Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Standards to live by

"Words like unrealistic, impossible, and foolish were frequently use to  describe Jesus's teaching... In a dangerous world, obeying the Sermon on the Mount was tantamount to suicide."
-Skye Jethani,  "With- Reimaging the way you relate to God"

In the wee hours of this morning, with the parkway open before me, I had a drastic realization about my personality. Much of who I am or want to be is reflected in the lyrics of the music I listen to. This truth hit me somewhere around The Beatles "Can't buy me love"- Say you don't need no diamond rings, and I'll be satisfied. Tell me you want the kind of things that money just can't buy. It's a childhood favorite for me, and it perfectly embodies the kind of attitude I want to have in life. 

It's not isolated to one song, of course. I want to be Rosemary, if love grows where she goes (Edison Lighthouse*). I want to see the world with both my eyes, not with a camera by my side. (John Mayer**). And sometimes I don't want anybody to see what I look like when I'm down (Counting Crows***). I could go on an on, but in reality, I've always felt a special connection to music, and it's not obscure or even unrealistic to think that it's defined much of who I see myself to be. 

We are given plenty of "role models" in life, though not all of them are people. They often come in subtle forms- television characters we like, books that say something about the human experience we want to grab on to, pictures or stories or even how-to columns in magazines... the whole world seems to be telling us how to live. And our natural instinct is to respond to these things with some sort of biased reaction- We love or hate the content based on our own paradigms.

I don't really spend enough time considering what is standard for how I live. My first answer, if asked, would probably be "Like Jesus wants," but recently I've realized that this is a meaningless sentiment to me. I know some of the basics of how I think Jesus would want me to live, but I don't know that I've recently taken the time to really diving into that construct. 

The quote at the beginning of this entry was in reference to a study of modern christians- they were asked if they thought it was possible to live by the beatitudes starting the sermon on the mount. The overwhelming response? No... these were delightful images of how Jesus was better than the rest, but not realistic in any way shape or form. 

So of course, I went back and read them again. And I have to tell you something- I think I may need a new moral code. 

If you are unfamiliar with this set of social rules, check them out before reading further. This set of instructions focus's on a selfless mentality- the main focus is to put all other's above yourself for the promise of an eternal reward instead of the ones we receive here on earth. They aren't a fun set of things to accomplish- in fact, reading them again and again only forces me to understand just why so many people felt that they were impossible. But in a moment of fresh eyes, I can see justification for wanting to live the life that Jesus suggested. 

I am taking a challenge this summer- it is a personal goal that I believe will help me grow, both into the person I want to become and into the person who best serves this world while she is here. I want to really understand these rules, and be a true example of what they look like. I will update you all on each of them as they begin to mean more to me, and give you my own definitions for who I am becoming.

Maybe one day, I'll even write some songs about it, and add it to the collection of music that defines who I want to be. 

  "Oh but love grows where my Rosemary goes/ and nobody knows like me."
**3x5:
  "Didn't have a camera by my side this time/ hoping I would see the world with both my eyes/ maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm in the mood to lose my way with words.
   "She don't want no one around/ cause she don't want anybody to see/ what she looks like when she's down/ cause that's a really sad place to be."

Friday, May 16, 2014

More Thoughts on Newness

"Celebrate endings - for they precede new beginnings."
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie

My shoe closet is calling to me. 

Spring does this to me. Sometimes I picture God above us all, contemplating another snow storm, finally shaking His head and relenting, and sending us flower blooms instead. It makes me feel happier than happy, as if the warm air is stretching out to embrace me, and the gentle wind hugs me softly. 

So I do what I do when I am happy- I throw things away.

See, there is a comfort to things that we hold onto. We call old ratty blankets lucky, ugly sweaters from different decades nostalgia, broken furniture from our grandparents homes vintage. We rummage throw flea markets looking through junk, trying to see what we can clean up, varnish, paint, rebuild, or somehow reuse- we like to make the old things new. It's almost like we believe if we can somehow manage to recycle something from another time, we might bring back the good things and memories that came with it. We have a desire to replicate the best in our objects.

I am very guilty of this when the weather is cold. I refuse to get rid of my summer things no matter how ratty or torn they are. Subconsciously, perhaps, I believe if I let go of them, summer will never return. Or I'll forget all the warmth of before. Which is, in reality, crazy, but that is somehow an assessment I can only bring myself to make after the weather hits 55 degrees.

Which brings me back to my shoe closet. Because now that we are consistently seeing warm weather, I'm suddenly aware of how ratty last year's flats are. And how bad my old sneakers actually smell. And the superglued Toms... You get the idea. All these old shoes that I've kept that I know need to be removed from my life, and still I've waited until now to do it.

I guess maybe the thing about Spring that makes me want to clean is the natural newness. Maybe I see God's creations sparkling with freshness around me and feel the need to mimic His wonder. Maybe the revival of plants reminds me that resurrection is not a human construct, but a piece of a grander design that was imagined by a magnificent artist. I am inspired to remember that we cannot live in what has been, and that there is an excitement in the reality of a new season- of new memories to be made.

I wonder what else I am holding on to that I need to remove the tether from- if material things can so easily grab my allegiance, other things may be holding it too. I want this Spring to be a time of cutting bonds and starting fresh. I want to be reminded that my old life has no hold over me now.

I want to be new. 

And I'm looking forward to this time of seeing exactly what that will look like. So I'll start by throwing out some old shoes. And then I'll be looking into other things that have kept me. Until one day, I am looking at my place in the world with the eyes of a baby: fresh, innocent, and fearless. Like a new flower, bursting through at the beginning of this season, waiting for whatever the world brings next.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New Life

You can't stop the future. You can't rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret... 
is to press play.” 
― Jay Asher

I have always thought that the new year really starts each spring.

In Jewish tradition, the new year is in the fall. In America, we celebrate in the middle of the coldest times, when staying up until midnight is only possible with the warmth of Champagne. But these celebrations never seem as real as that first morning when I get up and smell it- a hint of rain, a touch of sunshine, and the growing temperature of a world waking up from it's own hibernation under winter's white blanket.

As children, we are taught to represent Spring in pictures, with sunshine, flowers, and grass. Sometimes we get a baby chick or an egg thrown in with the Easter motif. We breathe in the fresh air and the hopeful weather and we run towards this idea of newness. And I love it.

New life is all around us all the time. And I don't just mean birth, which is also happening consistently in an ever changing world. Recently, the cycle of life has shown up on my doorstep like a whirlwind- I have watched many pass from this world, and for each one mourned, a new baby has entered the same world with a hearty cry. It's an odd kind of comfort, to know that as one journey ends, another is just starting, new and unique, with a fresh faced outlook. But it's not just in birth that we are given this chance. It's all throughout our lives.

We talk a lot about making changes in our lives. For the record, I am one of the people who believes, at least right now, that change is possible for all people. But it's a long and complicated process, not as easy as just making a decision. In fact, many of the changes that occur in life happen without our wishes or desires. They come on their own accord, sometimes with no warning, sometimes almost expectedly, and throw us into periods of before and after. There are whole books that are written about huge things that make us all different, but these things are not always huge. They aren't always visible. They aren't always good, or bad, or even certain. But they form us in to who we become.

I am learning to embrace the newness of life at all times. The trick is to live in the moment, as the moment itself will never return, and who you is subject to change with no warning. It's all about being present, being real, giving yourself the chance to feel and be, and not worrying about what everyone else says or sees. In my 26 years on this planet (which seems like nothing to some, but to me, it's been a lifetime), I have grappled with this concept, never quite getting it down.

It's hard to live in the moment in a world of distractions and exhaustion. We look towards things in our future that will be restful or easy with gusto. We trudge sometimes through the opportunities of the everyday in order to get to the end. But I am starting to see each moment, each struggle, each bit of regular-ness that is my life as a wonderful chance to see who I am. To know myself. To live my life to the fullest at all times.

And each day I get a little closer to it- to a new stage of me, where I will embrace everything as if Spring was just beginning every day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Just" Words

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” 
-Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

I am painfully aware of how often I use words to diminish what I say.

Sometimes I wonder if I am too politically trained- I can flippantly hold a conversation about something that I think is funny or about favorable topics, but the moment I have to say something that is going to sound bad or harsh or make someone consider my words carefully, I start throwing on softeners- for example, the word just. I use just to contextually tell people that my words matter less than they should. It makes what I have to say seem small, as if it's not really all that important. All of a sudden, I can hear myself say things over and over again like "It's just how I feel" or "I just think that..." 

And it's terrible. Because not only am I damaging my sentences. I am damaging my integrity. 

Words like just imply a non-truth. They are shields we hide behind because we are afraid of offending others or embarrassing ourselves. We don't want others to honestly know what is going on in our minds, but we also feel strongly enough about the topic that we refuse to keep silent. We fight with ourselves over considering the feelings of the conversing people or keeping our opinions quiet. And in the end, we come to this soggy middle ground where someone may still not be happy, our opinion hasn't really been stated, and nothing has been accomplished.

I need to remove these softener words from language. I want to start only saying things when they actually need to be said, and even if they are hurtful or embarrassing, I don't want to hide my true feelings. I want to be transparent and honest and the kind of person who other people take seriously because what comes out of my mouth is not frivolous or ill-considered, but is instead important.

And I want to stop thinking in terms of softeners. I want to let myself be and feel and think without needing to wonder if what I am going through should just be a small thing. I believe that this all stems from a mental self-consciousness- I wonder if other people would think as hard or feel as strongly about my own considerations and let that change how I value them. I don't want to be wondering if I "should" be feeling and thinking things, but rather, I want to allow myself to just be part of whatever is going on in my heart and in my mind.

Psalm 19:14 says "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." I am making this my prayer for this coming week.  If I let God dedicate the direction of my life and my thoughts, I will be staying under the truth He embodies. My words will be headed in the right direction. And even if they are hard to hear, they need to be real, and not cushioned. I want my words to be true, and weighed only against God's standards and not mans.

And I am getting rid of just from my sentences.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Investing thoughts

"Giving should be entered into in just the same way as investing. Giving is investing."
-John D. Rockefeller

There is this commercial on television that comes on when I'm watching things I've missed during the week- it's a bunch of kids talking about why they want to college. The tagline at the end is "My names is (enter name here), and I am your investment."

It's got me thinking a lot lately about this concept of investing. Typically, when people ask about such things, they want to know about the stock market or companies that might give them a nice dividend. In a country where part of the shared dream has to do with not having to work forever, investing seems to hold an exclusively financial connotation. And even when it isn't monetary, it always seems to partner along with words like risk and gain. The idea of investing seems to be that we put money in exclusively for what we might get out of it.

However, this is a second definition of investment that I find much more applicable to my own life:

Investment- an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.

I think about the "particular undertaking"s in my own life with a specific fondness. I have spent a lot of time putting in a lot of effort into things that are important to me. This very blog, for example, is a big investment for me. The novel that I work on in my (limited) free time is an investment. The music that my friends and I prepare and lead in our congregation is an investment. Running the teen program for the same congregation is an investment. My time at the gym is investment. Lilo, my ukelele, is a big investment for me. At least, this is what I consider these things to be.

But the second part of the definition vexes me. Because I'm not sure how one measures a worthwhile result.

See, many of the things in my life don't really stem out of clear motivation. I often start projects with no idea how they will end or what use they will be to me. Sometimes it's just about feeling called to go and do, but often, it just seems like a good idea. And it's not until somewhere when I am halfway through and seeing what the implications of my project are that I start to realize what I want the outcome to look like. I might put in hours and hours, and sometimes even money and emotionally energy into something before I even begin to consider what it might bring.

So why do I invest? Well, the simple answer is this: it brings me joy.

I am a doer, I suppose- the kind of person who can take a walk just to see my surroundings with no end in mind. I like the idea of being part of something far more than I like the idea of any accolades it might present upon completion. I like to reevaluate and refocus things in my life when I am bored, if for no other reason than I can. I live in the moments of starting something.

Sometimes, I like anticipation better than I like comfort.

So it brings me something amazing to be part of a project. Those feelings alone are enough to get me to invest. If you ask some of my friends, this confuses them a bit. Sometimes my emotional investments make me crazy or leave me overly stressed and deprived of sleep. And spending a lot of time with people goes against my introverted nature and often leaves me with no energy (and maybe a little cranky).

But don't fool yourself. No one is forcing me into these things. I do them to myself.

I think in this life, God gives us a chance to do a lot of great things. Sometimes I think that it would be a waste if I miss any of those opportunities, because each one has made drastic and great changes in me, and has taught me a million wonderful things. I want to be the kind of person who experiences as much as possible in the limited timeline that I've been given. And even when things get really really challenging, I can remember that each opportunity is a blessing.

I think that when we ask ourselves about investments, we find the truth about what it is we really want in this life. In my life, When I think about it, I want my investments to benefit people, if not right now, then one day. I want to be part of the kind of things that change the world. And in all things, I want my actions to reflect the greatness of my Creator, the God who gives me all my abilities and chances.

What are you investing it? What is the outcome today of what you are doing? And what does the prize look like for you? I challenge you to consider these things today. You might learn something about yourself, and who or what it is your goals serve.

It may even help you  become more focused towards your own "worthwhile result."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Building faith out of Legos

"The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison."
-James Cash Penney

I got my first set of legos when I was 24.

I still remember the excitement and trepidation I felt in ordering the set. It was a volkswagon van, much like the one that stars in my favorite book of all time, Through Painted Deserts. It was way too many pieces for me to even imagine doing myself- it came with two books of instructions (apparently, one did not hold enough pages). My friends and I spent some time that summer together building it, creating it, making it into the masterpiece it looked like in the end. It was quite an experience for me, having everyone together to help make this thing that I thought was so awesome... the finished product meant more to me than the the original symbolism I had purchased it for. It was a puzzle with too many pieces- on my own, it would have been daunting. But with my friends, it was fun.

When it comes to big projects, I am often capable of doing the work myself, but I rarely like to fly solo. I love the feeling of being on a team, part of a group. It doesn't have to be a large group- in fact, I usually prefer working in a closer, more intimate setting, because it gives me the chance to understand each player and their consistencies. But the feeling of camaraderie- of completing together, of sharing victory is the one that I really thrive with. 

Lately, I realize more and more how much my life as a believer needs to be a team effort. 

See, once upon a time, I lived under the lonely dissolution that because my faith was a personal one, it needed to be lived out in isolation. Some of the environments I spent most of my time in left me the only christian for miles and miles. Other's gave me the opportunity to spend time with other people who believed the base message, but didn't allow themselves to live in such a way that showed it had changed them. For many years, I allowed myself to be in situations where my faith was tested and tried at every moment and every turn. It was a really difficult way to try to connect to God, and while some of the moments where He met me are nothing short of amazing, it was a hard existence.

I was lonely. And it was straining my relationship with God.

Eventually, when I realized what a tragedy it all was, I started to pray. And listen. God started giving me believing friend after believing friend, all of whom loved in a big way. They invited me into their homes and social circles. Suddenly, I was connected across many states with many people who could encourage and lift me up. In some cases, they were physically there for me, able to hug or pray with me, and I with them. At other times, we were separated, but connected by telephones and computers and mutual prayers for one another. My relationship with God was thriving as my relationships with others grew stronger.

Even as far back as Adam, God saw that we would not do well on our own. So when He sent His son to earth, He didn't just give insight to a few individuals living across the world- even Jesus had a community following Him and His teachings. After the death, resurrection, and acesension, these followers lived together, giving one another all they had- time, money, physical and emotional support... they shared it all. They sent their missionaries out in groups, and when that wasn't possible, pairs. They clothed and fed the poor, and cared for the widows. No one was left alone. They were a team working in all things. 

God wants our hearts; He wants us to open and honest about our faith in Him. (Romans 10:10) He wants us to love one another. (Mark 12:31) He wants us to recognize Him as our only salvation. (John 14:6). And He wants us to do all these things here on earth, in preparation for the eternity we will spend with Him. This is why He leads us to honesty, to loyalty, to faithfulness. When we practice these things with our other human friends, we strengthen the skills that we need for our relationship with our Maker. 

My faith is a lego van
, starting out in small pieces with a huge instruction manual (two testaments, if you think about it). It felt daunting at first- bigger than anything I could handle on my own. But as I have invited others in to help me build it, we are growing together, putting the pieces together and making something wonderful. One day, when the project that is my life completes, I will be able to look back on all those who built it with me and smile fondly. This adventure is a team effort. I do not have to be lonely here- I can be surrounded with others who have the same ultimate picture in mind. And one day, when this earth passes away, we will spend eternity with what we have finished, and what we have become.
Picture from here


Friday, February 28, 2014

Right Where I am



I remember once reading an article about a man who said that even if you lived 100 years, you'd only get to see 100 Autumns. At the time, I remember being in awe of such a drastic statement. Can you imagine, thinking each season of your life that you only had a limited number left? It seemed to me like such a profound thing to even consider.

Now, it's probably been at least 10 years since I've read that article, but I still remember the sentiment that the man portrayed. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder...

Have I experienced all my Autumns? 

It's kind of funny how much of life we take for granted. We spend a lot of time lamenting that one day, it will be gone from us, that it can be taken so easily. We wonder if we will have the lives we think we are supposed to have- the right job, the house, the kids, the vacation. We toil and trouble and work hard for things that we think we are supposed to want, and sometimes, we get so caught up in those ideas, that we miss what is going on around us.

Where I live, the summers and winters tend to be the dramatic seasons, while spring and fall just sort of breeze in and out with no second thought. Sometimes I've barely put away my winter coat at the end of March before it's May and the weather has gotten too warm for my sweaters. It's like I've jumped the whole month between work and obligations and worry and suddenly, even if I live until 100, I'm coming up short.

The more time passes, the more I realize how much I am content to enjoy the moment. I don't mean that I don't want to plan ahead or think about the future. But my generation is, as were those before us, obsessed with getting to where we need to be as quickly as possible without enjoying the ride. We'd rather time travel then take the train, enjoying what's passing by as we ride to our destinations. As a result, there are millions of amazing things we will never experience, and maybe never even know we missed.

It's sobering to think about, if you ask me. I have goals and ideas that I look toward with hope. But I wonder if they consume my life. I wonder if those things will still hold their appeal once I arrive. Surely if these things were meant to be formulated, they would have. God would have put them into a specified plan. We'd all be married at the same age, with a baby on the way, and live in our happy little homes with no thought for the outside world.

My point is that our time here on earth is limited, and I fear that I limit it more and more by rushing it. Some days it's all I can do to get through the work day so I can get to whatever excitement lays before me. But my attitude dose not speed up time any. It just leaves me with one less day to reflect on later in life.

My life needs more sunsets- more moments of stopping to stare in awe into the sky and just enjoy the moment, live for the second. I explained it a few weeks back to a group of friends this way: A sunset is not tangible. You can't touch it. You can't reach out and change the way it's happening. And it's not the same to hear about it from someone else or see it secondhand in a picture. You just have to be there.

I don't know if I'll make it to a hundred. I don't know if I'll accomplish all that I've set out for myself to dream of. But I have the chance, right here and now, to enjoy the journey. I don't want to miss another second of this life I've been given by jumping ahead. I am happy to be right here, right now- right where I am.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Headlines

"I am not the kind that will hide beneath the lights and lyrical one liners,
I can't stand the hype."
-We The Kings, "Headlines Read Out"

The headline is sometimes the hardest part for me to write.

I spend a lot of time thinking about things that make me want to blog. Sometimes I come up with ideas in bed while I'm supposed to be sleeping. Sometimes they come to me when I daydream while staring out the bus window on my way to work. Sometimes they come to me while someone is talking (and then I start blank staring, and people get offended, and there are all kinds of ridiculous repercussions). Ideas are the easy part. They come when they are ready to surface.

And then I sit down and drop some words on the web browser with some biblical context or a quote from someone or some song and the post is almost complete. Except for that pesky last part- the headline.

I think the headline is so hard for me because it's the title- the main thought that is going to draw people in and decide if they want to read what I have to say today. I try to pack my personality into as few words as humanly possible. Often times I think I'm being clever, and then other people come back to me and say, "I didn't get it." And then I'm left wondering what I was thinking in the first place. Other times, I get one that really hits the nail on the head. And I pat myself on the back a bit.

Because headlines are hard to write.

Sometimes I wonder what the headlines of our lives are. What do we walk around with that make people decide whether or not we are worth reading? Is it our clothes? Our hair style? The expression on our face? Is there a formula for who we are that can give us a more accurate initial reaction? I think we, as humans, spend a lot of time pondering this very question. We want to know how to be approachable, how to be likable, and how to attract others. And we spend a lot of time trying to make ourselves into what we think other people want us to be.

The real part to consider, I would wager, should actually be less self absorbed. We need to start with a much simpler question:

Whose attention do we want to catch?

See, by taking the attention off "me, me, me," and placing it on "the others", I suddenly step outside of myself and try to see from another's perspective. I am left with a much tighter image of what might bring someone in when I consider what they want or are going to be drawn to. I am not suggesting we should change to fit the expectations of other people, but instead suggesting that we need to emphasize the pieces of ourselves that are going to draw in the people who we most want to reach.

And it's important to know who exactly it is that we want to reach- because otherwise when we are unsuccessful in impressing people, we lose sight of what is really happening.

I'll give you an example: I used to be upset about people who would exclude me from events they were having. It made me feel bad to not be included in things that were happening around me. I would dread hearing about it after the fact, because I knew that it would give me a harsh dose of reality- there were people doing things without me.

It wasn't until I started to really listen to some of the stories of what people were doing that I realized the truth- the kind of things I wasn't being invited to were all the same... and they were things that I would not have wanted to go to. See, my headline read correctly for the personality that I have, and people noticed. I was given the opportunity to be part of many things that fit my ideals and were really fun for me. The rest of it was not for me. Being excluded become an opportunity to be thankful- I hurt no feelings when I didn't have to turn people down.

It was only when I started analyzing who was responding to who I was that I started to see what headline I needed.

I admit that sometimes I still struggle with what my life says. But these days, I am much more conscious of my audience- I know what I want to be and who I want to bring in. And if other people find my life offensive, or too different from theirs, or even just boring, that's okay too.

But the reader in me has to extend just one last challenge- sometimes you need to look past the headline to see the story it's holding. Sometimes people have a lot to offer or could be a good fit, but they just haven't figured out their title yet. So while I will work to make my own lines read properly, I also want to strive to read the stories that are the other people around me- even if the first impression isn't great.

Because finding the right headline for who we are can take a long time. After all, headlines really are the hardest part to write.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Loving my snobby friends

Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.
-Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

All my friends are snobs... or at least perceived that way.

I used to think that this was the downside to having artistic friends, until I realized that the intellectual friends that I have are just as bad. We all seem to have these things that we are very picky about. For some of my friends, it's music- the soundtrack that they approve is so small that it's often hard to find a radio station that satisfies their listening needs for more than a few tunes. Some of them are fashionistas- worried about not only what they wear, but offended by the decisions other's make. Some of them do food. Some do numbers. Some are scientists who look down on other scientists. They all come across as stuck up in their area of expertise.

But I love these people.  So I don't really think that they are snobs. I think that they are just passionate.

The problem with passion is that we don't perceive it properly when we discuss it in small groups. We talk about being passionate about something. But I have come to find that a drive for passion is more a personality trait than it is a state of mind about specifics. Passionate people are passionate first- the subject comes later, when they settle on their topic. They spend hours studying, learning, expressing, and creating their hobbies or skills. 

Consistencies in their personalities, however, lead me to develop the idea of passion being a trait. They all seem to exemplify the same things, and often receive the same mocking comments from others who don't have the passion trait. They often come across as snide or haughty, but I think that this is a misdiagnoses of what's really going on. They feel so strongly about whatever it is they have concerned their lives with, that they have the need to correct others who are sullying the good name of whatever it may be. 

Today is Valentine's day, when romance is alive in the air. The whole country becomes dazzled with the idea of love. Valentine's day seems to bring out the passion in many and directs it towards romantic relationships. 

But I too am a passionate person, and I have set my sights on this concept of love. 

Romantic love is a good thing. But it stems from this greater idea of being selfless. We know love to be many things- love is supposed to allow people to make the same mistakes over and over again without being condescending or harsh while still believing in change- it never makes little of other's accomplishments or highlights it's own- it's not self serving or even focused on the person giving it, and it doesn't stay mad. Love does not wish poor things on others, but instead celebrates when amazing things happen. It protects. It trusts. It hopes. And it does all this again and again and again. 

Today, I celebrate love. Not romance, not the idea of the partner I hope to one day have, but the idea that love can be transformative. The idea that love exceeds the moment and lives on. I celebrate because the world gets a window into this thing that I feel so strongly about. They get to see this wonderful concept that I dedicate my energy to researching and knowing because I can see how it can make life great. So I get a whole day to celebrate the wonderful love that I have for my family, for my neighbors, and for my friends. 

Even if sometimes, they come across as snobs.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Birthday considerations

"There is still no cure for the common birthday."
John Glenn 

It's crazy how our birthdays can make us feel a little contemplative. 

Thursday is my birthday. This time last February I listened to the words of John Mayer in "Why Georgia" as he reflected the worries and thoughts I was experiencing as my day approached: 

"I rent a room and fill the spaces with wooden faces to make it feel like home... but all I feel's alone. 
It might be a quarter life crisis, just stirring in my soul. 
I wonder sometimes about the outcome, of a still verdictless life."

I was right there with him, wondering if I'd ever find an outcome, and how in all my life, I'd managed to feel no closer. I worried that I really wasn't going to have anything to show for the first big chunk of my life.

But then it arrived, and I felt my burden lighten. I remember actually thinking to myself, "wait... what was all the fuss about?" It didn't feel empty at all. In fact, it felt like the start of something new.

This last year has been possibly the best of my life. I have rediscovered my writing voice and re-established this blog. I have spent the months finding my style leading worship music, and have developed the underused vocal chords I so often have ignored in the past. I discovered Natural Life and Sevenly- brands that reflect some of my values and hopes and print them on t-shirts, wallets, and cell phone cases. I have lost weight, both physically in my new found love for the gym, and emotionally as I have given away bags and bags of the cumulative stuff that holds me down.

But most importantly, this year, I feel like I finally met with God and learned to walk with Him side by side. 

The more I give my life over to my Creator, the more wonderful it becomes. Without the burden of continuous worries, I sleep easier at night, and handle each day with the freedom of newness. Panic attacks are (mostly) a thing of the past for me now, even in situations that are out of my control. The concern of what the world thinks of me is slowly dissolving, and with it, the disillusion that I am all alone. Even when no one stands with me here, I know that I am not alone. But to be honest, God has given me such amazing friends, that even in my darkest moments, He can remind me how special and wonderfully made I am through them. 

During this time I have reconnected with my bible with a joy I haven't had in a long time. I have invented my own methods of dialoguing with God. I have seen Him in more then just the occasional sunset- indeed, I see Him everywhere, in everything, carefully conducting the orchestra that is my life. He is teaching me about mercy, about hope, about love. He is stirring up my heart to make changes for Him and for myself with His guidance. 

It's been an incredible age. Part of me stares 26 in the face and knows that if the last 365 days were good, there could be amazing things coming. 

But part of me wonders how it can get any better. 

I think it is part of human nature to have something good and fear it will go away. Sometimes I wonder if this has all just been one big moment of greatness... if after this, my life will return to the "normal" I once knew. It is a fear that I surpass with the truths that I have come to know- I have been changed by time. There is a joy in knowing that we have a purpose, that we are loved and valued and used for all we have. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but there are so many desires in my heart that have not yet been realized. And I know that God, who gives His children good things, knows those hopes that I have not even vocalized yet, never mind the ones I have actively sought after.

My point in all this is that sometimes we look back and all we see is the regrets that we have trailed behind us. But some times in life leave feelings of happiness and appreciation. I'm sorry to close the door on them, to leave 25 to memory. But maybe, in a few months, I will look back again and wonder what the fuss was about yet again. Maybe the epiphanies and beginnings will continue, and newness that I cannot yet imagine will occur. Maybe there will be more renewal, more raising of the things that I have thought have been put away in myself for good... of the dead in me that needs to be raised. 

And even now, in my trepidation for this next chapter, I can feel an anticipation whispering inside me, waiting for something wonderful to happen. I guess I can't know what is coming in this next year... I will just trust, pray, wait, and see. Maybe this is what growing up looks like- seeing not just what we are leaving behind, but instead, what we might be headed towards.

I'm still a little contemplative, but I look forward to this new beginning, this celebration of my day of birth. If nothing else, it's going to be quite an adventure.

I look forward to seeing what is in store.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Burdenless

"I wanna feel weightless, and that should be enough"
-All  Time Low, Weightless

Yesterday I left my house with literally full hands. That might not sound that strange, but when you take the bus everywhere, you learn how to pack light and big so that you have your hands free to shove into your pockets or signal thank you's to the cars letting you pass.

But sometimes, when you have a full extra hour to kill before work, the best thing you can do is grab the package you have to mail, the shirt you have to return, your crazy pre-packed meals for the day, and the big bag of stuff you need to deliver to work, and you go for it. Even when you have a massive headache that's making you feel a little sick.

The very interesting thing about cold weather, at least for me, is the way it makes you appreciate how simple tasks are in the spring. Snow may be very pretty, but it's also very reflective, and nothing intensifies a headache like ridiculous exposure to sun. Walking in a big puffy jacket, with leggings under my pants, and my eskimo sized hood over my face, I can feel the extra weight of keeping warm, literally. Also, getting to the bus stop with your arms full is not so bad if you can leave the box on the ground while you wait. That's a no-go when the ground is white and wet. Another fun fact about the bus and snow- even when the snow is not new, the bus schedule is messed up. You just kind of go and hope to get lucky enough to catch one sooner rather than later.

My luck is not that good. I prayed.

I arrived at the bus stop about 37 seconds before the bus did. Both on the way to the post office, and on the way to work afterwards. Miracles, apparently, do occur.

At each new location as I arrived, I felt my load literally lighten- first the loss of a surprisingly heavy box, then the loss of the sweatshirt and the bag it came in, then my lunch as I placed it away in fridge, and finally the things I brought for work. Each one took a few pounds off the big mess I was carrying, until my bag held only my essentials, and weighed almost nothing. My headache eased a bit with each task completed, as if the stress of a to-do list was contributing to the pressure. Even removing my burly layers made me feel smaller. By the time I arrived at my desk, I felt, literally, relieved.

Matthew 11:30, (ESV) reads "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” If you've ever been in a church before, you may have heard this verse. And maybe laughed at it, like I used to. Some days, the burden of being a Christian is unbelievable. You believe that you have found this Messiah that the rest of the world doesn't see. You believe their eternity hangs in the balance, and all they want to do is laugh at you as they try to get you to use swear words. You  are trying to live your life by this conducted moral code and all around you the world is pressing in. trying to break you out of the Jesus bubble you hide in. All this is just compounded on top of the rest of the worries you have- "who will I be? What is my future like? Do I have enough time for a haircut this weekend?" It's exhausting.

We need someone to take the bags and lighten the load.

See, Jesus didn't mean for us to worry about any of this. He came so that we could let it all go. So we could look at others, love them, and let Him work through us. He cares for the future, for who we become, and for those pesky friends who want us to cuss. He cares for the plans we make and what happens in our lives. We just need to trust him and give him our massive purses and our boxes to mail and our returns... He has it handled. It leaves us plenty of time to figure out the haircut, which is less of a problem when there aren't 100 things on our minds.

I am learning to give my burdens to Jesus. And it's like taking off my winter clothes all over again. I feel the ease of each day. and celebrate each morning for it's newness. I am restored and renewed by what the Lord has done. It's incredible. It's like Advil migraine after a long morning- the pressure dulls, weakens, and finally ceases. And I'm left wide awake, empty handed, and ready to go out into the bright world and show off the life I have in my Messiah.

Thank you God, for emptying my hands.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Punk Rock Revelations

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.” 
-Winnie the Pooh

Punk rock always makes me nostalgic for high school. 

I remember the days of listening to Yellowcard blast out "If I could find you now, things would get better" into the night. (We had to blast the music, because in order to sing along, you had to half sing, half scream, and it was never pretty,  and needed to be covered if you were going to do it right.) We'd literally drive to nowhere, tearing up our vocal chords, singing songs that we didn't really understand about people we didn't yet know. 

I was a different person then, an emo girl with a misunderstanding of love, a distrust of the world around me, and a number of obstacles that stood between me and God. I was moody and often harsh, but inside I was also vulnerable and pondering, constantly wondering how to change my world without losing myself. I worried all the time, about everything from what to wear to what I would do with my life. I walked around with a constant fear that I would not be able to measure up to anything, or to complete easy tasks. In short, I was a teenager.

Flash forward to now, almost a full 8 years since my 18th birthday. My life is drastically different than how I saw it during my school years. I have seen adulthood from the other side. There have been weddings, there have been babies, there have been graduations of many kinds. There have also been funerals, seasons of being broke, and real heartaches. My life has, despite the worries of my angst-filled years, gone on. It's mellowed me out considerably. 

But sometimes, I just really want to listen to The Starting Line. Because I want to remember who I was. 

Recently, it occurred to me how the truth about love has really changed me. If you've been following my posts, you've seen me talk about how I want to love people whole heartedly and for all they are, not just the good they hold. I have a hard time doing this with the girl who lives in my past. I look back at her and all her sensitivities and often want to kick her for her dramatic attachments to things that were ultimately unimportant. I often say to my friends that I have a theory why God doesn't let us invent time travel- we might just go back in time and kill ourselves. 

Past me is hard for present me to love. 

Remember the episode of full house where Michelle has amnesia from the horse riding accident? At the end of the two-parter, if I remember correctly, the lost and confused Michelle meets the old, memory filled version of herself, and the two embrace and become one again. I almost envision this happening with all of us- the moment when we can step back in life and embrace who we used to be with who we've become is the moment we become whole. I mean, if everything happens for a reason, shouldn't we be glad for all we've been through? But it's hard when we measure ourselves up against the what-I-know-now standard.

So recently, I've been listening to some of that old music, trying to get a little bit of myself back. Because I always liked the music, and it always made me feel alive.

I hope one day that present me will look back on who I currently am, and laugh about how I struggled to understand things. I hope she will have cracked the solution to really loving whole heartedly. I hope that she will figure out how to get me to like more exercise and less ice cream. I hope that she will laugh about how I worry about my future now. 

But mostly I just hope she will be able to embrace all that has occurred in her life, from start to finish. Even if she doesn't like punk rock anymore. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Learning to Follow

“Listen through your screams to the wind still whispering: Don't give up -- Surrender!” 
― Eric Ganther

When I was 20, I was told that I was a natural leader.

That was not something that I wanted to hear. While I may have exhibited some of the (let's call them) skills that were often attributed with leadership, such as a rather loud voice that can quiet a room, a stern expression that can make people apologize before I have even spoken, and the ability to get people to jump on board with some of my crazier notions, I was weary of the term leader. In my spirit, I had always felt that I was called to be a follower.

And now, it's been six years, and while I still feel that calling, I have learned something about myself that gives me pause.

I have no idea how to follow.

Following has always been a romantic concept to me. You fall in line with the leadership of the group and do what you are asked. You do not sit up all night and consider the alternatives to the instructions, but instead, allow yourself to be guided. You do not challenge every little thing that is said just to see if there is a better alternative. You are not held responsible for the actions of those you cannot control. This should not be difficult.

But for me, it is. Because much of my personality strives toward leadership. I am a plethora of well reasoned arguments, each one commanding the attention of the group. I struggle to accept any way of doing something if it seems there might be a better or more feasible way. Or even the concept of one, which then leads me down the path of weighing all ideas. I think there might even be something in the way I stand, because even in college, when we are put into small groups with people we barely knew the names of, I was always the assumed leader before we even got together. My whole adult life has screamed of leading.

Still, my heart cries out to follow.

To follow means to abandon our own contrary nature and to be instructed. It requires a peace with quickly coming change, and an acceptance of each moment as it comes before it even arrives. To follow is to basically give someone else control. And I don't give up control very well.

As you might have imagined, my control issues do not serve well in my relationship with God. My faith poses a huge initiative to give the reigns of my life over and let the Lord guide my life. I am told to give up the worry and pretense the shrouds humanity and to allow every moment it's own blessings and challenges. For years now, I have internally worked myself against this, grabbing at little moments in which  I think I can be in control. Or that I "know better". It's exhausting.

I'm giving that all up now. I am going to learn to follow.

My heart cries out to let things happen. To be ready and accepting of each situation by giving in and letting go. No more worrying about what I am going to do with my life or who I will marry or what tomorrow will bring. These are not my concerns anymore. I will learn to follow, so that with each new day will be a wonderful surprise, not a calculated hope.

My natural talents will just have to step aside for now.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Equipped and Ready

"Lifted out of the wreckage, I find hope in the aftermath."
-Hillsong United, Aftermath

Last week, my little hometown experienced a little snow fall, and a lot of panic. And I learned something about my family.

We are definitely the kind of people you want around in "emergencies."

My body informed me at 7:00 am that it was time to get up and get to work. My sister and my father were already outside getting starting with some shovels and the snow blower (an acquisition my father had put together only a few days before). We only stayed out until about 9:30 that morning, but we managed to uncover the walkways and cars of many of our neighbors, and the driveways of most of the street.

Then we all went inside,  changed, and headed out to our respective jobs... just to find that half the state had decided they weren't going to brave the snow.

What's interesting about life is that sometimes we don't realize how different we are until we see the contrast illuminated. I can't imagine a snow fall that wasn't strategically planned... in my house we watch the news to see when it's coming, what the temperature will be the following day (will it melt? will it freeze?), and what to expect the roads will look like. We keep a stash of canned food for emergencies, and logs by the fireplace. We have many blankets and sheets for if the power goes out. And flashlights. Somewhere in my house there must be about 100 flashlights.

A few years ago, we went through a hurricane that washed away a piece of our foundation. The flooding was disastrous to us and to our neighbors. The full cleanup took months- rebuilding is still in progress for many of the homes that were affected. The hurricane took us a little by surprise- water creeping up the street quickly escalated early in the morning, and took just a few hours to start soaking into first floor levels. No one was entirely prepared for that night- not even my family, who has been through a flood once before. Sure, we'd moved much of the important stuff out of the basement. But the first floor? It felt unreal.

It was a really difficult time in my life that followed. Rebuilding is a physical, mental, and emotional experience that becomes very draining. We relied on the help of many of our friends at that time to get us through. One man from our church came to help my family- we didn't know him very well, nor he us, but he came every day that it was possible for him to help anyway. He was able to take instruction and  get all the work done efficiently. He didn't waste time, but took breaks often just to sit with us when things got rough.. he is a fantastic person to have around in crisis.

I didn't see it then, but we were learning from his example.

The following year, we were much better prepared for hurricane season. Equipped with a generator and our collection of flashlights, we bundled together with the neighbors and waited for the storm. And while we were blessed not to be flooded again, we lost power for about a week. But this time, we were ready. We quickly created our own routine. And once settled into that, my whole family (including the friends who have become like family) were able to get involved in creating a shelter and charging station in town for some people who hadn't been as prepared for what was coming. Each day, I  would return from work, and head over to shelter to help serve a hot meal to those in the shelter, set up cots if needed, and just spend some time talking to some of those who were looking for more than just heat. It touched me to be able to be part of something like that, as I remembered those who had been there  to help us only months before.

Less than a foot of snow hardly qualifies as an emergency to me. Clean up takes less than 3 hours. You don't lose heat inside the house. You can eat normal food and resume normal life. But then again, I have a frame of reference that allows me to be ready for more, for bigger things.

I don't look back at the experiences in my life that were hard with any malice. As a matter of fact, I am grateful that I have been through what I have, because it has prepared me for the small things that are coming my way. It has reminded me to rely on God in all things, and to remember what is important in each moment. I have learned how to physically help out, but more than that, I have learned that love is above all things for a reason- it keeps us swaddled and safe when all the physical fails.

We are good to have around in emergencies, my family and I. We are prepared for the whole picture. It let's us see outside our needs and work for the community. I believe this is part of the training the Lord is putting me through so one day I may better share Him and His love.

And it's quickly becoming one of my favorite things about who I am.