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