Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Music Break: The Civil Wars

I've been dreadfully absent these last months. And not just a topical kind of absence, the kind where I laugh and say, "I haven't written in my blog," but a deeper absence. Mentally and emotionally. Busy. It's that feeling when people ask you, "How are you doing?" and you want to answer thoroughly, but realize that you aren't even entirely sure how you've been doing. So you mutter something about being fine, and maybe rattle off a couple of recent life events, but the question sticks. How am I doing? 

Grad school isn't the place to encourage wandering soul-searches, as much as I am wont to do them. I don't picture my colleagues smiling and nodding about abstract spiritual musings or what I'm learning about humility. And so the soul just goes a bit dry for awhile. In looking forward to traveling this Christmas, I realize I'm also very much looking forward to coming up for air. 

Here is an old favorite band of mine, and one of their more recent songs. It's a picture of invited vulnerability. As a girl and still as a grown woman, I've always pictured life and all of our ordinary daily relationships as great adventures, passionate demonstrations of self-sacrifice. This song touches the part of me invites depth into the everyday. And c'mon, it's the Civil Wars. 

Safe holiday travel, friends. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Moment

I glimpsed at the light filtering through the blinds in my windows. I felt guilty. The weather was beautiful and the only things behind my eyes were threads of cyber conversations and semi-interesting articles I'd read online. Another morning lost on me. What was this?

Not that those things are bad. They are just thieves sometimes, stealing my attention from the richness of the moment, the weather, the journey. It's almost a form of self-medication.

I think some of us are more susceptible than others. The deeply relational (and probably somewhat narcissistic) part of me combines with the microwave tendencies of my generation, and I find myself clicking through Facebook, reading about other people's lives, commenting on things, managing, in a very loose sense, those relationships. It's a space to turn my brain off at the end of the day, or medium to laugh at another time. It's "social" media, and provides a little bit of "social" for the gaps when I'm not actually with people.

But it's not...helpful. When the first thing I think of at breakfast is how my food would make a bomb Instagram photo,

"Look at this amazing breakfast I made all by myself!!"

or when I can't wait to document a fun (or even a completely ordinary) experience I am having,

"Oh, just me at work." 

I'm plucked out of that moment. I'm no longer present, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibility of my environment. There's a time and a place, to be sure. But everything in my life, it seems, calls me away from the moment. This moment. I'm no longer as available to think critically, to laugh deeply, to sit quietly and enjoy something, or to just be. Because somehow in all this mess, instead of living my story, I get caught up in telling it. It still surprising to me how big this difference can be.

When I let it, my five-dimensional world is reduced to two: sight and sound - the only things that can be conveyed over internet waves.

What does this do for me? Or you, for that matter?

Can we set aside "15 Things 99% of People Don't Know They're Doing Wrong" and go on a walk with a friend? Can we unplug our earphones every once in awhile and linger over coffee with that person we've been meaning to catch up with?

I'm not condemning the internet. There are times when laughing at goats dubbed in for Taylor Swift is refreshing. But I'm proposing a little more courageous and tactile lifestyle for myself, and possibly for you too. Maybe this week (and this month, this year, etc) we can step outside our doors a little more, meet more new people, be more efficient with our time and understand what it means to be genuinely relational.

Not sure what the right boundaries are here. Got any ideas?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gentleness and Respect

Every lesson that I have been learning lately, at least spiritually, has centered around stretching deeper into what it means to love and understand other people. Practically, this has meant engaging in a number of conversations with people who see the world differently than I do. I like these conversations, and I often seek them out. I wholeheartedly believe in open discussion and think it strengthens us. I know that my own opinions have come with experience and reflection, so I am learning to expect and respect that about the opinions of others.

But it surprises me how quickly we are to dismiss other people when they think differently than we do. And what a loss it is! Within these beautiful conversations, I've occasionally been insulted and called names because of what I think. At these times, the tone of someone's response is sometimes just snide enough to convey an utter lack of respect, or other times outright condescending. What I find most unfortunate about that is not that someone would call a stranger names, but that I think these people are otherwise very enjoyable people who would gladly befriend me if they knew nothing else about my beliefs.

Are we really so scared or so proud as that? To quote someone I can't remember, "We have lost the ability to disagree with civility." And this, this, makes me sad.

The rest of this post is written specifically with a Christian audience in mind:

So what do we do then? This is the stretch. This is the part that Jesus holds in his hands like taffy, and gently pulls further and further. We love.

I can't tell you how many choice words have come to mind in some of these conversations. I wanted to point out that their insults weren't even logical, I've wanted to correct, I've wanted to say a hundred things to establish myself as smart, and worthy, and equal. Sometimes the conversations would stick in my thoughts for inordinate amounts of time. I would lie against my pillow and think about the words that were said, how I could have responded to them better, or sometimes, how I could have just smacked down with an instant-gratification gnarly comeback. I wanted to complain about them to friends and fish for a compassionate "You were right" from loved ones. I wanted many things that were secondary to what I really wanted, which was for them to know and understand how much I loved and accepted them, regardless of what they thought.

Let the taffy keep on stretching...

Christians, remember when you are interacting with people, that they come from so many different places. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut your mouth and listen, ask good questions, seek to understand their stories. The truth is, there will be angry people who will insult you. But chances are, if the topic is faith, they are angry because they've been hurt or disillusioned by someone who looked a lot like you. Love them to the best of your ability, even if it means absorbing the nasty things they have to say about you and swallowing your defensiveness. When you're at your wits end, pray to be able to love them more. Love them by listening. Love them with choice words that are kind, not choice words that are retaliatory. Don't try to be right. Just try to be present.

Be willing to be wrong, too. Just because we believe in Jesus, who is true, doesn't mean that we are true in everything. People will try to polarize you, raise the hair on the back of your neck. Give them ground instead, and give it genuinely. Be ready to accept the wisdom (sometimes sharply packaged) from other people. Reflect on their words. Give them the respect of engaging with them thoughtfully and openly. Always, always, be respectful to the best of your ability. Even if it means that you close your mouth to keep from saying something rude back.

I wish I could write the same thing to everyone, because it hurts when people throw sticks and stones shaped like words. Even when it doesn't hurt immediately, somehow the hate behind the words gets under our skin. But I'm writing to the Christians because we of all people should know what forgiveness looks like. We of all people have been broken, ugly, sinful people - and the tenet of our faith is that God chose to invest in us rather than condemn us. Shall we not act this way, too? There is a time and a place for our words to stand in the void and offer information and guidance. Lots of times and places! But there is also a time and a place where we lay down our lives and let other people walk over us to Jesus.

And finally, I know, I know, that this can be a painful process. We are not doormats in Christ, but sometimes in our journey as Christians we have the opportunity to be bridges. I'm sure you've noticed that bridges get a lot of foot traffic, too. These times are blessings, they teach us to press into our relationship with God to understand and give to people who are so very unlike us. They humble us. They refine us. They make us better.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
1 Peter 3:15-16

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Better Solution for Millennials

The first time I heard someone speak about the state of my generation, I was actually pleased. Finally, I thought, someone is addressing out loud some of the major character issues with people my age.

You've seen it, you know. Millennials, or people born between the 1980s and mid 90s (current 18-30 somethings), are hailed as being entitled, adolescent, dependent, uninspired people. We're the ones you see glued to our iPhones, working at the local coffee shop and living at home. Our expectations about what life will give us are impressive, yet we don't expect it to come at much cost. Because, well, we're awesome. Nor do we always see the disconnect between the digital world and the real world. We post selfies on Facebook at an insufferable rate. We don't have plans to settle down any time soon. We're still finding ourselves, and at times our maturity.

And yet, a couple years and what seems like a few hundred articles later still picking on us, I have to say something.

I know that people my age can be frivolous and entitled. I know that we walk to the beat of one interesting hipster drum. I'm not excusing our behavior. But realize when you are mocking us that you're making fun of a nearly fatherless generation. Understand that we graduated into one of the worst economic downturns since the great depression, with record-breaking college loans not far behind. Hear us say that we were promised the world as children, not prepared for reality. Those things become part of a person.

But you know what?

I think it would be hugely constructive solution, rather than enumerating the ways that we have been disgraceful, to get to know us. Are you older and wiser? Great! Mentor us. Know our stories. Inspire us with your own. Go to those places with us relationally so that we can hear you rationally. Then teach us the things our families didn't. Disagree respectfully with us, and in fact, show us what that looks like. Model healthy relationships, stimulating discussion, and good life practice for us. Tell us when we're off track, but tell us with love. Chances are, when you've taken the time to do all those things, we're a lot more likely to listen.

You might say that's not your job, and you would be right. Where are our parents? You might ask. But the truth is, we are the next generation. And more than some of the generations ahead of us, we haven't had a lot of people in our lives to be frank and honest with us about life (re: fatherless and broken homes). But I can tell you this, more than anything, we need the people who are older and wiser than us to instruct us, not to insult us.

So next time you're tempted to let it rip about millennials, ask yourself first: How many young people am I currently and intentionally investing in? If the answer is zero, consider keeping your commentary to yourself. Because the truth is, if the answer is zero, then you're not doing anything to help the situation, so you've little ground to complain about it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why I Can Say Hard Things

I have spent the day - or at least 9 solid hours of it - buried in scientific journals, hovering over crumpled loose-leaf graph paper with scribbles of bubble-diagrams and rhetorical questions about cell signaling pathways. I think I've dreamed about cells, usually in those waking hours between hearing my alarm and responding to it. (Lately "science" somehow justifies why I can't wake up for another 5 minutes...I mean 2 hours.)

I love my work. In the stack of papers lately, I miss actually donning my nitrile-gloved second skin and conducting experiments. But it's all part of the growing process as I learn to think, breathe, articulate, and defend scientific thought. And how young I still am in that process.

This is a rare moment for this semester. I've told many of my dear loved ones that this is just a season where I need to be utterly focused on my job. Nights, weekends, mornings, all the time. Hardly any time is exempt. It's not that I don't love my friends, it's not that I don't dearly want to hang out and drink coffee and have heart to heart conversations, or write juicy heart-spilling-over entries. It's that my career demands a level of excellence and commitment that, for this season, I must give it. I strive and hope and pray to be excellent at my work.

That said, and fully meant, this has also been a time of revival in my heart. I am convinced that God loves and cares for us, not just in the overarching churchy sense, but in the personal, day-to-day needs, thoughts, hopes, and desires. I feel that love so deeply. Before I understood this love, I used to try and overextend myself to fit into being worthy of it. Worthy of grace! I was so busy trying to get the cart moving in front of the horse that I didn't realize how deep, how rich, how all-encompassing God's love is for me without my ever being "worthy" or "good-enough" or "holy-enough" to receive it. He just loves. There's no reason. There doesn't have to be. He just does.

It occurred to me though that without knowing this love, so many of the words that I say sound awfully hard. Or rather, it sounds like I have been harsh towards myself, or towards others. But the reason I say hard things - the reason I can face and talk about (and like talking about) taboo words like sin, for instance, is because the love of God means those things are not shameful. Because Jesus took every ounce of God's anger in my place, all that's left is God's love. And God's love is without shame.

Being freed from shame is being freed for change.

I've got news, I am a person. And people do dumb, hurtful, and otherwise unwise things to themselves and to one another. People use people. People talk poorly of other people. People have bad attitudes. People can be cranky. But I can own up to those things and still say with all confidence that God loves me. Does that make me a hypocrite? No, it makes me honest. And the greater I am confident of God's love, the more deeply honest I can delve, and the more I can drag those ugly hidden things into the light so that they have less hold in my life. So through the love of God and the ownership of sin, I become less of a cranky, hurtful gossip.

It's a process friends, but I hope you see that sin and death and heavy heavy words can only be coupled with words like grace, and hope and love - because without the latter we would be crushed. Grace and love free us from shame, from doubt, from our very stubborn human selves to become something more hopeful, more trusting, more joyful than we are.

A very good night, and a happy new year to my Jewish friends!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Music Break: Birdy

Well guys, it's a beans and rice life in grad school. I'll be honest with you, this has not been an easy transition for me. I have a young-adult entitlement about being out of college. My habits reflect that I think I should be able to buy fancy coffees and go out to eat and go travel to nearby places.

But some people never have that. This is my context, beans, rice, and all. This is where I need to thrive.

To be brief, I think I am learning. Slowly. There are aspects of faith that have sat dormant in the last year that I am finally picking up to reexamine. There are some areas where I've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. There are areas I desperately need to learn how to love - and to be loved. But all of that is a work in progress. I know for now that God loves me relentlessly.

I love this cover of The Naked And Famous by Birdy. This girl has great pipes, and she's only 17. She adds an emotional weight to a song that is phenomenal for an artist, especially of her age. (When she was only 14, she did an impressive cover of Bon Iver's Skinny Love. Check it out too!)

Best all, I'll write soon.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cheesy Books

The cover isn't half bad, but it's kinda trite. 
And expensive. 
Strike two. 

My hands were fingering the crisp pages of new book at the bookstore. I had been expecting, truthfully, a little bit of a monstrosity. We're talking 90s primary color swirls with cheesy captions that almost involuntarily draw the words out your mouth: "I'm buying this for a friend."

So on the bright side, it was already exceeding my expectations.

I sat down with it for a moment. If it was truly terrible, I was prepared to tell her that this kind of 'daily wisdom' book really wasn't my thing (I mean, where was the meat?), and I didn't feel that this particular one would benefit me. And did I already say it was expensive?

But alas.

I read "January 1st's" entry, and various other random dates. My reaction alternated between muted annoyance at airy-fairy generalities and genuine appreciation of the nuggets of wisdom. I became aware that my expression was that fixed knit-brow that I wear when I'm trying to find the hard, cold, granite floor of an issue.

But you know what? I didn't sign up for counseling so that I could "outsmart" (or outpride?) my counselor. Maybe it will be a good read, and maybe it won't, but if I'm doing this, then I need to submit myself fully to the process. To her. Even if the book does turn out to be cheesy.


I decided to enter myself in counseling about a month ago, and had my first session recently. I've quietly watched my whole broken family go through counseling - amazingly rather simultaneously - over the last couple years, and I've watched them make deep and bountiful change in their lives. They are each a testament to the power of working through one's past. I know I have some family things to sit down and hash out, but I was mostly contented with doing some reading for awhile. It's easy to put off when for all intensive purposes, you basically function well.

But I became convinced that it was time when two things happened: first, I learned about a Christian place that could take my insurance, and second, I realized that some of the things I need to work through are never going to steal the show publicly. Because after all, I do function well, and am for the most part quite happy. I could probably go the rest of my life without ever really digging into those places and not be too far off track.

But I wouldn't ever know what those hidden things stole from me if I hadn't. And my guess is, the theft would be priceless.

For that matter, I think most of what haunts us does so underneath the surface. I want to go there, and root it out, even if it's painful. And even though I know my friends love me and are there for me, I don't want to put strain on our friendship by making them do that work with me. Nope. This is going to be a workout, a journey, a blast from the past (ha!) and probably some other things as well.

And it may involve some cheesy books, but who cares? I can get off my high horse for that. It's worth it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Training for What?

The tears were hot behind my eyes, even though outwardly I was calm. Blinking them away, I knew that even in my silence I was drawing the half-alarmed half-curious stare of more than one passerby. Children especially were looking at me like a finicky toilet that might explode at any moment. It would almost make me laugh if I weren't so preoccupied. Shopping malls are evidently not the place for deep reflection.

The truth is, I was waiting for my friends. Or more precisely, I was waiting to decide whether I would join my friends or simply disappear into the evening. My friends had nothing to do with my state. They were simply on their way for an evening of fun that I was deciding whether or not to join. The tears were tears of frustration: frustration because I was sitting in a shopping mall, the epitome of materialism and domestication when I wanted to be somewhere desperately more dangerous. Anguish because I felt trapped in the great indoors, the city, the culture...trapped. My soul was starving for a breath of fresh air, for gulps of it - for a lifestyle of it. To live and breathe within arms' reach of nature, to explore the mountains again, even to stop and observe the simple. A moth on a blade of grass: magnificent. Nothing God does is boring.

And there I was in a shopping mall (those are boring by the way), frustrated to tears for lack of meaningful purpose.

It comforted me to know my friends were on their way, even if seeing a movie seemed like the ultimate betrayal of my frustration. The thing is, I am split into two about my life right now. On the one hand, the better hand, there is community. Watching and taking part in a group of young twenty and thirty-somethings as we discover how to love our neighbor and each other has been one of the most free, most beautiful, most abundant times of my life. With my own eyes I've watched as stolen macbooks were replaced, cars were loaned for weeks even months at a time, guy friends rescued one or another of us from car trouble, medical bills were reduced, prayers were earnestly prayed, ears were open, hugs were always at hand, and always, always, laughter. We sat around grills and talked over burgers, we visited our friends when they weren't feeling well, we helped one another move and settle, we offered our cars, our advice, our time, our very lives. Sometimes I am astounded, utterly blown away, that I get to be part of this little piece of the body of Christ. Never have I seen love so true, so steady, so wonderful as in this group of friends. On the one hand, how could I dream of leaving my own beating heart?

And yet, on the other hand, there is a squeaky wheel in my life that has been getting louder lately. With every sharp note, it brings thoughts of adventure, of danger, of something so much more...meaningful than...than this, whatever this is. I feel so tame, so domesticated sometimes. I just feel overwhelmed at times with a need to do something new, something that challenges me to my bones. I have a thirst for something that I cannot quite describe. I want to be...doing disaster relief in Oklahoma, or working with orphans in Honduras, or translating in China, engaging with the gospel in cultures domestic and foreign, or off on a mountain somewhere learning who I am through the elements that challenge my very being. I feel older each day, as if I am fading before my time because I feel I have not really lived. Sometimes, at merely 24 I feel as if the shadows are long, that the rose is wilting before it ever fully opened, simply because it did not see enough of the sun.

If twenties are training, what I am I training for?

I am more contented than I have ever been, and I am simultaneously, paradoxically, vastly discontent. There is a theological element too: am I simply not content in Christ? Or am I simply waking up to what I am created for? None of this can I say, and no resolution can I leave you with. I feel that I have a very particular purpose for being here, in the exact place that I am in. I don't feel permitted to leave just yet. Time will tell exactly what I'm training for in this life, but I hope, I pray that I can dig in and engage with it. God doesn't have me in timeout, and He is always so very good and kind. He knows the plans He has for me, and they are not for my harm. It strikes me that God wouldn't create a hunger for something that didn't wholly exist. So patience and creativity are my next ventures - patience to wait on God and creativity to make the most of it.

Go in peace.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Music Break: Lord Huron

It's summa time! Which means....packing! After four years nestled next to the University, it's time to move on. I'll miss the constant influx of culture and the carefree undergraduate flare, but I'm no less excited to move in with and near some really great friends. Here's to a new chapter!

New music pick for you! I found these guys through iTunes recommendations (which aren't half bad, you know). The more I listen, the more I love them!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Heights, Depths, and Joy

"He had been wont to despise emotions: girls were emotional, girls were weak, emotions - tears - were weakness. But this morning he was thinking that being a great brain in a tower, nothing but a brain, wouldn't be much fun. No excitement, no dog to love, no joy in the blue sky - no feelings at all. But feelings - feelings are emotions! He was suddenly overwhelmed by the revelation that what makes life worth living is, precisely, the emotions. But, then - this was awful! - maybe girls with their tears and laughter were getting more out of life. Shattering! He checked himself: showing one's emotions was not the thing: having them was. Still, he was dizzy with the revelation. What is beauty but something that is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least partly, is emotional. All the splendor of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. 

"How did one find joy? In books it seemed to be found in love - a great love - though maybe for the saints there was joy in the love of God. He didn't aspire to that, though; he didn't even believe in God. Certainly not! So, if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have, if he could find it, a great love. But in the books again, great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain - if, indeed, they went together. If there were a choice - and he suspected there was - a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths."

-Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I've often reflected that writing down one's thoughts is a little like butterfly catching. You can chase after them, but how you catch them is ever so important. Too rashly, and you'll ruin them. Not quickly enough and you'll lose them. And at the end of the day, some thoughts are so much better left free than pinned and permanently cast. Free to flutter carelessly on. Writing down a thought kills it, or so it seems at times.

Forgive me for being gentle with the next thoughts.

Honor. Yes, but not only honor. Tenderness, joy, the proverbial gentle and quiet spirit have swathed over my heart in creamy sunny yellow. Sitting next to a friend recently, I asked, "Do you ever feel like life couldn't get any better?"

It isn't that things have changed one way or another in my circumstances. It's that I am learning about trusting God to love me and provide for me in a way much more rich and tender than I commonly delegate to him. This month, I have watched God re-center my identity. I realized that I had been idolizing a future that may or may not even exist for me, and awoke to this moment as the one that I ought to be living. I learned to embrace my death because it meant that I could hold my life loosely and live it more fully. What is God's timing? What are my days? If I die young, goes the song, bury me in satin. Celebrate me, take it as your cue to live fully. But my life is not my own, never have I been more joyful about that. I don't want to die young in the same way that I don't have plans to fly to Australia tomorrow. But if it happened, I can't say that God's plans would be the worse for it, if only because we're not meant to cling to our lives. We're meant to cling to God.

I began to watch as I stepped on on little limbs of trusting God. God always came through as I prayed. Always. I began to reclaim the truth that God hears us and answers us and cares. I watched as He provided not just for my barest needs, but for the little whims of my heart that I hadn't even spoken aloud. Not only does He pay my rent sometimes, He pays attention, and sometimes that matters more. Perhaps it's coincidence. But I can't remember who said, "The coincidences happened a lot more often when I prayed."

I have been in a glowing dawn, I think. I have watched words that were formerly laced with skepticism now be embroidered with grace. I watched my heart soften and grow receptive. I faced fear. I felt my heart grow gentle and compassionate to the concerns, the lives, the joys and sorrows of others. I became more generous. I felt like equals with those who had fallen and faced shame and disgrace. Who hasn't? I found myself wanting to let others speak for their own character rather than wanting to judge for myself. I found myself allowing others to change my mind because for once I was listening.

I have come to life in a new way in the last weeks and months. I thank God. I ask you, trust Him and pray and watch Him mold your life. He asks faith, but that He also gives. He is a generous, beautiful, good God. Read the Bible, offer up the most meager of prayers. Show up, and God will meet you there.

Spring wildflowers on the trail to Romero Pools. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Music Break: Radical Face

Sunrise is one of my very favorite times of day. It carries a thousand words in the warm, gentle rise of hope. It reminds me that His mercies are made new every morning. There is an essence to the rise of the sun, a simplicity, a quiet joy.

So good morning.

I've written several drafts of what will probably be my next blog post. I have learned a lot, and continue to learn, about honoring other people. My heart softens at the prospect, and I have a thousand undistilled thoughts on the matter. I can't quite capture them in a clear tint, so they remain unexpressed.

In the meantime, music. You may have heard Radical Face's main hit, "Welcome Home." There are very few bands I love wholly, and admittedly I haven't made that proclamation about Radical Face yet. But I also haven't spent a ton of time with them. The following is a song of theirs that I absolutely adore. It's called "Doorways." Enjoy!

Have a great morning and a truly wonderful day!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Insurgent Calls

"We make a blunder when we fix on the particular location for our service and say, 'God called me there.' When God shifts the location, the battle comes. Will I remain consistent to what I have said I am going to do, or be true to the insurgent call of God, and let Him locate me where He likes?"
- Oswald Chambers, So I Send You

The insurgent call of God. That mutinous knowledge of what is right and its wide disparity from what the heart holds dear.

It is the moments of cost that most determine our faith, not the moments of ease. God has every right to our greatest affection - he knows he is saving us by saving us, yes, even sometimes from the things we love. By incurring cost, God ensures faithfulness and strength..."Count it all joy, my brothers..." The question, the hold-your-breath moment, the crux: do I believe that God is worth it? And will I act on that? How we answer that question says more about our faith than nearly anything else.

There was a time in Jesus' ministry when people were offering their lives to his service - and Jesus seemed to do anything to turn them away! To people who outwardly seemed ready to give Jesus everything, Jesus followed with statements to the effect of, You will be homeless if you follow me...leave the burial of your own father and follow me or don't follow me at all...(Matthew 8:18-20). Why? Why would Jesus make his service so hard? What happened to an easy yoke? 

Commitment. Somehow, one way or another, we have to lose our lives to find them (Matthew 10:39). It seems to me that God tests the integrity of our hearts in this. He is always there, saying, Whom do you love? And whom do you trust? It is a severe mercy, but such a mercy nonetheless. God shatters our idols, the things that ultimately kill us no matter how much we love them, by asking our abandonment of them. We can choose...we can choose our idols to the waning of our joy, our hope, the luster of our eyes, for an empty comfort that flees with the sunset. In essence, we can choose ourselves - whether that is in a career, a place, a person, an opportunity - it will be different depending on what our heart frames as ultimate. Or, we can choose Christ, seemingly to the loss of these "perfect" things, and unearth real joy, the dawn of a heart truly alive, hope, purpose, direction. It is the paradox of faith. 

Because, the irony is that God is saving us in these moments. And it's not that he wants to take things away, it's that he wants to fix our hearts, our stubborn hearts that are determined to love almost anything more than the salvation of our souls. It is why Paul writes, "I have lost all things for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 3:8). 

And would you know it? God gives back, too. Because it's not about the things, it's about our hearts. After turning away a rich and influential young man by saying his wealth was standing between him and the gospel (his heart loved his wealth more than Christ), the following conversation happened:

Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who 'have it all' to enter God's kingdom?" The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: "You can't imagine how difficult. I'd say it's easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye than for the rich to get into God's kingdom."
That set the disciples back on their heels. "Then who has any chance at all?" they asked. 
Jesus was blunt: "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it."
Peter tried another angle: "We left everything and followed you."
Jesus said, "Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land - whatever - because of me and the Message will lose out. They'll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land - but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life!..."
(Mark 10:26-29, The Message)

Pray today for what you hold dear to the detriment of your relationship with God. Do you believe that He will never fail us? Do you believe that He is really working all things to your good, even in the loss of seemingly dear things? (Romans 8:28 - which Paul wrote from a Roman prison.) Do you believe that He is worth it? These are hard questions. They are the kind of thing you wrestle with, fight with, cry over. If they go down easy, maybe they didn't hit home.


*It should be noted that "insurgent" is a word of high sensitivity in our culture today, and not without good reason. I should point out that Chambers wrote this long before the word carried such weight, and I believe he meant it to mean rebellious, mutinous, the age old battle of the flesh against the Spirit. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Just a Piece of His Grace from Psalm 73

Surely in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence...
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God...
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory
Whom have I in heaven but you? 
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my  heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart 
and my portion forever.

(Excerpts from Psalm 73)

God, help us to see you aright. Help us to lay down our deepest, most strongheld passions and accept your common grace. Allow us to fix our eyes on your name, and strain our ears for your voice. Lord...I know that I have been in desperate need of grace, hope, and love, and have sought it far from the folds of your embrace. I, even I, am immunocompromised toward all this thing called life. When it comes to the flesh, my muscles of discipline, compassion, and maturity are weak. I have no protection but your name, and that grace so sweet which you give.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Heart Cry

The time is not yet ripe.

But grace is.

After journeying through a valley of hard-heartedness, of finding in myself the chief of sinners and the most unworthy of Christians...Christ proves himself graceful once again.

I feel it's important to share some of what I've learned: God loves you, but He does not love you because of what you do. Rephrased: God does not love you less because of what you've done. Rephrased again: God does not love you more because of what you've done.


The Gospel: Christ died because we needed him to, not because we were righteous. How we can forget that beautiful truth! Sometimes when we are given great things, we begin to carry ourselves as if we've earned them, as if we're the big cheese, as if...as if we weren't in reality utterly lost without the saving grace of Christ. We forget that God loves us out of His character, not out of ours. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).

I've been on a journey of learning from people who, months ago, I would have considered my students. I'm on a journey of recognizing my complete dependence on Jesus, and in that being opened up to supreme joy. It does not rest on me. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9)...mine too.

This isn't poetic or beautiful. This my heart cry, a cry of joy, of recognition, of the weight of sin but the balancing and surpassing weight of glory.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Music Break: The Oh Hello's

Mmmm. Mornings.

I've scarcely written as I journey on through life. It would be a lie to say that I have sagely continued to blossom into faith and maturity, or to say that I've gracefully stepped forward into greater things. But God is somehow graceful even when we cast a spiteful eye skywards and grasp tight our foolishness. He's working with me yet, and I'll let the matter incubate in my heart before sharing too much.

But anyway, I love music. I love finding new music, which is why I have sometimes shared songs with you. I would describe my primary style as bluegrass, folk, indie, rock-influenced. With a good dance piece thrown in from time to time of course. ;) I'll listen to many different styles, but some of my favorite bands in this category include The Civil Wars, Of Monsters and Men, Jose Gonzales, The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, and any number of singles from countless other artists.

The following are a couple of songs from a new favorite band of mine, the Oh Hello's. (I wish I could share all of them!) They sing a kind of a new bluegrass and explore themes of rebellion, grace, humanity, and forgiveness. Their album is a story beautifully told, I highly recommend checking it out.