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.