Monday, December 31, 2012

Welcoming In the New Year

I was sitting on a plane recently when the older woman in the seat next to me wanted to strike up a conversation. Her husband was busied with something else at the window, and I suppose she wanted someone to talk to.

Usually, I am rather amenable to such spontaneous interactions, and at first was happy to oblige. Soon, however, my patience began to wear thin as it came out that I wasn't as happy to oblige as she was happy to keep talking. By the end of the flight, I found myself desperately wishing to get off the plane and run away. This expressed itself in frightfully threadbare responses to anything the woman found to say.

In another recent scene, the air was chilly but the excitements were warm. A small group of us were huddled outside REI, a favorite outdoor store, waiting for the doors to open in a few hours. We had been there for awhile, chatting to pass the time. "We are called to love people," said one, in response to my plane dilemma. "What does it matter if she has issues she needs to work out, is that a prerequisite to speaking with you?" The words pierced me, but they were the confirmation I needed for my suspicions.

How little I have truly understood loving people in 2012.

And how little I still do on the brink of 2013. You see, this poor sweet woman on the plane is just one example of the many people I have steamrolled in my own self-interest, even my dear friends - the awareness of which is uncomfortable in the deepest senses of who I've become. I sense the struggle of my stubborn sinfulness, my clinging pride, but my tired desire to be made right, whole, and good. It is a journey, isn't it? And it is far from over.

So with 2013 rapidly descending upon Tucson, rolling westward with astonishing speed, I have only one main option. New Years resolutions assume a posture of strength: of working harder, trying better, being "resolute" so to speak. But I'm writing today to say that I am coming into 2013 with quite the shocking opposite, a posture that knows finally that I can do nothing on my own. Strength is what I know, weakness what I have come to loath. Pride, after all, is only insecurity all gussied up. But it is God who saves my soul, and it is He that purifies my heart. The truth is that in my weakness, He is made known, not just to others but to me. So this year, I embrace the weakness that embodies all of who I am without Christ.

Paul writes, "What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). How I feel those words. Yet Paul knew how to follow them: "Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Happy New Year, friends.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Window Thoughts

The clouds ripple through the puddle on the balcony out my window. Seated in one of the family antique sitting-room chairs, my futon is low to the ground across from me and the window is overlooking the Hawthorne neighborhood through the steam of my tea. The view is idyllic, a snapshot of Portland. Across from the window is my suitcase, overflowing with scarves, fluffy socks, and other tributes to winter weather. The house has grown quiet, naps and reading ensuing after a morning of merry togetherness sharing in food and gift. Coming from sunny southern Arizona, somber grey mornings are my dearest favorite and I am at peace.

The joy of the Christmas season is full, but also full of hard questions for me. This year has changed my life, and I feel it to my bones. Nothing overly dramatic, but full, full of good lessons on every side. I scarcely believe that Christy who started 2012 is the same woman who is finishing it.

That is where the questions come.

The challenge is that I look around at my life and I see many deeply good things. My dad, brother and I sit around a Christmas dinner this year for the first time in at least six years. Our time together has been full of laughter, story-telling, and simply an easy restful joy. Back home I have friends upon friends whom I value and learn from, who influence my life just by being part of it. I have encountered a good job, a new car, a phone with more technology than I know how to use. At 23, the prospects look good.

But something is missing, and it makes me restless...Where in the world, where in my world, is Jesus Christ? The quiet omission of my heart is that if I lived my life exactly as I am living it today, I doubt there is much room for Jesus. Is there any more terrifying realization for the Christian? It has dawned slowly this season that the residence of my heart is much more inn-like than stable-like: closed, full, busy, wealthy - too many other important things to do. The oil in my lamp is burned low and I'm sure there are some debts I have not forgiven, no matter the debt forgiven me.

Simply, success has made me proud. Realizing that this is the truefaced attitude of my heart quite honestly terrifies me. I don't want Jesus in the margins, only to be called upon for a need, for an anxiety. I don't want Jesus to be an ornament that decorates my heart, just adding to something that is already there. No...no. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). And she who puts her hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for service (Luke 9:62). For the one-millionth time, either I am in this come what may, or I am not in it at all. Lord, wake us up.

All that to say, I need grace in 2013. I am desperate, but not desperate enough. I don't know what needs to happen to break me from the trance I am in, the pride I am in, the legalism. I recognize vaguely that there is nothing I can do - that would be legalism yet again. Only an offering can I make, of faith. Christ and Christ alone saves. Even rich young rulers and proud young women.

This Christmas is full of joy, but also full of the restlessness that comes with realizing that things must change. Risk awaits me if I go, a long slow death by pride awaits me if I stay. I don't want to make it sound heroic because it's not: it's the desperate cry of an ordinary sinner.

"A day without prayer is a day we foolishly believe we have under control."
-Lecrae


Friday, December 14, 2012

A Call

It is mornings like this morning, amidst the tragedy of 27 dead in an elementary school, when I am reminded of what we fight for.

I am reminded that our enemy is ruthless.

I am reminded that we stand for good, we pray, we fall on our knees, we learn about mercy, hope, love, and tenderness because we live in a world where those things are rapidly snuffed out. Can we...will we?

I am reminded that I live for a cause I am ready to die for, and soberly take into account the tremendous price over our heads. I wonder if we have all counted the cost.

Did I say already that our enemy is ruthless?

I implore you to think about evil for a minute. Go ahead and go there. Allow yourself to intake the depth of depravity that exists in the hearts of men and women, and realize that there is nothing casual or funny about our enemy. Realize whom we stand against - his lust, greed, anger, pride, and horror, his hate for mankind, that which is cultivated in ourselves as well - and let yourself be rightfully angry. Again, I ask that you count the cost and be ready for action.

I guess this is a call, from a beating heart, to take your life seriously. Take your ministry seriously. Take love seriously. Will we stop messing around? Please? Get on your knees for your city, for your neighbors, your loved ones. Do you believe in God? Then act like it. Do you believe that the gospel has something to offer the world? Then let your words match. Do you believe He is powerful? Then pray like it. Wake up and hear the cry of your hurting neighbors, hear the voice of someone outside yourself.

Maybe if the people who say they love Jesus were transformed by the renewing of their minds, and put away such things as malice, deceit, envy, slander, if we put on love above all things, we would begin to show hope to a bruised and hurting world. Maybe if we spoke the truth in love, gave a reason for our hope in gentleness and respect, and did not lose our saltiness to be culturally relevant, we would actually have something to say that's worth listening to.

Mourn with those who mourn today, and do not forget why you are here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Confessions

Sometimes I get tired of my blog.

For that matter, I have a confession about writing in general. Sometimes I shy away from it because I feel like I'm standing off to the side with a bullhorn. I feel like my thoughts are loud and invasive. I wonder if I have the right to share them. I screen them for things that may be uncomfortable. I worry about showboating my life or saying things to draw attention to myself. At other times I feel almost middle-school-ish about it, like the gangly kid going out for the team. Writing is consistently something I both love and get antsy about.  

Blogging is a funny concept. It has always felt a little bit to me like, "Here are my ideas that you should read because they're great." This is a thorn in my side about writing to "the public" because it just feels...awkward. Plus it's somewhat vulnerable. There are countless things I'm happy to share over coffee, to journey with my dear friends in life about, to exchange in stories and find encouragement in. And then there's this....where typeface tells you in completely uncertain terms what I am thinking, spared what I really feel or how I got there (do you really want to read 8 pages per entry?). Each blog is a manicured snapshot of my humanity, for better or for worse...and the private aspect of me cringes a little at that.

But still I write. I can't always say why, to be honest. I'm compelled? I love it? I express myself this way? I desire to encourage? To be fair, I don't really know why I write all the time. And it's another one of those seasons where I just don't write a ton. Frankly, I just don't feel that wise.

So bear with me. Maybe this blogging endeavor is slowly tapering to an intermission or a final act. Perhaps I'll get ballsier and start writing what I really think about things (careful what you wish for!). Or maybe I let the story of my life be told over dinners, drinks, and real-time adventures instead of cold and unbreathing text. All of the above?

I guess we'll find out.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ragnarian Philosophy

I've been doing a lot more running lately since being roped into this race called Ragnar. :) I've thoroughly enjoyed training my body to be able to withstand further and further distances at greater and greater speeds. I laugh to myself the day of long runs as my knees (and my lungs and my back and my abs and just about everything else) recover from whatever I just did to them. I relish shorter tempo runs, as my body is naturally more built for speed than for distance. I live for competition, whether against myself or others. I frankly don't care how well someone else is doing, so long as I, for my part, am doing well. So you might say running suits me. For now. At least until I can't bear the thought of my newly developed cankles getting any more pronounced. ;)

But while running, at least for little lone ladies like myself who run where other people are, you often see others at the same toilsome task as you. The competitor in me automatically intakes the details of how fast they are going, how fit they appear, whether I could outrun or outlast them, their age, and so on. It's inherent. How do I rank? But what I have had to remember from the beginning, perhaps particularly in running, is that there is my race and there is not-my-race.

Everyone else is running not-my-race.

Because little Susie Speed Demon who just outpaced me may be doing a speed trial the day I am doing a long run. Or when I bound past Simon Slowpoke, I may not know that he's already 10 miles into his run when I'm only 2.5 into mine. I don't know where the other runners around me have been or where they are going, so to compare myself to them may be a lot like comparing apples and oranges. The only day I know exactly where they're going and where they've been is race day, and even then I have to focus on my race, not theirs.

Oh isn't it the same in life.

Hebrews 12:1 carries new meaning for me lately:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

That phrase gets me: The race marked out for us. It is long and will require perseverance for all of us. But the race that is marked out for me is different than the race that is marked out for you. Where has God called you? I can guarantee that it is not where he has called me. He calls some to be nurses, and others to be truck drivers, others to be pastors, and still others to be scientists. He calls some to start families and others to simply serve the family of God. He puts certain people in each of our paths that we relate to differently than any other. We have a race marked out for us, and the only place you are going to find your course map is in the hands of God. If you keep looking to other runners or trying to run your course like they are running theirs, you'll probably trip up sooner or later, or just plain run out of wind.

So much like the people that I pass at the park or on the trail, let's all encourage one another to run separately, together. There are various principles about running as a discipline that could apply to any one of us. But there are also specifications about where I am running and for how far and under which conditions that will differ from me to you. Let's all push one another and encourage each other to stretch our capacities and run to the best of our ability, but let's give ourselves and others the blessed freedom to run our own race. Amen?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How to Be a Friend

I have a great friend named Nicky, who frequently wakes up with me at ungodly hours of the morning to get out and exercise.

Let me tell you, if you want to get to know someone, go do something painful with them. Guaranteed! It usually goes something like this: Half the time, we already stink before we've worked out, hair askew, makeup nonexistent, just a couple bleary-eyed friends hitting the trail together (or the road, or the really steep hill).

We struggle together. We laugh together. There are no limits to what we can talk about with one another. We get stinky and sweaty together. We are not pretty when we finish. Heck, we're not pretty when we start! We're not dainty or gracious. Nicky admits from time to time to plotting my demise when we ("we") decide to bound up steep rocky trails. (I know I'm in trouble when the flames start to shoot out of her eyes.) She's an amazing sport, and has an iron will far stronger than mine. She tells me to go back to bed when I am grouchy and sleep deprived. She demonstrates a grace of person that I strive to have. And sometimes, when it's cold and rainy (like this morning), we say, "Forget it" and get coffee instead.

For these reasons and many others, I adore this friendship in my life. It's just real. We're ready to stand up for one another, and even to put one another in awkward situations we know the other needs. We endeavor to both ask the hard questions of one another and answer when called upon. We know that the love that cements our friendship can withstand any awkwardness or shortcoming. I've said this before, but there's just no place for fakeness in my friendships anymore, and my friendship with this particular lady helps me to see what friendship can be. If we're living life together, then let's live life together...unmanicured, undoctored. And while this does not mean that every inch of our friendships has to be so raw and meaningful (laughter is a good thing!), it does mean that we should be committed to real, open, honest, life-giving community. Are you with me?



 Here we are, pretending to be classy and normal, as we always are when we're together. ;)

Or we could admit that it's usually like this!

I love this girl.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Just a Lovers' Spat

There is a strong temptation only to write when I have an idea pinned. Only after I have thoroughly examined it, understood it, and considered it do I think about sharing it. But that's not always how life works. Sometimes you just have to be where you are, even if you haven't entirely figured that place out yet.

Well, I've been in this place the last week or two where I've just been tired. Several times I've thought I was getting sick with some cold. I've been ravenous about spare time, and insatiable in sleep. But mostly I've felt sassy and entitled and proud, perhaps as a response to the previous. Suddenly my attitude begins to appear as, I'll do as I please, thank you very much. 

So basically, I've been a brat.

These little rebellions don't happen too infrequently in my heart - when I know very well that my attitude is flaring, and I equally know that I don't care to do anything about it. It is at these precise junctures that I tend to have very honest and interesting conversations with God, because it's usually a contention between the two of us that takes center stage, or more precisely, a contention with me that I would like to "take up" with him. The thing that astounds me though is that even in my most tempestuous outbreaks, God is always and has always been graceful. No joke, right at my brattiest I'll get a call from a good friend who "felt like they needed to call" or something will happen in provision that shows me that God is there all the more in my anger - even my anger at him - loving me just the same. I guess he's not intimidated by my surliness. :)

Don't get me wrong, I deeply love God, and I know that my hurtful and ungrateful words are aimed at a perfect loving faithful friend, which is why these little fights catch my heart so. A person told me recently that I believe in fairy tales because I believe God...if even my arguments with God are any indication, though, I respectfully beg to differ.

This most recent "talk" with God left me with a new impression on the whole thing. Imagine you married someone who contracted a terrible mental condition that made them mean and unpredictable and at times even hateful. Imagine that sometimes you saw the person you knew and loved shining through, and yet at others it was obscured by their disease. In a way...that's what happened to God. He created and chose and covenanted with a people He dearly loved - who then contracted a soul-deep sin condition. In our condition, we lash out, we run away, we no longer want to be near our loving Creator. Can you imagine God's heart? It's like, when I'm in the middle of telling God that I don't want to spend any time with Him, He's saying softly, "But I remember you before you got sick..."

And the crazy thing is, He does. He knows us before sickness, before sin - and He knows us at the end of all things when we are redeemed. He knows who we really are, even when we're not acting like it. In a very real way, Christ knows us better than we know ourselves, because He knows us without sin. He knows us without this disease.

So think about that, and think about that when you interact with others. How are you helping them to be who they really are? How are you letting God show you who you really are?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Interlude

I read a very beautiful post recently from another blogger. She writes in eloquent prose:

"It's Him. It's the fact that when He leads, it isn't to a place...it's to Himself. It's to follow Him...Jesus, who bids us carry His cross to death...but to carry His yoke and have rest.

"He's amazing. He's surprising. He's Jesus who loves us infinitely, enough to bleed for us. Jesus, who went to church and got so angry at the hypocrites that He threw furniture down the steps. Jesus, who didn't look 'religious' enough to be religious at all, but who loved everyone and got down in the middle of their mess to love them."

You can find the entire post from her blog here. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eighteen

Yup, that's me, on the left. I was freshly 18 years old when this picture was taken. Here I am with my friend Kelsey, doing our  laps around the high school track for the annual Relay for Life event. It's hard for me to believe that nearly six years stand between she and I. Six years full of life, of breath, of experiences I seem to have forgotten I've accumulated, joy, hardship, glory and failing.

Six years.

Look at her. She's so happy. She's young and calm and full of vibrancy. She's centered. She laughs at the days to come.

I often have 'hindsight snobbery' when I think of my past self, particularly my 18-year-old self. The girl in that picture had a lot of things that she didn't even know needed to be worked out in her heart. A couple of those six years are not years that she would weather very well. The me on this side of the chasm has no particular desire to relive them. The me on this side of things sees myself as having earned my place, so to speak. I have worked hard. I've had some struggles.  I have become so knowledgeable. If I am honest with myself, I feel that I am entitled to some greater level of acknowledgement or grace for not standing in her shoes anymore, for being too wise for that, for having surpassed her..."She is not me," I say, shaking my head.

But I did a scary thing the other day. I cracked open that girl's journal and snooped through our collective past. And you know what? It's true, she had a lot to learn. But for all she was ignorant of, she leaned into God with a fervor that, honestly, challenges me today. God was all she had, and her heart had a peace that this heart quiets at the remembrance of. Maturity or none, her heart kept time to the heart of God, it beat and swelled and swayed to the rhythm of what God was doing in her life. Sure she was a mess in her own hidden ways - ways that I am proud for having "discovered." But the economy of grace for which I have undersold her becomes evident when I realize what I'm doing.

Grace is no economy, friends. And maturity is no cause for pride.

I may have been simpler then, but God asked the same thing on the day this picture was taken that He asks of me today: my faithfulness. And He offers the same thing to this girl that He does to me: His abounding love, His presence, His joy, Himself. God does not weigh us on the scales we weigh ourselves on. His astounding love is for a creation He adores, and none of it is deserved. It was for this girl and for me that God ran out to greet and rejoiced over (Luke 15:11-32). It was for both that He pursued. It was for both that He died. And it was for both that He still cares, day after day.

Friends, don't turn grace into an economy. For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Tim. 6:7). We are saved by grace, by faith. I hope and pray that God opens your eyes to understand that for a moment, wrap your heart around it. Can you comprehend a God that loves you passionately, no matter how much you think you don't deserve it (or do)? Can you fathom that??


Friday, October 12, 2012

How to Tell the Truth

I'm wary about blogging about things that I am "working on." One particular quote from Mark Driscoll left me a little convicted: "Blogging is often a way to feel like you've done something about an issue without really doing anything about it." Awesommmme. Guilty.

But I have been thinking through these things for a few weeks now, and want to continue to walk in them as well as share them with others.

So I wrote to you recently about being "too nice." I've gotten myself in some sticky too-nice situations since! But I made some commitments to myself about how I will speak to other people that help me to define the issue, and may help you. Healthy communities and relationships are determined by good, open, healthy communication, and I want to begin to foster that in my own life.

So here goes, the "list":


  • If asked tough questions, I will answer them completely honestly, not hiding behind nice or insincere words, or half truths. I will be 100% honest.
  • I will confront people when I see a need to, whether or not I think it may be hard for them to hear. I will do this with love and gentleness.
  • I will own the power of my words, and endeavor to make my words healing.That means no gossip. No white lies. No insincerity. 
  • I will not hope that situations go away. I will deal with them.
  • I will have a clear yes and a clear no. I will communicate my needs in all circumstances and lovingly keep my boundaries completely intact. I will not bend on those boundaries for anyone.
  • I will be mature in how I encounter conflict. I will not shut down, but will force myself to speak up. I will make myself face the issue and talk through it as necessary. 

You see, we really owe it to our dear friends to be kind and open with them. We owe it to others to lay aside our prideful fears and be honest. There is a way to be open and direct without wounding, and maybe it's a lost art. Pray about this today, pray about how to say what you need to say. Pray for your friends, your family, your dear ones. If the church is lost in miscommunication, in failure to speak truth, we are lost indeed. 

...I also just read a really convicting post about listening, so maybe I'll write about that next. ;) 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grace for a Moment

I think people are works of art, and by that I mean that they are never quite finished. Sometimes you meet someone and see them many years later and think, "They are the same old so-and-so," or, "They were always that way." But sometimes, oftentimes actually, you see someone down the road and realize that you see someone new. They have grown, surprised you even. We really do our fellow people a disservice to assume that they will always be the same person we see this instant.

I think that's why you must, to the best of your ability, look at a person's heart. The outside of a person grows and changes in many ways throughout a person's life. But the heart better than anything else predicts where they are going.

I confess this is hard for me. I am often as hard on myself as anyone. I am burdened occasionally by what I do not yet know much less understand - I know there is plenty. But there is grace, grace for this moment, that God is not done with me yet.

___
But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
-Jeremiah 18:4

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Don't Be Too Nice

"You're too nice."

I've gotten that since middle school from various friends and acquaintances. And my younger self would chide them mentally, thinking Oh you poor soul, there's no such thing as too nice, or didn't you know that?

Oh child. You better recognize. 

Here's the thing: being nice and being loving have nothing to do with one another. Here is what "too nice" is:

Too nice is not saying what I really think or feel. In other words, Too nice stifles the truth.

Too nice worries that what I have to say might be offensive, inappropriate, hurtful, or damaging, even if it is a valid thing to say. Too nice keeps quiet. So Too nice is caring more about a person's feelings than their wellbeing. 

Too nice creates a disparity between what I say (or don't say) and what I feel. Yet what doesn't get said usually ends up being expressed one way or another. This creates mixed messages between my actions and my words. So really, Too nice is incredibly confusing.

Too nice dresses up in pious clothing, but is a poor fig leaf to cover fear. Too nice is cowardly. 

Too nice allows me to get into conversations that a more courageous self would simply not engage in. ("But I don't want to be rude...") In other words, Too nice is not always guarding my heart.

Too nice makes it unclear what I really want because I find it difficult to articulate. Too nice blurs the lines between "yes" and "no." 

Too nice inherently assumes that what I have to say might not be as valuable as what you think. Too nice is insecure.

Too Nice has nothing to do with love. Love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13:7) If I am protecting your feelings to the destruction of your whole person, I am doing a very poor job at loving you. Love is kind, it is gracious and patient. But it also rejoices in the truth. Words that hide or mask the truth are not loving. 

So what do I do about being too nice?
  1.  Identify and confront the fear that is keeping me from saying what I mean. Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
  2. Get myself involved in more up close and personal community. I can't be immersed in healthy community without those communication issues becoming a real pain. I ought to make (more) friends that will be honest, loving, truthful, and will ask the truth from me, and then not run away from them.
  3. Look out for alone time. Sometimes it's very needed. Sometimes it's an easy and unhealthy out.
  4. Finally, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Do something radical: don't be too nice. Be loving instead: a courageous, whole, life-giving love. Confront your fears, be direct, shoot straight. Don't dance around the truth but rejoice in it. 

And here's a secret: people might prefer "too nice" from you. Some people might genuinely not like what you have to say, and they might feel wronged or hurt. It's true. But if you are honest, gracious, respectful, and loving; if you have carefully weighed your words and spoken them with discretion, then the effect of your words is to be sorted out in their hearts and not yours. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cost

I have wanted to write so badly. So many thoughts have crossed my mind, from speaking plainly, to the inherent cost in life, to the aspect of love that necessitates choice...And beyond just my thoughts, it seems like there has been a lot of change around here! Good change, small change, but plentiful change.

I got a reliable car, for one thing. It's such a blessing. (You mean the volume knob works?)

Ma belle, c'est bien rĂ©elle
(My beautiful, she is real)


And for another, I had the chance to visit my dad and his side of the family in Oregon and Washington for a cousin's wedding!

My dad and I at Discovery Park in Seattle


And then there's graduate school, which has filled up most of the void, after which I stuff in exercise, community, and time for my soul to just breathe. I continue to learn in fits and starts, at some moments gracefully, at others haphazardly.

But on to cost. Cost is a thought that has danced around behind my eyes for some time now. We are meant to be costly creatures, I think. For instance, there's a reason a man has to take a risk to get the girl. The greater his risk, the more he demonstrates her value to him. And it's not for nothing that parents give so much for their children. They, too, are wordlessly saying how much their children merit that sacrifice. We show what we value by what we are willing to pay for it. There's that phrase, "What's it 'worth' to you?" At an auction, only the person who is willing (or able) to give the most ends up with the item. They "value" it the most. Cost plays out in every aspect of our lives, even and especially our relationships with others and our relationship with God. Truly, we cannot live without cost because without it we are saying nothing is worthy. To live a life free of cost, of risk, of sacrifice is to live a life in which nothing and no one is truly loved.

It comes to this: life should be costly. Faith should be a sacrifice. It's a gut check, an internal integrity monitor, constantly asking us, What do you really value? I would argue that without cost, you cannot know that you really love something or someone. And for that matter, it isn't about what you give, but about what it costs you that determines this gut check. It might come at great sacrifice for one person to give what another person gives effortlessly. It's worth it to look at what you're willing to stick your neck out there for and what you're not. What are you willing to make time for and what gets pushed aside? Who do you pursue in discipleship, in friendship, in family, etc? Who and what do you pray for? How do you spend your money? When doing something comes at a cost, you realize how much it means to you - or doesn't. For this reason, costliness is so valuable to us! And when it comes to Jesus, is he really worth it all to you and I? Does he take the cake? God makes it clear that following him is costly, because following him is about loving him. Do you love him? Does your life agree?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Different Kinds of Good

Why?

Have you asked this recently? Good, me too. For myself, I have been so overwhelmed with the goodness of God in my life. It brings tears to my eyes (which, a tangent on crying: do it). I feel so blessed, incredibly blessed, whole, redeemed, free...that doesn't even touch the material provision that God has brought about in my life these last months. I am just so so thankful.

But then I get to a point where I stop...why, God? Why do I get all this good stuff when my brothers and sisters in China - who also love you and pray to you - have to choose a much harder existence to follow you? Why are my brothers and sisters in the Middle East threatened with death for following your name when I get to stretch my arms and say that I'm just so...happy? Are we praying to the same Abba?

At this point, my spirit is quieted. I realize that although I have so many good things...in a way, these men and women who serve the same Jesus I do have more. They are different scales of good; that in this exact season, God has blessed me with many good things. But in the difficult season of another Christ-follower's life, they are blessed with seeing the provision of God in a way I never have. They are blessed with seeing God spring up in the darkest places, in seeing Him overcome evil with His power in their very backyard. They partake in a very real spiritual warfare in which they consistently get to see and praise God as the Victor. These are incredible blessings from a holy God - to experience His presence so, even though it may come through tears in this life. I propose that what awaits these faithful followers cannot compare to the sufferings they have endured - or indeed that any of us have endured on varying levels.

Don't be fooled: "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," (2 Timothy 3:12). And honestly I have a periodic nagging feeling that my future life may have its fair share of very real hardship. I guess I want it to be clear that I'm not trying to disown this in any way in my next few statements. But when I think about what God has given me right now, blessings from Him that I neither understand nor deserve, I hear a sweet voice in my heart saying, "Just take it, don't question it." That God has given me much good, of a nature that overwhelms me. He has also given much good to His followers in much more difficult circumstances, too. It is a different flavor of good, all working together for the purpose of those He desires to reach. He is working it all out in His timing and His way, that perhaps only in full view at the end of all things will we understand. When we realize what God has done for us - healed us, restored relationships, provided for us in times of need - we are that much more happy to give what we have because we know, oh we know, that it is not ours.

There have come and will come days of persecution for all who follow Jesus, from the teasing or disrespect in Western circles to outright violence in others. I guess I have a hard time accepting blessing when I know this, but it helps to think of the many levels of goodness from God. He is a good God, who works all things together for the incredible good of those who love Him. We live in a sinful world - and in fact so much of the beauty of this season in my own life is acknowledging healing from past pain. How much it hurt then, but how I rejoice now in what God has made of it! That I was lost and now am found! All different levels of good from a beautiful God. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Time, My Friend

Already I'm writing again? With the way this month has gone, it's a bit surprising to be at it again so soon. But here I am, stew simmering on the stove, glass of wine, some interesting music...and time.

Ah, time. Time has been my friend these last eight months - time to be with people, time to laugh, time to read, time to breathe. I thrive on time. And having loved and lost (Time, that is), I must surrender this beautiful season I've had and take up the new title of "graduate student."

I'm happy to be where I am, absolutely. I feel blessed and honored. I like what I do. It invigorates me to be around so many people who are so intelligent, good at what they do, and somehow still quite interesting. I feel myself getting serious about this and buckling down, getting organized, mechanistically moving forward as if I can't help not to. But I can't decide if I'm walking into a fight or a passion. I guess I'll know on the other side. Perhaps I just recognize that this is a season of life that asks for my everything - and here I am holding on to the beautiful relationships, the fun things, the spiritual downtime etc that I've been blessed with in this last eight months, thinking, You can't have them.

But what can I do? C'este la vie. And la vie is going to change a lot. Responsibility has come knocking on my door. And I do feel responsible to this, you might say. I feel very strongly that I am in the right place at the right time, and that assuages some of my more gnawing realizations about what lies ahead. It's a simple cost-benefit analysis. This is going to cost me a lot. But it will also benefit me a great deal. Either my time is up or my time has come. Maybe both. But time - back to our dear friend time - time will tell.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Finally, Peppers

Well, a very long time ago, I wrote to introduce you to my little pepper plant. It was young then, and I was sharing all of my dewy hopes that it would grow and thrive. (And it has! I can't believe how small it is in that picture!) Anyway, it was a metaphorical writing about how ready and happy I was to wait on the plant's good timing. I was happy simply to water it and watch it grow and take part in what it was becoming, not only desiring it for what it could give back.

A few months ago I was in the middle of lab, teaching a student how to do something when suddenly something on the plant caught my eye. Behold! A flower was budding!! By this time, nearly a year later, peppers registered somewhere next to sea anemones on my list of things to think about. That is to say, it was a pleasant surprise.

As the season went on, I went about carefully pollinating it whenever there were at least two flowers, watching excitedly when I had successfully gotten one. I've mentioned before that I love to watch the science of life play out on numerous levels, so it's probably safe to say I (really) geeked out with my little plant. And for the record, these are amazing in a big pot of chili.

My little plant post-transfer from the lab to my "yard"


Whether you care about my pepper plant or not, there is at least a kernel to take away. It's really not a complicated or even a deep metaphor: a plant bore fruit when it was ready to. Without sounding sage about much of anything, life has its seasons. And seasons are based on conditions, not on feelings. I was ready for peppers when my plant was a year younger and possibly five times smaller! But everything in its season - everything in the proper condition.

The good news is that some of those conditions are constant. If you believe in the Word of God, then whether or not you feel ready for a season, one condition you can count on is God's presence! Whether you feel able or completely incapable, He is mighty to save. Whether you feel loved or not, He has loved us with an everlasting love. He has paid our price. There is no condemnation for those found in Jesus Christ!*

So count on those conditions today. I used to laugh because in all my plant's several-foot-high glory, it did everything it could to plaster itself against my window, where it might just eek more sunlight. Metaphorically, this plant had the right idea! Look to God, turn your whole self toward Him - in His light you grow and survive. You have been planted in this exact place in this exact season for a purpose. So look to God, know it, grow accordingly. His conditions never change.

*Matthew 28:20
 Zephaniah 3:17
 Jeremiah 31:3
 1 Corinthians 7:23
 Romans 8:1

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Song of the Grateful Heart

Wow, what a season this has been, friends. Allow me now, with fresh determination, to share with you a few things. I have a feeling that a few blog posts are going to pop up over the next several days, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I was driving home from a morning work day in the Seeds garden, and suddenly became acutely aware of how grateful I am, free in the love of God, of friends, free to stretch my arms and be my whole person, live out in community, share and receive in generosity...At Second Mile, Chad asked us this week if we are full. My answer? Oh, Jesus, yes. A thousand times yes.

Backtrack. This season has been an incredible time of growth for me. It has been a time where God has deliberately asked me to focus in on Him to discuss together my past. I came head to head with the leaving of my father as a child, with the dysfunction of my childhood family, with the abuses of my deceased stepmom, with the way that my own codependency from these issues had twisted my adult relationships...Let me assure you that this time has been a roller coaster. I have wept, I have mourned, I have had very real moments with Jesus...and I have come out restored. As much as I have struggled, fought, and cried, I have even more laughed, played, and enjoyed genuine authentic community. He must become greater, I must become less. (John 3:30) As the uglies from my past were dragged from my heart into the light, they left room for Christ and for joy. As the old Christy, wounded and jaded, has decreased, Christ and the redeemed image-bearing woman He designed me to be have grown and filled the space.

So I ask you...have you dealt with your past? Have you? And it doesn't matter if you feel like you have "a past" or not - For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and so have you. You have been sinned against, you have sinned yourself. We are all the same fallen creation without Christ, not a one of us more holy than the next. Have you been bold enough and vulnerable enough to let God and others have access to those deepest parts of your heart, places perhaps you weren't even aware were there? It took my kitchen almost catching on fire for God to get my attention and move me to treat this season with the seriousness that He was asking me to (that's a story for another day). And I am so glad. God wants to heal you, and He takes it seriously. He wants to restore you. Focus on Him, and His glory, and let Him have access to those areas and He will.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust in Him and He will do this.
-Psalm 37:4-5

Oh it's the trust. Trust that God is good, that He is faithful, that He takes care of you, that He has fought for you and died for your failures before God. He by effect said, "Here, let me take your place." You will be amazed what God does with even a small amount of faith in His promises, His character. And yes, trust means you may not see the horizon just yet.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
-John 8:32

Thanks to all the incredible friends who have walked with me these last months, asked me challenging questions, gently pushed back against my fallen determination to earn my own salvation, spoken truth that struck me dumb (literally), and have protected, provided for, been compassionate, generous, gentle, and kind to this one woman. Redemption is such a sweet thing.

Love does not delight in evil but always rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
-1 Corinthians 13:6-7

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Old Friend

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

Well, sorry to cheapen your words, Charles Dickens, but this is the plight of used car owners if I do say so. He might also add, it was the most hilarious of times...because let's face it, car trouble is kind of funny. I bid farewell to my trusty steed this week, christened Icabod my freshman year of college by my roommate Megan. I once stumbled across the name in a book, the footnote of which read, No glory. Fitting enough.




My mom bought shiny little Icabod brand new when I was nine...and got hit by a naughty red-light-runner on the way home! This was the start of great things.

He served as a trusty family vehicle for many years until my spunky 17-year-old self totaled my own first car on the freeway...after which poor Icabod became my charge. (Trust the older car to the human with the underdeveloped frontal lobe - good move, mom.) And what a time we had, driving to LA and all over the mountains above San Bernadino the summer before college. I assumed he could take me anywhere, and put him to the test a fair amount. I always loved driving, and Icabod actually served me really well.

Oh, he had his quirks. The volume knob, for instance, did whatever it wanted. Oh you wanted to turn the music down? Whoops, now it's blasting. For twenty minutes. All the while you embarrassedly try to make it stop. Hehe. The butthead.

I remember the first time the passenger sun visor fell on someone's head - that was pretty funny. Then I remember when the driver side did the same thing and made me jump a foot out of my seat in alarm. After that it hardly caused a reaction: it falls out, shove it back in, keep driving.

Then there was the time when I drove it into a telephone pole when I was 18. And by drove, I don't mean daintily tapped. (Oh, that was the gas pedal?!) My friends, who had just gotten out of the car to go deliver something while I parked, turned around and comically trudged back to the car - I don't think we ever completed that delivery. While I was still working to get it fixed, I got pulled over for no other offense than having a sketchy-looking car. Well it's true, Icabod was butt-ugly without a bumper.

There was the era when the brakes hardly worked, and made a sound like Lost's island beast every time you needed to stop. I kid you not - these brakes turned heads. All of them. I think I counted 9 trips to the shop in one year before finally getting it fully fixed....oh cars. :)

There was the time the timing chain skipped and we somehow still decided to fix it. And we (read, my friend) pushed it up a hill to a parking spot till I could have it towed. There were flat tires and missing hubcaps, quirky trips to the Autoparts store (where one in five men will hit on you and try to sound impressive about cars). There were honest and dishonest mechanics. There was the evolution as a driver from "It's making a sound in the the thingamabob," to "It sounds like a fuel injector issue..." There were oops-I-curbed-it-again moments. Oh yeah, and a couple tickets...(several years ago, I promise).

There were also the friends I carted around in it, making them listen to my terrible music (Pandora has helped me greatly, friends). There were the places we went, from California and all over Arizona: longer road trips and short getaway day trips. There were the goofy memories, the silly memories, and the frustrating memories (Did you have to die right now??). There were night drives just to see the city lights and think life over. There were pothole-dodging routes (Tucson...). It was my college car, my questionably trusty steed who gave me his best. Poor Icabod put up with a younger version of myself who was a much more cocky headstrong driver (re: frontal lobe development). And in turn, he allowed me the independence I craved - and probably needed. He was a great car until the end...or until approximately 5 months before the end. ;)

We'll see what the next adventure holds!

On to bigger and better things, but you didn't hear it from me - Goodbye Icabod!


Friday, July 27, 2012

My Mess

It has been almost a month since I last wrote! Wow. Every so often these little stretches of time pass for one reason or another...This time it's that I have been growing a lot and just haven't had occasion - or time - to share it. I pray that what I have to say today expresses what I want to share, that it reaches grace into the hearts and minds of those who read it.

Straight up: I am messy. I like clean. I like it quite a bit, actually. There are certain things that I am fastidious about. But dishes often take me a little while to get to, I tend to leave things (like coffee cups) littering my desk, and my room easily gets cluttered with things I don't know what to do with. I frequently "donate" my water bottle or my keys to any random place I set them down...in general I just have a certain degree of mess in my day to day life. My heart is messy too. Like in my room, there are all kinds of things in my heart that I don't know what to do with. But unlike my room, this is the mess that drives me crazy.

This mess, though, is where grace has an opportunity to powerfully affect my life. I respond to any symptom of not being "together" by trying harder. Several friends in my life have suggested that I am perhaps a little too disciplined towards myself, and sometimes I admit it's true. If I fault, I tend toward legalism and control, throwing grace out with the bathwater. I set up a careful network of discipline, reward, and punishment mentally because I very much dislike not being in good spiritual alignment.

But here is the beauty...that I am. I am a mess, some days far more than others. For all the strength and grace that God has given me, this heart is still far from the picture-perfect model I would like it to be. In a flat sense, there is just work to be done. I do not have many things together. I have a ways to journey, a ways to heal, a far road to walk. But God doesn't wait for us to be perfect, or even near perfect, to bless us. That's the part that is so hard to understand because in a weird way, I want to earn it. Desperately! Do you? I want to be good enough for it. I want to be able to measure what I deserve by how obedient I have or haven't been. But God does not work that way, and that is the most beautiful piece of grace. I can't earn it. God will bless me, mess and all, because He is good. He trades beauty for ashes, and that's perhaps when our hearts praise Him the loudest because we know we have not done a thing to deserve it. All He asks is that we trust Him.

So here I am, messy and healing, but so deeply blessed. Where are you? Have you let yourself admit how drastically you must depend on God? For this is about dependence. Unlike the clutter in my room, I cannot fully clean my own heart, and neither can you. We can rearrange and rearrange until we are blue in the face, but God in His indelible grace truly cleans the space. By His sheer goodness and love, He makes what was unsightly and mildewy now bright and clean. And even before that process is complete (because it never fully is), He blesses us richly and deeply. Our God is good.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Without Wax

Summer nights. :) Cleaning up house, glass of sweet white, and thunderstorms. In other words, bliss.

I read something beautiful the other day. You might be bracing yourself for my next deep soul search about poverty and the church, but I promise you none of that tonight. In keeping with the loveliness of the evening, I simply have something restful to share.

I learned recently that our English word "sincere" actually comes from Spanish, sincera. Sincera can be broken into two words, sin (without) cera (wax). It comes from ancient pottery, in which dishonest (and clever) potters might cover up cracks and inconsistencies in their work using wax. After glazing, who would be the wiser? But honest artisans who turned out good and reputable work were able to market their pottery as sin cera. Without wax. No cover ups.

Although my friends laughed mischievously when I said we ought to let our cracks show (this one's for you, TBDers), I think the metaphor is deeply valuable. There is something so very restful and enjoyable about authenticity. It's just refreshing. All the more when we get to be the authentic, crackly pots who know we are well-loved nonetheless.

And for me? I am getting more and more disillusioned with faux relationships and clever ways of dodging community. (Not to mention any names, Facebook.) I am feeling a little lackluster about going out for coffees and lunches when half the time I could just invite you over. Heck, we can make our own froo-froo...teas. Or, you know. Clean or something. :) In general, I hope to explore what it is to live life alongside a contingent of people I trust, and am learning how to trust. I do not want to live a life that seeks to impress or be impressed. I am sitting more and more ill-at-ease with a culture that creates trappings around authenticity. I'd really rather just be real friends who live the pieces of real life (on a real budget) together, speak our minds in love, laugh about life, find community in the everyday things and not spend time picking the eggshells out of our shoes.

Amen? One more thing.

Speaking of Fbook, this is a hint that I will probably be changing my Facebook habits in the near future (read, drastically reduce). If you like what you read here and usually learn about new posts from Facebook, I would encourage you to select one of the "follow" options in the sidebar to keep up to date.

Cheers! How are you going to be sin cera in your friendships this week?


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Would They Think?

Yet again, I share from Jen Hatmaker's rich wisdom. I wish I could quote the whole book. Please read the book? For me?

Here she discusses the idea of balancing the "feast" and the "fast" - that we feast in those rich growth moments, in God's mercy, His love, His blessing, His grace, and yet we also pursue times of fasting so that we can go with less so that others may have more. Or we go with less so that we may learn and draw nearer to the heart of God. God's nearness envelops us in the fast, in the times of less, in want. This excerpt breaks my heart, and yet it fills it with flame. A flame to change, to not be what we are today. Can we dare to change the world? Can we exchange our dusty ashes for the glory of Christ?

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At some point, the church stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it, culling the feast parts and whitewashing the fast parts. We are addicted to the buffet, skillfully discarding the costly discipleship required after consuming. The feast is supposed to sustain the fast, but we go back for seconds and thirds and fourths, stuffed to the brim and fat with inactivity. All this is for me. My goodness, my blessings, my privileges, my happiness, my success. Just one more plate.

Not so with the early church who stunned their Roman neighbors and leaders with generosity, curbing their own appetites for the mission of Jesus. They constantly practiced self-denial to alleviate human misery. In the Shepard of Hermas, a well-respected Christian literary work in the early 100s, believers were instructed to fast one day a week [to provide a meal for the hungry]...

In the early 200s, Tertullian reported that Christians had a voluntary common fund they contributed to monthly. That fund was used to support widows, the disabled, orphans, the sick, the elderly, shipwrecked sailors, prisoners, teachers, burials for the poor, and even the release of slaves.

The difference between Romans and Christians on charity was widely recognized by unbelievers. The pagan satirist Lucian (130-200 c.e.) mocked Christian kindness: "The earnestness with which the people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren."

These Christians did not limit their assistance to members of their own subculture either. The Emperor Julian, who attempted to lead the Roman Empire back to paganism, was frustrated by the superior compassion shown by the Christians, especially when it came to intervention for the suffering. He famously declared: "The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours...It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance."

What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don't feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick, or protect the widow? Would they see the spending on church buildings and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?

I think they'd barely recognize us as brothers and sisters. If we told them church is on Sundays and we have an awesome band, this would be perplexing. I believe we'd receive dumbfounded stares if we discussed "church shopping" because enough people don't say hello when we walk in the lobby one hour a week. If they found out one-sixth of the earth's population claimed to be Christians, I'm not sure they could reconcile the suffering happening on our watch while we're living in excess. They'd wonder if we had read the Bible or worry it had been tampered with since their time.

But listen Early Church, we have a monthly event called Mocha Chicks. We have choir practice every Wednesday. We organize retreats with door prizes. We're raising three million dollars for an outdoor amphitheater. We have catchy T-shirts. We don't smoke or say the F word. We go to Bible study every semester. ("And then what, American Church?") Well, we go to another one. We're learning so much.

I think the early church would cover their heads with ashes and grieve over the dilution of Jesus' beautiful church vision. We've taken His Plan A for mercy to an injured lost planet and neutered it to clever sermon series and Stitch-and-Chat in the Fellowship Hall, serving the saved. If the modern church held to its biblical definition, we would become the answer to all that ails society. We wouldn't have to baby-talk and cajole and coax people into our sanctuaries through witty mailers and strategic ads; they'd be running to us. The local church would be the heartbeat of the city, undeniable by our staunchest critics.

(Jen Hatmaker - 7)
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When are we going to be courageous enough to lose our lives in order to find them? How can we say that Jesus is all we need when we cling to so many other things?

Unless I Wash You

Have you let Jesus serve you today?

I am fascinated by a new aspect of Jesus that I have never thought of before. I confess that my bend in the grace dilemma is to be the pharisee. I confess that I generally give more grace than I feel, and less than I should. But even to graceless me, I am incredibly humbled by the servant nature of Jesus Christ.

Let's just think about Jesus for a minute. The crazy thing about our God is His humility. Yes, He is Yahweh, and yes, He is most holy. He has all right and all privilege to demand respect for His name, and He does. But, the most mind-bending thing is that He serves us. Because He chooses to. Because He's good.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
-Philippians 2:5-7

Another version says, "...did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage."

So where am I going with this? The part of Jesus' humility that keeps sticking out to me the most is His interaction with Peter when He went to wash His feet. Washing the dusty, calloused, sand and dung-encrusted feet was the job of the lowliest servant in the household. The disciples are getting ready to eat, and Jesus takes off his outer garment and begins to take on this undesirable job for himself.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." 
-John 13:6-8

Even though Jesus told Peter he would understand, I for myself never could. But it was this phrase that did the trick: "Jesus came as a humble servant, so you should humbly let Him serve you." And you know what? It is humbling to let Jesus serve me. I would much rather work for it. Deserve it. Be good enough on my own merit. I am astonished that it is not just my crusty feet that Jesus would take in His own hands, but even the most rank hidden pieces of my heart. That He would deign to scrub those dirty corners unblinkingly, with tenderness and compassion.

To quote Mark Driscoll:
Some say that Christianity is the easiest religion in the world - you don't have to do anything to become a Christian. No, it's the hardest, because you can't do anything to become a Christian. There's something in us that wants to participate, to merit our salvation, to make God love us, to be good people, to show we're better than others, to boast in our efforts and attempts, our morality, our spirituality, our holiness; we want to come to God with hands full and say, "Here's what I have to offer you." But God says, "Come with hands empty and receive grace, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness, salvation through my Son." I think the hardest thing of all is the humility it takes to become a Christian. 

So often, I am like Peter: "You shall never wash my feet! (I'll earn it!)" But Jesus' gracious response, His incredible response is, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." You might say, "Unless you let me serve you, you will never truly understand what it is to be loved and cherished by me." I have to let Jesus serve me, love me, change me, scrub my squalid heart clean with his bare hands, take care of my mess, because that is the only true way to know His incredible grace. And of course, that's the only real way to pass this very same grace on.

"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" (John 13:9)


Monday, June 11, 2012

Bartimaeus

I have more words today for you that are not my own. This is directly from Jen Hatmaker's 7:

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Bartimaeus: poor, blind, beggar. Probably looked like every homeless person I know. Outcast, shunned from the temple, unclean, discarded in every way - a true societal reject. And here comes Jesus with His entourage, headed to Jerusalem to be "king" (oops, they had a little misunderstanding about what that meant - their bad). Everyone is excited, everyone is cheering. Yay, Jesus! We're getting our king and we'll be free! 
As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"(Mark 10:46-47)
Whoa up. Yikes. This is awkward. This is embarrassing actually. There is nothing dignified here. This reeks of desperation. I mean, Bartimaeus? Poor, blind, Barrmaeus screaming at Jesus? Sheesh. What a mess, Jesus surrounded by normal, decent followers, forced to deal with this sad, sorry homeless guy screaming bloody murder. 
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. 
 The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."
       "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
(Mark 10:48-52)
..."Rabbi, I want to see." Bartimaeus asked for the most basic human need. In biblical times blindness meant he was considered cursed by God, which made him unclean, which made him an outcast, which made him a beggar. Unlike James and John who nine verses earlier asked to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in glory (predicated by the awesome demand, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask"), Bartimaeus only asked for mercy.

This is like the starving asking for food, the orphan asking for parents, the homeless asking for shelter, the sick asking for medicine; basic human needs - food, shelter, care, love. These aren't tangled up in power or position; they aren't born out of entitlement or greed. They are a plea for mercy, the cry of every human heart. 

~~~~~~~~

The above is an excerpt from 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. 

Sometimes we read weird things in scripture, and pass over them nonchalantly. The guy convulsing and screaming as a demon was being cast out? Yeah no big. But this mindset also allows us to detach from the things we read that we very well could encounter easily, such as people like Bartimeaus. We figure we probably aren't going to run across too many blind people asking our attention, so we mentally distance ourselves from the story. I would gently suggest that we have to be careful with this mindset. 

Hatmaker tells this story after telling her own story of encountering a very disillusioned, vocal homeless woman, and how her instinct, like so many of ours, was to quiet the woman rather than show mercy. The question of the hour is, what is mercy and what does it look like? And are we prepared to administer it? Are our hearts ready? I ask this next one heavily of myself as much as I ask it of you...Do we really love our neighbors, or do we only pretend to? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Barefoot Church

I need to tell something to you. And of course I hope you like it, but more than that I hope you hear it. I am being messed up, in the best way. I am so challenged by my lifestyle and so inspired by what it could be instead. I'm going to share an excerpt from a book called Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. She is so humorous and delightful to read, but her story also captures the essence of so many of the thoughts that have been going through my head recently. Read and enjoy.

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Easter snuck up on us - the day that changed everything. Deeply moved by Shane Claiborne among others, evidently Brandon sent him an email through dubious channels basically telling him The Irresistible Revolution was messing his wife up, and now he was reading it and didn't know what to do with it in his context. But we were wrestling and asking new questions, so that was probably good. He just wanted Shane to know the this message mattered to a pastor in the suburbs, even if it was driving us crazy. Sent and forgotten.

Ring-ring-ring. "Hi, is this Brandon? This is Shane Claiborne...yes it is..oh, I got your number off your email...no your wife is not involved in this...Anyway, I'm going to be speaking at a small Asian American church in Austin Easter night, and I thought maybe we could have coffee afterward...no, you're not being punked...okay, I'll see you in a couple of days."

Seriously? Who does that? I get emails from strangers all the time, and I was feeling good about responding to them, much less pilfering their numbers off their signature line and scheduling coffees with them when I come to their cities. (As a traveling Bible teacher, Shane also convinced me to imitate the hospitality model of the New Testament and stay in homes when I travel instead of hotels. Best decision I've ever made. Guess what? There are people who actually have the gift of hospitality and are really good at it! Who knew? Paul and Jesus. And Shane.)

Anyhow, there was a 100 percent chance that coffee was happening, so we cleared Easter evening to spend with the members of Vox Vaniae and Shane. (Check out this cool church at www.voxveniae.com - if I could, I would eat their Web site.)

Easter weekend, we blew the six services out of the water at our big church: big, incredible, fantastic production, guest musicians, "When the Saints Go Marching In," trumpets, lights, gospel singers, rappers, sweet videography, killer. We herded approximately ten billion people in and out of there like cattle, clearing out as fast as possible for the next service. As far as wow-factors go, no one left disappointed. You got it, Jack and Jackie.

Fast forward to a few hours later, and we changed into jeans and drove downtown for Vox Veniae's one little Easter service with their guest speaker, Shane Claiborne. The church rented this crappy space on the University of Texas campus, and we parked in a ramshackle-looking parking lot a block away. As we walked up to the church, we saw a homeless-looking guy with weird hair, wearing what appeared to be a burlap sack in the shape of pants and a tunic. This was, of course, Shane. (He's been "escorted out" of several churches before they realized he was their guest speaker. Claiborne: Making Deacons Feel Awkward Since 1998.) 

Maybe 150 people were at this Easter service, and it was simple and stripped down. There were candles, an unscripted welcome. The worship was so un-self-conscious and pure, maybe three or four guys in the band. It was completely unproduced and humble, all of it. It smacked of regular people and simple church; their only preoccupation was this obsession with Jesus. It was tangible. I loved every molecule of it. I wanted to sell my house and move into this room.

Toward the end of Shane's talk, he mentioned his time that morning with a large homeless community in San Antonio. He had asked their spokesman what their main needs were. Above all else, they needed good shoes. He explained how they were on their feet all day, and the shoes they got from shelters and Goodwill were everyone else's castoffs, worn down, worn out. (The homeless community has chronic leg and back pain from long days standing in inadequate shoes.)

As we were about to take communion, Shane said, "You are under no coercion, but if you want to, you can leave your shoes at the altar when you take communion. Oh! And leave your socks too. We'll wash them and deliver them all to the homeless community in San Antonio tomorrow."

Two significant particulars: One, Easter 2007 in Austin was unseasonably, crazy cold. Like 31 degrees that morning cold. Understand that in April in Austin, we would all typically be wearing shorts and flip flops. Guaranteed. From the youngest to oldest. As it was, every person there had on real, substantial shoes because it was freezing outside.

Two, Brandon and I looked down at our shoes in unison and just started laughing. Why? We were both wearing our brand new cowboy boots we'd given each other for Christmas. By a huge margin, they were the most prized and expensive shoes we'd ever owned. I loved them so much, I gave them their own special box in my closet where moth and rust could not destroy. 

Having thrown myself into this arena for a few months, I thought I would be thrilled to rip those boots off my rich feet and happily give them over to the homeless (who would promptly sell them since they are entirely impractical and worth a pretty penny - I've learned a few things). But I was discouraged to feel the twinge of selfishness rear its head first. Seriously? I'm going to make a deal over boots? Have I come only this far, God? I suck. 

Jesus, unwilling to entertain my melodrama, cut to the chase: "Give them up. I have something to teach you." Evidently, this moment was not about me and my urban cowgirl boots. So I took them off, raised them to my lips for a farewell kiss, oh okay, and an embrace, and Brandon and I left them at the altar along with our socks and the last remaining thread of reluctance.

I'll not do the moment justice, but at the close of the service, I watched all these smiling people gladly walk barefooted out into the cold, and I heard Jesus whisper: This is how I want My church to look. I want her to rip the shoes off her feet for the least every single chance she gets. I want an altar full of socks and shoes right next to the communion table. I want to see solidarity with the poor. I want true community rallied around My gospel. I want a barefooted church.

A barefooted church.

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Excerpt from Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. This excerpt was quoted in another incredible book by the same author called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, which I highly recommend. Just beware, it will probably mess you up, too. :) 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Love God? Love God

I think this will be fairly short today. I read something recently about how oftentimes when we think we care about someone, we really only care about ourselves, and how they reflect on us. Instead of genuinely asking ourselves how we can love and serve another person's wants, hopes, dreams, what have you, we tell ourselves that we care about those things while really serving our own. And I can't always argue with that, frankly.

But it got me thinking about God. I think that I love God. And at the end of the day, I know that I do. But it is worth asking whether my faith (and yours) is because of the beautiful endless array of things that God has done for us, or whether we would still be around if those things weren't a factor. When I want to worship and be close to Him, how much of that has to do with the way that doing so heals my own heart? Do I (do you) seek God simply for who He is, to commune with Him, to know His character free of our own? Do we serve Him selflessly, or is it even in the range of our capabilities to do so? Perhaps only God can love most truly. And maybe it's tangled somewhere with intimacy, that you can't and/or shouldn't fully separate yourself out of the equation.

I don't know. I am just thinking. I guess it centers around my question, "Does anyone ever seek God for God?"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cravings

I didn't share this last time, but my confrontation with the excess of my own cravings led me to make some temporary changes to the way I eat. I will say that I love food, especially sweet food. It's so ironic, as I pride myself in all of the vegetables and healthy things I enjoy, and yet I just as easily chase after scones, cookies, pastries, and cakes. Those cookies in the advertisement are just the kind of thing I crave and throw money at for no reason than but to feed the beast. But as I think about the hungry of my city, and of the world, I have been challenged to eat more simply. What does it look like to eat rice and beans and some vegetables, and to avoid purposefully the nutrition-less things I wantonly pursue?

I should not be surprised that I am more of a slave to food than I thought. I am used to giving my body a certain kind of fuel - a more complex and variegated diet that also often includes large amounts of highly processed, palate pleasing carbohydrates of little nutritional value, not the least which are unfortunate for my wallet as well. This is not really about nutrition, it is more about my cravings. The nutritional deficit of these things just adds insult to the injury of my indulgence. What does it look like to eat to live instead of living to eat? What does it look like to eat what I need without worrying so much about what I want? This is about frustrating myself in a very intentional way for a time; about choosing to have no choice to better understand the plight of those who truly don't.

I have not been legalistic about this, really. I want to explain that I think God did make food to enjoy and delight in. There is nothing wrong with a good burger. For me, this is about my heart, because my heart in many ways has displayed a sense of gluttony and entitlement in the area of food that I am growing more and more uncomfortable with. I have no end-goal on the time frame with which I will experiment in this, nor have I laid out any strict guide-lines other than avoiding processed sugar and ideally simple carbs in general. I merely want to take a step to understand and to live daringly, even if in a very small way. I want - I have to - challenge myself.

Yesterday (Sunday) something very interesting happened. I almost never crave meat. It's just not a large part of my diet, nor do I really care for it especially. But in eating so many lean meals that left me largely unsatisfied, I wanted steak more badly than I have wanted anything for a long time. I left church in the afternoon with every intention of driving straight to a local Mexican food joint and getting the beefiest burrito I could lay hands on. I had made an unprecedented amount of tip money at one of my jobs recently, and could certainly afford it, I reasoned. It was a small price to pay next to the colossus of my hunger and craving.

But as I drove, I passed first one, then another of the food places I had plotted to stop at, feeling that the Spirit wanted me to continue on. As I drove deeper into central Tucson, I began to see them: those same people I always drive by, the poor. As I drove around, exceedingly hungry, a still small voice in my spirit reminded me that these people were hungry too, and unlike me they couldn't afford to satisfy their cravings. I even had the opportunity to meet several of them in small interactions - a young couple asking me for bus money at the gas station, and a young woman holding a sign at an intersection. I saw in those beautiful, short interactions something begin to unfold in me that was infinitely more beautiful than any full stomach: the relational beauty of knowing the poor. As I continued to drive, it occurred to me that I would rather give the $6 or so that I would spend on a burrito to something that would allow people like these to eat, to live life, to pay their rent, and to be uplifted. I was still hungry, yes. But somehow the simple unsatisfying meal I had at home began to sound preferable to an endless supply of cravings that would only too-soon be replaced with others like them.

I don't know how long I will continue this experiment, and like I said, I am not legalistic about it. For my rest day, for instance, I allowed myself a sweet coffee drink. A couple days ago, my good friend and I got a dollop of ice cream together and enjoyed good community. I was surprised how quickly I was satisfied with it, not needing the rest of it. But as a lifestyle, I want to persist in understanding what it is to let my resources be challenged by the needs of my neighbors. And I like the change - even the little change - that is beginning to happen in my heart as a result. May God bless the rest.

Love,
Christy

Monday, May 28, 2012

To Break a Heart for What's Right

I saw something that disturbed me today, but it was the kind of thing so common that any other day I would hardly notice it. It was a simple little sign, a beautiful advertisement with pictures of rich, decadent chocolate cookies saying something to the effect of, "Give in to your cookie craving." That's it. Some of you are balking right now. Why is that disturbing? I'll tell you why.

Maybe it's the kind of thinking I've been doing about justice lately, maybe it's because I was in a particularly wealthy part of town, or maybe the Holy Spirit was at work, but the thought that struck me was, A life for a cookie? It suddenly struck me that here we are, running around carelessly eating cookies and buying coffee, stuffing our insatiable cravings for nothing of value...and on the other side of town I see the same homeless, the same working poor, the same people who are struggling day in and day out to get by. Why am I - how can I be - ok with this? And more pointedly, how can we? Why don't I know my poor neighbors, or better yet, how can I call them neighbors when I don't?

There is something deep and powerful stirring within me. I have a feeling that I'm going to start sounding like "that person" but I don't care. I understand that as Westerners in a relatively comfortable existence, we are constantly bombarded by those "save-the" messages. You know the ones I'm talking about. Save the whales! Save the earth! Save our education! Save Africa! We start to tune out. We can't do it all, so instead we don't do any of it. But, and I am implicating myself in this, when we can begin to tune out "save someone's life" then we are walking on very dangerous territory. Particularly when we can buy a $4 coffee right after doing so and think nothing of it.

I have been thinking a lot about gluttony and stewardship lately. With my finances, I should be asking God about every coffee I buy, about every purchase I make. My money is not mine for the spending, and it's a potent reminder that my resources could be much more powerful if I weren't so selfish with them. It's so easy for me to blithely say that I "need" something that I only halfway want. Or my need is based in something unnecessary like getting that extra foot cream I've never needed before because suddenly I can afford to be vain about my feet. Or fill in the blank. This, friends, is not just not ok. This is seriously dangerous, because it reflects a misunderstanding of myself and others in my heart. When I can honestly say that I have been sacrificially generous as a habit, not as a passing self-interested fancy, maybe then I can worry about silly foot creams and the like. But I suspect that allowing that much heart-change to take place - and it will if I am not too chicken to let it - will only extinguish the silly desires I have for things that I in no way need.

I want - I need - to begin to make friends with a whole class of people whom I have not known. Not reaching down, but reaching out, as an equal. I can read about how to help the poor, but what about talking to them? What about joining their struggle? What about knowing their families and sharing their dreams?

God, take hold of our hearts. Break our hearts for what breaks yours.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Unknown

"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work."
-John 4:34

What is your sustenance? What motivates you? What locks into place to allow you to persevere when things get gritty? I hope and pray that my whole hope is in Jesus; that nothing else can catch my eye, steal my heart, encourage my tenacity, or pick me up when I've fallen like He can. Because no one and nothing else can.

The ancient Greeks said, "Know thyself." I must have Greek in me somewhere then, because I feel like I have a constant thirst to better understand my own heart. It has occurred to me recently, however, that no amount of self-knowledge, insight into the past, or wisdom of any kind can take the place of what God has for me right now, in this moment. He has set beauty, joy, hope, love, and grace before me - the gracious experiences of a heart that communes with His. There is no need, so it seems, to dig through and understand what was. Could the blind articulate why their eyes didn't work before Jesus healed them? Rather, I can leave it, trusting Jesus for what is and what will be. Because of who God is, I know that both of those realities will be utterly beautiful, transformationally whole, and life-changingly full of His presence.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bugs and Perseverance

I am so going to cheese out on you guys today. Deal with it.

One of my current jobs is in a research lab, where the short answer to what I do is I study how things work, using beetles. I experiment on their embryos to discover how some developmental genes work, but I also do a fair amount of work maintaining the adults too. Until today, I had never seen any of these little guys "grow up." They are kind of like butterflies where they turn into these unmoving, mummy-like things until one day they emerge fully grown. (As a tangent, I thought about including a picture, but I decided that it's probably better to let you imagine beautiful butterflies rather than freak you out with magnified pictures of beetles.)

But I had never realized or thought through what a process it is to reach adulthood for these guys. There are a thousand cheesy-but-true metaphors about butterflies and how they have to fight to get out of their cocoon; that if they don't struggle they'll never be strong enough, etc. And I admit that I like those metaphors, but I had never seen it first-hand. When it's before your eyes, even such a "simple" life-form is so evidently giving everything it has, fighting with everything in its power, persevering, spending itself to go through an unavoidable right of passage. At first it looks like an alien (seriously, prometheus??). But slowly, surely, it works, it strives, it puts in the time. It gets more zealous as it goes, starting slow and eventually fighting full strength. When it finally succeeds, it stops, perhaps in exhaustion, and just breathes (breathes? I'm not sure). When it regains its strength, it goes about being a grown-up beetle. In something so small, you see an entire drama unfold. It's actually really neat. Life - life - is fascinating.

Anyway, it makes me think of perseverance. Tenacity has actually been one of my favorite words the last few months as I've been learning about leadership. Perhaps that's because I am easily a passionate person, but not so easily a tenacious person. It's not always my passion that designates how much something matters to me (I could potentially be passionate about a cupcake), but how enduring my effort.

When asked why courage was such a major theme in her novels, JK Rowling (author of Harry Potter) said essentially, "Because you can't fake it." Neither can you fake perseverance. It's humbling, but you either give up or you don't. So, what in life requires your tenacity? And are you giving it? What things are you willing to fight for? (And are they the right things? That's a whole other blog post...) What will you put your sweat and blood into? I encourage you, whoever you are and whatever you're up against, to step up today. Give it your all.

Yeah, and just kidding about the picture. ;) Try not to focus on the huge flesh-eating pincers. Ok fine, they're tiny and they eat flour.
Tribolium - image from http://myrmecos.net/2008/03/24/a-beetle-genome/

Till next time...
     Christy