Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mission: Abandoned

I don't think "literally can't even" was a phrase when I was a freshman in college, but that was how I felt about finishing my biology major. Three more years of labs and all-nighters sounded like traipsing through Mordor to me. (I was admittedly a little dramatic.) I unsuccessfully tried to change to sociology against the good will of my family, dropped dreaded organic chemistry (later, fools!) and commenced with my college career. Take that, fun suckers. Incidentally, fungi saved me. Biology lab had little to offer, but looking under the microscope at little slime spores later that spring managed to captivate me into a dramatic sprint down Highland street to reclaim my beloved biology. (Go figure?) And I guess the rest is history.

Half way through my Ph.D now, I laugh a little at that. Because I was so afraid of nothing. My fear of hardship was far more about my own unperceived insecurity than about biology. And I could so even.

Another scene found me at 4am after a sleepless night crouched on the end seat of a 15-passenger-van (never pick that seat), shivering from the cold sweat still clinging to my running clothes, cramped from going directly from a run to a van. I was disgruntled, taunted by the snores of my teammates all around me. Ragnar del Sol was upon us: a 200 mile relay comprised of 12 runners, each of which ran three separate legs. Don't get me wrong, I was really glad to be part of that. But at this particular moment, I was spent. I'd run two legs already. I hadn't slept. Moreover I had injured my foot during my last run. And looming with the dawn was my final and longest leg: eight miles culminating in a final, glorious, four-mile hill. And runners will understand when I say my bowels were not cooperating. Half an hour before starting, I popped some Ibuprofen for my foot. Where on earth was eight miles going to come from?

I will never forget that feeling of utter emptiness immediately before I started. Here goes nothing. Rarely have I had such a physical allegory for throwing fate to the wind. But would you know it? That run was one of the most peaceful, most enjoyable runs of my life. Was it hard? Absolutely. That hill kicked my butt. But I did it. And I hope I never un-learn what it felt like to finish something I didn't think I could start.

Why do I say any of this? I guess because I'm in a season where I'm graciously piecing apart many of the ways my mindset about things has held me back. But what I'm afraid of is not telling myself that I can't do something. What worries me more is when our true thoughts ("I can't do this,") are hidden behind a more socially acceptable excuse ("This is stupid, isn't my thing, etc"). So often, we are opinionated when we really mean to say that we are afraid. 

My most recent post was a thoughtful but decidedly independent take on the forays of dating culture. The overarching message was: I don't need this, and I'll choose into it when and how I want to. And while I do generally agree with all of the things I wrote...I also have to confess that sometimes in my life, independence is a poor sham for fear. Can we just admit to this? Because I'm guessing it's not just me. I'll do what I want, we say. And we really believe it. I really do believe that I'm generally independent, adventurous, and not in a hurry to get hitched. But. But. The last few months have laid bare some of the underlying motivations for that independence. And they are more decorated with "I can't" than "I don't want to."

Ouch. Let's examine our hearts always.

A key phrase that has catalyzed so much of this thought is this:
"I will not run away from you when you fail to meet my expectations." 
Gut punch. Expectations. I have a lot of expectations. And in fact, my expectations keep me safe. When you fail to meet my expectations, I have a justifiable reason to pack up and out. See ya. But it's really your problem not mine. Right? 'Cause you failed my expectations. You. I'm the reasonable one here. So yeah, bye.

How clever we are! And to our own harm. Me? Afraid? Absolutely not. They didn't meet the standard.

But when the standard keeps changing...well that makes one common denominator and it's not everyone else.

The truth is, my expectations are a way to address my fear of imperfection. Both mine and others', but let's be honest it's much easier to be blind to your own imperfection. (Something like math class when they just assume things are equal to zero to get rid of excess variables.) Because scratchy messy people come with scratchy messy problems, and they hurt. Who likes getting hurt? Solution: only perfect people will do. And perfection will be decided by my expectations, like sentries to my heart.

The problem with my strategy - and, I fear a strategy of many millennials - is that seeking perfection is the antithesis of any real intimacy. Our humanity, our scratches, our imperfections are ironically what draw us close to other people. There's actually a psychological concept in which seeing someone we admire do something embarrassing actually makes us like them more, not less. The sense that those things are unacceptable creates a need to be something we're simply not. And cannot be. We feel disillusioned when others fail. We feel ashamed when we blow it. And we shouldn't.

Ah, this is where Jesus just makes so much sense. I see it crisply in relationships. The tenet of my faith is that Jesus chose us in spite of our imperfections. Astoundingly, He makes room for our humanity. He forgives our natures extravagantly. It's His kindness that draws us towards change. God is decidedly not standoffish in his dealings with imperfect people. For me, who's blown it numerous times, to reward and punish another person according to their perfection is not just dumb, it's actually contradicting the very faith I hold so dear. (Which is not the same thing as healthy boundaries, but that's another topic.)

Can I say something? I used to want to find Mr. Perfect. I've run away from a lot of people who didn't fit that description. But in a startling about face, I'd like to say that I don't want to be with a perfect man. (Besides the fact that he doesn't exist), I want to take the imperfect man that God chooses. I want to make room for his humanity. His failures. His shame. I want to see in him the man he is becoming, not just the man he is in this moment. I want to be part of him getting there. (Which can only happen in a healthy way when I'm also dealing with my own failures, by the way.) And sure there's still a whole juju of compatibility and chemistry and whatever the heck else, but perfection is no longer one of my standards, because fear is no longer one of my anthems.

So let this grace bath begin, a mutual and ongoing exchange, for as long as we both shall live.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Love and the Introvert

I hate being too comfortable. I have since my earliest recollections, and from the earliest told stories of my character. It's in my heart of hearts.

I understand that I don't share this with everyone. This is perfectly understandable, and I feel no superiority or inferiority where this is concerned. But I do feel the difference. It's one of the things I've learned to assert more and more as I get older. It's also one of the various reasons I struggle to feel known or understood. Where would I begin?

But one of these misunderstandings comes with the ever-interesting subject of dating and love. And before I divulge some of my thoughts and feelings, I would like to offer that I know I don't have all the answers. If any of them, for that matter. I would like to suggest that I have much to learn. And yet, and yet, somehow some of the suggestions I get from people make me feel that they underestimate the depth to which these ideas marinate within me. Or maybe it's the scratchy discomfort of a one-size-fits-all prescription for romance. I understand that my ideas are strange and conservative and radical and somehow awkwardly out of place in our millennial generation. I seem to sit on no side of any fence, but off in the woods somewhere. I jokingly posit sometimes that maybe I'll be single forever, but I follow that with the supposition that it wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to me. Allow me to try to explain.

First and foremost, I do not feel the need to be in love with anybody. I would like to, I will admit. I think that it is ultimately a desire of mine to marry, and to be the kind of wife that brings utter depth and joy and love to life. But I have absolutely no sense of hurry about these things, at least at this point in my life. I like myself. My needs for love and acceptance are met in Christ and in a tight-knit community of friends, mentors, and peers. I have interests and a very busy job that occupy my time and mind. Is this everything I ultimately want? No. But it's sure a great place to be for now. I am content, to say the least. But more importantly, I would a thousand times rather be in love with the right person than settle on a person for the sake of being in love. Love is not an end. Love is a demonstration, a commitment, an ongoing joyful choice that I will fall into when I have found the person who inspires me so.

But on top of the lack of hurry, there is something that rubs me the wrong way about dating culture.  And I don't want this to sound like a gripe, because I would like to empathize in theory with the idea that many people are in a hurry to find that special someone. But I guess I get this feeling sometimes like there is a great rush about dating. (I just met you, and this is crazy…) And let me say, I've been there. I've so been that person. But on the other side of that, the weight of someone else's (especially a near-stranger's) hopeful expectation is…uncomfortable. And I promise I'm not saying that to be mean or inconsiderate. Gentlemen, I appreciate the courage it takes to pursue a woman! Lucky for you, I think I'm a minority in feeling this way. It's just, when someone acts really interested when I hardly know them, it strikes me somehow as inherently insincere, and therefore untrustworthy. Inauthentic. And I don't mean to be harsh in that, it just puts off that sense for me, and makes me back away, even involuntarily.

It just feels like everyone's ready to reap the benefits of having a garden without ever taking the time to plant one, much less cultivate it. We have a grocery store mentality about our love lives. No one believes that good things take time. We're all just roaming around, taking what's in our reach. And this idea terribly saddens me. I can't trust a culture that can't wait. It strikes me as impulsive, immature, not fully healthy. And maybe this is personal. Maybe it strikes me so offensively because that's just not the way that I operate. In a microwave generation, I savor the slow roast. I take time, I take patience, and I don't think that I shouldn't. That's not to be demanding, it's just because I know myself and I value myself. I'm not convenient, and I pity a culture that believes that I (or any other woman) should be. I promise I'm not saying that with an arch in my brow. It's just, from my heart of hearts, we're worth more than that, you know. Every one.

(A small word to the gentlemen, I do not envy you. For every girl like me out there saying 'take your time' there are eight other girls giving entirely different messages about how to be pursued. It must be so confusing. Stay in the game. I would just encourage you to ask yourself what you really want, and to pursue that. Don't take shortcuts. Don't fill the time idly. In whatever you do, have integrity and be a man both you and your sisters would respect. And then, don't worry about what we say.)

But anyway, if that weren't enough to perpetuate my singleness, there is also the deep wanderlust and husky thirst for adventure. I don't, as I've said, want to be comfortable. The very idea drives me insane. I want so much to learn, and grow, and be ever-better, ever pushing the pace forward. I get it - that's too much work for a lot of people. I never said I was what everyone wanted! But how ideal to be with someone who also desires to learn. To travel. To explore. To drink richly of life and hold hands through the danger. To read together. Journey together. Hold deep conversations that tunnel into the evenings. To respectfully disagree. To push ourselves. To make the most of our short time on earth for something meaningful, impactful…raw and real. This is ultimately what I want - my introverted heart beats for it. Which is why somehow casual coffees and the idea of "meeting someone nice" are appealing and even enjoyable…but somehow still lacking.

Every so often I get the idea into my head that maybe love is ultimately picking one imperfect person out of the multitude of other imperfect people and committing to commit. I ask myself if I could bite that bullet, and sometimes I think I could. It's what generations ahead of us did. Marrying for love is a relatively new concept. Love used to come after commitment, not before it. There's something to it. Ultimately I believe love is a choice. And yet, in a culture and a time when I have been given the opportunity to choose, ought not I make the best possible choice I am able? Is it the foolishness of the young that insists on idealism?

So what am I even trying to say in all of this? I guess it's this: that from the deep and winding adventurous heart of an introvert, I wish the ideas of 'dating' and 'marriage' weren't so wrapped up in 'hurry' and 'good enough'. I wish we were comfortable in our own skin, invested in good communities so we didn't pour out our loneliness in seeking cheap intimacy, or rush to find 'the one' as if they will fulfill us. I wish we were a people who coveted learning and exceeding what is expected of us in life. I wish we believed love was more about giving than taking, and strove to repair the holes in our own character before scrutinizing that of others…And yet, I understand that these reflections are based on what matters to me. Thankfully, this isn't another one-size-fits-all, but a breath of self-expression. This is me, however I differ from those around me. It's an exercise in being authentic, and I don't think I can back down on it anymore without betraying my own heart, the one thing I have fought so hard to protect.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Frumpy Beautiful.

I almost never buy new clothes.

I paint my toenails on the order of every several months (quarterly perhaps?).

I don't [know how to] style my hair.

And usually my wardrobe is some hodge podge of whatever is clean (?) and minimally socially appropriate, generally about 70-80% Goodwill finds.

In short, I am not a stylish woman. Someone the other day said I was so feminine. God bless her heart.

It's so easy to compare though. I don't always feel the pressure to be chic. But sometimes, like right now, it afflicts me. I am the way that I am for several reasons. Largely, I am practical, convenient, don't know how to get curls to stay anyway, and somehow can't swallow spending $50 on a bottle of face serum. (Do you know what serum is? Serum is the stuff that separates when your blood coagulates. Advertising amuses me.) And $50 is my grocery budget. Fifty dollars is someone else's food for a month.

But then I look at the disparity between professionalism and my own closet, or notice the cute hairdo's of my friends and my own stick-straight wet-combed hair, I lament shaving woes, or the two-year-old pair of sandals I'm praying lasts another season. And I just feel a little inadequate. Frumpy. Unfeminine even. As if all of being a woman were contained within smooth legs, cute clothes, and demure eyelashes.


I don't want to villainize looking nice, because I think there is value in presenting yourself well. We convey respect by how we dress. But there is a line somewhere between dressing for joy and dressing for the sake of impressing others. Do I want to do my nails because I like them this way, or because I feel insecure about them otherwise? I think every woman has to find that line for herself.

There is also that nagging sense of what really matters - my hair? Somehow the importance of my skin tone flickers when I read about the terror of ISIS, or think of the beautiful friends I made not three months ago in Africa. When push comes to shove, I would rather be useful and inspirational than beautiful. And I can't let myself forget that, no matter how many times culture inadvertently tells me that my waist size matters more. Something in me cringes, fights, revolts against the idea that my value rests in my ability to play dress up. At the end of the day, I don't want to be respected for how I can make up my face (or show off my body), but for how I have built up my heart. Oh, please don't let me reduce myself to an ornament.

Because it is a choice. Culture puts the pressure on, but we are the ones who can choose to obey it. We are the ones, ultimately, who decide how much of our worth we believe.

Sigh. The last thing I want is to heap shame on all you cuties out there. If anything, I want to say, You are worth so much, and it's not determined by your profile picture. You're beautiful when your face comes alive, when you laugh at something you find hilarious, when you feel free and secure. You're beautiful when you are doing the things you love. You're beautiful when you're honest. And if you're honest and hilarious in a sundress and heels, then awesome. God bless the woman who can change the world in designer skirts, I'm just not one of them. All this pressure to be something outwardly stunning just kills me softly. Maybe it suffocates you too. We could be so effective. We have so much to offer. The world is at our fingertips, and I think in a different way than it is to men. (No debates please, that's a compliment.) The femininity of our soul is powerful. And I  just mourn for a culture that still tries to reduce us to how we look.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Breaking the Ice

It's time.

I've been hiding from the brunt of social media for as long as possible, posting a bit here and a little there but mostly remaining aloof. I don't know how many people liked the last thing I posted. I don't recall seeing any recent cat memes or articles with "The last one really got me" in the title. I don't know what's going on in everyone's cyber lives. And I love you all, but that's wonderful.

Have I ever told you that I love my city when it rains?

The monsoon sunset over Tucson

Tucson River Walk
Just as a pause, tonight was one of those deeply endearing Tucson summer rains. It was overcast all day, with thunderstorms rolling through. The evening was impossible to resist.


I realize that a world of change has happened since I last wrote at the beginning of June, just preparing to put my merry self on a plane and land in Malawi, Africa to go "do stuff." I read my words then and know just as I knew then that I did not know exactly what I was in for. And by "in for" I mean wonderful things. It seems impossible to look at the last month and a half and pull out just one or two little blog-worthy posts.

Tucson again...
The whole experience was simply inundating, as such things ought to be. I laughed at having left my "real" camera at home. I had mused before I left that it would be better without the distraction. I would build real relationships. Sitting on the plane home, fighting back genuine tears of sadness at leaving our new friends, I laughed wryly that this is what I got for it.

But Malawi was wonderful, to say the least. Christians will be familiar with the "mountaintop experience," and to be fair, I sort of expected that. Sometimes I feel that we inadvertently go to faraway places as if we will find Jesus there. But in Malawi I came to the stark reality that Jesus is with us, regardless of where we are. Which is to say that if he's not a part of our life in one place, a change of location will not inherently change that. And vice versa. But Malawi actually wasn't a mountaintop for me. It was…surprisingly everyday, and I did not expect that. In some ways, it was as if I had always seen the maize merchants on the side of the road, or visited mud brick houses, or danced with 100 children. Rather, I saw that Malawians are people, and the Malawian church is made up of…people. Beautiful, joyful, fun, enduring, loving people. But people all the same. And while it sounds simplistic, this comforted me for the ails I see at home. Americans are not hopeless. We're just human.

People are often most excited to know what we did while we were there. To say in brief, we partnered with a fully Malawian organization in Lilongwe called Somebody Cares. Alongside their highly capable team, we went into the villages surrounding Lilongwe each day to help repair widows' homes that had been damaged during the wet season (by re-roofing or re-mudding floors). We helped the livestock program by preparing pig feed and building a pig sty in their training center. We got to accompany the Home Based Care team in visiting HIV positive individuals in the peri-urban slums, praying with them and taking care of their household chores. And we (always) got to play with hundreds of beaming brown little children whose smiles I never want to forget. Somebody Cares is really making a deep impact in Malawi, which is encouraging to see in a place replete with NGOs. For fun updates and more about who they are, check out the link above, or see the "Somebody Cares Ministries" Facebook page.

I think Malawi has affected me much more deeply in the stewing and soaking upon my return. Even while we were there, it made me uncomfortable that we had so much. That we could eat such full meals when we returned to our hotel in the evening. That we could have Pineapple Fanta just because. These were the times I put down my fork. Or in other cases, picked it up and tried to eat every last morsel on my plate out of respect for our village friends. This only made me sick, unfortunately. But now that I am home, in the comfort and serenity that surround American life, with time to really sit and process the beautiful journey I got to be part of…the experience has only deepened.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot more to share. I just wanted to break the ice on this whole internet thing. While I've posted disturbingly American and normal things on Facebook from time to time - shards and remnants of my normal American life - I've really hid from sharing the good stuff. Just because I don't want it to be over with the stroke of a pen. I don't want writing about Africa to be an excuse to file it neatly away into my past.

I'll leave you for now with a little highlight reel that I put together. Thank you so much for making this trip a reality for me. If I have not thanked you personally, (I'm sorry!) and keep checking your mailbox.

More stories to come!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Stripped and Present

I feel uncomfortable without makeup on.

Not in an end-of-the-world type insecurity, per se, but an awareness of what society would call my flaws. Like low-fat ice cream, it just feels somehow lacking. Make-up is actually not unlike photo filters, accentuating what you want people to notice while dimming or blurring the rest. Why post a regular photo when you can dramaticize it? So goes the logic. It's also not unlike social media as a whole - always creating and recreating ourselves.

This cannot be in Africa. I question whether it should be in America.

I'm notorious in our two-roommate home for being unable to find things that are right under my nose. But at long last, nothing I could do could help me find my Nikon camera last night. I had wanted to take it with me to Africa for obvious reasons. It far surpasses my iPhone. I must have searched for over an hour. At last, reluctantly driving away, I mused that it's better this way. For every moment I won't obsessively be behind a camera lens (creating art yet again), I will be present. And I think that matters more.

Write them on my heart instead.

I think this is really life, though. I remember backpacking the Grand Canyon with some friends. I was makeup-less then too, but we all were. Somehow being in the midst of the wilderness, facing genuine physical challenge in a situation where none of the societal standards applied anymore…was immensely freeing. I remember feeling more fully human without the demands of beauty and political correctness. That's an entry for another day.

Besides, I'm not going to Malawi to be beautiful. I'm not going to take life-changing pictures (although I admit I wanted to). I'm going for the people, and being stripped this way forces me to stay true to this purpose. In a way, I don't want to come back and post a thousand pictures of me with cute children because I know that even in part, I would be making it about me. Somehow that seems awkwardly, even wildly, out of place here. In my life I must always be fighting off this tendency.

Here we are, packing up piles of over-the-counter medications
to donate to the local medical organizations. 

People have asked me what I am most excited for. And to be honest, I don't know. I suppose I am going to see. See the people, see the world they live in, experience their humanity and serve them in whatever way I am able. The team gathered last week to sort and pack thousands of packages of different over-the-counter medications for distribution through local African clinics. Somehow handling bottles of NSAIDs and antibiotic ointment bound for our Malawi friends made their humanity just a bit more real. Down to tummy-aches and dental care.

In a way, though,  I'm waiting to get my bearings until I get there. I have remarkably few expectations. But I am ready to step forward into this new unknown. My bags are packed. A couple quick errands remain. I fly out this evening around 9pm and disappear into a world yet undiscovered by me. See you on the 21st!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Malawi: This Season

The wind is rustling the world outside my screen door. It's one of those sudden Tucson winds, the kind that carries surprises and change with it. It's "cold" today, an oasis in a landscape of 90 degree highs. And an unimaginable joy (for the Tucsonan): it even smells like rain.

Rain. Thirst.

This year has been dry. This semester has been dry. Busy. Rushed. Stressed. I find myself talking to people and not even forming full and complete ideas. I try to compose messages, and find myself capable of only typing communicative half-sentences. "Will be there soon," or "Not going to make it." I hope every time I hit send that I don't sound abrupt and distant, although in reality, that's somewhat true. It's just not personal. I'm abrupt and distant with almost everyone lately. My emotional life is on hold, a luxury I don't have time for. A sea I cannot afford to sink in. Not now. 

Is this really who I want to be?

The question is haunting. Not everyone handles stress this way. Maybe that makes me "weak," but I've stopped caring about that. It, like many things, is a question I don't have time for. I can only digest it in small pieces, those islands in time I set aside to be "at peace." I am not sure I feel more peaceful in their wake. 

I don't mean to sound dramatic in all of this. Part of me hopes to finally carve in rough-hewn and jagged words what I have not been able to express elsewhere. I don't ever remember being in such a busy, heart-squelching time. I don't ever remember feeling so disoriented, if only for the physical lack of time to process, understand, and dig meaningful roots in life outside of grad school. But there is an end in sight. It's the point in the marathon when a little pathetic sigh of despair escapes you at the thought of how much distance remains. But still, the end exists, and that is encouraging.

But I'm not writing to lament this season. It is merely a time, a hill, a thing to overcome. More importantly, I want to tell you of a journey I will be embarking on at the end of this craziness, one that I expect to overwhelm me, challenge me, and perhaps pour life-giving water to the deepest, neglected ebbs of my heart. All that to say, I am going to Africa in June.

The trip, of course, is not about me. I will be going with a team from my parents' church, Mission Community, to Malawi for two weeks. We will partner with a local organization to visit medical and new-mother clinics, play with orphans and local kids, and serve wherever our hands are needed. We are at the discretion of what the local organization needs, staffed by native Malawians. We are merely hands and feet. And hearts. When I let myself process this, pray for it, emotionally engage with the reality that I will be going, I get so excited for the beautiful and wonderful people I will meet. I long to hear their stories, see their smiles, cry their tears, and learn from them. I want to know them, understand them, value them. Not in pity, but joy. Malawians are said to be some of the warmest most joyful people, and also some of the poorest people. Do I even understand what it is to be poor like that? The answer, unequivocally, is no. But do I understand their joy in poverty? This answer is probably equally humbling.

In the solemn halls of academia, I forget that this is who I am. More than any sense of power or accomplishment, prestige or intellectualism, the times in my life that I have felt most alive have been standing in the middle of Mexican slums and busy Asian thoroughfares. I expect this trip to be a mutual exchange - giving everything I have to offer and soaking in everything my heart can hold. I think it is unavoidable that I will receive more than I can give, and this, too, is humbling. But I pray to go, to be obedient, to be persistent, hopeful, and daring. I think this time will offer clarity into the season I find myself, and pour life back onto these dry bones. I only hope to love and serve the people of Malawi as much as their presence will undoubtedly serve me. Their stories will probably break my heart, and challenge my comfort. Their realities will humble and possibly even grieve me. Their smiles will warm my soul. 

If you are interested in finding out more about my upcoming trip or receiving more personal updates and prayer requests, please email me. (You can find my email address through the "profile" tab in the sidebar.) If you are interested in financially supporting this trip ($1300 still to raise by May 3!), then either send me an email or go to this website. You can support me specifically by clicking the green tab on the bottom left ("Support Someone") and specifying my name. If you are content to receive broad updates, feel free to keep checking this page. I will most likely post some of my broadest pre- and post-processing thoughts here. 

Finally, go in peace. 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.' (Romans 15:13)


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wherefore Art Thou, Humility?

He has made everything beautiful in its time. 
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

Even me. Even you. 

I don't know about you, but I always wanted to be the kind of person who would stand for something. I aspired to be the sort who wasn't afraid to do anything, so long as it were the right thing. (And it would always be the right thing.) I would have crisp wit and ringing character, be gracious and compelling. I would be a rebel, a leader, an anomaly. 

Until I wasn't.

Maybe the stress and busyness of grad school have squeezed out the ooziest uckiest things from within me, or maybe all the emotion that I haven't had time for is going to awkwardly splatter all over this entry, but somewhere in my swashbuckling splendor, I think I've gone terribly awry. And it's not the sort of "awry" that is just a wrong turn here or there. Rather, if I were a mountain, these troublesome stones would stretch into my deepest layers.

Ugh. - That awkward moment when you realize you're actually a jerk.

There are always two options when you come to this kind of discovery. The first, and easiest, is to close that the heck up and leave it alone, or make excuses for yourself that divert the issue rather than absorbing it. (#winning) The second, reasonably more uncomfortable option is to unearth the entire monstrosity, invite your closest friends to help, (buy a pizza?) and go thereOr sob. As I did all over my coworkers this week. 

The thing is, I do not want to be someone whose sass or wit stand in the way of being available. I don't want to seek laughter, "likes", and approval at the expense of being truly known. I do not want to brush over the glaring flaws that people try to make me aware of in the name of, "It will probably be fine." (Which, in English, means "Whatever, fools, I got this.")  I want to be daring, confident, and unequivocally vibrant, yes. But I also want to be humble - genuinely humble. I would rather be unimpressive and genuine than flashy and pompous, which is unfortunately not what my life has always communicated. I would rather be overlooked (ouch!) for something that I am than loved for something I do not want to be. But more important than being any of these things, because focusing on being anything invariably becomes about striving, I need to know that I already am His. God's. There is no striving in that, but rest. There is no pride in that, but humble gratitude. There is nothing to prove, because it has already been proven. There is no greater than or less than, there just is. And there is peace. 
"Jesus came to release us from the slaveish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves." -Tullian Tchividjian 
Will you join me in being real in this crazy life? Authentically unmagnificent? A learner? We always want our best colors to shine, but I would rather wave the flag of 'work in progress' if it meant that I would continue to progress. Mature. Deepen. Soften. I don't have this all figured out. I'm not just saying that. And I'm sorry if you've ever been overwhelmed by the stench of my self-importance. 
With that I leave you with The Oh Hello's, and their beautiful song.

But nothing is a waste
Nothing is a waste if you learn from it
And the sun, it does not cause us
The sun, it does not cause us to grow
It is the rain that will strengthen
The rain that will strengthen your soul

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fuel 2014

I have a completely unsustainable habit. It's called: finding new or faraway places and relishing them. It's also called: complete bliss. 

Tucson from the top of Campbell. Don't judge my iPhone. 

I adore my thinking time. I protect it and nestle it away from the rest of my life. I fight for it and carve out insane amounts of time for it. I feel spare when I don't get it. But the reason I say that it's unsustainable is that…it kind of is. For real-life grown-ups. Who have jobs. The amount of time I spend processing life - thinking, journaling, traveling, sitting, soaking - could easily rival the amount of time I spend living it, and to be frank, ain't nobody got time for that. It is completely unattainable for me to be able to travel and explore and dream to the degree that I wish most of the time, so I settle for smaller adventures, day trips, night drives - all of them like little sighs from a greater yet unsatisfied wanderlust. 

This winter, I had the chance to actually steal away into what I am realizing is one of my very favorite things to do: travel alone. I jotted up to Seattle to visit my grandma for a couple days, caught the train to Portland for a little longer stay over Christmas with my dad and the lovely lady in his life. I no sooner returned to Phoenix than I hit the road for San Diego for a friend's wedding. A run on the beach, back to Phoenix for a couple days, and then back in lab down in Tucson by January first. What. A. Busy. Holiday. Oh but I thrived

Washington Square, Seattle
Amidst planes, trains, and automobiles, forests and beaches, there was that beautiful, unadulterated reflection time that I crave. The very best kind: where your eyes and mind are taking in the world around you and your thoughts are on free play.
Looking out the train window.

I was turning over many thoughts in my head about the years past and the years to come. The rich, savory stew meat: life, love, sacrifice, excellence, purity, passion…it all distilled into one primary word for 2014: Fuel. 


Fuel is something you put into a machine to get an output. I'm a far cry from any kind of physicist, but I see it as a kind of potential energy. If you want good output, you need good input. What am I fueling myself with in 2014? This question settled in my thoughts. It just stuck. Everything in my life boiled down to putting good things in so that I could get reliable things out. So what was I putting in?

Downtown with Dad
I saw the roots of this in virtually every area of my life. Flying over desert plains and shrubby mountains, I saw the traces of fuel leaking into my mental life, my spiritual life, my emotional life, and my physical life. Because, on the cusp of 25, the habits I make now echo into my future with very real impact. I'm not just making choices for the day, the week, or even the year. In a way, the choices I'm making now thread themselves into the years to come, and even into how I will parent and serve my family. So am I living with this in mind? 
San Diego

A sobering quote from John C. Maxwell:

"See what a person is doing every day, day after day, and you'll know who that person is and what he or she is becoming."

Eek. Who am I becoming, and do I like that person? Let's make 2014 count. 

So without further ado:

Mental Fuel
Simply put, what am I putting in my brain? I have a limited amount of time. Am I using it to scroll through endless Facebook articles ("You'll NEVER believe what this one adorable kitten did" etc), or am I reading books of substance that challenge my thinking? Am I cultivating my intelligence or wasting it? It might be one thing to read mindless Facebook threads over an evening, but is that what I want the next five years of evenings to be made up of? And what's the difference in capacity on the other end of that five years?

Emotional Fuel
Am I engaging in smart emotional relationships? Do I have healthy and stabilizing networks within community, and am I consistently being open and honest with trusted people who will ask the hard questions with love? Do I set good boundaries, avoid overextending my heart, and say no to codependent, manipulative, or otherwise unwise interactions? Do I encourage movement or do I let my emotions sit and fester? Am I responsible with the way I feel about things, treating them with rationality? Is my self-worth reflected in the way I talk to people or let them talk to me? Obviously, love is love, and God asks us to engage with people all over the map. But my security must be firmly grounded in Christ or else the weight of these interactions will tip and pull me around in unhealthy ways. And there's always got to be a point when you just say, "No, thanks." 

Physical Fuel
Seriously, eat well. I'm 25, I can't afford to invest poorly in my future anymore. Just because I'm in good shape now doesn't mean I'll always be, and the difference starts now (probably years ago actually, but oh well). I am still experimenting entirely with what 'eat well' means, but in general, am I putting whole and healthful foods in my body, real foods, in good moderation, and am I building up strength and endurance through exercise? I really believe that how we treat our bodies is also how we treat our minds. When I don't take care of myself physically, I'm also closing doors in thinking clearly and having the energy to engage in worthwhile things. A physical investment is a holistic investment, so do yourself a service and take care of yourself. 

Spiritual Fuel
Am I digging in spiritually or coasting? Do I wake up and ask the hard questions, engage in real times of prayer, study the Word, and invest in the most important relationship I will ever have? Again, this is not just an immediate benefit, but a long-range one. In five years, what will be the difference in my character if I had really dug in and engaged spiritually versus if I had sorta kinda went through the motions? Spiritual health, in my experience, affects each of the other areas too. It aligns me when I'm out of place, challenges my ideas, humbles me constantly, and importantly, cultivates a deep sense of joy and gratitude. Game changing things: I want them in my life in 2014. 

So I suppose 'resolution' is not exactly the correct word for how I came into this year, but I have many concrete reflections about who I want to be. I'll say it: I am SO excited for 2014. (Yes, I know we're already 1/6 of the way through, nerds.) I have an amazing feeling about this year, and feel like I am ready and open in a way I have not yet been. I feel as if I will pick up what my life has been equipping and readying me for this year in some ways. I am full throttle. Bring it on 2014! 

What are you excited for this year? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

An open and vulnerable peek at 2013

So maybe the go-getters have already written their 37 resolutions down for 2014, but I'm just dipping my feet in, 'kay? I would really like to share my thoughts on the upcoming year, but I can't possibly frame it right without spending some time in the past. So buckle up.

It seems an eternity ago that I sat looking at my life and realizing that I was a hard-hearted person, stone-cold rational, and that I didn't believe God.

Amazingly, it was only last year.

The beginning of 2013 feels so far away, but I remember entering it with a sense of weakness and surrender. I had been so self-absorbed, so hard and cold. I was trying to grasp what trusting Jesus really looked like in all my fortresses of rationality that I had spent 2012 building up. I was so logical. So cold. And in light of Jesus, this also made me so broken.

So I sat before Jesus and said, "You have to do this in me." I came into 2013 deflated, surrendered. Wanting to actually trust that the God of the universe could do the things I asked him, but realizing I had departed from that belief already. It was a shocking and raw realization. I had always been Christy, a girl of great faith. I realized suddenly on the brink of the New Year that if I was honest with what I believed practically (regardless of what I believed mentally), I didn't believe God saved me or changed me. And this required scrutiny.

The previous year, 2012, I had struggled to try and have it all - be the young, put-together, professional twenty-something. I underwent a lot of change transitioning from undergrad to working two jobs to finally a new graduate student in a Ph.D program. I tried so hard to look the part with the right hair, make-up, outfit in each of my different spheres. I discovered in time that I could be quite logical, and that it was so much easier to judge something rationally than emotionally. I clung to this. It felt more powerful. Although this isn't always the case, the more logical I became, the less compassionate I became, though I didn't see it at the time. I put people into neat little boxes based on the issues I surmised that they had. Not because I knew them or listened to their stories. If I'm honest, I just thought I was pretty darn perceptive. I would tick strangers off in my head: Codependent. Insecure. Daddy issues. Next.

To be sure, I really was not cognizant of most of this. If you were to ask me about my relationship with Jesus, I probably would have said that it was fine. The year was punctuated with some very real spiritual growth, even if I was backpedaling in other ways. We are always in danger of being the last to see our own hypocrisy. I was not yet aware that there was a growing disconnect between my head and my heart. I could not yet comprehend that I didn't believe the words that I prayed, because I had always prayed. And I still earnestly loved the God I believed in, regardless of my growing distance from him. I simply didn't fully perceive the distance. It happened in the same way that couples drift apart over the years. One day you wake up next to a stranger.

And to be sure, many good things happened in 2012. It was a year of some very genuine growth out of my own codependence and family yuck. My success in that endeavor actually probably precipitated my resentment towards others still struggling with the issues that I was overcoming. I felt a need to distance myself from that, and with my own success I felt entitled to. But largely all this development mentioned above was a backdrop, an undergrowth. I only really became aware of it not long before the ball dropped to welcome 2013. It broke my heart and made me feel helpless all at once. Who had I become?

It's probably hard to understand how I could believe in God and not believe him at the same time. I believed he was there. I still prayed. I still loved him. But I loved so many other things as well. He went from being my first love, my greatest love, to just another love. And with the centrality of my love went the centrality of my faith too. Suddenly God wasn't the only thing that could change people. People could change people. The right experiences could change people. And from there, maybe God didn't really change people at all. When I analyzed my own prayer life, I discovered that I didn't actually believe that God cared to answer, or even was able to answer. I would pray, but expect only what I myself could do.

So what did I do? To be honest, I didn't really know what I could do. By that point in my life, I had experienced many great and amazing things through prayer. I had and continued to have prophetic experiences. I did not doubt that God existed. But whether his name was Jesus and whether he was exclusive and whether he alone was sufficient to really change lives were questions I had to be sure that I really believed before moving forward. So I did what I could: I acknowledged the state of my belief (or lack thereof), sat down with God, prayed….and had no idea what to do next.

Around March of that year, after a couple months of stalemate, I was sitting in Cartel, a favorite coffee haunt, journaling. I ran across a story on one of the blogs I read of a girl named Clare. Clare lived a beautiful and vibrant life, a life of joy, adventure and care of others, but mostly a life that highlighted the glory of Jesus in her life. Her life ended before she turned 25, a year and a half after she saw in a vision that it would. I've always had a 'thing' about dying young, for better or for worse, which is probably why Clare's story grabbed me so hard. I didn't (and don't) know what God's plans are for my life, however long or short, but what was crystal clear to me in that moment that this was not how I wanted to go: limping along to the finish line, apathetically, sinfully, broken. Let me dance, let me leap, let me glorify God to the end of my days, but don't let me go like this. My world was shaken.

Shaken awake.

That day marked many prayers - prayers prayed in the awkward space of a coffee shop, trying to say to God all the things that this story had released in me, yet trying not to burst into tears in front of complete strangers. GodI am yours.

My faith did not resurrect in a day. It was still a floor full of holes in the woodwork, but that moment was a boulder in the stream, changing its course. I remember praying later on and sensing the invitation to actually let myself believe that it was going to be answered. Let myself believe that God wanted to answer it. It felt like fruit on the branch - within reach, but I still had to make the effort. I had to let myself go there, ante in, choose faith. And I did. And as I did, something happened - not just that day but so many days following. It wasn't in the bells and whistles, the booming voice, the smoke and mirrors, but in the softness that God showed up. He spent the rest of the year showing up.

He showed up by providing for me. He showed up to pay my rent when things were short and a random $300 got transferred to my account. He showed up to provide meals when I was watching my bank account dwindle. Left and right, I watched as I was never in need. It surprised me so much at first, but I slowly began to smile inwardly with each new provision. But even more than my barest needs, God showed up in the details, the gentle surprises. He was in those tiny delights, the kind you hope for but do not voice. I learned that God not only pays my bills, but He pays attention, and it made all the difference in changing the way I understood Him. We weren't God's obligations, we were His children. Oh. As I stepped out on these little limbs, choosing faith and rejoicing that God cared, He was all too present. So sweet was the season, so full of healing, so overflowing with everything I needed. For everything I had mentally believed, the year taught me how to practically believe it.

God spent the rest of 2013 assuring me without any doubt that God answers our prayers. I believed the antithesis of what I had come into the year believing: I believed that God could do anything. I had watched Him rebuild my heart. But very importantly, through my experience wandering away I had seen that heart: my ugly, scornful, discompassionate heart. For the first time, I saw with clear eyes how desperately far for perfect, or even good, I was. And I'm not just talking about 2012. Even on a human scale, I had been every form of awkward, every vestige of broken, every prideful inch of 'together'. It wasn't for shame that I saw these things, but for gratitude. I finally understood that of all the people in the world who needed grace, I was not exempt. And God had taken the liberty to change those things in me over and above what I ever could have hoped. (And He's not done yet!)

But seeing in myself the capacity to do all wrong, all things hateful, I newly understood looking at others with love. For the most mired pieces of humanity in another, I felt I could look gently in the eye and say, Me too, friend. For the most horrifying sin, I could say, I understandI could no longer point out the wrong of anyone, because always behind my eyes was my own reflection. Let she who has no sin cast the first stone…Such began God, having shown me His love, instructing me how to love other people.

So here we are. I'm not a perfect person, not even a particularly astounding person. But in 2013, I was a lost person who became a found person. I had spent my life knowing and loving God, but in 2013 I began to understand all the more deeply His love for me, and for all people. What has made the difference was not perfecting what I had done for Him (religion), but understanding what He had done for me. And continues to do, every day.  I await, with patience, hope and excitement, what 2014 holds.