Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Stages of Life

When you hit your twenties, things begin to change. Suddenly, life events you longed for and dreaded come to pass. In many ways - there's an excitement and anticipation. At twenty, you feel like a true adult, not just legal in the eyes of the law (though maturity may or not be in supply). Then comes twenty-one and twenty-two, etc.

Your friends start getting married
You finish your education
Then come the babies.
A career

I can almost mark my life stage by what my friends are posting on Facebook.

But among the engagement, graduation, wedding and baby pictures, there's the occasional post that I react to or like because it's important,, but don't always resonate with.

I remember when one of my friends posted about the death of their grandpa. I remember thinking, "Oh, that's so sad." But the real weight didn't hit me until I received a text this afternoon.

"Gramma is with Jesus," it read.

I sat back in my chair and ugly-cried.

When someone who has lived a full life (marriage, kids, grandkids, retirement) dies, often you see it coming - their health declines, they become housebound, move to a care facility or hospice comes. You prepare yourself, knowing time is short.

But when that text came... the air wooshed out of my chest and I just felt empty.

Behind the person that was my Grandma are dozens of memories with my cousins - museums, tea parties, plays, dress up. I said goodbye to those when we got her diagnosis, but the finality of that text  just broke my heart. She's really gone...

Oh, to all of my friends who lost a grandparent recently, my heart breaks for you - it's so much more than the token sentimental picture posted to mark their passing... it's an ache that wasn't there before, and an empty place in the family.

It's knowing your future children will never know this person who mattered so much.

It's smiling when you think of all the stories you'll have to tell.

Monday, October 24, 2016

INFJs Won't Lock a Slammed Door

I remember, about two or three years ago, a friend and I were walking back to my apartment when she proceeded to tell me about this thing called the "INFJ Door Slam" - a friend of hers does this. Funny thing though - I'm an INFJ, and I'd never heard of it. I couldn't even quite fathom what it meant because I hate hurting people, and I couldn't picture myself shutting someone out, even a person I didn't like. It just sounded so cruel. That is until I found myself doing it.

Some have described it as a self-preservation mechanism - an on-off switch or a pair of scissors that severs all emotional ties. Indifference.

I read one article that said after an INFJ slams the door, all interactions that follow are characterized by strange begrudging behavior. Often callus and rude.

But I would hope that other types would understand, this isn't necessarily true.

INFJs believe the best in people, often assuming that conflict in a relationship is because of something they did wrong. They try to justify your actions, rather than take issue with you. However, if your actions create a trend that suggests lack of thoughtfulness or consideration and understanding towards the INFJ, they will feel deeply hurt and rejected. It will take time for the INFJ to even consider the possibility that you did something intentional.

Once that reality sets in however, the INFJ will want to distance themselves not from you, really, but the hurt they're received. However, you caused and remind them of the hurt, so to protect themselves from such unpleasant emotions or ugly thoughts, they withdraw. Further interacts will likely lack previous depth - small talk. They probably can't make eye contact with you and conversations won't last very long.

Still... the INFJ doesn't stop caring. They can love you from afar, often asking about your well-being through mutual friends.

Aplologies go a long way, however, especially if you show repentance - truly making an effort to show understanding and sympathy. A door slam doesn't have to be permanent, but you have to knock. Be prepared for a deep conversation to follow. They've probably been stewing over the problem for a while and have a lot of thoughts on the subject they'll need to share and want you to understand.

Monday, September 26, 2016

I am the Lord thy Dog.

One book I read said that dogs naturally look to their humans as a leader simply because the human is the food dispenser. This happens regardless of that human's good or bad leadership. Even if your dog seems to be wrestling for control, they're just trying to figure you and your rules out. 

But according to almost every dog training book you will ever read, you'll find a line that says something to the effect of: teach your dog that you are the most important thing in the world. That's rule #1.

Now, in essence, this means whenever they encounter a distraction or you ask something of them, they turn their attention on you. Always you.

I'm starting to wonder if perhaps, training a dog has spiritual implications.

Three weeks ago, we brought home a dog from the pound. Her name is Lucy and she has absolutely no manners whatsoever. Housebroken? No. Sit? Stay? Come? Nope. Nada. Nothing. A blank slate it ever there was one. So I've been attempting to teach her. But perhaps I'm learning as much as she is, if not more - she's still figuring out how to walk on a leash.

Training Lucy, I'm reminded of that hymn... Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. When we walk down the street and another dog barks, she always strains at the leash and whines. It's nigh unto impossible to get her attention back until we round a corner. And whenever there's a sound outside, she goes into a barking fit.

What Lucy doesn't understand yet, is that I've got her best interests at heart. Judging by the barking dog's manners, I know the meeting wouldn't go well. And those noises - I know whatever it was, it's not going to hurt us. If only she would listen to me, everything will be okay.

She drags when we go for a walk. At least for the first few blocks until she grows tired. I can stop, tell her to sit, and refocus her attention, but she'll go right back to tugging once we begin walking again. As the dispenser of all good things (i.e. treats) I reward her whenever she heels. But she forgets when we initially begin our walk. Pulling doesn't get her anywhere.

I think that we too forget that our master is the most important thing in our lives. And he is the giver of all good things. But in the moment, we surge ahead. I can help you God! Do you hear that noise? We should do something about it!
Man makes his plans... but God directs his steps (Prov. 16:9).
God is sovereign, there is nothing that is out of his control. Nothing he isn't already aware of.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
So, if God is in control - if he looks after us so perfectly - then why do we strain, so eager to get ahead, when his timing so so perfect?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight
(Prov. 3:5-6).

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tears at the Altar

I'm not one to cry. But oh how I was fighting the tears as I saw her enter through the back door on her father's arm. There were diamonds in her eyes. And in that moment, I knew everything was about to change. And I saw it coming months ago.

I remember sitting on my couch back in May, our heads close together as we talked about the ring. He'd only just ordered it and all their plans for the future were still a secret. Heat flooded my cheeks as we spoke and I couldn't help but smile. I was so happy for her... So proud of her.

I remember after we graduated, when he popped the question. I couldn't be there, but she sent me pictures. I don't even have words for the heartfelt sigh that escaped my lips.

Then came the wedding invitation. The engagement photos were everything I could have imagined after seeing her reaction to his first, "I love you." I showed all of my friends those photos. I couldn't contain the joy I felt - the pride in knowing her.

And then the bridal shower. I drove five hours to be there. There was this urge to be as close to her as I could for as much time as I had. I wanted to relieve whatever stress I could and help her enjoy this time... this process... if I possibly could. And yet, I knew things would be different after the vows were said. She would be apart of a package after that. So there was a bittersweet need to savor our time.

I drove up two days before the ceremony, and when I saw her at the rehearsal, there was anxiety in her face. Of course she wanted everything to go smoothly, but smoothness doesn't come easy. So I lent her a smile and reassuring words. With diamonds in her eyes... no one would care about the details.

So finally, when I stood at the front, watching her come down the isle, my eyes were watering. Everything was about to change... But I couldn't have picked a better man for her. He loves her as much if not more than I do. He treats her like the princess that she is.

One of the guests went on and on later about how she refused to cry during the ceremony. The other bridesmaids expressed their anxiety, walking down the isle. But in the blur of it all, I can only remember the trembling of my lips and the smile that took over my face. Truthfully, I wasn't at all certain if the tears would remain at bay or not. When the vows were said, my cheeks were wet.

But there's no shame in wedding tears.

I have never been so happy for anyone in my life. It doesn't even seem real. Whatever may come next, any changes, it's all worth it to see the anxiety-turned-joy I saw on one of my best friends' face. And the look on his face when he saw her in all her bridal regalia confirmed it.

I've never been so proud or joy-filled.

My cup overflows.... with happy tears

And to my great surprise - I caught the bouquet. She told me, "you're next," as we exchanged our last squeeze of a hug before she left on her honeymoon.

All my best wishes and love, friend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Less of Me

Tonight, I felt distracted while singing the somewhat routine words of worship. It would take a novel to truly explain everything God has been teaching me over the last several weeks. But within the lyrics of the song, my ears caught the line, "More of you and less of me," I began to wonder if my generation truly understands the meaning of those words we insert into so many of our worship songs.

I'd like to begin by saying I don't mean to address the world. I mean to address my brothers and sisters. Because you see... We've been adopted into this incredible family, not because of anything we've done, but because of how much we're loved. But after entering into the family, we take on an identity.

There is a part of me that wonders if perhaps being a Christian is somehow trendy? If there is an image that we put out intentionally so that others will look at us and think, "Wow, he/she must be really close to God." We make a show of our Quiet Time with Christ. We post pictures from mission trips, VBS and service projects so others will see our humility. And we wear modest clothes that are still with the times because we want the rest of the world to know you can honor God and still look good. And we love praying out loud and talking about how God has moved in our lives so that others will see us and dare I say it... Admire us.

Less of me, more of Him.

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them. For then you will have no reward from your father who is in heaven." Matt 6:1

It's been a long time coming, but it's becoming evident to me that my faith can't be about me. No matter how badly I want that Christian guy to look at me across chapel and see my hands raised in worship. My faith can't be about me.

Because my faith is about bringing glory to Christ. In my brokenness... The one who sees my secret brokenness loves me. And in true humility... on my good days... I want others to see the fruit of my faith and not see me, but see and desire God.

"When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret and your father who sees in the secret will reward you." Matt 6: 3-4

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross." Phil 2:3-8

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Did You Become an Adult?

We were in the car, driving up to my grandparents, maybe two hours after I'd walked across the stage of Hillside (Adventure) Christian Church in Roseville and received an empty folder (for my come-September diploma). Just that morning, one of my best friends and I lay in bed wishing it weren't 6:30 am. We reminisced over how this was the last sleepover. The last time doing our hair and makeup. The last everything. Then, around 10 am, we filed into the giant auditorium and became adults - I think. So of course, sitting in that car, alone with my dad, I was essentially posed the question of, "how did you become an adult?"

What he really said was, "What did you learn in college?"

I thought about it for a moment. You see, I really hadn't taken it in yet that college was truly over (It feels a little more final now that I've seen my grades). But in actuality, I've been coming up with the answers to that question for a long time. I've been thinking it over for four years.

Freshman year, I put in an application to become a Student Ambassador with Admissions - essentially, a tour guide and overnight host. Every tour I give, I tell the students my two cents on picking a college: you're not just picking a school, you're picking a place to call home for four years, and you better want to live here or else you're missing on on something important. 

And honestly - now that I'm done - I stand behind that advice all the more firmly.

You can go to any college and get a halfway decent education, but most of what I really learned in college had more to do with life than anything else.

In the fall of 2012, just three months out of high school, I moved into an empty dorm room, took lots of pictures with my parents and grandparents, said goodbye and spent the next two weeks crying my eyes out. Honestly, I couldn't decide whether or not I wanted to leave home. I debated it for months and after getting acceptance letters from both the four-year private schools I applied to, I went with William Jessup, not only because I liked it, but really, because the financial aid was better.

Those first few months were torture. Though I did love my classes. Half the time I was lonely and confused while surrounded by a crowd of friends. It was bizarre and stretching all at once.

I bought my own shampoo and toothpaste for the first time. I went to the bank alone. I saw movies where I paid for my own ticket. I bought groceries. And I suffered through the flu without my mom to go and buy medicine for me.

That was lesson #1 - You can do it yourself - even when you're under-qualified and scared. You'll learn on the fly, and it will be okay.

The second semester came a little more naturally - but that was after I found my college best friend (I think I have one for for all of life's stages). But I needed her so badly. Finding Emily taught me about the power of prayer and trusting God.

I look back through my prayer journal and I can't even count the number of times I prayed for someone like her. And during my sophomore year, the first year we roomed together, when she called me out for some really poor, passive-aggressive behavior, I knew she was the real-deal as far as friendships go.

That was lesson #2 - Look for friends who will build you up, not just puff you up or keep you company when you're bored. 
Lesson #2.5 - Trust God to answer prayer.

Still, I can't say that my sophomore year was by any means easy. I had a job sophomore year. I'd never done that before. I learned how to use a cash register and keep track of my paycheck - you see, we'd been apart of a surprise move from the dorms into the on-campus apartments. Suddenly, I was also cleaning house and learning how to cook. My new meal plan didn't cover every meal, so together, we muddled through the art of cooking and grocery shopping (only one of us had a car).

But all that wasn't so bad. It was kind of fun - I love cooking now and by Junior year I had a car. Nevertheless - while living in the dorms, none of us had to work together. Not really. Maybe a complaint or two about a messy roommate. We had a cleaning service that came through and took care of the kitchenette, floors, trash and bathrooms. All that changed when I moved into the apartments.

You see, there are two different philosophies of house-keeping. Learn them now and you won't be so disappointed.
1. I take care of my mess, you take care of yours. 
2. We share this space, therefore, we share the chores.
When these two philosophies collide, it turns into a standoff.

You see, the one you thinks, "You'll take care of your mess," sees a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and assumes that the roommate who used the dishes will wash them. While the one who made the mess looks at their busy schedule, looks at the chore chart and thinks, "Oh, I'm on vacuum duty. It's their turn to do the dishes. I have a paper to finish."

You can see where this one goes.

For me, I was the bleeding heart who thought, "oh, they're busy, I can do it. When I have a busy day, they'll return the favor."

Let me warn you - people are not mind readers, and they most certainly won't know you were the one who pitched in since you, in your humility, decided not to make a big deal out of it. Still, you went in with expectations. I did. I assumed. That was my heartbreak.

Junior year, I had 18 units and was falling asleep on the couch every night trying to pull all nighters. I barely finished my work that semester and dealt some heavy blows to my friendships. My bleeding heart had me cleaning up after my roommates all semester at the expense of my studies. But of course, how were they to know? It wasn't as if they were watching my every move. So I went to classes, cleaned all day and studied all night until my roommates were frustrated with my books splayed all over the living room (I didn't want to keep my roommate up).

I just kept praying that they would see how hard I was working and give me a little grace.

Instead, I kept up my frenzied habits, watched my life explode and fell asleep crying - all the time.

That was lesson #3 - when you do an act of service, do it out of the goodness of your heart, not because you have expectations or assumptions. 

My bleeding heart got me into all kinds of trouble. My friend Emily once told me, "Decide who to say yes to." Because really, I say yes to everyone. I hate letting people down and I'm desperate to be in their good graces. So whenever a favor came my way, I would say yes. No questions. Just yes. 

I guess I'm one of those creative types - I make things all the time. My down time looks something like pinterest throw-up (in a good way?). If someone sees something I make, I often hear, "will you make me one?" It's the highest of compliments; I normally say yes.

That's my downfall, admittedly. 

I had an identity crisis of sorts while in college. Because, for so long, I was the kid with good grades. I was the teacher's pet. I was a tutor. I was a TA. I was good at school and never received anything lower than a high B (except high school Chemistry, I tried everything and still couldn't balance reactions). 

Then, I found out - I like being crafty, doing favors and housecleaning more than I like writing papers. I would rather mop the floor and do a load of laundry. I would rather make someone a wreath out of book pages than write a Christian Theology or American History paper.

As a result - I flunked a course for the first time in my life.

Oh, and boy did I cry over that one. I had all kinds of anxiety, waiting to see if I could just pass that class. Even by the barest of points.

Nope. I failed.

I'd never done that before. I had one of the highest academic scholarships. How does someone with an academic scholarship flunk a class?

Because I said yes to the "good" things when I should have said yes to the "best" things.

My dad told me that one.

I look back now and see all the people I let down because I said yes to everything - I just couldn't get around to it all. And to think, I said yes because I wanted to please them and the exact opposite happened.

That was lesson #4 - choose who you say, "yes" to, so you'll never have to worry about having time to to the important things. 

And it was lesson #4 what led me to lesson #5. Because, while in the throes of my identity crisis, I was afraid to admit that I was struggling. I didn't want people to know. So I struggled alone, until finally I called up Emily and admitted I had three late papers to finish and a matter of days to write them. 

So... we went to Starbucks and I wrote one of them. Then I went home and wrote another. She sent me texts or would ask me every time we saw one another how I was getting along. I did my best not to lie. 

That was lesson #5 - Never go it alone. We were created for community, forget about your pride, it'll only get in the way. 

I don't know what your college years looked like. Mine were memorable, if anything. Maybe I grew up? I'm almost twenty-two. I have a degree. That has to count for something, at least, that's what I told my dad, sitting in the car that day. 

But then again, I totally and completely lost my phone during that trip home. So who am I to say I've finally made it? But perhaps, just maybe, becoming an adult is a bit more complicated that just a degree and knowing it all. 

In one of my classes this past semester, we discussed the difference between soft skills and hard skills - soft skills being the intangible life lessons we've acquired (character). Hard skills are the things that can be taught - the technical know-how required to accomplish a task. 

What did I learn in college? Well, I learned a whole lot about Bible and Theology (my minor) and plenty about Western history - America, European, Medieval, Californian, Environmental, etc. (my major). 

I can tell you that in Romans 12:19-20 where it says, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance in mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals in his head," has nothing to with making your enemies feel guilty. 

That passage is actually a kind of pay-it-forward scenario. It refers to a coal-bearer, who in Hebrew culture, would be given a heap of coals, which he would deliver to the homes of the area so that they could start their fires. So by giving your enemy a heap of coals, you are equipping him to care for others. 

I can also tell you that when Spanish Conquistadors discovered California, they thought it to be the home of the Queen Calafia from The Adventures of Esplandian. Because of the gulf of Mexico, they presumed the land to actually be an island. They named it California because it resembled the island of women Calafia ruled over in the story. And honestly, they weren't so lucky - instead of an island of women, they faced inhospitable harbors and scurvy. 

I suppose those are the hard skills. I learned something. 

But that girl who cried for two weeks is not the person I have become. 

Sometimes, when I interact with the underclassmen, I wish I could simply pound the soft skills I've learned into their frustrated lives. They complain about the same things that bothered me two or three years ago. But I hated listening to reason then - I figured those "reasoned people" simply didn't understand my situation. 

But I'm confident that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (Phil. 1:6).  

That's what I learned in college. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

When Church is Messy

For the second time... growing up in the church has become relevant. It keeps coming up and I'm only just beginning to see the bigger picture.

You know, when I was a little girl, I always figured I would marry a pastor - It was all I ever knew. Church was familiar. And I won't kid you, I loved it. Warts and all. But at the same time, the warts were many. Church is messy.

If I could fix any one thing, I would make church a pretty place - a happy place. Because, let's be honest: Christians can be ugly. They say the wrong things at times. They make poor choices. And sometimes, they don't live very Christ-like. It's enough to make even the most stalwart of Christians cringe at time. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Jesus once called the Pharisees "White Washed Tombs." They looked great on the outside, but inside, they were rotting.

If you show up to church on any given Sunday, you're bound to see at least 100 people, if not more, dressed in nice clothes, smiling and shaking hands. They're going to ask how your grandmother is doing and if your brother/son/grandchild likes college. The junior high girls are going to find their church friends and sit together in the same row - and more likely than not, they're going to doodle on offering envelopes with a little wooden pencil (only one of them will have a fine point).

But that church lady who asked you about your relative is probably arthritic and had a not-so-great doctor's appointment for her husband yesterday. The young woman teaching Sunday School is terrified because she feels like a hypocrite, teaching right and wrong when she can't follow the rules herself all the time. And the pastor's sermon only seems poignant because the very thing he's preaching on is something he learned the hard way this week - God has great timing like that.

Church is messy.

And sometimes, it hurts like crazy.

With all the best intentions in the world those "White-Washed Tombs," will inflict some pretty nasty wounds. I grew up in the church - I know. I've seen the church in some pretty ugly moods. It has an underbelly that sometimes we're ashamed to admit exists. Because if we admit it exists, then maybe Jesus isn't enough. Christians are supposed to be made new and healed, right?

Actually, Christians are pretty messy. But that doesn't mean Christianity is a dud.

The church is a hospital and sin is the diagnosis. Healthy people have no reason to enter a hospital. If finding Christ made us perfect, we could do this "life" thing alone. But we can't because the simple fact is that we're all in process.

Finding Christ is like finding out what's wrong with us and then comes the treatment process - the refiner's fire. God molds and shapes us into his likeness. But truth be told, we aren't completely healed until we make it to the other side.

And in the meantime, God does some of his best work using broken people.

Do you remember Saul? or Paul? That's his new name. Saul was a guy who's primary endeavor was a crusade against Christians. He sought them out, arrested and put them to death. He did this for most of his young adult life. This is the guy God sent to southern Europe and the Mediterranean to spread the gospel. And once God got ahold of him, the persecution turned on him. It seems ironic that when he wasn't serving God, he had it easy, and when he was, the trouble started.

Instead, Saul was a guy with a messy life who was used for some incredible purposes.

Sometimes I look at my experiences in the church, and I blame all my problems on that mess. If God really wanted a good story for his followers, he would make our lives more attractive to outsiders. But he doesn't. He allows us to go through some very rough situations. Then I realize, because of Saul/Paul's unique story, it made him uniquely qualified to do the work set before him. God took that mess and brought something beautiful out of it.

So when I look at my mess and feel out of control and frustrated, I remind myself of that - There's a bigger picture that I can't see yet. Church isn't perfect, and neither am I. It's a mess. But God is bigger than the mess, and he has this funny habit of using mess for something bigger.

Mess doesn't mean God has failed. It means He's working. What you have is a trust issue. I know I do.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Part 3 - Love & Broken Peices

I spent much of my life trying to be in control - trying to fix things. Perhaps because there was plenty I couldn't control. But much of the time, I felt as if my identity were based in a picture. When I couldn't live up to the picture, I beat myself up for being a failure.

Still, if only I accepted the truth - instead I fought it - but all have sinned and fallen short. Missed the mark (Romans 3:23). No one is righteous... not even one (Ecclesiastes 7:20). I just wanted to make everyone happy. I didn't want to tip the apple cart. And maybe in the good moments, with noble intentions, I wanted to set an example.

Probably a common dilemma among pastor's kids.

Still, I was ashamed of my imperfections.

After all, in 1 Timothy 3 it says that in order to lead the church well, a leader (overseer) must set the example in his own home. As a PK, I suppose that made me apart of said household. I was part of the example.

It's a lot of pressure.

So, I had all the right answers in Sunday School. I wore modest clothing. I only listened to Christian music. I didn't cuss.

But since all have sinned... those outward signs of being a good "Christian kid" had nothing to do with what was going on in my heart. Jesus once called the Pharisees white washed tombs (Matthew 23) and honestly... that's what I felt like. The outside was pretty... the inside, dying. I was sneaky.

If I messed up, I didn't want anyone to know. I would simply fix it before anyone knew.

But in order for there to be trust, a certain level of authenticity has to be present.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to be authentic. To not feel "at risk" if I bared my brokenness.  

The reality?

At first, I figured it was everyone else - that was why I was so broken. No one understood me. No one treated me right. It was my junior high math teacher's fault. The last time I opened up, someone shut me up. The reasons were numerous.

One evening, a year or so back, I was staring at the filthy kitchen in my apartment with a paper to finish. I was furious. I was already struggling to keep up with the course. Part of it was my own procrastination, but when I looked at that kitchen with dishes piled a mile high and a floor in dire need of mopping, all I could think about was how mad I was with the people I lived with. I wasn't their unpaid live-in maid - I had a job. If only they would just do their part and help with the upkeep of our living area.

So instead of working on my paper, I cleaned the kitchen first. I didn't get any sleep that night as I opted to consume copious amounts of coffee and write the paper in the wee hours of the morning.

Don't use my logic, by the way.

At that point in my life, what I really wanted and prayed for was to be surrounded by people who put as much effort into me as I did into them. I felt like I was being drained, surrounded by so many relational moochers - they were sabotaging me and turning me into a person I didn't like.

I thought maybe, if only God would bring a few solid friends into my life (I had one, I hoped there were more like her out there).

If only God would bring a really great guy into my life...

Then - then I would be better. I would be fixed.

I also thought maybe, if I would just get enough of a routine together, be a good Christian and read my Bible more often...

Actually - that will get you somewhere.

But I would get discouraged and run away. Every. Single. Time. I felt like I couldn't face God when I failed. Opening his word, or listening to worship music made me feel guilty and ashamed.

I think I was hoping for an instant fix. Like reading my Bible everyday for a week would somehow result in a complete turn around of behavior.

But Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16). We get to share with Christ in his suffering (1 Peter 4). Because the Christian life is no easy path. Reading your Bible, while a means of leaning on God's strength where we are weak, doesn't immediately negate the fallenness of this world.

Our bodies are still broken.

People can't fix us - not people: relationships nor friends.

A long shower won't wash off the ugliness of sin.

It's deeper than that. Ingrained in our very essence.

But weren't not alone in the refining process. And it IS a process. Which is why it's often so confusing to go through. It's easy to misunderstand the process - easy to blame the pains on our environment. Rather, we're apart of the body of Christ. Called to recognize our inherent brokenness, and share out burdens with one another (Galatians 6). But in bearing one another's struggles, we're supposed to point each other back to God, his mercy and sufficiency.

Because, when we fall, he catches us.

When we're weak, he strengthens us.
My flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
Struggling isn't a reason to go looking to cast blame. And while it certainly isn't good, God loves us too much for us to run from him in shame. He's already covered our shame (Isaiah 1:18).  So instead, we are in process, growing more and more like him, suffering and struggling as we strive. Refining fires were never meant to be pleasant nor easy.

Have courage.

Be patient and full of grace.

We're all in process.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Part 2 - Love and Broken Pieces

Get Wisdom. Get Understanding. And don’t be wise in your own eyes. That’s the gist of Proverbs 3.

The first time I read it, it seemed pretty straight forward. But, I also figured that I was a fairly intelligent person who didn’t make stupid choices. Then recently, (since God has a sense of humor) I found myself knocked down a peg. Please, feel free to laugh.

Not so long ago, we ran out of dishwasher detergent in my apartment. Of course, considering there are nine of us living together, this is a tragedy. Our little dish drainer is much too small to handle the ridiculous amounts of dishes we go through on a daily basis. Now personally, I have this bad habit of stepping in and doing things for everyone. I think it's because I'm trying to be nice... Or I'm just OCD about a clean kitchen and have trouble asking for help - you be the judge.

So, with a sink full of dishes and an urgent need to do something about them, I decided to load the dishwasher. But then, once it was full, I really, really wanted to run it and just get the dishes out of the way.

What would you do? I came up with an idea.

Not wanting to be a total pioneer, I reached for the bottle of Dawn and read the label. Naturally, it said, "Do not use in an electric washer."

Still, with so many dishes to take care of, I thought, "What could possibly go wrong?" I reasoned that they likely put that on the bottle in the case that something DID happen, though unlikely. I couldn't think of anything mechanically that it might break. So really... what could happen?

This reasoned out, I poured about a tablespoon into the detergent dispenser, started the machine, and sat down to watch TV.

Ten minutes passed, and the dishwasher started groaning.

I brushed it off as nothing; our dishwasher is always noisy.

Twenty minutes passed, and I realized these groans were a bit different. So, I got up and went to check the machine. What I saw was horrifying:

In a large mass along the bottom of the washer was a pile of suds and water, slowing growing in size. My brain essentially quit for a moment as I watched before my wits returned.

Of course, I turned off the cycle, mopped up the mess and set the machine to rinse. But never in a million years did I expect such a mess, and I couldn't believe that I thought I knew better than the bottle. OF COURSE the warning label was there for a reason. Why wouldn't Dawn check their product so stupid people like me would hopefully trust the label and not make a sudsy mess like I did.

Why did I think I knew better?

You can laugh now. Either because you've done it too, or because now you know not to.

But really, it seems funny, but sometimes I’m guilty of believing certain pieces of scripture aren’t relevant to me and who I am. My mom once said that they Bible never gets old – you can read it again and again – there will always be something new to learn. The older I get, the more I know it to be true.

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Don’t I know it now.

Still, that verse came to mind only after the fact. When it happened, I thought first of Proverbs 3:7 which says, “Don’t be wise your own eyes.” It’s a verse I’m sure your grandmother or your mother quoted on end. But whether you know it or not, I’m almost certain your know the verse that comes before, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 ESV).

Perhaps trusting God has been the overarching lesson of my college years. More and more, I’m coming to find that I don’t always like God’s plans – they aren’t my plans. And he has this interesting habit of not always revealing his plans.

Like any normal human, I don’t easily trust what I can’t see.

But if God is good – he can’t be anything but – then why don’t I trust him? Why don’t I follow him?

It’s Romans 12:1-2 in essence. We’re supposed to offer our bodies as living sacrifices – an act of worship. Ignore what the world says and listen to God. Then, we’ll begin to understand his good, pleasing and perfect will. But more often than not, we choose not to trust God, so we don’t submit to him. We listen to what the world says, and end up anxious and afraid… and then, all that’s left is confusion, because our plans are failing.

In his heart, a man makes his plans, but God directs his steps (Prov. 16:9).

If only we could just get over our stubborn pride and realize that God was right all along. Even when we buck and squirm because where his plans seem to be taking us is uncomfortable.

But it's only when we are beyond ourselves and our comfort - out of control - that we truly depend on God. 

He's the giver of good gifts, even when we feel stretched thin and spiraling. 

He's given us the body - there are other believers who've gone before us, who God carried through, to advise us. And of course we have the scriptures, because, "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4 ESV). 

Sometimes we just have to let go and let God. 

He's far more competent than we are anyway. 

It's simply a matter of trust. Don't be wise in your own eyes - we were never meant to go it alone. And if I may quote Veggie Tales... "God's way is the best way." 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Part 1 - Love and Broken Pieces

I'll tell the world (I'll sing a song)
It's a better place since you came along
(Since you came along)
Your touch is sunlight through the trees
Your kisses are the ocean breeze
Everything's alright when you're with me

And I hold my favorite thing
I hold the love that you bring
But it feels like I've opened my eyes again
And the colors are golden and bright again
There's a song in my heart, I feel like I belong
It's a better place since you came along...
It's a better place since you came along...

I see the whole world in your eyes
It's like I've known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It's like you really understand
You love the way I am

Now I'm alright, now I'm alright
(Everything's alright)

I had a revelation of sorts the other day... and since revelations aren't particularly common, I've been stewing over it for the last several days. But anyways... It started after I heard this song in Starbucks while I was working on my manuscript. 

First, I liked the melody, then I looked up the lyrics, and it was just so sweet. So of course, I found it on itunes. But my feelings changed after hearing it on repeat a few times. Not in a bad way, mind you, rather, I realized something about how I viewed the song. 

Maybe you didn't notice the first time you skimmed over the lyrics I pasted, but look again. Look at the lyrics in bold. It blew my mind that really - if you reflect on the song in another context... it sounds like a worship song. 

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us all

And we are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking
And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don't have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
He loves us, oh

And with the bold here... doesn't the worship song also sound like a love song?

Once I realized this, I was deeply challenged. Have we as young adults made an idol out of love - or even the idea of it? Because often, I find myself thinking that love will fix whatever ambiguous thing is wrong with me - or otherwise prove that I'm fine, that all my doubts and worries were wrongly placed. 

Truly... love is powerful... but it can't fix you. And if we're truly honest - romantic love is more prone to break you if you approach it in so fragile a state. 

And yet... again and again, we turn to love, expecting the world and winding up broken hearted and disappointed because, used in that way - love is an idol - used in place of God's role in our lives. In some cases, when we're feeling vulnerable, we turn to love, rather than God for healing, support and strength. But what a backwards way of thinking that is. 

Because indeed - Love isn't God, but instead, a creation, which cannot and should not sit on His throne. 

Spring is upon us, and I suppose God is doing some spring cleaning in my life - weeding out all the idols I didn't know were there. Then again, idols don't have to look like golden statues. They have quite a range of appearances.