Category Archives: Blessings

When I Asked Jesus to Make Me A Mystic…

 

I didn’t expect Him to lead me out of one wilderness and into another.

When I asked Jesus to make me a mystic, I didn’t really think He would, or worse yet, could.

When I asked Jesus to make me a mystic, I didn’t think it would happen in such a long, no short, no long, no really, short time period.

When I asked Jesus to make me a mystic, I really had no idea what I was asking for at all.

A google search of the word “mystic” proves to be as nebulous and fuzzy as the term itself. Various sources report anything from a person who has an otherworldly experience to a person who dabbles in the occult. Some sources claim mysticism is achieved via intuition, while others seem to stand behind experience. Common Christian mystics throughout history have typically been monks, or others given to a strict monastic sort of lifestyle, people the likes of which include Julian of Norwich, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Thomas a Kempis, and more. Meditation, self-denial, prayer, and pain are associated with the journey to mysticism.

In the throes of 2011, my carpe diem stage, when I prayed and asked God to make me a mystic, despite my hard heart, I actually blogged it here on Sept. 12:

After 6 months in the wilderness, this is my prayer. Plain and simple. It’s all I’ve got. Lord, make me a mystic. Lead me out of the desert. Forgive my sin.Cleanse my heart and make it new. Help me truly, fall in love with You.

Just a tad over a year later, I prayed another prayer on Sept. 24, one that lead me to where I am now: a girl who has actively seen the healing hand of God in her life, who has experienced His miracles, and who has come to believe in the impossible.

When heartbreak came knocking on my door this mid-October, prompted by events that began Sept. 25, after a period of blissful happiness and belief in dreams again, despair answered the bell, swallowed me whole, and left me gasping for breath on the floor. Past anger and bitterness, rage and self pity, I cried out to God, and I waited. I waited for Him to remove pain, to bring joy, to restore peace, to illuminate hope.

It seemed like I waited a lot longer than, in hindsight, I really did. And while I waited I prayed, I sat in my pain, I processed it, I wrote about it, I pondered it, and I begged God to give me a heart for Him beyond and above the pain and the loss and the fears. And on some days, some of my greatest pain came from the feeling that He never would remove the pain, the darkness, and the persistent aches. I heard people say to just “Trust God,” to “let Him show you His love,” and all these other Christian adages that sound nice in the abstract, but are absolutely devoid of semantic meaning when confronted with some tangible need for an explanation. What does it mean, I mean, really mean to “surrender to God,” to “want His will beyond your own”? I sure as hell did not know, but I began to pray that God would make His love for me so rich, real, and palpable that these abstractions would become concrete realities in my heart.

And I waited. And I read and reread and began to memorize Lamentations 3:18 – 33:

 But this I recall and therefore I have hope and expectation: It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness. The Lord is my portion or share, says my living being (my inner self); therefore will I hope in Him and wait expectantly for Him. The Lord is good  to those who wait hopefully and expectantly for Him, to those who seek Him [inquire of and for Him and require Him by right of necessity and on the authority of God’s word]. It is good that one should hope in and wait quietly for the salvation (the safety and ease) of the Lord. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke [of divine disciplinary dealings] in his youth. Let him sit alone uncomplaining and keeping silent [in hope], because [God] has laid [the yoke] upon him [for his benefit]. Let him put his mouth in the dust [in abject recognition of his unworthiness] — there may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the One Who smites him [even through his human agents]’ let him be filled [full] with [men’s] reproach [in meekness]. For the Lord will not cast off forever! But though He causes grief, yet will He be moved to compassion according to the multitude of His loving-kindness and tender mercy. For He does not willingly and from His heart afflict or grieve the children of men.” -Amplified version

And I can honestly say, that the prayers and the clinging to Scripture and the intercession of others, while no doubt were of great effect, did not heal my heart until one day, Jesus just lifted it all. He took the pain, He took the dust and the wormwood and the gall and the ugly, and He cast it off instead of me. And it just took time. It took waiting. It took learning dependence, faith, trust, and hope. It took putting aside bitterness and anger. It took pain. It took the wilderness.

I wonder if this is how Hagar felt in the wilderness, when she learned her God is the God who sees. It took time, it took a journey. I wonder if this is how Joseph felt, when he labored in a prison cell, sold by his own brothers, but learned that what man meant for evil, God meant for good. I wonder if this is what Paul felt, when he endured the lashes and the stonings and the shipwrecks, but proclaimed that His power is made perfect in our weakness.

There is no understanding God’s love apart from His deliverance. Until you have that from which you must be delivered, I don’t doubt none of us can become a mystic. There is a deep saving that must happen, that must be felt in the soul. But, first, there must be a deep fall, a harrowing abyss, a tragic loss that necessitates the saving. There must be a wilderness.

But after that wilderness, oh what love. So now my prayer:

After 3 months in the darkness, and 6 weeks out, this is my prayer. Plain and simple. It’s all I ever want. Lord, keep me a mystic. Lead me in and out of deserts, only always remind me you are the God who sees, you are the God who redeems, you are the God who empowers. Forgive my unbelief. Thank you for making my heart new. Thank you for taking me painful places so that I could, truly, fall in love with You.

 

More Sweet Than Bitter

People talk all the time about the “perfect” day. Writers employ various adjectives and dream up certain sundry fantastical landscapes as a backdrop for their “perfect” scenes. But rarely do these moments of bliss actually occur as you imagine them in real life.

I say rarely because, for myself and some friends yesterday, a series of perfect moments culminated in a perfect day. We had been talking about going wine tasting up in Santa Barbara for some time, and so finally, after months of “talk,” we just all managed to put it on the calendar somehow.

Let me narrate the next 15 or so hours. I’ll try to use some brevity, and some imagery, neither of which will be sufficient to capture any of the beautiful moments, because somehow, despite my need to document, it’s best being most exquisite in memory.

Starbucks:
After some joking around about mine and Alicia’s need for Starbucks in the morning, our friend Bru met us in the parking lot, we hopped in his car, and began the 2-3 hour drive to Santa Barbara. The beauty of this drive is that good friends can enjoy good conversation, and good music made even better by good scenery and the promise of good memories ahead.

Some 101 and Solvang:
We started to drive through the mountains to come up around the other side of Santa Barbara and into Solvang, the quaintest, most idyllic little Dutch community this side of the pond. In Solvang, we sauntered around a bit, enjoyed a nosh of delightful raspberry/cream cheese and blueberry danishes, and poked our head in a few intriguing little shops.

Santa Barbara Wine Country:
Following Solvang, we let the winding wine country roads take us further and further back amongst vineyards, ranches, and those quintessential long driveways opened up by brick, wrought iron, and wooden swinging gates. In Los Olivos, we stopped for our first wine tasting, where Bru proceeded to make wine tasting more than just a sophisticated hobby, but an exercise in identifying the various gustatory components of each sample: the oak, the blackberry, the vanilla, the apricot, the florals, and the list could go on. We joked as we began to get down the rhythm of smelling the libation vigorously and sensuously as we swirled the rich fluid in its glass. Feeling perhaps a little light-headed, we crossed the street and picked up smoked BBQ tri-tip sandwiches from a deli across the street for a later picnic.

More wine tasting followed after more wine country was traversed. It felt like somehow we had been transported into another world, a world of grapes, cypress trees, rolling hills, and pockets of ranch houses.Our second winery may have been the most memorable. A cooky little British lady kept us subtly giggling, as did a stuffed toy dog that we each took turns petting. We sampled quite a few spirits there, adding to the giddiness of the day. Despite the heat of this afternoon, we walked outside and were greeted by a gusty wind as we picked up our sandwiches and munched on them contentedly on benches overlooking grapevines and valleys as far as the eye could see. Our view was flanked by a proverbial outdoor adirondack chair, perfectly following the photographer’s rule of thirds.
Two more wineries followed, more giggles, more memories, as we all thanked Bru for the marvelous trip he planned for us. Everything was just as it should be, and that overwhelming sentimentality that accompanies picturesque and singular moments in time was a shared feeling.

Strawberry Fields:
Bru knew as we left wine country that there was a nearby organic farm/market. We picked up some strawberries, paying on the “honors system,” pet a beautiful black kitten with the greenest feline eyes I’ve ever seen, and then romped through the fruit field across the old road. It was a like another place in time, or at least another place in the country, so charmingly rustic and olden. The sun was at that place in the sky a few hours before it sets when the whole world is bathed in a sea of glowing sparkles and if you could pick out the specks of light that beam out, you would see their individual particles floating on leaves, t-shirts, and your best friend’s eyes.



Sea, Sand, and Surf:
One of the best parts of the day was the drive. A good portion of it was along the 101, where ocean meets highway. There’s just something so unnaturely mesmerizing about watching the vastness of ocean waves crash against the cement man made invention called the freeway. It felt like we were going to drive right into the surf and somehow the car would sprout an anchor and sails, and we would find ourselves buoyed up and down on the glassy sea. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit much. But somewhere in the divinity of the drive, Bru shouted out, “Who wants to go put their toes in the sand?” The decision was unanimous. About 2.5 seconds later we were pulling into a spot, traipsing through underbrush, and frolicking in the waves. No words for this moment. Glorious. Just glorious. Unforgettable. Locked in my memory. Sealed in time for the phenomenon that can never be replicated.



It was at some point in all this sea romance, Alicia and I looked at each other and declared the day perfect. Because it really was. Some time, most times, we idealize events we anticipate. And some times, most times, they end up falling terribly short of the way we pictured them in our mind. But not this day. It was just as good, no better, than we had expected. Alicia fell asleep on the way from the sea to State Street. I told Bru that a lot of days for me and her are just bitter right now as she prepares to leave, but today was bittersweet.

State Street:
Downtown Santa Barbara is a lot like a lot of downtown areas in urban, yuppie coastal cities. There were hipsters, there were indy coffee shops, and there were Chipotle restaurants looking way too fancy for “fast food.” We all oohed and ahhed over the gorgeous Santa Barbara courthouse, grew weary walking up and down the crowded streets, and about an hour later, hopped back in the car, Alicia quite capable now of crossing Santa Barbara off her California bucket list.

Succulent Breasts: Some chicken and waffles
What would the end to the perfect day be without some Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles as we drive back home through the City of Angels? Seeing as how neither Alicia nor I had ever frequented this iconic LA restaurant, Bru insisted it was a must. We all ordered the infamous #13, joked about our “succulent breasts,” and stuffed our already contented faces with buttery waffles and juicy fried chicken. Nom nom!
Fat and sassy, we headed home. It was a sleepy ride, more like a fun coma, we were all so filled to the brim with contentment. It was just one of those days where the wine was a little richer, the heat a little more sensational, the streets a little more fragrant, and the sand and surf a little more refreshing. More sweet than bitter. More sweet for sure.

Stevie Wonder




This might sound weird, but Stevie Wonder’s song “Isn’t She Lovely” always reminds me of daddy-daughter relationships. A lot of mistaken folks out there hear the words “Isn’t she lovely, isn’t she wonderful” and assume the blind pianist/vocalist is singing about his wife or lover or significant other. Nope, listen again my friends.

Isn’t she lovely
Isn’t she wonderfull
Isn’t she precious
Less than one minute old
I never thought through love we’d be
Making one as lovely as she
But isn’t she lovely made from love

Isn’t she pretty
Truly the angel’s best
Boy, I’m so happy
We have been heaven blessed
I can’t believe what God has done
through us he’s given life to one
But isn’t she lovely made from love

I thought of this song today because today my family celebrated MY dad. My dad turned 60 this year, and has been a father now for 27 1/2 years. The older I’ve gotten, it seems the more I’ve been able to see his adoration for me. I think he’s become a softie in his old age, even more so than when he was younger and I was just “Becka beans.” Tonight, I apologized to my dad for becoming an emotional basketcase at the end of our family time. He told me, “It’s ok, you don’t worry about that. You just relax and know we love you very much and are praying for you. We’re going to get through this together.” Those are the words of a father, who like Stevie Wonder does his little girl, loves me. Even on a day of celebration that I managed to ruin (or so I felt) at the end of it, my dad loved me and fathered me.

I love my dad. So very much.

Banana Pancakes


“Making banana pancakes, pretend like it’s the weekend now. We can pretend it all the time.”

And the beauty of this Jack Johnson song for today’s Jazz June, is that we really can.

Now that summer’s here, there’s a newfound glory in Saturday. No longer does it have to be my day for errand running, and homework completing, and mad-dash grading. It really can be a day to relax. This Saturday was probably the best I’ve had of that in a long, long, long, long time. I mean, maybe possibly all the way back to college long time (barring vacations of course).

My roommates and I got up when we wanted, made ourselves decent, grabbed the pup, and drove a block away to pick up our daily Starbucks. Then, we proceeded to come home and make our breakfast spread (well really at this point it was a modest brunch to say the least). It consisted of pancakes (banana and non), bacon, eggs, and a fruit salad. There’s just something about pancakes we decided. It’s not that they’re particularly flavorful and scrumptious, and it’s not that they’re THE simplest thing in the world to make, but it’s the peace abiding idea that the making of pancakes on a Saturday morning truly does signify complete and utter relaxation, the stopping of time to enjoy something so minimal and yet so loaded with childhood mornings of daddy cooking breakfast and watching cartoons, and that is well with my soul.

After we commenced bloating ourselves on carbs and fatty proteins, we joined the dog (already sleeping, very uncharacteristic) on the couch, I pulled out my leopard print blanket, and we all just sat and read. Just read. That’s it. With the sunlight streaming in through all windows, our coffee still being sipped on slowly, and the air conditioning blowing on us rather fiercely, creating that cool, cuddly, maybe it’s actually winter induced feeling, right smack dab in the middle of June, we read.

For a few blessed hours, summer glory shone upon us. And thankfully, I still have three more months to bask in its rays, and many more pancake days.

My third space



I know people probably think I’m a gymaholic. And that’s fine, I kind of am. Heck, I went to boxing class the night I got home from Africa because I missed it that much in three weeks. Because somewhere over the past two years, my gym has become my third space. If I’m not at work, or at home, (or previously at Starbucks studying because that pretty much was home), then I’m more than likely at my little boxing gym, KO.

What originally got me to sign up for KO is still the very reason why I love it so much today. It’s my community. It’s like going home after a long, stressful, emotionally wearing day. My bestie and roomie Alicia first got our other roommate Sarah and I to join by talking about how awesome and fun it would be to take classes together. And it was. We had a blast. We each had a different boxing instructor we thought was cute and we had our own little “camp crushes” as we called them.

And sure enough, the gym has become a lot more like a family to me than just simply a place to occasionally satisfy the need to work out, check out hot guys, or even bond with my roomies. They’re just good people there. There are my friends who greet me every time I come in and beg me to bring them coffee, we have our inside jokes. There are the guys like Frisco, who has become my older brother in Christ and who shares pearls of wisdom with me as we sit and bike together. There are the ladies and gentlemen of running club who have become my little partners in running highs and lows as we tackle hills and heat and wind. There are the casual acquaintances I engage in friendly competition during burpees and push ups and mountain climbers and jump squats. There are the girls I’ve gotten to encourage and invite to church.

Then, there are my two boxing instructors (one a former, one still present). I love these two guys as different as they both are. One goes running with me and occassionally hangs out, the other one dated me and showed me what a real man is supposed to treat his girl like. They’ve been good for me, and I’m not just talking about my abs or my cardiovascular health.

Then, there’s the bag, maybe my best friend at KO. The bag takes the brunt of my day, whether it’s anger, sadness, frustration or impatience. It lets me hit and hit and hit and never hits or screams back. It requires no thought, no emotion really, just good old fashioned aggression. I can let my mind empty and fill my hands instead with all that was my day, with no thought to whether or not I or someone else will suffer the consequences.

And so, while some people may see my gym addiction as borderline unhealthy, I personally think my third space is just what the doctor ordered: community, intentionality with friends, and stress release. And who would have thought that pasty white Becka would actually become a somewhat decent boxer? But, I can in all honesty say that the gym is something I kind of rock at, and that’s been really therapeutic for the girl who couldn’t jump rope in kindergarden. The day I walk away from my third space will be the biggest knockout of them all: a jab to the heart for sure.

Sonnet 29


A sonnet is a labor of love. It’s what my best friend deserves. And right now, I just haven’t been in a place to write that final farewell poem to her yet. Because it’s gotta be good. It’s gotta be real good.

So right now, when my own words fail me, I turn to the sonneteer himself, Shakespeare.

Alicia, I don’t think there’s anyone I truly could have said this about before now, so until I can write my own, I hope this one will do.

Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare:
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Loh-Loh in the House


It’s amazing what a cap and gown will do for you. It’s incredible how fast-acting it is. It’s restorative how profoundly it transforms.

It’s made me a better teacher. Or well, it’s just made me the teacher I once was. Somewhere this last year, amidst thesis writing, grad classes, and the ebb and flow of my not-so-peaceful life, I lost the bright-eyed bushy tailed girl who loved to teach her students everyday, who had patience with them when they struggled, who hopped and skipped around the classroom with exuberance, who praised them, really who just loved them.

I found that girl again today. Somewhere around 4th period, when the usual stress of deadlines would cause me to be snappy, snarky, and overall witchy, I just laughed. I smiled. I saw small glimpses of Aunty Loh come back.

Thank God. At least part of me is returning. Maybe the rest isn’t far behind…

Dear Mama


It should come as no shock that the first song playing on the radio when I got in the car this morning was Tupac’s “Dear Mama”, considering this is Mother’s Day weekend. (Although what may be shocking is the fact that the KOST was playing the dead gangsta rapper). Anyways, as today is the day before the maternal celebration, it should also come as no shock that my everyday may post #7 is dedicated to …

Pookie.

I call my mom Pookie. I can’t pinpoint the day or time when this nickname was conceived, but it’s become sort of iconic in our family. My friends tease me about it, but all in good humor. Pookie represents all the feelings of love, endearment, and tenderness that arise in my heart when I think about my “dear mama.”

Pookie still tucks me into bed when I come home to visit.
Pookie comes with me to pick out my puppy.
Pookie hands me Starbucks cards randomly just when I’m beginning to get broke for the month.

Pookie still makes me text her when I get home late at night. And she still tells me about all the random rapists in the area, just so I can be extra safe. She’ll probably still do this for as long as she lives. Even when I’m old.
Pookie gets pedicures with me every month, and sometimes I can even con her into paying for my tip.
Pookie indulges in black comedies with me. In fact, for Mother’s Day celebration events today, we went and saw Jump The Broom.

And probably my favorite of all the sweet things my mom does, Pookie still pulls the hair back from my forehead, calls me her “Baby Becka,” and asks me if I had a good Christmas, or birthday, or Thanksgiving (whichever holiday fits).

Because I will always be her Baby Becka.
And she will always be my Pookie.

Hooded


Three summers ago, I sat at a round wood table in the middle of Africa and began the conversation that started my grad school program. Now, almost exactly three years later, I sat at Cheesecake Factory around a table with friends and family, celebrating the completion of said grad school.

Full circle. Donezo. End of the road. The hood has arrived… Finally.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say tonight except I’m extremely thankful to have had so many awesome professors, classmates, and friends in my life throughout this season of grad school. I’m glad I got to have my moment tonight. My moment to walk, to receive my hood, to realize that in a blink of an eye, time really does pass that fast and all the hard work, blood, toil, and sweat are behind me now. What’s next I don’t know, but I do know it’s the rest of my life, and it doesn’t ever have to include homework again. Although, too many people have asked me when they’re going to get to put a Dr. next to my name. People, let me enjoy the hood first, alright?! Sheesh!

Anyways, more thoughts on the changing of seasons, and the birth of new beginnings and all that sappy, sentimental, existential, super self-reflective stuff later. For now, I’m going to enjoy my flower lay, the hood hanging in my closet, and the new 2011 tassel that will be dangling from my rearview mirror.