Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listening with your eyes

And now, of those of you who like music as much as I do...
A prayer made up of my favorite lyrics, one line at a time.

God of Wonders beyond our galaxy, 

Holy, Holy, Holy are you Lord God Almighty, 
Your grace is enough for me. 
You make all things new.
You are who you are, no matter where I am. 
Your love makes me sing. 

Lord, reign in me, reign in your power. 
You know my heart, and know my desires, and the secret things I'll never tell...
You free me up to live this life. 
A thousand times I've failed, still your mercy remains.
Your love is strong. 

When it feels like winter on a perfect summer day, 
I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on,
For as long as I shall live, I will testify to love. 
I'm not ashamed to let you know, 
That I could sing of your love forever.

And my lifesong... it sings for you.

Not your typical prayer- or blog post, but God is good, and worth singing back to.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Friends Forever (seriously)

"Friends are God's way of apologizing for our families."

I just returned from a four day weekend in the beautiful state of Virginia. It's the first out of the house vacation that I've taken in a long time, and it was wonderful. But it was wonderful for reasons other than just the time off and the scorching hot weather. My trip to Virginia was about visiting and reconnecting with old friends that I haven't seen in a long time, and being with them again was incredible.

I was a young teenager when I got an Aol Instant Messenger account, and reconnected with some childhood friends who moved away. It started a number of friendships that I've been happy and blessed to have over the years. They've helped me through some of the most difficult and troubling times that I've experienced, and taught me millions of life lessons that I never expected. We've been together through things that were amazing and fantastic and heartbreaking and wonderful and crazy and... I could go on and on.

But now, seeing them again for, some for the first time in a few months, some for the first time in four years, and one for the first time all together (she's only 21 months old, but she fits right in), I was most amazed to find that despite all the changing that we've done over time, everything is the same.

As we reconnected over dinner, and drinks, and coffee, and even just sitting together at the table, the conversation topics took a deja vu type turn. Sure, every now and then we would get lost in a few reminiscent moments, but for the most part, we just talked about our lives- things like school, work, relationships, entertainment- all the same things that we always talked about... the kind of things that we were connected over in the first place.

I have been given the incredible gift of having many of the same friends that I had in childhood with me still in my life. The time together has had different results for us- for instance, some of those friendships have resulted in shared interests and friends, some have resulted in shared hobbies and events, and in one interesting case, my friend and I have somehow managed a telepathic relationship, in which talking is less important now that we can read one-anothers minds. These friendships have, most importantly, solidified the relationships that we have made over time.

Sure, we fight, and sure, there are moments when things feel rough, but mostly, they are the greatest thing in the world. Because we remember things that we've done together, and we remember things that we've made it through, and it means the world in the end. And we are there for each other, when we are needed, even if these older relationships don't require the maintenance of the new ones.

These kind of friends are actually a big part of how I understand God. You always hear people talking about how God wants to be our friend, and loves us, and wants to be there for us. But without the kind of friends who have been around me forever, I know exactly what that means. I know that when I pull away, even when I need them most, they'll always come back for me. And they forgive me when I do stupid and silly things. They support my dreams and share their thoughts with me about what I should do. They know me and I know them. It shows me what the love of God really looks like.

For now, God has placed these people in my life so that I can feel loved and supported. I wouldn't trade them for the world, because they give me a lot of joy and happiness, and I look forward to these memories we are making now, because I know that one day we will look back and laugh at the things we are doing now- whether out loud or telepathically.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The nature of Indecision

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!"
Tom Hanks as Joe Fox
You've got Mail

You Got Mail is one of my favorite movies- it stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, as two people who meet in a chatroom on AOL and end up emailing one another back and forth. They don't share personal details, but instead vague and dreamy thoughts that are harder to share when you know the people face to face. They create a deeper connection than they are even able to create with their significant others, and it changes their lives. 

Of course, there is a twist. These two particular people are enemies- business rivals who are fighting for their careers- one leading a simple life,  running the small bookstore which is the legacy of her mother, and the other taking over his father's chain of a large superstore location called Fox Books. They have a terrible personal relationship with each other in real life, and want very different things. 

I'll warn you that if you haven't seen it, and your planning to, that you should stop reading now, because I'm about to spoil it. When Joe, the superstore afficianado, finds out who his internet love is, he makes the decision to try to make her fall in love with him anyway. In the end, he wins her heart, and they come together in a loving embrace. And then the movie ends with the resounding strains of somewhere over the rainbow. 

But not for me. See, I watch them kiss, and all I'm thinking about the poor choices these people have made. Kathleen Kelly is a simple woman, who wants to write children's books from romantic settings and live simply. And Joe Fox will always be a super store heir, meant to dabble in the rich lives of his business consumers. He will always be part of the big business. She will always be for the independent workers. Middle ground seems uncertain.

I do this, sadly, with every movie that I watch, and every book that I read, and every television series that I view. I don't like happy endings. They are too neat. They don't show the hard work, the fights, the sweat and tears that go in to finding and creating success. They don't show the choices made.

If you read the quote above, you might suspect where I am going with this. Our lives are filled with decisions. We have all kinds of choices to make at every corner. Some people thrive on the opportunity of making their choices whenever possible. Other people- like me- avoid decision making at all costs. 

When you make a decision, it's on your head. The consequences are a result of the choice you make. This is an ultimate reward/consequence system- whatever happens, it's because of what you've chosen to do. Maybe it's the highest gratification, or the worst disappointment that you can imagine. Or it can have a middle range response and you may feel nothing at all. But you've missed out whatever would have resulted from taking the other road either way.

Frankly, some days, it's just too much pressure. 

In the end of the movie, Kathleen Kelly makes the choice to love Joe Fox back, despite what he's done to her. I don't know if her choice leads to happiness or a bitter ending relationship. But I admire her courage to make a decision. Because on the bad days, I can't even decide on which Starbucks beverage I want to purchase, never mind how to have the barista make it. 

Luckily for me though, I believe in a Savior who has my best interest in mind. And even when I'm not sure which way to go, He gives me the guidance to end up on the right path. I know that the best choice that I have ever made was to ask Him to be with me, and to promise to follow Him, because He's there to help me when I can't decide what I want, or need, to do. 

The decisions that I will make someday will change my future. They will all have their own output in the end. And I am grateful that no matter where I am, or no matter what I order, God will be there to help me make the right choice. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Pressures of Life

My very good friend has a little girl named Sahara, who turns two this Sunday. I am excited for the festivities that will commence in her honor, as well as the love that I know that she is already starting to understand that surrounds her. And I, her aunt "weeble" as she refers to me, am so blessed to be part of this young life that started a mere 730 days ago, and the celebration of it.

But this week, I felt an unanticipated pressure. In the excitement of looking forward to her birthday, I'd forgotten a major  detail. I'd failed to realize that this year, she's another year older, another year more fun... and I have no idea what to bring to commemorate it. 

Honestly, what do you buy for a two year old? I take pride in knowing what kind of gifts to get, and what will make people happy, but what do you give to a kid whose favorite pastime is breaking out of her crib at 3 in the morning? Can't give her a wrench- she's doing fine without one. 

I was so caught up in the activities surrounding her birthday, that I found myself unprepared. None the less, I sprung into action. I am a cool aunt, a fun aunt- I am Aunt Weeble for ribbon's sake. I did the only thing I could logically think of. 

I bought her a big stuffed animal chair, and a mickey mouse guitar. 

Often times, I find myself so caught up that I'm not prepared for whatever is happening when it comes. And it's not always good like a birthday- sometimes, it can be the anticipation of a talk that I know one day I will have to have with my youth group kids, or a fight waiting to erupt with my sisters. And I know it's coming, but I never think through my process- instead, it arrives and finds me unprepared to deal with it. 

Not bringing the right equipment can be detrimental to a situation. If you show up unready, you seem thoughtless. You are less likely to be invited back. You are less likely to win the argument. You are, however, more likely to feel useless, and say things you don't mean.

It is comforting to me that whenever I am unprepared, God is at the ready. There are no situations that He has not seen and anticipated- He is ready for anything. Because when it's the two of us, I'm the one who is more likely to show up empty handed. But He is always there to slip me an extra gift so I don't make a disgrace of myself. I am the cool Aunt, but God is better than that, because He is the Father, and He knows what I need to get through, even when I don't. 

I can party with the birthday girl without stress, because I have the gift wrapped and ready. God can party with us, because the gifts have been waiting for us the whole time.

Pictures of the birthday girl and her early gift:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unrealistic Expectations

"I need some place simple where we can live, and something only you can give- and that's faith, and trust, and peace while we're alive."
Better Days- The GooGoo Dolls

I blame Disney, really. They gave me unrealistic expectations about love.

See, I'm the girl here. I'm supposed to be the helpless maiden who waits around, and the one day, at the heart of peril, the guy of my dreams finds me, sweeps me off my feet, and we live very comfortably ever after in his palace/large castle/gorgeous mansion. All I have to do is be sweet and kind and wonderful and he will see me as an unmistakeable princess and want to be with me.

The Disney theory left all the work up to the boys- find the princess. Rescue her. Fall in love with her. Provide for her so that all she has to do is be sweet for the rest of her life. But don't over spoil her, because she will grow to hate you. Don't be too late, because she'll die waiting. Learn to be your best now, because she's a princess, and she wants a prince. Frogs are only okay if you plan on changing from the first kiss.

Seriously, is it a wonder little boys don't watch princess movies? 

I am a young woman living close to a big city. I have met a lot of guys. Among them were a few princes- none of which I would have wanted to be with. They wanted a girl with a pretty face and a good look who would serve as arm candy. They wanted a wife who was willing to spend her time in the limelight and dressed up. She doesn't get to be creative. She doesn't get to have her own passions. She's a princess- there are certain rules she has to follow. 

I don't follow those rules- I am not that kind of princess.

The more I think about love lately, the more I wonder if the princess role isn't just an overrated scheme. I  don't want a prince to come get me out of the peril of my life- I can do that myself, thank you. I don't need him to come find me and sweep me away. I want him instead to come find me and discuss art, and books, and music, and hopes and dreams. I want a prince who will make me laugh, and feel sorry if he makes me cry, and will work with me. 

I have a habit of referring to my future mate as a partner- a habit that drives my friends crazy. The term is merely to explain that I don't want the kind of man who does all the work- I want someone I can work head to head with, so that we both can be the best we can be. Forget the palace, I want something small and easy to clean. No maids, no cooks. Just a roof and a carpet and a bed- and maybe some kind of transportation that we can jump into and forget the world for a while. 

Just a life together built on trust, hope, and friendship. It's the kind of relationship that many people only find once in a lifetime... but the beauty of marriage is that it only has to happen once. 

Theres a section in proverbs that lays out the good wife- it ends the book. It is written by King Solomon, a man who married many women, and it describes his ideal princess. It says this:

 10A wife of noble character who can find? 
   She is worth far more than rubies. 
11 Her husband has full confidence in her 
   and lacks nothing of value. 
12 She brings him good, not harm, 
   all the days of her life...
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
   but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
   and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

This is the kind of wife that I wish to be. I know that my prince will be looking for me, in all the glory that God has made me in. Who I am will bring him glory and give him confidence.

Dear Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, Belle, Ariel, and all the rest of you who found your Prince- don't worry, mine is on the way. I will wait for him with the patience and sweetness that you embody. But I won't expect him to do all the work- after all, it's going to be a partnership, in the end. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Habitual Grace

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
1st Corinthians 12:9

Recently, one of my mentors gave me some wise advice. 

"It takes 21 days to make a new habit," she told me, "and three to break it."

She went on to explain that if you put a good habit into place, and you miss it one day, you can still go back to it. If you miss a second day, you have to get back to it, because if you miss a third, you've pretty much destroyed it. 

At first, her ascertain depressed me a little. In one seventh of the time it takes to create a good change, it can be torn down. Three days just didn't seem fair.

But then I began to think through my own habit development. Usually, if I'm in the process of trying to change the way I operate, I feel trapped into it. Missing even one day can make me feel like a failure, as if all my hard work has been in vain. If I miss it for a second day, I feel pretty much done, and almost always give up. Three days means that I have actually gained time. I have more room to mess up before I have to scrap everything and start over.

In life, we don't get too many do-overs. On a personal level, I often feel like everything has to be perfect the first time. I work and over-work to make sure that there is no chance of not achieving the goal. In college, if the question asked for me to list five of something, I would put down seven just in case, and if I was sure of the answer, I would write out an explanatory sentence to make sure that I came through clearly.   When I ride the bus, I take the one before the one that would get me to work on time, so that if I miss it, or it breaks down, or a tree falls in the middle of the road, I won't be late. This has been my style for as long as I can remember.

But to have a few days to get back on track if I mess up... it's a brand new concept. And I'm falling in love with it a little bit. It's an unexpected grace period, and I'm happy to have it to fall back on it.

Grace is a funny concept, because it's unexpected. It's as if all of a sudden, there is an undeserved break, a little bit of luck that gets us through. But grace is better than luck, because it's not random. It's a gift, bestowed upon you by a person, or a concept, or whatever it is that holds the control. 

Interestingly, it took only three days for the original Jewish sacrificial system to fall apart after Yeshua's death. The temple was gone- old habits needed to change. And then, his reappearance created a new habit that hasn't taken a break in over 2000 years. 

Now that's grace.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Love Languages

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well."
Psalm 139:14

I am a very difficult person to get along with sometimes. If you don't believe me, then a)you don't know me very well, or b)you haven't talked to those close to me lately. I can be stubborn, hard-hearted, and honesty is not a problem for me- the problem is learning to consider what I say before I say it. And I do not show or receive love the way others do.

Some people need the people who love them to tell them so- frequently. I am terrible at this. I have a bad habit of losing contact for long periods of time even with those I care most about. It doesn't mean I don't love you, and that when we get together, I won't want to spend time with you and pick up where we left off. I just don't need to be in touch all the time.

Some people need things to know that they are loved. They like to get presents. They like to be surprised. I hate surprises. And honestly, read through my feelings on things in the last few posts and decide how well I do with presents. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to get a token of affection every now and then, but if these are too frequent, I feel very uncomfortable.

Some people feel most loved when others can anticipate how they feel. This one actually really bugs me. I don't like being told how I'm feeling, even if you're right. I want to go through it, and if I want to tell you, I will, and if I don't want to tell you, I won't.

See? I told you. Difficult.

But despite myself, I feel a great calling for love in the world. I am on a mission to let all people know that flaws are okay to have, because someone out there loves them greatly. Enough to know them... enough to save them. And I try to love them too.

God, in His grace, knew that I was going to be difficult when He made me. And foreseeing who I would be, He concocted ways to get through to me- in love languages I would understand.

Some of those languages include:
the sunset: I can feel my soul slowing to a halt when the sun starts to drift into the horizon. The whole world becomes still, even for a second, and it's as if I can hear God in my heart telling me how much he cares.
music: Do you ever hear a song and feel like it was written directly to you? I feel this way all the time. It's as if musicians understand what I am going through and put them into their lyrics, their chords, and their melodies. And none of them even know me.
prayer: God is a very good listener. He lets me vent as often as I want. He doesn't judge, doesn't condemn, and really only gives advice when I ask. It's exactly what I need. And I can cry and scream and yell and pout and he doesn't get tired. He just keeps listening. I feel loved when someone listens.

God knew that I would be a difficult person, and He was ready. He meets me when I need him. And even if you don't believe in Him, He'd meet with you too. If you ask Him too, he'll find you. I know, because that's how He found me in the first place. He knew what I needed, and He made it work, despite it's strange nature.

Now that is love.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reunited (and it sounds so good)

"Music is what feelings sound like."
 ~Author Unknown

Last night, in the spirit of independence day, I liberated myself from a task that's been haunting me for a long time. I sorted through my mix cds.

Remember mix cd's? We used to make them before mp3 players so that we could listen to different artists without changing the disk in the player. We used to make them to share our favorites with people in our lives who we wanted to share our music with. We made them for road trips, for plane rides, for fridays in the park. They were like mix tapes, only so much better... they held more songs.. some up to as many as 20! Remember when 20 songs was a lot?

Alas, the world has caught up to even me. I recently dwindled down to the "essentials" on my iphone- a playlist of only 1487 songs. That was improvement- I had almost double that before.

But I've got to tell you, last night, listening through my mix cds, I considered dumping my itunes library and starting again.

I should clarify. I didn't just sort through them- I labeled each cd on each song with each artist. I set up a numbers document to catalogue them. I imported all the ones missing from my library. I threw out the cds that wouldn't play anymore. Now you can see why this shindig took me six hours. What makes this even better is the fact that after all my listening, I found that I'd really only listened to the same 200 songs over and over again.

But each of those songs took me back, and each one held more memories than I was prepared for. Skillet's "Forsaken" took me back to Autumn Blaze, a concert that I went to regularly in high school. "Stranger to the Rain," a heart felt ballad from the broadway show "Children of Eden" brought me back to one of my first solos on stage. Closing my eyes, Howie Day's "Collide" took me back to my first boyfriend, and the time we went to catch the sunrise and got caught in the rain. And "Prayer of the children" brought back the activist in me... it was like watching my life rebuild in slow motion to it's own soundtrack.

Music has always been special to me- I don't share my favorites with many people at all- sharing your listening is sharing your soul, and criticism comes off very personally. But it amazes me that songs I didn't share with the people they brought back to my mind. I suppose music has the power to embody relationships, with or without their permission.

But today, there are 97 fresh favorites that have somehow slipped through the cracks in the past years. I'm reconnected with them. And with those they represent. And even though it's a little painful to think about what I've lost, the memories feel like a warm blanket, wrapping me in the faces of days gone by.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Give until there's nothing tying me down

You don't become happy by pursuing happiness. You become happy by living a life that means something.
Harold S. Kushner-"When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough"

I'm always amazed at how much stuff I manage to amass over time. Every three months, I get the itch to really clean my room, and theres always trash to throw out and things to give away- bags of it. I'm not sure how I manage to maintain the same inventory of stuff over time, but after years of giving away bags of things, I still have more in my possession than what fits into my little section of the world.

Now stuff might not seem like a problem. There are a lot of people who don't have nearly as much as I do, and I know that I should be happy that I have been as blessed as I have. And I do count my blessings- but sometimes all these blessings leave me feeling very very trapped.

We get very tied down to the things in our life- our video collections, our game systems, our books, our cards, our clothes... the list goes on and on. They make us feel comfortable somehow, as if by having things, we've won somehow. "Of course my life is worth something- I have all three matrix movies on blu-ray."

And now, thanks to the digital revolution, we've become digital packrats as well. I work with people who have 24,000 photos. Twenty-four thousand. Do you know how long it takes to tag label 24,000 photos? Well, neither do they. I have 1500 photos, and I haven't taken the time to do those. 24,000 is over the "workable" line. For most people, those photos are a headache that never get seen because it's too hard to find anything.

I have always thought of myself as the kind of person who wants to be able to get up and go at any time. I don't want to be tied down anywhere, because when the spirit moves me, (and trust me, he's moving me somewhere warmer one of these days), I want to be at the ready. And as I feel that calling coming closer and closer, I realize that this stuff has got to go.

So I made a pact with myself that every week this summer, I am giving away three things that I don't need or want any longer. Starting with my movie collection, I'm going to clean this life of mine up as best I can. And when He calls, I'm going, and I don't want to ever think I left any thing I miss behind.

I sponsor a little girl named Alison who lives in bolivia. When Alison writes to me about her things, she tells me about her pet goat, who provides for her family. She understands his value and knows what he is worth, and he is the most important thing to her. She tells me always how happy she is because her family and farm animals are well, and they have all they need. Alison, by the way, is five. She's already got the right idea in life.

 I'm 18 years behind. It's time to catch up.

**if you would like to sponsor a child, please visit Compassion or another sponsor site.**