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This Week’s To Do List…

Well, how convenient is this? I was just about to sit down and stare at this week’s to do list, mentally gear up for the day ahead, and then blog in addition. But, now thanks to Day 16’s prompt (conveniently 14 days away from the wedding), I just can kill two birds with one stone. Grand.

So, here goes (as I take a Xanax) Jk.

1.) Hit the gym and the tanning salon every day (except Sunday)

2.) Write lesson plans for when I’m gone from school for the wedding.

3.) Email the DJ all final “stuff.”

4.) Finish chalkboard decor and the ring bearer’s book (Jane Eyre just transformed into a lovely little house for our wedding rings, complete with ribbon and twine, and of course, our bling).

5.) Package all gifts for the wedding

6.) Resurrect my iphone5 that tragically got drenched in a water bottle downpour this weekend. If it won’t rise from its ashes, errrrrr rice, then file insurance claim and have new iphone5 here by wedding day.

7.) Buy Dad’s birthday card and present

8.) Start moving my earthly possessions into Zac’s house

9.) Prep Zac’s house for the wedding guests to arrive (clean, decorate, arrange, put beds together, etc.)

10.) Catch up on Grey’s Anatomy (probably just wishful thinking)

11.) Catch up on Bible study (this really needs to NOT be wishful thinking)

12.) Blog/List every day

13.) Exercise the dog a few days this week

14.) Add each other to our bank accounts in prep for the big merge.

15.) Continue honeymoon planning with travel agent

16.) Sleep. Yes, note that this comes last.

Pen-Pal

By far the best pen-pal experience I ever had was as a teacher. I don’t even remember the country, but I remember my students in suburbia were invited to write to a group of students overseas. I sold the idea of writing to them easily (shocking, I know). And they waited (impatiently) for replies from their buddies across the pond. Watching their excitement was all the reward I needed for organizing a somewhat messy task of mailing and stamping and sending. They asked tons and tons of questions, and of course, I gave them guidelines of what to say and what not to say to individuals their own age, living in a very different culture and space.

Now, Day 2 of #30Lists turns the question on me. How would I describe myself to a pen pal:

From the outside to the inside (and all the variations therein):

Green-eyed, auburn haired, petite

Pale is the new tan

Buff (for a girl)

Girly — think scarves, mani-pedis, tasteful animal print and lace, NOT glitter, hot pink, 6 inch heels, or bows

Matchy-matchy (Accessories must coordinate; I’m not one for the Bohemian thrown together look; when I do it, I just look thrown out).

Spastic, non-rhymthic, and always on the go

Child of God, sinner turned saint, rescued by Jesus

Planner (I still keep one of those ones with actual pen and paper, where I live on the satisfaction of lining out items)

Hater of clutter – there’s a place for everything, much like Solomon says there is a time for everything.

Lover of one very handsome, smart man I call husband in 28 days

Mother to one very ornery but incorrigibly lovable chocolate lab with an impish smile

Teacher of literature to over 1,000 students in these last 7 years, a sobering reality when tempted to think my job is anything but significant

Enthusiast for justice; empathizer for suffering; enemy of child and animal abuse, exploitation of human beings, and any kind of racist action or attitude

At times a pessimist, scared to hope

A sucker for a good story, a someone just trying to live a good one

Classic literature snob (John Donne is the best poet, second only to Shakespeare himself)

And, judging by the length of this list, I’m beginning to think, perhaps, a tad bit too narcissistic.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Great Anti-Story

If F. Scott Fitzgerald never wrote The Great Gatsby, I think I would despair of teaching.

Alright, so that might be a bit of a bold move, but no joke, I begin talking to my students about that book on the first day of school. The momentum builds with every passing month, much as it must have for Gatsby with every passing year he got closer to reconnecting with Daisy. And like Gatsby, I wax a bit obsessive. There are green M&Ms to be procured, t-shirts to be purchased (I own three), parties to be had, interrogations to be held, caution tape to be sketched across linoleum, and glorious posters to be made. This year, joy of all joys, there is a film adaptation to be viewed. One can only hope Luhrmann will be able to come even remotely close to the colossal hype that has been created for this new movie rendition of a classic American tragedy.

And perhaps the strange thing about all of this is really that the story of The Great Gatsby is not great at all. Like, it’s not a great story.

It’s such an anti-story.

Sitting in Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference this past February, I learned the key elements that go into making a good story, the kind that climbs the NY Times Bestseller lists, wins academy awards, and gets inducted into the literary cannon for all of posterity. The gist is that there must be a character who wants something (something worth wanting) and is willing to overcome many obstacles to get it. In the end, the conflicts that are endured create the meaning. The character’s life is transformed and he or she saves many lives.

In light of this, the story of Gatsby really deconstructs. The reasons, of course, are curious. And I think Fitzgerald knew exactly what he was doing. Gatsby both does and does not want something worth having, or seemingly worth having. He wants money, fame, wealth, and the security it brings. He wants his first love, Daisy. She is the embodiment of all those things he innocently and truly believes will bring him epic happiness. He certainly overcomes obstacles, poverty, a stolen inheritance, World War I battles, heartbreak, and business deals. His means for these triumphs, however, are perhaps opportunistic at best and downright dishonest and murderous at worst. He most certainly transforms. After all, Gatsby fashions “just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception [a Platonic one] he was faithful to the end.” The end. Gatsby comes to his end at the change of the seasons, from summer to fall, lounging in the pool he never used before himself, when the deranged George Wilson shoots him and then himself  “and the Holocaust was complete.”

Gatsby saves no lives. In fact, he loses his own. All those dreams, all those obstacles, all those “real” books, all those “beautiful shirts,” wasted. Thirty years old, and his was a life wasted. No one comes to his funeral. His lover Daisy doesn’t even call, and Nick stands practically alone, with Gatsby’s dad, in the rain on the day he is put in the ground.

The irony of The Great Gatsby is that he was not great at all. His story was not a great one, at least not in any kind of a way that mattered. It almost seems that Fitzgerald wrote the worst kind of story about the worst kind of character to demonstrate what Americans should hope NOT to be. It is intriguing that when so many of the key elements of Gatsby go wrong from a story-telling perspective, we continue to read this legendary tale. Perhaps it’s because of all us hope for a sort of redemption for Gatsby. Perhaps, like him, we all have this “promise of life,” this “romantic readiness” that longs to get to chapter 8 and see Daisy run back across the lawn, or hydroplane across the bay, and straight back into his pink suited arms.

But, I for one, am thankful she does not. And not just because she’s “a beautiful little fool,” but because if she did, the lesson of Gatsby, the reason for the anti-story would be lost. If we are to learn what not to do from this non-great, Great Gatsby, then we must understand that life lived for wealth, materialism, even earthly love, will never satisfy. The green light (the American Dream) will always “year by year recede before us.” And if that’s our pursuit, if those things are our “following of a grail,” well, then, we will “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

And that’s why I teach this book, this anti-story. Because I need to know, and the kids need to know, and America needs to know that money, cars, parties, social class distinctions, “friends,” things, none of that is great. People will disappoint. Lovers will leave. Businesses will dry up  and lights will flicker and die. That’s not the kind of story we want to tell with our lives. It’s not going to transform us in any kind of real, lasting, permanent, and redemptive kind of way. It’s not going to save anyone else’s life. In fact, it will probably just result in self-destruction.

Only the things done for eternity will matter.

I’m still toying with how to continue digesting this anti-story, how to make it real and lasting for my kids, how to use it to save many lives, how by contrast, it can make our characters greater. I’m thinking that a viewing of Tom Shadyac’s documentary I Am, might be in order. And I’m thinking some sort of reflective essay, super open-ended and as open as Gatsby is secretive may also be in order.

And I’m hoping that my kids can one day look back and narrate their own stories and say something like, “In my younger and more vulnerable years, my teacher gave me some advice, that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Your life tells a great story if it transforms you, and saves many lives. Everything else will fade away.”

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.

All the Good Things… AKA GraceOnGraceOnGrace

I know, I know. I should REALLY be in bed by now, especially what with the blasted “spring forward”  time change.

But sometimes, when you’re caught up in the exuberance of the moment, you have to let yourself just keep free falling into All The Good Things.

It’s kind of like Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, my life, that is. I went to Farrell’s for the first time tonight (at like 10pm), and let me tell you, Farrell’s is the embodiment of the All the Good Things: heaping ice cream sundaes (we don’t even need to say anymore than that, really), balloon mermaids and guns and monkeys on palm trees, singing and dancing servers twerking to a dessert-themed parody of Baby Got Back, mustache vests, random drum beatings, and candy for days.

Farrell’s is like this little bit of divine creamy goodness, a circus for the senses that dropped out of heaven and landed right here in little ole Riverside for reasons no one could ever really guess. And, I suppose, that’s how some things in my life are right now. And when that happens, you don’t complain. You sit, you take it all in, and you scream “More Party!”

Several months back, I asked, no, I begged Jesus to just give me one truly good thing. One thing that was just all good. So many things back then brought me pieces of joy because I saw good in the pain, I recognized the beauty in the ugly, and I felt the peace of redemption in the midst of suffering. But, these things, despite the good that could be found and even praised, still just had so much hard, and I was so weary of the hard.

And now, I don’t know how, and I certainly don’t know why, but God didn’t just bring Farrell’s into Riverside, He brought it into my life. It feels a lot like ice cream; there are some things that are just purely good right now. I have no idea how long they’ll last, how long I’ll get to call them mine. I know I’m not guaranteed tomorrow; my life is but a vapor. I know (as that one super challenging worship song says) “I am filled to be emptied again; this seed I’ve received I will sow.”

But, I also know that I can choose to be afraid of the day things will get hard again, because they will, that’s how this life works, or I can just choose to laugh and sing and dance at this Farrell’s life party and scream “More drum” and “Party time” and revel in the unadulterated happiness of it all. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still things in all the party that are hard, like the fact that I don’t sleep. But, Sleeplessness is Cancun for eight days with my best girlfriends in July. And Sleeplessness is a new Macbook Pro laptop. And Sleeplessness is a trip to Houston to visit my bestie for Spring Break, and concert tickets, and occasional shopping sprees at Nordstroms. Sleeplessness is paying off my credit card debt. I’m going to go ahead and call that All The Good Things as well.

I decided in all the pain, that I would not turn my back on Jesus any longer; that my life, no matter how hard, I resolved, would be to the glory of God. And so, if in the pain such were my resolutions, how much more now in the joy. I can be even more thankful too, for the seasons of pain, because they highlight the magnanimity of joy. And even if all life is is a season of unparalleled and alternating periods of joy and pain, and joy and pain, I know it will be more than alright. Because, All the Sad Things just make you appreciate All the Good Things even more, and makes them even easier to spot.  And All the Good Things are so powerful that even when All the Sad Things hit again, they can be remembered in the pain with special poignancy, and bring hope that the sorrow really does only last for the night. I would argue, in fact, that if happiness happened all the time, it wouldn’t really be all that happy. I suppose it’s kind of like ice cream again. If everything tasted like ice cream all the time, well, ice cream really just wouldn’t be all that good.

So, Jesus, thank you. Thank you for ice cream, and beautiful, unexpected relationships, and friendships that endure and encourage, and second jobs that exhaust but provide. Right now, for as long as it is my right now, thank you for your grace on grace on grace. I guess, as it turns out, pain is not the only muse. And, I’m happy to be proved wrong about that.

Thank you, God, that, tonight I feel like I can truly claim the words in Jeremiah I’ve been waiting on You to claim. As I danced and sang and got silly in the car tonight, so much of the good parts of Old Becka came back, and I felt alive again, and I just want to proclaim this long awaited joy as Your goodness. You are good when It’s All the Good Things and You are Good when it’s All the Sad Things. Tonight, I’m just ever so thankful for All the Good Things.

“For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord… Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.  I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. … and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 31: 11-14

Lent: And Why I Need to Blog

Sometimes I wish I could teleport myself about 600 years back in history to a cobblestoned street in medieval France.

I’d drape a shawl around me and wind my way past peddlers and peasants and down to the city cathedral, stone, drafty, high vaulted ceilings, gargoyles on the flying buttresses, and ornate naves around each corner.

I’d go in, bow, grab a bench, kneel, and listen to harmonious singing of robed children. I’d surround myself with the beautiful, marred, but beautiful, legacy of the Church. I’d walk up, receive the elements,  have an ashy cross seared onto my forehead, and somehow, in my romantic notion, I’d feel closer to God in this centuries old hallowed space.

For three months, and for the first time in my life this past year, I didn’t have to struggle to feel close to God. I felt pain, lots of it, but I felt Jesus. Now, in His goodness, He has healed so much pain, and my greatest prayer is that I don’t lose the passion for Him, the intimacy, the closeness. Lord, let my life be good again, but let me still cling to You as though it’s not.

And so, while I can’t visit Notre Dame in the 14th century in order to have some mystical God moment, I can still embrace the long honored Christian tradition of Lent. This year, it’s not something I need to give up that’s sacrificial, it’s something I need to take up.

In the pain and the closeness with Jesus, my hurting was my muse for writing, and my writing was my healing. As the healing increased, unfortunately, so  much of the writing decreased. And I need it back if I’m going to keep that passion, that closeness with Jesus. Because the truth is, I’m always in need of healing. Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.   For as long as I am bound in my mortal body, I’m bound to my sin and shame and brokenness. I always need Jesus to redeem those things. I always need to write, if healing is in the writing. And so, this year for Lent, I will be writing twice a week, mainly as a way to reflect on my life, and all God continues to unravel and re-tapestry so that I can continue to find Him in the beauty and in the ugly.

I pray God takes me to old places, cathedrals in my heart, and shows me the gold he wants to etch on its walls, the light he wants to shine through images not of stained glass, but of hopes and dreams and purposes and passions. I pray, like Jean val Jean in Les Mis, I sing before a crucified, but risen Jesus, and ask “Who Am I?” and just continue to hear God say, “You are Beloved.” And that in my heart, and in that altar with Jesus in my heart, being God’s Beloved would be and remain enough.

From the Chateau D’If…

One of the reasons why I believe in teaching literature, in teaching art for that matter, is because the best of it will always leak, seep, and echo Truth.

My favorite scene in Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is the one in which Edmund Dantes, wronged prisoner, innocent victim, guiltless convict of 17 years, escapes his cell in France’s Chateau D’If in a body bag, presumed to be the dead body of the priest, and is tossed over the prison cliffs into the ocean below. Out he emerges, sputtering, gasping, tasting freedom for the first time in decades, and leaving behind the young boy, he becomes his destiny as vigilante avenger of injustice, the Count of Monte Cristo.

What a beautiful picture of baptism. From death to life. Rebirth. Rising from the ashes. A new creation, the old has passed, behold, the new has come. Transformation. Beauty from the dust. Hope arising.

I was baptized when I was 19, but it’s taken 10 years for me to see the old Becka still fighting for her space in this world. It’s taken 10 years for me to see patterns, to recognize wounds that have grown, and to realize flaws, sins, and cycles of unbelief that have persisted long after I was dunked “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Not to be cheesy, but tonight, ironically, in the bubble bath enjoying a glass of moscato, my Beth Moore video series spoke Truth into me. The message was on “Believing God to Get You to Your Gilgal.” One of the beginning points was based on Joshua 4-5, in which Joshua “retraces Israel’s new beginning and an entirely new characterization.” Hmm. Characterization. I’m a literature teacher, I can speak this language, and I myself could use some new characterization. I’ve seen so much of my ugly, so much of my shame, so much of my broken ways of doing and believing these past few months, I’ve despaired of who I’ve become and begun to honestly hate so much about myself. I’ve felt like some older, better version of me died and was buried so deep even the daisies she was pushing up in her grave began to wilt and die.

But, that’s just it. There’s not some older, better version of me. There’s just me, in need of a new beginning, a new birth, a re-characterization. The old Becka wasn’t better, she was pointing to the need for a new Becka, a better future Becka.

At Gilgal, to return to Joshua, “God brought the Israelites full circle and broke the old cycle.” Lord, have mercy if I haven’t been confronted with some full circles and some old cycles and stared a haunting deja vu in the face in these last few days even. Fortunately and unfortunately for the Israelites, it was at Gilgal that they were circumcized, and where they remained until they were healed. You see, “At Gilgal, God cut away the sign of their unbelief, and they wore the mark of their new beginning.” Often a wounding precedes our full reception of God’s promises, but healing always follows.”

Now to return to the French Romance, what a wound the Count bears: whip marks across his back, an inability to sleep anywhere but the floor, the loss of hopes, dreams, relationships, and 17 years of his life. But what healing followed, what better things came after: justice, mercy, wealth, love, Providence.

My wounds are ever with me these days. I wear them like a large overcoat. But “healed” in Joshua 5:8 means, “to live, exist, in joy-life, to live anew, recover, be well.. to … refresh, rebuild. Paradoxically, by this wounding they were healed.” Paradoxically, by His stripes, we are healed. Christ was our innocent Edmund Dantes, the wrongfully accused, the innocent victim, the blameless atonement. And through his death and resurrection, we are raised to new life with Him.

Amen. I may have been baptized in the Church 10 years ago, but I’m all about needing a baptism and a circumsizing of the heart these days. My life has been characterized by defeat, hopelessness, disappointment, despair, negativity, awfulizing, expectations of the worst, pessimism, bitterness, anger, confusion, indignation, and unbelief. I need Jesus to make me a new character, to take the old Becka, and baptize her into victory, hopefulness, whimsy, positivism, faith, expectancy, optimism, happiness, joy, assurance, peace, and belief. And I know it’s going to take a lot of work, and I know it’s going to take a lot of transformations of the mind, but I think that’s what God specializes in.

We aren’t meant to stay in the Chatea D’If forever, we aren’t meant to wear our scars because we’re still in prison. We’re meant to be free, for God to bring us shalom, to make all things well. And all will be well, all manner of things will be well, even Becka will be made well.

29 Blessings

Sitting in Mt. Zion’s quasi-indoor/outdoor church service in Butare, Rwanda four and a half years ago, I listened to a man get up on his 30th birthday and publicly proclaim his gratitude for one more year of life.

Somewhere in this testimonial, I realized a great paradigm shift. Twenty four years old at that point, I had never once woken up and thanked God for permitting me to live another year. I sort of just assumed, subconsciously, that I was entitled to another year of life. Birthdays came and went as an annual occurrence, not as a shock or surprise.  Those whose lives are cut short by tragedy or disease are the exception and  those of us who live on year after year are the living example of how it’s supposed to be.

It’s not “supposed to be” in Africa though. This man thought every year he lived would be his last. Amidst genocide, disease, AIDS, poverty, and malnutrition, each new year of life was not expected, but rather unexpected.

Yesterday, I turned 29. And there has been a lot of expected and unexpected in these last twelve months. And in all those expectations, both good and bad, and in all those (un)expectations, both joyful and painful, there have been God’s blessings. And so, in no uncertain order, I want to, like the Rwandan, name and claim these blessings, not as entitlements, but as gifts received.

1.) For the prayers of my parents. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I sat as my parents laid hands on me and prayed for my next year of life. I wept the most during my dad’s prayer. There was a tenderness and a perception I’m not sure I’d ever been struck by so much in my dad’s voice. To hear his heart for me in such a way I’d never audibly heard it before, reminded me of how much greater must be Heavenly Father’s heart for me, and I wept, unabashedly. I weep now, just remembering it.
2.) For the prayers of my friends. Prayers gone unanswered for years, but parallel in their unknown existence, are coming to fruition in my life, thanks to the persistence of dear girlfriends.
3.) For an intimacy with God that I have never before known.
4.) For God beginning to develop in me the heart of a mystic that I asked Him for so often during the ugly of 2011.
5.) For the pure, childlike, simple and generous love of students.
6.) For a community at church, a place in the local body of Christ which I have not had since leaving my childhood church.
7.) For healing, happening now, happening as I write, happening when I see it, and even when I don’t.
8.) For the provision of a perfectly suited new roommate, and the constancy of the one who has been perfectly suited for 2 years now.
9.) For writing again.
10.) For the joy of loving a man, who, although I did not get to keep, taught me so much about sacrificial love, honor, dignity, perseverance, kindness, patience, and excellence. Who restored my faith in men and taught me never to settle for less than a “crucifixion type of love.” For a bar raised beautifully high for whoever comes next. It was long awaited, sorely needed, and gladly given.
11.) For my ecumenical heart that grew immeasurably this summer, thanks to #10. For the understanding of the communion of all the saints, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. For Christ’s body, varied and vast.
12.) For the many tears I’ve shed that have softened a hard heart and wrought out of the fire, a paradoxically fragile yet strong glass Empathy.
13.) For Eucharisteo. For giving thanks in the hard.
14.) For happiness to more deeply feel pain, and pain to better cherish happiness.
15.) For the redemption of Texas. It is no longer a place that only takes; it now gives as well.
16.) For a closer friendship with my brother, back from Boston, with whom I discuss both the intricacies of theology, and the simplicity of following Jesus.
17.) For a much larger understanding of how to identify with Christ in His sufferings, albeit how infinitesimally small mine by comparison.
18.) For a third half-marathon, in beautiful La Jolla. For health that enables said half-marathon.
19.) For a community of coworkers.
20.) For friends who love me, even on my ugliest, most despair-ridden days.
21.) For a second job, one that enables me to grow stronger financially, and offers opportunities to build a resume to lead to future days.
22.) For discomfort, and pain that leads to change. I would not move if not for the sting.
23.) For transformation, and the desire never to return to my carpe diem days of 2011.
24.) For a prayer life I never thought I would see this side of heaven.
25.) For mended friendships.
26.)  For friendships that have stood the test of time, and actually grown closer in their elder years than in their youth.
27.) For conversations that reveal purpose, even if answers are not yet forthcoming.
28.) For safety.
29.) For the hope of things yet to come, and the belief that 30 blessings will be even greater than I can see or imagine.

The Darkest Night

I resolved a while ago, that whatever my heart may feel, and however dismal life may seem, I would not live or speak in such a way as to detract from God’s glory.

Today, on Christmas Eve of all days, I do not intend to renege on that vow. I do, however, have some raw, honest questions. They’ve sat in my mind the last several days and collected more darkness. So, I bring them to the light (of my kitchen window and my macbook pro).

As I’ve searched and pored over the Scriptures these last few months, I seem to find only one real Hope to which my soul can cling: heaven and Jesus.

How does one reach this hope? Via death.

Any promise in Scripture that life here promises anything but heartache? Nope.

So, conclusion, let us all hope for a short life if it is to be filled with naught but darkness, or live instead for those brief moments of light. Although, arguably, those brief moments are really just pain waiting to be awakened because we all know that it is far greater a loss to know happiness and lose it, than to never know it at all. Contrast is a bitch.

That seems a bit dismal. I get it. I agree. It’s why I’ve sat here in darkness the last few days.

If I’m supposed to believe that God will supply all my needs, that if I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me, that He binds the wounds of the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit, that with  Him I have no lack of good,  then am I also to believe that for me, right now, sadness is my good? Sadness is Him drawing close? Sadness is the balm with which He plans on cleaning my gashes and sewing them back up?

Because sadness is all I feel. It’s oppressive. It’s inescapable. And it’s not for my lack of trying to get out of it. Prayers are streamless, arms outstretched to heaven at morning and night, both in surrender and in pleas for mercy, kneeling at the side of my bed. Candles have been lit. Songs sung. Verses memorized and recited.

So then, if sadness is unbreakable, if even in my deepest cries to God, this is His answer, how am I to find joy? How am I to believe that He is the God who cares and gives peace that passes all understanding? How am I to delight in this God? How am I to consider it pure joy when I encounter trials of all kinds? I see my character being tested. And I see my once vibrant personality melting into the twilight, losing itself in the night as a result of this testing.

If this is truly just a season (although the Bible is replete with stories of lives whose seasons were longer than anything I can imagine enduring), how am I to keep on?

I ask because perhaps there is something I’m not doing, something I’m not thinking, something I have not asked or prayed. I ask because I long to find the light here on earth. Heaven is far too far away.