Category Archives: Thanksgiving

For you, Grandpa.

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

Grandpa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you, Grandpa.

#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

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.

 

Storyline

In the Storylinesummer of 2011, perhaps the most bitter, dead summer of my life, I read my first Donald Miller book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I was challenged by a lot of ideas in this particularly autobiographical and existential novella. Miller posits that each one of us are like characters in a story, and in order for our lives to tell great stories, they must follow the narrative rules and structures of all great stories. In other words, the same concepts at play in story-writing should be at play in life writing, or the agency of directing our own stories through our attitudes and actions.

A year and a half (and several heartbreaks and joys alike) later, I attended Miller’s Storyline Conference at beautiful Point Loma Nazarene University this weekend. As I begin to unravel the multitudes of thoughts, ideas, and recent experiences threading through my mind and heart from the last 48 hours, one thing in particular keeps striking me: time. I guess, in a story or narrative, this is the idea of sequencing. The majority of the concepts offered at the conference this weekend were not entirely new or strange, but they were nonetheless enlightening, and highly encouraging. You see, the last several months, maybe even years, of my character’s journey have been leading me to arrive at just the very truths that were expressed this weekend. But my character was not ready for them before this weekend. In whatever way both God and I work together to author my life, the writer/s knew that so many events had to happen first, in order for the events of this weekend to echo properly in my heart so that difficult ideas would be embraced, not rejected.

Of the many epiphanies and profundities (not sure that’s a word) that my character has already begun to ponder, the following were so veryun-coincidentally and strikingly articulated this weekend:

1.) Man is in search of meaning, meaning in suffering especially. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, argued that, unlike Freud’s theory that  man is ultimately in search of pleasure, what man really needs, especially in a redemptive manner, is meaning. He says, “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.”

In the darkest of my days at the end of 2012, without a doubt, the days that contained slivers of light were the days that I was able to discern a purpose in my anguish, whether it was a truth I’d long needed to learn, a friend or loved one my pain was able to help through empathy, or a heightened awareness of the closeness of God in heartache.

In my best days of teaching or serving or feeling joy, it’s because I saw clearly my purpose or meaning in that place, that time, with those people. Specific moments that come to mind are lessons taught my first year of teaching and conversations had in Rwanda.

2.) There is a point in which going back into your pain can prove healing, but only after some distance protects you from the rawness of the initial cut. Phil Lokey, who oversees Onsite Ministry  (a ministry for Deep Healing), said, “Before you can really gain the wisdom of the resurrection, you have to walk through the death.” Immediately, I recalled words written by Henri Nouwen in his book  The Voice of Love: A Journey from Anguish to Freedom. He talks about how going back into the pain is necessary for healing, but to sit in the pain too soon will actually take you farther from healing. Oh, how this is true. A wise person, also a person who caused me pain, once told me, “Let it go for now. You can come back to it when you’re ready for it.” While I was not always able to take his advice, I realize in hindsight the great and beautiful truth in that admonition. Never returning to pain guarantess it will haunt you; you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But, walking through it too soon can easily devolve into self pity and a bottomless pit of despair.

3.) The best stories are the ones where a character wants something, and must overcome conflict to get it. Tom Shadyac, Hollywood director and now philanthropist said, “We want conflicts in stories, just not our lives. The victim asks, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ The mystic says, ‘Thank you.” Oh, Lord have mercy if this hasn’t been perhaps the biggest lesson of the last four months: the point of pain, the beauty of eucharisteo, and the existential peace of mysticism. I hate, hate, hate change. I’m human, I naturally crave comfort. But, when I go to the movies, I want conflict, I want pain, I want challenges, because my soul craves to see the conflict resolved, the pain healed, and the challenges overcome. The difficult transition is to go from the cinema to my own story. More than not wanting the conflict, pain, and challenges, I need to want the resolution, the healing, and the triumph that comes from undergoing these difficulties, and praising them. For, it is only through conflict, pain, and challenges that a character changes and becomes great. Donald Miller put it this way, in analyzing the life of Joseph from the Genesis narrative, “God has no problem putting me into conflict. He’s more interested in my character than my comfort.” Damn. That’ll preach. Thankfully, I’ve been able to reach a place where I’m eternally grateful for all the hard, because it has shown me so much more good than I would ever have known otherwise. I needed the shadows to appreciate the Sun.

4.) God’s will and decision making is not always as complicated as we want to believe. Sometimes, there are right decisions, and then there are right decisions. Recently, I’ve been tossing around different dreams, places, relationships, jobs, etc and wondering what the heck road I’m supposed to go down. And I think, ultimately, God is giving me a choice. Both roads can be right. Both can be good. Both can honor Him. But, perhaps there is one that will make me the most happy, and in that, I can probably most enjoy God and point others to Him. The beauty of God’s love is that He gives us the agency to partner with Him in His Kingdom, and to do it with the passions, desires, and gifts He plants inside us. And those can be varied, and vast. At the risk of sounding subjective, there is not just “one” and only path for me or “one” and only calling on my life. According to Garry Friesen in his book, Principles of Decision Making, “Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose.” Praise Him. And then, pray to Him; pray hard.

5.) Hope. Miller states that one of the elements it takes to be a great character whose life tells a great story is the whimsical and powerful ability to possess “absurd hope.”  This has been perhaps the most ironic of all lessons that appeared deja vu status this weekend. My heart began to pick up faith and love a lot faster than hope in these past few months. Like, it was fairly apparent I needed to have more faith. I began to see God’s incredible, experiential love for me through healing. But, hope, hope was much more elusive. Nonetheless, somewhere in January, after the journey God took me on to find real faith and love, He also began to give me the hope to dream again. Little did I know, hope is actually the word that pops up the most in my blog. It also popped up on a gift someone gave me recently. Hope seems to be begging to be etched onto my heart again. Perhaps, I’m even thinking, it will soon get etched onto my skin. But, that is a topic for another blog, sometime soon if I can muster the time, energy, and decisiveness.

So, for now, with all these undeniable parallel and repetitive themes running through my mind, I can say with solidarity that dreams are re-awakening, one of them being writing. And I hope, I hope absurdly, that I will be a character who takes action and whose life tells a great story, one which transforms me and saves many lives, as Miller would suggest.

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.