Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bite Your Tongue

It's probably no good getting on my soapbox on Christmas Eve, because it's just such a seemingly Grinch-y thing to do. But it's frustrating enough for me not to at least complain somewhere, somehow, and it has a good point to it, and I hope it's not hypocritical.

To be honest, I can't stand how people can't take a break from being negative, even today or probably tomorrow. I especially can't stand them starting a sentence out referencing Christmas, only to turn to some statement that is not edifying at all and serves no purpose. Several Facebook acquaintances had to publish extremely hyperbolic statements concerning the new (highly watered down from the previous version) healthcare decision, and respond to every comment afterwards to argue or be defensive. Another (Christian) felt the need to point out that Jesus wasn't actually born on December 25th and that we're idiots for not changing the calendar. To what? His real birthday? Let me know when that is, please. I'd love to have insight into the past the way you do.

Forgive my cynicism, but it just grinds my gears that no one can take a break from being negative and whiny. However, it bothers me more that this all irritates me in particular because it's Christmas. Why should I be more frustrated now about people not using their speech to edify rather than tear down to no useful end? Shouldn't that always frustrate me?

That's the lesson I'm learning here: our tongues are such powerful weapons. We don't even have to say something directly mean; we could say something perfectly logical, our opinion on a given issue, but little factors make it detrimental. If you know it will incite anger in others, reconsider saying it. If you want to bring attention to yourself, reconsider saying it. These things shine through the actual words we say, no matter how seemingly innocent they are.

These words I would speak especially to my fellow followers of Christ; I would never hold anyone else so accountable for their words, because they have no reason to worry about it. But the bible is not silent about reigning in our speech and using it only to build up others and magnify the Father. And I charge myself just as much as I charge any other on this matter, because I am the worst of perpetrators when it comes to speaking before thinking.

Does this mean avoiding discussing politics so as not to foster division? You bet.
Does this mean mulling carefully over the very way I phrase things so as not to give the wrong idea? Yes.
Does this mean keeping my comments about other people's intelligence to myself? Absolutely.

These are all things that I struggle with and that I notice other people do too. For the sake of glorifying our God, may we abide by His desires for the way we use language to serve His purposes, and distinguish ourselves from the way the world uses speech. Paul says it best in Ephesians 4:1:

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received."

I can't think of a better verse to take to heart as a new year is quickly approaching. And now, I will say no more, and wish you all a very merry Christmas! I pray your time with family and friends is wonderful and that you would be blessed many times over. Eat yourself silly and watch A Christmas Story too many times. :) Much love!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmastime Is Here

Wow. I can't believe it's already the week of Christmas. This year has flown like nobody's business. I feel like I still haven't done all of the holiday-ish stuff that I really get into. There are so many little things about December that really make me a happy little clam: walks in the park in the cold, using the weather as an excuse to drink ungodly amounts of coffee, baking cookies, dressing up for holiday parties, wrapping presents, watching my Rankin & Bass claymation movies, singing Christmas songs at church, seeing the decorations around downtown Orlando, just seeing a more positive side of the world on Christmas, and about 24 days before the big day itself.

(I love this time of year, if you didn't know.)

My attitude about the holidays is so different from when I was a little kid. Sometimes, I really miss it; I was so enchanted by mall decorations and Magic 107.7 playing holiday tunes on the radio, and putting the lights up around the house. It felt like entirely another world. Things are a lot different now that I'm out of the house most of the year, and that my brother isn't exactly little anymore, either. My parents drag us out of bed on Christmas morning.

However, I find a lot of joy in making Christmas enjoyable for others now. I love making things for other people, especially my specialty, baked goods. Picking out gifts for other people and using my own money to get them makes them that much more thought-out, and meaningful for me to give. I swear, I'm ready to be in charge of making Christmas happen for my own kids one day, if I have any (hopefully!). There's nothing I would love more than to get an enormous feast going for my family and friends and neighbors, and anybody who isn't getting something good to eat that night, and finding them things that they would like as a symbol of how much I care about them. It's probably a good thing to be this enamored by these feelings about Christmas.

Little realizations like this -- that I enjoy the giving at Christmas more than receiving -- all seem to help us move into growing up. So many of us in this world struggle with letting go of memories and the past, from those guys musing about what would have happened if they'd gone pro since high school football to those women looking at old pictures, wondering where their waistlines went. I think that the maturity that I've experienced even in just the past year or two is a gift from the Lord in ushering in the years to come. I don't have to regret that I'm getting older, because God designed us to age and He has new and exciting things for us to do at every stage in life. If I glue my eyes to Him, I will find that there is no other place for me than the place I am at right now.

I am a 20 year old, single female college student, because God deemed by birthdate to be 20 years ago, decided I would be a girl, and has blessed me with the opportunity to get an education and the freedom to wait for the right person to change that relationship status. This was His idea.

I'm sticking with it gladly.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Still Hungry

Life gets easy. Life gets hard. Life feels easy when hard things are looming shadows lurking in the future. Life feels hard when things are really quite easy, and we just can't see reality for what it is. And sometimes, we can clearly, and everything is true and real.

Why is it that life isn't always like that?

Because emotions get in the way. The way I felt when I woke up in the morning paints the whole day a certain color, although the hue might vary as the sun travels across the sky. The exact same things could happen to me on a day where I'm on Cloud 9 and a day where I'm sinking in the ocean, and there's no comparison at all. I won't remember anything the same way.

This fact really begins to perturb me in my relationship with God. In my head, I know He's always there. He always sees the furthest, darkest corners of my heart. He hears my thoughts and listens to my cries out to Him. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me some more. Yet, I don't always feel like these things are true. On a good day, where the world seems right and just, it's so easy to be thankful for and aware of God's love. An evening with a splendid sunset so clearly points to His majesty and wonder. If it's storming at the same time the next day, my opinion on His power is a little different, though the same, really. Whether someone truly did me wrong or whether my brain chemicals just aren't balanced right, if I'm in a rut, God's love seems so far away and impalpable.

One thing that's always bothered me is how I want to believe that Christ is more than enough for me, but that it doesn't always seem that way. I mean, think about all the sermons and songs you've heard, my born-again brethren.

All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough

That sounds gorgeous. In theory, it makes sense. Nothing in this world satisfies. We all suffer spiritual existentialism that no material thing or activity or worldly relationship fulfills perfectly. It's a crisis in the soul. It would take a divine motivator to patch up the holes within. All the time, though, when I am hurting, I pitifully cry out, "God! Help me! You're supposed to quench my thirst and heal my broken bones, so where are You? Are You going to come too late?" If He satisfies, why am I not satisfied?

First of all, I am reminded of Hebrews 11, where our heroes of faith are described. Some, like Abraham, lived rather blessed lives, with their needs very bountifully met. I mean, he was not a poor guy. Joshua got to enter Canaan, the land of milk and honey, and received the promised land after facing the giants. Others won battles, performed miracles, and saw God bless them a hundred times over before they died. But others still were killed, tortured, beaten, mocked, exiled for the same faith that the "blessed" people had. It hardly seems fair. There are so many martyrs for faith that saw only pain and death for following Christ. No one promised that this life would be charmed once Jesus entered in. No one said the road would be easy, or that we would always have good days to make us emotionally stable enough to realize the fullness of God, to the capacity that we can even know Him.

I found myself even getting riled up at the idea that we would be punished for good deeds, for being faithful, until I read the end of this list: "the world was not worthy of them."

Wow. There's so much to be found in this one phrase. This world does not deserve to have the feet of the sons and daughters of Yahweh treading across its dust. It doesn't know how valuable and treasured they are to the One True King. It will mistreat and despise them for what they believe and the news that they carry. We were made for something better. We were not meant to find ultimate joy here on earth. This is but wandering in the wilderness prior to the moment we are brought before the Lord's throne in heaven, where we will finally feel at home. Safe. Comfortable. Content. Loved. Accepted. Nourished. Warm. Full. Happy. Perpetually happy.

"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." -- Romans 11:1-40

I think we have the whole "Jesus satisfies" thing a bit wrong. He is the only thing that will give us lasting contentment on this earth. But we can't expect Him to fulfill our every longing, desire, and need yet. It just isn't possible while we are stuck on this war and disease-infested planet. It's an imperfect and broken place, and God never promised to make life for us easy here.

We can speculate as to the reasons why He would make this happen. Because experience makes us better people? Because this domain belongs to the forces of darkness and must die with them also? These are all interesting to be sure. The fact of the matter is, however, that we must fix our eyes on the promise of complete restoration in heaven, where we will never see another tear drop or hear another rumbling stomach ever again. We will see nothing but smiles, hear nothing but songs of joy and praise. Then life will be easy.

The closest taste we can have of this future is the church, the Word, the Holy Spirit, all the gifts God has bequeathed unto us as things to tide us over until our triumphant entrance into His true kingdom. We have what He's told us, we have His presence to guide us, and we have His word to encourage us. Until then, all we can do is keep chasing the goodness found in this world, clinging to hope faithfully, and banish fear: God loves us whether we love Him, believe in Him, forget about Him, or not.

We're too small to see life as it really is, no matter how hard we try. We're confined to tunnel vision where things are either going well, badly, or somewhere in our perceived in between. It won't be until I meet my Savior face to face that I can experience the fullness of His love, and experience the fulfillment of my soul at long last.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In a Barbie World

As far as guilty pleasures go, some of them have varying amounts of "guilt" involved. There is mild embarrassment, and then there is complete clandestinity. I mean, I feel like this phrase gets thrown around a lot. I tend to use it for things that I'm just a little ashamed of liking so much.

Take this marathon of America's Next Top Model that I've been revisiting throughout the day in between the things I have to do. I know how contrived, ridiculous, and pretty shallow it is. I would not hesitate to say that Tyra Banks is one of the most annoying people on the face of the planet. It's just so addictive, though! And it's harmless enough for reality TV, isn't it?

That's how a lot of crap appears. And a lot of things might really impress in some people's minds, but then not affect others at all. Or does it?

Life could be a mirror-land where everything may not be as it appears after all.

Cracks appear in the mirrors all over the place, though, if you're looking hard enough. It never occurred to me that it's my problem if I go through about 6 outfits before going anywhere because I am so convinced that I can't even be seen unless I look perfect. There's something wrong with my mindset when I can't bring myself to touch pizza or macaroni and cheese for months at a time, even with a ten foot pole. These kinds of little things became my reality so gradually that I didn't really stop and wonder about where they came from, and what they're doing to me. The whole cliche about the frog in the pot of slowly warming water makes a lot of sense. When my mind quiets down and little red flags in my thinking go flying up, I can finally spot how I've been worn down by worldly expectations without knowing it.

I don't think the struggle girls today face with body image and appearance in general can be overemphasized. If you don't spend much time with them, I'll fill you in on the secret world of self-deprecation that goes on pretty much every day. For example, consider the bathroom in our cabin at Campus Crusade's Fall Retreat, a weekend in the woods where the last thing a person should care about is looking nice. Yet everyone is frantically sharing the counter, washing faces, putting on make-up, straightening hair, dressing up, spraying various things all over the place. It'd be interesting if there were some kind of closed-captioning for the interesting array of sentences uttered over the course of the morning: "Ugh, my hair looks awful!" "Oh no, I messed up my mascara." "This just isn't a good day for me. I have huge bags under my eyes." "Oh please, do you see my skin?"

If you're not convinced, I'll let you in on another secret: I said all of those things.

But a girl's game is to one-up someone else's self-deprecating comment with some negative thing about herself instead. I think that's it's definitely just misguided humility in some cases; it doesn't sound very nice to hear someone else tear herself to shreds in the mirror and then smile at yourself and walk out the door. Everyone has some kind of insecurity. But at the same time, there can't be anything right with matching these inward insults by hating yourself, too.

My roommate one time mentioned something that a speaker said at a retreat that she went to at the beach. To paraphrase, he said: "You know how when we say something that isn't very nice about someone else, we often feel pretty bad about it and retract it really fast? I feel like I hear myself and other people constantly saying, 'Oops, I didn't mean that. I'm sorry.' We know that it isn't right to say negative things about another person that the Lord loves. Did it ever occur to some of you girls that you're His creation, too? Isn't it just as insulting to a Creator to insult any of His works, whether it's another person or it's you?"

I get pretty sick of hearing the whole inside beauty speech. Yeah, yeah, Proverbs 31:30, I've heard it before. I used to brush off those lessons because I have heard it a hundred times. Obviously, though, they haven't sunk in; the problem is that I am so deeply entrenched in a quicksand pit that the world has laid out all before me, and I know for sure that most women are fighting the urge to sink in, too. And to be honest, I don't know what it takes to get out yet. I've tried looking to other things to make me not care anymore about how I look. Friends, schoolwork, and being all involved in clubs and whatnot seem to be fairly good at sucking up time that could be spent otherwise nitpicking in the mirror. But no matter how busy or distracted I get, the recurring thoughts creep up on me throughout the day, or as soon as I get home. The point is that they can't be replaced by some other obsession with being perfect.

If I've learned one thing in this life, hopefully, it's that the Word is the only place that truth can be devoured, if only I kept turning to it every time I felt the slightest bit worried.

"The king is enthralled with your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord." -- Psalm 45:11

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." -- Proverbs 31:30

So there are those really popular verses that seem directed more at self-conscious, God-fearing women, and they affirm us directly. They're pretty blunt statements. You're beautiful. So there. I'll forget to live like this is true in about 10 minutes, but they're nice things to read.

However, there are other verses in the bible about beauty that are either directed at men, or at women who aren't really going about things properly. They say a lot, though, on the topic of beauty and are worth taking a look at regardless:

"Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes," -- Proverbs 6:25

This one kind of struck me, mostly because it isn't hard for me to get someone's attention with my eyes. (Probably because they are the size of golf balls and make me look like a startled lemur, but that's beside the point.) However, there is an indirect message to be gleaned from this verse, even if it looks like it's only for guys to worry about. Solomon is directing men not to fall for beauty or seduction, so these are not traits that ought be found in a woman of God. He desires for His sons to pursue women who do not depend on or manipulate these qualities to meet their ends in life. Seeing it from this point of view kind of makes all the stuff about not caring about beauty practical; if your appearance is the thing that defines how you feel that day, and what makes you valuable at all, then you're not bound to find the kind of love that the Lord has in mind for His people.

"'And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect,' declares the Lord. 'But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his." -- Ezekiel 16:14-15

This is an allegory, yes, but the New Testament addresses all the details about loving your wife as Christ loved the church and whatnot, and the Lord makes it quite plain that this situation would be the same whether or not the woman symbolizes Israel. Anyways, these are pretty powerful words. The Lord has blessed things, including we ladies, with beauty. This fact is indeed famous; I have yet to hear of a culture anywhere in the world where the women is not considered the beautiful gender.

But just throwing around this beauty like it doesn't mean anything won't yield any meaningful results. In fact, it'll kind of rob you. Overdoing your face and hair to get attention and wearing clothes that don't leave much to the imagination are favors lavished on anyone who passes by, and your beauty therefore becomes theirs. I think this verse could be saying that we don't really need to depend on ourselves to make beauty known; God's got that covered. He's done a pretty reasonable job of it, considering books like Esther, Ruth, Song of Solomon, etc. We tend to over do it when taking it upon ourselves to share what we think makes us beautiful with the world. Trusting in it, using it as a bargaining chip or a sneak preview, is what ruins it. There's got to be something else to depend on.

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." -- I Peter 3:3-4

That thing to depend on is the desire of God, and He desires so much more from us than simply looking good from the eyes of ordinary people. This verse, put in modern terms, would look a lot like this:

Your beauty should not come from short skirts.
Your beauty should not come from two layers of eyeliner and three touch-ups.
Your beauty should not come from diet pills.
Your beauty should not come from a treadmill.
Your beauty should not come from a cup size.
Your beauty should not come from the way you walk.
Your beauty should not come from a tanning bed.
Your beauty should not come from expensive shampoo, deep conditioning, blow-drying, straightening, fixing, fixing, fixing, fixing.

It should come from kind words on even trying days.
It should come from lending a hand to someone obviously trying to pick up the tons of papers they just dropped.
It should come from humility about one's appearance, whether you really do think you look like a supermodel or if you only look half-presentable after three hours of labor in the bathroom.
It should come from smiling at a stranger.
It should come from bringing coffee to a friend with ten papers due in two hours.
It should come from respecting a guy enough to treat him like you would treat family, and neither let him take advantage of you nor get his heart trashed by you.

It should just be from knowing who you are in the eyes of the One who made you.

So, to my fellow female friends, I want to tell you this to your face when I get the chance, but here it is anyway: I know. I know how it feels. I know the instant gratification of getting gawked at for two seconds, the rush of getting the right people's attention, the exhilaration of finally looking in the mirror and feeling okay with being seen for that day. It's hard to wean yourself off the constant, gnawing need to look like a Barbie, because it's scary to think of what would happen if you didn't care so much about that anymore. I haven't done it yet. We're in the same boat. But we both know that it's a fruitless pursuit; there's no such thing as perfect beauty, and even if there were, we wouldn't know what to do but try and improve it anyways. I know it hurts you the way it hurts me. Please, please, please don't let it run your life anymore. And don't let it run mine anymore either, haha.

America's Next Top Model kind of seems to glorify all the seeming demons out there, winning victims to beauty and fashion and desire in just one TV show. I guess liking it is a guiltier pleasure than I previously thought -- not that I feel guilty watching it so much as I feel guilty about things that I shouldn't, like the size of my hips or the condition of my hair that day.

But, friends, that's a broken mirror in a funhouse. If it takes walking out the door, then God help me, I want it.

This frog just wants to hop out of the hot water already.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Negative Nancy

If you've not gathered this by now, having either known me for God knows how long or having at least gotten a sense of my personality through the written word, I have issues with beliving my life is going to be good. I live in this little world where Murphy's Law is the true law and I am just waiting for all my hopes and dreams to be shattered. It's as if my life a Truman Show-esque form of entertainment on some other planet where when I begin to want something, it will be nearly my fingertips, and then the powers that be will yank the rug from under me just to see me fall. It's not even like I've lived through enormous discontents, because trust me, once you get started with International Studies you know that as a university student in the U.S., you have it good. Yet I seem to dwell on just a few disappointments I've endured over the years in order to justify living with a half empty glass of water.

They're little things, really. First world problems, so to speak. I remember my junior and senior years of high school, where I was taking way too many AP classes and obsessing over way too many test scores, hoping and praying to be a Yale undergrad in an argyle sweater. After the blood, sweat, and tears (of which all three literally were had) I endured to be ivy league material, I was both rejected from Yale and also too poor to afford even the private school in Florida that I liked and was accepted to, Rollins. I was left with one choice: accept the financial aid at USF, my last choice, my safety school. And a safety net it was. I had to fall back on that, and resented just how hard I had worked and how smart I thought I was, only to be going to a school where even today people who can't use apostrophes properly can be found easily within a given radius of you anytime.

I live on memories like these as if I need resentfulness to breathe. If that's not paradox, I'm out of here. Just this one example of the way my mind interprets the past -- and I'm sure more will come -- really acts as a representative of how I keep thinking I'm being tricked, that as soon as I begin to think that something good will happen, things will not fall into place.

I pretty much let myself believe that God intentionally sets up this process of building me up and then letting my crash and enjoys it a great deal. If He didn't, then what would the point be?

Tonight, for some reason, my roommate and I were discussing the peephole in our front door. Somehow we came up with the idea of drawing a little heart with a red marker on it so that whenever you look through it from the inside to see who's out there, they'll be standing in the middle of a big red heart. Cute, right? (We're girls, give us a break.) The joke is that someday there will be a knock at the door, and when one of us looks to see who it is in our ordinary creepy fashion, there will be someone standing in the middle of the heart, the Romeo & Juliet Love Theme by Tchaikovsky would swell through the air, and it will be the moment of truth; my dream man is obviously going to stand outside that door with a large bundle of those orange roses with the pink tips because that would be the sign. It's the ideal way to do things.

I have my ideas on how my life would pan out best.

Yet every time I imagine some part of my future, some plan, something, I think about the times that I've done that before and seen those dreams fail. Most of the time, I imagine my future with irony. The truth is that I'm almost certain that when I graduate from this university, I will be forced to become a missionary to Somalia, where I will have to live alone without anyone for a few years, just to give me a taste of that nightmare, only to at last be finished off in my hut by a murderous band of thieves. I imagine God getting a great deal of enjoyment seeing me do something like that -- suffering immensely doing something in His name, so that when I get to the gates of heaven he can chuckle and say, "Okay, okay, enough's enough. That was fun. You can go in now."

Such thoughts would probably leave the Lord breathless if He needed to breathe.

He points out to me another thought: if I gave you the option of going back in time and starting college over in the place you'd originally wanted, would you?

Well, gosh. I don't think so. My family and I are financially secure because of this choice. I have lots of friends whom I love more than anything from this school. Some really awesome memories have been made here already, and I'm not yet halfway finished.

Things really turned out rather well.

I'm learning that there are two options that go back to one solid truth: either the music will play and the flowers will be outside my doorstep, or it'll be silent and there'll be no one through my peephole. If one happens, the Lord is sovereign and has great plans for me. If the other happens, the Lord is sovereign and has great plans for me. I have nothing to fear. What He offers me is the best for me. No one would know better than Him, and no one else has the right to my life the way He does. He doesn't enjoy suffering. He enjoys giving gifts to His children, and only He knows what the best ones are.

The process of truly embracing, believing, living this is a long and difficult one. I'll let you know when I've got it at last, and for good.

Maybe He's at least got a different African country in mind.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Can't Stop, Can't Stop, Can't Stop

The more I feel like the world is tugging on me to attend to other tasks, the more I want to write. This is how I work through my thoughts. Once I have them on paper (proverbially or literally), things begin to make sense.

I might have been born with a pen in my hand. Poor Mom.

This has been the way I make sense of things for years. Sometimes it comes out in manifestations like these, other times something entirely different. I was flipping through some things I've written in the past and I found this. I wrote it in March, at an ungodly (pun unintentional) hour when I for some reason was plagued by insomnia, which happens from time to time. I have this issue with turning my brain off. I could literally lie in bed for an hour before falling asleep just because so many thoughts are darting through my head that it takes a lot of effort -- or a very heavy onset of drowsiness -- to quiet them down for a few hours to rest. These were some of the thoughts occupying my mind. For whoever reads this... I hope it makes sense to someone besides me!

I am Lord of all.
From the explosive stars in other galaxies heaving their last breaths before bursting in a blaze of light
To the labyrinthine grooves on your fingers, each a unique charybdis painted onto a living canvas
I am Lord of all.
My voice wrote the symphony of the universe, the notes grazing along the grass and soaring above the treetops
The notes jetting beneath the hand of light reaching towards the depths of the ocean
The notes embracing one another in their paths toward what they dream of
The rests sinking in between all these things to slow their perfect movement

But no rest can stop what I have put into motion
Even he who aims to ruin what I've created cannot break the endless song.

I am Lord of all.

The same breath that spoke all you know from incomprehensible nothingness into being
Also persuaded the heart of a man whom I gave to fall beneath the stones of the thoughtless creatures I sculpted
Out of love they were crafted
Out of love they were offered a ladder from the torrential floods of their own depravity
Often I hear the mocking laughs echo from the roar, sneering at the hand that is infinitely near to their hearts
Waiting for them to grasp it

But I will not be shaken from my intent
When I shot the arrow of time into space, I did so with perfect aim
It will not miss the target, that day when I bring my children home with me
They who cried out in the waves and curled their fingers around the rungs of my salvation
Even when they feared the height at which they were hanging above their former home
Or that I'd let them slip from me back into the ruin
I never let one stray return to the heavy currents that once tore the life from their tired legs
I leave no good work undone.
I am Lord of all.

I both painted the brightness of your smile and determined the weight of your tears.
I filled your spirit with warmth that brings others to your presence
And loved your freedom too dearly to erase the coolness that sometimes left you watching their backs turn away.
But I cannot be banished by one's resisting push from any crevice or miserable crack
You are never truly alone
I am Lord of all.

My glory cannot be contained by the false universe my creation has sloppily built within the one whizzing about them in truth and wonder.
The unspoken conventions that cloud you from seeing the depth and color of one another's eyes and hearts
The whispers behind your careless hands of how things must be
Darkening what is beautiful in my eyes and making my artful works a wobbling step upon which you think to perch yourself above all else
Seeking to dare the fates to bless those you deem uglier, poorer, weaker, dumber.
Those who wearily traipse behind the proud march of their ornamented persecutors will one day live among the splendor of the architect and emperor of everything.
Only fruitless denial will follow my uncontainable majesty as their gnarled bodies are cloaked in pure light.
I am Lord of all.

Lord, thank You so much for understanding that I will never understand. I'm glad that You realize the limits of my own mind to begin to comprehend exactly who You are, because I would be hopeless if You expected me to learn Your every mysterious way and the vastness of Your glory. Just knowing that You are more mighty and awesome than I can fully grasp is enough. I'm glad to surrender to someone so much more great than I. Your miraculous love astounds me. Remind me every moment that I live for You, and I have more than every reason to do so joyfully and passionately. You are glorious.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Manufactured Joy

I'm not sure to what I owe the blame for how emotional I feel tonight. Hormones? My potentially undiagnosed mental illnesses? The weather? That's not the point. The point is that my heart is sinking in to my chest.

What follows is something that very well could be the disorder of someone raised a Christian, and raised to abide by the rule of finding joy in all circumstances. This is not a bad thing at all. However, sometimes, I think we confuse this finding joy with pretending to be joyful when we're not. There's a huge difference. Think about the way someone's voice would sound over the phone after you announce to them that you got a promotion that they might have wanted for themselves. You can easily tell the difference between a, "Oh my gosh! That's great! Congratulations!" and a, "Oh. That's great. Congrats..." One response reveals the innermost happiness of the person, and the other so obviously is trying to hide just how disappointed the person is.

If we think we can tell the difference, imagine God's point of view.

He created us. He knows our innermost thoughts. He knows our good sides and bad sides. He has the hairs on our heads counted. He sees the very deepest longings in our hearts and the coldest, darkest places that we would never let any other human being see. Therefore, praying fake prayers of thanksgiving without meaning them is pretty insulting, isn't it? I mean, who on this earth could possibly lie to the Almighty? If I were Him, I imagine I'd be pretty fed up with people trying to veil themselves with these facades of happiness when on the inside, they are horribly shattered and in need of some strong and gentle hand to reassemble the pieces.

The Lord says so Himself. Proverbs 12:22 says "The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful." Even further, Psalm 145:18 tells us that "The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth."

Let's be honest with Him, shall we?

I am going to be flagrantly honest. I'm hurting. There must be something in the air, because so many of my friends and acquaintances are now starting up these fresh and exciting new relationships with one another, which is so exciting. I know deep down in my heart that I want them to be happy, and that I rejoice for them. At the same time, I would be lying if I did not say that I was jealous a little bit. It's hard being 20 and never having dated anyone, or anything like that. It feels an awful lot like I'm being set up to die an old lady in a mansion full of cats.

I fear that as I get older, this part of my life will be exactly the same, and I will only get older, flabbier, wrinklier, and just worse and worse. The hope would dwindle downward with every passing year. The most I have to look forward to is a career where I can show the world just how clever and dedicated I am -- by myself.

Even if I didn't think these beliefs were kind of stupid, I've been told many a time that they are. I'm blessed enough to have friends who not only tell me that these are all very foolish ideas, but they also tell me that none of these things even begin to define me. My identity is not chained to a relationship status on Facebook. But I seem to love clinging to the idea that they are, that at least I can predict what will happen to me and plan accordingly by tossing out useless dreams that occupy my headspace.

You know how we come to fall for these thoughts, though? The same reason Eve took the bite from that fruit, and the same reason Adam followed suit. Satan wants more than anything to see us believe falsehoods. Even if we have professed to follow Christ, and even if he no longer has his grip on our destinies, he still takes great pleasure in pulling us off the path with lies.

The Lord detests lying lips.

Let us undo what the fallen one has started in this world, pushing even Christians to believe that lies are acceptable in any way, shape or form. I put my honest hopes and longings before the Lord -- no frills, no fixes, nothing but the gut-honest truth about what I dream about. It's so hard to believe that the Maker of everything is remotely concerned about my wants and that He wants to fulfill them in the best way He can devise, but it's true.

I can only know for sure that my broken nature has me worried for all the wrong reasons, and lying to pretend that I am perfectly okay. That's all that is to blame.

Admitting that truth can only lead to seeing all the healing that the Lord has in store for those who can cry out this confession. Then, truly, I can rejoice in everything, because I will finally understand that I had everything all along.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Filled Cisterns

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." -- Isaiah 43:19

Today was not the day I expected. In fact, I began an entry last night on here that was going to go in a very hopeless direction -- if you can even call it a "direction," because I didn't know what to say. I didn't finish it because I was just too weary and unhappy for some reason. I'm jet-lagging pretty badly, and I was feeling a bit under the weather. More than anything, my personal demons seemed to be out to get me. We can talk about them sometime if you'd like.

I should know by now, though, that the times I face the most trouble getting through my day-to-day life are the times that I should be prepared for something incredible, and that all that opposition is only pointing towards something worth pushing for.

It began on a rather positive note, as I had lunch with a good friend and had the chance to talk a bit more about my summer plans. I have to be honest: I am terrified of what I might do. It scares the living daylights out of me to think about flying across the globe and living there for 6 weeks, sharing the gospel in a place where I am not allowed to. I have a hard enough time telling my closest friends about my faith, let alone someone whose country I am pretty much sneaking into for the purpose of spreading the good news I have heard, and really do want others to hear too. Talking about it definitely encouraged me, but I still left with fears in my heart. I kept finding reasons to doubt that it was such a good idea, from the obvious perils of speaking Christ's name there to my concern that I wouldn't raise the support, to my worry that I would never find the words to say to convey just how near and real the Lord is to just one other person.

I was seriously doubting God's ability to move and be felt.

When I stop and think about it, how foolish does someone have to be to even try predicting what an Almighty Creator will do? If He has set a task before someone and has promised to stand behind him no matter what, does He not have all the power and ability to do so? I get so irritated that my mind can so frequently wander into the ridiculous idea that the Lord is bound by anything and cannot do what He wishes or has promised to do.

At the beginning of this semester, I spent a lot of time thinking about the building I live in. There are hundreds of people living here, too. A lot of them are in the Honors College, so they're fairly intelligent, to say the very least. I wondered how many intelligent people thought they were too intelligent to believe in hope beyond what the world around them says so clearly and tangibly, here and now. I also wondered how many, despite the constant push to reject anything having to do with any God at all, would hold strong to belief that we could not be so broken and thirsty for love if it was all an accident. I thought a lot about being able to meet with them and just pray for our fellow students together. It was a fleeting thought, but a recurring thought. I didn't know where I'd begin trying to see that happen.

That's probably because it wasn't going to be my job to do that. But I didn't know that yet.

Tonight, though, my roommate (who is super awesome) told me that a guy who lives across from us and one of his friends came to her, and she invited them in. They said that they had been meeting at night with some others to pray together -- about USF, about our lives, about whatever. They knew she was involved in campus ministry and were pretty sure that I was, too, and asked us if we'd be interested in joining them.

Guys, this is the weirdest coincidence I've ever experienced. Never has something I had thought about so much happened exactly how I imagined it, and totally beyond my control.

It just so happened that others were thinking the same thing, and that I somehow would be drawn in.

Sitting in that circle praying with people that I barely knew, I got really overwhelmed. The words I spoke probably sounded shaky and weird (well, they did to me, haha). All the times I accused the Lord of being inactive, lazy, invisible, all came rushing back to me in a tornado of wonder. He does good things, and does them in a way that defies explanation. A long time ago, the above scripture from Isaiah really jumped out at me, and I've clung to it ever since when I needed to know that He is not finished yet.

And He isn't.

I have reason to take heart about the future, and the plans that are falling into place for me. I have reason to be thrilled and privileged to share the truth of the gospel with people who may have never heard Jesus' name in their lifetimes. I have reason to expect results when I ask others to pray for my support money to fall into place. I have reason to believe that no matter what happens -- a comfortable trip home at the end or being forcibly kicked out of the country -- the Lord is sovereign and good, and that He is well pleased with me, because I am His daughter and He isn't shredding up the adoption papers for anything.

I am so grateful that in the midst of all my cries out to the Lord, asking Him why I am stranded in a desert of all things dead and dry, He opens streams and rivers of living water on the day He chooses, and they will be fruitful.

Praise the One who knows the beginning and the end, and stays true to His word.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Songs of Thanksgiving and the Sounds of Rejoicing

I will not have access to this journal during the week of Thanksgiving, let alone the actual day, so I thought I would go ahead and speak on it now.

Few are so lucky to be seeing the world in these economic times, let alone from their own student money.
Few have the resources to pay for college and have some money leftover for which they can decide their own purposes.
Few have the chance to get a university education.
Few can afford to eat a sumptuous dinner this Thursday night.
Few can even put a meal on the table for their families.
Few have parents who love them enough to hold the reins on them until they have been trained up to live successful lives.
Few have homes with air conditioning and heating for whatever may come, as well as walls that withstand the storms outside.
Few can call one bed their own, let alone one in two places.
Few can browse the grocery store and pick up tea and ice cream.
Few can spend their spare time reading novels and gazing at the sky.
Few can call a person in their town for coffee and connection.

May I see the many others in the world every time I point up high and claim that I lack anything, for I lack nothing.

May I pay forward what has been given to me although I have nothing within me deserving of the blessings I have.

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." -- Luke 6:38

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy the world around you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Qu'est-ce que je pense?

You know there's something wrong with you when you look for a reason to be anxious in the very best things in life.

See, I'm flying to France this Saturday, and I am really, really, super stoked about it. I've wanted to go to Paris for years. The landmarks, the food, the art, the people... good grief, I am overwhelmed! My bank account wants to shoot me in the face for this little jaunt abroad, but that doesn't really matter to me. I keep thinking that you have to take these chances when you're still young enough to have the freedom to do so at a moment's notice.

Or several months'. Puh-tay-to, poh-tah-to.

Anyways, today I have really been mulling over how soon this all is, and getting even more jittery and thrilled. But little weird thoughts have continued to pop into my head, like bubbles. Once they float on up there they disappear with hardly a trace.

I've never been to a country that does not speak English before. (At least, unless provoked, and I hear that's something to avoid as much as possible.) I hope people are nice to me. I know I'm an American and that there are stereotypes about the way I'm going to be treated by French people, but if I bat my eyelashes I should be okay, right?

Oh, and I hadn't thought about airline safety and whatnot. I know that the odds are very slim, but that's what I thought before during the bomb threat at USF when I was completely unaware that a SWAT team was actually targeting our bus, haha. I do hope that everything will go smoothly at the airport and such. Will we get everywhere in a timely and safe manner?

Gosh, there's going to be so much to eat and try all over the place. I don't want to overindulge and gain 10 pounds of butter, garlic, and pastries into my already skinny jeans. We're walking all over the place, but how am I going to be able to keep up with eating right?

Listen to me! This is the most ridiculous thing I've heard in my life. My roommate actually backpacked across Europe this summer and lived to tell the tale, and she stayed in hostels and took trains everywhere, and boiled potatoes outside in plastic bags for food. If anyone had grounds to be worried about jack, it should be someone like her.

Not a frou-frou like me, staying in a hotel by the Eiffel Tower, for crying out loud.

It's weird, but I feel like this is training for the future for me. Every time one of these really stupid fears or concerns runs across my mind, I can almost audibly hear the Lord going: "You have to give every anxiety to me. Every one. Even ones that you dismiss as ridiculous right off the bat. Those belong to me. They will belong to me even when they are perfectly legitimate, likely fears. Those are mine, too. Cast them on me."

All of this encouragement going towards a hopeful missionary to Asia next summer seems rather apt. I can't even imagine the freaking out that could potentially occur next May.

From a week in a Western European country to six on the chopstick-wielding side of the globe, I am in His hands, and my fears are no longer mine to bear.

Au revoir! :)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warning: Stream of Consciousness at Work

I act like I have it all together.

Let's look at the facts. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't party. I don't sleep around. I don't steal. I don't kill. I don't do drugs.

Well, we can scratch those things off the proverbial list of things that darned teenagers do nowadays that I don't care to try.

Most of the time, we treat these kinds of things as if they are the only kinds of things that can ruin a life. These are the exact little vices, little pitfalls in the grounds, that you need to step around diligently. If you can avoid these, you are in good shape.

For the longest time, I would have agreed. Life is about avoiding bad things, and bad things are very clear and obvious. There is a very solid line that you do not cross. If you can stay on the good side of the divide, congratulations -- you're a bonafide good person, and if you also care to add the Christian label to it, then you are truly born-again. Put a Jesus fish sticker on the back of your car and call it a day.

Scripture doesn't really lend much to the idea that our existence is defined by negatives, though -- don't do this, avoid that. Commands that begin with "thou shalt not." These kinds of instructions appear throughout the bible, yeah, but maybe that's just because it's the first way God can get through to us with what His real intentions are. It's the baby food put in a blender before we grow the teeth to chew on real nourishment, true wisdom.

If a girl like me can obey these rules and still feel want for anything, then there has got to be some next step up from the ten commandments. And that's a sign that it's high time to start seeking the positive instructions we are given in plenty. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Plenty of us, especially my fellow pastors' children, have sung this and read this and said this. It's probably one of the easiest to recite in a sing-song voice and the hardest to live in a gut-honest way.

We have trouble with the positive commands.

1 Corinthians 6 really fleshes this out for us: "'Everything is permissible for me' -- but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me' -- but I will not be mastered by anything." I choose to step away from land mines in my life, but the paths I can take from there are up to me. But not all of them are the path towards all light, all goodness, all beauty, all justice, all majesty, all glory, all things I could possibly desire and hope for. I am no slave to anything that lies at the end of any other path, be it acceptance, pleasure, accomplishment, relaxation, power, because they are all in the shadows cast by the light on a hill, and only one path gets there.

It doesn't make sense to just meander around aimlessly while simply abstaining from things that are obviously bad.

It's time to start chasing what is obviously good.

"Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her body? For it is said, 'the two will become one flesh.'" I am not messing with the giant sins that I've learned about both at church and from the elementary school D.A.R.E. officers alike. I'm not a person that does anything to put me in Mercy House. But there's no denying that I have lied here and there, cheated once in a while, thought cruel thoughts, and desired evil things before self-righteously telling myself that I am too good to go get them. I have dabbled in sin. If I've done it once, I am united with it. We are one flesh.

"But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit." My steps, be they directly towards the things that make middle-class white private school Protestant kids scrunch up their noses -- drugs, booze, sex, violence, theft, felonies -- or be they merely around this world in whatever direction, they are still around this world. If I lift my eyes, though, there is that light on a hill, that ultimate satisfaction.

It's not of this world. It's high, high above it.

It's time to start chasing at what's obviously good.

Don't just live by what is permissible, what gets me by without major criticism or rehabilitation. Don't just seek to make life better by avoiding huge regrets. Don't scrape by. Don't stand on the other side of that dividing line -- run from the line. Run as fast in the other direction towards Christ as possible. There is no other path but the one that leads to the top of the hill where my soul will at last find the eternal, perfect things that I thought I could find by wandering around below.

What it takes is the surrender, one by one, of the my "nominal" idols, the "little" things that master me. I can't just stand close to the line of an eating disorder and not move, or the line of deep depression, or the line of pathologically lying and gossiping about others to cover my own faults. I am still below sea level when I loathe the calories I consume or think a discouraging thought about one other person.

Every step away from the "permissible" things is a leap towards living unified with my Savior.

I don't know how I can write any of this not to sound so frantic and disorderly. I just yearn so much to flee far from all that smells like the pain of this world and cling to the fresh robes of the Lord.

All I know is that the first step is already known to us: do not. Do not be afraid.

Prepare to take on the heart of one who is ready for real nourishment: be. Be courageous.

For the Lord God will be with you wherever you go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All You Need Is Love

Whew. Can I just tell you how exhausting it is to work endlessly for three straight days on research papers?

If you're interested in my advice, write deadlines down at the beginning of the semester rather than 2 weeks before they occur.

In any case, here I am again, turning to the internet in between working on assignments. I finished a paper on Islamist violence in North Africa, made it up to the fifth page of a paper on the evolution of 19th century Russian poetry, and just now finished watching the film "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" for -- shockingly -- yet another paper. Far more papers than any sane person should be expected to write. (Don't expect to see me in grad school any time soon.) I am up to my eyeballs in books, formats, facts, citations, and all the glorious things you can imagine accompanying the ages-old proof of knowledge: the paper.

It's a comforting place, the internet. If I click the little Facebook link on my Safari toolbar -- let's face it, I click that one the most -- then I can usually find someone to chat with when I'm lonely or bored. I can play a mindless game like Tetris for a few minutes or fortnights. I can catch up on some light reading, be it from gems like "People of Wal-Mart" (THE BEST) or "Texts from Last Night" (SECOND BEST). Peruse some old Youtube favorites. Maybe even I can just click, click, click until I don't know what I'm looking at anymore. If you can't detect my certainty that this is a major waste of time, I hope you understand that I'm aware of how dumb this whole surfing pastime is.

However, the whole aforementioned "talking to friends" thing is not always bad. I might abuse their willingness to chat to avoid inevitable tasks awaiting me, but I'm a pretty big proponent of staying social. I find myself getting something out of even the most seemingly shallow little conversations. This little moment was with someone that I'm not super close to, but we talk from time to time; I met him at a minor school function a while back. It went something like this, names changed because I'm a wimp:

Me: What have you been up to these days?
Jethro: Not a whole lot. I did some homework, got coffee with Laquisha Chucker (so what if I get carried away with pseudonyms?), and just sort of chilled out.
Me: Oh, I see Laquisha around sometimes! She's so sweet.
Jethro: Oh yeah. She's great. I love her. <3

I don't think I'm especially sentimental, especially compared to most girls, but my icy little rock of a heart warmed up just a couple of degrees. It's really not often that I hear guys talk about their female friends like that, because we don't want to go pinning romantic feelings on poor Jethro that may not (or may!) be there.

It made me wonder if my guy friends would talk about me that way. And it kind of made me hope that someone really would express to someone else, barely an acquaintance, that they loved me.

Surely it is no mystery to most people that love is one of the most universally desired things in this world, if not the #1 thing that everyone is looking for. I don't doubt at all that we were designed with a thirst to be accepted, understood, admired, and cared for without necessarily anything in return. Friends, family, and lovers tend to bring the most satisfaction in our quest to be loved.

I've also happened to notice that these three things are potentially the closest earthly examples of a relationship with God that we will experience before we see His face. This is a very preliminary theory that I literally just thought of a few seconds ago, but think about it:

1. Friends: you can tell good friends just about anything. You enjoy spending time with them, whether you plan a whole day out to be together or if you are just laying around not doing anything in particular. (Ephesians 6:18: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.")
2. Family: you are a member of a family, bound by blood, and you are not meant to be broken from them. You have guardians who look out for your best interest and train you up throughout your life to be the best person possible. They see the best and worst in you and love you regardless, even when it seems like there's no good reason for them to. (Ephesians 1:5: "He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ.")
3. Lovers: you are attracted to one another, and in the eyes of your lover, you are entrancing. He/she often bends over backwards to see you happy. Together you both make a promise to love one another intimately and selflessly. (Revelation 19:7: "For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.")

We long for the qualities found in all kinds of relationships, but I can't be the only one who has noticed that all of them seem to be found in a romantic love. A spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend is supposed to be your best friend and a member of your family -- and then some. Big surprise, then, that this kind of love gets so much attention in popular culture and throughout history. The songs on the radio about friends and family are way outnumbered by ones about that other love. The happiest endings in movies are when two lovers can finally be together, despite all the obstacles that got in their way.

I constantly think about what it must be like to have that other person. It must be nice knowing that if you crawled out of bed wearing your schlumpiest PJs and glasses, eyes red and half-open, retainer in your mouth, that that one person would not scream and flee at the sight of you. (I may be the only person who looks like that in the morning, but that's beside the point.) Even looking like that, only capable of moaning to communicate, that person would look at you and nothing would change.

"Oh yeah. She's great. I love her."

How reassuring, then, that God does feel that way about each and every one of us. If anyone can see the most horrible, disgusting, embarrassing parts of us, it's Him, and yet He pursues us in love and desires to lead us on to bigger and better things than we can imagine on our own. I've talked about all this before plenty of times. I still fall prey to feeling like an unlovable person from time to time, and it bears repeating in my own mind, but that fact about Him never changes.

Yet imagine in a human relationship if one person was constantly loving the other. He leaves her little notes on her desk and car, buys flowers for no reason, compliments her on different things every day, hugs and kisses every time they are together, and all kinds of thoughtful things that show just how nuts he is about her. But if someone were to ask her about him, she would just say, "Oh yeah, that's him," and say nothing else, nothing about how awesome he is, how loving he is. She doesn't even really tell him to his face that she loves him, too.

How long do you think that would last?

God will never waver in His love for us, no matter how we treat Him. Does that mean that He doesn't want us to respond by loving Him back? No way. Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

For all that He does for us, is that really all that much for Him to ask?

So that if other people bring Him up, we would say, "Oh yes. He is wonderful. I love Him"?

Maybe if I really passionately loved God the way that I want to and ought to, I would be spending less time hanging out online and spending time with the only one who has come down so low just to call me His own.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lara Records

This will be a brief entry, because it's more like an announcement than a fully fledged journal session. At least, it's a reminder to myself. I don't know that anyone really reads anything I write besides myself!

Anyway, I was inspired tonight. I was listening to Ofra Haza (who you desperately need to listen to if you haven't before), and her beautiful song "Im Nin'alu" came on. I was curious as to what the lyrics meant. Here they are:

If there be no mercy left in the world,
The doors of heaven will never be barred.
The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher
than the angels
All, in His spirit, will rise

By His nearness, His life-giving breath
flows through them.
And they glory in His name
From the moment of genesis,
His creations grow,
Captivating and more beautiful.

The wheel in his circle thunders
Acclaiming His Holy name
Clothed in the glory of His radiance,
The six-winged cherubs surround Him,
Whirling in His honor
And with their free wings s
weetly sing,
Together, in unison

Pretty sweet, right?

The actual song is in Hebrew, by the way. It's a gorgeous language. If you don't know me well, you might not be aware that I am obsessed with world music. I love different musical traditions and how unique they are to each part of the globe. As you may also have deduced from my previous writing, I also get super excited about different people celebrating the gospel, especially all over the world. Go down and look at what I have to say about Brother Yun if you missed it.

All that combines together into a weird idea: I would love to write songs.
I'd love to write them in other languages.
I'd love to write them in languages that aren't usually used in worship songs.
The thoughts kept coming.
What languages would those be?

Using Wikipedia, I came up with quite a few. And out of nowhere, I charged myself with a project.

By next Christmas, I want to have written an album's worth of songs in languages from places around the world, the main languages of the world. Do I speak any of them? Just a little Spanish and French. Do I know their styles well enough to emulate them on me and my little acoustic guitar? Definitely not.

But it's a challenge I'm willing to take on.

Here's the checklist:

1. Mandarin Chinese
2. English
3. Spanish
4. Hindi
5. Arabic
6. Russian
7. French
8. Portuguese

Can it be done? Stay tuned.

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Exercise in Remembering

I have yet to meet a person who claims to be unchanged from a ten years ago. In even a year -- a span of time both incredibly long on the morning of January 1st and then shockingly short the evening of December 31st -- or less, most people would probably agree that they are not the same as they were before. It kind of goes without saying.

But lately I've really been thinking about how I have changed, especially over the past year. It seems like college has really concentrated the maturing juices that I'm marinating in. Nothing really happened to start this period of introspection, exactly, but I began to notice little things in my everyday life that caused me to step back and think for a second.

I didn't used to pay much attention to people around me when I'm walking. I tend to get into this zone when I'm on my way somewhere; you'll notice that I sort of snap out of a trance if you get my attention while I'm en route. My eyes are usually glued to the path I'm taking. In fact, people kind of make fun of how I walk pretty fast and appear to be on a mission at all times. What can I say? I don't waste time!

At some point, though, I started to look at people that pass me by. I realize that most people do this, and that I am some kind of oddball, because they are all looking at me when I'm looking at them, haha. I wouldn't say that I've ever been afraid of people I don't know, exactly, but I sure was not interested in really getting to know anyone new. I felt like they all had to be on their own missions, interested in things that I wouldn't understand or care about, just like I was zoned in on my own unique stuff.

In a nutshell, I was content sharing those little parts of my life with only a few other people, and letting the rest of the world alone on my part.

Now, before I continue on this tangent, I need to backtrack a bit, so bear with me. Clean the little slate in your head before reading on so you can be fresh for this prelude.

Wipe it off!

I don't think I've ever told any version of my life's story on here, so let me paint for you an image of where I come from. I was born in Fairhope, Alabama to a preacher. Sounds like the beginning of something like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, doesn't it? It's all true, though. I am blessed enough to have been born into a family that was founded on Christ, so that I would be brought up knowing God. I was quite a scholar of tales from the big fun color illustration bible (the translation is also known as the BFCIV). There are home videos of my parents trying to get me to recite the books of the bible in order on video tape for the camera, which I wouldn't do, but rest assured that I knew those things backwards and forwards.

However, this isn't one of those stories where a kid at six years old walks down to the front of the church to be saved. I don't remember a time where I didn't know who God was, and have a list of things in my head that I believed about Him, but there are many years in my memory where all of that was in a little box in my brain that had absolutely nothing to do with how I acted or lived. I was a well-behaved kid for the most part, but for the selfish reason of not wanting to get into trouble or be a disappointment. More than anything, I wanted people to be happy with me, and predicated all my satisfaction on that goal.

Circumstances did not really help change this way of thinking as I grew up. The church we went to when I was in elementary school began to feel a lot less like a place of fellowship and a lot more like a place of condemnation. I was too young to be filled in on the details of what was really going on, but suffice it to say that it was bad enough for my family to leave. We were without a church that felt like a home for quite a while. My parents would do a lesson and such in our living room on Sunday mornings, but to be honest, I was not very interested in hearing them teach me when video games and TV shows were on in just the next room.

Not being invested in anything spiritual really set me up for a bad time in middle school. I was such a people-pleaser. I blindly agreed with friends on almost anything, backing them up when I knew they were wrong, siding with some of them in arguments only to go sympathize with the people they were arguing with! I didn't get too extreme with the whole pressure to fit in, but I would cuss like nobody's business and make lewd jokes -- habits that unfortunately haven't gone completely away. If someone I wanted to impress was gossiping or making fun of someone else, of course I would join in.

I just wanted people to like me.

Even after finding a church that I loved (and still do!), this whole mindset dominated my life. My day-to-day existence was focused solely on how I could be pleasing to others. This sounds good -- who would object to a nice person? -- but it was far more than that. I bent over way backwards to the point of despair, if only to be temporarily quenched by a smile or a nod. I obsessed over my appearance, picking myself to pieces in the mirror every morning so that I would be attractive to someone. I slaved over homework and studied to get A's so that I would be intelligent to someone. I laughed at this and enjoyed that so that I would be agreeable to someone. You get the picture. I put my happiness in guys, friends, teachers, whoever would look at all my stress and toil to give me three words of affirmation. That would be enough.

Until I needed more.

It's an addiction like any other, but it takes the shape of so many different things that they pile up, one on top of the other, until you are absolutely buried in expectations that you feel the compulsive need to meet. I didn't understand that no one could ever show me my own worth enough for my satisfaction. I struggled with this for years and it left me with crippling moments of loneliness and worthlessness at times. Sometimes I wonder if it's actual depression or not. That isn't really the point. I just knew that this was not how life was meant to be lived. It's a broken record.

A lot more angst and prayer and thinking went into this, but suffice it to say that the summer before my freshman year of college, I did make the conscious decision to follow the cross. All that was just an interesting little shelf of ideas in my brain became my daily reality. Besides truly wanting to learn more about God and grow constantly in understanding, I found myself in a whole new community of believers, one that is not satisfied with skin-deep friendships where you're asked how life is going with the expectation of a one word answer. That's not enough. You really get to know other people's hearts. The more I learned about everyone's pasts, lives, personalities, struggles, I did find a common denominator that I had not really acknowledged before: we all go through that search for love.

We're all the same deep inside, and while that need manifests itself in different ways, you bet that we all turn to things other than God for the same reasons.

If you can stand it, this is where the story comes back to my original point. I had chosen before my walk with Christ not to care so much about other people's lives. People I didn't know were not very important or interesting to me, and I didn't even care to delve much deeper than the surface with people I'd known for years, really. I think I just didn't believe that we all had something in common throbbing in our innermost beings.

But I dare you to find someone who isn't quietly, desperately pursuing love and acceptance. Ask a girl who wears almost nothing in hopes that someone will gawk at her body, showing her some iota of value. Ask a guy who is lying on the bathroom floor, having drunk way too much in order to impress some friends that don't really care about him. Ask even a quiet guy sitting in the library, dutifully reading book after book to get an A on a test so that he can hold that up as proof that he means something in a world as big as this. Anything that we are so attentive to -- idols, dreams, ambitions -- is to prove to ourselves that we have value and that we can earn love with this value.

Realizing that everyone experiences that put them in an entirely new light. Instead of seeing person after person walking past me on the sidewalk, I see individuals who are thirsting for evidence that they're loved. It goes without saying that I believe they are, and would be thrilled by nothing more than being able to share the source of the love I know.

A simple smile at strangers passing by is a start.

Having prayed for a soft heart, the Lord's hands feel more gentle as they reshape my heart every day. My appreciation for what He has done for me grows, and my desire to share that with others becomes more passionate and joyful.

If he can do all this in a year, I can find no words to show how excited I am to see His handiwork in a lifetime.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Every Nation, Tribe, and Tongue

Tonight is just what the inventor of the "wake up call" must have anticipated at the time of its creation, hoping that it would hit big all these years later and still make an impact.

In other words, God's plan does indeed go for your gut, and it packs a wallop like none other.

I had the privilege of hearing a very interesting man speak. A man named Yun, a meek-looking guy from China, who has actually been through a lot more than his optimistic smile and energetic voice would let on. I can't say I've met many people who have been tortured and thrown in prison multiple times for what they believe in -- especially to speak about it later on with encouragement in their eyes.

My little imagination can hardly conjure up an idea of how grim it must be to languish away in a prison cell in China, a country so mysterious and shrouded in difficult history. I knew reports already of what happened to people who were caught sharing the gospel and worshiping there, but it was something different to see one of these people face-to-face. I especially didn't think there was any way that he could look so whole, satisfied, and healed, despite the horrific memories he must have gone through.

An anecdote to illustrate my point: he was in a building with other Chinese Christians, secretly holding an underground church meeting. Suddenly, the police came in and started handcuffing everyone in sight, arresting them for worshiping the Lord. He started to call out to others nearby to encourage them to try and escape, since there's no reason to run into the hands of persecutors if you can. He backed into the wall and leapt out a window at least 2 stories off the ground -- only to land on about 30 police officers that happened to be waiting outside, which he didn't know about.

If you've ever felt like a sheep in a pack of wolves, this story might humble it.

To backtrack a little bit, before he came on, there were actually these three guys who rapped for a little while, which was pretty cool because I've never heard anyone rap for the sake of the gospel before. It sounds silly maybe to some people but seeing this in person really encouraged me that every kind of person in this world can be driven to fall in love with Jesus and be compelled to show that love however possible. What the main rapper said really prodded at my heart and embedded into my brain: "I have a hard time imagining standing before God on judgment day and Him telling me, 'You know, you were too radical down there. You didn't need to be all that radical about Me. Look at this guy, here; he just scraped by with a normal life and he's still here.'"

We can all agree that if anything, it would please the Lord of the Universe that we were enthralled enough by His love and mercy to go do crazy things so that other people might experience it too. And the word 'please' could be an understatement.

Brother Yun might attest that if having your legs broken and crushed, and being thrown into jail four times isn't radical, nothing really is.

Yet because of people like him, 130 million Chinese people are now followers of Christ. He has staked his life on the sacrifice of the Son of God, and his own life is not worth keeping if it could be lost in the struggle to bring more people to the Kingdom. The Chinese church is now sending missionaries to the Middle East and Central Asia to spread the good news even further, because they would rather it not be contained. Instead of leaving their repressive country to find a safe haven to worship God, they would rather go somewhere even darker and put their energy into seeing other people come to confess faith in Christ despite the dangers.

I have never wanted to want God to take my fears and desires away unless they honor Him so much in my life. I don't want to love life on this earth more than seeing more people know God. I don't want to love my things, my status, my relationships, my pride, my anything more than my Savior and what He wants for me. My prayer is that He does that, and that I will gladly let Him take me where I need to be and teach me to lean on Him alone in times of trouble.

Before tonight, I had heard of this crazy idea about being given "strength in the moment." It sounded pretty reasonable: you may go into a perilous situation without the courage and endurance to withstand the potential suffering, but at the very moment when strength is needed. the Holy Spirit will intercede and make you able to stand up for the Lord. I like this idea but it's still not easy to take that step out of your comfort zone where this possibility may or may not help you. But just to hear that when Yun felt the Lord telling him to just walk out of a high-security Chinese prison, despite hesitating and arguing internally for a while, he finally took steps towards his cell door, to find that another prisoner friend had unlocked it, and that every gate he came to was unlocked and unguarded. When he exited the prison, plenty of guards were outside as they were changing shifts, and not one asked him where he was going or who he was. A taxi was waiting for him and he left.

The Lord is faithful, even if He had let Yun be shot for trying to escape, because that plan would only take him home sooner, his mission complete.

If I pray one thing tonight, it be that I thirst for the moment the Lord calls me home, and that I patiently await this end amidst all the things He calls me to do while I'm alive. I want to have the certainty that this is far better than anything I will find on this earth, and it's worth dying for.

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Make a Wish on a Falling Star

I must be on some kind of nature kick these days, because on top of my enormous love ballad to autumn that I composed in my last entry, tonight I jeopardized sleep in order to partake of a meteor shower, which I've never witnessed before!

The scene that my imagination produced as I was waiting for the show to begin was this epic barrage of shooting stars falling from the heavens, taking the whole "shower" part pretty literally. I was waiting around for there to be tons of meteors plummeting toward the horizon in a spectacular display of falling globes of fire.

That, however, is more like a clip from a movie like Armageddon. In real life, meteor showers tend to be a little more sporadic, it seems to me. Sarah (my delightful roommate) and I were lying on towels in the grass for an hour, chatting absentmindedly while gazing up at the sky in anticipation of something so mind-blowing that Tchaikovsky would immediately begin to play in the air from no discernible source -- that mind-blowing. Yet we mostly were just waiting for something to happen. We saw two pretty clear meteors fly by within a minute of each other, and a couple more random ones that were harder to see. The stars were beautiful and the few we saw were still pretty neat, but it wasn't the thing we'd cracked it up to be.

My growing awareness of God's presence in every single part of my life seems to be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I find myself quicker to pray to Him in times of need and when I just think about something troubling me, and also quicker to be thankful when I realize how happy I am about what's going on in my life. At the same time, it's easy for me to just blame Him in passing for stuff that I would not have ordinarily pinned as His doing, necessarily. Tonight, without being absurdly outraged or anything like that, I couldn't help but ask, "God, could you send a few more? This show isn't really as good as I'd thought it would be. I want more. Show me more of what I imagined. Blow me away."

Just recently, Sarah told me something that one of the leaders of her campus ministry repeats over and over for everyone. "God is not a genie!"

And I totally believe that. I mean, I've prayed for a bunch of things over the years, ridiculous and genuine, and I know He hasn't concretely answered those prayers in the way I had hoped or expected Him to. If He'd done everything I'd asked of Him, I know He wouldn't be a good God. Plain and simple. I've prayed for some really stupid things that I had no business asking for or telling Him. I also pitch a little fit when I feel like other people are praying for petty things that I think are too self-centered to be a cog in the great machine of God's plan for His kingdom.

Or something like that.

However, I have certainly not surrendered everything that I want to His will in this way; I would be a complete hypocrite not to say so. I still pray about things that in and of themselves may not be bad things, but are still things that I want to glorify me and fulfill just my little needs that I think I have, rather than asking God to act for His own glorification and the fulfillment of the things He has said He would. I look at my desires and think, "Hey, these are perfectly godly things to want. The bible says nothing about getting married, having kids, and living in a castle in France being bad."

But how selfish and foolish am I to be sure that these are the very things that will move the kingdom of God closer to fruition? Why in the world would I believe I have the wisdom to come up with a plan better than that of the Creator of the whole universe and its laws and matter?

I mean, read that last sentence slowly, out loud. It kills me how much of a doofus I am to believe that. Yet every day, surely at least once, I let my mind wander to that little corner and fester in its own sinful creativity, devising plans for my own glory, not His.

Which should be one in the same, correct? (I'm thinking of an Ephesians 3:8 kind of train of thought here, where humility brings God glory, and eventually myself. Yeah. That's it.)

So what if God's plan for those meteors was to stay hidden from the little patch of grass by the duck pond that I was plopped down on? I mean, there's no way I'd know why that is the way it is, how He fabricated the laws of physics that would determine their whereabouts and my ability to watch them soar across the sky. And I'm becoming more and more okay with the idea that I am not meant to know, even if I had half the capability to do so.

Wondering about what I was missing could have distracted me from the absolute beauty of the twinkling stars that were abundant tonight anyway.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Golden Leaves in the Wind

Most poetry, literature, lyrics you will ever read seem to worship springtime as the season of change. The dripping of icicles melting off tree branches, the blossoming of little flowers, the trees refilling with green leaves, the baby animals scampering about. It is a symbol of renewal and refreshment, newness.

None of these artists lived in Florida. Because if they did, they would have to revere the come of autumn instead.

Summer here gets incredibly oppressive and stale. Towards the end, when you're back in school, it's still beyond hot and intensely humid, especially after a random rain shower that might happen while the sun is shining and/or for maybe five minutes at a time (Florida loves these weather jokes). And then fall arrives. It begins in waves, but the first few cold snaps really shake you alive again, unless you're one of those weirdos that loves the sultry Floridian summer heat.

I love the breeze coming back, even if it bites at my face. I love how the sun is shining but I somehow don't feel like I'm being melted into the ground, but it's just beautiful outside instead. I can wear a sweater and let the chilly air sweep around everywhere, and I can't even begin to think of enough great things about fall. It goes beyond the weather. The return of pumpkin spice flavored things at Starbucks, soups for dinner, holiday decorations littering Target and Wal-Mart... man! Can I get enough? Of course not.

The funny thing about autumn is that it makes everything feel possible. Even more than New Year's Eve, a good cold front moving through definitely makes me wonder what's around the river bend for me. It's more of an optimistic introspection than I am accustomed to.

Just imagine all the things that will happen soon, though! Baking Halloween treats, watching scary movies, wearing costumes, eating candy, prancing around campus in my coat and scarf, getting coffee late at night, going to Paris, cold football games, making tea, Christmas parties, listening to holiday music on the radio, seeing the decoration displays, shopping for others... what a list!

Why can't I get this excited all year long?

I'm just going to have to move up north and prolong the joy. At least, until I discover that there's a reason people move here, come February. In the mean time, though, praise the Lord for giving me fall as my season of spirit and joy.