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.