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.