Friday, December 24, 2010

Felix Dies Nativitatis

You can say all kinds of annoying things about Jesus being born in the summertime, Winter Solstice being the origin of the holiday, trees and decorations starting out with paganism... it's really not a big deal.

But I am honored and thrilled to celebrate the birth of the Messiah of the world this time of year!

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'” -- Luke 2:-14

I'm going to rob the guy who wrote part of the lesson we have been doing in my church class, as well as my pastor. And by rob, I mean talk about what they did.

Anyways, it's just really crazy that shepherds of all people were the first to be informed by angels on the night of Jesus' birth. Shepherds literally lived with their sheep, spending all their time with them out in the deserts and fields, probably having no real family. They were smelly and probably socially outcast. They were never clean enough to go into the temples themselves in Israel. In sum, they were kind of bumpkin homeless people who lived with animals full-time. For the King of Kings being born, most people did not expect shepherds to be among the first to know, and first to worship him. It seems a little weird that someone else wouldn't be told before them to go and see. It really shows how Christ was not for the rich, the famous, or the powerful, or even the "normal" or the hygienic and acceptable. He is for desert herdsmen. And to them would the proclamation of his birth be delivered first.

At the same time, it's not so crazy. Shepherds' lives are devoted to the protection and care of their sheep. They guide them to food and water, and know how many there are and what they sound like and look like. They set up sorts of fences or boundaries with whatever they can find in order to hold in the sheep, and they lay down at the opening of the pen to protect them personally from harm. They are gentle, and the sheep follow their familiar and trustworthy voices -- shepherds in Israel don't need sheepdogs to chase and bite at the sheep like shepherds in other places do.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." -- Isaiah 40:11

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’" -- Matthew 2:6

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. [...] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [...] I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." -- John 10:1-16

Find comfort in the sheep pen of the Lord where Christ himself enters by the gate and lies there for us, because he wills our security and lack of fear out of abundant love.

Happy Christmas to you, peace on earth, and goodwill to all!

"The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever." -- Psalm 23

Friday, December 17, 2010

Smell The Roses

It took a phone call to step back and let something that had been nagging me in the back of my mind to come forward and confront me once and for all.

I was chatting with a friend about all kinds of things, jumping all over a variety of topics, but something in particular stuck. We were talking about differences between cultures, and how straight-laced and linear the Western mind tends to be, and he complained something along these lines: "It's like we look at a bird and wonder, 'What kind is that? What's its name?' and begin to categorize everything about it, while other people in the world just look and go, 'Hey that's a bird! Cool!'"

The additional thought that provoked me occurred about a week later in conversing with my pastor, who talked about a history class he took in college that focused on the Eastern hemisphere, and was taught by a Chinese man. He mentioned how frustrating it was sometimes to listen in class, where American students are used to going from the beginning of a topic to the end, and this professor didn't really do that; rather, he might go in one direction, come back, go somewhere else, and come back again, over and over again. His mind thought more cyclically than ours tend to do. It makes note-taking in our traditional fashion a bit messy. My pastor remarked that he couldn't tell you much about the actual content of the class, but he learned a huge lesson in ways of thinking: our minds just work things out differently, not one culture's method necessarily being better than another.

Having been raised in the U.S., looking at things from a standardized test point of view, I totally see how my mind is very much the analytical Western type, taking things apart and laying them out in a logical row, going from beginning to end -- very much the scientific method as we know it. I get frustrated when I can't dissect something to the point of comprehending it, or when I can't put something into a category or box that fits what I can understand. This kind of thinking pervades just about everything, from schoolwork to relationships. I aim to "get" stuff. And when I don't "get" it, I go kind of nuts.

I am one of those people who wrecks a masterpiece symphony in my head by thinking, "Wow, this song on the radio straight up stole this chord progression." I look at a beautiful picture of a lake and think, "Where is that? What animals are in this picture?" My brain doesn't take a break. If I spend a morning sitting on my porch drinking coffee, thoughts inevitably come that scold me for being lazy and taking so long to start getting ready for school, or doing some homework or chores. This isn't a conscious thing most of the time, but simply a worldview: we are supposed to figure things out, be productive, and be efficient. If we don't, we're wasting time and potential. I'm willing to bet that a great proportion of Americans have these values pretty deeply rooted in their psyches.

We apply this linear and restless way of thinking in our spiritual lives, too. It's easier to follow rules than participate in a relationship. It's easier to make a list of good works to do than to rest in grace and joy. It's easier to judge than it is to forgive or talk things through. It's easier to avoid messing up than it is to wholeheartedly pursue good instead. We try to box God into what our little human brains can comprehend, assuming that what He is or what He can do is in accordance with the standards we arbitrarily put on Him by our own understanding. We worry about upsetting Him, which either leads to outright rebellion in ways that we know aren't right or by perishing with despair that we are disappointments who can't do anything right. We busy ourselves with tasks and chores for Him, or to please whomever we choose, rather than bask in truth and let that free us from worry.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -- Matthew 11:28-30

The point wasn't to burden us with rules or chores. The point wasn't to wear us out. The point wasn't to enslave us to the task of grasping God fully, completely, and perfectly. The point wasn't to fall beneath heavy weights of guilt, shame, and fear.

The point was to give us rest.

"Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise." -- James 5:13

These aren't hard instructions on how to live. They just require us to be still from our busy lives, which we tend to bring on ourselves a great deal of the time as middle class Americans. (If you're not one of these, then you are free from the generalizing part but should still think about it!)

If I'm happy in the morning drinking coffee on my porch, praise God for coffee, for my porch, for the fragrant morning air, and for the time to spend enjoying it!

It is a practice for me now simply to sit and enjoy something. It's not really easy, as I have been well-trained in busying myself with things to do so that I don't look lazy, and not necessarily because I really have the desire or need to. If I am exhausted and lay down, I try to stop punishing myself for wanting a nap by thinking endlessly and trying to imagine all the things I should be doing instead. If I am listening to a piece of music, I want to let the melodies soak into me and enjoy their beauty rather than think too hard about what makes them so lovely. And I might not ever understand God in His entirety -- in fact, I know I won't, because that is impossible for the human mind -- but I can certainly absorb what I know about Him from the inspired words that others who saw Him fulfill promises have written, and I can enjoy who He is, which is a list of words that is infinite and goes beyond what humans can utter.

So, I recommend taking a break from the daily routine. School is (hopefully) not the be-all end-all. Work (hopefully) won't be the treasure you take with you out of your life. Reputation (hopefully) will take a backseat in how you live your life. Rather, I say savor the taste of your favorite fruit, marveling at its natural beauty and sweetness. Get swept away by a song or piece that really captivates your spirit. Allow yourself to get lost in the feeling of a cool autumn wind or a warm, heavy spring breeze. Even stop and admire the thing you like best about yourself, be it your crazy big eyes (yep, that's me!) or your ability to put down exactly what you're feeling on a piece of paper with a paintbrush (unfortunately, not me at all, haha). Yes, all these things were wonderfully made, yourself included, and when we're happy, we are to give praise for these things!

This more holistic way of looking at our lives is hard to adopt, but sure makes it easier to experience the light burden that Christ lays on us when we follow Him, instead of choking under the ones we put on ourselves. Things don't have to be packaged in a way that make them more understandable, effective, useful, portable, or form-fitting to our "McDonald's" culture that tells us to keep going fast, keep mass-producing for cheap, and take out what isn't absolutely necessary to churn out more and more so that we can avoid stopping. In fact, if you are in Christ, you aren't really supposed to care a lot about what seems appropriate to the people in your society (Romans 12:2).

Organizing, dissecting, grasping, explaining, and streamlining our lives to be most efficient and nonstop are not necessary.

Simply pray, and give praise.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We've No Less Days

My, oh my, I haven't written here in quite a while. I never felt like I had anything especially poignant or important to say really -- this semester has kept me quite on my toes. Oftentimes last year, when I really kept writing here, I was just having strings and series of light bulbs going off! It was really a dynamic time at the beginning of 2010; something new would just click for the first time, as if I had been trying to jam a puzzle piece into its place over and over until the Lord gently turned it the right way and it all made sense.

The journey of learning and growing that I've had so far since returning from Sarajevo, living at home the rest of the summer, going back to Tampa for school, and living yet another eighth of my college career (WHAT?!) to its conclusion, has been a trip of a very different nature. I've sat down to rack my brain about what has happened over the past week, over and over again, unable to pick out exactly what is going on. No one day really stands out. Crazy things have happened for sure -- as a college student, you can't avoid it -- but I couldn't pinpoint things that really stood out, or made the week memorable on their own.

This sounds pretty depressing, really. It's like the semester flew by and I saw it go from my desk, or bed, or table at the Marshall Center. It has disappeared so quickly but crawled at the same time. There were plenty of times where I stopped and asked myself, what am I doing? Where am I going? What's the point?

I sit in this desk twice a week by the same people.
I lounge around this chair in the MC at this time almost every day.
I come home and make dinner in this kitchen just about every night.
I procrastinate on the same little reports, labs, papers, and they never seem to let up or change.

Why, then, do I finally feel the propensity to write anything again? What stands out to me all of a sudden?

These past few months have been an enormous arc of a revelation for me, and it is unlike anything I have experienced in my life.

I stand here looking back over the routine, the same heartbreaks that arise from time to time that have appeared my whole life, the ways I am different and the ways I am the same, and I understand the very tip of the iceberg that is what life is really like.

When I really started following Christ, of course I imagined that He would magically make life easier. I envisioned that His help for me was not to empower me in a way I could never do myself to face obstacles in the world, but rather to remove these obstacles completely from my path so I could skip along through fields of flowers without a care in the world. I completely neglected the tales of Christian martyrs throughout history, or people I know who endure such hardship despite their faith, and naively anticipated that He would never let things disappoint or frustrate me by giving me the perfect life where I would want for nothing.

Yet, as anyone with half a brain can attest, this has not been played out. I have hit some of my lowest points after I began to walk with God. Things still go wrong, or don't turn out as I had hoped. People still hurt me. I still screw things up for myself, can't control my tongue, forget things that were important, think before I act, and just plain be mean and selfish. God hasn't taken away struggles, trials, or temptations for me to act in a way that does not honor Him at all.

In my bitterness over how life is not automatically easier just because I have a relationship with God, I found myself thinking about the future. This way that life keeps turning out differently from what we expect or want, it's not going to change. Any plans I've made for myself are really up in the air; I do not have the personal power to control everything. Dreams are likely going to be crushed sometimes. Tragedy is going to strike. There will be beautiful moments, but there will be sad, difficult ones, too. It's something we know but are consistently surprised by for some reason.

It must be because I forget the nature of the world we live in. It is not complete, and it is not right. Things are broken all around us. We as people were never meant to feel alone and unloved, or without a purpose. We were never meant to be afraid of strangers, or even worse, family or friends. We were never meant to starve, thirst, shiver in the cold. We were never meant to be enslaved, manipulated, used, abused. We were never meant to feel guilty or ashamed, whether because of our own doing or because of something out of our hands. We were never meant to inflict suffering on others in favor of our wants and desires. We were never meant to suffer at the hands of someone else's selfishness, either. It all feels wrong because it is wrong.

"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven." -- Matthew 6:9-10

"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” -- Luke 4:16-21

The Lord will have His will done on earth as it is in heaven, which is the definition of perfection. It is God's abiding place. We have no hope of entering it in our imperfection without transcendental help from God Himself. And how is He accomplishing it? Christ came to give us this hope to know perfection, and abide with the one God of all dimensions, universes, and creation, where no sadness, sorrow, or pain can exist. He is pure magnificence, glory, and majesty. He is light. The good news is that He offers us the only way to experience this, through knowing Him.

This hope, however, is in something that is not so readily known in our lives on earth. We can taste the eternal glory and wonder of God, and this is His desire for us, but as long as we are alive in this world, darkness will always be in conflict with the light. This place is not perfect, and therefore perfection must wait for the next. Thus, truly, life is a task of endurance. We can be happy often times to be sure, and without God, for that matter. But happiness fades, and ultimately, not every desire of ours will be satisfied on this side of heaven.

What a bittersweet reality to bite into. And that is where I am right now. When I was continually screaming at God, asking why, why, why did He let things be like this, I was forgetting that He alone completes us -- but even that will not happen right now. We are becoming more complete, and there will be a time when we can stand before Him and He will wipe every tear away before eternal rejoicing.

But this life is not yet that time. We will face pain until that day. We will be rejected and rebuffed, see our loved ones pass away, witness horrors on TV or with our very eyes, read old journal entries and cry at our past hopes that have yet to be met. There are many seasons in life, but they all will leave us panting and thirsty for perfect hope and joy without the slightest twinge of sadness or regret in our eyes.

Yet, what a hope lies there in the end. The God we have read about, prayed to, and had the infinitely tiniest glimpses of will bring us to Him forever, in the closest intimacy one can imagine. The God who guided us through the trials and tribulations, showing us the way to face them without giving in to the despairing ways of the world, encouraging us through His saints all along the way, will be fully revealed to His children. Whether or not everything that happened on earth makes sense to us or not, it won't even matter, because we will never have to fear or worry again. It will have all dissolved in the absolute radiance of His glory.

If there is even a chance that this is the truth, then I am sold. I'll throw my life away on just "following rules" by what other people see of me. Whether or not I'm really missing anything by obeying the Lord and not following my selfish desires for instant gratification and nullification of pain, it will be more than worth it in the end.

It is for me and for all believers, then, to wait patiently for that complete satisfaction, no matter how we think God is failing us in this life. He cares for us and is near to us in our heartaches, but ultimately is working out His plan in our lives in ways that we could never understand in the thicket of the storm, while He abides above the clouds. Despite the ways that I have struggled to see Him move in my life these past few months, I now already have the blessing of seeing how He has been there in my disappointment. The gift we have on earth through the Lord's glad provision is not the destruction of whatever threatens our joy, but drinking from the true wellspring of joy to taste what is yet to be ours.

I don't know what life holds for me. I struggle wondering if twenty years from now, I will be unmarried, childless, somehow far from my friends and family, wondering what I did or how awful I was to be so lonely and unloved. Even if this were my fate, and it were even true that everyone in the world did not love me and left me to myself, it would not contradict the truth that God loves me and will change all of that one day. I would do best to tarry forth through suffering with my eyes set on the only hope that there is: Jesus Christ. Because... I cannot do justice to the joy that will be. The blink of an eye that a lifetime is on earth is so incomparable to eternity that the moment I can bow before my Father and sing to Him forever, even the worst injustice and agony that could befall me in life would be forgotten.

No crushed dream of mine would amount to the fulfillment of the best dream, which I will no longer see only asleep, but as my every moment forever and ever.

I realize this all sounds like my family died in a fire or something. In comparison with billions of people in this world, I have so much to be thankful for -- and I am. But, no matter who you are, life will be disappointing unless anchored in Christ, and even then its complete abundance awaits us until we leave the cesspool that is our sinful world. Praise the Lord that he does not grade our pain on a curve, but is near to us in our sorrow no matter its origin. I know better than I have before how vital it is to know God and cling to Him no matter what, to know and become the fragrance of life in a dying world in order to breathe it for eternity. I can't stress that enough. He is the only hope. No matter where I'm living, I am living in the arms of God.

If you are wondering why, calling out to God, or simply sitting in apathy, consider His urging to know Him. There is no other joy for us. I cannot believe I have the privilege of resting in assurance that God will finish me and deliver me to the promised land, and in the midst of anything, that hope will be my bread, water, shield, and resting place.

I want to leave you with Psalm 34, because it truly brings me to my knees in worship:

"I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the LORD, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
The LORD will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Let's Hear It for Sarajevo!

Zdravo! Ja sam u Sarajevo! (Hello! I'm in Sarajevo!)

No duh. But... even after about 2.5 weeks, I still don't quite believe it sometimes. It's weird that I'm used to seeing these picturesque mountains around me, or not being able to read signs (except the important ones, like Pekara. This is vital. No one else can give you chocolate croissants!)

Now is not the time for an extensive update by any means, but I just thought I'd punch in a few words:

I am healthy.
I am happy.
I am learning a lot of things about God, a lot of things about people, and a lot of things about myself -- and I am learning the most about prayer, which affects all three of these things.
Sarajevo is beautiful.
The people are far friendlier than I had imagined and also very funny; I'm glad my dry sense of humor is reciprocated. :)
I apparently do a pretty good job of blending in. I just need some bangs and nicer shoes!

I don't have much time to communicate to the outside world (aka beyond this apartment, haha) but be assured of a bombardment of information upon my return home. I can't believe that after this week I'll be halfway done with my stay here. :( I'm choosing not to think about it! I love it here so much!

Pray for me and keep your eye on Sarajevo, and immediately plan a visit. I will personally escort you around. It's my favorite place I've been as of yet, and I've seen London and Paris, y'all. You just keep that in mind.

Anyways, let me know if anything absurd happens in the U.S. while I'm gone, because I'm so out of loop. The only TV I've watched was Eurovision (look it up, Americans). Ciao!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ye of Little Faith

The days until I begin my journey to Sarajevo are dwindling to none. I can still barely believe this is happening. The reality of living in Eastern Europe for 7 weeks is simply too incomprehensible for me, never having done anything of the sort in my life. The longest I've been outside the U.S. is a week, and the UK and France are both relatively familiar, Western places.

However, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the incomprehensibility at times flares into panic. I have so many questions that I can't answer. What will the days be like? Will Bosnians even like me, or want to be my friend? Will I have the courage to talk with them about deep matters and be open about myself, what I believe, and how it has changed me? (I can hardly do that at home with people I've been friends with for years!)

I am having a hard time sleeping tonight as I consider just how crazy this is, and how unprepared I really feel. The real problem, though, is that I keep assuming that I must actively be the one preparing and acting out of my own power. I figured this out as I was reading the cover of a book I just got, and it listed another book this author wrote, called If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. (It's by John Ortberg, by the way.)

I hope you're ready for a whole story this time!

"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."' Matthew 14:22-32

Peter took a leap of faith, yes? If he didn't at all believe Jesus could keep him from sinking, he wouldn't have stepped out of a boat to the water in the first place. Would you? There was wind and there were waves. It's easy to ignore how hard it must have been for people in the bible to do the things they did since God was so manifest in their days, but I mean, even after meeting Jesus and seeing him perform miracles (such as feeding thousands, as earlier in this chapter), it'd be hard to just leap out of a boat during a storm and expect to walk on the water.

As Peter saw himself doing the unthinkable, he probably became afraid of how irrational it was to walk on water, and how the very laws of physics that govern all of creation are being suspended. The seemingly little thread that was keeping him from sinking became all too real to him, and he began to sink. Jesus didn't have to let him sink when he doubted, but the point was made: he is trustworthy. When we doubt him, we are bound to suffer and fail. He doesn't entrust wishy-washy people with great tasks that result in great feats of God. But believing the Lord in times of risk, when we leave our comfort zones (as Baptists looooove to put it), gives us the chance to learn to trust him, and we are rewarded with great faith when we see the results of this moment of surrender: I could never do this alone, but with you, I can.

"I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13

This is Sunday School 101, but, as Martin Luther rightly taught, the Christian life is characterized by continuing repentance and faith; we must examine ourselves constantly, as we are still human beings and are still governed by whims, doubt, worry, and selfishness. And we may remember things in our minds but forget that they are true, and live with that assurance to compel us to greater things.

Little kids at church know the story of Peter walking on water. But do grown-ups at church live like this is true?

I don't want to wait until I'm 40, warming a pew, content with my little life and all my financial security and square middle class family matters, to find out. Throw this woman out of the frying pan and into the fire.While it is up to me to pray, read, and learn before I undertake anything for the kingdom of God, it is not up to me to be ready and to produce these vast results. I am not a savior, and I am not a creator of wisdom to impart unto others. Therefore, doing what I can and leaving the rest up to God is all that matters.

I am only responsible for taking my foot off the deck and touching it to the water.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I'm warning you now, this may simply devolve into a rant, but I think it's a constructive one. Is there such a thing? Whatevsies.

You know what I can't stand? People who take themselves too seriously. Real talk. You know you have a problem with this when:

- Conflating ordinary situations to be dramatic attacks directed at you
- Updating your blog/journal/Bookface/whatever with your philosophical or poetic musings more than twice a day
- Name dropping your coolest friends (or even acquaintances that you wish were your friends) and trying not to sound like you're doing it on purpose
- Asking why on earth all these things happen to you when you bring it upon yourself and probably enjoy it

Guess what, everyone? Life is not a movie!

We see our lives like movies. I am the protagonist, the good guy that people should root for. People who do things to get in my way are part of the conflict, which every movie needs. It's all about either overcoming that conflict so I can have a happy ending or losing to that conflict and dying like a tragic hero. We are so absorbed by our fanciful notions that we're the center of this story.

The real conflict enters when we notice that other people don't seem to be watching the same movie I am. As the leading lady, it pisses me off when others don't do what I want them to, or -- the very worst thing of all -- don't notice. Did they forget that I'm the last to bow? Let me remind them by talking about myself, all my backstory, what makes me the lovable, winsome character that I am. I might feign interest in what you're saying, but as soon as I have my in to jump into the limelight in one way or another, you bet I'll be right there.

If someone likes me and I do not like them back, you'll know. It's a pretty big deal.

If I have so much work to do that I just can't function today, I will sigh until you ask me about it.

Think it sounds dramatic? I do this stuff all the time. Much less than I used to, but from time to time, I can't help it. Neither can you.

Did you realize today that you still have to sit on the toilet? You get food stuck in your teeth sometimes? You forget to shave your legs when you go to the beach?

When will people stop trying to pretend to be above all that stuff!?

Sometimes, the most refreshing person to be around is one that most people can't stand, but they are real. They do what they want to because they like it. They say what they feel and think because that's -- gasp! -- what they feel and think. No one to impress. Or they might not even say much at all because they realize that they haven't got anything vital to bring to your attention.

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9

Here's a radical proposition: let genuineness and humility go hand-in-hand in front of us everywhere we go. Start being true friends with people, going below the surface, and talking about things that matter without letting things that blow away in the wind bog us down. Stop forming little cliques of people that make us feel better about ourselves and make an effort to get to know people out of your comfort zone, because they are not extras in your movie -- they're real people. Quit thinking we are the next Steve Martin or Cormac McCarthy when we write or joke around, because for heaven's sakes, all of us still bleed when you cut us.

We're all people, and we're just people! Get a grip!

Haha, I don't know where on earth I am going with all this. You catch my drift? This really makes me mad, especially because I know I do it too. Call me out anytime.

If we can both get our rose-colored glasses off, we'd notice the real world is not too ugly of a place.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don't Panic

Humbling could be tripping and falling in front of a bunch of people.

Humbling could be tripping and falling in front of a bunch of people and your pants falling down.

Or it could be losing your wallet. (I know you wish that the above scenario happened to me, but it didn't, and frankly, I would prefer falling and losing my pants to losing this.)

Note to self: don't run around outside at night trying to play a trick on someone!

It's easy to think how cool and collected you are until you lose the very thing that has all your credit cards, your driver's license, a coupon for almond milk, and fifty dollars in it. It's worldly stuff, man, I can't take it with me when I die.

But I wish I had it right now!

I keep telling myself: the world doesn't end when you lose that stuff. All things are worked out for my good. It could be there now (and I have the most beautiful friend ever checking for me right now! I love her SO much!), or tomorrow morning, or at Andros, or maybe someone found it and will Facebook me. It's all good.

And you know what? I really feel like it is. I might not tomorrow morning, but right now, I'm okay. People's houses get burned down or bombed every day and they get on with their lives.

It's all worldly stuff anyway, man.

Monday, April 26, 2010

One Tear in the Driving Rain

I've not had a week quite like this before.

It's been so hard. There is one plate in front of me full of reading, study guides, books, notes, and all kinds of academic delights. There is another with my friends, coffee, car rides, and laughter. Given the choice, I think you know which I would rather go with, haha.

The problem is that there is a clock on the table, too. A week. You, Lara, have a week, more or less, to take care of each of these things. You'll be sorry if you have anything left on either one by the time the clock hits zero.

On the one hand, having so much to do is good for my mind. It's giving me concrete things to deal with, day by day, just trying to finish the next thing. Figuring out what must happen in the next hour is usually where my mind goes.

When I have a moment to myself, though, things immediately get a lot more frantic. You will be on a plane to Sarajevo in two weeks. You are going to a country that no one you know has ever visited. They speak a language they don't teach at your school. They eat food you can't pronounce.

They've seen things you couldn't begin to imagine in your wildest dreams.

This fact did not sink in for quite a while. Even this weekend I wrote a twelve page paper on the genocide in Bosnia that happened about fifteen years ago. I know all about what happened, from Slobodan Milošević to Srebrenica to Dayton. It was easy to remain pretty detached and scholastic about it, until all of a sudden, my mind reverted back to something I had read in the book Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass.

He was a journalist in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war, and he remembered meeting an old woman walking home. He stopped her and asked her some questions, which she hesitated to answer and tried to avoid. He saw some slices of bread in her bag, and asked her if she had enough to eat (since the Serbs had strangulated the food supplies going into Muslim towns), and she broke down, telling him she wished the Americans would just bomb them and put them out of their misery. It was better than getting food aid sent from the UN.

She'd rather be dead than suffer what they were enduring.

Earlier, just as I was telling my friend about how I wasn't sure yet what I had gotten myself into, my tears involuntarily welled with tears. "How can I talk to someone who has seen what they have seen? I have no idea how they feel. What can I tell them?" I started to choke.

My heart was finally broken for Bosnia.

It's true, I don't know what I'm getting myself into. I haven't endured anything that they have. I live a life that is far too comfortable in the U.S., having experienced so much freedom and safety, as well as an absence of hatred for who I am. How could I have so much? How can others not? How is that fair?

I actually left writing this to take a shower because I didn't know where I was going with my thoughts, and in my head popped this fact:

"Jesus wept." John 11:35

Joke all you want about this being the shortest verse in the bible, there is so much hidden in these two words that I hadn't unpacked before. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He never erred from the path set before him to endure the cross and redeem mankind so that God and his people could be reunited once more, in full intimacy and fellowship. He was perfectly blameless before the Father's eyes.

And when his friend passed away, he cried.

He knew he had the power to bring him back from the dead. He even planned on doing so. He waited to do it so that people would have no question when they saw Lazarus get out of the tomb that it was nothing short of a miracle. He had the key to eternal life and had healed hundreds before. But he still wept.

It's not hard to become too bogged down by the idea of who God is: triune, sovereign, infinite, and intimate. How could a God so big care about someone so small? We imagine this enormous distance between ourselves and his heavenly throne, as if he is sitting there and we are slowly crawling on our hands and knees up endless steps toward where he resides. (I kind of think of those creepy steps in Aladdin where the lamp is.) He doesn't care about us. He can bide his time waiting for what he knows will happen -- because he's God -- and wait for us to figure out how foolish we are in the grand scheme of what he has made so.

This God, and his Savior, are not far away, though. Jesus wept. His heart broke. He cares about us. He laments the things in this world that are anything short of the glory he knows in heaven.

He weeps with those who have seen most atrocious things.
He weeps with me when I weep for them.
Anyone who loved humankind enough to endure excruciating death for it surely weeps when it weeps itself.

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

The kicker: he has the power to undo the terrible things that make us cry. He brought back the dead man he had previously mourned himself. He healed men who could not walk for decades. He drove demons out of children who frothed at the mouth and hurt themselves. He cured those who simply reached out to touch the hem of his robe.

And he rose from the dead, after being crucified and locked into a tomb with a stone rolled before the door, three days after he was killed.

Hey, guys, this is good news!

He is here to save us because he loves us. He doesn't just see a bunch of ants and watch them drown in puddles and shake his head, or see one devour another and stand unfeeling. He loves us. He loves us enough to give us free will, that we can choose whether or not to love him back, and it breaks his heart to see us turn away.

The ramifications of this are too big for a college student on a laptop at 1:30 in the morning. They shake the foundations of the earth. When I stop to think about everything that it means for Jesus to weep, I could leap off my chair and dance around the room.

It has so changed me, against my will, as I discover more and more about Jesus, that I have nothing to lose by telling others of the deep wellsprings of gladness within my heart. It's not pushing or persuading or preaching. It's just telling another person what has happened to me, and what I know, and it all points back to him.

I am moved to love Christ because he wept for me in my death, my sin, and then brought me forth from my grave to have life in abundance with him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cross-Post! I Win

Would you like to read some of the things I think about that are a little (or a lot) less preachy and a little more like what I usually talk about in real life, face-to-face conversations with people who I consider to be my relatively good friends?

Maybe not if I speak in sentences that long.

But in case that was not enough to deter you:

Today I was thinking in international photography terms. Have a good one!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Will the Real Men Stand Up?

Today, something happened that seems to happen a lot.

I was talking to a friend who met another friend of mine by total coincidence not too many days before, which I thought was pretty cool. I asked what she thought of him. "He was so friendly and nice!" she answered emphatically. "...does he have a girlfriend?"

I couldn't help but chuckle a little. "Get in line."

I am not blaming her at all; my mind reverts to that exact same curiosity whenever I happen to meet a friendly and nice guy. (Like, genuinely friendly and nice. You can tell.) How is it that some guys are magnetic like that, immediately earning the approval and admiration of most of the girls they meet?

(I'm kind of talking campus ministry atmosphere, but this probably happens everywhere.)

It's really sad, but so many girls are starving for polite, respectful attention. Someone who has no romantic motives -- simply trying to get to know you better -- can easily win the hearts of a dozen or so girls just because they listen for a second and make her feel welcome and interesting.

A myriad of crap can come out of this. Girls can start "peeing on" guys, or marking them territorially, becoming upset or jealous whenever another girl moves in on "her" property, even though the guy never made any agreement of exclusivity. Girls can start trying to initiate something that isn't there with such an oblivious friendly guy, only to be let down with the "let's just be friends" card. And on the other side of the coin, other guys can get frustrated by how their friends seem to be drowning in female admiration without really trying, while they are going out of their way to try and win over just one to no avail.

I'm not out to blame anybody; there's enough man-hate going around in this world. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to hear girls ranting at the lunch table about how guys are no good and can't do anything right, and lie all the time, and only think about one thing. I'm blessed to have some very solid brothers in Christ who are nothing of the sort. These, in fact, are the guys that really have more female attention than they know what to do with -- if they notice it to begin with.

The funny thing is, there are just a lot of little things that guys could learn to do that would have a huge impact on how they are seen by the kinds of girls they want to be with, if they want to get serious. It's probably not the approach to get a one or two time thing with a girl, but it just about hurts my heart to see so many fellas who want something real and just aren't doing it 100% right. And so, dear readers, might I share with you some of the things that make a difference to me, as a young woman in college who is not so interested in just some bunky ol' scrub?

I mean, I very well may not be the kind of girl for you and therefore give you permission to disregard the following information, but I am willing to bet a lot of girls might agree on these things. I'm coming from the point of view of a Christ-following girl who would eventually consider a Christ-following guy. I also ask that you not tell me I'm not your kind of girl because it may hurt my feelings for a few seconds. I make a comeback, though.

So, without further ado, I give you...

Lara's Man Advice for Men Who Want to Be Real Men

1. Ask a girl questions about herself. It may be tempting even to think that she might want to hear all about all the great things you do and think, and prove what a nice or interesting guy you are that way, but please ask her questions about herself. If she's a keeper, she will do the same to you.

2. Show you are paying attention to the answers. Eye contact (but not staring like a maniac!) goes a long way. Nod and smile. The indifferent rebel man really isn't that cute. A lot of mature girls are really talented at making someone feel like they are being listened to and cared about, so sometimes it's a ball in the man's court to do the same thing.

3. Keep some reasonable personal space boundaries until you have a mutual understanding with a girl that something is going on. A hug is not poisonous. A pat on the shoulder won't kill anyone. I might sound crazy, but please hear me out on this one: you can't undo getting too touchy-feely with someone. If you aren't dating a girl, please, for the love of God, don't make her feel like you can't keep your hands to yourself, even if it's innocent. It's unfair to put her in a position where she may feel like you are overstepping your place as a plain friend and bears the burden if telling you to back off.

4. For that matter, just make sure things are mutual before you go nuts. I'm serious. Don't let yourself fall under the delusion that things are "understood" unless they are literally "understood." Think of how to break down the word understand: to stand under. You are standing under the same thing, the same belief, the same umbrella. If you haven't talked about it aloud, you just might be standing under two very different umbrellas -- fix it!

5. "No" generally means "no." So a lot of girls impishly swoon over Noah in The Notebook because he didn't give up on Allie, and basically kept harassing her into falling in love with him. In real life, though, I know that I personally would not be so thrilled. I wouldn't say "no" unless I meant it, because it's unpleasant enough to have to say it in the first place. So if your invitation is unfortunately declined, I politely ask you to let it well enough alone for the time being. Take a lesson from Mr. Darcy: Elizabeth rejected him, he simply sent a letter to express the areas in which he felt she was mistaken about him, and after some time had passed, told her that he still cared for her, but that if her feelings were unchanged, he would never bother her again. Word. Look how it turned out!

6. Don't be socially defensive. I kind of want to publish a paper in a psychological journal just because I coined this phrase all by myself. Basically, being socially defensive is shifting the burden onto the girl to tell it like it is. If you continuously ask her to do something one-on-one without explicitly stating your intentions, you are putting her in a place where if she says no, she can be accused of sounding rude for assuming so much about one innocent trip to Steak 'n' Shake; if she says yes, she can be accused of leading you on by going on a whole date to Steak 'n' Shake. Don't say self-deprecating things ("I get it, you're just too busy to hang out with me!" "I bet you just have tons of other guys to do stuff with!") to pressure her into having to make you feel better about yourself, and then get mad when you find out that she really is too busy and has a guy to do stuff with already!

7. Instead, be a gentleman and let yourself take the fall. A real relationship involves sacrifice. There really is no more revealing an action than how well a guy can put himself at risk of hearing what he doesn't want to, opening himself to outright rejection. But truthfully, the kind of rejection involved here will hurt a lot less than rejection after a guy fails to be vulnerable, making the object of his "pursuit" feel so much pressure that she snaps to get the point across. I have yet to meet a girl who really enjoys turning an honest, earnest guy down. For the record: it makes me feel like I am literally about to throw up, and makes me sink with dread. If you really care about someone, make it easier for her to express herself truthfully and she may just find it easier to take you seriously.

8. Intentionally hanging out one-on-one oftentimes smells a lot like something more than just friends. I won't make any blanket statements. But in general, either one person or the other is bound to get confused if you hang out alone on purpose. You know how annoyed you get when other people ask you what's going on or wink at you? It's because they think it smells an awful lot like dating, too. You make the same assumptions about other people. Running into someone at Starbucks is one thing; it'd be awkward and kind of dumb to avoid them just because no one else is there keeping you company. But think long and hard -- and be sure you have a real "understanding" -- if you really want to do something as just the two of you. It doesn't have to be a marriage proposal. Just call it what it is!

9. Therefore, the best way to get to know someone better before even trying to move on to the coffee date is finding yourselves in a group of good friends. One of the things that stands out to me first about someone is how he interacts with guy friends in front of girl friends, and vice versa. If he is telling obnoxious jokes or taking cracks at girls (rating their appearance, making jokes about them, etc.), I'm just about shut down. But if he's having good conversation and laughing about things with lots of people, it's pretty clear that he's a nice guy who cares about others. Paying a girl real attention in a group also makes it a little less of a shock if you try to get to know her better later over food, just the two of you.

10. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. There is no exact recipe for life. But if you go by a good, general guideline, things will usually turn out pretty well. If you want to earn the trust of other people, see things from their point of view, and do what you can to put them at ease and just make things more convenient and comfortable for them. If you are inviting someone to do something, find out what she likes and have a plan in place already when you ask, and do it in a way where she really does feel like she has a choice. Is that so hard? If you already tell the world that you are living your life to serve God and serve others, then double-check that you're really doing it! Nobody is perfect, but the help of the Holy Spirit collides with the desire and motivation to change, transforming even persecutor, murderer Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul. (See Romans 8:5, 1 Timothy 1:15-16.)


Perhaps one day I will formulate the counterpart advice I would give to my fellow sisters in Christ, but for now, this alone will have to suffice.

Consider it one woman's view. These are all things that I have seen that have impacted me enough to remember them all as written, the first ten thoughts that come to mind when I think about what it is that makes some guys so lovable to girls, and what it is that some guys probably need to stop and think about.

I don't know who to attribute so much of the thirst women have for a guy who lets them have a thread of genuine, caring attention; there are billions of things to blame. Rather, I hope that we can all see reality for what it is, and form a plan of reaction.

The principle for all to consider is, what can I do to be a part of bringing redemption to this broken world in how I live my life?

EDIT: Oh man, I just thought of something so important that I forgot to put in, so I am breaking the nice and clean "10 Rules" to make a #11:

11. Don't inundate someone with only serious/relationship-oriented conversation. This is something quite a few Christian guys might suffer from at times -- and lots of girls, for that matter -- but I am sticking it to the audience of this list for now. Listen, there's nothing wrong with just talking about things like movies, books, current events, whatever. I would save the confessions of past error until after you have both agreed to make things exclusive; it's kind of overwhelming. Even after you are in a real, defined relationship with someone, you don't always have to talk about your relationship, how far you have come with one another, theories on love, etc. (And if you aren't in a relationship... hoo boy. Take it easy. Way easy.) This just about terrifies the other person half to death. The love of your life should be your best friend, and best friends tend to keep it light-hearted! Don't ruin something fun by diving needlessly into something serious. The times to talk about those are patently obvious and once you really know someone, you'll figure out when they appear.

The end. For now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ante Up the Cool Factor

Trendiness makes me sick sometimes. And I think the thing that makes me sickest the most is how much I see it in myself when I look in the mirror.

If you have ever been acquainted with the majesty of Stuff White People Like, you may have gone through the list of things that -- gasp! -- white people like, calculated how many apply to you, and groaned at how cool you think you are. I think I took the quiz in the back of the book they published (because I own it) and came out at about 60%. That's just plain ridiculous. 60% of things that are super trendy, hip, and socially acceptable today are things that I am all about, man.

We tend to congregate around other people who are "in" like us, too. I know I immediately feel more at ease as soon as a new acquaintance and I start name-dropping favorite jazz greats, Cohen brothers films, ethnic food varieties, tea shops. (I'm so trendy I could barf.) It's so easy to shape the day around seeing people that make us look and feel cool, and doing stuff that will be fun to look at later in tagged Facebook pictures. Feeling funny and interesting is a high unlike any other, because it seems like with confidence like that, there's no need for anything else in the world.

When this sort of drug wears off though, leaving us as crippled as any crack addict, is when we are alone, with no one laughing at our witty, pop culture laced jokes or admiring our aluminum water bottles. We are who we truly are when we are lying in our beds, too plagued with thoughts and questions to let sleep drag us under its spell. Even after a night spent wreaking havoc at the beach with my friends -- which I did last night -- I can still return home feeling like I have nothing in this world of worth to cling to -- which I did last night.

This might be a redundant thought from me, and you might be tired of reading about it, but chances are that if I have to keep preaching to myself about the lie that this is a Laracentric universe, then chances are that you might be struggling through the same thing. Different facets of this issue, deeply rooted in who I am as a human being, keep hitting the light to be revealed to me at last. All the sources of my pride, however false and alluringly veiled they may be, are slowly being ripped from the soil of my heart to lie on the top for me to see.

Here lies another: the coolness factor.

While I'm busy finding something comfortable enough to keep me from looking like I'm trying too hard but stylish enough to show people my oh-so quirky imagination, I am still looking in the mirror at me, me, me.

"Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark 9:35

People are there to make me feel adequate and satisfactory, not hurting and in need of someone to stop talking to my popular friends and lend a caring ear.

Social causes are there to make me feel aware and guilt people into being less enthusiastic about the world than I am, rather than represent problems that deserve more than a t-shirt, but heartbreak and help that requires true sacrifice on my part.

Blogs and such are there to make me feel like I have deep and important thoughts that everyone needs to hear and admire, instead of simply confessing to the ugly parts of me and sharing the one thing that has the potential to clean even the darkest blots on my heart: Jesus Christ.

If my faith and my life are one, then there's no room for this obsession to be cool, even a "cool" Christian whom outsiders can look at and go, "Hey! That girl is at a hookah bar? Maybe Christians aren't so weird after all!" I mean, being genuine and relatable to people is great and pretty vital, but may these pursuits never become more important than pursuing the cross to lay down my false gods, one by one. I am coming to the point where I don't care if people think I'm weird if I feel the overwhelming need to pray alone or read the Word than go get milkshakes with my friends in Campus Crusade. When all else fades away, the moments I spent in communion and fellowship with my God will surpass the moments I spent making sure I made it to that party so that I would be in on the blossoming inside jokes and bonds.

Let's make this life a deep one. Intentionally seek those who hurt for someone to care about their sorrows. Give up having a touch-screen cell phone to feed those who have so much less than we do. Turn down the offer to take the best job in the world with the best salary and throw yourself into humbly living to serve for the rest of your days.

"The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." 1 John 2:17

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two Masters

One of my most favorite things in the world is when several different things -- books, movies, conversations, whatever -- collide in my brain to reinforce one particular idea.

And you know I didn't just say that for no reason.

In my Microeconomics class on Tuesday, we learned about a man named Edward Bernays, who was one of the first marketing masterminds of the 20th century. Obsessed with how masses of people thought and acted, and what could trigger their emotions and desires, this psychoanalyst became the go-to man for any company in need of a major sales boost. Cigarette companies turned to him to find a clever way to get women to smoke, doubling their demographic -- he staged publicity events and wrote catchphrases all to make it socially acceptable. His propaganda was used for World War II to rouse American spirits, to get us to buy new cars and clothes, and even to make us think that President Coolidge was a hip guy who invited celebrities to the White House. Basically, he took pride in his ability to control the masses.

I was disgusted as I watched this documentary, because I saw the values he taught us in myself. I've been convinced that my clothes needed replacing merely because they were no longer in fashion. I have far more shoes than I'll ever need for all different occasions. I lust after material goods, knowing they will lose their luster moments after I spend money to have them, just because this guy has the media telling us that these things make us happy, we need them, they'll make us more popular, blah blah blah. I don't know about you, but I can't stand the thought of people telling me how to think, and look how easy it is.

Fast forward to today. I was doing a bit of light reading, Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand (that was irony, by the way), which details the author's experiences in communist Russia as a preacher of the gospel in hostile times. He's been thrown in prison and tortured for a total of 14 years, and the doctors he saw upon leaving prison the first time told him it was a miracle he was alive. He talked about young men being thrown into prison for approaching the prime minister and sharing the gospel with him, and being killed nearly immediately afterwards for it. (Interestingly, the PM did accept Christ just before he died, remembering their words before they were dragged off.) Secret police officers were converted to faith and then put in the same cells as the people they persecuted before, beaten in the same way, regardless of their rank. Beautiful young Russian girls were abducted on their wedding day, the moment when they were at the peak of their radiance, to be mutilated and distorted through torture by the prison guards. These people gave anything and everything for what they believed. They would rather have their teeth kicked out or be put in a box with nails driven through the sides than sell out either their fellow Christian brethren, or their torturers. They would be taken mid-preaching to be whipped and kicked and burned with a hot poker, and come back bruised and bloodied asking where they had left off.

These kind of people find that nothing is too precious in this world to be traded for the majesty of Christ. Rather, they refused to trade their steadfastness in Jesus for steadfastness in physical beauty, money, status, popularity, or comfort. I was absolutely moved by their refusal to buy into any lie that there is lasting joy to be found in anything, but hope in a love that transcends life itself.

It's pretty obvious where these ideas intersect and fuse, and these two things combined to become this fire in my heart about what I waste. I waste money on things that I don't need and won't care about in five years. I waste time on things that I'll forget by tomorrow and that won't have changed a thing on the face of this earth for the good of anyone. All of my selfish, short-sighted thoughts were like chaff in my soul, and the Holy Spirit began to burn it up as I meditated on Bernays' mass consumption and Wurmbrand's rejection of anything but the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

I'm sick and tired of being complacent with planning for a comfortable job in an office, waiting to be courted by a financially-comfortable man to live in a comfortable suburban house, living a comfortable life with our children, living out my faith by making snacks for vacation bible school and then spending the rest of my time deciding what color to paint my front door.

I feel God is preparing me to step out after graduation with no idea where I'm going, to marry someone as crazy as I am to live our lives for the gospel (or even go it alone if I absolutely must), and to think every day: "A year ago today, I had no idea I'd be doing this."

If I profess something to be true, I want no contradiction between how I live and how I think. And I have found no greater hope than this gospel. May our hearts be purified of this culture we live in that tells us we can compromise giving Jesus our entire beings for any lesser thing.

Father, forgive me for making it about the clothes, the make-up, the car, the music, the grades -- everything but You.

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Matthew 6:24

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pleasing Sacrifice

Wow, it's been a while since I wrote last. Between mid-terms and other varying obligations, it's been difficult to find time to write without feeling that I am betraying some other duty with my time and efforts.

Heh, duty. (I am still six years old and crack up at that word, but only most of the time.)

(And when people say, "I do do that!" Bahahaha!)

Anyway, this is not to say that nothing noteworthy has been going on in my head. I often wish I could take a break from the barrage of questions and struggles and revelations -- an endless cycle, it seems -- but I can say without hesitation that the wisdom I have now would have been useful several years ago, and I'm thankful to have it. That's two millimeters farther on the endless road of stuff left to figure out, though.

I find that we as human beings have trouble sacrificing things that are dear to us. If something is fun, important, or comforting to us, we have a hard time seeing any reason to let it go, even if such value that we put on it is only temporary. That momentary satisfaction or thrill is enough to keep running back to, even if the long-term results are very clearly harmful.

The contentment I find in eating a rather bare salad for dinner, or avoiding pizza and pasta like the plague, and finding my comfort in body image, is enough of a drug to which I keep running back. I know I don't want to live my whole life this way. I hate feeling tears well up in my eyes sometimes in dressing rooms, or feeling like I want to hurl after giving in to a bowl of ice cream, being disgusted with myself. It's comforting to cling to the idea of looking thin, even though it is never enough. It can't be the ultimate happiness in the world.

(By the way, I hate talking about this, but there's no point in pretending I don't have problems.)

However, I think that just about anyone can see the value of giving up things that hurt us; it's overriding common sense. Otherwise we wouldn't have rehab clinics or therapists. Anyone with a brain can understand that there are things with no immediate consequences, but that will bring ruin in the end.

I used to think this was the only kind of sacrifice I would be called to make. Obviously, God doesn't want me to do things that grieve him. Therefore, life is all about handing over the ten commandments I break -- these sins -- to him, saying, "Never mind all that, God. I'm done." Being clean of breaking the rules, I would be set, right? That's what I thought, until I read a rather challenging verse:

"You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you." Numbers 18:29

The context here: the Lord is laying out the sacrifices that he wants of the Israelites, in the fashion that has been laid out since Genesis. Abel's offering was pleasing because it was the best of what he had. God continues to admonish -- rather, command -- the best that they have, because there is no better use for it than offering it back to the Lord, and not becoming greedy or attached to worldly things. When did we decide to be the exception to such a heart towards God, choosing what's his to control and appropriate and what isn't?

Take, for instance, the desire of 99% of Christian females, thirsting and pining to get married to Prince Charming (aka Jesus of the 21st century). This is obviously not contrary to God's word; in fact, marriage is very good! It was the Lord's design for unity between men and women, the ultimate form of service and intimacy, loving someone else more than yourself and letting your needs die so that theirs can replace them. Ideally, of course. This is one of the holiest, most sanctifying, and difficult things God uses to teach us to follow him better.

Do most of us want marriage because it's hard? Not really! We watch Disney movies and expect these perfect guys to come wait on us hand and foot, and have a void filled with mushy honeymoon love for the rest of our lives. We tend to put matters into our own hands to make this happen, because from all that I have ever been told by real people who are really married, everything is not magic and sparkles every single day. It is our inclination to be in control of such matters and delude ourselves into thinking that if God loves marriage, then he is okay with sitting in the backseat and letting us drive all over the place, off the road and swerving wherever seems best at the moment.

Because that makes a whole lot of sense.

A new and dear friend of mine named Elisabeth Elliot has really shed light on this in my reading Passion and Purity, which is quite the book! She says: "A good and perfect gift [is love], these natural desires. But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God." I had never thought about that before. We have the capacity to screw up perfectly good institutions and gifts for our own glory and self-fulfillment, when both of those are only meant to be byproducts of a different motivation, which is to make God's magnificence known above all else.

So we put all kinds of things on the altar. The sins we hang onto. The gifts we keep tightly gripped in our hands. The things that we selfishly guard for ourselves, wanting to be in control, wanting to bring all attention and praise to ourselves, wanting to be blessed by and wanting it for ourselves alone. This covers just about... everything! Haha. As a self-attested control freak and perfectionist, and self-centered being extraordinaire, I can think of almost nothing that I don't want to take care of for myself and for my own good.

There is good news, though, for that which we give up to God's control: he controls it.

"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Psalm 55:22

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing, basic needs] will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

God has a more than reasonable track record for fulfilling promises and remembering his faithful people. We might envision different blessings than what he gives, but in remembering that God is sovereign and good, it becomes less difficult to imagine that he could possibly have a more accurate idea of what I need and what will take care of me.

Therefore, offer up to God everything that cannot be pried from your hands, because he loves you too much to rob you of the freedom to control things if you want to, and keep it all for yourself. But give back to the Lord, and see what he does with the offerings. Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into food enough for five thousand men and all their accompanying women and children.

Challenge him to do the same with the things you place on the altar.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Man, having just had a 20 minute or so conversation about music with a friend of mine has really put me in one of those moods where I just want to soak in some sweet melodies and drink tea.

And that's just what I'm doing.

All I came here to tell you was to listen to a certain piece of music. No uber-spiritual advice or ramblings this evening. I think there is something perfectly spiritual about the beauty of music, and that it is a gift from the Lord for our enjoyment.

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Bill Charlap is just wonderful. Go listen and be pensive! :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Does This Fit on a Candy Heart?

Happy post Singles' Awareness Day -- affectionately and cleverly abbreviated in these parts to S.A.D. I hope you blew ungodly amounts of money on the half-price chocolates at Wal-Mart and ate yourself into a sugar-induced coma.

I didn't do that, but kudos to you!

I did not take much pride in embracing this variation of the traditional holiday on February 14th; in fact, it shamed me half to death never to have had a real Valentine. I know, I know, I'm 20. The previous opportunities for Valentines to be found could only have really resulted in a note taped to a locker, or one of those candy-grams student council would sell, or something equally insignificant.

At least, it would have been insignificant to me. I assure you my male interests during my primary education were not especially headed towards any lifelong commitments, or even dates where Taco Bell and the mall movie theater were not involved in some form or another. But living in that little snow globe back then, where having a date to homecoming was not only a matter of life and death but also highly unlikely, it was next to impossible to see how anything could possibly change.

To be honest, I don't really know what it was about me that kept me in the little "no boyfriends" club. Perhaps God was just adamant that I not experience anything like that in my youth. Perhaps my pride in putting up this very independent facade in effect put up that barrier that frightened away the poor pimpled gentlemen of Orange County Public Schools. I was always inclined to think it was because I had body odor that I could not detect, or that someone had written GROSS -- STAY AWAY on my forehead with an ink that everyone but I could read.

I came into college with these hurts on my heart. Sure, I had been approached before, but when I was, it was rarely in a way that made me feel any better about myself. If anything, I felt kind of robbed or empty. I had pinned hopes and dreams on certain guys who I thought could fill the hole in my heart but none of them made an effort to fit, assuming that they fit that hole to begin with. Nothing about my past seemed to be a blessing in that area of my life, and I eagerly awaited for the circumstances to change. I was tired of this. Thus, when I read this, I got pretty pissed:

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am." I Corinthians 7:8

There are many times in this life that the very thoughts in my head were expressed in italics and with much punctuation, such as this: what?!

I would not accept this. In fact, it did occur to me that perhaps some later writer added this to Paul's letter, and that he couldn't possibly have meant that. Perhaps the canon we all thought to be true was a lie because someone let this passage get put into print. God created Eve because Adam was not meant to be alone! What on earth makes sense anymore?!

I tried reading articles and commentaries geared towards college students to gain some perspective that might open my eyes to getting this, maybe twisting it into something that Paul said but didn't mean and explain it all away, to little avail. I was not comforted by the idea that God wanted singleness for some, and relationships for others, and that he knew best. I wanted it either to be up to me so that I could fix this myself, or that the blame could be shifted on the many fools who passed up such a gorgeous and optimistic gem like me. I didn't really find solace in the idea that I'd be free to do more things. All I could envision was a future where I was living all alone, with no one to watch the History channel with at night, in a hut in Somalia as a missionary serving God. Then God would let me be killed by a band of thieves. That would be my reward for going it as a bachelorette: dying in Africa.

If you were not previously aware of the power of my imagination and just how half-empty my glass could be at times, well... now you are.

At a point, I stopped and wondered: what on earth gave me the grounds to think such things? There were so many times that I thought God had failed me before, when really he was up to something I would like the entire time. I recall when I got my rejection letter from Yale University on one day, and then a very measly financial aid offer from Rollins College on another. The thought of going to a public school, heaven forbid, gave me dry heaves. I felt so abandoned in my dreams of being some laureate scholar because I thought I had something going for me that would get me into these places.

Yet I take a look now at where I am and would have it no other way. When I first examined how this turned out, I really had to humble myself, hands in the air, surrendering the truth: "God, you knew what you were doing. Forgive my unfaithfulness and doubt. My blessings here are boundless."

I still wasn't ready then to believe that my relationship status could be the same story. I kept begging God for proof that this was a good thing, and that I had a reason to hope that I would be satisfied in the future about it. I wanted evidence that I would either have even a shot at finding a Mr. Lara who finds Russian writers enigmatic and doesn't find my 300 laugh variations annoying... or, actually be content without him. No amount of encouragement from my sisters in Christ helped, nor my mother, who lovingly advocates seeking a career as a UN diplomat and then settling down when I'm 40 with a nice man and his savings account. (90% kidding, Mom!)

When I asked for proof, boy, did I get it. And my proof, I mean a serious smack in the face.

I was lying in my bed, asking God just to explain it to me. I mumbled under my breath that his ways might not be my ways but, either way, I wanted them to make sense. And he just blew my brains out. Questions just began popping into my head one after another.

Do you even have the time to devote to that sort of thing, Lara?

Well... no. I barely have enough time to talk to the friends I already have as much as I want to.

Haven't I given you plenty of tasks to do for me that you're already up to?

Eh, I guess. Co-leading a bible study, praying regularly with friends, raising support for a mission trip, and just being a good friend to everybody -- believers and not -- is a pretty hefty list of things to pay attention to.

Haven't I shown you that other people do like spending time with you and value you?

I suppose being asked out on the occasional coffee date and answering my phone a couple of times a week isn't a bad sign.

When have I given you reason to doubt me?

When you are seized by conviction, it is one of the most terrifying but satisfying feelings you'll ever have. This regret that it took me so long to begin to understand gripped my insides like a vice, but at the same time I felt the tension flee my cowering shoulders. God knows what he's doing. He's shown me plenty of times that he has a plan for me, and it's a good one. I have always had things in my immediate future to look forward to. The only times I really grieved were the times I tried to look further than I had any reason to see.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

The blessings I've had all along came rushing in. It's nice knowing that I can just get up and go whenever I have a chance to do something crazy, be it fly to Bosnia or whatever. I don't have to worry about the needs of anyone else. I don't have to balance my time spent with friends and doing God's work with time spent loving someone else the way God calls us to when marriage comes into the picture. I don't know how much time I am going to have to go by my maiden name, and I kind of like it, so I can't just let it go to waste!

Now, I am still quite confident that I want Mr. Lara to come sweep me off my feet with orange roses in one hand and pita chips in the other. (I'm a quirky gal to impress.) However, I have a reason to hope and be patient. God's timing is the one timing that I have nothing apart from, and it's not up to me to go and get things going for myself. Stepping off the path God has carved for me is a fairly disturbing thought when I think of the glory to be found by staying on and trekking.

I am loved and protected already by the most important I AM.

"Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires." Song of Solomon 8:4

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Good News?

You remember that feeling you had around the end of 8th grade? Maybe your life is diometrically different from mine, but I recall this sort of queasiness that had more than one emotion rolling around in my stomach. It was excitement for what was coming up, that I was finally taking another step in my life, maturing (however little you mature at 14), and just moving forward. But there was a very noticeable amount of fear and anxiousness as well, not knowing what lies ahead, what challenges were next, and whether or not I had what it would take to get through okay to the next great leap.

Either way, middle school is middle school; you can't sit in the middle forever.

I've grown very comfortable and have flourished in the middle. I greatly enjoy the hour or so that I spend reading the word of God and meditating on it every day, and praying. I see the benefits of confessing my shortcomings to him and thanking him for his grace in washing me of all the awful things that I've done. I delight in meeting with brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage them, talk about the Lord, and be held accountable for the actions I do and the thoughts in my mind. Basically, I'm doing the this whole growth thing people talk about, I'm doing it well, and frankly, I love it. I don't even mean to sound prideful about this, but I truly think I am coming to know what it even begins to mean to walk in the Spirit.

I am a vessel that keeps being poured into. God pours into me constantly through the bible and through the people I talk to -- my discipler, my good friends, and even just the situations I find myself in every day. I feel the wisdom rising within me like a level of water as it is just being dumped into my soul. It's satisfying to come before the Creator of the universe and believe that he is good, and that he is doing good things in me.

Like a bucket, though, there comes a time when there's so much water that it is plumb full. It has to go somewhere. There's an inevitable point where it'll start running over the sides and dripping through the cracks and holes.

Things don't just stay in the same way forever.

Here I am at the precipice of the next part of my walk with God. I knew it was coming. It had to. A person can't pretend to know Jesus if they don't know what his very last words were:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Matthew 28: 19

It's not that I've kept everything to myself; I love talking about what I believe and answer whatever questions people give me. And I talk about God. But even when I try to go about my life here in Florida with a missional mindset, I tend to step back into my comfort zone timidly. It terrifies me half to death to share the gospel sometimes.

Why? I know a lot of Christians have this trouble too, and I want to know why it seems so hard. I can think of a lot of reasons. Frankly, I sound like an idiot. I'm throwing my life away on the belief that there is a God who sent his Son, who is fully human but fully divine, to die on a cross and come back to life as a sacrifice for my sins, which have separated me from God, who is holy. I would be eternally sentenced to being severed from God if I did not pray to the Lord that I want to follow him and repent of my wrongdoing, letting Jesus cover my debt with what he has done. My life is now about telling other people that they can have the same thing if they just have faith that these things are true and seek to please God because of his goodness.


But this is the clincher: What if it's true?

Here is the crossroads at which we all must face when we consider the above claim: it all boils down to whether or not Jesus was risen from the dead. If he wasn't, then we who live like he was are to be pitied above all people. (And yeah, Paul said that! Love that guy!) But if he was, if he rose from the dead three days after he was crucified, then everything is true. The prophecies about him are true. The Old Testament, which he affirmed in his own teaching, is true. The people who saw him and testified about it, and then went out and shared this truth with everyone around them and often were brutally killed for it, were true.

I believe this is true.

I see the fruit of this truth every day. This heart was a nasty place before I turned to Jesus Christ. I look like I have it all together but I don't, and I certainly did not before. I cared so much about me. This life was about filling my needs, using people to meet those needs, and making sure that I was my own god. It never worked. Times of crippling loneliness, hunger for acceptance, fear of rejection, and so many other evils were the victory of the dark forces in this world over me. Convincing me that I was my own savior effectively rendered me broken and hopeless.

If it weren't for a loving God alive and pursuing after me like a shepherd after his sheep, I would have no reason not to keep turning to those other things to satisfy me and make sense of this world. Although they did not serve this purpose for long, there were moments of temporary contentment to keep me coming back to the drug that is pride of life.

But I encountered the Lord of all exactly where I was, and he assured me that he had greater plans for me. He knew what was best for me, and offered me a place in his family as a daughter to him. He saw the way that sin and depravity were chains on my ankles that bound me to a sinking ship, and that I was going to choke on the storming waters around me if I let myself stay in bondage. God held out his hand to me to be lifted from such a fate, and find new life in the ways he knew would be best for me and show the world how awesome and mighty he is to save -- and love.

The biggest problem Christians must have with sharing the gospel is forgetting how good the "good news" really is! When I took the time to write all that, I hadn't even meditated on just how glorious that is until I typed it just now. To think of what could have happened to me if I had not taken his hand! Even a fairly successful, fairly healthy, fairly comfortable girl in the United States needed a savior. The ways I have seen God bless me in planting me to grow by the streams of his wisdom and love can lead me only to stronger, fuller belief. The bucket is pretty full. It was high time that I tell other people about all the wonders God has done through my life and how he would be thrilled to do the same through others.

And so, dear readers, I can officially say that I have been accepted on Summer Project to a little town called Sarajevo, Bosnia.

No, that's not in Africa.

I will be spending 7 weeks living there to meet other college students in Bosnia, building relationships with them, getting into deep conversations with them, and sharing with them the joy that Christ has given me.

The call is enormous. If you didn't know, Bosnia experienced great civil violence 15 years ago. Bosnian people suffered genocide, as did other people who live in former Yugoslavia. Many of them say they are Muslim, but most probably have apathy for any kind of belief anymore. With so many obstacles, I keep doubting that a pansy like me could even open my lips to speak to people who have seen such different things.

Yet I accidentally left out the real last words of Jesus, after telling us to go make disciples of all nations, before ascending into heaven to be with God until the day he returns for his people:

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20

If Jesus rose from the dead, this promise is true, and I am glad to be a slave to the gospel for all the great promises in store for those who are faithful.

On a practical note, it's going to take a butt-ton of financial support for me to get there. I mean, this is into the thousands of dollars range, as you can well imagine. If you feel called to help send an ambassador of Christ to this part of the world, please email me or call me, or just find me walking around if you know where I am. (If you know that and I don't know you... we may have a problem.) Above all else, I request your prayer that I will be prepared for the mission before me and that I would die to myself so that Christ can shine through me to the people of Bosnia, but money would still be very, very nice, haha. Just pray it over, or ask me any questions:

I believe that the only God is a God who desires to have people of every nation, tribe, and tongue fall in love with him and beg for him to pardon them so that they can spend eternity in his presence. It might sound like God is being super arrogant, but think about it: God does not lie, and if he did not say he was and is the greatest thing ever to be, what would make sense anymore? He humbled himself enough to become man and die a humiliating death just to reconcile us to him, and that, my friends, is worth begging for money to tell people about.

Enough of that. Good night, and God's grace.