Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ramblings and reflections on New Year's Eve

Well, it's that time again: that day out of the year when the Earth finally completes its orbit around the sun another full time, a day we give more meaning to than perhaps it merits.  A day that, in spite of its less-than-stellar origins, has come to bear significance as a time of reflection on the past 364 full rotations of the earth and what we have spent our lives doing during those rotations.  And as cynical as I try to be about the celebration of a day that frankly is just like any other, here I am anyways writing a long blog post on a dusty blog that I haven't written in for a good few months that only you, Reader, might end up reading.

I'm okay with that.

Because I've definitely come to face this interesting scenario multiple times where I idealistically want to view something one way and realistically, sometimes cynically, come back from a different angle and counter that vision.  It happens in all areas of my life, and occasionally this odd dialectic causes the original vision I have for a certain area of my life to dull in color, not because I've obtained a more realistic or more idealistic understanding of the vision, but rather because I've allowed the train of the vision to derail.

So here's to being okay with viewing life with all of its complications.

Here's to making mistakes and learning from past mistakes and still being faced with the temptation to recommit those mistakes, because change is never a passive process and it often involves a conscious shift in our decisions, our actions and reactions, that occurs in the moments we know we want to end differently.

Here's to finding friends only to lose some of them while making new friends along the way, because each and every single person had some purpose in crossing our path, whether big or small, and the glory of it all is that those people are every bit as messed up and beautiful as us.

Here's to attempted and failed romance as well as success in relationships, because from these experiences we learn what we find attractive in people, what we don't, how to be supportive, how to love, how to be persistent, when to stay silent and when to speak, how to share burdens, and how to trust.  Most importantly, we learn more about ourselves.

Here's to never-ending change, because not only is it a necessary facet of life (an unknown author once said that without change, there would be no butterflies), but it's also what keeps life interesting.  It keeps us on our toes, keeps us from getting too comfortable, keeps us growing.

Here's to the inevitable closing of certain chapters of our lives and opening of new ones, because the pages that we wrote are achingly beautiful and the ones that are yet to be written eagerly anticipate the putting of ink pen to white paper.

Here's to late nights spent writing papers, late nights spent with friends, late nights doing a combination of the two, and late nights blowing both of them off, because odds are we had a reason and excuse for each one, whether valid or not, and by the time we wiped the sleep out of our eyes the next morning we came to understand that that night is now woven into the big tapestry of our lives.

Here's to dancing warm nights away to bachata, to watching as one by ones your friends and acquaintances fall in love and get engaged and get married and have kids, to jumping into Lake Michigan at the end of a semester when it's cold still just because you can, to nervous breakdowns and panic attacks that you eventually learn to handle or at least cope with (this too shall pass), to delicious food shared with amazing company, to conversations where you allow yourself to be vulnerable for once, to discovering wild new places and stumbling upon incredible details of nature, to late-night walks shared with that friend you could never do life without while sharing deep and emotional conversation, to finally taking classes that you actually enjoy and actually attending most of them because you truly care about the department, to catching and identifying enormous insects that would probably scare the living daylights out of most of the people you know, to climbing the enormous snow piles that the plows make in parking lots, and to laughing so hard while reading a friend's message that you cry or you choke on your hot chocolate (or both).  Here's to surviving.  Here's to living.

And here's to you, dear Reader.  Because you are weird.  And complex.  And special.  And loved.

So, where does this bring me to in the next orbit that the Earth is about to embark upon?

I'm going to leave the country again, this time for a longer while than I'm used to (you can follow me on this tumblr if you're interested in updates, it's empty now but will start being written in towards mid-January).

I'm going to walk in the commencement ceremony, because I'm actually graduated (whaaaat).

I'm going to keep getting used to living life not quite knowing what's going to happen next but having at least a general direction and vision, even if that vision is subjected to constant questioning and internal discussion.

I'm going to let old chains be broken by the Chainbreaker.  See one of my most recent blog posts.

I'm going to make more time for reading and writing in my day-to-day life, because now that I've had a few weeks where I've had the opportunity to do so, I've realized that I've been missing it and how much it helps me be a more educated, literate, and creative person.

And I'm going to be open and willing to accept opportunities for other adventures that I cannot imagine at this moment, without fearfully working myself up about "what-if".

Happy near-completion of the Earth's orbit around the sun once more.  May you experience many more of Earth's rotations about its axis and orbits around that flaming 5,778 Kelvin ball of hydrogen and helium.  And may each of those days hold more meaning than you ever thought possible.  May each of those days hold something, big or small, that causes you to fall asleep at the end of that day thinking that it was special in its very own way.  May you love stronger than you ever thought possible.  May you live.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
(2 Cor. 3:17) #nomoreshackles

That was the text message I received nearly a week ago from a good friend of mine that I honestly do an awful job at keeping in touch with since I transferred colleges three years ago.  "Well, that's nice," I thought to myself, "but hardly applicable right now..."  See, I've been struggling to strengthen my relationship with God since recently, quite frankly, I've been doing as terrible at communicating with Him as with the same friend that sent me this text message.  That one thing I swore I'd never let settle into my heart happened: indifference.  Indifference because as I struggled with the various difficult internal things that started popping up in my life more and more, I started relying less on God and more on my own strength to try to get me through.  My train of thought was something along the following lines:

"I'm just too far gone at this point.  I need to get myself right first before I can come back to God...if He decides to even let me back in, anyways."  (Sitting here now in a somewhat-better state of mind, I can tell you straight-up that this line of thinking is exactly what God does NOT advocate.  See Isaiah 1:18, Joel 2:32, and John 8:2-11, for example, and you'll begin to see that the Gospel is NOT a gospel of works but rather a gospel of grace).

Fast forward a couple of days.  I'm sitting in church with my dad listening to a sermon that Dr. Henry Cloud was giving...a sermon that was really was just his personal story, his personal testimony, a tribute to the saving power of Jesus when it comes to pulling people up out of the deepest pits.  And I'm sitting there listening to the story of his screwed-up childhood and adolescence and early adulthood, and I begin thinking to myself... "You know, surely Jesus is trying to reach me, too, if He was trying to get through to someone like Cloud."  And then came the closing remarks from our campus pastor regarding the "life loop" that he drew on the large teaching pad: "If you're in this downward-sloping, crisis part of the loop, you need to know you're not alone.  Share crisis in community."  And so on with the other parts of the loop.

Fast forward to that evening.  Scene: Young adults ministry evening bible study, blankets and ice cream, Would Your Rather icebreakers that inevitably led to raucous peals of laughter that filled the warm, sunset-lit air.  Contrasting the light and silly games was a heavy study of Romans 9 that ended with a time of prayer requests, some of which were even heavier.  And I was surprised at the vulnerability with which the others were sharing their hearts, and finally just before everyone was about to pray I decided to take a leap and share my need for a softened heart, to come back into a closer relationship with God, to seek Him before all else even as I graduate and am sent abroad.  A girl I had been wanting to know prays for me and I feel a deep still calm move over my heart.  And I am reminded while trying to fall asleep that we were talking earlier during the study about the Wednesday service by Shauna Niequist about changing the story, and how I was trying to stream it a couple of days prior and it wasn't working, and I decide I need to watch it.

So I do it the next day, obviously, and the questions stuck: What stories am I telling about myself, the world, and God that I picked up on my own from one source or another and not from God?  What stories do I need to leave behind so that God has room to put new stories into my life?  And what words, if I believed them, would radically change how I perceive myself and everything else, would radically change my life and my story?

Fast forward to nighttime.  I'm lying wide-awake in my bed trying to sleep and not succeeding as I sift through a million thoughts: Who needs to hear these words...what do I need to hear...what do I need to let go of...but can I ever let go of this story, when this story is going to pursue me for the rest of my life?  Aren't I an exception?  Maybe not, things are better than they have been, things feel easier...And I think about the animal that is chained to a wall who, each time people approach it to try to help it, ends up being backed into the wall and then attacks the person who draws near out of fear and self-defense, because when flight isn't an option you have to fight...and then I think about Jesus who frees us of our chains, frees us and allows us choices and changes our stories.  Jesus, the Chainbreaker.

No more shackles.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tough questions and tough answers

(note: the following comes from a line of theory and theology that you may not agree with; please comment at the bottom of the post to add to the discussion!)

My personal tendency when I feel far from God is just to keep running away.  I can do this by myself, right?  I've done it before...surely it can't be that bad to try again.  It's dark and I cannot see, because God is light and I'm running without bringing the light with me.  I stumble over rocks and run headfirst into walls and crash into trees and fall into bushes.  And I sit in the dark and I wallow and wonder where to go from here.

How could God ever want me now?

It sometimes just feels that way when we're not even trying to run away, that we look at everything around us and some days it all just seems bad and we ask ourselves, "In the midst of all of this, where is God?"

Divorce.  Tragedy.  Pain.  Trauma.  Struggles.  Destruction.  Financial problems.  Starvation.  Hopelessness.  Death.  Illness.  Depression.  Routine.  Abuse.  Disasters.  Etc.

How could God ever allow all of this?

I get the feeling that these questions and others tend to be interrelated, and that the answers to these questions are neither easy nor necessarily the ones that everyone looks for.  The same God that allows your pain by running a specific direction (away from Him) also allows your pain when you don't.  It seems to make no sense, right?  I follow up these questions with a series of mini-news-flashes, not necessarily in any particular order or relation to the aforementioned questions.

News flash #1:  It's not about you.  It's about God.

Ouch, right?  It hurts our ego to read it so bluntly.  But it never has been, and it never will be.  God created an entire universe before He created our world, and He created the Earth before He created us.  Essentially, He made an environment with fixed properties and rules, our own personal playground, and set us loose to enjoy it (see this old blog post for my fixation with the world as a playground).  It was a perfect environment, but the rules were fixed, and to interact in the world was to interact within the bounds and rules set by God Himself.  See The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for further theory.

Humans were perfect, too, and obedient to God, but then sin happened (sin = our rebellion and deciding to do what we think is best for ourselves yet is actually not in line with God's will for us).  Sin created separation from God.  Because God created humans as sovereign creatures and would rather have them choose to love Him back freely instead of it being a robotic love, He allows humans to continue to turn to their own ways, away from Him, and sin.  Sin is painful.  Sin hurts ourselves.  Sin hurts others.  But like the most perfect superhero and prince ever, God sent Jesus to atone for all of that and, no matter our decisions and choices, bridge the separation between us and God (see my previous post on grace for a better layout of what "bridging the gap" means).  When we admit our faults and desire to sin, believe that Jesus really can bring us into relationship with God, and commit to that relationship, we are able to come into it.  But sinning is still a conscious act that we can choose to take.  And when we do, it still hurts us, and it still hurts others.

News flash #2:  Even though it's not about you, God cares deeply and wildly for you. (See Furious by Jeremy Riddle for a song version of this news flash)

Like a father for his children and a groom for his bride, God loves you!  And nothing that you do and nothing that happens to you as a result of others' doing escapes His sight.  He hurts when you do, because He loves you that much.  He also hurts when, instead of coming to Him for healing, we try to find it elsewhere.  I am very guilty of this.  When it comes down to it, God wishes that even when we sin against Him time and time again, we come to Him and ask for His mercy instead of trying to make it better on our own.  He made us.  He made all of this.  He's had enough practice to get the hang of things by now, don't you think?

News flash #3:  Relationships are always two-way streets.  Including a God-human relationship

This means that even as God is passionately pursuing you and trying to win your heart over, even as He sacrificed Himself as His Son for you, even as He'd do anything for you, He will not do anything that you do not consent to (He's a gentleman!).  Furthermore, if we do not pursue Him back, the relationship is completely one-sided.  How well does that even work out in our everyday interpersonal relationships!?  Not to mention a spiritual one!  On this final news flash, I leave you, dear Reader, with a word of encouragement: God has amazing plans for you, and they are not plans to harm you.  They are plans to prosper you, give you hope, and give you a future.  Call to Him, pray to Him, because He will listen!  And in seeking Him with all your heart, you will find Him! (Jer. 29:11-13).

Further reading and study: Where Is God In Tragedy?, Jeremiah 29, Even When I'm At My Darkest

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


"God's grace has a drenching about it.  A wildness about it.  A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it.  Grace comes after you."  -Max Lucado
Just what is grace?  I sat down in a bookstore on Saturday night and picked up the book Grace by Max Lucado and realized that I always think I know what it is, and I learn about it time and time again, and yet somehow the definition always seems to escape me, and just when I need it most I realize I need to relearn yet again what grace is.  What it does.  Why it's so important.

The Greek word for grace charis literally means "free gift"; Strong defines it as "the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life."  The Bible goes even further and says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."

Another creative way of looking at GRACE:


Grace is separate from salvation and faith in that when we have faith in Jesus's sacrifice on the cross, we receive salvation because of God's grace.  Grace is not works, and cannot be achieved by works.  What are works?  Anything someone does to try to be a "good person" or to try to be righteous.  When we try to work for grace, we end up "frustrating" grace, as Paul says in Galatians 2:21.  True salvation through faith places the Holy Spirit in us, and it is His grace that changes us from the inside out.  He doesn't need our help.

However, don't think that we can continue living our same lives, that we can say "yes" to Jesus but not let His grace affect us.  That, too, is "frustrating" grace.  Our desire to know God, our pursuit of a relationship with God, our profound recognition of who God is and what He has done for humanity...when all of this is internalized, when the extent of His love for us begins to sink into our very core, it doesn't leave us unchanged unless we then choose to run the exact opposite direction.  "Never mind, God, I don't want your free gift."

Max Lucado in his book Grace uses water imagery to say that "God's grace has a drenching about it.  A wildness about it.  A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it.  Grace comes after you."  Todd Agnew in his song "Grace Like Rain" sings, "Hallelujah, grace like rain/Falls down on me/Hallelujah, all my stains/Are washed away, they'rewashed away."  John Mark McMillan's lyrics in "How He Loves" say that God "loves like a hurricane, I am a tree/Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy...Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes/If grace is an ocean we're all sinking."

Have you ever been hit in the face with an ocean wave before, been drawn under by it?  I have.  And then trying to get air, I was thrown back under the surface of the water by yet another wave, and so came up coughing and sputtering and trying to clear my lungs of the warm, salty sea water so that I could actually get a mouthful of air.

I think when we are truly wrecked by grace, when it truly hits us, it's kind of like that.  We are smacked with it, drawn under by it, overwhelmed by it, and it just comes back for us again and again in different ways at different moments.  And it's one of the most powerful and beautiful things I've ever experienced.  And when I find myself most unworthy of it, even more than usual, that's when it hits me the hardest, and I let it draw me under and take over me and work in my heart, let it wash over my soul.

Further study: Romans 5, story of "How He Loves", examination of grace like a check