Category Archives: Blessings

Here, Lord, have my Pinterest project

This is NOT the blog I intended on writing today, or the blog I intended upon writing this past week.

But, God interrupted my life today, and I can’t say no.

In fact, that was the whole point of today. Being a missionary is being someone who lets God interrupt your life. And I want to be a missionary.

Oh, not your classic outdated jumper-wearing, braided-hair, frumpy missionary wife in need of a pedicure, or the iconic Victorian era outpost with the white folk who went out to “save the natives from uncivilized behavior,” carrying with them equal portions of the white man’s burden and their larger than life Bible.

I want to be on mission with God. I want to be an active part of building His Kingdom. I don’t want to come to the end of my days and find that what I show up to the pearly white gates with is a really neat Pinterest project worthy of a DIY blog, or some really rock hard abs from my days as a gym rat or Crossfit chick.

So, allow me to explain what I mean. Today was just a whole heaping, steaming, helping of conviction. It started with me realizing what a crappy wife I am. I didn’t want to go the “Go Conference” my church was holding today from 9am til 1pm for a variety of reasons. Number one being my semi-arrogant assumption that it would be a bunch of “Misisons” information I’ve heard before in my trainings for my many previous “missions trips.” I also wanted to sleep in, spread a blanket out in the back yard, and enjoy some sun for a few hours on my Saturday. I wanted no agenda but mine. I think you see where this is going.

My sweet, godly husband, who most times only asks to do things because he perceives, and knows, they will benefit us, REALLY, really wanted to attend this conference. God has been increasingly growing his heart for the nations, and I, like an idiot, was poo-pooing this. I, who ironically, for many, many years prayed and beseeched the Lord for a man with a heart for missions was discouraging my brand-new, fresh out of the oven husband, from leading our family into doing something that would enable us to engage in undertakings much larger than ourselves. Being a part of God’s story, not just our own, is something we prayed for at our wedding, something so many people prayed for for me faithfully for a long, LONG time. Shame on me.

I got to church, we got to church, because the Holy Spirit was convicting me of my selfishness, even though I was still battling my cheerfulness at being up and at it by 7:30 on a Saturday morning. Instantly, the convictions rose higher and higher, like the description in the super trendy “Oceans” song by Hillsong right now. I almost cried, tears welled up at how good God is to me for giving me a man who leads me into days that are just what my heart needs, and how utterly gallingly human I am for almost dismissing and discarding them, and him. I leaned over, whispered to him, and apologized deeply.

And then I leaned into the rest of today’s message, and it was just what I needed. The statistics on the number of people who need Jesus, shoot, who just need to have a word in their own tongue for God Himself, are staggering. I’d heard them before, and the many biblical reasons why “Missions” is THE pivotal role of the Church, but today things rang clearer than they have for awhile, and today, my desire was renewed to be on “Mission.”

Today, I came face to face with the opportunity to begin seeking out relationships with the many nations who live right here in my hometown and attend our local universities. It would take merely a few hours out of my week to spend time building a friendship with some of these folks, helping them with their language acquisition, and providing them with places to go for the holidays, or when they just need a friend. The reality that so many international students arrive to America every year and do not ever get invited into American homes is sobering, challenging, and downright heart-breaking.

So, of course, in light of this great need, here’s where my mind goes:

“But, uh, what about the time I spend at the gym. I don’t want to get chubby or flabby.”

“And what about all the house projects we have going. I just need some time to establish our home.”

“And what about the fact that I already feel like I don’t have any extra time and we don’t even have kids yet, just two retrievers.”

Ahem, interruption.

That’s what it means to live a life for the Kingdom, for others, for the glory of His name. Because here’s the thing. Am I really going to show up, at the end of my days, and be satisfied to present to Jesus some super nifty craft I made with letters and decoupage? Or, flex my biceps and impress Jesus with my incredibly ripped body? Hey, Lord, yeah, so while I was doing my time down there, these things were pretty important. And then He points to me and asks, “Where are they now?” [Those things that rust and fade, or sag and age?] And meanwhile, he steps aside, and as the nations walk past me, He asks, “Where were you when they…[needed a meal, a friend, the Gospel]?

Am I really going to have the audacity to present that those “accomplishments” to my Lord? No, I am not. I am sometimes foolhardy, and stubborn, and selfish, but I just can’t be that disobedient. I can’t be that unwilling to be interrupted.

So, here, Lord, have my Pinterest project, and my body, and my time, and my money too. It is yours. Interrupt me, please.

Fit 3.30

I suppose I’m like most girls. It’s approximately two months before my wedding day, and I’ve upped my usual 5 times a week to the gym to 6 times a week. I’ve limited my sugar intake (quite the fete for me), and I’ve invested in some good skin and hair care products. I’ve got fitness and health goals from here until next Thursday and back.

And so far, I’ve been pretty successful. At the physical anyways.

What I’m realizing tonight is that my spiritual goals are lagging somewhere far behind, like some sad senior playing on the JV team.

Currently, my one spiritual goal for now until March 30th (in 51 days and 18 hours) is to finish a Bible study I’m doing on the life of the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. If I work on my study 5-6 days a week for the next 7 weeks, I should be able to finish it before the Big Day. And what I’m realizing even more than just the ridiculous difficulty in keeping that one spiritual goal when I can squat my own physical body weight, is that that one goal is probably far more important than all of my physical ones combined. The aspiration, task, journey towards being spiritually ready for marriage, if met, or at least in process, is probably a much more profound, long-lasting, and selfless achievement than any number of inches counted around my waist or pounds dropped on the scale. Those external things, in comparison to the internal things, are much more vain, shallow, and fleeting than a Proverbs 31 woman would claim, for a noble wife, who can find? Her worth is far greater than kettle bell thrusters, heavy deadlifts, and Chanel perfume.

And the thing about studying John is this. That man loved Jesus. He was the disciple that Jesus loved, but boy, did John love Him right back. He loved Him. In a He is my best friend and my big brother and the man whose mother I will care for as my own kind of way. In a everyone else has left Him, scared, but I follow Him to the cross and I watch my Hero die an agonizing death because I love Him too much to ever leave Him, even in His darkest, most unutterably painful to be a part of hour kind of way. Perhaps it seems weird, but Jesus’ life, seen through the lens of John, as though I can kind of channel John’s soul for a few weeks, helps me see Jesus as my own Hero, Best Friend, Big Brother, and Savior better. I am beginning to grasp more of what it means to be a good friend. And to want desperately to be one.

And this, this is an even greater gift than the one I could give to my Zachary on our wedding day. To be a faithful friend to Jesus. To be the bride adorned for her heavenly Bridegroom. Not that I could ever give Jesus a gift He needs, but I think this is one He probably desperately wants. My spiritual fitness, my faith, my forever “I do and I will, til death does NOT do us part, and I am Your’s Lord, forever.”

If you are a friend of mine, I ask you, help me stay accountable to pursuing spiritual fitness and faithfulness to Jesus these next pre-nuptial days, and all the happily ever after ones too.

Because of Christmas

Let me tell you a story about this day, last year…

Christmas day, last year, I sat crying in a corner of my aunt’s bathroom. I smashed myself up against the corner of her armoire, where the furniture met my body and the hard wall.  After balling on the toilet, I managed to walk a few spaces, slink onto the carpet, and collapse into sobs. The audible sounds of my cousins’ and family’s mirth and joy playing games outside only served to mock and heighten my own sorrow and dejection. I refused to take part, I refused to go outside the room, I refused to be consoled. I accepted the offer of a blanket, and a nap on my aunt’s bed.

I was bitterly lonely, tirelessly hopeless, beaten down, despairing of the future, and heartbroken beyond words. I was sure many more Christmases awaited me as the awkward single member of the family, always awaiting the many questions about my (non)existent, or painful, dating life, one that seemed to birth only trouble and heartache, if it birthed anything beyond barren dreams.

Somewhere, though, in the midst of those tears, a tweet vibrated on my phone. A young man saw my sorrow on twitter, and sent out a white flag of friendly concern. A mere acknowledgement of my pain, and a simple wish for me to have a Merry Christmas.

Now, let me tell you a story about Christmas today, this year…

I sit on my bed, a little sick from the appetizers, and meals, and desserts of 4 Christmases enjoyed in the last 24 hours, and double the gifts, memories, and love than I’ve ever experienced in a Christmas before. The reflections of last night’s Christmas Eve with my fiancé’s family are still as warm and peaceful as the night itself. This morning’s fire and coffee and wrapping paper frenzy with him and my family is as clear as last minute. And this afternoon and evening shared with old and new aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and grandparents provides sounds and voices still ringing jubilantly in my ears. I played games, and I watched the light dance in and out of the diamonds on my left hand, and I rooted for the Applegates, of whom I now count myself one, and I kissed a man I will call husband in 3 months and 5 days.

I am blissfully content, dreamily hopeful, refreshed, expectant of good years to come, and thankfully happy beyond measure. There are no more single Christmases for me. No more silent prayers in the night that it be my last holiday season alone. I answer questions now about my wedding on March 30, and, to be honest, on most days, it still feels unreal.

And that certain young man who tweeted at me last year? Well, he’s sitting beside me. And, I’m whispering to him, “You fell in love with a broken girl.” And he’s whispering back, “We’re all broken. It’s just that, together, we’re less broken now.”

And I catch my breath, and I thank God for him. And I thank Him for hearing my anguished cries last Christmas, and for answering the prayers I’d knocked down heaven’s doors with for years. And I know this is His best earthly gift to me, the man I will love and cherish for the rest of this life, til death do us part.

And so now, let me tell you just one more story about this day, many, many, some two thousand years ago.

Christmas Day, some millennium ago, a woman cried, writhing in pain, and a baby howled, drawing it’s first breath, and a first time father heaved a prayerful sigh of relief, and also overwhelming exhaustion, and Messiah was born. And the prayers of an entire people since the dawn of time were answered in that night. The world was broken, spattered in war and smothered in evil, sickly, twisted, and with nothing but silent promises from old tablets to measure any kind of hope by. And God gave them a Man, the Man that is Him. And He came down to join us in the filth, and to walk beside us in the weeping, and to love us in the grimness of the dying, and decaying. And to rise victoriously not just from a women’s womb, but from a rich man’s tomb, and to give us wholeness, and healing, hope and joy, peace and shalom.

You see, this year for Christmas, God gave me a man to love me and protect me and hold me these next (I hope) 50+ years. But God already gave me, and the world, a Man, so many Christmases ago. A Man to teach my man to love me and protect me and hold me.  A Man who will not leave me, even after death. A Man who will take me beyond the four walls of this home, or this earth, but into glory. A Man who doesn’t just make me less broken together with Him, but who makes me Whole entirely because of Him.

Last Christmas, and this Christmas, and for all the Christmases to come, and to the ones when I am sitting by His new throne, on the new earth, God gave me Himself.

Out of all the gifts I got this last Christmas, and in probably all the years past, Zachary will always be the best. But, you see, he is just an earthly reminder, that Christmas has always been about God, giving us, a Man.

 

Because He first loved us…

Come, celebrate with me today. Come, today, join in declaring God’s entirely unmerited and unspeakable goodness.

Because this exact day one year ago, I was weeping on my bed, heartbroken. I despaired of ever finding love again. I thought God had forgotten me.

And then, this afternoon, at approximately 1:25pm, I said yes to spending the rest of my God-given days with the man whom my soul loves.

And because, long before Jesus gave me Zac, He gave me so much more than a mere mortal; He gave me more of Him. He gave me heartbreak, so He could give me hope. He gave me pain, so He could teach me the intricate beauties of joy. He gave me loss, so when He gave me life again, I would ever only praise Him.

Because today, after I slipped a ring on my finger, I spent an afternoon with people (those both near and far) who love me, and who love my fiancee well. People who have walked with both of us through dark, dark days, have seen our trials, our crucibles, and our innermost fears. And because today, they got to share in our celebration, our joy, our dreams, and our futures. Because God gave us the kind of friends who love well, because He first loved them.

My cup runneth over. I have so much. My fiancee once asked me, a while ago, if pain was a greater muse for me than joy.

Oh no, my love. I weep such tears of great blessing tonight. I weep because of the love poured out on me today.

I rejoice because He first loved us, so that we could love each other.

 

P.S. For those who don’t know the story… Today, Zac took me to the San Juan Capistrano Mission. After touring around for a while on a simply beautiful, blue-sky October day, and enjoying the rich, multi-cultural and religious history he and I love so much to explore together, we sat down at a koi pond/fountain in the center of the mission courtyard. We chatted, we ate our favorite candies, and we snacked. We instagrammed, and tweeted, and then Zac proceeded to share all those mushy things lovers share, and he got down on one knee, and he opened a box. I said, yes, and we spent the rest of our afternoon celebrating with friends and family at one of our favorite downtown Riverside eateries, Simple Simon’s. It was all things us, and it was delightful. Hoping only one day will top it, and that’s a day slated for sometime early this Spring. 🙂

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For you, Grandpa.

For Saturday, when I will be unable to attend my grandfather’s memorial service. Either my dad or brother will be reading this for me.

Grandpa,

I’m sorry I’m not here physically today. But know that I am in spirit. More than that, I’m here in writing, which was our thing. So, in many ways, I am perhaps more here than I could be any other way.

Speaking of ways, If I got to have things my way, one day not too far away, there’d be a picture of you standing next to me in a big, pretty white dress. And then, a few years later, there’d be a picture of you holding my first child, reading him or her a book. Just like the picture I have of you reading to me, 28 years ago. If I got to have things my way, I would have visited you one more time. Said I love you one more time, and thanked you for giving me the gift of writing.

So, I’m thanking you now, and believing that you know. From as long ago as I can remember, I’ve loved to tell stories. I don’t know where else I got this from, but you, and the Good Lord. I remember talking to you about writing, and building good stories, and creativity. You were, in many ways, my first narrative teacher. And that instilled in me a love for the written word that persists today in many facets, both in the classroom as a teacher of literature, and at home on my computer as a blogger and journal-er.

You taught me how to use my writing not just to express imagination though, but to illuminate truth. You modeled this through your own writing, as you sent me CD-Roms full of novels, plays, and scripts you were working on, and hoping to publish. You helped me see the art and subtlety of using narrative to explain greater spiritual realities. It’s my desire one day to publish something of this nature, and to place your name after the copyright page. Writing was more than just a hobby for which you had a natural penchant, it was a mission. As I get older, I am beginning to understand how that mission may have left me with an inheritance.

Some of my fondest memories are listening to you tell me old World War II stories over the phone. I was inspired to write a 40’s novel, complete with spies, and little did I know you had some secrets of your own to share in that conversation. I remember thinking, “My grandpa is the coolest,” after hearing that you worked with intelligence for the British MI-5. Perhaps it’s because you’re such a good story-teller, or perhaps because you have a flair for the dramatic, or perhaps just because you wanted to get a rise out of your dear old granddaughter and were still dreaming of some old bygone glory days, but your sense of adventure was contagious and inspiring.

I am thankful that the last time I saw you, I got to hear the story of your trip to America from Germany when you were 6, and to see the pictures of the ship you arrived on. Next time I got to New York, I can look up our family in the Ellis Island registry, put my finger on the page (covered by glass of course), and be thankful that a long time ago, a family set sail for the United States. And sometime after that, you met a woman, married her, had my dad, and then read to a little girl who grew to love books, and words, and the power and beauty of language.

I can’t wait to hear stories of heaven one day. Until then, I will keep writing, remembering, and being thankful for your part in my story.

I love you, Grandpa.

Tambourine Time

So, there’s this passage in Jeremiah that keeps me following me around these past 6 months or so. I guess this must mean there’s something in it for me, I pray for others, too.

It is interesting that, after the Boston terrorist attacks, and the sad news of the death of Rick Warren’s son a few weekends ago, this passage has once again found me, but this time, while my heart breaks for the sorrow of others, I find my own existence not on the mourning side, but on the tambourine side.

1 “And when that happens”—God’s Decree— “it will be plain as the sun at high noon: I’ll be the God of every man, woman, and child in Israel and they shall be my very own people.”2-6This is the way God put it: “They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!” God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again, dear virgin Israel. You’ll resume your singing, grabbing tambourines and joining the dance. You’ll go back to your old work of planting vineyards on the Samaritan hillsides, And sit back and enjoy the fruit— oh, how you’ll enjoy those harvests! The time’s coming when watchmen will call out from the hilltops of Ephraim: ‘On your feet! Let’s go to Zion, go to meet our God!'”7Oh yes, God says so: “Shout for joy at the top of your lungs for Jacob! Announce the good news to the number-one nation! Raise cheers! Sing praises. Say, ‘God has saved his people, saved the core of Israel.‘8″Watch what comes next: “I’ll bring my people back from the north country And gather them up from the ends of the earth, gather those who’ve gone blind And those who are lame and limping, gather pregnant women, Even the mothers whose birth pangs have started, bring them all back, a huge crowd!9″Watch them come! They’ll come weeping for joy as I take their hands and lead them, Lead them to fresh flowing brooks, lead them along smooth, uncluttered paths. Yes, it’s because I’m Israel’s Father and Ephraim’s my firstborn son!10-14″Hear this, nations! God’s Message! Broadcast this all over the world! Tell them, ‘The One who scattered Israel will gather them together again. From now on he’ll keep a careful eye on them, like a shepherd with his flock.’ I, God, will pay a stiff ransom price for Jacob; I’ll free him from the grip of the Babylonian bully.The people will climb up Zion’s slopes shouting with joy, their faces beaming because of God’s bounty— Grain and wine and oil, flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. Their lives will be like a well-watered garden, never again left to dry up. Young women will dance and be happy, young men and old men will join in. I’ll convert their weeping into laughter, lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy. I’ll make sure that their priests get three square meals a day and that my people have more than enough.'” God’s Decree.15-17Again, God’s Message: “Listen to this! Laments coming out of Ramah, wild and bitter weeping. It’s Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace. Her children are gone, gone—long gone into exile.” But God says, “Stop your incessant weeping, hold back your tears. Collect wages from your grief work.” God’s Decree. “They’ll be coming back home! There’s hope for your children.” God’s Decree.18-19″I’ve heard the contrition of Ephraim. Yes, I’ve heard it clearly, saying, ‘You trained me well. You broke me, a wild yearling horse, to the saddle. Now put me, trained and obedient, to use. You are my God. After those years of running loose, I repented. After you trained me to obedience, I was ashamed of my past, my wild, unruly past. Humiliated, I beat on my chest. Will I ever live this down?’20″Oh! Ephraim is my dear, dear son, my child in whom I take pleasure! Every time I mention his name, my heart bursts with longing for him! Everything in me cries out for him. Softly and tenderly I wait for him.” God’s Decree

Tonight this passage snuck back in because I’m currently doing a week long study on joy. Turns out, joy is often something that must be discovered… amidst pain, difficulty, and suffering. Oh, good. We all like those things. Super fun. Bust out the tambourines, right? No. NO!

Wait, yes. Yes. Bust out the tambourines! Because perhaps the most beautiful thing about joy is restoration. There is no celebration that is truly heartfelt if mourning has not first been experienced. The woman rejoiced over the lost coin because what was lost was found again.

There was a time not too long ago, when I thought all my hope was lost. These verses gave me hope that one day, my joy would be restored. I read this passage now, and I am thankful that I can see God handing me the tambourine I now hold, reminding me that even in all of the pain, He was ever present, waiting to restore, waiting to hold my hand as I danced again. And so, there is just as much hope and beauty on the fulfilled, satisfied side of this text, as there was on the expectant, waiting side.

I don’t have any miraculous words of healing or some mystical offer of hope for those who are hurting, who I know are many. My heart bleeds for you. And yet, my soul rejoices, because I know that on the other side of Calvary and Golgotha and the bitter waters of the wilderness … is Zion.

H Town and the “Spiritual Life”

I should be running in Houston right now, because it’s like 66 degrees, and only about 10 of those could probably be described as wet. In my four trips to Texas thus far, this is the coolest weather yet.

But, I find myself sitting instead on this gray-blue, wooden porch swing in an older, antique burrough in the city, reading, writing, and reflecting. And it’s probably better for my soul than any jog would be for my body.

I realize now that the four times I’ve traveled to Texas have become mile markers for me in the last two years. I wandered up and down some streets this morning, looking for a coffee shop, and reflected back to this time last October, when I wandered down some streets with my good friend Jess, looking for both a coffee shop and the broken pieces of my heart, that seemed irretrievable at the time.

This morning, I found the coffee shop with ease, and I realized, that God also has begun putting back together all those broken pieces of my heart with Himself, and some added blessings along the way, “For God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20).

I couldn’t help but walk back from Boomtown Cafe, full not only of maple leaf lattes and a breakfast taco, but full of God’s goodness and faithfulness to me. And I started thinking about all my trips to Texas, particularly, Houston, and the state my heart has been in all of them. And it kind of reminds me of these four stages of “the Spiritual Life” that Henri Nouwen describes in his book, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. Nouwen talks about being taken, blessed, broken, and given as God’s beloved. While my life, in Houstonian terms, doesn’t follow these stages in that exact order, I have seen my own journey take me to these different spiritual spaces in the last 18 to 24 months, and there are specific moments in time that Houston has managed to capture.

Summer 2011: Broken. This was my first trip to Texas, and I hated every second of it. I was dropping off my best friend, saying goodbye to her, and closing a chapter on one of the sweetest seasons of roommate blessings I’d had. I felt like Texas took my person, my heart, and swallowed me whole, leaving me this desert land to return to, where only loneliness stood waiting to embrace me with open, scrawny, bare arms. I was bitter. I was broken. I just didn’t want Jesus in any of that yet.

Summer 2012: Blessed. This was my second trip to Texas, and I loved every second of it. I got to see my best friend, and I was en route to a special guy I was dating at the end of it. This trip was laughter, it was hope, it was promises of good things to come, and it was easy. I felt like God had begun to restore the things He had taken, and the future was looking good. The future wasn’t necessarily looking good because God was filling all of it though; it was looking good because I foresaw gifts from God that I was desiring to keep and make mine.

October 2012: Taken. This was my third trip to Texas, and it wasn’t planned. I was supposed to be somewhere else with someone else, but God had taken those things. And He took them, so He could give me more of Himself. And on my last evening there, sitting at a women’s night listening to the speaker, God took my heart, and broke me in the good way, so He could bless me in a way that couldn’t be taken.

April 2013: Given. This is now my fourth trip to Texas, and it’s by far the best. I’m sitting on a porch swing, reflecting on what it means to be beloved by God, and I’m realizing how much I’ve been given, and also feeling the challenge to give myself back, and wondering what that’s supposed to look like. God has given me healing, He’s given me hope, He’s given me rich relationships, and blessings beyond measure (both things eternal and things temporal), and my heart just wants to give back, not because it has to, but because it’s content. Full. Spilling over.

Sitting on this porch swing earlier, I read “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And He has, even here, in humid Houston.

 

Humble Confetti Cake

I ate a huge piece of this today, at 7am, metaphorically speaking.

The cake I, Newspaper Mama, made for one of my photographer’s birthdays last night, did not survive the trek from the front door of the house to the front passenger seat of my car. At just the time when I should have been rolling through the Starbucks drive thru, my cake was rolling out of its pan, frosting side down, and flopping indecently onto my driver’s side upholstery. All of this, while my tumbler of water took it upon itself to tilt precariously and add to the carnage by spilling onto said seat. Great, not only is my coffee time now sacrificed to the funfetti frosting, but I’m going to arrive to 1st period with a wet bum.

At this point in my barely awake state, Scary Becka returned with the passion of a thousand strong men. I flung the offensive cake pan, ran huffing and puffing into the house, screaming, and began to bang my hands against the counters in protest. Mutterings of a profane sort emerged and a whole lot of smacking things, like paper towel containers, happened.

The mess itself was cleaned relatively quickly, but the mess in my heart wasn’t quite so easy to restore to its previous condition. I suppose its probably because the mess in my heart had been building for quite some time, just invisibly. It was as though in that ornery funfetti frosting lay all of my frustrations, stresses, sleeplessness, and resentment. Each little brightly colored sprinkle represented another ill: non-stop work (green), crazy student emails (yellow), demanding boss emails (orange), 160 needy high schoolers (pink), PapersOnPapersOnPapers to grade (blue), missed Jesus time (purple), missed gym time (more pink), missed blog time (more green), and I could go on. But, it all spread itself out as clearly and plainly as that white frosting stood out against my gray seats and seatbelt. It just wasn’t sweet like the frosting. It wasn’t sweet at all. It provoked bitterness and anger and self pity and victim mentality and it took all I had not to call in “sick” for the day so I could just have 8 hours to soak in my own misery.

Thankfully, I bit the bullet, and I drove my coffee-less state to work and I managed to survive until my prep period when work bestie and I escorted ourselves off campus to score some Starbucks, and the world made sense again. Thankfully I was gone this whole day because if I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have come home to today’s biggest blessing.

Quite the opposite of a soiled cakey car, I opened the door to my house at 3pm and found a sparkling clean, shiny, lemony fresh home awaiting me. My dear roommate, who unfortunately witnessed my mess, had cleaned the entire place. She must have known how much I hate having a dirty home, and how I loathed not finding the time to clean the place these last two weeks, because she served me today in quite possibly the most practical and sacrificial way. You see, she woke up this morning with a migraine and no sleep. But, in her own laundry list of things to do, she found time to love me ever so well.

And I was humbled. So humbled I kind of felt sick. I don’t love you well enough to deserve this. How can I repay you? What can I give back to let you know how much I appreciate your service? Your sacrifice? Your work? Why did you beat me to this act? I should have loved you this well first.

And I realize now, that as Mumford and Sons sings, “That’s how this whole grace thing works.” My roommate loved me today, with agape love. She loved me with Jesus love. She loved me in a way that fit me perfectly. And, to try and somehow feel the need to competitively pay her back would probably make a mockery of her service at best, and wound her at worst.

How often do I do that with God? He has given me so many blessings. Undoubtedly, today’s biggest blessing was my roommate’s gift of cleanliness. And I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve for my angry, scary, violent 7am rant to produce such a sweet afternoon gift. It seems fitting, for my last Lent blog, to be one that so clearly acknowledges my own weakness, my own sin, my own undeserving-ness, my own humanity, and therefore so clearly highlights God’s great love and magnanimity.

And so, my heartfelt response of love to my roommate was to march down and get her a Starbucks card to let her know how appreciated she is.

But, my heartfelt response to God, for his undeserved grace was simply this poem/song:

Let me suck out all the marrow of the goodness of Life,

Let me drink to the last, the dregs of the cup of Your kindness.

Fatten my heart with your sweet Faithfulness,

So that when hunger and starvation strike again,

I have stored for myself a pantry of Your remembered Delights.

Lenten Joy

It’s Sunday night, which undeniably means I am stressed. There is the automatic and assumed grieving of the weekend that happens every Sunday night to just about every employed red-blooded American. But, then there is also the weekly grocery shopping, the getting out of clothes for the next 5 days, the making of the Monday lunch, and finally, there is the dreaded grading and planning for the second job.

And with Lent this year, there is also blogging. I’ve somehow found myself in this routine during my commitment to blog twice a week this year’s Lenten season. I blog once during the week (typically Wednesday night) and I blog once during the weekend (typically REALLY late Saturday night or sometime on Sunday). And I both anticipate and loathe this routine.

Lent this year has most definitely been a sacrifice for me. I don’t really have time to write right now. I barely have time to work, sleep, work, and sleep, and maintain important relationships with the people I care about. But, as I say this, Lent has also been one of the absolute most rewarding and satisfying experiences I’ve had with creativity, processing, and my own passions in a long time.

I was so worried when I started blogging back up after all the Ugly was dealt with, that I would find myself Muse-less sans pain. I was wrong. I’ve yet to lack for a good topic that has just sort of come to me, and I’ve yet to experience Writer’s Block ~knock on wood~. I’ve processed through some thoughts I do not think I would have been able to nail down so succinctly had it not been for this Lenten challenge, and I have, as a result of putting them in the written word, probably held myself more accountable for these some realizations and reflections than if I had just let them spin like tops in my own isolated brain.

I’ve also been toying for a long time with the desire to write some sort of spiritual memoir (as a friend so aptly put it on Facebook the other day) and have managed thus far to just collect a heap of vignettes, seemingly unrelated. It’s on my Absurdly Hopeful/Bucketlist to publish a book one day, and I imagine it will probably take this avenue in some form or fashion. But, what I’ve really struggled with is the concept of THEME.

How do I take these seemingly distinct, dissident, and different life lessons and beautiful Jesus moments and weave them into a cohesive tale that others may actually find mildly intriguing?

I still don’t really know the answer to this, and so I just keep writing, but I seem to have landed on a THEME for my life recently. God gives me people, and takes those people, and then gives me others, as a vital part of my sanctification process. Other characters have always been hugely impactful in the story of my own character. And He always seems to introduce them at just the right time, choosing to leave some there for a long time, and to take some long before I think it’s time. In either circumstance, I am unduly blessed.

This is a topic/THEME I think bears further explanation and processing. But, as it is 8:36pm and I already have those Sunday night blues, and a powerpoint lecture to plan and 20 essays to grade, I’m going to leave this thought dangling for tonight.

I still have 2 more Lent blogs left to let this all unravel. And then, of course, there’s the whole rest of my life and days to write during and about and for and through.

For now, I am just supremely thankful that in a season in which we are meant to reflect on our own mortality and morbidity, God has taught me so much about life. May I learn to write all my days, for as long as they are numbered.

The Key to Hope…

“Hope is a thing with feathers,” said Emily Dickinson, and well, quite recently, mine took flight, at least until this January when Hope rang in with the New Year.

So, there’s the three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. God taught me a lot about Faith and Love in the last two years, but more particularly, in the last six months. The lessons were hard, but, I’m pleased to say, I think they’re sticking. Hope, however, took awhile to catch up to her virtuous sisters.

See, here’s the thing about Hope. She’s often closely followed by her darker brother, Despair. He’s kind of a monster. He can swallow you whole and leave nothing in his wake. Nothing. And there’s nothing worse, than nothing. In my life, I built a lot of my Hope on things or people who can easily be taken. Despair didn’t have to wait long to claim me in those circumstances. I was easy prey for the diabolical killer of all things good. I was, in every sense of the word, the Hopeless Romantic, dying a thousand sleepless dreamless deaths.

But, somewhere in October, when I began to realize why Hope kept failing me, I started a rather prolific search in the Scriptures to discover what I truly can hope in. The answer, much to my chagrin, was honestly not a whole lot brighter: Death. Yup, but not Death as in the final state. Death as in Glory, Jesus, heaven, paradise, redemption. Now, this is all well and good, but the problem is, it just made me long for Death in a way that I used to long for Hope. If nothing good on this earth was left to dream for, because dreams turned to ash, then heck, I might as well just begin asking for Death. I followed along with John in Revelations and prayed, “Amen, come quickly Lord Jesus”… At least, just for me. A bit morbid, yes. But, you see, I suffer from this condition called “Awfulizing.”

Take any normal situation, a speeding ticket on the way home, a broken kitchen appliance, a long to do list, a failed relationship, a broken heart, a… I could go on. But, take any one of those very human, very average circumstances, and exaggerate them to their nth worse degree. That’s awfulizing. That’s me. Or, at least it was me until January.

And then I had my Chateau D’If night, and God freed me of all my old awfulizings, and in some mystical fashion, I began to Hope again. I guess, in short, I began to dream again. There were things I wanted, and I said goodbye to them in October, November, and December. I mourned them, gave them up, and resigned myself to a life without them. But, life without dreams is just plain sad, and I was sick of sadness. I was sick of hopelessness. I didn’t want to be the Hopeless Romantic. The phrase doesn’t really even make sense. Romanticism, as a movement, was all about hope and a rosy-colored perspective, and seeing the good, beauty, and truth in the world. I wanted that again. I wanted to start afresh. Interestingly, and little to my knowledge, I was recently informed that Hope is the word that pops up most often on my blog. So, it would seem that while I gave up every semblance of it, Hope did not give up on me. It kept resurfacing. I began, in time, once I realized the awfulizing had to go, to dream again.

I knew Jesus was my ultimate Hope, and I knew He would take me to glory again, but I began to want to experience the joy that comes from the good things He gives us here too, the reasons why we still exist on this earth, and the small little Hopes that come from dreaming, as humans are wired to do.

This past weekend, I attended a conference called Storyline. The focus of the conference, hosted by Donald Miller and some of his buddies who are living awesome “stories,” was to consider how all of us can be characters whose lives tell great stories. One of the qualities of a great character is a character who has absurd Hope. Now, I’ll be honest. This frightens me. Like, it seems as though the pendulum is just swinging all the way over from awfulizing to absurdity. Both are extremes. And aren’t extremes typically bad? Isn’t everything ok, in moderation? What if I hope absurdly for things again and then they don’t happen? This is all quite possible. And I am earnestly trying to find some middle ground between awfulizing and absurdity.

But, I guess what I’ve decided, is that if I have to err on one side or the other, let me err on the side of Absurd Hope, not Awful. And if she disappoints me, let me remember Faith, who is the Sister that assures me of things Hoped for and convicts me of things not seen. And in those moments when even Faith seems to drop off, let Love come take me and remind me that she bears all things, believes all things, Hopes all things, endures all things. I suppose a chord of three is not easily broken, right? 

And so, in lieu of ditching my old Awfulizing, and picking up my new Absurdly Hoping, in conjunction with my attempts to tell a great story by being a great character, here are some tangible things (in no uncertain order) I’d like to dare to still Hope for, knowing already that Jesus is my Hope of Glory:

1.) Work on social justice projects

2.) Get married and have beautiful babies

3.) Get my phD in English – hopefully to help with #1

4.) Teach in Africa again (in some capacity)

5.) Write and publish a book

6.) Travel the world (Europe especially)

7.) Live in San Diego and New York

And because Hope tends to be rather flighty, I’ll make number 8.) this: Get my second tattoo, something to make it permanent, you know, really stick this time.

I think you know what it’ll be.