Category Archives: Challenges

THIS Is Happening Right Now

I have found myself crying two times in the last 12 hours. And my weekend has consisted of nothing but family parties, time at the beach with my husband, eating good food, and painting my home. Perhaps, I am crying BECAUSE of these good things.

The first time tears brimmed was this morning in church, which I can understand as I thought about my barely tenable connection to brothers and sisters suffering unspeakable losses in Iraq right now. What did my four walls of safety and communion have in common with theirs? Just Jesus, and a prayer He is not far from them right now.

The second time I gave way to tears coursing in gentle waves was watching the end of Hotel Rwanda with my husband. I’ve seen it many times, he had not, and so we began watching the sober film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide a few weeks ago, and concluded it today. My husband looked over at me, crying, and tried to console me as I simply said, “It’s just, that it’s happening right now. This. THIS. Is happening right now.”

And I am angry and saddened and frustrated by my helplessness, my powerlessness, my lack of ability to move. Me, one of the world’s richest persons because I live in America, hold a master’s degree, and have a combined annual income of triple digits.

All of those factors should make me one of the most influential people and yet they are nothing, or they feel like nothing to stem the slaughter of northern Iraqi’s who claim Christ as Lord, or who belong to other faiths and simply will not convert to Islam.

I know many people are posting on Facebook, are changing profile pictures, are tweeting, I among them. And yet, I also know that fleeing, suffering Iraqi’s are asking, “Where is our help?” Do they see us trying to raise awareness? Do they know, that if we could, we would call down more than just meager airstrikes ourselves? We would pick them up, carry them into our homes, lay them down in a bed, and whisper, “You are safe now” until kingdom come?

I fear they do not know. I fear they think we have abandoned them, forgotten about them, considered them someone else’s problem, or worse yet, never heard about them at all. I fear it’s Rwanda all over again and only after it’s over will people read of it, will they travel like I did to the memorial sites, indignant and righteously angry that such senseless atrocities ever occurred. I fear they will become REAL to us one day, when we hear their survivor stories ,or visit their graves or watch a Hollywoodized movie. And then, it will be too late.

And I can’t have that on my conscious. I’ve been to Rwanda. I’ve seen the walls where babies’ heads were shattered like clay pots on bricks. I’ve befriended a boy who hid in bushes at the age of 5, watched his family get chopped down, and lived to tell. I’ve read the stories; I’ve heard the politics behind labeling something a “genocide” and I’ve met the people to whom that term applied. I was 11 when the Rwandan genocide occurred. I am 30 now. Youth and helplessness may have been my excuse then, but by God, it will NOT be my excuse now. Not ever.

And so, I will pray down heaven’s armies, and I will teach American school children that there are children their age whose heads are on spikes in a park because they remained true to what they believe. And I will write, and I will find ways to give, and I may come at the end and still wonder if people in Iraq knew I loved them. But, I will get to heaven, and I will see them, and we will worship our Savior together, and I will not wish I had spent my time differently on earth. I will not waste my helplessness on them.

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.

Freak

That’s my response to something when it ruins me. Could be good or bad. The idea is that it elicits such a strong response I must euphemistically use profanity.

Today, on my backyard patio, I think I said this word aloud, to my retrieving chocolate labrador, as I finished up my study on the spiritual fruit of goodness.

Goodness, as it turns out, is not just some passive form of badness or evil’s opposite. Goodness, if one goes back to the original Greek (wow, I sound like a New Testament scholar now, I’m not) implies characterized energy, or in other words, according to the fine research done by Mrs. Beth Moore, goodness is active.

An example in today’s study was the “active” goodness that the various servants employed in the parable of the talents. Those who were rewarded with “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” “actively” looked for good ways to invest and multiply the talents they were given based on their abilities, the text says. And so, because of their faithfulness, their Master also welcomed them into His joy and entrusted them with more.

Ok, nice, cool. Yea, I grew up in church, I remember Christian school chapels about this nice little story of the parable of the talents when I was a kid. I get it. Move on, Beth. Move on. Oh, she did.

“With this question: Are you doing too many things to do any ONE thing well for Christ? If so, what can you do about it?”

FREAK. There’s my quintessential current dilemma. I spent the last school year working two jobs (one of those jobs involved three jobs really and was the hardest year I’ve had yet in my career), getting over a break up, meeting the man of my dreams I hope to marry, becoming involved in my community group, doing some light editing for my church, planning and taking some fun vacays, and overall, just trying to survive. Now, summer is here and I’m just trying to recover the pieces of me that are left after all the collisions, both good and bad, and all the burnout that’s realer now than it’s ever been. And I’ve been left to wonder, what can stay in my life for this next year that promises so many dreams fulfilled, and what needs to go? And all of this, as my roommate so aptly put it, “At what cost?”

To be more specific, my current question is, “Jesus, do you want me to keep second job next year when school starts again? Because, well you know I have some fun and exciting, but expensive ventures up ahead this year, and you know I have credit card debt, and you know I don’t like to lose control of my finances. But Jesus, you know I also want to love people in my community group so much better, and I want to be the kind of teacher I feel like I was my first three years when I loved my kids fiercely and took joy in being their Lo-Lo, and you know, you know I want to love my man with all the Happy Becka I can give him. So, how would you have me proceed?”  The world would tell me I’m crazy to give up a second income when this next year only holds super costly events for me. I would even tell myself to suffer 8 more weeks of a draining second job in order to feel more prepared to handle those expenses. But at what cost? Can I then do any of these things well?

As if that slap in the face wasn’t enough, the next question in the study, the last for the day.

“In what ways can you ‘guard the trust’ God has given you personally?

FREAK. FREAK. FREAK.

And after the understated replacement cuss word, this is all I’ve got.

Perhaps the things I’m doing that deplete my energy and “active” goodness and are not producing any kind of Kingdom good need to go so that the things that do produce Kingdom good can be multiplied.

Sure. God has given me intelligence and the gift of education and the ability to multi-task, and given me the gift of teaching, and of enjoying lots of people, even the teenaged ones. He’s made me a fast editor, and a natural writer. He’s given me a godly man, and incredible friends and community. But, I’m not investing in any of these “talents,” as well as I could be, because I’ve been investing in ones that don’t pay the right kind of dividends. And I’ve let that exhaust my “goodness.” I don’t use second job to advance any kind of ministry; I use it simply to get ahead financially. And while that is not wrong in and of itself, perhaps some other things would fall into place, and the joy of the Master would be restored for me, if I multiplied those things that have eternal value – like my high school kids, and my family, and my community group, and my Zac.

I bring this up tonight because a.) it HIT ME with a lot of weight. The timing was just too real. Just yesterday Lizzy (roommate) sat across the breakfast table from me and asked, “Becka, but at what cost?” And then, this afternoon, I discussed it with another close friend. Uncanny the timing. Also, because b.) God often speaks to me most through both my writing and through the advice and confirmation from others. So, please, by all means, speak to me, if you have thoughts.

I don’t want to look back on the next year and wish I had invested differently. Multiplication of Kingdom stuff is what matters; all else is, ultimately, vanity. But that is a hard pill to swallow when all you want to do is take your one talent and bury it for fear you’ll lose control of it somehow.

 

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.

 

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.

#BigGirlPanties

I’m just going to start categorizing my complaints this way, so that they cease to be complaints.

In the beginning of January, before the Chateau D’If night, which has now become synonymous with my mystical liberation from the sadness, depression, and hopelessness of Old Becka, my best friend told me this (after a prolonged whining sesh on my part):

Best Friend: Becka, is there anything you can think of that you would want God to do about this RIGHT NOW?!”

Me: Well, I would want Him to not put me in this position.

Best Friend: Well, that is not an option, Becka. I’m talking right now. In the present.

Me: ~considers a second, and then, with an air of resignation~ No, I guess not.

Best Friend: Then, you’re just going to have put on your Big Girl Panties and wait this out.

It’s pretty simple, and probably really elementary, but I think that may be some of the best, most profound advice my bestie boo has ever given me. And it lives on now in the hashtag, which has found itself employed in various emails, text messages, tweets, and face to face conversations.

The phrase “Put on your Big Girl Panties” is not meant to be some cliche clause urging one to  obligatorily raise the white flag of surrender, however. It’s actually become a type of empowerment.  I can acknowledge a circumstance is less than ideal, but I can also acknowledge that I have the power and choice to make the more sophisticated and mature decision. I suppose it evokes a lot of the same feelings you have when you suddenly graduate to the “big kids” table for Thanksgiving Dinner. You know you’ve arrived.

Recently, I’ve needed to put the Big Girl panties on for my college class. I mean, I don’t literally go teach a composition course in some oversized pair of Granny Panties, but I do in my mind. Yes, I spend every day after school grading college work. Yes, I spend every Sunday after church grading, planning, emailing, and more grading. Yes, I wake up every Saturday morning to at least two frantic emails. Yes, I get about 5 hours of sleep a night because I work about 14 hours every weekday.

Yes, I’m stressed, and I could be angry, panicky, awfulizing Old Becka. Or, I could put on my Big Girl Panties and realize this second job teaching college composition was my choice, even if I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be in addition to teaching high school and advising three activities on campus.

I could choose to believe that, while it tempts me to revert back to all the meltdowns from working full time and doing grad school, it also gives me an opportunity to experience all of that again, but this time with success and victory. It’s like a second chance. That’s God’s grace, not His punishment.

I could determine to see this as an opportunity to get a feel for what teaching college full time will be like. After all, that’s on my Absurdly Hopeful Dream List.

And, perhaps the most motivating, I can be thankful for the financial progress it is bringing me. For the first time in a long time, I’m not stressing about money. Even better, I’m going to Cancun for 8 days in July with my besties to celebrate the year of our collective 30th birthdays. It’s already paid for. And, I’m going to be able to pay for a brand new Macbook in a few weeks to replace my vintage, white, 2007 one.

All that to say, those Big Girl Panties are feeling more and more comfortable each time I put them on. They’re even spawning some new categories. #Cancun #DirtyThirty #Macbook

#Thankful

#MeaningInTheConflict

Lies, Lives, and Little Brothers

If you were to ask me right now, at almost 1am, STILL grading final exams and final essays from my college class, I’m not sure I’d have a lot of redemptive things to say about my job: teaching.

Currently, I am in my 6th year of teaching high school English, my 4th year in advising the high school newspaper, and my 2nd class deep of instructing English composition classes at a local liberal arts university. I’m tired. All the time. Rest is… elusive. Note the time of this post if my words aren’t proof enough. And I’ve been steadily grading since 2pm this afternoon.

So far this week, in my various roles of “teacher” or “professor,” I’ve battled entitled, lazy, irresponsible, and even irate students (mostly college students, ironically). I’ve been stalked by parents on instagram who have nothing better to do with their time than troll the interwebs looking for inconsequential fights to pick. I’ve been asked the same question at least 3 times, that I’ve answered at least three times before it was asked, and all this at least three times in the last three days.

And, if I wanted to indulge my old nature of awfulizing, I could go on.

But, these are the lies the Devil wants me to believe when I’m tempted to think my job doesn’t matter, or worse yet, when he tries to quench the passion I have for learning that got me into this profession in the first place.  These are the half-truths he wants me to cling to in those moments of frustration, exhaustion, and irritation that tempt me to think my work doesn’t save lives.

I was pretty deep into this kind of thinking last Christmas Break, not caring about a whole lot of things, much less my job. I had begun to just give up on ever gaining back the fire I once had for students, novels, engaging lessons, teachable moments, and those warm fuzzies you get when you know you have a conversation with kids that will pay off in life dividends, not just standardized testing numbers. Then my brother (my 4 years younger than me little brother) made this snarky comment, “Yea, Becka, cuz it’s not like you do anything important at all. I mean, you don’t have 160 members of the next generation walking through your doors every day or anything. People like Steve Jobs didn’t ever attend high school and get inspired by a teacher or anything like that. You’re right. Your life is absolutely meaningless.”

Ouch. But, oh, what a healing agent was mixed into that painful balm. Bless my brother for his biting sarcasm on Christmas Day 2012.

I thought of it last night. I think of it often. But, last night, the boyfriend and I attended my high schoolers’ spring musical, Hairspray. They did a fabulous job. But, as various kids were coming up to me from former classes, and I was struggling to remember all their names, I suddenly realized just how many students’ names I’d have to remember if I could remember all of them: upwards of one thousand. ONE THOUSAND. In 5 and a half years of teaching high school, I’ve had one thousand kids sit under my instruction for an hour a day, 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 10  months out of the year.

The thought is and was both exhilarating and terrifying. The weight of my profession has never been lost on me. But, sometimes, I forget just how weighty it is. I go to conferences like Storyline and I hear Donald Miller and his chums talk about saving lives in Africa and I just want to be there. I want that glamorous crazy story of the girl teaching beautiful brown skinned, wide-eyed babes in the jungle (admittedly, that is actually way too white man’s burden style for me, but you get the idea). I forget how much life-saving there is to be done right here, perhaps because it’s not as sensationalized. But, God knows I’ve seen and heard pain amongst kids in entitled Woodcrest just as real and raw as those of genocide survivors in Rwanda. And perhaps just because they’re in the first world does not mean they are in any less need of rescue, reconciliation, and redemption.

A character who lives a great story must overcome conflict. Teaching is rife with conflict. This week alone has provided all the fuel I need to, ironically, burn out of the job. But, it is finding the meaning in the suffering, learning the lessons in the conflict, that actually transforms the character and saves lives. That’s what it means to be a great character. That’s what I want.

I want to Absurdly Hope that even in all the perfunctory and mundane grading of papers and emailing back to ridiculous and demanding students, lives are being saved, and characters (hopefully not just mine) are being transformed.

Thank you, little brother, for the truth you spoke into the lies a few months back, for the lives who need me to believe that what I do is absurdly important.

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.