Category Archives: Redemption

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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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.

 

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.

#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.