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“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
james 4:8

earlier last week, i was in a funk, whether it was from moving or figuring out next steps or spending too much time alone or otherwise. i think the bulk of it came down to the fact that i was focusing in on myself to the point where everything was about me and my desires, rather than on either of the first two commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

and whenever i neglect that and instead look only inward, it drags me down. it causes discontentment and anxiety when i forget to look Up. i knew what i needed to do (draw near to God) but my heart just wasn’t in it. i mumbled the words and told God how fed up i was with stuff and things in my life, but still, i wasn’t feeling any differently or any better.

then on wednesday, still full of fret, i met up with bri, as per our usual wednesday night ritual, and i just let it all out. i kept talking and confessing everything that was burdening me and holding me down. and it was in that moment, in that conversation of releasing everything pit up–as hard or lame as some of it is to admit–the weight was lifted.

in lauren winner’s book, “girl meets god” she talks about how started going to see a priest routinely to confess her sins, even though she’s not (and doesn’t otherwise practice) catholic/catholicism. she talks about how it’s in God’s nature to take the ordinary and everyday and use it to purify us and draw us closer to him: water gives us new birth in baptism; bread reminds us of the price jesus paid and brings us close to him in the eucharist; and God also draws us closer to him when we confess our sins–to ordinary people, just like each and every one of us.

our inclination is to bottle up our imperfections and smudge over them so no one can tell. or if we do tell, we tell people who will have the right answers or perhaps the people who are worse off than ourselves. but we don’t want to risk tarnishing our image or our reputation. so our sins cower deep inside. but when we become vulnerable and break down walls and open up about our shortcomings, especially to other ordinary, broken individuals, a surprising bit of healing can come through that. (and isn’t it ironic, dontcha think?)

and that’s what happened on wednesday. as we were talking, i could feel it taking place and my heart getting inflated again and swelling back up. i knew that that moment was behind me for the time being. i came home that night, renewed…

“therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you will be healed. the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
james 5:16

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catching up on my blog reading, and the boundless blog pointed to a new book out called “Do Hard Things.” it sounds like a really interesting book and so I’ve added it to my list of books I hope to get around to reading. the authors say:

We’re not just saying that hard things happen and that you can benefit from them. We’re not just saying that you have the ability to do hard things. We’re telling you that you should do hard things because it’s the best and only way to experience true growth in your life. … Our big, crazy idea is that this is the life God has called us to live now—not 10 or 20 years from now, but right now, as young people. This is your best life, not your easiest life; the only way to avoid wasting your single years and ultimately your life.

they also make a good point:

We can’t really avoid doing hard things. We can only decide when to do them and how prepared we will be to handle the hard things life brings our way. You either do the hard thing of getting prepared, or you deal with the harder thing of being unprepared. We either “do it” now, or we end up having to “deal with it” later.

This about a lot more than flat tires or missed meetings. Resisting temptation is hard, but not as hard as dealing with an addiction. Finding and keeping a job is hard, but not as hard as dealing with unemployment and struggling to make ends meet.

and finally, here’s an insightful C.S. Lewis quote they invoke: “We are like eggs at present. And we cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

on (my) tattoos and piercings
as you probably know, when it comes to big decisions, i’m not one for spontaneity. sure if it’s, “let’s go get ice-cream!” or “let’s go on a vacation!” then i’m all for it, because you can’t go wrong with either.

but something that there’s a chance that i might someday regret isn’t something i take lightly. hence why i’ve been so patient and spent so long kicking around the idea of a/my tattoo. but things changed last week when–in the midst of “where am i headed?” and “what’s going to happen, life-wise, next?!”–i got the out-of-the-blue urge to get one of those monroe piercings. i really, really wanted it even moreso than the tattoo. like, i was ready to get it on friday if i didn’t know myself better.

i don’t have anything against piercings; what i’ve always held as important in decision-making is intention behind the choice. so, i came to see that with this urge for a pretty little beauty-mark diamond was how quickly it came on and how forceful it was and how it consumed my thoughts, because it really did. everyday i was thinking about how i would look with one; i’d imagine it on other people and how it would change the way they look, etc. that preoccupation was a red flag to me–that there was something deeper going on.

if you’ve ever read the screwtape letters (OK, or the Bible for that matter), i believe in that stuff–that the reason why all our movies have a good guy and a bad guy, where there’s always some sort of struggle between the two is because that reflects the greater story that’s taking place in our world. that there’s a God and a Devil and that the bad guy in this story is doing everything he can to bring down Good. i remember when i read the Screwtape Letters, one thing that C.S. Lewis pointed out was how one of the devil’s greatest tools is using inaction and distraction to bring us down–while we may not be committing great sins like murder, if we’re still not doing good,  then what’s the difference? he’s won.

so i realized that this piercing preoccupation was just that: a distraction that was keeping me from focusing my thoughts on what God had in store, future-wise. i know it sounds silly because it was just a simple piercing, but in context it stood for so much more: as i pondered getting it, i was really doubting that God would accomplish what i knew he already told me he would. (because the last thing the piercing would say is “professional” and could really stand as a stumbling block as i consider that path.) i had to realize that if he encouraged me to pursue this path, then why wouldn’t he provide that? why would i jeopardize or disregard that?

it was a matter of regaining/reasserting my faith in the future. and since that realization, the overwhelming preoccupation has melted away and now i’m back to considering that old tattoo of mine. the one benefit i see in this is that at least it has a purpose other than pure vanity (which was all the piercing had to offer) and would be a gentle and daily reminder of the state (and source) of my life. here’s the general direction i’m thinking, although the elements would be better integrated, of course. but i’m digging the idea of calligraphy + ornamentation:

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

i recently finished reading a modern-day nun’s memoir “forever and ever, amen.” it’s quite admirable the things she learns when she enters right out of high school and how open-armed the convent is, to this girl who sneaks in vodka-injected oranges and who was admittedly wild and unruly. the girls enter green and the convent allows them to pursue God and get to know him; through things like obedience, seeing God in everyone–especially their enemies, fighting for injustice, sharing, sisterhood, supporting one another even when you don’t  agree with them, knowing when to bend the rules when another sister needs it for camaraderie, wisdom, silence, prayer, solitude…

things that i know i must learn, and many of them exemplified by the older Sisters that the author admired most. i too want to learn those things. because they’re so poignant. and because i know that upon learning them, they can change my life.

she writes, at one point, “it was the everyday blessings that ripened me the most.” as i think i mentioned (but perhaps i didn’t) i was reading an article about dating and how God works through ordinary means. this sentence reminded me of that. and to learn to see God in everything–the big as well as the small. it’s so easy to see him in the big, where it’s undeniable. but to see His handiwork in the small and subtle seems to be reflective of an atuned spirit. i don’t want to forget or neglect or underappreciate all he does for me. or ever feel like i can do all this on my own. i want to be sure to appreciate all he’s given me.

i’m beginning to think about my tattoo and it bearing the word: “blessed.” because isn’t it so? isn’t it so terribly so?

as many of you know, I’m an avid blog reader. and though I haven’t had much to update/share myself (sometimes it’s good when life is smooth and unhairy!), here’s something I do want to share, that I came across in my morning reading. (plus, it comes wrapped up in a crafty extended metaphor, which you know i can’t resist):

Like so many postmodern ideas, “love yourself just the way you are” is halfway true. Or rather, it’s a truth that’s been flattened out.

When we love someone or something, we do love it as it is… but we also want the best for it. Let’s say you love antique furniture. You go into a dark, dusty shop and find a beautiful oak desk tucked away in the corner. It’s covered in dirt and grime, and has been partly repainted an ugly yellow, and it has a couple of handles missing. Even so, you can see that it’s beautiful – in tough shape, but beautiful. You buy it and take it home. Do you love it as it is? Yes, definitely – that’s what moved you to buy it, take all the trouble of getting it in the back of your car, finding just the right spot for it in your house.

But are you going to leave it that way? Do you really love it “just” the way it is, with its mouse droppings in the corners of the drawers, and cobwebs around the edges? No – you’ll clean it up. Do you love it now? Yes, of course. But are you going to leave it with that awful yellow paint? No, you’ll strip off the old paint and refinish it. Are you going to leave it with missing handles? No, you’ll buy some new handles, maybe replace the whole set so that it matches.

….

But you did the refinishing because you saw that it was not what it could be and indeed should be – because you had an image of what it really was and loved it enough to want to get it there. People understand this. It’s why we call it a “labor of love” when people remodel old houses, or put in hours of labor transforming a weedy garden into a place of blooming flowers, or run bake sales to buy books and toys for their children’s classrooms. Love sees what the beloved is… and wants to help it be more than it is.

Yes, we should feel that we are worthwhile and precious just as we are – just as that oak desk was valuable even tucked away in the corner, covered in cobwebs. But we should also respect ourselves enough to recognize that we are not all that we could be or ought to be.

We should understand that we are broken people, broken by sin; and that we are blessed above all imagining that our Lord loves us so much that He won’t let us stay that way.

 (From the insightful blog www.hieropraxis.com)

today i met with a local high school senior who’s interested in someday entering the publishing business. she wanted to interview me to get a more behind-the-scenes insight on what goes into the job. as we were sitting there and i was telling her about our process and what we look for in articles and all the minutiae of it, i heard from the table behind me, two men talking about Isaiah and then later about a couple chapters in Romans. i wondered about it and tried to remember who we’d sat near but assumed they were some older men.

when we got up to leave, i walked Rachele back to where her mom was waiting for her, and then saw that it was a pair of guys my age (or thereabout). and i was totally impressed. it encouraged me that men do exist who can be intelligent and love God and have insightful talks and thoughts about it. because that quality seems to be so rare these days (meaning that, statistically, women are more prone to be spiritual than men). so to be able to see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own ears–it seemed a little Christmas present from God himself. and a breath of relief, that the desire to wait for and expect a “spiritual leader” is not all that fantastical after all.

i’ve got to say, it’s been a picture-perfect thursday. paul’s been sick, so last night i went over to keep him company (and also learn how to play guitar hero, although i was disappointed that “reputation” wasn’t the joan jett version). we were listening to the new angels and airwaves cd that he got and fell asleep on his bedroom floor. i feel like lately i’ve been sleeping more and more, and half the time i feel like i ought to be back in high school, heading to bed at 10:30. i’ve just been chalking it up to “old age.”

anyway we woke up and i left around 2am, came home and decided to head in late to work. so i didn’t wake up until almost 10 when i made my way into work. it was a productive day at the office and flew by. came home, watched some ANTM, and here i am. in about an hour i’m going to go meet brianna at starbucks, which will be a nice way to wound down the night.

although i have been playing around with paint shop pro which came on my laptop but was always too complicated. i started messing around with it this morning and the stuff from the photoshop class i took back in college (which i can hardly believe is over 3 years ago!) has started coming back. maybe we’ll see some fun examples of that on here soon. i’d like to take photos more regularly. otherwise i feel like the new camera isn’t really going to use. in the meantime, here’s a picture i played with of me and paul:

olddaysportrait31.jpg

on a less “dear diary”-esque note, my church has started a blog that they update with ideas for bible readings and discussions. i think it’ll be a good tool to use for short daily readings/devotionals, especially because there’s no flipping or fumbling involved–click and it’s there, plus you can access it from anywhere. i love seeing churches and faith be so hip to the technological age; it’s pretty cool.

the idea of doubt is weird to me. because if you talk about god, even though i don’t understand him and i know i still have miles and acres to traverse and learn about him, i still know that He is good and He loves me and He will watch out for me. i don’t really have a hard time grappling that. or at least i don’t think i do.

but i’ve realized, lately, that when it comes to matters of the heart, i do.  i have a hard time giving my heart over and trusting in it. i think it’s a flip-of-the-coin thing: in the good in the bad, i know that God is doing what ultimately is best for me, even through the struggles and hard times. so i know that they will come and that they will strengthen me. but i think that i almost expect them too much. that even though i trust they will be for good, i expect them to happen. and so i set myself up for them and keep a watchful eye, almost willing them to happen.

i’ve realized that i do that with paul. and, admittedly, it’s dumb. we talk at least once a day. he holds doors for me and smiles at me and listens to me. he opens up to me. we hang out multiple times a week (this past week, we hung out, for some amount of time, on sunday, monday, thursday, friday and saturday). so should i doubt? but inevitably i do. with thoughts of “well he doesn’t do this like he used to” or “this has changed.” it almost seems inevitable for me to think that he’s always on the brink of leaving or losing interest. and i suppose it’s probably a lot of  insecurities, but i also chalk much of it up to selfishness.

because in my doubting, what does that say to him? your word isn’t good enough? your past actions aren’t good enough?

i try to think of relationships–friendships, romantic, etc.–in light of God. and so i think about how in the Bible they always refer to him as “the God of Israel” or “the God of Abraham.” they reference the things he’s done, almost as a reminder and testament of his nature–what he’s done in the past and so what he’s certain to do in the future. and yet, you watch time and time again how the israelites turn their back on god and stop trusting him. i mean, they’ve seen him provide for them and lead them out of deserts, and yet they still waver. which is why i think those reminders of how he’s proven himself in the past are so important; as humans we need those reminders. because we’re so easy to stray.

and so i have to learn to trust and let past actions speak for themselves, and quit being wrapped up in looking out for myself–and expecting that i’m the only one who will do that. it reminds me of the whole adam and eve story, when eve’s convinced to eat the fruit, because satan convinces her that god is holding out on her. and so she doubts god and all the promises he’s made and all the past blessings he’s poured out. she wavers and decides to take matters into her own hands. she turns her back on god and sins. i have to let go of that need to control and be on alert for those things. i’m sure i’ll never really overcome that (i think that’s kind of the curse of being a daughter of eve), but still. i want to trust instead of doubt. which otherwise i feel like comes so easily.

i think it’s hard with paul because there’s a lot at stake. of course i know that if it goes south, there’s purpose in that and that it’s just another step along the way. and i can handle that–i’ve been there before. so what am i so scared of?

but then i think about how God fashioned us after him, how he planted little pieces/reflections of himself in us. and i wonder if this, this need for reassurance, is a manipulation of Him. because you look at how Jesus shows us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. the first thing he does is praise God. he tells God that he loves him. and God loves that, God wants to hear that. he knows everything about us and everything in our hearts and everything before it happens, but yet he still likes hearing it. just like i do. and in church today we were talking about doubt, and Jonathan quoted the verse in Mark 9:24  where a man tells Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” he believes but still has unbelief.

so that’s not me making excuses, it’s just me exploring and prodding. and trying to learn.

my involvement in small groups at church has had an interesting path. i sampled one or two in college, another when i went to birmingham and then another at the first church i tried when i moved back to cincinnati. nothing stuck, nothing was compelling.

then i found eastside, and through eastside, a small group where i met the girls who would later become my best friends. it was an unequivocal blessing. that group grew and became too massive and unruly so i left and put my passions elsewhere–into leading the junior high girls and into helpOTR. after being out of a same-age small group for about 10 months, in march i joined up with one. we started off reading “fight like a girl.” and it was what i needed. in tara leigh cobble’s book “here’s to hindsight,” she talks about the Tuesday Night Jesus Club gatherings she and her friends would have down in nashville. i like to think of this as my own little version.

we made our way through “fight like a girl” (a pretty good book, although i’d recommend “captivating” as a more useful and insightful read), and have just started on the relevant book “what now?”. we’re still in the beginnings, but the book is about finding your god-given purpose, and yesterday it included a quiz about uncovering your spiritual gifts. i’d never really taken one of those tests, but this one was really, really interesting. i was actually surprised by the “results” it offered up, and in that way, very pleased. i love when you get epiphanies about yourself that had been heretofore hidden from you. it’s like getting a cupcake with sprinkles or something. very tasty and out-of-the-blue.

the gifts it pointed out for me after a little quiz (that link shows all the possible gifts):

  • mercy; “The special gift whereby the Spirit enables certain Christians to feel exceptional empathy and compassion for those who are suffering (physically, mentally, or emotionally) so as to feel genuine sympathy for their misery, speaking words of compassion, but more so caring for them with acts of love that help alleviate their distress.”
  • faith; “The special conviction God gives to some to be firmly persuaded of God’s power and promises to accomplish His will and purpose and to display such a confidence in Him and His Word that circumstances and obstacles do not shake that conviction.”
  • pastor/shepherd; “The special ability God gives to some to assume a long-term personal responsibility for leadership and the spiritual care, protection, guidance, and feeding (teaching) of a group of believers.”
  • teaching; “The special ability God gives to some to explain the truths of the Word of God clearly and to apply them effectively so that those taught understand and learn. To instruct others in the Bible in a logical and systematic way so as to communicate pertinent information for true understanding and growth.”

the whole “pastor/shepherd” one kind of freaks me out because it sounds so B-I-G, but at the same time it’s really heartening. and makes sense considering the place where i’ve ended up and the relationships i’ve made along the way.

and so, dovetailing on that, another small group is on it’s way, too. eastside has been pushing its new tapestry series and encouraging every person in the congregation to join a small group. i hadn’t heard anything about one for my age group so i volunteered. so far, i’ve heard back from about 1/2 a dozen ladies who are interested. so it should spark some really good dialogue. i just hope i’m not over-committing myself. but i don’t think that god would let me falter when it comes to something that’s concerning him. i think he’ll make it work. i have–say it with me–Faith that he’ll make it a blessing and not a burden.

🙂

now i realize that i originally said that one of the things i wanted to do with this journal (“blog” is such a weird word) was to try to focus on thoughts and deep-down stuff, not fluff. and i realize that my most recent post was all about drinking and parties and the like–not exactly something that i’d brag about in an interview.

the reason for that–for posting that–is that i’m trying to learn how to be okay with being imperfect and having messed up, and admitting those things. it’s not that i believe drinking is wrong, but i do believe it made me do stupid things–many of which were associated with nights like the ones i listed. i’m not proud of them, but they exist. and because i did them and because i actually view them as good things (in that i learned from them), i have to be open about them rather than lock them up in some air-controlled safe.

because i’m learning that being a christian isn’t about being perfect. otherwise the whole notion of grace would be null-and-void. having messed up and being able to take the steps to pick up the pieces and move on is much more attractive than never having any pieces to pick up in the first place. that’s because every one of us knows that we ourselves have plenty of pieces and are broken, so we need others to be able to relate to, who can walk alongside us and share in the growing pains together and learn from one another. perfection is alienating, in that it’s fake.

and so, here i am admitting that i have done dumb things and am still feeling my way around. i don’t have it all figured out, not nearly. but sometimes i’m afraid that i don’t reveal that often enough–that i don’t let my guard down to let others know that they’re not alone and that i’m just as much in this mess as they are.

(plus, i think they’re pretty entertaining stories. i mean, seriously: Sock Man?!)

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