Monday, January 30, 2012

Guarantees


This is a fantastic book. I will tell you that it is by a mother whose first child unexpectedly was born with Down syndrome, but I will tell you no more. Incredible read, powerful narrative, raw story, and deeply moving theology. Read it.

The following is an excerpt:
"I never could have imagined the words mental retardation or birth defect being used in the same sentence as my child's name. It was as if having kids had become an equation: youth plus devotion to God plus education equaled a healthy and normal baby. As if taking a birthing class and reading baby books and abstaining from alcohol and praying all guaranteed certain things about our family. As if I were entitled to exactly the baby I had imagined, a little version of myself, a child who was verbally precocious and walked early and went on to skip kindergarten and excel in school. But there I was, in a hospital gown on a Saturday morning, and my child had Down syndrome."


Amy Julia goes on to share how having Penny as her beautiful daughter changed (and continues to change) her perspective on all things. Which makes me think: what do you (and I) feel entitled to? And have we put those things on God as if he owes them to us? Do you feel as if God owes you a stable career, a healthy family, a long life, a good spouse (or any spouse), or comfort?

Something that I have been learning this week: our only guarantee in all of life is Jesus. That's it! We have no guarantee of anything - anything - else. But for the first time, I understand, appreciate, and adore the beauty of this. You see, it's not that God is the only guarantee: God is the perfect guarantee. His love is perfect, whole, faithful, unyielding and sweet. Because He loves us with an unending love, nothing else matters. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that nothing else matters ultimately. Nothing else defines us, nothing else gives us hope, nothing else can withstand our security. Nothing else, no one else, is perfect like Jesus is perfect. And for that, I rejoice. For that, I am at deep peace. Praise be to God, who has given Himself for our sake, and takes care of our heart of hearts. Praise be to God!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The E-Word

I have been thinking a lot lately about a concept, and it's a concept that many people become uncomfortable with, or disinterested in, or otherwise find creative ways to forget about. But it's so close to the center of everything we believe as Christians that we cannot ignore it. When we ignore it, we are ignoring a deep beautiful journey that may be challenging or awkward, sure, but powerful and transformative not just for those we share it with, but for ourselves as well. I am talking about evangelism.

I promise that this is not going to be a three-step guide to sharing your faith, because those things bother me too. And I don't even really want to explicitly talk about evangelism for its own sake, but rather about something that I think is one of the greatest witnesses we have: suffering. I have to be careful, because there are a lot of ways to be heard incorrectly on a topic like this. Please let your preconceived ideas fall loosely for a moment and listen. 

First, I believe that evangelism has to be love motivated. It has to pour out of a heart that has been transformed and renewed by Jesus, and genuinely wants to see others freed as well. It has to live for the glory of God, not our own glory, and ultimately must be about Jesus. Any other motivation - even seemingly "right" motivations of saving people or doing the "Christian thing" - put the cart before the horse and often cause awkwardness and even disillusionment. 

But that's not my focus today. My focus today, as mentioned, is suffering. Not that we seek suffering to be more holy or to have a "good" story - that would be foolish, misplaced, and goes by the name of "asceticism" not Christianity. Rather, when we genuinely follow after Jesus, suffering is inescapable. And the thing I want to highlight is that it has to be this way, and I am finally beginning to understand why.

There are lots of cheesy but highly true phrases running around about how suffering makes us better people. And God truly does pull the most good out of the most horror in our lives when we lean into his grace and allow him artistic liberty with our hearts (Romans 8:28). But even that is not why we have to suffer. We suffer because sin rules, and because we love. 

Sin, or selfishness if you please, is something that has infected and affected our world down to every level imaginable. Our world is fallen, broken, and marred to the heart. It is the inherent, undeniable, revolving door of self that has captivated us over and over again. It has built walls around our hearts. It has left us deaf to truth. It has utterly hijacked us and everything we know. We ourselves are rescued from sin through Jesus Christ, and daily taught how to let go of our hold on it in our lives. But we must remember in interacting with a world that has not been saved that they are still operating under this system and may be perfectly happy to do so. 

I saw a picture relatively recently that I found both disturbing and thought-provoking. It was a photo of a deer that has been hit by a semi-truck. It's emptied remains were dangling from the corner of the truck and a huge splash of blood bathed the side of the otherwise white cab. I have no idea why somebody posted it. It was chilling and gruesome, but it made me think of martyrs. At the time, I had been processing what God would do in my life, and whether I would follow him to martyrdom if that is how he wrote my story. The question that arose so deeply from viewing that awful picture was, Would I be willing to be that deer for the sake of Christ? Am I all in?

Pause: if you're not a believer, and even if you are, that kind of question has the potential to sound like I serve an extremely primitive or demanding God. But that's why this has to be about love. What occurred to me in processing the picture of this deer, after having engaged in some very interesting conversations with some atheistic friends, is that for the joy set before him, Christ died gruesomely because only that, only that would save the world. A lot of non-Christians have the misplaced impression that God is cruel and demanding and causes anyone who doesn't sell their soul to him to suffer terribly. How that is turned on its head when we the believers are suffering, dying, being plastered and spilled out so that the others might have life. It occurred to me that while my atheistic friends might be able to explain away reasoning, or be deaf to anything I have to say, they could not in any way reasonably explain a person who would live a life that ended like that deer for their sake, that they might know Christ. And that's exactly what Jesus did. Jesus didn't die for the sake of dying, but so that we might find life. When we suffer as Christians, it is in part because we live in a sinful fallen system that cannot reconcile itself to the things of God. But it is also because we suffer so that others might have life. It is love. And "greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16)

"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)

And maybe we don't actually die for those around us. Maybe we lay down our pride, lay down our opportunities, lay down our rights, lay down our laziness. Maybe we are never literally killed, but maybe instead we are made fun of, or ostracized, or the butt of jokes, or kept from being promoted in our workplace. Believe me, it happens. Those things are trials, yes. They hurt, yes. But I would softly encourage you to consider enduring these things not just as trials, but as a way to patiently, humbly, nobly love the world so that it might find truth.

If you're a Christian, and this freaks you out: good. Pray about it. I will never stop emphasizing that everything we do in life, especially any spiritual thing, begins with the heart. If you cannot in good faith think about living this kind of life yet, then be honest about it. Ask God to teach you about these things. The worse damage you can do is to pretend anything in regards to your faith. It damages you because you never open that authentic part of your struggle to God for transformation, and it damages others because they can sense that you are not being fully straight with them. Instead, step back and seek Jesus. He is compassionate to our questions, our doubts, and our fears. And he is a pretty good teacher, too. :) 

I hope I have expressed these ideas clearly. I understand that this can be a very difficult idea to accept, and I am afraid of doing it an injustice. I understand that Western Christianity is far from being characterized this way. I understand almost as many things as I don't understand. :) But I thank you for reading and being open. I thank you for wrestling with challenging ideas, and I pray that you will continue to seek the heart of Christ in all matters. I know I have a lot to continue learning about myself. 

So much more to say.

Best,
Christy


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thoughts From The Past

I wrote this a year ago now, but just stumbled across it again.
~~~

There are actually a number of things I considered writing today. I've carried a lot of reflections with me this week on life, on who I am, and various other things. It's funny how some situations can really accelerate that process, and more interesting still how those kinds of situations vary for different people.

The first blog idea came to my mind a week or so ago, and had to do with shyness. I really don't like the word shy when applied to me. I think of myself as adventurous and passionate, but it's a reality check for me to realize that people don't see this in me because, well I am somewhat...ok shy. I wanted to write about how there is this tension I walk in between shyness and casual dismissal of the need to show myself off. I don't like to advertise myself, or draw attention to myself. I endeavor to love people, and hope simply that those who love me will know me for who I am. I confess, however, that I see others who do promote themselves getting ahead and a small part of myself asks why I'm not willing to do that. The short answer: it's not who I am. It wouldn't be right for me. And although I am willing to refine the parts of myself that don't speak up out of fear - or shyness, I am not willing to alter the deeper reality that I'm just not the person that stands in the spotlight. And even if nice girls do finish last, and even if I am eeking beneath the cracks, (both lies, by the way), I am who I am, and I'm glad to be her.



The next thing that came to mind midweek about my writing was the idea of ballet. Awhile ago I wrote a blog entitled "On Ballet and Making a Fool of Yourself" that spoke of how sometimes in life you just need to have the courage to be willing to look stupid. At the time I was a beginning ballet student sharing the laughter and embarrassment of trying to learn a new skill. I wanted to expand on that idea, as I've gone quite a bit further in ballet since writing it. I am now in a class that pushes me more than ever. I should have signed up for the lower level, but could not fit it into my schedule, so I decided to challenge myself.

And honestly some days I want to quit. I get tired of looking ridiculous shuffling my feet in a room full of floating dancers. I even completely hit the floor earlier this week (my classmates applauded). But I know that I can't do that to myself: quit. Because when you fall, you get back up and keep dancing. I forge a deep sense of accomplishment in returning to the arena and somehow, however small, dancing one class better than I danced the one before. And I am improving. There is a deeper sense of satisfaction still in that. Even my instructor, who I had last semester, shared his suprise and approval that I had improved so much. After one particularly daunting class, I walked up to him somewhat defeated and asked his honest opinion of how far behind I was. To my utmost surprise he completely waved the question away, saying that I was doing completely fine, and that even he was impressed. (And maybe that speaks to the part of me that is never satisfied with having done well enough at something.)

I suppose I wanted to write a blog about encouraging others, that even when they do fall in ballet class, or finish last in a race, or perform poorly in a class, or get negative feedback on a prized piece of work - to keep going. What is life if we give up so easily? I may never be able to brag in the locker room that I was the star of my ballet class that day, but I can laugh and say, "At least I didn't fall this time, right?" I think this semester will greatly challenge me in ballet. I have a lot to learn about perseverance not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.





And yet...even with those blog ideas in mind, I confess that viewing photos of the unrest in Egypt has sobered my soul and made my light and airy-fairy thoughts about ballet and shyness seem so shallow. Yesterday I took some time to look through the New York Times photojournal of the events of the last days. I see brothers and countrymen who both want a better Egypt killing each other, and the words deeply engraved in my heart are, Please stop fighting. I love the nations of the world, I love culture, I love to understand people in new ways. I wonder at humanity, and some days I am so abstractly sad for what we have become. Stuff like this reminds me of 1000 other sorrows in our world, and suddenly writing all these blogs about my life and how it should help you feel better seem to miss a very big mark.

I am reminded in light of the sobering reality of our world that there is often so much more purpose than what we're living for. I am shy sometimes, and sure I'm learning good things from ballet, but these are tiny pieces of life.

~~~

Forgive the sudden stop. I wrote those ideas so long ago, and it looks like I stopped just short of completing them. A year out from those thoughts, I am ironically much less shy and probably (hopefully?) a much better ballet dancer, but I still vividly remember seeing those photos. There are those moments in life when you wake up, you look around and you realize just one layer deeper how little your life is about you. And without clamoring onto a clumsy soapbox, I just want to explore for a moment that God has designed us and sown deep desires, hopes, plans and dreams within us. He desires for us to be secure in Him, to be safe, and loved, and whole. He desires for our bondage to be broken. He created us and cherishes us, and fought for us and died for us. These are all good and beautiful things. I think my past self would have not been secure enough in the goodness of God to embrace these things. But my present self also acknowledges that the beauty of these things reaches its fullness when it is not just about me, but about the church and the world at large. What is the gospel? What is the message that Christ has brought to the earth, and what is God doing in my neighbors, my friends, my city, my country, my world? 

Lord, continue to teach us.


*I should clarify that when I say God wants us to be safe,  I don't necessarily mean cozy and comfortable and safe from harm. I mean that in life's worst, God is our safe place: a deep resting place for our soul in all kinds of weather. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Young Adult Life

I went to the laundromat today for the first time in many years, and the funny thing? I liked it. I like being taken out of my normal scene, I like different mixes of people, and I derive a certain pleasure from being a fly on the wall sometimes. I liked being one of the only white people there, reading a book, and even running into an old friend. There are certain things in life, particularly in this stage of life, that I quietly enjoy. Consider this an ode to young adult, just-making-it-by life, because it's a special time that I imagine I might look back on fondly someday when things are "better" off.

For instance, I like my car. I like that it is quirky and somewhat unsightly. True, it's truly been a great little car and nothing to sneeze at. Ole' Icabod's been a long way! But I know someday I'll look back on the stupid volume knob that has a mind of its own, or my sun visors that fall on people's heads without warning, and I will laugh.

As excited as I am to be able to re-decorate my apartment to look more mature and inviting, largely in part to the combination of Christmas gift cards and clearance sales, I already cherish in some sense what my apartment was for a season before that. When I first moved in a few years back, I had so many other things to buy and think about, that I just hand wrote verses on paper and hung them on the walls. I had a free map that came in the mail (a map of the world at night with the city lights) hanging above my bed, a dried rose in a Jone's Soda bottle. One of my decorations even featured some swirly pattern that was on a paper bag that came with the newspaper! There were photos I had taken, and post cards, basically any cheap thing that I could put up that could stand in as a decoration. And as grateful as I am now to move on and decorate "for real," I smile a little bit on that prior stage because I think it's a good stage to go through. At least for a little while. Everyone needs to experience $20 couches and college foldy-chairs, too!

I admittedly do not miss Ramen - not when I can stir in a little creativity and eat much heartier for not much more money! Black bean tacos are a staple in my home, as are quinoa, oatmeal, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and veggies. I find I don't eat much meat or dairy, because they tend to be more expensive for little payout in terms of fullness or nutritional value. And now I don't crave them anymore anyway. I feel great, and don't spend too much on food. And while I love the idea of being able to host with extravagant meals, or experiment much more with cooking (I love to cook!), I am perfectly content with my simple little eating habits. They serve me well. :) And as discussed in a previous post, it is definitely a heart lesson to learn to offer what I have, even if it's not as exciting to someone else as it is to me.

I could go on. There are so many tiny domestic things that I enjoy about the life I live, even and especially the most mundane-seeming things! And please don't hear me say that I am poor, because one of my favorite discoveries in all of this is how much I have! And I could have much more if I didn't go to coffee with people, or never went to lunch, sure. I have enough pennies to rub together to make for a comfortable little existence, and this is me saying that I am grateful for it. There are certainly some joys that are gained from having much more than you need, but also some that are lost. This is me pausing to enjoy some of those things. :)





Saturday, January 7, 2012

Introverts, Extroverts, and the Church

Good morning! Who doesn't love Saturdays?

I have been thinking a lot about people, as my last post hinted at. I am finding that I love having people over at my apartment, and I love letting people into my life, but there is a whole other level that I can hardly still wrap my head around. Our culture is so individualistic, and we do a lot of things by ourselves because it's comfortable and easy that way. It's just the way we're raised, it's convenient, and it suits us. As someone who straddles the introvert-extrovert line, I love to be around people and in fact I thrive on it. I get antsy when I haven't had a good laugh with friends or strangers recently, it makes my day to meet new people, and I can hardly walk away from a social get-together without smiling. But then there is the rest of my little life that I quite happily live very much on my own, and that's the part I'm reflecting on today. I work a very individual job, I go to the store alone, I go for walks alone, I go out dancing alone and meet people along the way, I go hiking alone, I sit at coffee shops alone and meet random strangers or connect with various acquaintances. And I like it that way. There is always spare room for me to think and dream while I am doing just about anything. I feel like I have to say I spend a lot of time with people too, because I do and I love it. But so much of my time is spent doing my own thing, because it's easier that way and that's just how I do it.

But that's what has me thinking. I don't think there's anything wrong with needing introverted time. In fact, I think it's healthy. But as I think about inviting people into my life, there is so much room for intentionality. If I really want to love people in 2012, if I really want to invest in people in a way that has more depth to it, then a great way to do that is to carry them into those little alone times. If I am going to the store, are there people without a car who would like a ride? My mom always said that you know you have a great friend when even running errands with them is fun. And so far I've found that to be true. If I'm going hiking, are there other outdoorsy people that would like to come along? Hikes are great for conversation. (And as my most recent pamphlet from the Coronado Forest informed me, I am less likely to be eaten by a mountain lion that way.)  Or if I'm hitting the local coffee shop to work on something, maybe others can tag along for the non-student version of a study-party. And people are always talking about going out dancing with me. I often would love company, I just don't ask for it.

In all of these things, it's people that have to be in mind. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "The man who tries to create community will destroy it, but the man who loves people will create it." If my motivation is in genuinely loving and getting to know other people, then I should seriously consider what it looks like to take people into these little life moments. And I want to stress that I'm not sacrificing all alone time, because that would make me crazy. But I am stressing creativity and intentionality, because I could stand to learn about both.

That's a lot about me. But what really has my noodle cooking is thinking about this on the level of the church. I was having a conversation this morning with a trusted friend about how many "walking dead" exist in the Western church today: people who gave their lives to Jesus once, but then took it back when they were left to do it alone. Western evangelism has historically failed in focusing too much on numbers. Numbers are important because they represent changed lives, but numbers are only important after love and motivation are in their proper places. Too many people have been evangelized to as projects and not as people, so that not only is there a great population of comatose "Christians" running around, but there is also a great hesitancy to be made into a project from other outlying populations. Understandably, too. Who wants to hear, Hi, nice to meet you! Would you like to meet Jesus? We tell people that it is about a "relationship" with Jesus, but we stress a single climactic moment that honestly bears little resemblance to the ongoing, refining, continual nature of "relationship". Metaphorically, no marriage has ever ended with "I do"(or at least, I hope not). And yet, when people give their lives to Christ, sometimes they are left as if that's the end of the story. Great! Now onto the next person.

How tragic! No wonder we struggle.

Not all Western Christianity has been afflicted this way, to be sure. I am just highlighting something symptomatic of congestive heart failure in the body of our Church. When we place the focus so heavily on an event within the relationship, we lose the relationship as a whole. Too often we hear the call to go out and make disciples, but we go out to make Christians instead. Note the difference: subtle but staggering. People are not accomplishments, or even "souls" in the sense that I am talking about. People are individuals, with stories that need hearing, lives that need living, quirks, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. Let's seek to know them, to love them, to pursue and endear them to us. Not just to "save" them. And the key in that is community. When we cease to be community, we cease to be.

There is so much to say on this, and I want to be respectful of the time you're already taking to read this entry. But think with me about what it means to invest in others because we love them and because we love Jesus. And dream with me of creative ways to love them by inviting them into the pockets of your life. There will be  more on this I'm certain, especially as I continue to learn about it myself.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012

What am I doing? Ten p.m. on a Sunday night and I'm blogging. Oh mercy (am I an old bat or what?). Well, Happy New Year! I was celebrating the new year with some friends last night and it occurred to me today that there's hardly a group of people who I would rather start 2012 with. I so cherish my friends, and am blessed by each of their personalities. I love to laugh with them, eat with them, hear them share their hearts, and spend all kinds of funky life moments with them. I am so thankful for the people I am surrounded by (yes, including many who were not present at this particular celebration!)

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions, not out of skepticism but because I guess I see January 1st as just one of 365 opportunities to resolve to live differently. Setting it on one day seems to slow my momentum down, or unfocus whatever the issue at hand is. (Not that I don't respect the resolution-makers: power to you!) However, there is one idea floating around my head that I'm wary of calling a resolution, but it is something that I would like to see differently in 2012 than I have in 2011. That is, people.

I've been lucky to have some time to reflect over this holiday season, and one of the things I have reflected on is my heart towards others. In short, I want to take the spotlight off of myself this year and learn how to serve other people in the simplest ways, down to how I speak with them. I can speak to people for the simplicity of conversation, for laughter, for bringing my own heart joy, but I can also speak to people to know them more deeply. There's nothing wrong with the former three options. I am just amazed when I realize that there are so many infinite ways to serve another person, and it all begins in the heart. My heart toward other people and my capacity to love them enough to serve them in the smallest most understated ways is something that could stand to grow this year. Yes, beginning even with how I choose to engage them in conversation. I have a lot to learn.

But buried in that is also my heart, and my heart is something that is surprisingly private. I share a lot of things on my mind, and a lot of things that matter to me, but in loving other people this year, I also need to learn to let them love me. Not me as I can be, but me as I am. A little part of me feels like a little kid on a quest, dusting years of heavy dust off of an old chest of drawers, therein being all kinds of buried treasure: my heart. This is the part of the story where my  heart is no longer kept in locked and guarded chests (pun intended), but in openness and freedom. That's what community is about - carrying each others' hearts. And that means their whole hearts, not just the prettiest, funniest, most delightful pieces. And the funny thing is, sometimes those are the pieces we hide away the most vigilantly. Humans are strange, but in 2012, I would like to let this little heart out of the box more.

And finally, in 2012, I hope to understand hospitality more truly. I have the honest tendency of making hospitality about the host and not about the hosted. It goes back to who the spotlight is on. I focus on the details of making people comfortable rather than on the people themselves, but that is honestly pride-motivated not love-motivated. I would rather offer all the bells and whistles or nothing at all. And since I rarely have all the bells and whistles at my disposal, I am somewhat poor at the habit at inviting people into my life. But rather than trying to impress people by what I don't have, I want to learn more about what it means to love people with what I do have. And if that's a couch and a cup of tea, come on over, I'd still love to have you. Because it should be about you, my guest, and the chance to spend time with you, not about how recently I vacuumed.

Each of these things are related, which is why they are one in my head. I guess ultimately in 2012, I want to target the part of my heart that deals with other people, and let the other downstream effects happen as they will. Ultimately, it is not going to be by my willpower or my determination to "love better", which is why in some ways I am avoiding the term "resolution". I am not "resolving" anything, so to speak, at least not on my own. This is the beginning of many conversations with God about where my heart is and where His heart is, and it is probably the beginning of many new conversations with friends as well. It is a step towards growth and new understanding. I will be the first to say that I have plenty to learn in 2012. And I hope you do too.

Happy New Year, friends.

Love,
Christy