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.