Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Amateur Theology of Sin and Grace

With graduation, smiles, and happy things happening all around me, it's a little odd to be writing on such a sobering topic as sin. And truthfully, "sin" is one of those words that is somewhat "sticky" in the sense that biases are easily attached to it. In many secular circles, the very mention of "sin" is an instant turn-off, a religious word that incurs judgement and guilt. Interestingly, in many Christian circles, it becomes something of the opposite: bland and weightless. We say blithely, "Oh yes, I am a sinner saved by grace!" but perhaps have not truly experienced or contemplated what that means.

As I have studied recently, one thing in my walk with God that I have begun to see more crisply is the degree to which sin has devastated all things. It is a deep and vicious cancer, an inescapable disorder, a deathly disease that has afflicted the best and worst of us alike. We are strangely victims of it and perpetrators of it. If you will walk with Christian theology for a moment and consider the idea of "the devil" deceiving mankind into choosing themselves over God, think about it as an act of sabotage, a definitive war move, an attack. And if you imagine the worst of human atrocities, the depth of human sorrow, every hateful act that has unfurled since the beginning of time, does it make you angry that such a reality was sought after, hoped for, and worked for by an enemy that hates us only second to his hate for God? It should. And it should hopefully give you a clearer picture of Satan than some harmless pitchfork-bearing creature in spandex. 

That doesn't put us off the hook though. We, too, have bought into sin. We have bought into the repetitive and cyclic lie that we are the most important thing in our lives. We continue to reach out for the forbidden fruit. There is blood on our hands, on the blades of our speech, in our actions and our lack of action. There is no avoiding that we are sinful, broken, hurting and hurtful beings. So yes, we are victims of sin in that we have a very real enemy who has the worst for us, but we are also perpetrators of the system we have been born into as we continue to deny and reject God for our own physical, emotional, or intellectual pleasure. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed Timothy Keller's description of forgiveness, because it acknowledges that the cost of any wrongdoing must be born by someone. He uses the example that if somebody drove their car through your fence, someone - whether you or the driver - would have to bear the cost of fixing the wall. Remember in economics class when you learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch? I'm afraid this is a very deep spiritual concept as well. To make something right, someone must pay. And that goes for economical costs, emotional costs, physical costs - all cost. 

People often ask why Jesus had to die - why can't God just forgive everyone? Doesn't this make him so vengeful and cruel? But think about the wall example. You can forgive the person who drove through your wall, but that means that you instead of they will pay for the wall's repair. Someone has to pay. Now think of the deep and horrendous cost of sin, a cost that not you, not I, no man or woman that has ever lived can bear. That is, except for Jesus Christ. We are marred, broken, sopping wet in the despair of our actual spiritual condition: that we are sinners, trapped and confined and yet equally trapping and confining. We are guilty, we are hopeless. We hurt one another, we scorn being hurt. All for sin. And that is a tremendous cost. A cost that Jesus, to rescue us, bore. 

There is a deep beauty in this reality. Sobering, certainly, but releasing. Think about suffering. We often throw the suffering of ourselves or others in the face of God and say, How can you exist? How can you be good? I contend that we misunderstand that we suffer because we still live in a system that is ruled by sin. Sin, even when we are saved by Jesus, is still part of our bodies, our minds, our very hearts. By his death and resurrection on the cross, Jesus abolished sin's hold on us. But we live the rest of our lives letting him teach us to release our hold on it. And in any system where sin - where self - prevails, so will pain, suffering, and hardship.

An anonymous woman is quoted by Timothy Keller as saying,
If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with "rights" - I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace - then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.

Does that quote scare you? Rub you the wrong way? The truth is, bad things happen. We live in a fallen system, and it's going to hurt. This does not change the sovereignty of God. And when we choose to throw ourselves on the grace of Christ, when we accept the beauty of his sacrifice, this is freedom and liberty for our hearts, but we cannot expect to suffer less because of it. If anything, sometimes our greatest deepest liberty and freedom is found in very trying circumstances. And these circumstances may come about from sin, from a sad and at times harrowing reality of the world, but God still brings the best out of it. Or sometimes he asks us to go places where we will rub very painfully against a world that wants nothing to do with him. But God is still good, and He is on a rescue mission to save the world.

(I have so much more to say about this! But this is a good stopping point for today.)

On a less heavy note, here are some pictures of the colors in Tucson. :)






Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marriage

My mom asked me to write this post. :)

That said, I don't feel qualified in any real sense to broadcast my opinions about marriage, being so far from holy matrimony myself. But as a single person, I can sort of get away with it. I'm not dating anyone, so no one will be freaked out that I am writing such a post (although that would be highly amusing). But because neither am I married, I'm not implicitly telling everybody that I have found superior answer to theirs. I am a non-party in this whole thing, which permits me, in a strange way, to share my thoughts undisturbed. Consider these my reflections from having a number of happily married friends and mentors, in watching good friends participate in healthy long-term relationships, in conversations with my parents and with my brother and others, and in my own personal walk with God.

A child of divorce, I remember lamenting at a young age that so many marriages failed. The divorce rate was astronomical, and even among the married there seemed precious few that had a genuinely loving, strong, and beautiful relationship. I reflected often on how my own parents' marriage fell short from either side, and often heard both sides of the issue. I would thoughtfully evaluate where they each misunderstood each other and log it away in my collective reflections on relationship in general. Looking at culture at large, divorce or a poor marriage seemed like a disease, something that could sneak up on any couple. I can understand why many people in my generation have ceased to believe in marriage, choosing instead to be "safe" and live together, or to retain ambiguous future plans founded essentially in self-protection.

What might be surprising, however, is that even in seeing so many relationships fail, in seeing marriages fall, in seeing loved ones hurt each other or worse, grow indifferent to one another...I still believe very strongly in marriage. Why? Because I think most of us have it wrong.

Culturally, we treat marriage like a consumer. Marriage is something that will make us "better", "happier", and will generally complete us. Marriage is a goal. And because we treat marriage this way, we become disillusioned when it fails to meet our expectations, when people are (surprise) imperfect, when at the end of the day, marriage doesn't make us any "happier" in the long run. Ultimately, we treat marriage as if it is there to serve us, and that is a crucial misunderstanding - in my unmarried opinion - that destroys matrimony consistently.

But...and this may not be the popular opinion (and frankly I don't care), but we are all sinners. You are a sinner. I am a sinner. We hurt each other. We do dumb things. We are far from perfect. It is my firm belief that marriage is not ultimately for our happiness. Our happiness is certainly a byproduct of a healthy marriage, but happiness is always a terrible goal. Marriage is for our holiness, and by that I mean that it refines us, it sharpens us, it is meant to teach us how to sacrifice ourselves for our spouse. And, as you may have noticed, some of the most refining moments in our lives are not always the most pleasant.

Take running for example. You don't go running because your body feels physically great the whole time. In fact, in my own experience, I enjoy running in a strange sort of way, in that I acknowledge and embrace the discomfort, but am the most rewarded after the fact. Or think about raising kids. No one will raise their hand and say that raising children is a cakewalk, yet most people identify with eventually wanting to do so. It requires daily perseverance, consistency, strength, and patience, but we still sign ourselves up for it. Or what about eating well? I have found that even when I crave that something sweet, I know I physically feel so much better when I refrain. I find that there are so many examples in life that represent discipline and refinement, working hard and sticking with it. There seems to me a grand illusion about easiness in everything we do in life. Rarely are the easy thing and the right thing the same thing. Usually the easy thing creates a transient, mirage sort of "happiness" that melts away almost immediately, while the right thing works a lasting satisfaction and patience in us. Which would you rather have?

Bear with me: I think if there is one thing that will build up your marriage, it is serving your spouse. It is laying down your own needs and meeting theirs, and (newsflash), this will not always be fun or easy. Ultimately, I believe that marriage represents the union of God and His people, and how beautifully this is demonstrated in relationships where husband and wife continually lay down their rights, their gut instincts, their laziness, their pride, their sin, and love one another. Don't be disillusioned about marriage: recognize the beautiful hardship in it, recognize that it is a union of two sinners saved by grace, that forgiveness and service are the rule not the exception, and that in a consistency of dying to self, joy is found.

But what do I know? I'm just a twenty-something in a coffee shop.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Un-Moneybags

Question: What is your honest response when people ask something of you? Before you get defensive, let me confess to you that I have become a certified expert in dodging solicitors, religious survey-givers, activists, and yes, beggars. I'm not interested, I'm already saved, I don't want to sign your petition, and I don't have any money. Good day. And on I walk in my carefully planned and executed route around all such offenders. If it's not readily clear, I have become quite calloused over the last four years ducking all the many people who have requests, even when they are perfectly reasonable. 

The last category is the hardest for me to wrestle with though: beggars. It's complicated. Half the time, I honestly have nothing to give, but because of this, I feel cheap or like they'll think I'm lying if I tell that to them. So rather than disappoint, I ignore. Or, and I'm not sure if this is better or worse, I give a little half smile as I walk by, gazing anywhere but the elephant in the room that is the obvious difference in our socioeconomic status. If they address me, I'll tell them the truth - or if I do have something to give I'll give it. I'll be kind, smile, shake a hand, ask a name. But the truth is, most of the time I avoid this predicament. There may be the slightest tint of "love" in my action, but to be honest, my heart is lacking.

But I don't really want to get at the heart in this issue. This blog entry is not about the heart. I love the heart, I love talking about heart issues, the heart of issues, and could journal for pages about our hearts. No, I'm going to write about something that's harder for me, and depending on who you are, may be harder for you: the practical, topical, action-oriented side of this issue. Because, the truth is, the reason I don't have money for the homeless I see - and consequently ignore them - is not because I'm such a helpless starving student. It's because I don't see my finances in the correct light such that I plan to have the kind of margin that allows for open generosity. It's not necessarily, I just can't afford that, it's more poignantly stated as I have not planned to afford that

So where does that put us? Is that a provocative statement? It's true, Paul tells us to give to others according to what we have, not according to what we don't have. It doesn't make sense for me to go deeper into debt to appease my guilt - that doesn't glorify God with my finances (or with my heart). What glorifies God is the daily diligence, planning, frugality, proper perspective about what I need and what I can do without, and yes, generosity. I guess I can't avoid the heart, because financial issues are ultimately heart issues. I don't plan with my finances because I value my own whims more, bluntly stated. And I'm using a lot of "I's" in this narrative because I'm illustrating this point from my own experience. But please understand that when I say I do something, I am also implicitly questioning whether you do too. Think about it. 

To condense the idea: God calls us to be generous. In fact, Jesus talks a lot about money, rumor has it about 25% of the time. We can't tithe, and then be irresponsible with the other 90% and say we are still glorifying God with our money. We just can't. At the heart of it, do you recognize what you need and do you live sacrificially, planning to have margin for spontaneous generosity? Do you legitimately recognize the needs of others as valid? Valid enough to change the way you organize the books? 

I am just as challenged in this, rest assured. With graduation sprinting closer, and a tighter financial situation than anticipated, I have done some serious number crunching and unprecedented planning about how my money needs to be spent (and how it doesn't need to be spent) in order to have integrity with my finances. In my case, that includes paying off credit card debt, generating a savings, and creating a margin so that there is ample room to give to needs that arise in community or elsewhere. It quite honestly means sucking it up and not endeavoring to live beyond my means. If my budget is modest, then I must too be modest. It means making the money stretch, getting over my momentary superfluous desires, and learning some very real discipline. It means eating beans and rice (and maybe some quinoa :). It means not getting something every time friends want to eat out. It means inviting people over instead of inviting them to coffee. It means buying (gasp!) generic. It means Goodwill hunting (no pun intended). It means being creative and being consistent. All of this with Jesus and with others in mind. I, as a Christian - We as Christians - cannot afford to treat our finances as if they are ours to play with. 

More on this to come I think. 

p.s. This song was on when I very first started typing this blog entry...and I like it for this.








Monday, November 21, 2011

What We Don't Like to Think About Love


I walk to class and work, and especially now that it's cooler outside, I quite enjoy it. Today's walk, for whatever reason, sent quite the thought process tick tocking through my brain, though: what is love? What is love?  Or rather, what is the purpose of it? (Let's define love for a moment: I'm not talking about a feeling.) Love is selfless first and foremost. In fact, I think love is actively dying to self for the sake of another person. Love in the sense I am thinking is not automatically pleasing to the lover, but is entirely for the sake of the loved. The loved: that is the purpose. Sometimes it generates really positive feelings and emotions within us as we pursue and come closer to our beloved, but ultimately, love is sacrifice. But if, for example, husbands and wives come together for the purpose of understanding this sacrifice, for loving and serving one another their whole lives as they themselves become less self-centered, then what about God? Is that tension the same in how God "loves" us? We love to say "God loves you!" and intend for it to be a highly mushy and ooey-gooey sort of statement. But what if the love of God is hard, service oriented, selfless and willed? That we are hard to "love", yet God in his character remains steadfast and true? Is it all just semantics? I am thinking out loud. (Or "out loud" as it were.)

If loving people from God's end is the same as loving people from the people's end, my first thought is Ugh. What a chore would that be? Wouldn't it be so much easier if it were all just a fluffball ordeal? If love always smiled? But maybe that's the very heart of the issue. If God is love and love is selfless, and God asks his people to love each other the way he has loved us…maybe the entire point of existence is Christlike selflessness. Rather, the entire point of existence is Christ, but it is love that peels, rubs, scrubs, polishes away our selfishness so that Christ may be evident. And maybe it is hard, because true love is hard. But it's also worth it, because true love is worth it. 


Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Rebel's Guide to Joy - a sermon from Mark Driscoll

I know I just blogged yesterday, but this is an incredible sermon by Mark Driscoll that I stumbled upon today. In keeping with Mark's style, it's culturally relevant, full of laughs, and also full of truth. If you have an hour to spare (or even 20 minutes), listen in.

The Rebel's Guide to Joy: Joy in Loneliness

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Follow

Yes, the title is grammatically correct. A "follow" is perhaps ballroom slang for the partner who is following as opposed to the one who is leading (sensibly enough). So for someone who was really good at taking the cues of her dance partner, you might say, "She's a great follow." What may be a surprise: following is not something that comes naturally. Most followers have to put a lot of time into developing it, because it is indeed a skill.

It goes something like this:

First and most arduously, you have to break down the almost unanimous reflex to back-lead. This is a surprisingly long and tedious process. Back-leading is when the follow fights the direction of the lead, either by just not taking direction or by anticipating steps that weren't being cued. It creates for very choppy and awkward dancing, and also can cause the couple to trip when they're trying to go in two different directions. It's immensely frustrating to the lead, who is the only of the two who knows where both of them are going, and moreover, the follower is often traveling backward and can't see obstacles (such as other couples) the way the lead can. Even the best leader can hardly dance with a follower who refuses to follow.

Once the follow manages to master following in the sense that they no longer try to defy where the leader is taking them, there is a sort of equilibrium that can be reached. Theoretically, a follower could coast here, and some do. But not if they really want to be a good dancer. The follow's next aspiration is to learn how to make following look good. This is where the grain really begins to get sifted between good dancers and great dancers. Because for both lead and follow, it can be a "nice" uneventful dance, or it can be a lot of fun, and a lot of that has to do with the follow. Not to mention, by the very nature of ballroom dance, most eyes are usually on her. This is what distinguishes a decent follower from a great follower. A great follower can make even a very poor leader look like he knows what he's doing, and she can do it by following his lead, not creating her own. She takes what she's given on a second by second basis and works with it. She has to think quickly, she has to know her footwork and the framework of the music that she can work within, she has to be able to respond to the cues she knows and improvise the ones she doesn't. She has to be quite astute. Don't knock following.

To those who may not know, I used to do ballroom dance. Small detail, I suppose. But when I speak of following, I'm speaking as someone who was the most contemptible back-leader ever! It took me a good year just to learn not to back-lead my partner, much less ever follow with grace. I've seen all the reactions too, from the slightly (snobbish and) annoyed look by exasperated leaders to being straight up told by strangers and acquaintances alike, "You need to follow my lead." It took time, guidance, and west coast swing (which has almost no rules, and thus necessitates a good follower) to slowly teach me how to let my partner do the leading, and to make it a fun and beautiful experience. And thankfully it's been a success story, and a venue for not just growth in dance but in life. There are many keen observations to be made in the dynamics between lead and follow.

You've likely narrowed down where I'm going with all of this to one of two directions: men and women or God and humanity. While the former is a rather enlightening and fresh discussion, I think the latter has even more to offer for the moment. I was reflecting nostalgically about dance the other day, and laughing a little at how aggravating it was for my then-partner to put up with my back-leading. But it occurred to me in that moment that all of my entire trouble with back-leading was never because I directly wanted to have control. You'd think that would be the root, wouldn't you? No,  the trouble was that I thought I knew what was coming. I got used to dancing with my partner, so I would anticipate the kind of step I thought he was about to lead. I would start to take steps in one direction when my poor partner was actually about to lead me elsewhere.

And oh, how many more times I've done this with God.

But the beauty of following, and in fact the entire art of ballroom, is that the follow doesn't get to know what's coming. They take exactly what they're given in a moment, a millisecond, and make the greatest artwork they can out of it. In traveling dances like waltz or foxtrot, they don't even get to see their surroundings much before they go by. Theoretically, a follower should be able to close their eyes and dance perfectly with a good lead. A good follower is also light in the hands, meaning they are neither clasping and heavy handed, nor are they too slack so as to necessitate being yanked along. There is balance, healthy tension, and sensitivity to slight cues. So what about life? The sticky trouble I sometimes get into with God is the same trouble I used to have following my dance partner: I start bothering about where I think he's leading me and I start trying to "help" him get there. And then I trip.

My favorite part of this example is that it's one of those tangible allegories. Certainly I have so much more to learn, but I feel that in the context of dance, I better understand what it is to follow God by having learned how to follow in ballroom. I have in my muscle memory what it feels like to awkwardly jolt around the floor trying to do it my way (and try as I might I also haven't been able to forget what it looked like.) :) But I also have it in my muscle memory that exhilaration that comes from having no idea what's coming and having a blast figuring it out as it's given to me. In dance, each second is its own canvas. And in our relationships with God, it might not be so different. Often times, it's irrelevant for our purposes where He will lead us. What's relevant is where He is leading us, and we can either jolt around trying to figure out what's next, or we can make this particular moment the artwork and positive challenge it was intended to be.

Just for fun, watch the following short video. It's really hard to believe, but this is 100% unchoreographed. A random lead and random follow were selected and this competition, and this is the dance they did. Incredible! (And doesn't that just look like a great time?)



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall in Tucson and Other Ungraceful Thoughts On Grace

Can I say that I love fall? Or "fall" as the case may be here in Tucson. :) But it's just that time of year where it's starting to be crisp in the mornings and evening. Although you'd be hard-pressed to call it "cold" (except for the token two minutes in the morning), I've embraced the fact that fall in Tucson is about nostalgia. We don't need for it to be cold to wear scarves and boots! We just wear them for fun! (With short sleeves of course. See Exhibit A below.) But fall is the time of pumpkin spice lattes, swirling leaves, and this year, foxtrotting around the apartment to "Beyond the Sea" and other classics while getting ready in the morning. It's the time when I can curl up under the covers, and when it's just cold enough in the morning to make that extra five minutes simultaneously wonderful and dreadful. It's a time to think about family and Thanksgiving, and looking forward to my favorite thing ever created: pumpkin pie!!

Sigh. In summary, I love fall.

Exhibit A: Sample Tucson Fall Attire


But I continue to process, naturally. The topic of last time, while it may have sounded happy and polished in the blog post, has honestly been tearing me up for the last couple weeks. Why is it so hard to divorce myself from a works-based spirituality? Why is it so difficult to let myself be cherished and adored by God?

Here's a strange example (because I think about strange things when I walk to class). If some terrible calamity were to happen, I am much more settled with the idea of dying than I am of being permanently mangled. Why, I asked my myself? Because living a complicated, crippled, mangled life is not what I have categorized as "ideal" and I therefore would rather just not have it at all. (It might be different if I were actually in that situation, but this is just how I think.) I know that's sort of a morbid example, but it reflects my thoughts on most things actually, whether or not I acknowledge them. I want to do things right, because something in me cringes when things are not right. I took a test recently that I hadn't had time to study for (out of town), and I actually wrote an apology on the last page of the test to the professors for my poor performance, saying I would pick it up next time. I am so performance driven, because in an honest moment, I derive a frightening amount of my worth from how "good" I can be. And I carry the very same idea over into my walk with God.

So to have that challenged, that drive at the very heart of how I do everything, can throw a little bit of a wrench in my plans. Ya know what I'm sayin'? Because what do I do when I can't earn grace? I can't earn favor? I can't earn...anything? What do I do when very very little, if anything, is up to me?

I trust.

This is why trust is not my forte.

Because in this case, trust is not dependent on me for my worth. I cannot do anything that will increase or decrease my worth in God's sight. I may neither earn nor fail to earn God's love. I cannot manipulate or control what God will do by being a better daughter. God is God. And He is good. And my job? Surrender. Beautiful surrender...surrender in the best sense.  It's trusting the Good Physician to take hold of my heart, my whole heart, and to be a faithful steward of what is already His.

God says something pretty cool in Jeremiah 31:3: "The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.'" And that's not just cool, that's downright astounding. I'm afraid we like to cheapen words, and to throw around phrases like "forever" without really meaning it. But when God says "everlasting" He means it. It looks like it's time I let Him, let Him love me that way.

Oh there's just so much more I could say.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Grace, my favorite kind of cookie

Should I write? I don't know...last time it was late and I'd had coffee, very strange things came out in my writing. :) I think it's safe this time - I've been sitting on these particular ideas for a couple days now. And I want to share them before they and some of the other ideas brewing pass their ripeness.

I really like that my job (research) allows me so much time to think while my hands are busy. It's a fairly individual job, and I often find myself in at times when few or no other people are in the lab. Provided I'm not doing something terribly complicated, it allows me a healthy amount of time to think, reflect, and pray. (Or occasionally rock out and dance...thankfully no experiments to date have been ruined this way...) But earlier this week at one such reflecting time, I was thinking about earned things versus given things.

In a sense, I find it very hard to detach from my thinking the idea that things are earned. I have a surprisingly developed mental system for how I "earn" tangible things, yes, but more notably the intangible, such as approval, or even love (if such a thing could be earned). In my more despairing moments, I have even developed a sort of point system with God, where my actions equal God's reactions. There has been a loophole in my thinking, in that when bad things happen, God is sovereign, but when good things happen, it must have been because of something I did right. It's a little bit embarrassing to put my logical fallacies into such straightforward words, but I would challenge you to think similarly about the subconscious ways you think about earning things.

But the big one, the key point, the hallelujah chorus of this whole thought process, was realizing the deep inherent difference between earning things and being given them. It is enough of a difference to entirely derail or set straight one's faith and how they live it out. When we earn things, we are stingy with them. Simply put. We feel entitled to them, we own them, we keep track of them, we take care of them - and we are afraid to share them because we think we will have to continue to "earn" them back after giving them away. It is all up to us, and I'm afraid we are somewhat terrible stewards of our own things. But, when things are given to us, particularly by very generous and giving individuals, we are more apt to find ourselves ready to part with those things.

Imagine cookies, for example. If even the nicest person bought their own package of cookies, they would be a bit put out if someone else took it upon themselves to eat all of them. Depending on the person and depending on their love for this particular kind of cookie, they might even be upset or resentful. They were your cookies! But imagine someone gave you the same package of cookies, and in fact this person loved giving you cookies so much that they were constantly supplying you with these cookies. Surely, you'd find yourself instead saying things like, "Please! Take them! I can't possibly eat them all!" See how it changes our tune?

Now, how does the story take shape when God is the generous cookie giver and we are the recipients? The thing about that example, cheesy though it is, is that when we part with the underlying fear that things are going to run out, or that we're just going to have to work harder to get them back, we are suddenly much more willing to let them go. And the beautiful thing is, that's the reality.

We feel entitled to and stingy with money, status, food, possessions, yes grace too when we feel that we have earned it and will have to continue to earn it. But when we realize that we could not possibly ever earn these things, that God has given all of them but more importantly that He keeps giving them in lavish proportions, we are free to part with them.(Granted, God provides different proportions to different people.) We are free to be generous with our money because it is God's and He will continue to provide for what we need. We are free to honor other people because we are not so bound to protecting our own honor. We are free to lavish grace on others, because we do not feel we have earned any of our own grace (which leads to self-righteousness). We are free to give dignity to others because we are not so busy protecting and seeking it for ourselves. Everything we have, both material and abstract, is the product of the extravagant and spontaneous generosity of God! But we don't really trust Him to be so generous, do we? Because we don't really believe that He is the originator of it all, do we? So we hold on to what we have, because we keep imprisoning ourselves by believing we have earned it, and must continue to earn it. Can we both be free of this today?

"I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed." -Psalm 37:25-26

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bare

If you've been to my blog before, did you think for a minute that you had come to the wrong page? This is something that could be called a 'makeover' I guess. The thing about makeovers is that generally they make something look better and more chic, not barer and more plain. But that's just it. This is my story, bared and undecorated, because I am myself an undecorated vessel. I hope to convey through the future of my writings here that I am a fellow traveler, an imperfect person like all of God's people, endeavoring on the same rustic mountain road we are all traversing together. I hope in no way to elevate myself - even to myself - above anyone, or highlight the character of my story above the beautiful stories of others around me. And, for me, because I know myself, that includes not trying to impress anyone with a fancy blog page.

So here I am. Hi.

But moreover, the Kingdom of Heaven is not for all the people who have it together. It's not for the beautiful, the well-spoken, the people who have always won the admiration of those around them. So why do I strive for that? What tantalizes me over and over again about the approval of others? Rather, I want to be a fool, an utter nincompoop so that the glory of God working through my life is evident. When God is at work, we ought to expect to be stretched, we ought to expect that our own personal control cannot possibly explain what is happening around us (because it can't). So I release that to you. There are no magic tricks here. My journals are filled over and over again with my own foolishness, grave miscalculation, and embarrassing folly. This used to bother me, but I think I embrace it now. I want the world to know that, I, Christy Harrison, am a fool. And I love God.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blogging Ruins Everything

The title is a bit of a joke, but in a way, it's kind of true. I started this blog with grand (perhaps a tinge prideful) ideas of sharing my thoughts to people who would read and be inspired. But I still haven't quite gotten over what it means to write something and put my heart into it and then release it to the endless worldwide web. Even in my own person journals, somehow writing about something taints it. It's no longer truly private and beautiful, no longer my own. Maybe there is a bright, deep, weighty idea that I'm processing and growing in. When I write it down, I feel like I lose part of it. By casting into ink what that idea means, I take from it the power to grow and transform into something else even more powerful and weighty. It's this tricky little paradox in which I don't want to write because I want to hold something entirely in my heart for processing, and yet I do want to write so that I can better process and remember the journey I'm on.

And in terms of this blog, maybe that wouldn't be a problem if it didn't deal so much with my heart. I don't write about things that aren't important to me. If I did, we would both be bored out of our minds. And this isn't to say I'm done writing. I find I go in seasons with this. But I don't want to be pouring myself over into a blog at the expense of what God is doing in me. Because I am a vessel, a simple jar of clay through which Christ will pour His Spirit. The unspoken part of that statement is that I cannot fill myself up nor pour myself out of my own accord. And when I try to, it will fall flat. As I seek what it means for God to pour through me, and for me to let myself be a vessel, be a fool, be a simple undecorated jar for His sake, that just may not include much blogging. Who am I to argue with that? I want to step into the light and the ministry that my God has for me, however new and unfamiliar that seems to me, and however counter-intuitive.

All that to say, I am taking a step back from this great blogging endeavor. For now and who knows how long. I'll still write as I'm inspired to, but I suspect there is a fair amount of refining and beautiful deep work God must do in me before I can return to such an endeavor in earnest. Some lessons come and go quickly, while others stretch over long periods of time. He is holy and perfect! My God is the God of life. I am a little exhilarated to explore with Him the narrow mountain trails He has for me, apart perhaps from what I know and am familiar with. Thanks for sharing in this journey so far. God bless.

Christy

....Ten bucks says I will have the best blog idea the second I hit "Publish"  :)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pepper Pots


Hi. Meet my pepper plant. Actually there are three of them, and two different species of chili pepper represented. I keep them at my university desk because it's the only real place I have with good sunlight. I haven't been to that desk much in these last couple weeks of finishing summer school and starting at Ventana, so I was surprised and relieved to discover that they had grown so much since I saw them last. I actually felt like a neglectful parent, as if I had missed part of my child's life. In fact, call me silly, but after watering them and taking care of them, I felt like I needed to take a moment to enjoy their progress before leaving.

As I sat and reflected on the plants, it crossed my mind once again that these were pepper plants, which means that some day, they will hopefully yield delicious spicy chili peppers for me to enjoy and cook with. But as I looked at them in their fragile youth of planthood, I thought about how I don't need peppers a minute too soon. I'm just happy to be part of these little plants' growth. They will give me peppers when they are ready to. Shoot, I don't even know what kind of season these guys have. I could be waiting years!

But because I love metaphors so much (and indeed I cannot escape them), I began reflecting once again on God's measure of things. I like that word lately, measure. I have found myself in a thousand small life situations thinking about God's sovereignty, and how he has designed things as he saw fit. For instance, God has given me the measure of intellectualism that he saw fit - and to others more and to still others less. God has given me the measure of beauty that he saw fit, or designed my family as he saw fit, or put me in Tucson as he saw fit... Nothing is accidental, and I like that, even if I don't "like" it at times. If I trust him, then he will lead me down good paths. Good paths don't always mean the paths I "want" to take, or things that will necessarily make me "happy", but they will be good and God's will in them will be sovereign. And that is joy.

So as I think about my pepper plants, and how they will yield their fruit whenever they are ready to, I think about all the other things in life that I'm "waiting" for. I'm ready to let God do with my life what he sees fit. I have been praying open-handedly about the things I want, and have been blessed to be able to say, "as you see fit, God, not me." I came to the conclusion that if I pursue God's heart in something, and surrender my own will, God will lift up my head in that situation. He just will. I can no longer doubt that. And again, that doesn't mean it's going to shine and sparkle and be just what I always dreamed of (sarcasm). In fact, the reality of a situation might still be really hard, in a sense. And God absolutely can't be manipulated by false piety. But when I truly lay those things at his feet, I can joyfully trust that it will be to the measure God has designed it. And it will be good.

 Here's a good verse:
"Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
(Isaiah 30: 18-21)

*I actually wrote this entry a number of weeks ago, but just found it and decided to post it after all. Hope you enjoyed it!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Unwavering Confidence

Today's Pandora find: "Los Angeles" by Peter Bradley Adams :)


I'm convinced that I have nothing I can say that can be excellent or praiseworthy...only God can do that. But I hope to struggle with pen and paper to try, to say what I can toward the faith and hope I have in God's promise.

I am blown away. Truly, I am astounded and humbled by the way that God is so artistic with my life. I see lately that my life is this series of hairpin turns and sudden changes. I used to feel fixed in a plan, a straight line, a path that could no sooner be altered than discovered. And yet, I feel lately that the road less traveled is so much more like a rich backwoods trail, winding in sudden directions, deep enough to be unable to see much further ahead, but always being led deeper and deeper into the beauty of the Forest. My God is sovereign, and I see now that no matter what happens, I am His. His goodness doesn't run out, it doesn't wane. Even in the hardship of life, God wastes no experience. His discipline is perfect, and if I fall into it with a teachable heart, he will bring about a promised "harvest of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).

So what can I have to fear then? What is there to be anxious about? As long as I cling to God, I can only expect that the circumstances of life, no matter their character, to draw me closer into His arms. In all of it, I learn. In all of it, God teaches me about His character and about my own. What more can I want? I have this guarantee before me: that if I trust and love and seek my Father in all earnestness, all readiness to be reworked by His hand - the throes of life can only draw me closer to my Savior, my deepest desire. You see, to "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4) is to allow your desires to be reshaped by a God who loves and wants the best for you.


Moreover I think of God the Father. The Daddy. And I think of me, his tiny little daughter. My God is a Father who knows what's best for his daughter, no matter what the daughter thinks is best for herself. How many fewer tantrums would happen if toddlers had the presence of mind to trust their parents' wisdom! Likewise, the peace to trust our God's wisdom leaves calm waters in our heart.

May we trust our God today! May we know and trust His desires for our lives! Oh, may we throw ourselves into His trustworthy arms! Do you hear him calling you?

"'Because he loves me,' says the Lord, 'I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.'"
Psalm 91:14-16

(But really, you should read all of Psalm 91)

Sweetest regards,
Christy


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fathers, Grandfathers, and a beautiful life

Hi again! This beautiful gem from Pandora reveals that I'm really a folksy girl at heart. :)


I've never had the pleasure of meeting my grandpa Harrison. He died when my dad was only 8 years old, and I think because of this, he's always been a little bit of a mystery to me. I never really got to understand who he was, save a few small details about his life. And maybe as many victims of history, his character and the things about his personality have always been lost to the general shadowy stoicism of past lives. But in my recent visit to my dad in Portland, one of my favorite conversations we had was getting to ask my dad to tell me more about my grandfather.

To my delight, my grandpa Harrison, William was his name, sounds like such an an intriguing person. I see a surprising bit of him in me, which is a change from the glimpses I've had of him in the past. The son of an architect, he was an energetic young man, an independent and brilliant thinker who despised that the System could control him, but worked within it with fervor anyway. He was a fun-loving high-schooler who perhaps a little ostentatiously drove his friends around in his big expensive Cadillac in the 50s. To the dismay of his conservative well-to-do family, he eloped with my grandmother when she was 17 and they began a family as he began a business.

When he received word from his secretary that he had received something from the Army in the mail that looked like the draft, he signed up for the air force. He rose to the top of his class because he was told he could pick his own assignment if he did, and thereafter became an expert in radar and a pilot as well. When his time was done, he resumed pursuing business but kept a personal plane that he flew for pleasure and business alike. He used to call my dad Tiger and insisted playfully that he would have a double chin when he grew up. He was brilliant in his technical discipline, but played cello in the living room to relax from the stresses of single parent-hood (he and my grandma divorced when my dad was 6). When they succeeded in talking him into it, he would take my dad and his brothers camping on remote beaches only reachable by plane. Ultimately he died in a plane crash flying his personal plane through the mountains of Washington when he was 33. Even though I never got to know him, I think I am proud to say that he was my grandfather.

And speaking of my dad, I really had a fantastic visit with him in Oregon. We got so much time to spend doing fun "meaningless" things that meant so much, such as exploring downtown, or hiking to the top of Multnomah Falls, sticking our feet in the Columbia River, and scaring tadpoles everywhere. All through it all, the beauty of conversation between two people who have known each other long interspersed all of our activities. And laughter followed not far behind.

We look nothing alike. :)
And now classes have begun and various other things have crossed my thoughts and come to rest there. I continue to learn a lot about life and who I am, a pattern of refinement continuing from the summer. I look forward to the person I am becoming. It seems that life is made up of little hairpin turns that change the course of everything. A year ago, I would not have guessed to be in the place I am, doing the things I am and pursuing the goals I am...but I like it a lot. And I like that life is unpredictable like that. God keeps me guessing (and trusting). I imagine that another year from now, I will be someone who today has not yet crossed my mind's eye. And you know, as a side note, I am learning to give myself grace. It's a long journey from infant to maturity physically, and yet we expect it somehow to be different spiritually. There are some pretty awkward dumb things that happen when you're a teenager, and I'm learning to look back on those spiritual "teenage" years and let them be what they were. It occurred to me that as life continues, I will continue grow more beautiful in God's plan if I hold fast to it. I hope to be one stunning older woman some day, from the inside out.

Best,
Christy


Monday, August 8, 2011

A Purpose Beyond Our Own

You know, as believers, our personal concerns are really secondary. Not because they're not important, but because God already knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). I think about my life, and the various things on my mind between my job, and car repairs, school, my hopes for the present and the future, the things that matter to me...and they just seem like facts somehow. Those things are facts in my life, even the things that aren't actually physically there. The things that are and the things I've thought through, that I hope for, that I bother to worry a second over...they're there. And God knows about them. But even more than Him knowing and caring, and having a character that I will trust to act...well there's just so much more! I have seemingly big hopes for my life, but the greatest hopes that cross my thoughts may not have very much to do with "my life" at all!

As believers, we live with such greater purpose than our own selves. What a beauty to be swept into Christ's mission for our lives! Nothing is ordinary and nothing is meaningless. I love that. As I've prayed for a deeper hunger for truth this week, God has answered without doubt. And what I see when I look around is a beautiful calling that surpasses anything I could want for myself. 

At Second Mile this week, we sang a new song. The opening lyrics go like this:

My foes are many, they rise against me
But I will hold my ground
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm
My help is on the way

(For the full song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN7L3m9jIcc)

I love that: my Help is on the way. I guess I really have two ideas going on here. First that we need not worry about our lives because God is good. He will not let those who trust in Him crash to the ground as they hope in Him. But second, even amidst those various concerns, as valid as they are, we live for something greater than they, because we live for Christ.

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sketches of Reason: Disjointed Thoughts

The Longer I Run (Peter Bradley Adams):


God's refinement is perfect. His discipline is the best thing we can ask for.

In observing many people and talking to many others, I am more sure today that in this culture, there is hardly a woman without a story involving a guy who hurt her. I'm not getting at the guy side of this, but the female side. In a broad sweeping statement, women in our culture are waiting for that man who will care about her past, kiss away the tears, be good and honorable...Jesus has to be that man before anyone else can. (Though don't hear me say that Jesus is a romantic figure to any individual, but a groom to the worldwide church.)

Never feel entitled. Feeling entitled will drive a dividing fork between you and the people you work alongside, but being humble will unite enemies.

When you think of the term 'best friend', think not of being the best of someone's friends, but being the best you can be at being their friend. Friendship, too, is something to excel at.

Not romance, but companionship. Not infatuation, but real life.

Vulnerability. The freedom to be myself, to laugh, to carry myself with dignity, to let myself be beautiful, to shine, to hurt and let others know about it, to rejoice and invite others into it, to encounter safety in another's eyes...vulnerability.

Trying so hard to come through for myself will only delay the way that God can come through for me. Wait for the Lord, and trust Him. This can only bring good things.

"I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? The cowering prisoners will soon be set free, they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread."
-Isaiah 51:12-14

"He always gives back with His right hand what He has taken away with His left."
-C.S. Lewis

Life is so beautiful.

Maybe I'll expand more on some of these. But then again, maybe I won't. If you wanna know, ask me. :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Note on Pirouettes

I'm on such an indie music kick! Today's song (and give the beginning a little grace, it gets good) is called Messages (Xavier Rudd).


Ok, but on a completely different note, I actually did end up going to the rec to dance yesterday. I haven't consistently been in ballet this summer, so it felt good to take it out on my muscles a little bit, to focus my mind, and to relax into the tension. My quads were tight from having built them up a little from soccer, it was good to stretch everything out. It brought my mind from its quandary of thought into purposeful strength. I love that tired victorious feeling after working out, that feeling that you could kick some serious butt. You know, if you had to. :)

But the main thing was pirouettes. They're harder than they look if you don't know how to do them. I'm still really getting a feel for where my body needs to be to stay consistent to do multiple turns. Ironically, I had a dream the other night in which I discovered the "secret" to doing pirouettes and could essentially turn forever. (These are the kinds of things I wake up to and wonder if they actually happened.) But in the rec last night, I began forcing myself to spot my eyes in the mirror each turn. (If you're unfamiliar with "spotting", it's the idea that you fix your eyes on a point in space as you turn. Without this, you can't turn properly and you will also get very very dizzy.)

I usually spot general locations: a brick, the flag in the corner of the room, the fire escape pull lever, whatever sticks out to me. Admittedly I often start turns without a true focus. But as I forced myself to meet my own eyes and hold my own gaze for each turn, I found something interesting: my body corrected itself and my turn stayed true. Even if I started to get off balance, meeting my eyes in the mirror, focusing on a very direct location, would cause my body to correct in ways that I couldn't have consciously willed it to. It was interesting because the sustaining feeling from having a true spot reflected the feeling I'd had in the dream nights earlier. It was like I was being held up.

This made me think about my focus on God. I can have a very general inconsistent focus and lose my balance. I think sometimes we tell ourselves that we are focusing when we are only gazing in the general direction. But meeting His eyes, keeping a true spot, that's what will hold me up, even if I have begun to lose my balance in other ways. And admittedly, you need a good start to be able to turn. Your body can't be all over the place and expect a tight balanced spin. This is true in faith too - we need a strong foundation in the Word, we need to think about our actions and not just blindly start "turning". But in the middle of the spin, we have to keep our focus as sharply as we can on Him, or we will lose our balance. Because in ballet, and in life, our bodies are likely to follow our gaze.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Man vs. Self enacted

My new song via Pandora for today: Perpetuum Mobile (Penguin Cafe Orchestra). You can listen while you read:


Interestingly enough, both today's song and the one from a couple days ago were from a Mumford and Sons radio station. And I guess they're actually kind of similar. Love the mix of vocal and instrumental.

There's always this danger in writing: that I will sound like I know what I'm talking about. Worse still, I could begin to believe that I have these things figured out, and fancy myself to be much more wise than I am. Because the truth is, I'm figuring it out just like any of us, and writing is my way of exploring that.

But today is one of those days, and maybe you have them too, where I'm just kind of tired of being human. I say that with a little bit of a laugh, but I'm not wholly joking. At Second Mile this week, we were discussing conflict, and in community we dissected more deeply what it looks like to engage in those various conflicts vs. self, other people, society, or other entities. I feel quite a bit like Paul in Romans 7:19 as I do the thing I do not want to do. So redeemed and yet so human. Human. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love life. I find such joy in every day. But there are some moments when I just can't wait till this dusty sinful body is replaced by a renewed and redeemed one no longer bound by the flesh. (1 Corinthians 13:12 comes to mind.)

I don't want to dig too deeply into what has me thinking today. That's the business of some good and productive conversations with beloved members of my community. And honestly, maybe I just need to go work it out on the dance floor, or even take to an evening run. But the main question that haunts me today is this: If I will only gain my life by losing it for Christ's sake, why am I trying so hard to save it? Why not rather fall that ghastly beautiful death fall backwards into the true grasp of Jesus and let him be King over my whole life? ...Stop trying to gain for myself the things that I have imagined are entitled to me?

I read an interesting article today about depression. Did you know that Americans have the second highest rate of depression? The article mentioned that it may have something to do with expectations. Americans seem to have limitless expectations going into life about the kind of lifestyle they will lead, the kind of struggles they won't face, the kind of man or woman they'll marry, etc. It only seems "fair." But I drew a little comfort from that article today, ironically. Not like I'm going through anything, because really I have a lot to be thankful for in life right now. But in general, I have nothing I can demand from God. My rights as an American and my rights as a Christian are vastly different. I can expect his goodness, his sovereignty, his love, his grace, but as far as the actual contents of my life, I can't point anywhere and say, "But I thought I was getting this." And the thing is, his goodness does not always mean my immediate happiness. Moreover, God truly wastes nothing in our lives, and lets no experience fall useless. I draw comfort that even on days like today when I'm tired of fighting the good fight against myself, God is strengthening, disciplining, shaping, and growing me. Let me close my eyes and fall backwards into his grace.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Just Passing Through

This song infiltrated my Pandora today, and I found myself really liking it. Enjoy. Maybe one day I'll write again soon. :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What is Justice?

Do you ever find yourself in one of those situations where you are burning to say something, but have absolutely no idea what to say? I'm talking about the kind of situation where maybe it's absolutely not your place to say anything, but that you're somehow a stranger thrust into someone else's life by proximity, overhearing their struggles, their brokenness, their pain. It's like, you wish you could reach a hand into their life and do something, even smack some sense in, but they are only a passing blink. It's like an opportunity that glimmers and is quickly lost, all the while leaving you asking, what is justice?

Tonight was a semi-late night hanging out with some friends. My gas gauge read emptier than empty, so I knew I needed to stop for gas on the way home. I pulled into a QT, glad that a better-lit gas station was on the way. While I was gassing up and washing my windows, I caught notice of a couple not too far away. I strained to hear what they were saying because I got the distinct impression from their body language that it was not a pleasant interaction. Moreover, it didn't look like a disagreement, but a very tragic status quo. They were not much older than me, if older at all, but they carried the weight of a heavy life that made them seem to have many more years. The woman was clearly frustrated, annoyed...and resigned. The man seemed (although I couldn't hear) verbally abusive, manipulative. The more I saw, the angrier I became. I'm not sure Jesus would have stared so hard at the man, as I did. I could tell I was making him uneasy, and I quite honestly had every intention of doing so. He wasn't so comfortable talking to her like that when I was intently watching him.

I contemplated walking up to the woman and gently but directly saying, "Why don't you find a man who respects you?" or else more pointedly directing my question to the man, "Why don't you respect your woman?" I'm almost certain such an interaction would not be well-received, but I also guessed that as a young woman, I could (slightly) more safely and more acutely say something like that and deliver it well (whereas a man saying the same thing would be taken as a bigger threat). While I thought about it, and became troubled by the situation in general, I bought time by walking in to buy a bag of Ghardetto's I didn't want. In the end, after deliberating, I hesitantly drove away, saying nothing in the end. I honestly don't know what the right thing to do is in that situation. I can't believe that the right thing is always to walk away. It might be their problem, but it became my problem when I overheard it....didn't it?

What would you have done? What is right in these moments? While of course prayer is on the agenda, I'm not so sure running away first and praying later is always the best answer. Faith is accompanied by action, right? The more I think about it, the more I could envision myself starting up a more positive conversation with the two of them having nothing to do with their altercation, but shedding light and love in the simple. While part of me is glad I could make that man uneasy by staring him down from the other end of a window squeegee, I know that's most likely not the right answer. Love is more creative, I think. While my heart generally wants to say very direct things, I usually don't actually end up saying them, and I think that's probably a good thing. People I guess don't always need to be told their wrong, but shown how they can be right.

But I leave the question open: what is right in that kind of situation? What might you have done? Or do you think it's even your place to do anything at all?

Ultimately, what is justice?

..

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Initiative

Last night I went for a stroll to clear my mind a little bit. I love to walk around campus in the evenings, only in this case I forgot that it’s a hot sticky mess outside. In any case, I saw a huge thunderhead in the distance, full of lightning, and I got excited. Monsoon season is easily one of my favorite times of the year. I’m usually a pretty deep sleeper and never wake up to storms in the night. Last night, however, I woke up to a huge clap of thunder around 3am, and snoozed to the sounds of a stormy night outside. Love it. And the stormy night made for a stunning sunrise this morning.

There’s a certain Starbucks that I end up having a lot of meetings at. I generally use each time as an excuse to get there early and get stuff done. Many slices of life have happened in and around this little coffee shop, in between physics problems or journal pages. One time an officer walked in with a gun longer than my upper body and casually leaned on the counter to see if the barista knew anything about a bank robbery across the street. Today, I heard a loud shout – a serious shout – and looked out the window to see that a man outside had jumped up from his casual coffee and had something rather serious to say to a truck out there. Turns out the driver had backed into another car and tried to drive away, but the guy chased him down while his buddy came in to find the owner of the other car. 

It struck me, that incident. While part of me felt a little bad for the very old probably frightened driver of the truck, a greater part of me really appreciated the integrity of the two guys that had stopped him. They were active, not passive. They took initiative in that situation, and the woman who owned the car was very appreciative. I think I really appreciate it when men are ready and willing to be protectors – even of things that are not their own. I think it suits them well. 

In a different sense, there’s a lot I could learn about taking initiative. Generally speaking, I am fairly gentle unless a boundary that I deeply value is crossed (in which case I become passionate in my defense of it). As I have gotten a little older and come more into my own, I don’t want to say that I have become less gentle, because that’s not necessarily true. But I have become less wishy washy, and probably less of a feeler. Quite honestly, I’m compassionate, but not very sympathetic. The older I get, the more of a thinker I become, the more I think through things rather than feel through them. I like the exchange, but admit that initiative is still something I am learning to take. 

In my last blog, I wrote about my new job. So far I absolutely LOVE it. I’m going to be put on a project working with HPV and cervical cancer diagnostics. I find the topic – and the implicit implications regarding our culture – fascinating. The more I learn about the problem, the more passionate I am about doing my part to help solve it. And of course I love the scientific detail involved. But one thing about my new job is that it has left a lot of room for me to take initiative. I don’t think my research mentor was really prepared to have an intern assigned to them, and has had a lot to do in the hours that I’ve been around. Quite honestly, he got me set up with a key card and the very basic premise of the project on Monday, and I haven’t seen him since. He’s supposed to be training me.  I’ve been at a brand new job with no training, no real direction, and lots of hours – and I’m glad to say I haven’t wasted any of that time.  I set up my own workspace, made the calls to IT for various needs, took care of online training, I’ve learned my way around the building, made new friends, and gotten a heck of a lot of background in HPV and its molecular mechanisms. I feel as comfortable as if I’d been there forever. And obviously, I’m going to need my mentor to show up soon (I can’t teach myself the job), but man I like learning initiative.  I think several years ago I would have felt lost. 

And that’s not in the least to say that I don’t have more to learn. Initiative at work is easy, in a sense. It’s cut and dry: what needs to be done. Do it. Boom. It’s a much grayer and admittedly more intimidating reality with people. I am not a pursuer by nature. I don’t pursue friendships with people the way I would like to.  I’m actually rather spoiled to be part of a community in which there are always people to see, always houses to visit, always events to be part of. I feel like I could easily spend all of my time maintaining the relationships I have. But I don’t think I should be let off the hook that easily either. :) In short, I like the track I’m on, but it’s far from complete. 

Pray for me this week – I’m quite a bit distracted. I think I’ve taken nearly every opportunity to zone out, to not be present. I’ve found it hard to engage in the moment, especially in my classes as they tarry to a close. Pray for my heart to be ever more fixed in Jesus. 

Love,
Christy

Monday, June 27, 2011

Work is Beautiful

I found out recently that I had gotten a competitive internship in cancer diagnostic research with Ventana Medical. Ever since I found out, I've been secretly wondering in the back of my mind whether they actually meant to pick me. Suppose they had meant to choose a highly qualified graduate student, but my name was mixed up with theirs? Even though I know this internship and the blessing it is is not a fluke, and never has been a fluke, I confess that I've been treating it like it's not real, like it's going to disappear into thin air and things are going to be just like they were before I got the internship. It's just hard for me to comprehend that such an immense blessing of an opportunity has come to me, and I'm still taking it in.

Today was my first day. And even though I can touch the name badge and key card that I have, that I can sit in my own cubicle with my name posted on the outside of it, that I can check my company email, it still somehow seems surreal. How did I land this job? Surely God is to be praised. You see, so many people applied. So many! The stack of resumes was rumored to be a couple inches thick.And most of them were graduate students, with much more refined research experience under their belts. And I was just an undergraduate who had heard about a recruiting event from a grad student next door. In fact, I wasn't even invited to the event originally, but was added to their guest list when I sent my RSVP.

I had prayed about the internship, for several reasons. Ventana is such a good company at what they do, and have a solid reputation. They have global connections in every corner of the planet. Moreover, cancer research is what I really wanted to be doing. I was (and am) a biologist, and I love it that way, but I had wanted to cross into more biomedical territory. But the big thing was: I could pay off all of my debt with the stipend, which would be an incredible blessing. To graduate debt free in December and have time to save up a little! And to be able to learn more thoroughly what it is to be generous with the resources I have! So I prayed, and thought I had felt God answer in this matter. But then there was an awful lot of silence.

My coworker still laughs at me for the way I jumped up and down when I got the call that they would like to interview me. Part of me, having prayed, was not surprised at all, and part of me was positively blown away. They actually wanted to interview me?! And the interview was wonderful. I was so nervous though that when the first person asked me to tell them about myself, I don't remember what I said, but after freezing for a moment, I think I rambled awkwardly about loving Tucson.

Then, more silence. Week after week went by. The deadline passed by which they would give me an answer, and still nothing. I politely called a couple of times, but received little word. In the time since my interview, my PhD student coworker next door who had also applied was scheduled for an interview with another team, accepted, and had started working. We celebrated her victory in conversation. I humbly accepted that obviously, she was a lot more qualified that I was, and that even though I had felt like God was saying something about this internship, maybe this just wasn't it for me. Memorial Day passed, the last chance I figured, since you couldn't pretend summer hadn't started after Memorial Day.

I began to process through many other things. I started to get passionate about Second Mile's community center Seeds, and to dream about being involved in seeing it come together. I began to process what it meant for me to have "enough" and to pour out the rest on my neighbors, community, and others who don't have "enough". I came to a place where I began to pray earnestly about where God wanted me once I graduated. I had always known that overseas was my destiny at some point, but I wanted to follow Him where He had for me now. And I honestly hadn't asked Him that too recently. I came to a place in my passion for Seeds, and in my desire to live a fruitful and generous life with whatever resources I had, that I found myself praying that I would love to live and work in Tucson, to live only on what I needed, and to pour myself into the community of Tucson with the rest. I felt more than I ever had that this could be where God wanted me, what God wanted me doing for a season....I just didn't really have a place to work once I graduated that would allow for that.

That week, some of the doors overseas closed.

That week I also got the internship, weeks after everyone else had, weeks into the summer, weeks after I had humbly figured that that's not what God wanted. In fact, I had interviewed in April, and heard nothing until mid June! But God did know that my heart wouldn't be in the right place to receive the news until then.

As I mentioned, I started today. I was sitting in a cubicle when I overheard of all things, my name. One lady was saying to another, "Have you heard if Christy has started yet? She is supposed to start today."
"Christy? Who's that?"
"She's an intern for the summer..."
(At which point I popped up and made my presence known). But I suppose that I can take that as a small form of encouragement that I'm not an imposter, that they mean for me to be there, and that I am exactly where I need to be. I am so grateful for the opportunities that lay ahead for this summer, and beyond if that's the way the cookie crumbles. I have so much to learn (and I'm really grateful for my physiology minor about now). I feel more ready than ever to let my roots grow a little deeper into the soil of Tucson. For now, and for who knows how long. I give the glory fully to God that He has been so generous with my work opportunities, and I hope to be a faithful steward of those opportunities. One of my mantras lately has been, "I have a job to do." I find myself saying it when I need to focus, when I need to "put my hand to the plow" so to speak. A simple phrase, maybe, but it reminds me that work is a God-given thing, a gift, and something to treat with humility and diligence.

So now, I have a job to do. Peace be with you. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How the Kings of Leon taught me about Jesus

Have you ever noticed when singing in the car (which, if you don't sing in the car, I highly recommend it), that you tend to pick a way of singing a certain song and stick to it? Now, I admit that I experiment all the time with my car ride serenades. Heaven forbid the window should be left down! I belt out the melody, try new harmonies (some that work excellently, some that...don't), and generally get really into it. (Maybe this is why I love driving so much.) But I've noticed that as songs repeat themselves on the radio, so do my ways of singing them. This morning I was belting it out to the Kings of Leon on the radio (and you really have to belt it out to that song), and it occurred to me that I sing the chorus the way I always sing the chorus, because that's just how I sing the chorus for that song. Or with Ingrid Michaelson's Soldier, I always harmonize the chorus the same way. I just do, because I get used to doing something a certain way and I generally repeat it.

Since I love metaphors...how do we do this in life? Particularly as Christians, are there ways that we've just gotten used to walking our walk that is no longer fresh? Are we just belting it out to belt it out? Or are we interacting with the Song a new way each time? Just because my version of the Kings of Leon ("you know that I could USE somebodAAAYYYyyy....") doesn't change doesn't mean it's necessarily good. Goodness knows if I'm even in the right key, but most of the time when I'm just singing in the car (because that's what I do), I'm not necessarily thinking about how to sing the song better, I'm just thinking about singing it.

I've been reading a lot lately, and I actually need to slow down because I want to actually retain what I've been reading. But I picked up The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which only a few pages in has turned out to be what I really ought to be reading. Bonhoeffer was an incredible man and Christian who through prison and concentration camp after concentration camp during WWII demonstrated unreal brotherly love for his fellow prisoners and his guards alike. He was eventually executed by Hitler's regime for his resistance to it, peaceful though it was. But he writes the following words:

"Does not our preaching contain too much of our own opinions and convictions, and too little of Jesus Christ? Jesus invites all those that labour and are heavy laden, and nothing could be so contrary to our best intentions, and so fatal to our proclamation , as to drive men away from him by forcing upon them man-made dogmas. If we did so, we should make the love of Jesus Christ a laughing-stock to Christians and pagans alike. It is no use taking refuge in abstract discussion, or trying to make excuses, so let us get back to the Scriptures, to the Word and call of Jesus Christ himself. Let us try to get away from the poverty and pettiness of our own little convictions and problems, and seek the wealth and splendour which are vouchsafed to us in Jesus Christ."


Essentially, don't rest easy just thinking about your faith, or theorizing about it, or even telling people about it. Do it. Do what Jesus says. Live what Jesus lived. It's like that man I wrote about last time who practically ran by a few homeless people at the park, leaving a sack lunch with a tract in it. That's telling people about Jesus, but that's not loving people like Jesus loved them. I'm not convinced that's living our faith. The more I put this in the context of engaging people, and loving as a choice and not as an emotion, and examining what it means to be a true community that lives life together and takes care of each other, the more I see that as Christians, there is no other way to learn than but to do. I've honestly spent a lot of my life thinking about faith, because I like to think. But as long as I continue to think, but lack the courage to trust Jesus and do, I will hit a wall in my faith. A big fat wall. And big fat walls tend to make people go in circles, hitting the same wall over and over again. Jesus give me courage and guidance!


Please join me in this journey, if you are also a follower of Christ. Join me in living your faith, radically even. Radically love the world. Radically love the people you radically dislike. I will be endeavoring to do the same.

..

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Trying to Remain Pertinent in the Park

I'm listening to one of my favorite songs right now. (By the way, when I say "favorite song" that generally means my favorite for a few weeks.) But it's a song in Spanish in which the guys sings "El corazon no tiene cara...y el amor vive en el alma...." (The heart doesn't have a face...and love lives in the soul) about how he loves whatever is in this girl's heart, and loves her for all of who she is, inside and out. Well, that's cool.

No, I don't want to write about fluffy songs, even if they are in Spanish. And actually, I really don't want to be light and fluffy at all tonight, because I have some serious thoughts to share. I haven't been writing much as I've been on this journey of humility. Writing is something that comes naturally to me, and honestly something that I begin to take pride in after awhile. When I write too much, I begin to like the way my ideas sound. I become quick to speak and slow to listen. But I am processing this week that Christ died for me, the lowest of the low. My sin is heavy and deep, thick and unrelenting. My character is rotten. And yet, Jesus still took my place. I confess that I have not spent nearly enough of my life being amazed by that. I grew up thinking, "Of course Jesus did!" And yet, the more I delve into the depths of a sinful human heart, and the more muck is pulled out and revealed, the more I instead say, "Jesus did what?"

But even that is not what I want to write about. Well, not really.

What I want to write about is homelessness. Because honestly it's been an issue on my mind for a long long time, but especially lately. I have been reading books and talking to people who expand my mind, and cause me to dream of a Godly community that exemplifies the generosity Jesus spoke about. I am asking those hard questions about what I have, and what I need, and what should be done about the difference. And if Jesus loves and cherishes me so much, the lowest of the low spiritually, then I cannot ignore His call to love the lowest of the low societally. I want to get to know the poor, because I know it will challenge me. When you begin to attach names, faces, and stories to the people sleeping on the streets, you can't help but question your own wealth. I want to grow and be challenged and honestly learn from these people. And share with them too.

I admit I had (have) grand dreams of my community stepping into the parks, bringing lunch to share and having good thought provoking conversations with the homeless. After all, I can't say it hasn't happened to me before. But today, through an experiment in said action, I saw a much more sobering reality in the parks than I had even expected. The reality is that if I want to face homelessness, and love people in a way that is genuine, two things will happen: (1) The allocation of my resources and the resources of anyone who joins me will be absolutely challenged. We simply cannot walk in with tight fists and expect to get anything done. Not if we're dreaming Jesus-sized dreams. Jesus taught us to share our possessions, so if we're going to make a big deal out of loving the homeless, we'd better be prepared to be generous with more than just our time, or even our money. (2) Facing the reality of homelessness also means facing the reality of a myriad of other very big issues. Drugs are a real part of street life, and I can't go much less lead others into the streets naive of their drastic influence on the people we may encounter, or the situations that may arise.

This is messy. Very messy.

And to be honest, talking to a guy who's been shot, been in prison for the last 17 years, has a good scar from a knife fight on his face, and who openly verbalized that he'd want to get with me, I feel like a very little girl facing an issue big enough to swallow me whole. And it's one thing for me to take myself into that situation, but another for me to think about taking my friends there. While I still feel the urge and the need to pursue this, I am realizing that I will need to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves," (Matthew 10:16). I've got to be smart about this, for the sake of the homeless, and for the sake of those who will join me.

And really, it all comes down to the underlying question: Do I fully believe that Jesus has the power and the desire to meet each of these people where they're at? Do I believe that He can transform them? Because if I don't, then I have lost the entire purpose. If I don't actually believe that, then I have no business preaching to anyone, much less the homeless. They get preached to enough. (Why, just today, a man very briskly walked by us as if he'd rather be anywhere else, dropped off a sack lunch, and went on his way. The lunch had a card in it that said, "Are you good enough to go to heaven?" I'm sorry, but I don't think a run-by sack-lunching is what Jesus had in mind.)

I guess I'm just in the process, having dreamed this dream, of asking the hard questions that need to be asked. I can't glaze over homelessness as if it's going to be a feel-good day in the park. Because it shouldn't be really. I mean, I love when we can laugh and have good conversation, but talking to someone in deep bondage or crisis shouldn't give us warm fuzzies. And I can't pretend the homeless are going to leap into line as if they are begging for my help. They have dignity too. I have to be humble, I have to pray, I have to build a team of other Godly men and women (but especially men) who also want to get involved in the sticky messy fearful business of building relationships, and I have to let God do the rest. These are God's people. Jesus help me love them better.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

To know or not to know, that is the question

I remember a time when I was kindergarten age. I used to stay with a woman named Dawn in the mornings while my mom worked, after which I would go to P.M. kindergarten. I remember one day I was helping her clean some things, and she was about to ask me to do something. But before she did, I said exactly what she was going to say. "It's like you read my mind!" she had said. Those words struck me, and for such a small moment in my childhood, they have actually come to shape a lot of who I am. Strange. But from those first words, I was addicted to the idea of anticipating what people were thinking. I fancied myself very intuitive, drawing a lot out of a grown-up's patronizing comment to a youngster. It's funny, but I still have the same desire to know what people are thinking. I search out people's motives, and observe their behavior. The thing is, I really thirst to know, and am most comfortable when I do.

This business of knowing has gotten me in some trouble though. Because after all, I am rather human. And it's awfully presumptuous to imagine that you "know" a person, or know their thoughts and motives before you actually do. People get annoyed when you don't let them tell their story themselves. It's a gift, really, listening. One that I have not developed in my zeal to "know" people. And it's not just people I like to know. I like to know things too. I actually draw a lot of my identity from intelligence - or perceived intelligence I should say. I am most comfortable when I am most quick-witted, when I know the ins and outs of a situation, and I can read my fellow conversationalists. It's foreign and uncomfortable for me to feel behind, or slow, or uknowing, mostly just because I try so hard not to be.

But lately, well lately to my joy I'm realizing (finally) that I really don't know a lot. In fact, I hardly know anything. And I really like it that way. I often expound on my ideas and theories, weaving deep and esoteric tapestries. But there is something to be said about truth. Truth doesn't change, and it doesn't take that deep and esoteric mumbo jumbo to be understood. Wisdom is perhaps not made of rabbit holes, but bricks. I am looking at the people around me and coming to the conclusion that maybe I ought to embrace the fact that I have so much to learn. Maybe I ought to put my mouth a little out of practice, and give my ears some exercise. I want to learn from people. And I want to embrace that I don't know anything. I am as human as the next person, and we all walk around with skin on. I want to lower this veil of intelligence to some degree and just be. I have as much to learn from a kid off the street as I do from the most learned scholar. And I want to spend quite a bit more time not "knowing" the Bible, but approaching it with the same learning and listening attitude.

Because, as seems to be a common theme lately, I am no different from the next person. In the best way possible.

Thanks, guys.

"Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." (Proverbs 26:12)

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." (1 Corinthians 8:1b-2)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Today's Song

SMS (Shine) by David Crowder:

Send me a sign
A hint, a whisper
Throw me a line
'Cause I am listening

Come break the quiet
Breathe your awakening
Bring me to life
'Cause I am fading

(Surround me) with the rush of angels' wings

Shine Your light so I can see You
Pull me up, I need to be near You
Hold me, I need to feel love
Can You overcome this heart? Let's overcome

You sent a sign
A hint, a whisper
Human divine
Heaven is listening

Death laid love quiet
Yet in the night a stirring

(Surround all) the rush of angels

-Chorus-

Oh, the wonder of the greatest love has come

Shine Your light so all can see it
Lift it up, 'cause the whole world needs it
Love has come, what joy to hear it
He has overcome
He has overcome

------
This song is perfect today. :)
Live link to a youtube video in the sidebar. (Sorry, for whatever reason I can't post live links in my posts)