From the Basement

October 15, 2010

In praise of the Great Restorer, the Giver of Rest

God works in mysterious ways. He’s used a job offer – the thing I wanted, prayed for, desired for months on end – to lead me back to Him.

I’m not taking the job, and that is incredibly freeing. I’m declining for aforementioned reasons – budget and timeline issues – but, more importantly, because there are things happening here, where I am, that lead me to believe this is what He has for me. Worldly wisdom says take a job, any job. Worldly wisdom says it’s necessary to live independently.

But living with my parents, healing my relationships with them, releasing the baggage from the divorce – this is one of the healthiest steps I can take for my marriage.

Living at home, saving money, putting it aside for the early days of marriage, for our first month’s rent, for an emergency savings fund – this is an investment in my marriage.

I want to volunteer. I want to be donating money and tithing. My prayer tonight is Lord, bring me to you. Please let me serve you – for the first time in months… years?… this is the prayer. Where can you best use me? I don’t think it’s at the place where I was offered the job, where an “ideal” employee was described as someone who burns the candle at both ends, a single person working tirelessly into the night.

I had a wonderful conversation tonight with my friend Kayla, a great blessing who is willing to act as a sounding board for my many questions and curvaceous conversations (in that thoughts tend to twist and turn in unusual directions to get to their point).

There are changes that need to happen in my life re: discipline with body, mind, and soul… but God has me… this is where He’s put me, for some reason… for His reason, for His glory, ever for His glory.

The events of the last few months defy worldly wisdom. The decision to turn down a full-time job defies worldly wisdom. Abba, I beg your peace and strength. I pray against weakness and fear and anxiety. You will provide. In all things, you provide. You are Jehovah Jireh but also Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, and it is your mission to heal and restore your people to yourself that you may be glorified and we may be filled with the joy that comes in knowing you. Where is the joy? Follow the joy. While there are opportunities to pursue my calling, I will not relent. I do not want to settle for anything less than Your very best, and I know that Your very best does not necessarily come with a hefty paycheck and a worldly definition of success. It does not necessarily come with independence, a car, an apartment, etc. Your provision and hope come in unusual ways – but they come; that is the promise, that is the everlasting promise.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” 2 Corinthians 1:9

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Today, my reading in Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am? was in the “Do You Know I Am Worn Out? He Does Not Grow Weary” chapter. How fitting. After last night’s emotional exhaustion followed by today’s confusion, worry, and fear, I was feeling very worn out. Thomas opens the chapter by quoting Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester: “I am worn to a raveling.” How my body collapsed in exhausted understanding upon reading that line. I am worn to a raveling. Oh, I am. The chapter’s title fit today: do you know I am worn out, Lord? Do you know I feel too tired to make any decision?

But Thomas reminds us that God’s character is self-sustaining (69). He does not grow weary; indeed, he provides the rest we so desperately seek.

“But those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Oh, how I long to run and not grow weary! Today, the longing to serve the Lord, loving people, is at the forefront of my desire. Today, the desire for a “good” job is secondary. A job that will provide for my present needs and help store up for my fiance’s and my future – yes. But something that will serve a higher purpose. His purpose. Let today’s rest sustain into tomorrow.

Lord, let me rest in you. I pray against those spirits of anxiety and fear that so seek to take root in my heart. You have me right where you want me. And sometimes, as Kayla said tonight, we are challenged to have the courage to remain where we are – ever pushing towards the goal, our eyes unwavering in their focus on their Creator, ignoring the world’s distractions, trusting in the only One who both offers and renews our hope.

Thomas puts it beautifully: “A hope that is firmly centered on the Lord renews our strength” (70). How true. My body wearies, my mind grows faint, my emotions fluctuate, and the world itself is always spinning, but He remains constant, the same yesterday, today, and forever, an ever-replenished spring of healing, restorative water. He does not grow weary. He provides the comfort and love and rest we so desperately seek. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

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October 14, 2010

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” & contemplating job offers

First, let me apologize… give a disclaimer… okay, my fiancé’s voice is going through my head: stop apologizing!

Okay, so I guess what I want to say is, thank you. Thank you for reading, my dear friends, and supporting me. This blog is not neatly edited like chapters from a book or even snippets from a professional blog. It’s composed of my thoughts, imperfect and human that they are, inevitably affected by my own perception, bias, worldview. That doesn’t make them any less honest or any less real, but it does mean that you’re pretty much reading whatever my fingers throw at my poor Mac, without the benefit of an editorial eye.

So, thank you again for reading and putting up with The Craziness that is this unedited material. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s honest, and hopefully it makes you think about some area of your own life. Or, at the very least, laugh a little at mine. *smile

I feel a need to do a sort of Q&A with myself about this job (yep, we’re still talking about the job offer). Reason being, I want to challenge myself regarding underlying reasons why I may be disinclined to take the job. As you saw in the last post, there are plenty of (what I think are) viable reasons to say no, e.g. time, expectation, and budget, but let’s really dig in here.

First off is the question of laziness. This has been… I’d call it a struggle, except it really hasn’t been. Over the last few months, I’ve gained weight and been a slouch, falling out of workout habits, overeating, and otherwise exercising a decided lack of discipline in my life.

So, for example, part of my trepidation about the job is because I realized that a move and learning a new job where you’re expected to put in night and weekend hours is possibly going to take more time than I’m able to give. The thing is, that means that my grad school applications might not get finished – because they’ve really yet to be begun. I haven’t finished the books I’m using for the writing sample, let alone started it, and I’m still in brainstorming mode for my statements of purpose. (Just because I got my apps in under the wire last year doesn’t mean I want to do that this year, and anyway, look how that turned out.) So I’m feeling convicted about my laziness in grad school apps and how I’m studdenly feeling convicted re: my lack of good stewardship with time, and how does a desire to “make up” time affect my disinclination to take a job where I wouldn’t have that “make up” time? (Make sense? Probably not. That’s okay.)

Moving would be work. The job would be a lot of work, which would be okay but it’s not my priority right now (grad school apps are) – but then I look at my schedule and say, girl, you’re not disciplined enough to have finished those by now anyway!

Okay: must not beat self up. Must not beat self up.

Also, perhaps there is financial laziness. Really, I’d be working so that I could live independently (working to keep myself in shelter, food, and gas money – seriously), as there’s very little that I’d be able to save over those months. But I’d get the experience of budgeting, etc. Is it lazy to desire to stay here where, because of living at home, I would be able to save more and have to budget less? Is laziness a part of the motivating factor?

There has to be a change in my lifestyle for the better regardless of whether I take this job. I have, have, HAVE to crack down on grad school apps and, frankly, exercising. I’m getting married in 10 months and it’d be nice to have my fiancé actually see a good looking naked woman on our wedding night vs. a flabby one. Harsh? Yeah, and I guarantee he will kill me for writing that since he thinks I look beautiful anyway, but there’s the rub in itself – I need to start exercising more and changing my body for me and my own self-image, which is currently in the toilet.

I have slid into a crazy-undisciplined life, and that needs to stop, regardless.

To kind of explain all this random self-examination and weird emotion, let me tell you about the week so far. I gave this job over to God, expecting of course He’d not offer it to me (thereby preventing all this rumination), and I’d also previously said “God, please work our wedding budget out” because I was so exhausted over it. Turns out the wedding budget we’ve been working on with the most promising location is still double what we can afford. So last night was fraught with anger and tears and today has been crazy emotional, and right now God is reminding me that turning things over to Him actually means that they get turned over to Him, and that working things to the good doesn’t necessarily mean to my definition of good (who knew?). I knew this, you know, with grad school apps last year and unemployment, etc., but for some reason, I was thinking that job stuff and wedding stuff would just work out this month and that I’d have yet another happy reason to praise God, that He’d bring me through the trial of yet another job failure and the triumph of FINALLY having a wedding budget we can afford.

~repeats to self~ He’s still good. He’s still good. He’s still good. He still keeps His promises. He will provide. He knows what He’s doing. He’s allowing these things to happen.

My fears surrounding money are, honestly, the biggest things tainting my reactions to the job and to the wedding budget falling flat on its face. I cannot even begin to describe how much money is a motivating factor in almost everything I do and plan. I am worried about not having enough… constantly. Our wedding budget has been entirely based on fear of not being able to afford more. On the one hand, I am driven by a desire to be realistic and to be a wise steward of funds and not spend what I don’t have (and not take jobs that will not allow for wise financial decisions). But at the same time, I know that ultimately it is not dependent on me… it’s all on God. Our wedding budget, how we’ll pay for grad school apps, how our families will pay for a wedding… God’s gotta work this out, because you guys, I am so afraid and freaked out and flailing right now it’s not even funny. Classic first-born. Organized to a fault, needing to be in control, always concerned about where everything’s going to come from and how things will come together.

This is just me being honest. It’s raw and unedited and imperfect and is at best encouraging and at worst self-centered…

I am reminded right now of how entirely dependent I am on God. For everything. I freak out about money and I let worldly wisdom dictate my decisions and I just want him to work everything out for me so that I don’t have to work any of it out on my own. Times like these, I feel like the height of laziness, self-centeredness, and Laodicea-esque warmth. Like I’m saying “God I trust you!” but I’m feeling “Oh [insert expletive here].” Seriously, that’s just where it is right now.

I love how in Angela Thomas’ books, she relays her own experience but scripture and encouragement and lessons for others are always at the forefront of the chapters. Then I come and read my blog and feel like, wow, I am so not there yet – notice how many times the word “I” is used. ~cringe~ So often I am caught in the whirlwind of Me Me Me that I can’t even lift my head to look out at You and wonder what you’re going through. And I’m sorry for that. Something for the Lord to work in me in the coming years.

I’ve probably referenced this before, but one of my favorite verses in all scripture is “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That is so honest. It’s so true. So where I’m at. And I’m guessing you’ve been there, too – desperately wanting to cling to the promise of God and yet feeling so convicted in how very selfish, doubting, and human you can be, yet remembering that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

God, why can’t you make it easy? – and other concerns about job offers

I have a job offer for a full-time position in higher education. I had a campus interview earlier this week and got an offer today – so, quite the whirlwind.

Thing is, I don’t feel as if, in good conscience, I can take this job. I prayed and prayed and asked God, please make this easy. Please don’t let me get the offer. Because see, my head says, TAKE THE JOB. It’s full-time! Benefits! Moving away from Mom and Dad! Why on earth would you not take it? (There are actually a few valid reasons.)

I’m frustrated. I feel as if the job hunt has gone on too long for relocating to be, at this point, a financially viable decision. Also, the college is in a situation whereby they would really want me to be there for at least a few years (this is my impression, not their words). There are a few pertinent points here:

  1. I’m getting married early next August
  2. We’re (hopefully) heading to grad school immediately thereafter
  3. Even if we don’t get into grad school, chances of us relocating to a major metro area are very high

Right now, it’s the middle of October. Relocating several states away to a rural area, buying a car (something I can’t afford now, something my future husband and I won’t be able to afford in grad school – and for this position it’s necessary), and living on a salary that, while decent for entry level, leaves me with little disposable income to save for grad school applications, the wedding, and early married life… well, you see my point.

I’ve been seriously job-hunting since June, and finally I have an offer… and it’s not viable. It’s October, and two things have changed since June: I decided to reapply to grad school and, more importantly, I’m engaged, which means no matter what happens with the future, my fiancé and I will be relocating in approximately 10 months.

The bigger reason, of course, is that of feeling – and knowing – that they are expecting far more of a time commitment than I can give. The school is in a major overhaul re: administration, enrollment, etc. – they are in the early stages of rebuilding, really, so this is a position that’s in it for the long haul. And by the time I relocated, I’d only be there for 9 months… or, more specifically, 7, since it’s just good etiquette to leave the position by June so as to allow the college time to find you a replacement in time for the crazy travel season that comes in the fall.

Now, I did not know how dire the straits were at this school before the campus interview. So that was a very good thing, interviewing and learning how they are expecting a much more substantial time commitment than I am able to give. Hence why buying a car, relocating, and starting this position only to leave in just over half a year is not seeming like a good idea. But that doesn’t change the fact that the interview was a fantastic experience, and I’m glad I did it.

This situation has forced me to seriously look at pros/cons and realize – oh my goodness – that I would be okay living at home through May of next summer, at which point I would hopefully have a place in a summer teaching program for June/July.

I wish God made decisions like this easy. I wish they hadn’t offered me the job, because that would be the easy route, versus being forced to look at budgets, etc. As my mom said, “God’s making you use the brain He gave you.” As my dad would say, “Why the hell wouldn’t you take a job – any job – right now?” (They’re very different people.) But at this point, waitressing downtown would be a better fit for me, financially and otherwise. Not to mention the two second-semester-only teaching jobs I recently applied for at private schools in the area (which would be a brilliant fit for both my interests and personal timeline).

I’ve made up my mind in my heart, as it were, and my heart – oh you guys, it’s just not in it at all. But in a time of rampant unemployment, when so many college grads are barely making it in survival jobs… in such a time as this, when I have an actual full-time amazing entry-level job opportunity, it seems stupid not to take it.

But so too am I aware that this is one of those times when God says, “There are two doors – pick one. I’ll be with you either way. I will provide for you.” As my “big sister” says, if you are walking in His will, you are going to stay in His will no matter what door you go through. He is there, He is with you, He will not leave you, He will provide for you… but sometimes, you just need to decide what to do.

Freewill can be a real… you know what I’m sayin’.

I don’t presume that I can plan my life better than God can. I can’t. If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that my abilities/worldly opportunities/connections/networking, etc. – none of that counts for anything if God doesn’t allow it to happen. And now God is allowing me a choice of this job – a belated (in my view, though not His) answer to my frantic prayers from early summer “Please get me out of my mom’s/dad’s house!” I know His timing is perfect and that there’s a reason He’s allowed this offer to come before me at this moment.

I’m not saying anything about the job yet… not turning it down and not taking it… I want to pray, I want to wait on God some more in a less tantrum-like way, because right now the frustration is so intense and the desire for an easy road and the job I really want (teaching English at a local private school next semester as a leave replacement) is so strong… there’s so much cloudiness, so much pride, so much fear, so much worry about money and budgeting and being able to save. There’s the tension of the desire to be a wise steward of money and thoughtfully consider finances while still trusting God and knowing that His provision supercedes every human endeavor. The anonymous $100 bill tucked in an envelope for a specific need has happened to me (among many other wondrous things). He really is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. He has always provided in the past, He’s providing right now, and He will provide in the future.

Right now, I just need to make a decision and trust that He’s going to be there to catch me one way or the other.

“Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And he shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!” — Psalm 27:14

EDIT: On the “Recommended Reading” sidebar, there’s a blog called “Thoughts for Only You,” which is the writing haven of my big sister (in heart and spirit, if not in blood). A huge blessing of the interview this week was that I was able to tack on time with her at the end of the trip. Anyhow, yesterday she wrote about my favorite verse in Proverbs 31, which is verse 25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she laughs at the days to come.” Oh, what an encouragement – that a woman after God’s own heart can laugh at the days to come…

July 30, 2010

To Eschew:

Filed under: Choices,Faith,Fiction,Writing — jeannablue @ 4:06 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Deliberately avoid using; abstain from

“Eschew” is one of my favorite words. And right now, it could be used in the context of:

I am eschewing the job hunt for the next month in order to work on my novel – and to learn to trust God’s provision.

These last weeks have brought a lot of despondency and spiritual revelation, and I’m in a place – God, please help me – where I can honestly say that finishing the novel isn’t so much about selling it to a publisher as it is about learning to rely on my Savior for my daily bread. I cannot look to a job as my source of security, nor can I look to writing as my ticket out. My prayer this month is for a change in perspective — to develop a trust in God that resonates in the depths of my soul. I so identify with the cry of the father in Mark 9: “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Hebrews 13:5-6 is my prayer for this next month:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

July 18, 2010

Desiring God/Desiring Publication

There’s a set of questions that have been tangled up in my mind lately, and they go something like this:

Is publication a godly goal? Is publication the eventual end game of all this writing? What happens if I don’t get published? Is it even okay to desire publication?

I’ve been reading Desiring God by John Piper, and I highly recommend it. He argues that the pursuit of pleasure is absolutely essential to the Christian life; that anything done without that joy is not edifying to others or glorifying to God, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (I am oversimplifying his thesis here, so bear with me). Over the last few days, the readings on love, joy, and giving have been blowing my mind, and today, I was struck by how applicable some of his discussions were to this issue of Calling.

One issue Piper deals with is the contention that pleasure and virtue are mutually exclusive – that as believers, we cannot (should not) seek pleasure or reward in our actions (he, of course, argues that we can and we should). To me, publication is one of many writing “rewards.” You see the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon connection game that my brain played in about five seconds?

Let’s take a few steps back and start small. Let’s forget publication for a few minutes and talk about the relationship between action and reward, and the supposed binary between virtuous acts/pleasurable acts. Can a virtuous act be pleasurable?

To expound on that question, should an act be virtuous in and of itself, without reward? I’ve never understood the phrase “writing for the sake of writing.” At its heart is a worldly wisdom which says that for an act to be virtuous, we shouldn’t seek a reward. If it comes, okay, but we should not expect one. To that assertion, everything in me says, what a load of bollocks! I don’t write simply to put words on a page anymore than a painter paints so that he can brush some red stuff against a canvas. I write so that people will read, and what’s more, I find writing to be an intrinsically enjoyable pursuit. Is it still virtuous?

In 1941, C.S. Lewis basically A-bombed the idea that pleasure and virtue are irreconcilable in Christianity. He preached, “I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires [our pleasures] not too strong, but too weak.”

John Piper further expurgates this notion of virtue/pleasure as a binary with his thesis that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Piper writes: “If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of other people, and if God loves such joyful givers, then this joy in giving is a Christian duty, and the effort not to pursue it is sin” (104, italics mine).

I write because I am pursuing joy, because it is the most powerful way in which I experience God. I hold no illusions about giving back to God; there’s nothing I can give that He hasn’t first given me. Thus, writing has to be a primarily hedonistic pursuit, even though others are reading my work. It would be wrong for me to write out of duty – to say I am writing for your edification and not my own, to abandon any pleasure in the act. Joy comes from above, and so if I am joyless, then my work is empty, and it is not going to edify you at all. Piper uses the analogy of marriage: how awful would it be for him to bring his wife roses on their anniversary if he were motivated by duty and not by love. And so it is with God: we are to worship because of an overflow of love rather than because it is our “duty.” Piper reminds us that yes, God loves a cheerful giver!

It is right – it is pure – to seek joy and pleasure in the act and to invite others to come and experience the joy as well. Thus, my joy is your joy, and your joy is my joy. There is a natural culmination, a natural reward of such overflowing abundance.

There are those who may say that it is wrong to desire public joy in the fruits of your labor, as it were. That it is unvirtuous or ungodly to expect reward in an act of love or calling. To them, Piper offers the words of C.S. Lewis, who writes:

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not…. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.

The proper consummation, or reward, of writing is readership. It is not wrong to desire to reach people, to hope that others are edified by your work, for their enjoyment and edification may be seen as the consummation of the act. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul exhorts believers to use their gifts for the edification of the church, of the body. Indeed, he places the public expression of gifts over private in terms of edification – that it is better to edify the body rather than yourself alone (for in edifying the body, you are edifying yourself).

Enter my desire for publication – and this is where things get tricky. The desire for publication, for readers, may well be satisfied by sending essays to friends in email form or by blogging – and I’ve done both. Given our discussion of joy and public edification, readership in any form may be interpreted as Lewis’ ‘consummation.’

And yet in me there is both a contentment and a discontentment. There is pleasure in what I have, but there is the intense desire to pursue more of that pleasure.

This is the relationship we are to have with God, yes? Piper talks about it; Lewis does, too. There is in the believer a beautiful tension – holy contentment and holy discontentment working in tandem to till the heart, to work the soil for the Maker’s glory. My utmost for His highest, as it were.

On a good day, this is where I am with God: basking in his love, yet desperate to learn more. This is also where I like to be in my relationship – content with my beloved, yet yearning for greater depth and intimacy with him. And so it is with my writing. I am content with what I do, but I desire greater skill, greater knowledge, and – frankly – greater impact.

So where is the line? Does “impact” mean more readers? I’ll be honest – I often think it does. Does “impact” mean getting paid for my writing? – again, I often think it does. And there’s the rub.

It strikes me that the idea of getting paid to do what you love is a worldly goal. This is not to say that it is never a spiritual outcome; there are plenty of doctors, craftsmen, and writers whose callings have become intertwined with financial security. Piper and Lewis, for example.

But there is a danger when we start seeing money/worldly success as the end game, when we perceive that if there is not that success, then we have not fulfilled or obeyed our calling, or – worse – that the calling is not important. Too often, I fall into the trap of thinking something like this: I’m not published, so my writing isn’t touching anyone.

Which is, of course, total crap. I’ve only to look at my own life for examples of the contrary. One friend is a marvelously gifted actress, and the fact that she isn’t on Broadway (yet) does not mean that her talent and joy are not being shared with her audiences. It does not mean that she’s not walking in her calling. It does not mean that God is not bringing fruit – quite the contrary.

When the endgame becomes worldly success – getting paid to do what you love, as it were – it dilutes the joy in the act. It dilutes my present contentment, and it confuses my definition of “more impact.” When concern for money or security creeps in, holy discontent becomes sin.

John Piper says, “The ‘eagerness’ of ministry should not come from the extrinsic reward of money, but from the intrinsic reward of seeing God’s grace flow through you to others’” (109).

Is that reward enough for you today? Is it enough for me? We must be careful, lest our desire for the gift eclipse our yearning for the Giver.

Paul said that we act for the joy set before us. Are we acting for that joy? Are we hoping for that joy? Are we expecting that joy? One of my girlfriends likes to say, “Expect good things.” And indeed, that is the promise that is made – not easy things, not secure things, but pure things, good gifts from our perfect Father. Joy. Love. Encouragement. Relationship. Mercy. Forgiveness. Hope. Purpose.

Those are reasons to praise.

Those are reasons to write.

July 14, 2010

The Light in the Tension

I haven’t been posting regularly due to a two-week excursion in which I visited various family and friends in four different states. Five modes of transportation, one great lake, and countless cups of coffee later, I’m a little tired but mostly rejuvenated.

Curiously, though, I’m not feeling rejuvenated in my writing. This is a really strange sensation. I wrote a lot at the first lake I visited (the “From the Lake” post), but after that… not much. I write longhand on yellow legal tablets, so I spent a lot of time typing up those notes, but aside from that – nada.

I attended church this last Sunday with my boyfriend’s family (the last stop on the trip). During the sermon, the pastor briefly discussed what he called “the tension between promise and fulfillment.” Those of you who have been reading can certainly understand why this phrase appeals to me; you’ve read my thoughts and prayers as I learn to negotiate the teeter-totter that is unemployment/contentment. But over the last two weeks, I’ve shared that information with a lot of people and, honestly, I’m a little burned out. I’ve spent so much time explaining that I’m focusing on my writing that I’m… err… not focusing on my writing.

These conversations have stoked the fire that is expectation. Expectation is one of those double-edged swords – on the one hand, it’s good to have goals, expectations, hopes, and dreams. But on the other hand, those expectations can turn into little monsters, things that make us cower in the corner because they seem too big. And I’m going to quote Nelson Mandela, who quoted Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

Sometimes, I’m as afraid of the work it will take to achieve as I am of total failure. It’s the tension between promise and fulfillment. For example, I know I will finish the novel I’m writing. This is a promise I’ve made to myself that will be fulfilled. But sometimes (like right now), I’m like a deer in the headlights, scared stiff in the middle of the road. My own expectations have spiraled out of control, and as a result they’ve halted my progress, halted my running.

This seems to happen when I forget the foundation of the promise. The foundation is the knowledge that writing is a gift from God. The foundation is knowing that He didn’t give me a gift and a calling only to leave me out in a barren wasteland. When I am centered on him and him alone, and not on myself and worries about success and reaching people and whatnot – in that, there is peace and security and love. There is no fear when we are walking in the light.

Marianne Williamson continues:

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

In Philippians 2, Paul says that we shine like “stars in the universe” in the midst of darkness and depravity. And Jesus calls us the “light of the world.” When we are walking in him, we are walking in the light.

His light in us is the gospel: his love, his mercy, his graciousness, his forgiveness, his faithfulness. And that light is manifested in many ways: relationships, words, actions. Through writing. Through acting. Through dancing. Through singing. Through… (your gifting here).

As the childhood song goes, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” The song exhorts us as children to not hide our light, or to let Satan “pff!” it out. What a powerful message this is for adult believers. Don’t hide your light – don’t be ashamed of the gospel or of the form ministry takes in your life. And above all, do not be discouraged. As Angela Thomas writes in Do You Think I’m Beautiful?:

In case you have missed it, there is a battle going on. The battle is for your soul. And if your soul belongs to God, Satan will go after your heart and your mind and your passion. You will still make heaven, but eventually he will turn up the fire and try to scorch your dreams, your enthusiasm, and your very life. …. As long as you and I are hauling that stuff around, Satan wins. And I’m so tired of him winning. (180)

Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Lately, my light has been dim. The beautiful thing is, all we need to do is look to the Lord for comfort, renewal, joy, love, peace. We can sing praises over our barren places and watch our Redeemer tenderly and faithfully work that land. What was (or is) barren can be fertile. What feels dry can be watered, renewed. What once was dim can shine anew.

In the tension between promise and fulfillment, there is light.

July 1, 2010

“So… God wants me to be unemployed?”: On Trust, Belief, and Trust

Trust Him. Praise Him.

Those are the encouraging or, alternately,  infuriating, soul-wrenching answers I get when I ask God about his plans for my employment (I hope it’s not too much to assume that I’ll find work?). I have been home since March and graduated since May. It is almost the 1st of July, and I’m still in my mom’s basement. I think many recent grads are in the same boat.

In honor of the classic song “Count Your Blessings,” I’ll count my blessings first. My parents live less than an hour apart and both have opened their homes to me for as long as I need it. I live rent free and occasionally chip in for coffee or pizza with my graduation money. I have no expenses, notwithstanding the Student Loans of Doom that are looming over the horizon.

In short, I’m blessed. I originally wrote “save the whole unemployment bit,” but even with that, I’m still blessed.

And yet, over the last few months, I’ve gone through days where I did not seek him, whether out of spite or laziness it’s hard to say. And then, on the flip side, there are the days that are glorious and praise-full and awesomely productive. And then there are the screaming days. Today was a combination of awesome + screaming.

On days like these, when I go out on my porch and sob and cry and throw a temper tantrum that could rival a two-year-old, I forget that I’ve learned a lot. On days like these, I forget that all things work to the good of those who love him, mostly because I’m too busy thinking that God is planning to use my life as the sequel to Job.

(On days like these, I really hope that Job was a one-time thing and that God’s not planning to do that again.)

In the aftermath of the tears, several truths become apparent. Things I’ve learned over the last few months.

  1. I could do everything right by human standards and still not get hired if it’s not God’s will.
  2. I could do everything wrong by human standards and get hired if God wants me to work there.
  3. God may be keeping me from employment to let me focus on other things.
  4. His name is still Faithful and True.
  5. He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.
  6. He is using this time to make me into the woman he wants me to be.

As my mom reminded me today, he sees how these months fit into the span of my life. He knows what I’ll be doing a year from now. He knows the names of my children. He knows the plans he has for me. I see what’s on the screen. He’s already directed the whole picture.

I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. In verse 25, it says, she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. A righteous woman who seeks the Lord’s own heart – she laughs at the days to come. Others flee and cower, but she stands strong. Sans peur. No fear. After all, why should she fear? She knows that her God loves her, protects her, is for her, is not against her. She knows that there is nothing on this earth that can separate her from the extravagant, earth-shattering love of God.

God’s love is shattering. It’s such a revelation every time, and I so often feel shattered when faced with it. So painfully, acutely aware of the reasons I don’t deserve it. So ready with excuses of my humanity, of my proud refusal to believe that he means what he says. And yet he comes and scoops me up and holds me against his chest and murmurs in my ear that he loves me, and that he is enough – he is always enough.

I’ll be gone for the next two weeks visiting family and friends, and this evening, I was freaking out to my mom about how I don’t know what I’ll do about job searching for the next two weeks. Unreliable internet, etc. And she looked at me and said, take the time off! Enjoy the time away! I asked, what happens if the perfect job comes up and I don’t see it? And she looked at me, so loving, and asked if I really thought that God didn’t already have everything planned out and did I think I’d be going away for two weeks if he didn’t have everything under control?

And then I did that whole crying/wallowing thing.

And then something wonderful happened. God picked me up, put lyrics in my head that wouldn’t go away, and gave me the title to my next blog post. He uses writing to take me outside myself, to give perspective, to show his love – his shattering, wonderful love that has given me the gift of a two-week hiatus and more opportunities to lean on him and not on my own understanding.

To remind me that unemployment does not define me. That his plans are so much bigger.

Like sunlight burning at midnight

Making my life something so

Beautiful, beautiful

Mercy reaching to save me

All that I need

You are so

Beautiful, beautiful

– Francesca Battistelli, “Beautiful, Beautiful”

Link to video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbCfyZHSQbE

June 30, 2010

The Glory of God

I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,

And on Your wondrous works ….

All your works shall praise You, O Lord,

And Your saints shall bless you.

They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,

And talk of Your power.

Psalm 145:5, 10-11

*

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty,

The whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 6:3

Glory is… beauty and splendor. Worthy of praise, honor, and thanksgiving. The beatific happiness of heaven. A height of prosperity or achievement. – or so says Webster’s dictionary.

This post isn’t a cogent essay, or even an attempt at such. It is merely bits and pieces here and there – scriptures, songs, quotes – that point to the awesome glory of our God.

We worship a Glorious God. In Desiring God, John Piper says, “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever,” and that it is because of this that we find such complete satisfaction and pleasure in Him (33). The basic building blocks of this idea are:

The happiness of God in God is the foundation of our happiness in God.

If God did not joyfully uphold and display his glory, the ground of our joy would be gone.

God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are in perfect harmony.

For God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. (Piper 50)

This is why acknowledging and praising his glory is important.

His creation reflects His glory. Nature. Newborn babies. Marriages. The person of Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding Christ, who is glory, everything else is a reflection of his glorious, wonderful, powerful nature – a testament of his love for us, that he shows us and lets us share in his glory. We are made complete in the praise of his glory and the satisfaction that follows. And that pleases him.

One of my favorite worship songs right now is “Everything Glorious” from David Crowder Band. The first time I heard (well, that I remember hearing it) was when I was driving back from Montana a few weeks ago. It was a Sunday morning, and my friends and I had our own church service in the car. We wound across the sprawling sort-of-mountains, over the hills. The clouds were so big and fluffy and close that you felt like if you stuck your hand out the window, you could touch them. As we drove down a hill that had clouds scattered across the landscape looking like cotton candy, this song was playing. The photos (taken in Utah) are courtesy of my friend A.S.

The day is brighter here with You

The night is lighter than its hue

Would lead me to believe

Which leads me to believe

(chorus)

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

What does that make me?

My eyes are small but they have seen

the beauty of enormous things

Which leads me to believe

there’s light enough to see that

(chorus)

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

From glory to glory

You are glorious You are glorious

From glory to glory

You are glorious. You are glorious

Which leads me to believe

why I can believe

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

He delights to show me his glory.

He delights when I delight in his glory.

I delight when acknowledging his glory brings me into a deeper understanding of his awesome, all-encompassing, knock-out, drop-dead gorgeous love.

Praise gives perspective.

How awesome it is that he lets us choose to revel in his glory.

It’s like splashing in the lake as a child. You’re only a few inches deep but it’s so good.

How much deeper can we go?

June 28, 2010

On Love & Experience

Tonight, I want to talk about love and experience within the context of romantic, Christ-centered relationships. This isn’t an overly comprehensive essay – just some of my thoughts on the matter.

I’ve been in a relationship for over a year and a half now, and it’s serious. We’re also in a period of long distance, and I know that I’m more prone to doubts and fears when I’m away from him. Something I’ve struggled with over the last few months is owning the fact that in times like these, I am barraged with lies. Self-doubts fester in me, infectious, and they creep into old wounds and plop themselves down and act like they are exclusively My Issues and not lies that I can rebuke.

One such lie is the lie that I don’t have enough life experience, that maybe I’m being over zealous. It is, after all, the first rock-solid, healthy, long-term relationship I’ve had (note the emphasis on healthy). So – why not wait a little while? Break up for a little while? See where life takes both of us? Who knows, maybe we’ll find other people.

Notwithstanding the fact that this thinking makes me sick to my stomach (the first sign that it’s not an expression of me), there are other reasons that it’s a lie and clearly not of God.

I’m going to step out on a limb here. My hypothesis is that experience is (or can be) the antithesis of trust. For the purposes of this post, I’ll venture to say that experience in relationships does not necessarily teach us how to love or, indeed, the very nature of love.

When we speak of being experienced, it seems – most often – to refer to sexual experience. That’s not the focus of this post, but I do want to briefly address it. I think that the following excerpt says it best. Josh Harris, author of the controversial I Kissed Dating Goodbye (I still don’t know how I feel about that book), was interviewed a few years ago on secular radio, where he was grilled on his virginity and lack of experience. But his response to this particular question left his interviewer speechless.

Taylor: So what’s going to happen when, let’s say you get married and you get to the honeymoon suite and she’s lousy in bed?

Josh: Well, I won’t have anything to compare it to.

A Christian man or woman’s sexual experience or lack thereof is a different post – but I did want to throw that in there to emphasize the point that experience does not necessarily correlate with: better sex, better relationship, better intimacy.

If anything, experience erodes our ability and/or willingness to let God into the picture. Personally, this happens with writing all the time. I’m only recently learning to pray about my writing; I’ve been doing it for so long that it feels like second nature. I’ve read dozens of writing books, written hundreds of thousands of words in my lifetime… and am only beginning to learn to include God in my process. “But I know what I’m doing,” I say. “But I know what I want to write about,” I say. “But I know my process! I know what I need,” I say. He pretty much just laughs and shows me how to do it better. Everything I thought I knew about writing is being tossed out the window. Okay, maybe not everything. I still abide by the As Few Adverbs As Possible rule.

Experience (oftentimes) begets pride. In parenting. Loving. Careers. Even ministry. “The way we worship has been working for years. Why fix what ain’t broke?” And that’s only one example.

When we have experience in relationships, we can convince ourselves that we know how to love when in fact it is Christ in us who teaches us how to love. It’s about remaining tender to his heart and to his leading. It’s about learning how to live out 1st Corinthians 13. It’s about choice.

This is such a radical concept in my life right now. God has been teaching me so much about choice over the last year – choice in worship. Choice in quiet time. Choice in writing. Choice in loving.

The qualities of love – which are, at their core, the qualities of God, who is love – are not based on “a fancy or a feeling,” to quote Jane Austen. They are not organized like “If you’ve loved one person, go to step A. If you’ve been in several relationships, skip to step C!” Rather, we are called to love others simply as Christ loved us. These are the qualities we are called to cultivate in our relationships:

  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Does not envy
  • Does not boast
  • Is not proud
  • Is not rude
  • Is not self-seeking
  • Is not easily angered
  • Keeps no record of wrongs
  • Does not delight in evil
  • Rejoices in the truth
  • Always protects
  • Always trusts
  • Always hopes
  • Always perseveres
  • Never fails

There is not a qualifier on these qualities, e.g. “be patient IF you feel like loving them.” No – I am called to practice these characteristics on the days when my mother is driving me up the wall. When my sister ignores me and stays in her room. When I don’t feel like loving my boyfriend. When the excitement isn’t bouncing off the walls.

These are characteristics that grow as we grow in our relationship with Christ and, yes, as we practice them over time. I’m not denying the value of experience – just suggesting that we not take it as the ultimate litmus test.

Ultimately, your ability to love is not based on the amount of relationship experience you have; it is a direct correlation of your relationship with Christ – how you understand and receive his love, and how you apply it to your relationships. Similarly, the depth of your commitment is not measured by the number of partners you have (that is to say, the number of people you’ve ruled out) but rather by your mutual commitment to Christ and to the qualities of love that you are cultivating in your relationship.

Relationships are like gardens; they need to be tended, watered, weeded, and sometimes just enjoyed, basked in. We garden because we love to look upon beautiful things, or because we love to reap the fruits of our labor and enjoy fresh produce on the table. I don’t want to take the food metaphor too far, but it is similar with relationships: we are designed to desire love, to want to bask in it. To quote the film Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

And, I would note, your experience with gardening is most often grown when you tend the same garden year in, year out, learning the nature of the soil, how much water to use, the way the light and shade fall at different types of day, the animals to ward against, the flowers that look best together. It is not much use if you begin a garden only to abandon it half-way through; you learn how to begin a garden, but you don’t learn how to tend it, nurture it, preserve it, keep it.

We’ve all had different experiences in life and in love. I have friends who have fluttered around like butterflies from flower to flower, enjoying the process and maintaining their integrity. I’ve had girlfriends who married the only man they seriously dated, and their marriages are things of beauty. And I have friends who have been in serious, long-term relationships only to have the relationship end after several years; I have marveled at how they still found joy and truth in the process.

A friend recently came to me seeking advice for maintaining a long distance relationship. The only advice I could give was, keep seeking after the Lord. If you are seeking after the Lord and your partner is seeking after Him, truly and honestly, with all your being, in prayer or reading or however you connect – if you both are seeking, then you both are finding, and you both are growing. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Quick memo: not all Christian relationships end in marriage (thank goodness), and I’m a firm believer in not putting that pressure on people … so that’s another post that’s currently brewing.

In the end, our God is too great to be boxed into patterns. One size does not fit all. This morning in church, Pastor Mike joked that there’s a reason we’re not given a formula for salvation, or else the church would find all sorts of ways to constrict people. The same applies to love. There’s not a formula for relationships given in the Bible – we’re simply told that love is the highest commandment, to first love God and then to love each other. We are given the qualities of love. But we are not told how to apply them, or an ideal number of relationships pre-marriage. Thank you Lord for that freedom! For the mercy! For the fluidity, the flexibility, the awesome adaptability and creativity that Jesus uses to bring people together, friends and spouses, parents and children, co-workers, colleagues, peers.

We truly serve an awesome God who loves us and who seeks to give us good gifts. My prayer is that I can trust him enough to accept this awesome gift of relationship that he’s given me. To trust him, to trust my boyfriend, to trust myself.

1st Corinthians 13:13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

June 9, 2010

On Personal Statements & Failure

Personal statements are currently competing with mushrooms for the coveted status of My Least Favorite Thing.

I’ve prayed some and whined much, which is not the solution to writing a personal statement. I’ve spent a decent amount of time planning and brainstorming, but mostly I’ve been anxious and freaked out.

This has me running scared for two reasons: one, the more days I spend whining about the personal statement, the less days my application is complete and the fewer jobs I’ll be considered for. Second, the anxiety has me worried that maybe I’m not supposed to be a teacher if I can’t even write a personal statement.

I know the second fear is bogus. It’s the same fear that freaked me out during grad school applications (which I probably shouldn’t think about seeing as how that didn’t work out). It’s the fear that comes when you’re trying to tackle a difficult problem. It’s not rational; it just is. It’s the fear that has to be surrendered and given over because otherwise it’ll cripple you.

This fear is not indicative of potential success (or failure). It’s a fear that aims to keep you in your comfort zone, that says not to take the risk, that says you’re not qualified. It’s the fear of not being good enough.

Fear has no say in the final outcome, unless you’re so afraid that you do nothing and then of course you’re bound to not get whatever it is you wanted. I’ve come to the realization over this last year that I could have the perfect application and still not get hired/accepted if it wasn’t The Right Thing. I say this because I had a lot of really good applications, applications that employers, professors, and family members alike believed would guarantee me something. But none of them got me anything, save the learning that comes from failure.

In her commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said that failure meant a stripping away of the inessentials. I like that. And at some point in the Mighty Ducks trilogy, the coach says he’d rather have lost, because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Failure forces you to go back to square one and reevaluate.

As an uncle said during my graduation weekend, my lack of success means that I’ve been learning a lot about what God doesn’t want me to do (at least right now).

So back to this personal statement. All I can do is write in good faith, the faith that comes with knowing that somehow or another, this is just one more step in the crazy post-graduation employment frenzy. And it’s a step towards something. Whether it’s toward a job or more time with Mom and Dad, no one can say. But I won’t find out what that next step is until I finish this application. Which means finishing the personal statement. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t that scary after all.

It’s just a bit of parchment.

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