Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Happens?

What happens when we pray?  I know that we pray, we grow in faith, God hears us, and answers our prayers, sometimes in ways we want, sometimes in ways we don’t want.  But on a cosmic level, what really happens?  I ask because I have been privileged to see BIG answers to prayer lately in the lives of people around me, or people who used to be around me.
                Example 1.  A former elder of my church in Atlanta has been fighting cancer for 15 or so years.  He and his precious family were told a few weeks ago that the end was near and he had mere days to live.  So people prayed.  I mean, prayed.  All across the state of Georgia, and elsewhere in the country, people who know this man and people who don’t all got down on their knees and cried out to God for a miracle.  Death retreated, and he’s still fighting, one of Christ’s great warriors on this earth, I know. 
                Example 2.  A couple in India whom I’ve never met adopted an infant boy born with several disabilities, who was unwanted by his mother and would otherwise have been left to die.  They brought him to Chapel Hill for desperately needed surgery, only to find out that they needed $100,000 to actually pay for the surgeries.  So people prayed. And gave.  And $100,000 was raised in one week.  ONE WEEK.  I get chills just thinking about it.  This beautiful child still has a hard journey ahead of him.  This isn’t over.  But God is working.
                So I wonder, what happens when we pray?  Are the powers of God unleashed upon this earth?  Are His warriors sent out to do His bidding and to answer the pleas of His people?  Are the forces of Satan pushed back as the sons and daughters of the Creator raise their voices?  When our hearts are in anguish, does He sing over us words of comfort and healing?
                I think yes.  I know in this lifetime, I will never know what that looks like in the spiritual realm, but oh, what joy it will be to gaze upon the face of my Savior and see how His mighty hand is outstretched over this earth.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What do you write about when there's nothing going on?

There’s a book out there entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  I’ve never read this book because the title alone scares me to death.  I’m not so good with patience…or boredom…or doing the same thing every day.  I pretty much HAVE to have something to look forward to or I start feeling antsy and going a little bit crazy. 
                The last eight years of my life have been nothing but constant change—jobs, cities, places to live.  Now I find myself in a “situation” that could realistically not change for awhile.  Oh, I’m sure that I’ll probably move to a different apartment or house at some time in the next year or so because that just seems to be my lot in life (one benefit: I am the most efficient packer EVER and I accumulate very little stuff).  But I’m at a stable job that I’m not looking to get out of, in a city that I really don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. 
                I know that God could totally change all of that without a moment’s notice, but what if He doesn’t?   I’ve learned so much over the last decade about how to deal with change, but very little about how to deal with sameness.  I think I’ve had my fair share of heartache and struggle this year, but I have to admit that it’s easier to cry out to God when I can really feel my desperate need for Him.
                It’s a lot harder when there is an established rhythm to life and nothing seems all that difficult.  I find myself a little bit envious of my friend who is living in India or other people I know who are preparing to move to different countries.
                I trust that the “boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” but will I be able to continue to believe that even if instead of calling me to go, God calls me to stay?  The sufficiency of God’s grace seems much more real to me in times of struggle and weakness than it does in the small, mundane stresses of everyday life.
                Most of the last 5 years of my life, God has been teaching me to trust in truth, not in my own feelings.  Perhaps this season of life is just a continuation of that.  Or perhaps He’s up to something bigger (He usually is) than I can even dream of. 
                Either way, subjects for blogging are more difficult to find J 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

You might think I’m talking about Christmas (obviously), or how beautiful and wonderful fall is (it really is).  But nope.

I’m talking about college basketball.

Oh yes.  Carolina opens its regular season this Friday (on 11/11/11!) on an aircraft carrier.  Carolina’s first regular season game is quite possibly one of the highlights of my entire year.  I love it.  I know that from that day until the first Monday in April, I’ll get to watch good college basketball every single week. 

I love good defense and 5-second violations.  I love the emotion and the adrenaline.  I love beating teams by double digits, and I love buzzer beaters just for the rush.  I love hating Dick Vitale.  I love “One Shining Moment.”  I love when the score reaches 100.  I love when the walk-ons put points on the board. And I have a special place in my heart for scrappy point guards (and for Wes Miller). 



For this warm weather girl, college basketball is winter’s one redeeming grace.

I have high hopes for my boys this season, but even if they don’t live up to expectations, a small piece of me will always sing “Hark the Sound” at the end of a game. 

Go Heels! 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Cure for Road Rage

From time to time, my dad likes to remind me that I'm impatient.  Unfortunately, he's right, as much as I would like to think that I have grown past this particular imperfection.  The main way this manifests itself in my life is in my car.  Not only do I drive too fast, but I also can have a bit of road rage when other people are preventing me from driving too fast.  Having been convicted (spiritually, not legally) of this lately, I decided to pray in the car when I start to get impatient (why this has taken me 14 years of driving to start doing is another issue entirely).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job on my way to church this morning.  I was behind a car with an older couple inside, driving rather slowly, and shortly before the turn to my parking lot for church, the driver of the car stopped and put on his blinker to turn left into his church parking lot.  The driver was a bit hesitant.  Technically, I had enough room in the bike lane to go around him, but I decided that I would be patient and wait the extra 10-15 seconds.  The car behind me had other ideas.  I saw in my rear view mirror a woman obviously yelling at me and gesturing.  The car turned, I moved along and turned into my parking lot.  So did the car behind me.  Huh.  Awkward.


I think one of the reasons road rage is so hard for me is because I'm anonymous.  Nobody knows who I am, and if somebody gets a glimpse of my face as I speed by, well, it's going to be forgotten in an hour.  I've heard it said that for Christian women in particular, the car is the only place we feel we can express anger.  If I'm frustrated at work, I'm probably not going to tell anyone (except maybe my best friend).  If I get angry at people in my private life, it's very rarely expressed.  While I think some of this is probably good and borne out of a genuine desire to be kind, some of it is decidedly less good and borne out of a desire to have everyone like me.  Either way, saving my anger for the road doesn't get rid of the root problem (my frustration when things don't go my way), it just transfers it to a less "dangerous" situation (assuming, of course, that I remain anonymous and nothing bad happens). 


This morning, my first reaction at being on the receiving end of road rage by someone in my church community was to be indignant.  "Um, excuse me, this is church!  I'm being all patient and godly and this woman is just screaming at me!  How dare she!"  The other word for my attitude is self-righteousness.  I go to a pretty small church, so of course, I knew this girl.  I couldn't really figure out a way to make it not awkward to talk to her, so I just didn't.  I'm an excellent conflict avoider. 


Anyway--as the worship service began, I was irritated and defensive, before remembering how often I have done the same thing to other people.  I just have never been on my way to the same non-anonymous place.  I was redoubled in my conviction and my intent to pray for patience in the car.  Woohoo!


Until about 2:00 this afternoon, when I was on my way home from lunch and got behind a car going 10 under in the left lane and I muttered my irritation at the driver instead of praying.  At which point I remembered just how desperately and continually I need Jesus.

I am confident that He who is doing a good work in me will finish it to completion; I just wish it were an easier process. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cheap Thrills

Molly tends to provide excellent entertainment---she'll occasionally play fetch with herself, she likes eating bubbles, and sometimes she "talks" or "sings" meaning, she howls and holds notes for a very long time).  But every once in awhile, she chases her tail...and I think it's hilarious.  I think she knows it's her tail, but she just wants to see if maybe she can get it this time.  I finally caught it on video, so I had to share :)

video

It's been a kind of strange evening--the smoke alarm (or carbon monoxide detector) went off twice, then stopped (I fully expect to be awoken at 2am), and when I went downstairs, I found the front door ajar.  So whatever strange electricity is in the air tonight seems to have affected my puppy as well.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Choose Joy

Sara is a blogger I discovered a year or so ago, and she also has written for (in)courage, an online community of women writing about God and life.  I became immediately drawn in by Sara’s story, a young woman diagnosed with a debilitating disease and therefore robbed of everything she thought she had and all she thought life was going to hold for her.

In such a circumstance, I probably would’ve shriveled up and given up.  Sara, though, did the opposite.  Homebound for years, she loved and loved BIG.  She poured out her heart and she chose joy (also the title of her blog).

I have never met this woman, and she does not know that I exist, but I am inspired.  I know how often I choose to not choose joy.  I instead choose to complain.  I choose anger at God for what He has withheld from me and frustration at people who do not conform to my expectations.  I choose many things, but not often joy.

Sara’s story has taught me that joy is a choice.  Life will be hard.  Whatever course the rest of my life takes, however long or short, it will contain sorrow and grief and loss and pain.  I cannot prevent it or fix it or delay it.  It is a reality.

But I can still choose to praise the One who rescued me from the grave, the One who bought me from captivity, who gives me breath and life and purpose.  I can choose to be joyful that I stand redeemed and forgiven and whole.

Sarah is on her way home. 

And today I choose joy that one day, I, too, will be welcomed home
into a beautiful, perfect eternity where every sad thing will be undone.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Being Introverted in an Extraverted World

I am an introvert. It is part of my nature that I have fought against and complained to God about incessantly over the years.  I have cried in frustration at this aspect of my personality that I am completely unable to change.  I have begged God to take it away.  I read recently that our basic personalities are set by the time we’re in first grade, so as disheartening as it is, it appears that I am stuck this way.

I have been accused of being stuck up and standoffish, and, in one of the most hurtful things ever said to me, accused of not caring about people. (All of these accusations, by the way, have been made by extroverts.)  

The truth is not that I am uncaring, stuck up, or standoffish.  The truth is that I hate small talk.  I’m horrible at it.  Big groups drain me.  I feel awkward in a roomful of people I don’t well.  When I was living in Atlanta, a friend of mine and I used to drink a beer or two just to gear ourselves up for parties.  Alcohol makes bearable otherwise supremely uncomfortable moments.  I would not recommend employing this strategy on a regular basis, but it has its uses.

These introverted tendencies make being new very difficult, even in a fairly welcoming and inviting environment.  Extraversion is rewarded and praised, even often mistaken for kindness and warmth.  These characteristics can and often do coexist, of course, but the lack of one is not proof of lack of the other.  I have been taken in by outgoing charm, attracted to that which I lack, only to find that charm is, in fact, deceptive. I could’ve learned the same lesson by taking Proverbs to heart, but I’m too stubborn for that.

Introversion has its many overlooked qualities.  We tend, on the whole, to be pretty good listeners.  I love lingering, meaningful conversations with one or two or three other people.  I could get to know you over lunch or coffee, and we would probably walk away friends.  I don’t want to just know what you do for a living, I want to know why you do it.  I want to know what you care about, what you’re passionate about, what you’re struggling with, how you’re hurting, and how I can help. 

The trouble is figuring out how to get from the big groups that I hate to the more intimate setting where I can have the kinds of conversations that I like.  I’m convinced that there is a place in God’s kingdom for all sorts of personalities and talents and gifts; I’m not convinced that the church does such a great job of celebrating all of these differences, especially in a culture that so prizes the more outgoing among us. 

I know that my Father knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I know (usually) that I am wonderfully and fearfully made.  I can’t help but wish at times that I was made differently, but who am I to question God?  Who am I to criticize His creation of my heart?  I want to quietly trust that He has a plan for ALL of me, a plan for me to glorify Him and to love others in His name.  He is the author of my story, and He can’t be the author without writing the characters too. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Invention and Reinvention

If necessity is the mother of invention, then what is the mother of reinvention?  Desperation?  Despair? Boredom? 

I ask because I find myself wanting to do a little reinvention of my own.  I have to wonder if it’s born out of my desire to control everything.  The major changes of the last 6 ½ months of my life weren’t exactly of my own making, so it’s left me feeling a bit powerless.  More accurately, it revealed just how much I am NOT in control of my own life. 

I also think that after years of school, fall continues to feel like the perfect time for a new start.  That new school year feeling dies hard, as it turns out. 

So this September, I decided to start afresh.  I’m reclaiming football season for my own (that won’t make sense to most people but I’m happy I no longer have to care about SEC football), I just cut my hair shorter than it’s been since college, I’ve given up fast food and takeout, and started my Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover.  The last of these really just means that in an effort to aggressively pay off my car and my student loans, I can’t afford to do much else, so it coincides nicely with giving up fast food and takeout.  My only fast food before was a weekly lunch at Chick-Fil-A and maybe Quizno’s every now and then, but with no takeout, and a pretty tight eating out budget, I have to cook a lot more.  I like to cook, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it requires so much more planning!

While I think these are all beneficial life changes for me right now, I know that nothing I do outwardly will change my heart.  I’ve been meditating on this verse a lot lately: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43: 18-19)

I need a daily (or hourly) reminder not to dwell on the past, and I love all of the encouragement and promise these verses hold.  God IS doing a new thing—in me and around me.  And my Creator is able and willing to make streams in the wasteland.  Hallelujah!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fear of the Fall

In this case, I mean that quite literally--the fall, as in the season.  Usually, I love fall.  Even this summer girl needs a break from the heat, and I welcome being able to wear jeans again.  I love sleeping with my windows open and apple cider and football and the beauty of the leaves changing.  I love the smell of leaves burning and the deeper blue of the sky.  But this year, I'm afraid.

I want so badly to move as far as I can away from this spring, so I welcome the passage of time.  But memories are tied to our senses, and all of my good (now painful) memories of my past relationship are located in the fall.  So will the chill in the air remind me of words whispered and promises made in a different fall, promises that fell to the ground and shattered into a hundred pieces?  Will living this fall make last fall seem closer than it really is?  Can I go back to only watching my Heels play football and not giving a damn about the SEC?  (No offense to my many SEC friends--you are the superior football conference, I just happen to hate one of your members.) 

I want to write over the memories that exist for me in September, October, and November.  I want to re-record these months with new experiences, new words, new life.  I want to live this autumn for what it is, without thinking of what used to be. 

The trouble is, I'm not entirely sure how to do that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

That Time I Quit

It has been argued that I can be a bit stubborn sometimes. I don’t like to quit anything, because it feels like giving up.  I can get frustrated easily, but I don't walk away because things are hard.  I'm loyal to people to the point of stupidity.  If my ship is sinking, I usually just go down with it.  I only quit jobs when I have something better lined up, and I feel a ridiculous sense of guilt at even that.  But a year ago, I quit something.  I quit something so big it made my mother cry.  I quit something I was actually really, really good at.

I quit law school.  After one very successful year with no drama or competitiveness and very little stress.  Seriously, I could write a book on how to survive (tip #1: have friends that aren’t in law school).  But regardless of all of that, I didn’t like it.  All I could think of was how high my student loans would be, and how I’d have to work in a job I hated to be able to pay them off so I could go do the type of law I really wanted to do.  It wasn’t worth it anymore. 

Midway through my second semester, I started googling "quitting law school." That's not really a good sign. When I didn't enter the journal competition after exams in May, I knew in the back of my mind what that probably meant.  The day in late June I finally decided to quit I felt nothing but relief.  And the day I officially withdrew I was actually giddy.

It's been a little over a year since I made the decision to quit.  It hasn't been the easiest year of my life, but law school seems a distant memory, like it was a year lived in someone else's life (except for those pesky student loans).  On the rare occasion I drive by the law school, it usually doesn't even register that I spent a year there.

I don't plan on quitting anything else anytime soon.  But I have zero regrets about that decision.  Since the day I last walked out of that building, I haven't looked back.  If only everything was so easy to move on from.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I like it, I love it, I want some more of it

Control, that is.  I like being in control.  I want to be in control all the time.  I am a perfectionist partially because it gives me the illusion of control.  If I can cultivate the image that I’m a good employee, good friend, good Christian, good whatever, then maybe I am in control of my life.  If I can keep myself under control, manage my emotions, always stay calm and rational, then maybe I am actually in control.

My cringe-worthy moments are pretty few and far between.  I’m not a risk-taker, except in controlled environments (like skydiving, for example).  I keep my mouth shut too often mostly because I’m afraid of saying something stupid or saying something that other people will disagree with or get mad at.  I don’t like to make waves or create conflict.  Most people think of me as even-keeled, except those few people who get freak out emails or phone calls from me at random times when I’m in the middle of an emotional crisis or I’ve done something entirely too cringe-worthy for my liking.

Because this control I’ve tried so hard to maintain?  It’s nothing but an illusion, a lie.  I’m not a calm or rational person, at least not when it comes to my own life (I do, however, give very calm and rational advice to others).  I may not let other people in on my secret, but I sometimes act impulsively, I take things too personally, I make decisions out of emotion.  I feel things deeply, and I’m intensely loyal (unless you totally screw me over, and then I give you evil nicknames—this only applies to those with a y chromosome).  And sometimes in my irrationality, I do stupid, cringe-worthy things.  I let myself get caught up in a feeling, a longing, a hurt, and I make a rash decision that I immediately regret but can’t take back.

But I have to ask myself, what’s the alternative?  Do I really want to be a person who’s in control all the time?  Do I really want to be someone who never makes mistakes because she never takes risks?  A person who’s never hurt because she never lets herself truly love anyone?  As C.S. Lewis writes, the only place outside of heaven where a heart can be safe from the dangers of love…is hell.  I don’t want to live in a hell on earth because I’m scared of being hurt.  My desire for control leads me to put up walls, to shut people out, to keep people from getting too close and finding out the truth about me.  I’ve lived like that for far too long.

In truth, I would rather dance inside the flames and really live this one life I’ve been given than never risk the pain that might come from letting go (thank you, Garth).

I want to learn to laugh at myself, to do something stupid, regret it, learn from it, and move on, realizing that MY WORLD DID NOT END just because I’m an idiot sometimes.  I live in freedom under the sovereign hand of God who made me and all of my quirks and my complicated heart, and NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. 

So to all of my cringe-worthy moments, I now say, so what?  You haven’t destroyed me yet, and you never will J  Bring it on.


P.S.:  This month I'm wearing one dress to raise awareness about sex trafficking--many girls who are trapped in the sex trade have only one dress to wear.  I'm blogging about it at one-dress.blogspot.com.  Check it out! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sticks and Stones may Break my Bones

But words will break my heart (a bit more honest, no?).  I wonder at what age we realize that the schoolyard taunt is completely wrong.  I was a sensitive child (now a sensitive adult), so I'm sure I shed my fair share of tears over hurt feelings in elementary school.  But it wasn't until 6th grade that I realized just how deeply words can cut.  That particular offense isn't important, but for years afterward I could hear the hurtful words in my head every time I looked in the mirror.  Even now, some eighteen years later, I remember the sting.

There's a lot written about our "inner critic," that voice that constantly criticizes us (especially women, it seems) and tells us we're not good enough.  In my case, though, my inner critic doesn't make things up, it takes things that have actually been said to me or about me and taunts me with them endlessly.  I would give just about anything to erase the memories of harsh words, or at least erase the scars they cause.  But I know that I, too, have probably caused my own fair share of pain.  I can be sharp-tongued, and I was quite the smart-ass when I was younger.  If the words I mutter in secret (like my car) were ever made public, I would be mortified...and most people would be shocked. 

Unfortunately, no matter how many complimentary or encouraging things are said to us, we remember the insults more.  They stick with us seemingly forever, voicing themselves in vulnerable moments, whenever we most need to hear just the opposite.  Also unfortunately, our capacity to hurt and be hurt by words doesn't end when we graduate from high school.  In a weak (and supremely foolish and stupid) moment, I recently attempted to make peace with someone who hurt me.  The response I received was dismissive, contemptuous, and almost hateful.  It left me feeling worthless.  Unlike a flesh wound, it won't just heal over in a few days.  It's going to stick with me for a long time.  I would've preferred being ignored.

God is concerned with our tongues--out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  Who we are is revealed by what we say.  And words are powerful--powerful to heal and powerful to destroy.

Thankfully, God doesn't believe I'm worthless.  Instead, He thinks I'm worth dying for.  My Creator, King and Savior has adopted me into His family, calls me His beautiful daughter, and loves me more than I can ever possibly believe.  I have His inheritance and His presence forevermore.  He knows everything about me; I am precious to Him.  He knit me together in my mother's womb.  He counts the hairs on my head.  His is a tender, passionate, jealous, gentle, powerful love.  A love that delights in me, quiets my restless heart and rejoices over me with singing.  A love that conquers all, even my deepest wounds.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Happens After?

What happens after love has died and all that’s left are the scars?
What happens after the hurtful words have been heard?
What happens after the person you gave your heart to discards it like trash?
What happens after your dreams crumble?
What happens after the anger has dissolved and the tears have been shed?
What happens after you realize you lost yourself in someone else?

If I gave my heart away, am I now nothing but an empty shell?
Am I just a ghost of the girl who once was?

Or maybe…

Emptiness is the beginning of being filled.
The death of one dream means the birth of new ones.
The girl who lost herself can be found again.

My heart never belonged to me; it was always and still is the possession of the One who made it.

I can’t be put together unless I’m broken.

Treasures are found in darkness, deep beneath the earth.
Pearls are formed in secret places from grains of sand.

What comes after is the rest of this glorious, Christ-filled life, stained with tears but still joyful. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Puppy Adolescense

My sweet Molly has become a teenager.

She likes to try to go places she's not allowed (like bubble baths):


 She's directly disobedient (and a little bit destructive):


She spends way too much time in front of the mirror:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beauty and the Beast (Sort Of)

I had an absolutely sublime Sunday afternoon yesterday.  I spent several hours floating in the middle of a rock quarry lake in Durham that I didn’t even know existed until yesterday (this fact is slightly embarrassing as Durham is my hometown).  This relaxing, blissful afternoon was spent in the company of friends underneath a cerulean sky amidst Carolina pines (it was a James Taylor kind of day).  I went home with a song in my heart to the One who graces me with such good gifts and provides beauty to my life.
                I was also reminded yesterday of the brokenness that exists in and among all of us.  I have recently created brokenness in a handful of situations around me.  Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend about the brokenness in her own family, as well as about concerns we both had for a mutual friend.  Another friend called me last night because her romantic relationship is newly broken.  And I received a text from someone else asking for prayer for brokenness in a friendship.  These aren’t extreme examples.  I don’t live in the middle of abject poverty or deal with victims of heinous crimes or injustice on a daily basis.  These are all people living “normal” lives in normal cities and towns in America, just like me.  And yet people hurt us and we hurt people, and relationships of all kinds are hard, and life is messy and broken.  We sin and are sinned against.  We are called to apologize and to forgive.  There are orphans among us, widows too, and people who do not know where their next meal is coming from. 
                But somehow, in the middle of all this brokenness, God is still good.  I do not understand it.  I don’t know what the whole beautiful tapestry of my life, of all of our lives, will look like when it is unfurled.  I do not know why my heart can break over the pain of people that I love the same day that I am astounded by all that God has rained down upon my life.  It is contradictory and crazy and topsy-turvy.  I am thankful and joyful for sublime moments, laughter, wonder, water, prayer.  I am angered and confused by lies, injustice, cruelty, carelessness, pain—in my own life and in others.’  I do not understand how these things can coexist on the same planet, on the same day, in the same hour, in the same heart.  But I do know that I worship a risen Creator who brings beauty out of brokenness, joy out of sorrow, laughter out of tears. And I will learn to sing a new song in the dark as well as in the light. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

You’re the One that I Want (Church Search Part I)

Now that I’ve moved I have to find a new church.  I want to be involved in the community in which I live, so even though I’m still pretty close to my current church, I think it’s important that I find a church in my new city.  The problem with this is that I HATE the church search.
                Being a little bit of an introvert and having a tendency towards shyness in some situations (such as walking into a room and not knowing a single soul), being new in a place is not really something I love.  Instead, it’s something that gives me minor anxiety and I have to talk myself into it, which goes something like this:  “It’s going to be ok.  It’s not going to kill you.  Yes, it’s going to be awkward, but you’ll survive it.  It will not kill you.”  That’s right; my encouragement to myself when I walk into a room filled with strangers is that I won’t die from it.  By the way, this is also what I used to tell myself when I had to get teeth pulled or other painful dental/orthodontic procedures done.  
                The odd thing about my anxiety in looking for a new church is that I used to do Young Life ministry, which means that on a fairly regular basis I walked into a cafeteria or high school gym or football stadium and managed to go up to teenagers and start conversations and build meaningful relationships with them.  I much preferred the part of ministry that involved discipleship and deep conversation over dinner or coffee or ice cream, but to get to that point, I had to actually meet teenage girls.  In case you haven’t set foot in a high school since your own graduation, let me remind you that teenagers are a tough audience.  Yet I did this week after week for about six or seven years.  And my encouragement to myself wasn’t that I wasn’t going to die from it, but instead that God was with me, and He had called me to this.  I walked into a situation having prayed beforehand and I prayed silently for most of the time I was in those situations.  I didn’t pray for myself nearly as much as I prayed for girls I wanted to love and share Christ with.  It wasn’t about me and my awkward feelings, it was about them.
                But when I start church searching, it unfortunately becomes all about me.  Are these people nice to me?  Do people introduce themselves to me?  Do they make me feel welcome?  How will this church serve me?  Will my needs be met here?  Does this place have what I want?
                So I wonder…if searching for a church to call home becomes less about me and more about, well, Christ, won’t it be easier?  Sure, I’ll still feel awkward walking into a place where I don’t know anyone (that part of my personality isn’t changing anytime soon), but if I’m more concerned with how I make others feel than how others make me feel, with how I can serve a place rather than how it can serve me, then surely my encouragement will come from Christ being with me and calling me to this city, rather than knowing that I won’t actually keel over and die from feeling uncomfortable in a new environment.   So on to the church search!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anger

Anger, it seems, it like a hard candy shell, only not quite so sweet. 

It protects the heart from all that wants to assault what lies underneath. 
It can become impenetrable over time. 
It’s easy to hang on to and hard to let go of. 
Anger is what protects my heart from grief, sadness, loss.
               
But in all its protecting, anger is also preventing my heart of stone from being changed into a heart of flesh. 
It is preventing God’s work in me. 
It is preventing the refiner’s fire softening and melting all of my hard edges into something lovely and beautiful. 
If left to its own devices, it will harden even more to bitterness and will render me unable to love people, to show compassion, to feel, to see God, to be human.

So I’m breaking the hard shell around my heart; the fragile center is vulnerable and raw and breaks too easily. 
It hurts. 
But I trust that this is the better way. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Heart of the Matter...

I have recently discovered something unpleasant about myself:  I’m not very good at forgiveness.  I guess at 30 this shouldn’t be such a novel discovery, but I’m pretty good at turning a blind eye to my own sin when I really want to.  And apparently I really didn’t want to see this.  After all, I’m pretty good at forgiveness when the person who wounded me apologizes and seeks out reconciliation.  It’s the other kind that’s hard; you know, that really wrenching pain that someone causes and is either completely unaware of or doesn’t care one bit about.  The kind you’re never going to get an apology or an admission of wrongdoing for, and there will be no reconciliation.  That type of forgiveness I’m not so good at.
                One reason is that my overblown sense of justice means that I think people ought to pay for their mistakes.  And I suppose I see an apology as a humble type of payment.  The other is that it’s much more comfortable to hold on to anger.  After all, that person deserves my anger, and it provides some sort of twisted safety net.  If I let go of it, am I saying that what was done to me was in fact ok?  That I can just pretend it never happened, when it quite obviously did and left a number of scars on my heart to prove it?  So, no thanks, I’d rather NOT forgive and just be mad and hope that harm befalls the person who hurt me. 
                Thankfully, God’s not so accepting of my attitude, and He is calling me to forgive.  He’s hit me between the eyes with this recently, as He’s led me to two different books that are not actually about forgiveness but feature forgiveness quite prominently in ways I wasn’t expecting, including an eerily parallel example to my own life.   I’m happy about that because being angry isn’t all that much fun, and I’d much rather move forward with peace and joy and freedom.  Plus, my anger doesn’t hurt anyone but me.  But there’s a price to be paid for this forgiveness.  As both authors reminded me, forgiveness is costly.  If it was free, there would have been no need for the cross.  If it was easy, it wouldn’t be so radical a concept, and compared to how the world usually chooses to handle offenses, true forgiveness is nothing if not radical. 
                Unfortunately, I like to be comfortable and offering forgiveness will decidedly be uncomfortable.  Instead of exacting vengeance, I’m the one who will have to bear the cost of the wounds inflicted.  I am the one who will have to deal with the most hurt and tender places in my heart, and give those to God.  I will have to give up my anger, my desire for an apology, my desire for vengeance, and instead choose to forgive.  I have absolutely no idea how to do this, especially when the wounds still hurt.  Speaking the words, “I forgive” doesn’t make it true. (Imagine the possibilities if it did, though!  “I am currently dating a Ryan Reynolds look-alike who loves Jesus.”  Poof—there he is!  Anyway, I digress.)  I suspect, however, that being able to forgive has something to do with really, truly believing scripture.
                I have to believe that I really am as sinful as the Bible says I am, that I am dead without Christ.  I have to believe that through Christ, God has forgiven me of all of my horrible sin, the sin that nobody on earth knows about and would be shocked to learn, the sin that takes me to my knees.  It is only because I have been forgiven that I will be able to forgive.   I have to believe that God is sovereign over every square inch of my life, that He is FOR me in a way that I cannot comprehend, that He wants good things for me, and that what others may have meant for evil, He means for good.  And I have to believe that apart from Christ, I can do nothing.  Without Christ’s power and His grace, I am unable to forgive.  So please, Lord, give this broken girl the grace and the strength to do what she is powerless to do alone. 
                Practical steps would also be welcome.  Directions, complete with diagrams, would be most appreciated. 
               

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cuteness

Molly made two new friends over the weekend, Audrey and Moose.  Audrey may be more of a frenemy, but as for Moose, well, I think it's true love.  I don't (yet) have pictures of the two of them together, but Molly definitely has a little bit of a crush.  I think she was giving away a bit too much at first, but she did get a kiss from him eventually, so apparently her charms are working.  Maybe I need to take some notes :)

Molly likes to be under things, most notably my bed.  Usually it's her hind feet sticking out, or she's all the way under the bed, chewing up the underside of my box spring (it could be worse), but I finally managed to get this picture.  So cute!

Molly likes to dig holes, because she likes to eat dirt.
   
 

This is my friend Ava, who's 4. She's the daughter of one of my best friends from college (Kristi), but when Kristi was about to go with me to the beach for a girls' weekend, Ava told her mom that she was my friend.  I'll take it, Ava!  She's pretty awesome.  I love you, sweet girl!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Still Remember...When Thirty was Old...

If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing if I was single on my 30th birthday, I would have said, “Curled up in a ball on my bed, having a major emotional meltdown.”  I’m not actually a dramatic person, but I suppose I do have my moments.
                As it turns out, I am not curled up in a ball and I am not having a major (or even minor) emotional meltdown.  Yay me!  It’s been a rough couple of months to be sure, and I still have hours or even days of feeling angry or sad or even slightly panicked.  But overall, I think I might just be happy. 
                I’m fresh from a weekend at the beach with some of my favorite people in the world.  I’m a firm believer that good salt air, especially of the Carolina variety, can cure just about anything.  My soul seems at home by the ocean.  It’s one of the few places I’ve found on earth where I can just be, where I can happily read for hours on end without getting distracted or analyzing my life to death or feeling antsy.  The beach enables me to rest like nowhere else, which is perhaps why this was my second of a total of six beach trips planned this summer.  That much time by the water, and all of my problems will be solved by July! Ok, maybe not.
                I also know that I am well-loved.  Whatever salt air can’t cure, my loyal, kind, quirky, honest, hilarious friends can.  I have been reminded all month that no matter what I think God has withheld from me up to this point, He has poured down the blessing of friendship into my life, and I am grateful.  Friendship that is deep and lasting, the kind where even if you haven’t seen or talked to each other in months, you can still pick up right where you left off.  I have friends who have loved me in my darkest moments and spoken truth to me when I most needed, but least wanted, to hear it.  Friends who have prayed with me before going into church because I felt assaulted every time I walked through the door.  Friends who fall off ladders in the middle of the night or try to light candles using a paper towel and the stove or vainly attempt to kill a colony of spiders that have surrounded my car.  Friends who have listened to and encouraged me, and who have been enraged on my behalf.  I like it when people stick up for me. 
                The last reason I think I’m happy this birthday is that, well, my 20s kinda sucked.  Not totally, of course.  Most of my aforementioned friends were people I met in my 20s.  I’ve had some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime vacations.  I figured out this whole real-world business (sort of).  Considering that I haven’t gotten into any major trouble, I’ve been gainfully employed for the vast majority of my post-college years, and I haven’t completely self-destructed yet, I guess you could say I’m doing pretty well.  But let’s be honest, the 20s were hard.  Most of my lessons came at a price.  I’ve taken some costly wrong turns.  I’ve cried a lot of tears, and my heart was broken more than once.  I think I’ve spent the last ten years in various states of angst, wondering where my life was going to go, who I was going to marry, if I was going to marry, and other life-defining yet profoundly annoying questions.
                I still don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but the good thing is that I’m more ok with that than I used to be.  I guess Professor Armitage (of UNC’s English department) was right—getting older doesn’t mean you figure out any of the answers, it just means you’re more at peace with not knowing any of the answers.   Years ago, my dad gave his perfectionist, worrying daughter a card about how life was about the journey, not the destination.  I still have that card, and I still need that reminder.  My destination is secure.  The end of my story will be glorious and joyful and eternal.  But I want to enjoy the ride.  All of my life’s ups and downs and sorrows and exhilarations and tears and laughter have been ordained by God—for my good. 
                I hope that my 30s are “better” than my 20s, whatever that means.  I would prefer more laughter and fewer tears.  I would especially like a dating relationship that culminates in marriage, not in heartbreak.  I would like more peace and less angst, more wisdom and fewer wrong turns.  More than anything, though, I want more of Christ.
                And (my apologies if you’re offended), along with my birthday twin Taylor Sands, I want to take 30 by the balls! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ooh heaven is a place on earth...

Or not so much…unless it’s Fiji.  And Seely Booth is there.  Oh wait—that can’t be right.  Moving on…
When I was younger, in high school and college and maybe even my early twenties, the idea of eternity really freaked me out.  I felt like I was “supposed” to be longing for eternity, but I wasn’t.  There are two reasons for this: 1) I thought eternity meant I’d be singing songs all day long for infinity, and really, I’d appreciate something else to do, and 2) I really wanted to have sex before I died or Jesus returned.  Hey, I’m just being honest.
The real world has changed my attitude drastically.  Whatever pleasures do or do not await me in this life, I would rather be hanging out with God (either I’ve spiritually matured or just given up).  About five or six years ago, I began to really long for eternity in a way I never dreamed possible before.  Emotionally, I was at a pretty low place, and I wanted an escape from it.  My first longings for heaven were more about an end to my own pain and less about being fully united with Christ.  Over the past several years, this has started to shift, as I’ve fallen more in love with God, but I also started experiencing a different reticence about eternity.
                I want my own pain and griefs and sin and brokenness taken away, and I find great comfort in the idea of final justice resting in the hands of God.  But what about ways I’ve been hurt by others who profess to be believers?  What happens to broken relationships among Christians?  What happens to apologies that are never issued or wrongs that are never made right in this world?  I have a much easier time forgiving non-Christians for hurting me than I do my own brothers and sisters in Christ, as awful and sinful as that is.   I also know I’m guilty of causing other people hurt, and there are likely things I need to seek forgiveness for but haven’t, out of either ignorance or pride.  But there’s something in me that bristles against the thought that all of those wrongs and hurts and broken relationships will just be wiped away.  It doesn’t seem like enough.  I don’t want them forgotten; I want them fixed. 
                So imagine my utter astonishment when I discovered that, according to Tim Keller, I was looking at eternity all wrong.  I hope I’m not breaking any copyright laws by quoting him here, but in The Reason for God, he writes that the Biblical view of the resurrection is

not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted.  This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater…Jesus insisted that his return will be with such power that the very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will BE…Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.
               
For some reason, I’ve never considered this before.   Maybe this isn’t news to everybody else, but the idea that that every sad thing will become un-sad is revolutionary to me.   It’s restoration on a different scale.  It means that all the painful things of this world won’t just be erased, like they never happened, they’ll actually be restored to something beautiful and glorious and joyful.  I want this to take root in my heart so that I might be able to rest more fully in the hope of eternity with Christ and what that really means for my future. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-changes

In 12 years, I have had 22 roommates (I think) and nine addresses.   As of tomorrow, that will be 10 addresses, but still 22 roommates because I’m recycling one.  Since graduating from college, I have lived in the same place for more than a year only once, and I’ve had seven different jobs.  My guess is that next summer I’ll be moving again.  It’s not that I don’t love living with Sara (because I do), it’s just that I’ve figured out my life’s patterns by now, and nothing seems to be very permanent for me.  This particular move was brought on by someone else, but I like the new place and the roommate, and Molly will have lots of dog friends nearby, so I’m trying to stay positive, despite being slightly (or a little more than slightly) angry at the circumstances that brought me here.
                And the truth is, I love my current roommates.  I really, really love them.  That little house on Raven Lane has been a home for the last two turbulent and difficult years.  I will miss it partly because I like the neighborhood and the yard and the front porch and the patio.  But mostly because I love the people in it who’ve loved me well in the midst of my struggles.  And there is always beer/wine/liquor when I need it.           
                I’m not sure what my constant moves and job changes say about me.  According to a stress evaluation I recently had to take for a new volunteer opportunity, all of these changes (and relationship changes) translate to a higher than average stress load and put me at risk for physical and mental illness.  Awesome.  Maybe God is simply trying to cure me of every bad habit that being an only child instilled in me.  After all, of my many roommates there were only three that I didn’t like living with, so I’m pretty sure I’ve got that whole sharing thing down by now.  There may well be more than three who didn’t like living with me, but I’m not going to ask and find out.  Maybe I’ve come to a point where I actually like change, and I now fear stagnancy and boredom.   I would very much like some stability in my life, but I’m also scared of it…if I stop moving, will I somehow stop growing?
                In my mind, a new place can also bring a fresh start.  That’s especially true this time.  I want a fresh start, a chance for a clean slate.  I can’t erase the painful memories of my past, although that would be nice, but I think I move on more easily in a place that’s free of those memories and all of the emotions attached to them.  So I’m hoping this next residence will bring fewer tears and new adventures…and just maybe a new pond might bring some new fish :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Body Confession

Recently I came across a website for body confessions.   The site was started by a woman who set out to research body image and later wanted to provide a forum for women to air their struggles and insecurities.  After reading through many of the posts, I can’t decide if I think this is a good idea.  On one hand, I think talking honestly about our problems can get rid of stigma and make it easier to seek help and encouragement.  It's good to know we're not alone.  But on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if the website reinforces bad body image and makes women worry about things we never worried about before.  After all, the beauty industry has given us countless products to combat problems we never knew we had.  Do we really need more negative reinforcement? Mostly, though, the site just makes me sad that so many women (and a few men) look at themselves in the mirror and hate what they see. 
                I have had friends of all ages and stages and body types suffer from anorexia or bulimia or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), or even just rampant insecurity about what they look like. An amazing younger woman (19) in my life once wanted to bleach her skin to get rid of her gorgeous freckles. I, on the other hand, would love to have her freckles, and her curly hair.  I look at the women in my life, and I think they’re all beautiful, all made in the image of God.  We are all fearfully and wonderfully made.  Scripture is pretty clear that beauty is fleeting (time is pretty clear on that front too) and reminds us over and over again that the heart is what matters.
                But it seems like even in Christian circles, we’ve forgotten this.  We’ve convinced ourselves that we’re not good enough or lovable enough or marry-able enough unless we’re also beautiful by the world’s (ridiculously unattainable) standards.  Whether this has always been a trap to ensnare women or if it has come on more recently with the prevalence of mirrors, models, Estee Lauder, and Neutrogena, I’m not sure. I think if God had to tell us that beauty is fleeting, then maybe it’s always been there, but I can’t help but think it’s gotten worse.
                For most of my late adolescent and adult life, I was somewhat immune to this struggle, or at least I’ve been able to rein it in.  I was so skinny when I was younger (my not-so-nice nickname in elementary and middle school was “scrawny ferret”) that when I finally got curves, I figured I ought to be grateful for them.  But when I started reading the website, I recognized my own thoughts in what some of the women posted.  Because the most recent guy in my life was so overly concerned with both his weight and mine, I now find myself thinking I’m not thin enough or pretty enough or fancy enough to ever be loved.  That is my (quite vulnerable) body confession.   
I’m both saddened that I think this and seriously pissed off.  The good news is that I know what God says about me and I usually know what my friends think about me too. I know what God’s design for marriage is, and I also know exactly what I would tell any woman, young or old, who was battling with any of the things the dark voices sometimes whisper in my ear.  So I’m going to choose to believe the voices of truth, and I’m going to tell those other voices to get the hell out of my way.    

Friday, April 22, 2011

Patience

              I have never been a patient person.  I hate checkout lines in stores, I get frustrated when people in front of me are too slow for my liking, and I drive far too fast because I don’t have the patience to actually go the speed limit.  I come by it honestly.  Neither of my parents are patient.  My dad taught me how to drive, although he would probably like to deny it now.  When I was a kid, my mother was a speed walker through the mall, and I practically had to run to keep with her.  I never really learned the benefits of delayed gratification; if I want something, I want it now.  I’m also impatient with myself.  I expect to be good at things immediately, and if I’m not (as is often the case), I don’t really have the patience to keep working at it. 
                My impatience is one of the first sins I recognized in myself when I was in high school, so being the good Christian girl I thought I was, I prayed for patience.  In my impatience, I expected that praying for patience meant that God would just give it to me, a little bit like the fairy godmother in Cinderella.  Apparently it doesn’t work that way.  Instead of giving me patience, God has taught me patience.  It’s been a hard lesson to learn.
                God has called me to ministry opportunities that have not been fruitful in any typical sense of the word.  He did not, as I so badly wanted, tell me at 22 what He wanted me to do with my life, and my career trajectory has been more of a winding path than a straight line.  He has not (yet) fulfilled my desires for marriage and children.  He has delayed my wishes for a student-loan-free life.  He has at times put difficult people in my life and called me to love them.  
                God is teaching me to rely daily on His manna.  Like the Israelites in the desert, I only have enough of His grace for today.  I cannot rest on my plans for the future, because my future is in God’s hands.  I am learning, sometimes slowly and sometimes less so, to wait patiently on the Lord, to rest in His sovereignty and goodness, to rely more and more on Him.  He has shown me that I am often the difficult person to love, and I have received more patience from others than I have given.  He is teaching me that He will provide, even if it’s not in the way I expect hope.
 I am also learning that waiting is not always a bad thing.  Not only do I learn more of God’s character in the waiting, but sometimes it’s even fun.  The winding path has been an adventure, and had I received everything I thought I wanted when I thought I wanted it, I would've missed out on that adventure.  There are experiences in my life I would not have had.  There are people in my life that I would not know or would not know nearly as well.  I am learning to be thankful for the opportunities that I have in this phase of my life, for fun trips and random conversations, or even for the ability to spend my Good Friday morning sitting and talking on my porch with Laura. 
This Easter, I am more thankful than ever than no matter what the future holds, God is good in the wait, and one day I will wait no more to see my Savior’s face.  The Lord is risen!    
Happy Easter!