Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learning With Others

I'm hoping to get my website set up tonight--the one about singlehood, the church, etc.  That doesn't mean I'm "open for business" or whatever, but it means I'm another step closer.  I'm really excited, and I'm really scared.  But it is so time.

A year ago, I'm not sure if I would have been ready for this.  I had all these dreams about getting my works of fiction published (not self-published), and I still have those dreams.  I'm just not sure that the path I was hoping to take in order to get there is the path that I will end up taking.  I'm not sure what is going to happen with my blog, but I believe God has plans for it.  Right now, that's where my attention needs to be.  And I have a weird feeling that if I'm faithful to do this, the other plans I have are going to somehow fall into place--in time.

And maybe that's hard for some people to understand.  I'm not even sure why this blog idea presented itself when it did, but when it did, I knew I had to go for it.  I'm someone who likes to hesitate, to procrastinate due to fear.  Fear of what?  Of doing something I've never done before, of not doing it right or doing it well, of failure, of success, of the unknown.  But since the idea to do a blog occurred to me, I've sensed an urgency.  It's time to do this, and I'm doing what it takes to get it done.  It's because I'm really not the one in control of this whole thing.

And that's a scary thought, too.  I like being in control.  I like knowing what I'm doing, how I'm doing it, and what will happen when I do it.  I like having it all planned out within the context of my known capabilities.  I don't like it when things aren't in my control or power.  I don't like it when what I have to do depends on the actions and reactions of other people.  And while I'm a kind of blogger-leader in this venture, I know that the content of my blog is going to depend greatly on the responses I get from my readers. 

I'm resistant to change and I'm resistant to things that make me uncomfortable.  I guess everyone is, but I've really seen a pattern of how these qualities have ruled my life.  And lately, I've just seen that I need to get over my insecurities.  I've got to be open-minded.  I've got to be flexible.  The Lord has been preparing me in so many ways for this moment in my life, and I know He's still got some work to do on me.  I guess it's just going to be learning on the fly now.

The thing is, there's just so much learning that can be done when it's just you and God.  There's God's Word.  There's prayer.  These are both essential things for a life that glorifies God.  And that's my goal for this blog, the goal for my life, to glorify God.  I don't put that anywhere on my "about me" info or whatever, because if you can't tell by the content of this blog, I'm a Christian, and I want to honor God with everything I do.  Do I succeed in that all the time?  Of course not.  That's because when you get out in the "real world" away from church and your prayer closet and your Bible, you're confronted with people.  And people aren't predictable.  And people are hard to deal with.  And people are messy. 

But God made people to need one another.  Yes, ultimately, we need Him.  We need Him in order to live and breathe and be; we need to be connected to Him in order to love and hope and grow.  But God never intended anyone to live within a box of self.  And if we're going to learn how to put the things we read about in Scripture and the things we pray through during our quiet times--if we're ever going to learn how to put these things into practice, we have to encounter others.  Sometimes we're going to fail, and sometimes we're going to succeed.  And God never intended all our failures and successes to be kept to ourselves. 

The reason I want to start this blog about singlehood and the church is because I want to learn alongside others.  I want to share my experiences as well as read the experiences of others.  I want to ask questions that will help me and others understand what people are going through.  I want to know how we can better glorify God together instead of sticking to the status quo of our own little bubbles of comfort and safety.  People are messy, but the thing is, we're all people.  That means we're all messy.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  We all have pains and joys.  We all have successes and failures.  We all need love.  We all need grace. 

I don't want this website/blog to be just for singles or just for church people or just for whatever.  I want it to be open for anyone who wants to read and contribute to discussion.  And that's scary, but it's an opportunity to learn...even when it's messy.  Perhaps especially when it's messy.  So I continue to ask for prayer.  I continue to ask you to stay tuned, considering how to help me spread the word about this site once it is ready to unveil. 

Thank you so much for the support you have already given me.  I'm thankful to all who come read this, who take time out to listen to my ramblings.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Sum-Up: Prepared

I have cooked a turkey for the last three Thanksgivings (arguably four, but my mom came down four Thanksgivings ago and kind of cooked the first turkey for me, so it doesn't really count).  I actually enjoy roasting the turkey, because once you get the bird in the oven, it's actually pretty easy.  And this year's turkey turned out pretty good, but that's mainly because "Mr. Gobbles/Sizzles Version 2011" was a great bird.  I can't help but think that I really didn't do him justice. 

I guess it's because I kind of forgot that he needed a couple days to thaw out, so I didn't give him quite enough time.  It was sufficient, but I'm not sure Mr. Gobbles was ready to cook when I started cooking him.  And I didn't watch enough "How to Roast a Turkey" videos on youtube to adequately refresh my mind on all the little things that can be done to enhance the flavor and juiciness of a roasted turkey.  So, the end result was a good turkey, but not an AMAZING turkey like LAST year's version of Mr. Gobbles/Mr. Sizzles.  Because I wasn't prepared, I didn't prepare the turkey in the ways that would have made him the best turkey he could be.

And I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm going to relate that to my spiritual life.  It would surely be a hokey hokey thing to say that God has been preparing me like a turkey, roasting me in the fires of difficult situations, soaking me in the marinade of trying experiences.  I'm not going to say that, but I will say that I've noticed lately how God has been preparing me through different experiences and situations.  I'm not one to think that everything I do is a preparation for something else, but sometimes I think that there are things we go through to make us better prepared for things that are to come. 

Last week, I finally purchased a domain name for my new website.  I'm supposed to be talking with someone about setting it all up this week.  I'm talking with a few other people about logos and subject matter, etc.  I haven't set any official dates, but I'm really wanting to get this thing officially launched by early January.  I was hoping to have it ready before the year was out, and that's definitely doable.  I just think that a new year would be a good time to start something new, and I think more people would be on board with it after the craziness of the holidays have calmed down.  And, really, I'd like another month to think and pray about this, because it's quite a bit bigger than I am.

And that scares me, because I've already seen some real ways that my ideas could make others uncomfortable, and sometimes discomfort leads to hostility.  I don't want to set out to make other people uncomfortable (or hostile).  I never ever mean to offend people.  It's just that sometimes, when you tell the truth--even in the most non-threatening way--people still get offended.  It's because the truth offends.  And I've had to really think and pray through this, because I know that in my flesh, I'm a pretty insecure person.  The Lord has allowed me to wrestle with a few situations recently, and a big part of His purpose in that was to help me face the choice of whether I'm going to follow what makes me and everyone else comfortable, or if I'm going to stand by Him and His truth.  He's shown me that there is going to be some opposition, there are going to be some (for lack of a better term) jerks who just want to cause trouble, there are going to be some really nice people, too, who just don't agree with me and feel the need to tell me their opinions.  Am I going to crawl to my corner, lick my wounds, and go along with the crowd?  Or am I going to keep trusting God even when it's not easy? 

I'm not sure if it's a wise thing or not to vent all my insecurities about life and what's going on here on this blog, but one thing I have learned--keeping my weaknesses to myself is not going to glorify God.  I boast in my weaknesses because His power is made perfect in my weaknesses.  And my prayer for my new project, as well as everything else in my life, is that God will be glorified. 

Regarding this project, I doubt I'm going to say everything I need to say as eloquently as it should be said.  I doubt I'm going to have brilliant subject matter in every single blog I write.  Right now, I have so many doubts about where this project is going.  One thing I don't doubt is that God has led me to this.  Another thing I don't doubt is that He's got a purpose for it and for me.  And I don't doubt that He's been preparing me over the past year and a half (and even years before that) to bring me to this vision He's given me. 

Please keep praying.  I'm not all that wise, but I trust in a foolishness that is greater than the wisdom of man.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Feliz Navidad" Friday: Christmas Songs

It's the day after Thanksgiving, which means I can officially start spazzing about Christmas without making everyone mad at me.  So every Friday until after Christmas, I'll be posting about Christmasy things.  If I had my way, I'd probably post about Christmas all the time.  I love Christmas!  I kinda celebrate it all year long, but most people don't appreciate me talking about it/playing Christmas music/singing Christmas songs/watching Christmas movies/decorating/etc. all year long, so I try to control it.  But now, everyone who celebrates Christmas is free to celebrate it openly, so I am, too.  Yes, my friends, it is officially the most wonderful time of the year.

And speaking of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," I want to point out right now that Andy Williams should be the only one allowed to sing that song.  Ever. 

I feel that way about a lot of Christmas songs.  I have fallen in love with one particular version of a song, and any other version just sounds/feels completely wrong.  And this is problematic because everyone and their mother likes to cover Christmas songs that have already reached perfection.  Andy Williams' "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" is the definitive version, yet every year I hear the radio stations playing some other version.  Come on people; you can't improve upon Andy Williams. 

And if you're not Gene Autry, then you should not be recording your own jazzed up version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  "Frosty the Snowman" is only supposed to be sung by Jimmy Durante.  Judy Garland has to sing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." "White Christmas" belongs to Bing Crosby.  And if I hear any other version besides Burl Ives' "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," I seriously want to go find the person who recorded the other version and punch him/her in the face.  And that's not very Christmasy, so please don't drive me to that point.

I'm also quite partial to Manheim Steamroller's version of "Deck the Halls."  I'm not sure why, but the upbeat synthesized melody is like audible happiness.  Maybe it's because this version has no annoying lyrics about trolling ancient yuletide carols, or maybe it's just because it reminds me of Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade...I don't know.  All I know is that I really don't like any other version of "Deck the Halls," but there's something about Manheim Steamroller that makes me feel good.

Now, as far as the "Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum-pum Song" (AKA "The Little Drummer Boy") goes, most versions are corny, and some of them make me want to pa-rum-pum-pum-pum-pum my head against a brick wall, but there is one version that's actually quite good.  The Jars of Clay version of "Little Drummer Boy" is the best. 

Now, one of my favorite Christmas carols happens to be "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."  When Casting Crowns came out with their version, which is a little bit different from the traditional carol, I kind of got a little pouty.  But the thing is, the more I listened to it, the more I discovered I kind of liked it (maybe more than the traditional carol, but probably not--the jury is still out).  But then, if you include a good children's ensemble, then almost any Christmas song becomes better.

My absolute favorite Christmas carol is "Joy to the World," (just about any version--Handel wrote the music, so that's why it's awesome) but I also really like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." And recently (as in the past three years or so), I've been obsessed with a song by Todd Agnew called "God With Us."  If you haven't heard it, you need to, so here you go:

"God With Us" comes from an album entitled "Do You See What I See?" which comes from the song, "Do You Hear What I Hear?".  "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is probably one of the most ridiculous songs ever.  Tim Hawkins has a great sketch that explains this ridiculousness:

So, what are your favorite Christmas songs, and what versions do you like the best?  Are there any Christmas songs you don't understand or that you hate?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grateful Perspectives

I wasn't going to do a "Thanksgiving Post."  Well, okay, I probably was, but it probably wasn't going to be all like, "I'm grateful for this, and I'm thankful for that, and blah blah blah."  Why?  Well, first off, I don't like doing things just because everyone else is doing them.  And everyone does "this is what I'm thankful for" posts for Thanksgiving.  Second, I don't like the idea of being thankful during just one day or season of the year.  I like to think that it's always a good idea to be thankful.  Third, since I like to think that it's always a good idea to be thankful, I pretty much strive to be thankful a lot.  And I figure that I'm pretty darn grateful.  And also, I'm humble.

But lately God and His grace have been knocking me out a lot (in a good way).  And the other night, I got home from work making old people noises.  I was groaning and grumbling and generally saying, "I'm tired!  The kids were whiny!  The coffee ran out!"  Just between you and me, I sometimes complain.  And by "sometimes," I mean, "only when I'm breathing." 

Then, as I was tossing my keys down to kinetically express the agony of my long day, I noticed that I had mail.  There was a letter from my sponsor child.  I love getting letters from this girl.  She's always encouraging and cute (she's ten, which is a fun age no matter what country a kid is from).  She always addresses me by my first and last name.  She always asks me questions based on her understanding of the world, which is very different than mine.  Oh, and the translation always has some errors in it, and that makes me laugh.  Kudos to the translation peeps, though.  I mean, I barely got by in college Spanish....

Anyway, in the letter before this letter, my sponsor child asked me if I'd ever worked in a rice paddy field.  I thought that was a funny question because there aren't a lot of rice paddy fields floating around where I live in North Carolina.  But that's probably all she really knows, and I understood from that question and previous letters that her parents worked in the paddy fields.  I wrote her back saying that I'd not worked in a paddy field, and I figured that sort of concluded the discussion about rice paddy fields.

But in the letter I got yesterday, she asked me if I had ever harvested rice.  I chuckled a little, but then I read the next sentence.  "I have harvested the rice with my parents.  It hurts my back so much.  I wish you could come and harvest the rice in my village."

Ten.  She has just turned ten years old.  When I was ten, I think I was still rejoicing over the fact that I'd finally learned to tie my shoelaces.  Her?  She's worked in rice fields.  She's probably done some pretty long and hard labor, probably to help her parents so they'd be able to surviveAnd she also has to go to school and keep up with her studies.  Suddenly, I felt pretty lousy for complaining about my hard day...which really wasn't that hard.  I sat on a padded carpet in an air conditioned room and got hugs from cute kids.  I have no idea, NO idea of the reality some people, many of them children, have to face on a daily basis.  And they're grateful, truly grateful, for what they have.  And if I were to go work in the rice fields, as she requested in her letter, I'd probably not be all that jazzed about it.  And she and her family would see me for what I am: not this loving American lady who cares enough to give a tiny percentage of her comparatively astronomical pay to a child in need, but a whiny American brat who doesn't have any concept of how the majority of the world lives.

And as if I wasn't feeling guilty enough, my sponsor child added this verse to the end of her letter:  2 Corinthians 4:16-18, "Therefore do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 

I've read that verse before, but never through the eyes of someone who probably has some idea of what it means to be "outwardly wasting away."  I know this child is being cared for and has enough to sustain her, but compared to her, I'm a spoiled brat.  I don't make a lot of money.  I don't even have health insurance.  My car is messed up, and I am in debt.  But man, I have it good.  I've got a roof over my head, and for the moment my car is still going vroom.  I've got creature comforts galore.  In an economy as jacked up as ours, I've got about four jobs, and I LOVE them all.  There's really nothing I have to complain about.  And aside from the material things, I've got tons of amazing friends.  I've got a family who loves me, and I'm pretty crazy about them, too.  I've got dreams and hopes and even a little bit of talent (again, there's that amazing humility of mine).  More than any of those things, though, I've got the One Thing that no one can ever take away from me: the love of God. 

I've got it pretty good, actually.

And when I really start thinking about it, there thousands of children in this world who have it so much worse than my sponsor child.  Children are dying of starvation.  Children are being sold into slavery and prostitution.  That's not pleasant to think about, so a lot of us just don't think about it.  We want to sit in our nice houses with our nice things and watch our nice big tvs and just be comfortable.  I'm as guilty of it as anyone else.  One thing I'm pretty sure of: God never blessed us so we could hoard our blessings.  But that's exactly what I do. 

Gratitude.  Yes.  I have a lot to be grateful for.  And right now the question I'm asking myself is this: If I've been given so much, what exactly am I going to do with it?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Sum-Up: Giving Grace

I really never intended to talk about God so much in this blog.  It's not that I ever wanted to purposefully shy away from my relationship with God/Jesus here, but I never purposed for this blog to be so close to my faith.  It's just very hard for me to separate my writing from my beliefs, and vice versa.  I guess it's a good sign that I can't compartmentalize; Christ isn't just a part of my life.  He's everything.  And while sometimes I can blog about something without bringing my faith into it, it's exceptionally difficult (or perhaps impossible) to talk about what's going on in my life without bragging on God.  Because the Lord is the One who is leading me through my life right now, and He's teaching me far more than I deserve to learn.

A theme that keeps popping up right now is grace.  And grace is a weighty term, hard to define, even harder to accept and express.  Maybe it should be simple, but because we're complicated people, we tend to make even the simplest concepts difficult.  The grace of God is free, and yet so many people can't accept it.  People can't even accept the reality of a gracious God, or they can't accept the goodness of a gracious God, or they can't accept that grace is really free apart from human effort, or they can't accept that free grace could be for a sinful person.  And while I could camp out on that for a while, that's really not what I want to focus on here, not because it's not important, but because it's really not what I'm struggling and striving with right now.

I know God is gracious.  I know that His grace is free.  I know that it's His good pleasure to give that grace to sinners--sinners like me.  And it's one thing to sit here and blog about being a sinner saved by grace; it's a totally different thing to live that out.  God's been patiently, graciously teaching me that everything He allows to happen in my life--everything--is a chance to love others and a chance to trust Him.  But once again, it's one thing to blog about that, and another thing to live it out. 

I'm blogging about this as my weekly sum-up because the Lord's been working on this concept of giving grace to others, and this week He's really brought all that to a crux.  I went to one of those preschool teacher workday things, expecting to hear about different ways to help children learn and grow.  I was actually expecting it to be boring and generally not useful to my life.  Instead, our director talked to us about communicating love and grace to one another.  And it went along perfectly with everything the Lord's been teaching me.  ...and it humbled me.

Then I read a blog post entitled "I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay" , and I was floored.  The author isn't a Christian, but he gets something that a lot of Christians seem to miss.  Now, I don't agree with every statement he made, nor do I think that homosexuality is okay (just to clarify, I don't hate gays; in fact, I have some gay friends.  I believe practicing homosexuality is a sin--just like any other sin--which is something that is contrary to the will of God--and I'm definitely a sinner in need of grace just like everyone else), but I admire and respect the guy who wrote this blog.  First off, he was respectful, yet honest.  Second, he stated his main point clearly without allowing himself to be drawn away to any arguments that were secondary to his main point: that no one is perfect and that everyone needs love.  As far as his blog post goes, it doesn't matter if his readers think that homosexuality is a sin or not; the point is, we're all imperfect people, and we all need love.

And I'm not about to go start holding up signs that say "God Hates Fags," but if I were really honest with myself, I'm pretty sure that sometimes I'm holding up an invisible sign that says, "The way you're dressed makes me uncomfortable," or "The fact that you just ran a red light means I have the right to honk my horn and yell at you," or "The language you're using makes me not want to associate with you." 

Where do I get the idea that some sins are worse than others?  Where do I get the idea that I'm more righteous than others?  How can I so easily accept the free grace of God without giving it just as freely to others? 

But I'm not the only one who does it.  I'm not justifying myself.  I'm not trying to judge others.  I'm just stating a fact.  I know I'm not the only one who does it because God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit saw/sees a need to speak again and again to the self-righteousness of humanity.

The bottom line?  We're all children.  I work with kids.  What are they like?  They can be sweet and tender.  They're a great joy to me.  But honestly, children are often childish (imagine that).  If I ask a child to clean something up, the #1 response I get is, "But I didn't make the mess!"  And that's a ridiculous attitude, but recently I discovered that grown-ups act the same way.  If I see something out of place in the preschool storage room, instead of simply putting it away, I mentally tell myself, "Whoever took it out should put it away.  It's not my responsibility."  And everyone has that attitude, so as a result, the misplaced item never gets put in its place.  So someone gets upset because the room eventually gets messy.  Then the grumbling starts.  Wouldn't it be easier to just clean up one another's messes?  Wouldn't it be easier to GET OVER OURSELVES and show a little grace?

If I sound preachy, it's because I'm preaching to myself.  I have been given so much grace.  I can't hoard that grace; I need to give it to others.  The thing that keeps me from loving my neighbor: pride.  Selfishness.  Fear that I'll not have enough for myself.  I'd be much better off forgetting myself.  And doing this is impossible in my own power. 

Ironically, the only way I can be gracious is to receive grace.  And, praise the Lord, He is faithful.  He does give more grace.

I could go on and on, but I'm going to leave you with the incredible words of James.  I'm posting the entire chapter of James 4, because it's all pertaining to what I've said here.  We need to get over ourselves and our selfish desires.  We need to rely on the grace of God.  We need to humble ourselves and boast only in the Lord.  It's easy to look down on others for the wicked things they do, but sometimes we're even more guilty because there is good that we can do, there are people we can love, and when we fail to love, we sin.

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
'God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.'
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins." --James 4

I'm going to say just one thing more.  I've had several conversations about my new blog project this week.  I'm still working on it, still praying about it, still planning and getting excited.  The thing is, all this stuff that the Lord is graciously teaching me is really applicable to my blog.  That's just really neat to me, how the Lord is working and bringing things together, just at the right time.  God is so good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fill-in-the-Blank Friday: Apology

Last month, October of 2011, was apparently an awesome blogging month. I was hoping to clear 500 total views for the month (I know. I know. Some people get that many views in a single day, but I'm not quite that awesome...yet). That would be a record. Well, I went out of town at the end of the month and forgot to go look at my total views. I was overjoyed and, well, stunned beyond belief to discover that I had over 600 total views last month. Now, I'm assuming that at least 257 of those views were my mom, but, well, views are views.
This month? Phbbbblllllllllttttt. I think that's a word. I think they should add it to the dictionary. I mean, I've certainly used it a lot lately. People have been asking me, "How's your writing going?" and I've responded with "Phbbbbllllllllllttttt." That's how my writing is going. It's going phbbbblllllllllttttt. And while I've tried to put up a good face with my blogging, I know I've really been off this month. I haven't expected any brilliant numbers in my statistics, but it's kind of sad that the month is over halfway over and I've barely gotten a third of the views this month that I did last month.
There's lots of factors that could go into the drop in views, but do you care? No. So let's not get into that. Instead, let me apologize to my readers for being a little off this month. The truth is, I've been a little off in every area of my life since I went out of town at the end of October. This is yet another reason I'm really thankful to be spending a nice quiet Thanksgiving in my apartment. I'm not traveling. I'm not working. ...I am running waddling a 5K that morning, but that should actually be a lot of fun. And since I'm starting the day with exercise, I'll have an excuse to eat more turkey and pumpkin pie!
So while this is the busiest time of the year, and since I am doing a lot of work right now preparing a new website/blogging project, I'm really going to try to start putting effort into this blog. Thanks for your understanding.
I met with a couple of friends tonight to talk about my new project, and one of them (well, both of them, but one of the vocalized it really well) reminded me that I have a lot of people encouraging and supporting me. I believe that. So thank you for continuing to read this and continuing to pray. I'm a very blessed person, and I know some of you are loyal readers (thanks, mom) whether I have anything worth reading or not. I'll try to be worthy of that loyalty!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Love Always Hopes

I'm not an optimist.

But I'm not a pessimist, either.

Some people see the glass as half full.  Some see the glass as half empty.  All I know is that if it's 8 or 9 in the morning, and there's only half a cup of coffee, then somebody is most likely gonna get hurt...and it's probably going to be whoever drank half my coffee. 

I'm a realist, which some optimists like to say is the same thing as being a pessimist, but they're wrong.  A pessimist looks at the bad side of things, and while I do that sometimes, usually I try to see a situation as it really is.  And if you really start thinking about it, Jesus was probably a realist, too.

The difference between Jesus and me is that Jesus was focused on others, while I tend to be focused on myself.  I do think about others, but to be honest, it's in a way that reflects back on myself.  I count my blessings, thankful that I'm healthier than others or that I'm better off than others, or that, through grace, I was spared a lot of pain that others are having to experience.  And when I do think about others, it's limited by my own understanding, so I'm often not seeing people as people, but I'm seeing them as labels.  I'm not seeing a man who God loves, I'm seeing a homeless man who needs to be pitied.  I'm not seeing a woman whom God is using, I'm seeing a helpless widow.  And it's not bad to want to help people who need to be helped, but there seems something wrong about seeing labels where people should be.

Jesus saw people.  He saw a woman at a well.  He didn't overlook her sin, yet he didn't label her by it.  And because He saw her, she was changed.  Jesus saw a rich man.  He looked at him and loved him.  But this man defined himself by his riches, instead of seeing himself as he was--as Jesus saw him--a man in need of grace.  And he went away sad.

And right now I'm seeing friends who are seriously ill.  I'm seeing friends going through divorces.  I'm seeing friends who are going through financial problems and emotional turmoil.  I'm seeing friends who are without Christ, who are striving to find fulfillment in themselves.  And I pray for all of these people, asking for change and healing and grace.

Hope is a difficult thing sometimes.  Realistically, it seems as though I keep asking for the same things, the same healing, the same changes.  And honestly, I'm not sure if any of these things I'm hoping for in the lives of others are going to come to pass. 

But I've been reminded recently that love always hopes.  And if I'm to see people as they are, if I'm to love them, then part of that involves hope.  I'm not an optimist, but if I really care about people, then I'm going to keep hoping on their behalf.  And I'm going to believe that my prayers are heard.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Sum-Up: Agenda

How much is enough?  Is there even such a thing?  How does one tell the difference between being satisfied and being complacent?  Is there even a difference? 

Lately, all I've really wanted to do is just sit around, watch tv, and knit.  I need to work on some knitting projects right now, but I still feel lazy.  I put forth a pathetic attempt to look over some of my writing stuff, but really, I just don't even feel like I can do anything with that right now.  I thought it was my minor seasonal depression or the weather change or something, but I think it's more than that. 

The year is almost over.  I really wanted to accomplish some things this year, and I feel like I haven't done any of them.  And with all the craziness during this time of year, it's really kind of too late to get anything done this year.  I have taken some steps towards getting some of my projects done, in fact, I had a pretty significant conversation/meeting regarding the new blog I hope to create (hopefully before the year is over).  But it still feels like I'm talking instead of doing. 

Part of me feels like a failure because I haven't accomplished some of my goals, and part of me feels like I shouldn't worry about it because the plans I've made aren't as important as I'd like to believe anyway.  I mean, there's stuff I wanted to do this year that didn't quite get done.  But there were things that happened this year that I could never have anticipated.  I got involved in a sports ministry!  What's THAT about?  This time last year, I would have never believed that I'd have been able to run a 10K.  And then there's this blogging project I'm working on, and I didn't even have an idea for it a few months ago.  And I've made new friends and new connections at work that were completely unexpected.  And I know God's been working through those connections to bring about His glory.  And I figure my agenda isn't as important as His agenda.

Sometimes I get all involved in whatever I'm doing, and if things don't go the way I planned, I get upset.  I don't stop to ask, "Does God have something planned through all of this that I didn't expect?"  Sometimes things don't go our way or bad things happen, and those times become opportunities for us to trust God and love others.  If I'm too involved in my own agenda to look for those opportunities, I can miss something amazing.  So maybe I do need to get over myself a little and not worry so much about whether or not what I hoped to accomplish gets accomplished.  I need to be satisfied with what God has for me instead of worrying so much about what I think I need to be doing.

But, that can't become an excuse to be lazy.  Plans and goals are good things, and the only way to accomplish them is through hard work.  I can't afford to just be complacent when there are things to do, people to encourage, hope to share.  The visions the Lord has given me are not things I can just ignore.  I have to put effort into them, and it seems that no amount of effort can be enough.  And sometimes I get so discouraged by not being able to do everything that I just don't want to do anything.  But that's not acceptable, either.

Right now, I've got some knitting to do, so that's what I'm going to do.  I'm not putting off stuff as much as I'm just saying, "This is what I have to do right now."  I'm still working on the projects I have, and I really do hope to have the new blog up soon (still brainstorming names for it!).  I guess all I can say is, stay tuned.  I still feel very hopeful about this season of life.  I just think I'm going to set less concrete goals for 2012 and try to just see what God has planned through the little things I'm doing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fill-in-the-Blank Friday: Ten Minutes

I have ten minutes to write a blog. 

What should I write about?

I could write about what I could do with these ten minutes besides write a blog.


I could almost jog a whole mile.

I could make a pot of tea.

I could knit about ten-fifteen rows of a scarf.

I could read a chapter of a book.

I could make an omelette.

I could take a short power nap.

I could take a few moments and appreciate the warm sunshine on this cold morning.

I could write a note to a friend.

I could make a list of possible blog topics so I won't find myself last-minute blogging again.

I could go to my room and try in vain to do something else to control my out of control hair.

I could make some toast.  Twice.

It doesn't take a lot of time to do things, really.  I think the key to regaining my passion for my writing is going to be found minute by minute.  I often think that if I don't have hours to spend on a task, then I shouldn't do it.  But today, I plan on giving at least ten minutes over to my old friends: the stories I've allowed to marinate in the bowels of my jump drive for far too long.

What can you do with ten minutes?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Romans 15:13

I'm pressed for time today, so I'm just going to leave you with this:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  -Romans 15:13

What's something you're trusting God with right now (or struggling to trust God with--as is usually the case with me)??

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Sum Up: Getting Up

It's been colder lately.  The fall season officially started well over a month ago, but lately the cold has really started to creep in.  The sun is still shining, but there's less heat in it--not enough heat to warm the icy wind.  I used to be the sort of person who didn't mind the cold so much.  Maybe it was after I lost a significant amount of weight (twice) that I started feeling the cold deep down in my bones.  And when the cold gets into my bones, it can take me hours before I feel warm again.  And then when the fall comes, I start coughing.  My nose gets stuffy.  I have to rely on generic Claritin to be able to function semi-normally.  Most people have seasonal allergies in the spring; mine don't come until fall and winter.

I really think I'm allergic to cold.

This morning when I woke to the sun shining through my windows, I first thought that I'd overslept.  Then I realized the time had changed, and 8 a.m is the new 7 a.m.  Or something like that.  My second thought, once I realized that I hadn't overslept, was that I really didn't want to get out of bed.  It wasn't because I knew that my bed was much warmer than the rest of my apartment.  It wasn't because I was still tired after an extra hour of sleep.  It wasn't because I was hoping to drift back into some wonderful dream involving a mid-90's version of Bill Pullman making me some banana pancakes and turkey bacon for breakfast.  It was because I really just didn't see much point in getting out of bed.

And seriously...I really think humans should take a cue from bears.  We should stuff ourselves full of food and then just lie in our caves beds all winter.  Humans should totally hibernate.

Yes, the fall depression has hit me.  I really didn't expect it this year, just because I figured if I was going to get it, I would have already gotten it.  But I guess it didn't want to come until it got good and cold.  See, every time the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, I get depressed.  It's nothing too severe.  It's been happening since college (and probably before that, too, but it's hard to tell because I was sort of emo in high school--before emo was cool...or even invented).  When I first noticed it, I didn't know what to do with it, so I freaked out.  That's kind of what I do when presented with anything new.  I freak out.  But later on, once I realized what was going on, I stopped freaking out.  When the depression hit, when I started having that feeling like, "Oh, there's no point in getting out of bed again.  Ever," I'd just get out of bed anyway.  I'd put on my big girl pants and deal with it--because I'm going to have to work and pay bills and be nice to my friends whether I'm depressed or not.

Only, I really gotta say, I just don't want to write this blog today.  I don't want to do much of anything besides lie around and eat candy.  I could give myself an excuse to do that, since I did successfully finish my first 10K yesterday (and by "successfully," I mean that I jogged/waddled the whole thing, I didn't die, and there were at least five three people who finished after I did).  But since I ate candy, cheese biscuits, and Chick-fil-a yesterday, I'm pretty sure I ate three five times as many calories as I burned off yesterday.

Sometimes, I really think it's okay to not feel like writing or blogging.  I just get afraid sometimes that my lack of writing desire is lasting too long.  I didn't feel much like blogging this week because I'd just gotten back from a short vacation, and oddly enough, I needed to recover from my vacation.  Also, I was busy training for a 10K and working my usual three five guess a number between one and ten jobs.  So I'm fairly surprised I got any blogging done at all.  And sometimes I think it's good to take a break from blogging so that you can actually spend some time living.  It's just that I wasn't living so much this week as I was sitting on my bum watching reruns of M.A.S.H.

But, you know, I'm oddly grateful for this feeling of depression--as long as I don't let it decay into true apathy.  I need to care about my writing.  I need to care about my work.  I need to care about the people in my life.  I need to care about life in general, and I need to remember that it's not about how I feel or even about me at all.  Because that one word that's defining this whole season of my life keeps reappearing.


I was reading in Romans yesterday, and I came to chapter 8.  Surely, this is one of the best Biblical chapters to read after running a 10K.  I like a lot of what Paul said in this chapter, but this is the part that really got me:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." Romans 8:18-25

I don't know if I'm right in my perceptions or not, but it seems to me that God's reminding me to keep hoping, to keep waiting and trusting.  I keep seeing/hearing so many reminders, whether it's a song on the radio, an impatient child at work, a word from a friend, or a Word from Scripture.  I'm reminded to hope.  And I can't help but think that there's a reason I'm being called to persevere in this time of my life.  I think it's because some of the things I've hoped and waited for are coming soon.

I don't deserve to have anything good come to me, but I've been commanded to wait for it anyway.  The Father who won't give us a stone when we ask for bread, or a snake when we ask for a fish, He knows how to give us good things.  I'm not talking about the "prosperity gospel" here at all.  It's just that I know my Father has already given me the greatest Hope.  In hope in Christ, I have been saved.  And I will see the fulfillment of that hope.

But while I'm still down here, living in a body that is affected by heat and cold, by changes in the seasons, by the passage of time, by sickness and sin...I must wait.  I must wait for the fulfillment of that great Hope, and I must wait for the fulfillment of smaller hopes.  But there is work to do while I'm waiting.  There are people all around who need that great Hope, and there are people all around me who need smaller hopes.  And I've been given breath to breathe and songs to sing and hands (though horribly chapped by this blasted cold wind!) to work.  I can't hibernate, even if I think it's a really good idea.  I have to get out of bed in the morning.

Because I believe there's going to be a Time and Place where the wind will be warm, even without the sun.  We won't need the sun anymore, because the Lord will be our light.  That's the hope that lights all my other hopes.  So I'm going to rise, and keep rising, whether I feel like it or not. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fill-in-the-blank Friday: ...And The "Debbie Downer" of Biblical Prophets Award Goes To...

"My blood hurts."  --What's Her Face, Teen Girl Squad, Homestar Runner

I used to think that Jeremiah was a whiny dude.  Not Jeremiah the Bullfrog.  I don't typically make good friends with bullfrogs, and I don't drink, so they can't help me drink my wine.  Even if I did drink, I figure a bullfrog would probably rather take a swim in a glass of wine than actually drink it, and maybe that would be more efficient in getting the bullfrog nice and shnockered.  But I'm not talking about bullfrogs, I'm talking about Biblical prophets.  Jeremiah was one of them.  And I used to think the guy was kind of the "Debbie Downer" of the prophets. 

When I used to read Jeremiah, I'd see him go back and forth between praising God and complaining about how badly he was being treated and/or pleading with God to be merciful to the very people who were mistreating him.  But I've recently read Jeremiah, and I don't think that he's too whiny anymore.  I mean, they called him a liar (and worse).  They threw him in a cistern and left him for dead.  They burned up his writing--which, let me tell you, hurts me on a deep, personal level.  God forbid him to marry.  All in all, I'd be a little on the whiny side, too (and Jeremiah wasn't really all that whiny, when I really think about it).  In fact, forgedduhboudit.  I'd probably throw my towel in the moment anyone opposed me. 

I guess I was always comparing Jeremiah to Ezekiel, who was probably like the least whiny of all the Biblical prophets.  God commanded Ezekiel to lay on his side for over a year.  Then, when that year was over, Zeke had to flip over and lay on his other side for over a month.  Did Zeke complain about this?  Maybe, but that's not recorded in Scripture.  The one complaint that is recorded?  "Lord, don't make me cook my food over human poop, because that would be unclean, and I don't want to defile myself."  Ezekiel didn't get upset about having to be a sign to a ridiculous people; he got upset because he didn't want to go against God's Law.  And God allowed him to cook his food over cow manure instead.  While he was lying on his side.  For over a year.  And he didn't complain. 

But me?  I'm all complainy because I have blisters (on top of my blisters) on my feet because of the running I've done this week in preparation for my 10K on Saturday (pray I don't die).  I'm all complainy because I'm tired.  I'm all complainy because my car's not in amazing shape, because I have bills to pay, because the kids I watch don't listen...etc. 

So, all-in-all, I guess I'd make a horrible Biblical prophet.  Unless I were Jonah, but that guy had issues.  If anyone's the "Debbie Downer" of Biblical prophets--it's him!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Just Say NaNo!

It's November again, which has completely taken me by surprise.  Didn't we just have a November LAST year?  What's that about?

I'm thinking about all those authors and wanna be authors and wanna be writers who are attempting to write novels in the month of November.  NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month. 

I've never participated in this event, and since November has snuck up on me, I'm definitely not going to be participating this year.  In the past, I've actually been pretty much against the whole "I'm going to write a decent novel in a month" thing, because I figured that not very many people could write a decent novel in a month.  I still sort of think that.  But I'm starting to realize that there are a lot of people who can write a decent novel (or something that could eventually become a decent novel with lots of editing) in a month.  It's just that there are many others who can't.

My problem with NaNo is not with the concept.  My problem is that there seem to be a lot of people out there who are calling themselves novelists because they have participated in NaNo, and a lot of these people have no business calling themselves novelists.  If you've written something that's well thought out with great characters and a great plot, then sure, pat yourself on the back and call yourself a novelist.  If you've slapped together 50,000 words of plotless drivel in a month, then that doesn't make you a novelist.  That makes you someone who can type.  There's enough competition for aspiring authors out there without having to deal with mere typists who call themselves novelists.  I'm sorry to break this to everyone, but we all can't be novelists. 

With that being said, I don't think NaNo is a bad idea for even for people who might never be true novelists.  It's something fun to do, something new to try and experience.  Even if the 50,000 word manuscript that someone comes up with is absolute crap, that doesn't mean he/she wasted his/her time.  If someone gets a rush out of going crazy trying to write a novel in a month, then I guess there's nothing wrong with that.  It's just not for me...and I can call myself a novelist (even if I can't call myself an author). least not this year.  I've got enough on my plate.