Saturday, January 3, 2015

Now We Are Free is MOVING!

Hello readers!
This is to let you know that Now We Are Free has moved to a new URL! It is also undergoing a name change to Grace Begets Beauty. For all future updates of content, please go here:


Thanks!! See you guys on the other side. :) 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mission: Abandoned

I don't think "literally can't even" was a phrase when I was a freshman in college, but that was how I felt about finishing my biology major. Three more years of labs and all-nighters sounded like traipsing through Mordor to me. (I was admittedly a little dramatic.) I unsuccessfully tried to change to sociology against the good will of my family, dropped dreaded organic chemistry (later, fools!) and commenced with my college career. Take that, fun suckers. Incidentally, fungi saved me. Biology lab had little to offer, but looking under the microscope at little slime spores later that spring managed to captivate me into a dramatic sprint down Highland street to reclaim my beloved biology. (Go figure?) And I guess the rest is history.

Half way through my Ph.D now, I laugh a little at that. Because I was so afraid of nothing. My fear of hardship was far more about my own unperceived insecurity than about biology. And I could so even.

Another scene found me at 4am after a sleepless night crouched on the end seat of a 15-passenger-van (never pick that seat), shivering from the cold sweat still clinging to my running clothes, cramped from going directly from a run to a van. I was disgruntled, taunted by the snores of my teammates all around me. Ragnar del Sol was upon us: a 200 mile relay comprised of 12 runners, each of which ran three separate legs. Don't get me wrong, I was really glad to be part of that. But at this particular moment, I was spent. I'd run two legs already. I hadn't slept. Moreover I had injured my foot during my last run. And looming with the dawn was my final and longest leg: eight miles culminating in a final, glorious, four-mile hill. And runners will understand when I say my bowels were not cooperating. Half an hour before starting, I popped some Ibuprofen for my foot. Where on earth was eight miles going to come from?

I will never forget that feeling of utter emptiness immediately before I started. Here goes nothing. Rarely have I had such a physical allegory for throwing fate to the wind. But would you know it? That run was one of the most peaceful, most enjoyable runs of my life. Was it hard? Absolutely. That hill kicked my butt. But I did it. And I hope I never un-learn what it felt like to finish something I didn't think I could start.

Why do I say any of this? I guess because I'm in a season where I'm graciously piecing apart many of the ways my mindset about things has held me back. But what I'm afraid of is not telling myself that I can't do something. What worries me more is when our true thoughts ("I can't do this,") are hidden behind a more socially acceptable excuse ("This is stupid, isn't my thing, etc"). So often, we are opinionated when we really mean to say that we are afraid. 

My most recent post was a thoughtful but decidedly independent take on the forays of dating culture. The overarching message was: I don't need this, and I'll choose into it when and how I want to. And while I do generally agree with all of the things I wrote...I also have to confess that sometimes in my life, independence is a poor sham for fear. Can we just admit to this? Because I'm guessing it's not just me. I'll do what I want, we say. And we really believe it. I really do believe that I'm generally independent, adventurous, and not in a hurry to get hitched. But. But. The last few months have laid bare some of the underlying motivations for that independence. And they are more decorated with "I can't" than "I don't want to."

Ouch. Let's examine our hearts always.

A key phrase that has catalyzed so much of this thought is this:
"I will not run away from you when you fail to meet my expectations." 
Gut punch. Expectations. I have a lot of expectations. And in fact, my expectations keep me safe. When you fail to meet my expectations, I have a justifiable reason to pack up and out. See ya. But it's really your problem not mine. Right? 'Cause you failed my expectations. You. I'm the reasonable one here. So yeah, bye.

How clever we are! And to our own harm. Me? Afraid? Absolutely not. They didn't meet the standard.

But when the standard keeps changing...well that makes one common denominator and it's not everyone else.

The truth is, my expectations are a way to address my fear of imperfection. Both mine and others', but let's be honest it's much easier to be blind to your own imperfection. (Something like math class when they just assume things are equal to zero to get rid of excess variables.) Because scratchy messy people come with scratchy messy problems, and they hurt. Who likes getting hurt? Solution: only perfect people will do. And perfection will be decided by my expectations, like sentries to my heart.

The problem with my strategy - and, I fear a strategy of many millennials - is that seeking perfection is the antithesis of any real intimacy. Our humanity, our scratches, our imperfections are ironically what draw us close to other people. There's actually a psychological concept in which seeing someone we admire do something embarrassing actually makes us like them more, not less. The sense that those things are unacceptable creates a need to be something we're simply not. And cannot be. We feel disillusioned when others fail. We feel ashamed when we blow it. And we shouldn't.

Ah, this is where Jesus just makes so much sense. I see it crisply in relationships. The tenet of my faith is that Jesus chose us in spite of our imperfections. Astoundingly, He makes room for our humanity. He forgives our natures extravagantly. It's His kindness that draws us towards change. God is decidedly not standoffish in his dealings with imperfect people. For me, who's blown it numerous times, to reward and punish another person according to their perfection is not just dumb, it's actually contradicting the very faith I hold so dear. (Which is not the same thing as healthy boundaries, but that's another topic.)

Can I say something? I used to want to find Mr. Perfect. I've run away from a lot of people who didn't fit that description. But in a startling about face, I'd like to say that I don't want to be with a perfect man. (Besides the fact that he doesn't exist), I want to take the imperfect man that God chooses. I want to make room for his humanity. His failures. His shame. I want to see in him the man he is becoming, not just the man he is in this moment. I want to be part of him getting there. (Which can only happen in a healthy way when I'm also dealing with my own failures, by the way.) And sure there's still a whole juju of compatibility and chemistry and whatever the heck else, but perfection is no longer one of my standards, because fear is no longer one of my anthems.

So let this grace bath begin, a mutual and ongoing exchange, for as long as we both shall live.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Love and the Introvert

I hate being too comfortable. I have since my earliest recollections, and from the earliest told stories of my character. It's in my heart of hearts.

I understand that I don't share this with everyone. This is perfectly understandable, and I feel no superiority or inferiority where this is concerned. But I do feel the difference. It's one of the things I've learned to assert more and more as I get older. It's also one of the various reasons I struggle to feel known or understood. Where would I begin?

But one of these misunderstandings comes with the ever-interesting subject of dating and love. And before I divulge some of my thoughts and feelings, I would like to offer that I know I don't have all the answers. If any of them, for that matter. I would like to suggest that I have much to learn. And yet, and yet, somehow some of the suggestions I get from people make me feel that they underestimate the depth to which these ideas marinate within me. Or maybe it's the scratchy discomfort of a one-size-fits-all prescription for romance. I understand that my ideas are strange and conservative and radical and somehow awkwardly out of place in our millennial generation. I seem to sit on no side of any fence, but off in the woods somewhere. I jokingly posit sometimes that maybe I'll be single forever, but I follow that with the supposition that it wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to me. Allow me to try to explain.

First and foremost, I do not feel the need to be in love with anybody. I would like to, I will admit. I think that it is ultimately a desire of mine to marry, and to be the kind of wife that brings utter depth and joy and love to life. But I have absolutely no sense of hurry about these things, at least at this point in my life. I like myself. My needs for love and acceptance are met in Christ and in a tight-knit community of friends, mentors, and peers. I have interests and a very busy job that occupy my time and mind. Is this everything I ultimately want? No. But it's sure a great place to be for now. I am content, to say the least. But more importantly, I would a thousand times rather be in love with the right person than settle on a person for the sake of being in love. Love is not an end. Love is a demonstration, a commitment, an ongoing joyful choice that I will fall into when I have found the person who inspires me so.

But on top of the lack of hurry, there is something that rubs me the wrong way about dating culture.  And I don't want this to sound like a gripe, because I would like to empathize in theory with the idea that many people are in a hurry to find that special someone. But I guess I get this feeling sometimes like there is a great rush about dating. (I just met you, and this is crazy…) And let me say, I've been there. I've so been that person. But on the other side of that, the weight of someone else's (especially a near-stranger's) hopeful expectation is…uncomfortable. And I promise I'm not saying that to be mean or inconsiderate. Gentlemen, I appreciate the courage it takes to pursue a woman! Lucky for you, I think I'm a minority in feeling this way. It's just, when someone acts really interested when I hardly know them, it strikes me somehow as inherently insincere, and therefore untrustworthy. Inauthentic. And I don't mean to be harsh in that, it just puts off that sense for me, and makes me back away, even involuntarily.

It just feels like everyone's ready to reap the benefits of having a garden without ever taking the time to plant one, much less cultivate it. We have a grocery store mentality about our love lives. No one believes that good things take time. We're all just roaming around, taking what's in our reach. And this idea terribly saddens me. I can't trust a culture that can't wait. It strikes me as impulsive, immature, not fully healthy. And maybe this is personal. Maybe it strikes me so offensively because that's just not the way that I operate. In a microwave generation, I savor the slow roast. I take time, I take patience, and I don't think that I shouldn't. That's not to be demanding, it's just because I know myself and I value myself. I'm not convenient, and I pity a culture that believes that I (or any other woman) should be. I promise I'm not saying that with an arch in my brow. It's just, from my heart of hearts, we're worth more than that, you know. Every one.

(A small word to the gentlemen, I do not envy you. For every girl like me out there saying 'take your time' there are eight other girls giving entirely different messages about how to be pursued. It must be so confusing. Stay in the game. I would just encourage you to ask yourself what you really want, and to pursue that. Don't take shortcuts. Don't fill the time idly. In whatever you do, have integrity and be a man both you and your sisters would respect. And then, don't worry about what we say.)

But anyway, if that weren't enough to perpetuate my singleness, there is also the deep wanderlust and husky thirst for adventure. I don't, as I've said, want to be comfortable. The very idea drives me insane. I want so much to learn, and grow, and be ever-better, ever pushing the pace forward. I get it - that's too much work for a lot of people. I never said I was what everyone wanted! But how ideal to be with someone who also desires to learn. To travel. To explore. To drink richly of life and hold hands through the danger. To read together. Journey together. Hold deep conversations that tunnel into the evenings. To respectfully disagree. To push ourselves. To make the most of our short time on earth for something meaningful, impactful…raw and real. This is ultimately what I want - my introverted heart beats for it. Which is why somehow casual coffees and the idea of "meeting someone nice" are appealing and even enjoyable…but somehow still lacking.

Every so often I get the idea into my head that maybe love is ultimately picking one imperfect person out of the multitude of other imperfect people and committing to commit. I ask myself if I could bite that bullet, and sometimes I think I could. It's what generations ahead of us did. Marrying for love is a relatively new concept. Love used to come after commitment, not before it. There's something to it. Ultimately I believe love is a choice. And yet, in a culture and a time when I have been given the opportunity to choose, ought not I make the best possible choice I am able? Is it the foolishness of the young that insists on idealism?

So what am I even trying to say in all of this? I guess it's this: that from the deep and winding adventurous heart of an introvert, I wish the ideas of 'dating' and 'marriage' weren't so wrapped up in 'hurry' and 'good enough'. I wish we were comfortable in our own skin, invested in good communities so we didn't pour out our loneliness in seeking cheap intimacy, or rush to find 'the one' as if they will fulfill us. I wish we were a people who coveted learning and exceeding what is expected of us in life. I wish we believed love was more about giving than taking, and strove to repair the holes in our own character before scrutinizing that of others…And yet, I understand that these reflections are based on what matters to me. Thankfully, this isn't another one-size-fits-all, but a breath of self-expression. This is me, however I differ from those around me. It's an exercise in being authentic, and I don't think I can back down on it anymore without betraying my own heart, the one thing I have fought so hard to protect.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Frumpy Beautiful.

I almost never buy new clothes.

I paint my toenails on the order of every several months (quarterly perhaps?).

I don't [know how to] style my hair.

And usually my wardrobe is some hodge podge of whatever is clean (?) and minimally socially appropriate, generally about 70-80% Goodwill finds.

In short, I am not a stylish woman. Someone the other day said I was so feminine. God bless her heart.

It's so easy to compare though. I don't always feel the pressure to be chic. But sometimes, like right now, it afflicts me. I am the way that I am for several reasons. Largely, I am practical, convenient, don't know how to get curls to stay anyway, and somehow can't swallow spending $50 on a bottle of face serum. (Do you know what serum is? Serum is the stuff that separates when your blood coagulates. Advertising amuses me.) And $50 is my grocery budget. Fifty dollars is someone else's food for a month.

But then I look at the disparity between professionalism and my own closet, or notice the cute hairdo's of my friends and my own stick-straight wet-combed hair, I lament shaving woes, or the two-year-old pair of sandals I'm praying lasts another season. And I just feel a little inadequate. Frumpy. Unfeminine even. As if all of being a woman were contained within smooth legs, cute clothes, and demure eyelashes.

Ugh.

I don't want to villainize looking nice, because I think there is value in presenting yourself well. We convey respect by how we dress. But there is a line somewhere between dressing for joy and dressing for the sake of impressing others. Do I want to do my nails because I like them this way, or because I feel insecure about them otherwise? I think every woman has to find that line for herself.

There is also that nagging sense of what really matters - my hair? Somehow the importance of my skin tone flickers when I read about the terror of ISIS, or think of the beautiful friends I made not three months ago in Africa. When push comes to shove, I would rather be useful and inspirational than beautiful. And I can't let myself forget that, no matter how many times culture inadvertently tells me that my waist size matters more. Something in me cringes, fights, revolts against the idea that my value rests in my ability to play dress up. At the end of the day, I don't want to be respected for how I can make up my face (or show off my body), but for how I have built up my heart. Oh, please don't let me reduce myself to an ornament.

Because it is a choice. Culture puts the pressure on, but we are the ones who can choose to obey it. We are the ones, ultimately, who decide how much of our worth we believe.

Sigh. The last thing I want is to heap shame on all you cuties out there. If anything, I want to say, You are worth so much, and it's not determined by your profile picture. You're beautiful when your face comes alive, when you laugh at something you find hilarious, when you feel free and secure. You're beautiful when you are doing the things you love. You're beautiful when you're honest. And if you're honest and hilarious in a sundress and heels, then awesome. God bless the woman who can change the world in designer skirts, I'm just not one of them. All this pressure to be something outwardly stunning just kills me softly. Maybe it suffocates you too. We could be so effective. We have so much to offer. The world is at our fingertips, and I think in a different way than it is to men. (No debates please, that's a compliment.) The femininity of our soul is powerful. And I  just mourn for a culture that still tries to reduce us to how we look.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Breaking the Ice

It's time.

I've been hiding from the brunt of social media for as long as possible, posting a bit here and a little there but mostly remaining aloof. I don't know how many people liked the last thing I posted. I don't recall seeing any recent cat memes or articles with "The last one really got me" in the title. I don't know what's going on in everyone's cyber lives. And I love you all, but that's wonderful.

Have I ever told you that I love my city when it rains?

The monsoon sunset over Tucson

Tucson River Walk
Just as a pause, tonight was one of those deeply endearing Tucson summer rains. It was overcast all day, with thunderstorms rolling through. The evening was impossible to resist.

Anyway.

I realize that a world of change has happened since I last wrote at the beginning of June, just preparing to put my merry self on a plane and land in Malawi, Africa to go "do stuff." I read my words then and know just as I knew then that I did not know exactly what I was in for. And by "in for" I mean wonderful things. It seems impossible to look at the last month and a half and pull out just one or two little blog-worthy posts.

Tucson again...
The whole experience was simply inundating, as such things ought to be. I laughed at having left my "real" camera at home. I had mused before I left that it would be better without the distraction. I would build real relationships. Sitting on the plane home, fighting back genuine tears of sadness at leaving our new friends, I laughed wryly that this is what I got for it.

But Malawi was wonderful, to say the least. Christians will be familiar with the "mountaintop experience," and to be fair, I sort of expected that. Sometimes I feel that we inadvertently go to faraway places as if we will find Jesus there. But in Malawi I came to the stark reality that Jesus is with us, regardless of where we are. Which is to say that if he's not a part of our life in one place, a change of location will not inherently change that. And vice versa. But Malawi actually wasn't a mountaintop for me. It was…surprisingly everyday, and I did not expect that. In some ways, it was as if I had always seen the maize merchants on the side of the road, or visited mud brick houses, or danced with 100 children. Rather, I saw that Malawians are people, and the Malawian church is made up of…people. Beautiful, joyful, fun, enduring, loving people. But people all the same. And while it sounds simplistic, this comforted me for the ails I see at home. Americans are not hopeless. We're just human.

People are often most excited to know what we did while we were there. To say in brief, we partnered with a fully Malawian organization in Lilongwe called Somebody Cares. Alongside their highly capable team, we went into the villages surrounding Lilongwe each day to help repair widows' homes that had been damaged during the wet season (by re-roofing or re-mudding floors). We helped the livestock program by preparing pig feed and building a pig sty in their training center. We got to accompany the Home Based Care team in visiting HIV positive individuals in the peri-urban slums, praying with them and taking care of their household chores. And we (always) got to play with hundreds of beaming brown little children whose smiles I never want to forget. Somebody Cares is really making a deep impact in Malawi, which is encouraging to see in a place replete with NGOs. For fun updates and more about who they are, check out the link above, or see the "Somebody Cares Ministries" Facebook page.

I think Malawi has affected me much more deeply in the stewing and soaking upon my return. Even while we were there, it made me uncomfortable that we had so much. That we could eat such full meals when we returned to our hotel in the evening. That we could have Pineapple Fanta just because. These were the times I put down my fork. Or in other cases, picked it up and tried to eat every last morsel on my plate out of respect for our village friends. This only made me sick, unfortunately. But now that I am home, in the comfort and serenity that surround American life, with time to really sit and process the beautiful journey I got to be part of…the experience has only deepened.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot more to share. I just wanted to break the ice on this whole internet thing. While I've posted disturbingly American and normal things on Facebook from time to time - shards and remnants of my normal American life - I've really hid from sharing the good stuff. Just because I don't want it to be over with the stroke of a pen. I don't want writing about Africa to be an excuse to file it neatly away into my past.

I'll leave you for now with a little highlight reel that I put together. Thank you so much for making this trip a reality for me. If I have not thanked you personally, (I'm sorry!) and keep checking your mailbox.

More stories to come!


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Stripped and Present

I feel uncomfortable without makeup on.

Not in an end-of-the-world type insecurity, per se, but an awareness of what society would call my flaws. Like low-fat ice cream, it just feels somehow lacking. Make-up is actually not unlike photo filters, accentuating what you want people to notice while dimming or blurring the rest. Why post a regular photo when you can dramaticize it? So goes the logic. It's also not unlike social media as a whole - always creating and recreating ourselves.

This cannot be in Africa. I question whether it should be in America.

I'm notorious in our two-roommate home for being unable to find things that are right under my nose. But at long last, nothing I could do could help me find my Nikon camera last night. I had wanted to take it with me to Africa for obvious reasons. It far surpasses my iPhone. I must have searched for over an hour. At last, reluctantly driving away, I mused that it's better this way. For every moment I won't obsessively be behind a camera lens (creating art yet again), I will be present. And I think that matters more.

Write them on my heart instead.

I think this is really life, though. I remember backpacking the Grand Canyon with some friends. I was makeup-less then too, but we all were. Somehow being in the midst of the wilderness, facing genuine physical challenge in a situation where none of the societal standards applied anymore…was immensely freeing. I remember feeling more fully human without the demands of beauty and political correctness. That's an entry for another day.

Besides, I'm not going to Malawi to be beautiful. I'm not going to take life-changing pictures (although I admit I wanted to). I'm going for the people, and being stripped this way forces me to stay true to this purpose. In a way, I don't want to come back and post a thousand pictures of me with cute children because I know that even in part, I would be making it about me. Somehow that seems awkwardly, even wildly, out of place here. In my life I must always be fighting off this tendency.

Here we are, packing up piles of over-the-counter medications
to donate to the local medical organizations. 

People have asked me what I am most excited for. And to be honest, I don't know. I suppose I am going to see. See the people, see the world they live in, experience their humanity and serve them in whatever way I am able. The team gathered last week to sort and pack thousands of packages of different over-the-counter medications for distribution through local African clinics. Somehow handling bottles of NSAIDs and antibiotic ointment bound for our Malawi friends made their humanity just a bit more real. Down to tummy-aches and dental care.

In a way, though,  I'm waiting to get my bearings until I get there. I have remarkably few expectations. But I am ready to step forward into this new unknown. My bags are packed. A couple quick errands remain. I fly out this evening around 9pm and disappear into a world yet undiscovered by me. See you on the 21st!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Malawi: This Season

The wind is rustling the world outside my screen door. It's one of those sudden Tucson winds, the kind that carries surprises and change with it. It's "cold" today, an oasis in a landscape of 90 degree highs. And an unimaginable joy (for the Tucsonan): it even smells like rain.

Rain. Thirst.

This year has been dry. This semester has been dry. Busy. Rushed. Stressed. I find myself talking to people and not even forming full and complete ideas. I try to compose messages, and find myself capable of only typing communicative half-sentences. "Will be there soon," or "Not going to make it." I hope every time I hit send that I don't sound abrupt and distant, although in reality, that's somewhat true. It's just not personal. I'm abrupt and distant with almost everyone lately. My emotional life is on hold, a luxury I don't have time for. A sea I cannot afford to sink in. Not now. 

Is this really who I want to be?

The question is haunting. Not everyone handles stress this way. Maybe that makes me "weak," but I've stopped caring about that. It, like many things, is a question I don't have time for. I can only digest it in small pieces, those islands in time I set aside to be "at peace." I am not sure I feel more peaceful in their wake. 

I don't mean to sound dramatic in all of this. Part of me hopes to finally carve in rough-hewn and jagged words what I have not been able to express elsewhere. I don't ever remember being in such a busy, heart-squelching time. I don't ever remember feeling so disoriented, if only for the physical lack of time to process, understand, and dig meaningful roots in life outside of grad school. But there is an end in sight. It's the point in the marathon when a little pathetic sigh of despair escapes you at the thought of how much distance remains. But still, the end exists, and that is encouraging.

But I'm not writing to lament this season. It is merely a time, a hill, a thing to overcome. More importantly, I want to tell you of a journey I will be embarking on at the end of this craziness, one that I expect to overwhelm me, challenge me, and perhaps pour life-giving water to the deepest, neglected ebbs of my heart. All that to say, I am going to Africa in June.

The trip, of course, is not about me. I will be going with a team from my parents' church, Mission Community, to Malawi for two weeks. We will partner with a local organization to visit medical and new-mother clinics, play with orphans and local kids, and serve wherever our hands are needed. We are at the discretion of what the local organization needs, staffed by native Malawians. We are merely hands and feet. And hearts. When I let myself process this, pray for it, emotionally engage with the reality that I will be going, I get so excited for the beautiful and wonderful people I will meet. I long to hear their stories, see their smiles, cry their tears, and learn from them. I want to know them, understand them, value them. Not in pity, but joy. Malawians are said to be some of the warmest most joyful people, and also some of the poorest people. Do I even understand what it is to be poor like that? The answer, unequivocally, is no. But do I understand their joy in poverty? This answer is probably equally humbling.

In the solemn halls of academia, I forget that this is who I am. More than any sense of power or accomplishment, prestige or intellectualism, the times in my life that I have felt most alive have been standing in the middle of Mexican slums and busy Asian thoroughfares. I expect this trip to be a mutual exchange - giving everything I have to offer and soaking in everything my heart can hold. I think it is unavoidable that I will receive more than I can give, and this, too, is humbling. But I pray to go, to be obedient, to be persistent, hopeful, and daring. I think this time will offer clarity into the season I find myself, and pour life back onto these dry bones. I only hope to love and serve the people of Malawi as much as their presence will undoubtedly serve me. Their stories will probably break my heart, and challenge my comfort. Their realities will humble and possibly even grieve me. Their smiles will warm my soul. 

If you are interested in finding out more about my upcoming trip or receiving more personal updates and prayer requests, please email me. (You can find my email address through the "profile" tab in the sidebar.) If you are interested in financially supporting this trip ($1300 still to raise by May 3!), then either send me an email or go to this website. You can support me specifically by clicking the green tab on the bottom left ("Support Someone") and specifying my name. If you are content to receive broad updates, feel free to keep checking this page. I will most likely post some of my broadest pre- and post-processing thoughts here. 

Finally, go in peace. 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.' (Romans 15:13)

Adieu.