, or driving off to Digitapolis with Milo, or solving puzzles with Nancy, Bess, and George.  There were so many good stories to be part of... I wanted in, even then. 

Then came boys- boys are a very big source of daydreaming... let me tell you. I was always the simple kind of girl- I dreamt about holding hands and talking until 6 am and just being in love. Every guy who smiled at me had potential, but there were very few who made it all the way to my daydreams. They were the ones that stood out above the crowd: they made me feel warm, they made me laugh, and they were interesting to me. Spring became my worst enemy- the weather got nice and the daydreams fell right into place. It was painfully delightfully.

And now, I'm 23 years old, and I'm still daydreaming. And sometimes it's still about stories or boys (and sometimes its the future boy, the one I haven't met yet but I will one day want to marry). But mostly now it's about having a home of my own, of making enough money to support people who need it, and of making the world better. The desires of my heart still manage to move the way to the front of my thoughts- but they've become a lot more like dreams, and sometimes, they feel a lot less like reality.

Without over analyzing, I am intrigued at how my own desires have changed. Life is not meant to be spent with your head in the clouds (or as my british friend says, being "off with the fairies"). It's meant to be a chance to make those visions come true. The problem, of course, is that in daydreams, there are no pitfalls. There are no stories that don't come full circle, there are no heartbreaking relationships, and the world actually does get better. When we daydream, we don't have to consider that each reward comes at a largely consequential price. And while sometimes, the prize is great, sometimes, it's something somewhat less than satisfying: a few hours sleep, a long distance phone call, a hot beverage... Even I'm not surprised that so many of us want out of reality. 

Lately, though, I've been thinking. Daydreaming always makes us want more. We never get enough of the stories in our head- we didn't work for them. We aren't tired from the pursuit of them. We haven't earned them, and so they aren't worth nearly as much in the end. These hardships that break us down, they make the result that much greater. They fill us up, so our achievements are worth something. When something is handed to us, it doesn't really make us feel fulfilled, but when we earn it... we can be satisfied for a long time. 

I'm not going to give up daydreaming. The good ideas have to start somewhere, even if it is dancing and holding hands in the fields with sprites. And once those good ideas are there, I'm going to have a lot of work in front of me. Despite the obstacles, it will be worth getting to the cup of tea at the end.

Minty water will have never tasted so good.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My mission- a nature filled existance

Revelation 4:11
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

I like to listen to music at dusk while I write my blog posts. Actually I like to write all kinds of things at dusk, when I can turn the music up loud because no one is sleeping yet, and keep the lights off, because the world isn't quite dark yet. I like the way the sun reflects in my window and furniture and how it somehow manages to shade my room in blue. I work in a mall store with no windows, so having daylight, or even evening light, streaming through my windows, and hugging me until the darkness falls, is like touching the sky. Music streams into my soul, and words pour out onto the page.

Lately we have been having these thunderstorms here in New Jersey, and the thunder has been so deep, that it's been waking us up at night. If you've never woken up from a terrible thunderstorm, let me tell you what it's like for me. At three in the morning, when the rest of the world is asleep, and there is no one there to judge me, I am lost in a sea of "where is my life going? What am I doing with my time? How does everything ever come together?" The deep of night is when insecurities come out to play, twirling on the mind with the questions that matter. Not the insecurities about our looks or how people feel about us, but our deep seeded ones- how we feel about ourselves. They make us want to get up and change, to start fresh tomorrow, to re-write our stories before the ending comes and it's just too late.

Sometimes, when I get a day off- the rare kind, the one where you have nothing to do, and the day is yours to use, I like to go walk somewhere that feels new. I get the urge to go somewhere fresh, to see a sight I've never seen. Sometimes I will walk to far away stores when I don't need to buy anything, just to have a destination. I like the sunshine that pours out over me, and the revelations that a day can bring when everything is visible. I love excitement it creates.

I think everyone should go camping at least once in their life, so that they can be away from commerce. But sometimes it doesn't have to be in the woods. If I could camp in any place in the world, it would be on this little beach that I visited in Chicago. The water went on forever, as it does on a good beach. You could hear nothing but the sound of your own imagination, swirling around with possibilities. I walked over to the ocean and sang out over it, letting the waves engulf it, and I could almost hear the people of the sixties and seventies, the Jesus people, sitting on the beach, singing worship songs in little circles on the sand. They didn't need a church, at least, not a building. They needed some music, a teacher, and a heart for God. It's the movement I most want to recreate (but that's a story for a different time). As I listened to them, to the ghost of a past well spent, I turned away from the water. And on the other side, there was civilization. Buildings and a road and bike trails and life. I could hear it all as I faced it, but I'd turn, and suddenly, I was alone again on the beach, nothing but the water captivating me. It was the kind of place where fantasy and reality meet, if only for a moment, and it was the most authentic place I've ever been.

I'm a romantic of the worst kind- I feel the world around me. I feel it move when good things happen. I feel it stand still with heart break. I feel it weigh down on me in tragedy. I feel it fly in happiness. I relate to the world more than I do to any person, to any idea. I relate to God through my surroundings, and I am captivated by what he has created. Every touch, every smell, every sound, every good and amazing sight that I have learned to appreciate. I am guilty of sometimes taking it for granted, but God is good, and he sometimes renews the wonder of what he has made, and then allows me to chronicle it, sitting at a desk in my room as the sun goes down, the speaker my parent's must regret buying for me blasting with melodies that resonate inside my core.

I am inspired by the world that my Lord created, and I am here to put it down in words. And I will write, no matter what inspiration he gives me, until he says enough, and I go home to be with him.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Familiarity breeds Commitment

Ecclesiastes 11:4
"He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap."


I have a teddy bear. His name is Ducky, and out of all of the millions of things that I own, from every paper clip to the large flat screen television that I needed someone else to put on my wall, he is my greatest possession. He is the kind of bear who has been there through broken hearts, through death, through scary nights and the kind of days when getting out of bed was a big mistake. He is also the kind of bear that has been there to see me through camps and retreats, through college graduation, through lazy summer days and cold winters when you can't get outside. Ducky is not just a yellow pattern stuffed with cotton and stitched with thread. He is a physical embodiment of love. 


I received Ducky shortly after losing my best  friend, who was also my first boyfriend, when  I was sixteen. One of my friends since childhood gave him to my for my birthday. Never the sentimental type, even she did not understand why she bought him. "I just thought you'd like him," she said. Her nickname was Ducky- the bear was yellow... you do the math. He replaced an earlier teddy bear, who was a gift from that boy.


Ducky is, as I said, one of the most important things that I have ever had in my life. He is also a simplified example of a much bigger truth- we find comfort in things that have been around for a long time. We like the feel of our baby blankets, our childhood movies and books, anything that reminds us of a simpler time. I have warm memories associated with (insert your own crutch here), therefore, I will rely on that to get me through (insert whatever is going on in your life here). 


Now this can be a great thing. Every now and then we need something to fall back on that is normal and comforting. But what happens what it's the wrong things? Or worse... what happens when it's a person? After all, isn't it strange how consistent it is that guys will call up the same ex-girl(friend?) every 2 weeks after he breaks up with someone? Isn't it strange that we girls could mark our calendars by that day every month when we miss our first love that just couldn't be? We are desperate to remember a time when we were something else, someone else, who believed in miracles and second chances and that things in life were just always on an upward turn.


The boy that ducky replaced is no longer in my life. There have been others in my life since, some who have been growing experiences, other's that have been all wrong, and one that I have tried to hold onto. But even that one needed to eventually fall away- we cannot spend our lives stuck in the past that couldn't be. 


In Ecclesiastes, Solomon laments all the time that he wasted in his life. He regrets all the decisions and choices he made. He realizes that a life of joy is a life of doing, and that comfort doesn't come with us when we die. He knew what so many of us are still trying to figure out. 


I'm going to have to let go of those people who I once loved, and those memories that keep my heart static and afraid to move on. I'm going to have to stop finding comfort in the regularity of "my" room with "my" stuff, with "my" job, and all the rest that makes up my comfort zone. I want to be willing to go wherever He wants me and be tied down to nothing, to no memories, to no past people.


Although in reality, no matter where I go, I'm taking Ducky.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fly away

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."


When I was a kid, I read a story about moths, and how they became brown. It became one of my favorite myths- I loved the explanation of it... The magic that surrounded it. And since reading it, moths have been my favorite insect.

The story goes that the moths were once beautiful like the butterflies, full of vibrant colors that lit up the sky. Then one day, the moths stumbled across a sad little child who started to cry, and cried and cried. The child cried so much, the world began to flood. Desperate to cheer the child up, the moths tried everything that they could fathom, but the crying did not stop. So one moth suggested that they all flap their wings in the sky and create a rainbow, one to make the child's pain stop. They got to work on their project, but half way through, they realized they weren't making enough color. Though they asked the butterflies for help, they refused to give up their color. So the moths flapped harder, until finally, the rainbow lit the sky. It worked- the child stopped crying. But all the moths have given up all their color. They were left with only brown, which did not fit into their design.

Yes, I understand that it's just a story. And no, I don't actually believe that this particular story has any truth to it. But I always thought that it had a a good quality, and so I've remembered it all this time. And I know that moths eat cloths, and I know they aren't very smart, but I always kind of liked them anyway.

Flash to tonight- I'm sitting in the dusk in my room. I never turn the light on during dusk, because even though it's dark, it's not dark enough to want to shut out the world. In the summer, the dusk is cool and calming, and I hate to destroy it with man made brightness.

I had a visitor tonight, however, who didn't love the dusk the way I do. One lonely moth flew around my room in a tizzy, anxious to get out before it got dark. In a moment of desperation, he flew onto the window.

Now normally, when a moth gets into my room, I open the door to the hall and turn the light on, and out they go. But tonight, watching my little buddy staring longingly out the window, I realized he didn't want the hall. He just wanted to get outside. And his chances were not very good. In a fit of compassion, I realized that it was my job to get him out. I grabbed some paper, and tried to scoot it under the little guy so I could bring him to the window.

Unfortunately, my little friend was stubborn.

Try and try again, he didn't want to get on the piece of paper. Or the cardboard. Or anything else that I tried to get him out on. Suddenly I realized that if I was going to get him out, I was going to have to trap him first, and then bring him to the window.

Grabbing a plastic container, I stuck it over where he sat, and used the paper to get him to jump inside. Startled, the little guy sat on the floor of the container while I brought him to the window, opened the screen, and let him out into the freedom that he most desired.

I spent the whole night working on things that needed to be done, but this was my greatest accomplishment.

It's also (suprise surprise) a good lesson that we can learn about God. Sometimes, when we most want something, he nudges and nudges us to get there. And when we are stubborn, sometimes he has to trap us in, temporarily, until he can lead us to freedom. But ultimately, he knows what we want, and he can get us there.

I hope my little moth friend got a good flight in before dark. I know that when God has had to capture me to his will, he's brought me to freedom on the other side. And I'm glad that he teaches me these things even in the simplist terms.

Once upon a time, I read that moths lost their colors in a fit of mercy and compassion. Tonight, in the same test, I saw God's true colors revealed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Semi-colons; lists, wisdom, and more.

2 Timothy 4:1-2
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; kreprove, rebuke, and lexhort, with complete patience and teaching. "

Sometimes I get the honor of teaching teenagers on Saturday mornings. The lesson plans are written by myself and a friend, usually on Wednesday nights, sometime in between goofing off and spiritual discussions about life, the universe, and everything. Yesterday, we finished up Timothy, a book that is written to a young man starting his spiritual journey.

I won't tell you what I said, exactly, but I will tell you that I started by asking the kids what they remembered from past weeks. What they remembered, I am somewhat impressed to admit, is that Paul, who wrote the book of Timothy, liked to make lists.

Now if you haven't read it (specifically the second part) you need to get on that, because the kids were dead on. In a previous conversation last month, we had talked about how Paul made lists for everything- what to do, when to do it, why you should do it, and what you shouldn't do because of it. And in the final chapter of second Timothy, Paul makes a final list. But he breaks the grammatical pattern that he has followed. (see the verse above). He uses the semi-colon to tier his list, a thought, a sub thought, and three thoughts of the sub thought. Paul was a writer with a plan.

In life, we spend a lot of time putting semi-colons into place. We make our Statement, then we make decisions based on it, and that's what leads us to our actions. Both good and bad thoughts come full circle to a starting moment; an initial thought; rational or irrational, but still real. (yes readers, I did that on purpose).

I'll leave you with this- Paul's list had a purpose. If he'd only made one of the statements, the Message would have made little sense. Next time your thinking about doing something, consider the list of actions that brought you there. What statement are you really making.

I would like my life to make only one statement. Yeshua is my Messiah;I serve only him; with my words, my actions, and my life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Weather talk

Matthew 6:34
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."


This morning I woke up at 7 am to a bright and shiny morning, which I didn't mind beigng alive for. It never ceases to amaze me that the early morning is less ofman issue when it's sixty and sunny outside.

It also never ceases to amaze me how much I find myself talking about the weather. All during the day at work, we're wondering what it looks like outside. Weather dictates what I do on my days off, where I go on vacation, even sometimes if it's worth pulling myself out of bed a little earlier to walk. It's everywhere.

But whenever someone wants to give an example of frivolous conversation, it's the weather. As if that is the most pointless conversation anyone can have. But it's okay at we spend hours talking about Snooki at the bar, or the friends we once knew and how they've ruined their lives.

I can't help but sometimes think that we might be focused on the wrong things- that our conversations focus around things that we feel like we can control or we are above, because the real things, like what tomorrow will bring, is out of our reach.

The beauty of our faith, which I think I love most, is that it takes care of itself. And while I haven't always been in control, I have always come out on the other side- and when I really take what happens in stride, I come out a little wiser, and a lot calmer.

I'll avoid the Snooki talk and stick with the weather chat. I can't control it, but I can embrace it. Just like I can embrace the future that God has for me with Him walking along side me. I don't have to stress it. God's got it covered.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Let Me Explain...

Matthew 16:2-3
"He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret lthe signs of the times. "


I like to listen to my headphones when I walk.

That's not that unusual, actually. I think a lot of people these days like to walk with their mp3 players playing a private concert for them. They also like to run with them. And sit with them in the park. And browse sidewalk window displays with them. And sometimes attend family functions with them.. Are you getting the idea?

I'm not discounting that these private items are a wonderful invention. Don't get me wrong- I ride the bus, and everyday I thank God that I have the ability to tune out the guy talking too loud to the office, or the ladies up front conversing about who wore what and when and why it was wrong, or even that adorable little kid who is honestly just angry at the world because all the chocolate milk is gone. I get the appeal- really, I do.

But if an angel landed next to me with some important message from above on my way to work, I think I might miss him over the strains of yellow card bleeding into my thoughts.

We, as people, get very honestly distracted by the world around us. It's not maliciousness to the other people in our lives, its simply the failing of an ADD generation who is extremely over stimulated, and as a result, board. We miss opportunities because we aren't paying attention. We miss out on relationships cause were afraid to get to know someone. And we miss out on truth because there is just too much out there trying ti get us to subscribe, and by the end of the day, we really just want a little time to plug in an old melody and tune it all out.

In Matthew, Jesus is talking to his followers, and he tells them that they know the old adages- but they don't see the signs when they are standing right in front of them. And missing those signs was leading to trouble, and trouble was going to mean grief and pain.

We, the enlightened daydreamers, we are still missing those signs. And we are going to suffer this same consequences if we disconnect from the distractions and find the truth.

I believe that truth to be this: Jesus is the Messiah, and he came to take away the mourning period and give us clear skies. But it doesn't stop there. These messages will be my dance with the truth as I discover it. I hope you will follow along with me as I learn.

Thanks for reading,
Rai

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fighting the good fight





John: 13: 34-35
"A new commandement I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this people will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another"

I have always felt that I want to stand for something bigger. I want to fight for something, I want to have a cause. I want to rock the world and then have someone put it down in a history book. It doesn't have to have my name on it, I just want to be part of it. 

Clearly, I needed to be born in the sixties. 

In today's society, believing in something, anything really, brings ridicule. I don't have a rationale reason for why this happens, but it does. It's a difficult time to want to be revolutionary. It's an even more difficult time to be part of a religion- you're representing yourself and all the mistakes of the people who believe anything similar to you. 

Many believers feel the need to share the message in one way or another. It may be hell-preaching, it may be shunning the rest of the world, or it may even be street drama (I've done that last one, by the way). But sometimes, it takes on an even more dramatic turn.

Last year, a Pastor threatened to burn a number of religious books that follow a religion that was not christianity. Somewhere else in the world, another followed a play that showed the horror story of a boy who was killed for being gay, and that pastor brought people with him to tell gay people they were going to hell. Even another stood up and robbed people of their hard earned money and placed in right into his pocket. These people claim to share my faith, but they do not understand it. 

Yeshua is love. He taught that it was crucial to show one another love. It was his ultimate message. And it is the greatest cause that anyone can ever represent. What these men are doing not only dismantles the message, but drags down all of the faith and hurts us all. 

I hope that you understand this message- I stand for love, the I'm willing to stand up for it to the death- one day, it will revolutionize the world, and it will change the history books forever. But I hope that one day, these others, who haven't figured out that hell fire and brimstone have to be in context will come to their senses. 

Until then, I will pray for them, and those they hurt, to realize the truth about why the Messiah came to save us.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dinner Conversation

Matthew 18:2-4
"And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
."

Last night I sat around the dinner table of an apartment that I used to live in, celebrating the Sabbath with a small group of people who understand how I think. It was a bittersweet meal to share- for the last four years, at least one of our little group has occupied this apartment, and come this Monday, it will no longer be ours to eat in. The two who still live here are packing up and moving on, and next week will bring new suitcases and the chance to make new memories. During dinner prep, we all discussed our uncertain futures- where to go and what to do for money, and how to be happy. We felt the strain of being in the place of learning to trust God and move on, and quite frankly, it felt scary.

And then, it was dinner time. We lit eight candles and turned out the lights and sang the blessings. Then we ate risotto made of the last of the food in the fridge, shared a bottle of wine, and talked about the hard turns of life. And somewhere in between nature vs nurture and regret, faith like a child came into clarity.

See, as children, we have faith that is unfailing. We don't understand that disappointment is a good possibility- we let it shock us again and again. We expect without reason or hope, and we don't let failure keep us down.

But on a deeper level, as one friend pointed out, child faith means lacking regret. We believe that our decisions are the right ones, and we don't understand the worry or fear that comes from thinking that maybe, just maybe, we've ruined our lives.

My friend's daughter is almost two. She does not worry about her next paycheck. She isn't concerned about if the roof over her head is stable, or if there will be a next snack. She doesn't winder if she will suffer heartache or feel lonely or if she's made too many mistakes. She just lives.

We too, don't have to worry about our lives or our tomorrows or what we've made a mess of. And the last Shabbat in the apartment is just another symbol that life is dynamic- we move on. We move out. And if we're smart, we realize that it's the people that did the conversing that make life worth living, not the place or time where the conversation took place.