From the Basement

November 12, 2010

“Give Me Jesus”

This morning was totally fragmented. Concerns about the part-time seasonal job I start this weekend (Barnes & Noble!) coupled with grad school applications and family drama had me doubting and questioning. But in all the questioning (which somehow got me on the “is it okay to be a working Christian mom?” question), the Lord led me to this verse:

2 Timothy 3:14: But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from where you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ.

Continue in what you have learned. Trust what you have learned – what you have been assured of. Know where you learned it from. Know that it is through feeding our souls the Holy Word of God that we grow and develop and better trust Him.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And our faith is to be placed in our hope, the only hope that never fails – our savior Christ Jesus.

Sometimes the uncertainties of this life seem overwhelming. The answer is always the same. Go to Jesus. “Come to me all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is our savior. He is our redeemer. By him we cry out, “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15). He is our rock, our refuge, our Lord in whom we put our trust (Psalm 18). He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). And He is the good shepherd – “I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:15).

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October 31, 2010

What is the life of the mind without the love of God?

There is a video that was posted on the lit forum at thegradcafe.com which I then shared with various friends. Entitled, “So you want to get a PhD in the Humanities,” it has been hailed as alternately funny and depressing by friends who are professors and grad students – depressing because it’s true. (http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/)

The video isn’t what took the wind out of my sails this week, but it reminded me of the numerous doubts and thoughts that creep into my mind unguarded:

Do you think this is a good use of your time, doing research that no one cares about?

Academia is one of the most hostile environments for faith in the United States. Do you honestly think you can make a difference?

Won’t any impact you have be impeded by your own intellectual pride?

This isn’t a Christian pursuit – how does teaching about women’s writing in the 1790s further the cause of faith, exactly?

Not to mention the concerns over the fact that I’m in a dual-academic relationship, so we’re trying to get into schools in the same geographic area (easier said than done) and then, on the job market (provided the Lord allows), we’ll have to limit our choices in an already difficult market to places that are hiring in both Physics and English.

Then there’s the fact that the first application is due December 1st and my statement of purpose and writing sample have yet to be written.

And then, that several of my professors or friends who are professors or grad students are suffering severe disenchantment with the field.

And then there’s the cloud hanging over all of this, that I got across the board rejections last year.

My friends, it is very easy to become discouraged, but in times of discouragement, we must cling to His hope.

I was spilling my guts to God and partly trying to remind myself of why this is a godly pursuit, and the line came to me:

“What is the life of the mind without the love of God?”

My brain is obviously taking cues from the Think conference I attended earlier this month, but it is so very true. To the doubts that look to the disenchantment in the academia, especially in the humanities, that say it’s not worthwhile, that say that God could not place this desire on my heart – of course the life of the mind is painful WITHOUT the love of God! Knowledge and intellectualism do not satisfy. We are human. We fail. But when the pursuit of knowledge and – more importantly – ministry to those who pursue knowledge is buoyed and anchored by a passionate knowledge that I am loved by God, oh, the mighty things that can happen!

“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

I must remind myself, ever, that it is for His glory. I am aware of the danger in this pursuit, namely that it plays very close to a great weakness of mine, which is intellectual pride, but Lord, keep me humble. I pray for a passionate love for my future students, colleagues, and advisors –

My fiancé and I have often talked on how our hoped-for ministry as professors is sort of like going into the lion’s den. These are people who, for the most part, think they have life beat. They are the educated, the knowledgeable, the worldly wise, the philosophical elite who Paul tangoed with in Greece… they are the Seekers who have yet to find – who perhaps do not want to find. They turn down their nose at religion. Are there believers among college faculties? To be sure. But many of my closest advisors had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity, and of my peers… well, in college it’s cool to seek but not quite as cool to find.

I know that, should God choose to use my fiancé and I in this way, it would be powerful, and Abba, let it ever be for YOUR glory and not our own. That He chooses to use us in ways that magnify our gifts and give us great joy is truly beyond me. I remember hearing harsh scriptures or sermons as a child that had me convinced that God only used people who were in “Christian” careers. I thought, is it bad that I don’t want to be a missionary? It took me years to realize that He uses us where we’re at, in many, many careers “outside” official Christian ministry. That being a college professor, as a Christian, is your ministry. That teaching about women writers in the 1790s is a ministry!

We are all called to ministry in different ways. Writing is my primary calling, but I am inextricably drawn to academia, and I love to teach, and I see great opportunity, a great platform on which to build a ministry. Should God allow. I keep saying “should God allow” because this last year has been an exercise in being brought to my knees… he humbles us to draw us closer to him.

God has been putting this verse in my life through sermons and readings, and I want to share it:

Psalm 18:1-3: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”

And this verse:

Psalm 73:23-26,28: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.”

We are called to place our hope in Him. To trust His plan. To know that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. To be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is our Savior, our lover, our husband, our friend. He holds us. Even when we do not want to let him, he is still holding us.

In Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am?, she offers the following as exhortations to hope:

Hope ushers in the goodness of God: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Lamentations 3:25

Hope gives us protection: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness.” Psalm 33:18

Hope gives us strength, courage, boldness: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

Hope gives us confidence for this life and our callings: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10

And in closing, she writes:

He is worthy.

He is your comfort.

He is the God who sees.

He does not grow weary.

He is your sufficiency.

He is your Savior.

He is here.

He is your strength.

He is generous.

He is your King and Father.

He is your Redeemer.

He is your hope.

He calls you His daughter and treats you as His own. (211)

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Matthew 22:36-40: “ ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I love that. We are called to love God, and a means of loving God is using our minds. And then we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And John 13:35 follows this line of thinking: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Love is the mark of a Christian. Not what we do as a career, but what we do in the everyday minutiae: when you’re in the break room, when you’re in the hallway, when you’re greeting your co-workers in the morning.

A struggle for me is making plans for myself while knowing that God has “better.” I struggle and think, since I’m applying to grad school, does this mean I won’t get in? Am I pursuing the right plan? What if this isn’t what He has for me? And then I remember: he places desires on our hearts for a reason. He places people and situations in our lives for a reason. And sometimes what we think is “no” just means “not now.”

I don’t know how these next few months will turn out. But I know that my Abba is good. I know that he loves me. I know that to love Him is the greatest thing I can do in this life. I know that only by His enabling will I ever be able to love him and other people. And I pray for the grace to endure, to persist in that truth.

October 25, 2010

“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”: On Discouragement, Hope, & Faith

Discouragement can come out of nowhere. It’s a truly sneaky bastard. It can be a thought, a little thing, small and even funny from an outside perspective, but with what you’ve endured for the last few months, it can seem like the world is crumbling. Or it can be a shock that knocks you on your feet.

For me, it was realizing all the mistakes I made in two cover letters for jobs I want, for jobs that I have told God would be ideal. They’re teaching jobs, second semester replacements, and in light of a variety of things (including a one-line, incredibly rude response from an HR director at one of the schools), my confidence is in the toilet. And with it, my hope.

So often I lose hope the minute I doubt my own abilities or situation. And since I doubt my own abilities or situation a lot of the time, I seem to doubt my hope, as well.

I’m trying to figure out how to have hope and confidence in God while not having any in myself. I’m trying to figure out how people can survive ethnic genocide or sexual abuse or lose their husband while they’re pregnant or go through any number of horrific ordeals, and keep their hope in God. Or how my future in-laws, called to ministry in a dying church for 14 years, kept their hope. How my friend whose husband just lost his job is keeping her hope. How we keep our hope when life in all its ugly blackness happens.

One of my greatest abilities is to constantly be spinning possibilities. But it’s a double-edged sword, because sometimes, I get caught up in dwelling on the negative (“what if my fiancé died a few months into our marriage”, etc.). I lose sight of where I am, where God’s called me to be, and what he’s given me for today. I start doubting whether turning down that job was the right decision. I start wondering whether any plan I form for myself is a godly plan, since so few of them have worked out. I question whether God is just going to disregard everything I want and send me somewhere else.

Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – is so tricky. I firmly believe that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, our desires become conformed to his heart and his desires for us. But that begs the question, how many of my desires are my own and how many are his? And what desires has he given us so that he can bring them about to his glory?

When I am lonely, when I am disappointed, when I think about the trials of others, my possibility-driven mind spins into a very human mode, pulling me deeper into the depths of sin, bringing me to doubt all of my choices, even the ones that were such good gifts from God (e.g. my relationship, my choice of college).

Today, my discouragement stems from both my job situation as well as worries about graduate school. But it is almost as if the Lord has surrounded me in memories of past mercies to comfort me – all day long, my thoughts have been turning to the Women of Faith “Over the Top” conference that the women’s bible study attended seven months ago in March.

Let me paint the scene for you: it was mid-March in the Midwest and I was barely two weeks away from finishing the last class of my undergraduate career. And the icing on the cake? I had received rejections from most grad programs by this point. Now, for those of you who are perhaps just tuning in to this blog now, that had been The Plan. (I hadn’t really talked to God about The Plan, which was to enroll in an English Ph.D. program). Well, by the time the conference rolled around, The Plan was crumbling before my eyes. This top of the class, triple major, summa cum laude, Honors in English academic all-star was officially plan-less.

I walked into that weekend knowing I wanted to meet God but also knowing that I didn’t really feel like a woman of great faith. I had the faith of a mustard seed… maybe half of a mustard seed. Suffice to say, I was definitely not in the mountain-moving mood.

Saturday morning, the girls and I headed to the convention center, coffee in hand, ready to worship and learn and laugh. And I had my game face on – “Okay, God. I’m here. What do you want from me?”

Sandi Patty was one of the morning speakers, and she came on stage and started singing the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella. And I started to cry. My dream, I felt, was being crushed right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.

A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams, you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for, you keep

Have faith in your dreams, and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving,

If you keep on believing,

The dream that you wish will come true

As it turns out, her story of God’s “over the top” love was one of a dream denied and then a dream given. Her dream as a little girl was to sing at Disneyland. Once she was of age, she auditioned, and she waited for weeks to hear back. When she finally did hear back, it was that, while they had been impressed with her voice, they were unable to offer her a job because of her size. To say she was crushed was an understatement (her struggle with weight and body image is an enormous part of her testimony). She ended up going to college in the Midwest, and she gave music lessons on the side. As it turns out, some of her students were the children of Bill and Gloria Gaither (big gospel singers particularly famous during the ‘60s and ‘70s), and one day, Bill Gaither invited her to tour with them – and God used that start to take her dream further than she ever anticipated.

I just went and looked for my notes from the conference, and I didn’t write much down during her talk, except that she stressed how we are not enough… our abilities, our dreams are never enough – but He is enough. And sometimes, he says no to our dreams in order to say “yes” to the dream he has for us. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

That was a wonderful conference, but it is Sandi’s message that I’ve taken with me in my heart and treasured as a reminder of the Hope and Future he has for us.

She also performed this song at the conference, and today, it is renewing my hope and reminding me of the greatness of our God. I hope it encourages you, too.

(I love how you can see Mandisa praising and raising her hands along with Sandi!)

Praise to the Lord, the almighty

The King of Creation

O my soul, praise him, for he is thy help and salvation

All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near

Joining in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord,

Who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth

Shelters thee under his wings

Yea, so gently sustaineth

Hast thou not seen?

How thy desires all have been

Granted in what he ordaineth

Praise to the Lord,

Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee

Surely his goodness and mercy daily attend thee

Ponder anew what the almighty can do

If with his love he befriend thee

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Hallelujah, we will sing hallelujah!

Praise to the Lord,

O let all that is in me adore him!

All that hath life and breath,

Come now with praises before him!

Let the amen sound from his people again

Gladly forever adore him

We adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Gladly forever adore him

Praise to the Lord!

“The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to the one who seeks him.” – Lamentations 3:25

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

And the foundational verse of the “Over the Top” theme: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God?” – Romans 11:3 (MSG)

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).

September 8, 2010

Faith in Future Grace

On Sex & the City, Charlotte is the friend who insists that things happen for a reason. Her cynical friends tend to not believe her, but this is a hope to which she stubbornly clings.

I’m often that person. No matter how desperate the situation, I’m the annoying friend who will tell you that God will use this for good.

I believe that many things happen for a reason – some things in life are inevitable, even if tragic (death comes to mind). But I believe that in all things, in all situations, God works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I also believe that He who begins a good work in us is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). My mom’s two favorite names for God are Jehovah Jireh (God who will provide) and Faithful & True. He does provide, and He is faithful and true.

These are the promises – the hopes – the future graces, as Piper may call them – that we need to cling to, in all situations. It seems generally agreed upon that God has three responses to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. “Wait” is where I’m at right now, and “wait” – more often than not – sounds like silence. It’s still, it’s there, it’s wordless, but somehow, if I’m tuned in, there’s a peace that descends… and I take that to mean, “Wait, my child, have faith.”

I’m reading another John Piper book, and this one is focused on having faith in “future grace” (the title is, fittingly, Future Grace). Piper’s basic thesis is that faith stems from trusting God’s promises for the present and the future; the book also serves as an indictment of the implication that gratitude for past grace is enough to sustain our faith. Trusting what God has promised and having faith and hope in what He will do – this is the key to saving faith.

Piper makes the wonderful point that in the Bible, people are never chastened for having little gratitude. Rather, Christ says, “O ye of little faith.” It is by faith that we are enabled to further put our hope and trust in God, by faith that we are able to act, by faith that we are able to grow.

Lack of faith is the crux of sin, yeah? In times when my faith is lacking, oh, that is when the anxiety, worry, and fear come… that is when I stumble… that is when I fall. I am so grateful – yes, grateful! – that God has picked me up time and time again, and His word tells me that He will continue to do so.

All this to say, I can’t identify a “reason” why I’m still unemployed or why I’m still living at home. If it’s to finish the novel, well, crap, because trust me, the novel ain’t getting’ done any time soon! If it’s to learn compassion for my family, I fail a lot in that area. If it’s to learn patience, well, okay Lord, you have my attention.

But I do have faith that whatever purpose (or lack of purpose) is behind my current situation, that however I fail when I’m here at home, that whatever happens – I know that my God is for me and not against me. I know He is faithful & true. I know He will continue to provide as He’s been doing. And I know that He will be faithful to complete the good work He started in me. And maybe someday, I’ll look back on this and see exactly how God was piecing things together to set plans in motion that are unfathomable right now.

I want to be a woman of great, unshakable faith. Maybe this is part of becoming that woman.

August 10, 2010

Free Indeed: Writing & Reading Outside of Academia

Today, it struck me how different my summer would have been had I been accepted to grad school, particularly in terms of reading. In the eager anticipation of entering a doctoral program, I had prepared a list of “must read” books – notable 19th century novels, notable theorists. A small sampling:

Nathaniel Hawthorne – Blithedale Romance

George Eliot – Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss

Matthew Arnold – Culture and Anarchy

Catherine Gallagher – Nobody’s Story

Judith Butler – Gender Trouble

Since grad school didn’t work out, I’ve been reading very different sorts of books – the sort that doesn’t secure cultural capitol in academia. Genre fiction, memoir, Christian living. Desiring God and Women Food and God were two of the best reads this summer, and I just finished Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (I didn’t realize Janzen was an English professor until I started reading). I’ve been traipsing around Egypt with Amelia Peabody and indulging in the romantic comedies of Jennifer Crusie, whose titles (Welcome to Temptation, Faking It) are apt to send the literati into seizures. The disappointment of the summer was James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series – I made it through four books before tiring of the formula.

The closest I’ve come to grad school reading material is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and maybe The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. And I’m almost done reading the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer-prize winning collection Interpreter of Maladies, but I don’t know if that counts since I would read her stuff even if she hadn’t won the Pulitzer. She and Atwood are quite possibly the only literary writers I enjoy – reading Toni Morrison is like pulling teeth and I’ve never been able to get past the first chapter of a Salman Rushdie novel, sorry.

All this has me wondering: exactly why did I want to go to grad school? I’m terrific at forcing myself to read books I don’t want to, mainly because it feeds my English Major Ego – I could force down Native Son again if my professors told me to. It’s about being able to say you’ve read this novel or that novel or this theory or that theory…

The question arises: what’s the point? I might pick up one of the aforementioned novels, because I really am interested in reading more 19th century work, but they’re obviously not my priority or I would have read them already.

Here’s the thing: if you give me the option between writing a novel and studying a novel, I’d rather write a novel. My English major was an external result of a deep love and appreciation for the power of a good story. I think literature is of critical importance in a society, mainly because good stories are absolutely critical to the nourishment of the human spirit.

My reading this summer has been the sort that nourishes that spirit, or at least mine. It’s encouraging, revelatory, instructive, hopeful. In its own way, it teaches. (It also teaches you how contemporary novels are structured, because I’m sorry, but Middlemarch and Pamela are utterly useless when it comes to learning how to write a novel.)

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a close friend. We were talking about how God had leveled our plans and expectations. My friend had thought she wanted to pursue teaching or higher education in public policy, when what she really loves is being on the ground, working with the people, loving the people. For me, I’d thought I wanted a doctorate in literature so I could teach about other people’s stories, when what I really love is writing my own stories. God took away the chaff and gave us the wheat, the small, concentrated portion that had been driving us the whole time.

God’s taken us both to a place where our real passion is evidenced. She’s working on the ground with people, and I’m writing a novel. Unemployed and living at home, but writing! I can read whatever I want to, and no one is going to judge me. I can write whatever I want to, and who cares if people judge me? My goal is to write a good story, imperfectly told, that is emotionally honest and accessible.

That’s what I want. I don’t need to be the next Jhumpa Lahiri; I’m content to learn from her. I don’t need a Pulitzer or a Booker or to be “literary” or to please my professors or even to please my friends… I need to tell the best story I can, one that is honest and emotional, that demonstrates the value of the human spirit. A friend recently texted me these words of encouragement: “You have something to share with the world that no one else does. God has words for you to communicate – not even necessarily sacred writing – but stories.”

And who knows? Maybe someday I will want to read Middlemarch and Pamela, and maybe I’ll want to pursue a doctorate… just not right now. Not while I’m writing, gloriously writing. For the first time in years, I feel free.

July 26, 2010

Youth is not a Limitation for God

In the last blog, I wrote that these last few months have been turbulent times filled with spiritual challenge and learning and growth, but also pain, heartache, doubt, fear, and anxiety. This week – the last few days – in particular have brought an avalanche of revelation.

What I would like to focus on tonight is one lie that has seeped into my life: that my youth and inexperience will keep God from using me, particularly in my calling. I put my faith in conventional wisdom that says that countless rejections must be collected before “breaking in”; what’s more, I measure success in human standards of being published. And when it comes to the ever-frightening idea of writing a non-fiction book on Christian living, or just meditations on faith from an unemployed college graduate, I practically freeze with fear, knowing that I lack the credentials – the degrees, the experience – to be published.

It’s really hard to put it out there and say that yeah, I have those dreams.

One caveat here. Over the last few months, I’ve read a flood of articles on unemployed college graduates and on the “Entitlement” complex of Generation Y – how we think we’re entitled to better work and whatnot. Personally, I’m totally willing to do the grunt assistant jobs. Get coffee for someone for years before “making it”? Sure! I’m willing to pay my dues. And similarly, when it comes to publication, I’m willing to start at the bottom. Rejection will happen and a thick skin is necessary. I recently sent out my first story to a professional publication, and I hold no illusions about making it in – it’s valuable experience and you know, I’m putting myself out there. We’ll see what happens.

Here’s my issue: conventional wisdom says that youth = inexperience = lack of wisdom, lack of success. And it’s common wisdom for a reason – it’s common!

BUT. With God, all things are possible. Do we really believe this? Youth is not a limitation for God. Inexperience is not a limitation for God. And it is dangerous when the youth internalize this “conventional wisdom” – that they must wait for wisdom, wait to be used, wait for Their Calling, simply because they are young.

It’s about keeping a right perspective. The fact is, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are some of the most powerful tools Satan can use to keep us down.

It is crucial to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped – he equips the called. We are called to lean on him and not on our own understanding; we claim that the joy of the Lord is our strength and our salvation. God does not require an advanced degree or decades of experience to be used. In fact, he delights to show his strength in our weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul writes:

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A dear friend of mine is going to a foreign country for ten months to set up an organization in a field she is not trained in. She’s the one who first told me that God equips the called, and it was a blessing to be able to repeat her words back to her when we had lunch a few days ago. Skills and knowledge can be learned – the content she’s working with can be learned – but she has an invaluable knowledge going in: the knowledge of the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus and her ability to show His compassionate love to others. Jesus will make a way where there is seemingly no way.

Our youth and inexperience are perfect opportunities for the Lord to make manifest His glory, for we really cannot boast on our own wisdom and understanding. Indeed, God recently slammed a door in my face that would have brought me that advanced degree and the worldly respect that accompanies it.

It is not wishful thinking or naiveté that gives me so powerful an assurance in this wonderful quality of God’s, but rather His own words. God delights to use the ill equipped, the young, the “wrong” choice to bring about His glory. Two examples come to mind: Moses and Esther. When God drew Moses to Himself via the burning bush (such an awesome idea), He said: “Come now… I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses’ reply falls from his lips before he can stop himself – “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

He protests. Even though we can see how Moses is uniquely, wondrously called to this task (saved from Pharaoh’s edict as a baby, raised in the palace, familiar with Egyptian customs, and y’know, he’s sort of the brother of the current Pharaoh) – in spite of all this, Moses clearly felt himself ill qualified. He doubted himself. He didn’t think he was worthy.

God’s response to Moses’ fears? “I will certainly be with you.”

We are never enough; He is always enough. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Of course, God’s assurances do not assure Moses – a chapter later, Moses is still arguing with God, saying he’s not eloquent enough to speak. And yet God provides for this weakness, as well (Moses’ biological brother, Aaron, is a gifted speaker).

God will make a way where there is no way.

Similarly, Esther is called to act in a radical way. She is a young Jewish girl hiding her beliefs from her new husband, who just happens to be the King of Persia. She’s inexperienced and, in spite of the presence of her cousin Mordecai, frighteningly alone. However, she is thrust into Purpose headfirst when one of the king’s advisors, Haman, hatches a plot that would destroy all Jews in Persia (the Holocaust, only thousands of years earlier).

Mordecai implores Esther to go to the King and beg his mercy, and she protests, reminding Mordecai that no one can enter the King’s inner sanctum unless personally called (death is a possibility for such radical disobedience). Mordecai’s response to Esther’s fear is famous: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

In spite of their youth and inexperience, even in the face of their fear and anguish, God used Moses and Esther to deliver His people in marvelous ways. In fact, he positioned them perfectly. They acted against convention, against “common wisdom” – they were willing to risk death in order to obey the call of God on their lives.

They were willing to be used. Humility and submission: these are the qualities we are all to cultivate in terms of obedience to God. The aged and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated – regardless of status, a humble, submissive spirit before the throne can and will be used by the Father.

One example of awesome humility and submission was Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to her, she was 14 – eight years younger than I am right now. Luke tells us that Mary was “troubled” at the angel’s appearance and greeting; Gabriel exhorted her to not be afraid. When he told her of her calling – to bear the son of God! – her one question was an understandably logistical one (that she was sort of a virgin). The angel answered her question, finishing “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Mary then replied, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Wow. Wow.

Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth (who is preggers with John the Baptist) and her song is just incredible.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name. (Luke 1:46-49)

She is 14, engaged, pregnant with the son of God, and about to face ridicule, condemnation, and public gossip. (Remember that Joseph almost leaves her over this.) She is no fool – she is well aware of what happens to women in her situation, and yet her faith is absolute. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” – let that be an inspiration and exhortation to us today.

(I realize that it may sound as if I am implying that youth and inexperience are inherently limitations and weaknesses. Not so! We all are possessed of limitations and weaknesses that seem like mountains, but these are nothing for our God.)

How glorious it is, as a young person, to know our savior, redeemer, lover, friend. How wonderful is it to be pursuing His heart, His right thinking this early! To not waste decades and years on the pursuit of vanity – things that cannot possibly fill us. How awesome to be walking in His light, to be seeking Him, to be latching onto our callings at such a young age! Oh, my prayer, friends, is that we would all walk in our callings, for how beautiful will they unfold – like flowers opening under the sun – over the years and decades of our lives to come.

I would like to offer a snippet of a sermon from John Piper on this subject of youth and wisdom. He uses quotes from Ecclesiastes and Job that are just outstanding sources of encouragement on this topic.

To bring our minds into conformity with God. Job 32:8: “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” To walk in the Spirit, pursuing His calling on our lives in our youth, for indeed, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

I really like the song “Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down)” by Robbie Seay Band. And there’s one line that gives me chills – it’s the first line of the chorus.

I will sing a song of hope, sing along

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

Just to know that you are near is enough

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

I will sing a song of hope. That is our calling – all of our calling – on this earth. Not literally singing, perhaps, but proclaiming the perfect Hope we have in our Creator.

Lord, I pray that I would have the courage to sing a song of hope, in whatever form you want me to sing, to whoever you want me to sing to. That I would not let my own fear get in the way. My own insecurities, my own anxieties about youth or inexperience or pride or whatever else I’m dealing with. Jesus, your strength is made perfect in my weakness. You are enough. All of you is enough for all of me. I pray for the strength to proclaim your word boldly, to love boldly, to sing boldly, to hope with a boldness and strength that can only come from you. Amen.

July 20, 2010

Curls, Control, & Contentment: An Essay on Faith

I wrote this back in January (hence the references to grad school), but I really needed to read it today. How awesome is it when God uses us to remind ourselves of His goodness and mercy…

~*~

I’m currently sitting at my aunt’s office desk, and for some inexplicable reason I have a bottle of hairspray next to me. It is extreme hold hairspray. It literally says that. Extreme. It is beyond strong, beyond maximum – extreme (Aussie Instant Freeze). On the front, it says that it “arrests your style.” Seriously? My hair is under arrest! That is the level to which I’ve resorted in order to feel like I’m in control.

Let’s back up. In 7th grade, I cut my budding curls down to a pixie cut. As in, early 1990s Winona Ryder short. My hair, which went from straight to curly during those peachy puberty years, absolutely terrified me. I had no confidence in my ability to manage my curls. So I cut them off until I was ready to grow them back out, ready to deal with them (it took a year).

This is me in a nutshell. I was so scared of this unruly thing in my life (it just so happened to be growing on my head), that I cut it off and kept it at a distance until I was ready to let it back into my life, where I timidly began to think about creative ways to manage it. I am now to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable letting my three (maybe four) day hair be shown in public – or perhaps that’s senioritis attacking my personal hygiene. Who knows.

At the root of this fear is a lack of confidence. I didn’t have confidence in what I was given. I also didn’t have confidence in my ability to manage the situation. But really, I didn’t have confidence in myself (or my Creator). We control-freaks hold things with a death grip, terrified that letting go means falling into the unknown – into the painful truth that we don’t control nearly as much as we think we do. The world does not revolve around our plans and schedules, wants and desires. There are plenty of things that are absolutely outside of our control, and we have to learn to accept that. Easier said than done. I for one am so not there yet, but it’s where my heart wants to be, and I think that counts for something.

As graduating seniors, we are concerned with getting a job, getting into graduate school – things that are decidedly outside of our control. Our conversations abound with negative prophecies and heart-heavy predictions. There are so many unknown factors, things that can have absolutely nothing to do with us – budgets, hiring cuts, smaller acceptance rates. Maybe… maybe… maybe… We love to torture ourselves with fantasies of worst-case scenarios. And to what end? Imagining the future only leads to heartache. It distracts us from the present as well as from the promises of our faith. As C.S. Lewis said, the future is the thing that is least like eternity. When it comes down to it, dwelling on the future merely feeds my lust for control.

It helps to get perspective, and that can come from both good and bad situations. I most recently got a reality-check from the latter. I met a friend for lunch the other day. That morning, I’d completed yet another application and for some reason, the anxiety was shooting through the roof, to the point where I ended up running to the toilet. Proof that all those negative anxieties and fantasies we indulge in affect our bodies.

So I met my friend for lunch. My news – applications (what else is new?). Her news – her cousin, who is around our age, was diagnosed with cancer. Talk about perspective. Now, this is not one of those “it can always be worse” exhortations – that’s not a productive method of coping. Rather, that lunch was a reminder. Even though there is the fundamental difference that I invited my situation and her cousin did not, life remains a series of unknowns for us both and, indeed, for everyone. It takes a lot of faith to get through each day.

The unknowns can bad things we don’t expect. Illness. The death of a loved one. A breakup, a divorce. Arrest. And then they can be things that we do – like knowing we’ll hear back, one way or the other, from prospective jobs, internships, schools. Getting to hold a newborn baby. Going home for Christmas to find the house chock-full of treats baked in anticipation of your arrival. And then, wow, there are the genuine surprises – like meeting the right person at the right time or unexpectedly finding a way to pay for something you’ve needed. The fun chances, the joyful surprises – these happen all around us, too!

We forget that it’s not our ability to predict or expect outcomes that matters. None of us have that kind of foresight. It’s how we handle those outcomes, those journeys. It comes down to having confidence in yourself and not in your trappings or expectations. It’s about trusting who you are. Because we each have worth, we each have value, and no matter what situation we are placed in, those things are sure.

As believers, we are the beloved of Christ, and it is in His eyes that we are made whole and complete. When we find our identity in Him – when we know that Jesus is at our side and that He is our Abba Father who is for us, offering the gifts of peace and joy and grace and love – when we can rest in His loving arms and say “come what may” because all things work to the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose – when we know that if our earthly parents love us and want to give us good gifts, how much more does He want to give! – when we know these things and can rest in them, there is confidence. There is peace. There is light. And it is that light in a difficult situation, that peace that surpasses all understanding – those are the things that mark us as His.

I want more peace. I want to radiate joy and contentment, not anxiety and fear. I have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing! He has hedged me behind and before, and as long as I just crawl up into His lap and remember that, first and foremost, I am a daughter of the King, all is good. Because life with him is good.

I’m reminded of the Niebuhr prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The good news is that He gives us serenity, courage, and wisdom. All we have to do is ask. We should consistently turn our situations over to Him in prayer, but so too should we ask for the character and the mindset that will alter how we see the situation. More righteousness. More Christlikeness – more like Christ.

Christ is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. Lately, my fear has been crowding out my excitement. I don’t always feel like I can choose excitement, and that’s partly due to my internalization of the world telling me that a good student and an ambitious individual should be worrisome, anxious, nervous for their future. But why on earth am I taking their advice? I have EVERY reason to be excited right now. Every reason to have faith that all will work to the good. I rebuke the words that tell me that sitting around every day nervously checking my email and mailbox is a proper way to manage my time. Like my curls, I have no control over what’s growing right now.

Another issue at play here is waiting. Waiting is a blessed time, truly. In the Bible (and in life), it’s a time of preparation. Of prayerful supplication. Of purification. In short, waiting is a process to be embraced.

And I want to embrace this time: the waiting, the joy, and the knowledge that come what may, my Abba has got me on His lap and He’s saying “Wait for what I do next – I’ve got so many wonderful things planned for you! You’re going to love how I have you do My work, the opportunities to love people, to reach people – you’re going to love it, you’re just going to love it.” I want to shuck fear off of me, to slither out of that skin of anxiety and worry, to just be joy. I want that. And as long as my eyes are focused on my Abba, the joy is for the taking.

June 1, 2010

On Graduation & Hope

Filed under: Graduating — jeannablue @ 2:20 pm
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I am a college graduate. Four years of study, thirty-three courses, and endless pots of coffee all boiled down to one finite moment that lasted maybe six seconds as I walked across a stage and accepted my diploma from the college President.

The build up to that moment had been great: a night before spent with my friends and all of our families, packing, laughter, cards, tears, a frantic morning full of showers and my nagging “When are we leaving for Baccalaureate?”, the actual Baccalaureate ceremony, several receptions, and then … Commencement.

(I have, by the way, decided that all graduating seniors – as well as faculty, given their medieval robes – should be provided not only with a Commencement program but also a bottle of water. Or, alternately, one of those airplane drink carts.)

That very busy Saturday was followed by an equally busy Sunday. I attended a college scarcely thirty minutes from my mother’s hometown, and as such I spent my four years in near-monthly contact with aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Since since one of my cousins graduated from high school this weekend, an aunt decided to throw us a joint graduation party (despite my many protests). The party was lovely, frantic, and full of delicious veggie pizza.

Last night, upon our return home, my mother asked me if I had the blues, coming down after such a high weekend, as it were. I told her no, I didn’t – it’s nice to settle back into the quiet, back into routine, after a high-stress, obscenely hot weekend.

Truth be told, I’ve had two months to acclimate myself to living at home, waiting on job applications. I was relieved to be back, to settle into a subdued productivity full of blogging, writing, job hunting, waiting, reading, and occasionally seeing the friends who are still in the area. Graduation was the official mark of the end of an era, but it’s a mark I had already felt (keenly felt, actually) over the last few weeks.

During the Baccalaureate ceremony, and again during Commencement, the college chaplain sought to “anoint [the graduating seniors] with hope.” Hope. That is something to cling to in the quiet days ahead. While ceremonies mark our lives, to be sure, hope is the constant that sustains us throughout our days.

That message of hope is the most precious take-away from this weekend, even perhaps greater than my diploma, for without hope, what is the joy in a diploma? Over the last few days, hope and encouraging exhortations have come from, well, everyone, as well as through hugs, graduation cards, and, yes, the Baccalaureate sermon. Continue to hope. Stay hopeful. Nurture it. Protect it. And pray for it.

May 12, 2010

Clarity vs. Trust

During my reading this morning, I came across a beautiful story told by the author of Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning. He recounted his experience meeting Mother Teresa. When she asked how she could pray for him, he requested a prayer for clarity. But, to his surprise, she refused. When asked to elaborate, she said (and I’m paraphrasing) that clarity and trust were incompatible – that a prayer for clarity belies fear and a spirit that does not trust God.

We are called to trust what we cannot see, to trust the promises of God, and more often than not, a prayer for clarity is a prayer for clear direction – so that we can walk toward the visible rather than walking by faith. I am certainly guilty of this. While I think that praying for clarity (e.g. that we would sense His hand in a situation) is not in itself a bad thing, my prayers for clarity are so often out of fear of the future … mistrust. I know that I’ve abided in that very human, very dark spirit of fear and anxiety rather than abiding and trusting in my Maker.

I know I posted a portion of Romans 8 a few days ago, and I think these verses were in that post, but I just want to affirm the awesome power and hope that is in these verses:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:28-31

Be blessed today.

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