Thursday, September 30, 2010

Morning Rant

I have to take a moment to just rant for a second...

One of my favorite parts of my mornings is tearing a page off my friendship quotes calendar that my best friend gave me last Christmas. The calendar sits on my bathroom sink and I truly look forward to walking over to it every morning and reading a little bit of encouragement to start off the day. I love that calendar.

This morning though, well, not so much. This morning's quote said this:

"If you want to take an accounting of your worth, count your friends."

What!? I will spare you from knowing who made this quote famous on the off chance that the legal department at the calendar company didn't do their job very well and attributed to it the wrong person, or to the person who made it famous but didn't actually say it first.

It made me so angry and I quickly prayed that nobody who comes across that quote ever takes it to heart.

Because here is the thing about life. Some seasons you will go through and quite possibly not have any friends. Literally. And some seasons you will have made some new friends but they don't REALLY know you and while you enjoy their company, you don't have that soul connection with anybody. Then there will be times when you do have that with one or many people and all seems right in the world.

But there are middle times too. Times when there are people who know you but they're somehow all busy at the same time. Times when you need help but you're too weary to ask for it and even your closest friends can't read your mind. Times when you think you have a friendship with someone but may suddenly discover that it wasn't what you thought. Times when it feels like people are saying what they'll do over and over but aren't really showing up when it comes down to it. Times when you aren't showing up when it comes down to it. Times when people move or drift away from you. Times when everyone is struggling at the same time and no one is really strong enough to carry the other. Times when your friends expect more from you than you can give them and you let them down. Times when you have said the wrong thing and people need time to cool off. Times when you somehow end up at home by yourself every night doing the dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and feeling generally without purpose and everyone seems to have disappeared.

If you look around during those times it would be easy to believe that you don't have any friends. And for heaven's sake if that makes you without worth than what the heck are we all doing here.

But it's not true. Your worth is in NO way wrapped up in how many people surround you on any given day, how many hugs you get or don't get, how many people call to check on you or how many dates with friends you have in your planner.

Because it is simply part of life that friends come and they go. Things change. Others move forward or they stay where they are while you move forward. Time passing allows some friendships to grow colder and some to deepen. Those middle times will pass and people will come back around, or you'll come back around. New friendships will be built.

But there is an everlasting, always stable, constant friend available to all of us and His name is Jesus. He remains and His love for us, His ability to help when we need it, His comfort is ALWAYS present. And that is where you can find an accounting of your worth. Your worth should never be based on something that will change as the wind blows. Instead find it in something that for the rest of your life you can trust. He is true to His word.

I went ahead and tore that page off this morning so that I wouldn't accidentally read it again. And quite thankfully tomorrow's quote was something fantastic about hugs and rainbows and unicorns and puppies and the general beauty of good friends in our lives. And everything felt better again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Fall

Being down here in the South there's a phrase that always makes me laugh.

"Yay it's starting to feel like fall!"

And I have to laugh because my fall feels so different from their fall.

Fall is an incredibly special season that seems to connect with most people's hearts and I think it's because the general environment starts speaking to that somewhat melancholy and peaceful part of our souls. This is especially true for me. While I love all the seasons for various reasons, this one, if I had to pick a favorite, would be it. For me it's where everything seems to slow down a bit, where the world calms down a bit and where I find a certain coziness, a certain connection with Home.

I'm having to relearn that a bit though. The past couple of years fall has seemed a little distant and only gets worse every time I say to my sweet Southern friends, "Y'all don't even know what fall is."

But they do...it carries the same comfort and joys for them. It just looks really different. Most people here are loving their football and bbq and city life as the stifling heat seems to drift away for a time.

My fall though...oh it was special.

My fall is the cold in the air every morning that stays in the breeze throughout the day.

The leaves turning brilliant shades of orange and yellow and red. And crunching under your feet on cold sidewalks when winter starts knocking on the door and they die and drift away.

The frost on the ground every morning that scares away all the little gremlins that ignite my highly sensitive allergies. I love that frost.

Caramel and candy apples. Candy corn. And those mellowcreme pumpkins. Enough said.

Pumpkin everything. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin muffins. Grammy's pumpkin pie. Pumpkin bars.

And the most important of the pumpkin list. The pumpkin patch. Oh those are the best!

Hot potato soup and hazelnut mochas at St. Louis Bread Co. on chilly Saturdays.

Hot chocolate, a hooded sweatshirt and a good book in the evenings.

Camping and campfires. Hiking, smores, campfire food, sleeping in a tent combined with that cold air and those crunchy leaves. Oh my heart. Forget it. I'm toast just thinking about it.

Folk music and small-town festivals. I don't know why small towns love them some fall festivals, but they are the best of hometown comfort.

Thanksgiving with my family. Watching the Macy's Day parade and drinking hot chocolate first thing in the morning. Running to shower during a commercial break so I don't miss any of the performing acts. Eating brunch together. Talking and laughing, sometimes yelling and scolding. :) Watching movies during the day. Eating leftovers for dinner. And coffee and pumpkin pie for dessert.

I miss my fall a lot this year. Maybe next year I'll try to find a new Southern version for myself or conform to everyone else's...but this year I'm just remembering mine.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Cost of Discipleship

Raise your hand if you're stupid enough to not take into consideration the serious gut-wrenching, heart-checkin' you're gonna get when opening and ingesting a book with the title The Cost of Discipleship.

Hands. Raised. Both of them.

Call me a moron. I will agree with you. But it's one of those things that when it hit me around around the 5th word on page 2, I thought, no stoppin' now. Just hunker down and get on with it. Today I made it to page 78 and when I put the book down felt like I needed a drink...and I don't drink.

Okay, it's not really that bad. But I'm just sayin'...it's no walk in the park.

Today's little nugget of a chapter was about the story of the rich, young ruler who according to Matthew 19 rolled up to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Jesus tells him to obey the commandments. So the man asks, "Which ones?" Jesus responds by essentially listing the commandments and I can't help but think he might have been rolling his eyes right about now. Then the man says, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" And Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

And this part is killer...

"When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth."

This would be the point in which I start screaming at my Bible, "What the heck are you doing you crazy foo'!?! That's Jesus you just walked away from!! Helloooooo! Go back! He's worth it!!"

And then this thought crosses my mind. What if I went to work today and at lunch I walk outside and there's Jesus and He says, "C'mon, follow me." And He just starts walking. In that moment I would have to quite literally walk away from my job, my apartment, my paycheck, my friends, my family, my cell phone to let them know where I'm going, the cat that I take care of who has surely eaten all the food I left for him this morning, the kid across the street that I've been trying to help out lately, my summer camp...all of it. Just quite literally start walking away from it. One foot in front of the other.

Yeah, nope. If I'm being blunt, I don't know if I would do it. I hope that I would. I can trust what the scriptures say, that I would recognize Jesus' voice, and if my heart was assured of who He was and I fell back on the faith that I have that everything He says is true, well then there's a slight chance that I could get my feet moving. But it's so hard to think about it that I really have never sat on it for long enough to trust myself with that.

This is where this book comes in. Where Mr. Bonhoeffer points out how often we frequently just waste time skirting the issue when we know the call on our lives.

"The young man knows the commandments. But such is his situation that he cannot be satisfied with them but wants to go beyond them...Why does he pretend that he has for long been ignorant of the answer? Why does he accuse God of leaving him so long in ignorance of this fundamental problem of life?"

That's what we do all the time right? We wrestle with things we aren't sure about in Scripture. We wait to hear a "call" for a specific mission. We wait for our heart to change, our desire to serve to grow, our joy to come back. We wait for the church to provide us with opportunity, the weekend to be over or our cookies to finish baking. We come up with all kinds of excuses when the Word has already been given. Our call was spoken thousands of years ago.

And then, Bonhoeffer says this, "He [the young man] neglects the unmistakable command of God for the very interesting, but purely human concern of his own moral difficulties. His mistake lies not so much in his awareness of those difficulties as in his attempt to play them off against the commandments of God."

"The only answer to his difficulties is the very commandment of God, which challenges him to have done with academic discussion and to get on with the task of obedience...The one thing that matters is practical obedience. That will solve his difficulties and make him (and all of us) free to become the child of God."

Get on with the task of obedience. Ah sigh...groanmumblewhinegroancomplain.

It's a pretty clear message. Jen, stop sleeping in and get on with the task of obedience. Jen, stop waiting to be held accountable and get on with the task of obedience. Jen, stop waiting until you "feel" like doing it and get on with the task of obedience. Jen, stop waiting for sympathy and empathy and get on with the task of obedience. Jen, stop looking around and get on with the task of obedience. Jen, stop thinking about what is "wrong" in life right now and get on with the task of obedience.

That is my answer to my difficulties. To obey the command of God.

Bonhoeffer goes on to say, "[Jesus] refuses to take those difficulties as seriously as the young man does."

What? That can't be right.

But my heart knows that it is. All these grumblings and questions and doubts are merely stalling on my part and while God loves me immensely, He sees it for what it is. Wasting time pretending to decipher a call that's already been laid out for me in black and white.

None of this means that Jesus' love is any less than it has ever been and in fact quite the opposite. Mark 10:21 says, "And Jesus looking upon him loved him." Jesus desires to help us follow that call because He loves us. And He will be our help when we turn to Him for it.

This alone can be our motivation for taking the first steps of obedience.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Prayer for a friend


This is Ro. Short for Rogenishia. Sargeant Rogenishia actually. :)

She is a very dear friend and one of the most fun people I've ever met in my life. This girl can put a smile on anybody's face and she has blessed my life in amazing ways in the almost two years I've known her.
Ro is in the Army and left this morning for Iraq. Well, not quite. She left for 3 months of training in the US and then will head to Iraq. Today I ask that you would keep Ro on your heart and in your prayers.
She's got an awesome heart for the Lord and I pray above all things that God would be glorified as she fulfills His call on her life.

We decided that her verse for this trip would be Joshua 1:9. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

I ask that you would pray that over her today and any day that God puts her on your heart!

We love you Ro! Stay strong girl.

video

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Weird...

One of my favorite blogs had an amazing post today, using the same Scripture I just used in my post, in a completely different context. Exhibit A of why I love, love, love Scripture.

Grace- An Action Word


Last night I babysat for some precious little ones, one of whom was 5-year-old Jack. Jack has the deepest dimples and the sweetest smile I have ever seen in my life and in no time he'll be charming himself out of all kinds of trouble.

Jack is 5 which means you have to say, "Jack put on your jammies" about 4 times before he stops finding new toys to play with. And reading a story before bed turns into reading 3 stories. And brushing his teeth somehow transforms into showing me his mad mini-guitar playing skillz. It wasn't Jack being disobedient or defiant. It was Jack being 5 years old. That's what they do. They play. Sleep is far from topping their priority list which will be hilarious in 10 years when teenage narcolepsy hits and no one can't get him out of bed.

It's easy with a child that age to say over and over again, "Jack, I asked you to _____ and I need you to do it." It's easy to say, "Jack, I'm not going to ask you once more." It's easy to say, "Jack, I'm going to have to tell your parents if you don't _____."

Last night about 20 minutes after I had left Jack in his bed to fall asleep I heard little shuffling sounds on the ceiling above me. A very quiet trip up the steps, poking my head into his room and saying, "Jack...what are you doing buddy?" was responded to with near paralysis in his tiny body and eyes as big as Ihop pancakes. "I...uh...well, I just wanted to do this puzzle."

Grace. Short word with BIG implications. An idea that many days seems impossible to execute. An idea that makes sense in our heads, but in application is very confusing. I have figured this out though. Grace, for me, is usually doing the opposite of what fear, frustation and bitterness would have me do.

In the big picture it's serving those who have hurt you. It's forgiving when it's easier to be bitter. It's loving those that make you angry.

In the smaller day to day picture it's saying I love you when you'd rather yell I'm angry with you. It's being calm when you want to rage. It's walking back to someone when you'd rather keep walking away.

It's a choice. An action. And if I've figured out nothing else about it, I know this...sitting around and waiting for God to fill you with grace is simply an excuse for not giving it out. Sit and wait to be filled up all you want and while God is certainly capable of supernaturally bestowing it on you, He's probably waiting on you to get up and get your two feet walking toward whoever you need to show it to.

Here's what I know in my life. Every small step I take toward grace, every minor move I've made in that direction, has made BIG changes in my heart and usually in the situation I'm in.
It doesn't mean ignoring what needs dealt with or allowing yourself to get walked on. But it changes how we feel about the situation. It changes how those around us responds to us. And it changes the outcome in major ways.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us."
~1 John 4:18

Grace removes the fear. It removes the threat of punishment. Grace just loves.

Which is why last night when I looked down at Jack, realized I had an important choice to make, and said, "Would it be okay if I helped you with your puzzle?" his body relaxed, he smiled his big dimply smile and said, "Sure!" Those 10 minutes of him showing me his puzzle completing strategy were the sweetest we'd had together all night.

God gave me the good sense in that moment not to scold or correct one more time. But to love.

And after his puzzle was finished, he was ready to go to sleep. He curled up in his bed, I turned off his light and I never heard anymore little feet shuffling across the floor.

Grace changes things.

Update

I was going to blog about some other things but realized there might be a few fidgety people wanting to know the "end" of my previous story.

And the end is this: God did not take away my struggle. But He alleviated it through many other provisions and undeserved blessings.

Blessings like this:
1. Car repairs that only cost $670, a great conversation with the mechanic who worked on it and a peace in my heart that he actually cared about me having a safe car without draining my bank account, and a coupon for 20% off my next repairs.
2. A whole uninterrupted day at the coffee shop. So much so that my butt was numb by the end of it. I'm sure that was a little sarcastic humor from the Big Guy. "You sure you want a whole day? You got it, kid."
3. Cards, emails and text messages loaded with encouragement and offers to help if needed. That alone...the blessing of being reminded I'm not alone...was more than enough.
4. And actual, tangible help from the people God has put in my life to do that sort of thing.

Like I said, I didn't have any miraculous, supernatural answer to my prayer. But, a few more little glimpes at the big forest and the beauty that it holds.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Forest

Yeah, long time no see from me. I know. I could tell you I've been super busy. And that would be mildly true. But mostly I've been apathetic. Just keepin' it real. Apathetic to certain disciplines in my life that I generally try to keep up such as writing. But I don't feel bad about it.

That being said, there's a lot that's been begging to be blogged about in life and hopefully one day I will succeed. Until then, something has been on my heart this morning.

A few days ago I was trying to remember that proverbial saying...something about seeing a forest and trees...dangit how's it go?

Oh, I can't see the forest for the trees.

Thank you google.

Yes it's true that I, like so many others, tend to lose sight of the beauty of the forest because I'm all hung up in the dang trees.

The first thing that's important to say is that for a long, long time I have been craving time to just sit and read and journal and listen to music outside at a coffee shop. Just uninterrupted time to simply be. That's all I've wanted for months and somehow, I always miss my chance. We'll get back to that later.

Moving on, to be very real and transparent, one of my greatest struggles and sources of pride is about money. I don't crave it. I don't long to be rich. I don't "need" lots of things to be happy. I don't even need to make more than I need to eat and have shelter to be happy.

BUT.

My struggles come in other ways. Getting frustrated that I'm at a job where I don't get paid what other people in my field would get. Getting frustrated that I haven't gotten a raise because the economy is bad. Getting frustrated that I acquired debt in college that I now feel chained to. Getting fearful when unexpected expenses came up. Getting anxious when even the possibility of unexpected expenses come up.

I don't seek material things but I do seek financial security.

Yes, my independent streak ignites when it comes to financial situations and I want to be able to take care of myself.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

About a month ago I came up with a very clear budget and plan that would take me through December and would help me pay off some of that aformentioned debt. And at that time I prayed a very specific prayer, "God please. I beg you. No surprises. Nothing unexpected. Please." It was bold and maybe even selfish, but I asked anyway.

That's why when a few days ago the emergency brake in my car exploded, no really, and a dashboard light started flashing and the brakes started squealing my stomach sank.

Here it comes...the unexpected expense that always happens when I think I have a plan.

So, at 7:00 a.m. this morning I showed up at the car shop I most recently took my car to and asked them to fix a couple of specific things. They called 30 minutes later to tell me that I had about $800 worth of brake work I needed to get done fairly immediately in order for my car to be safe.

There it was. And I did it. I thought, "God, why?" No answer.

I sat in the coffeeshop I was in and let a few tears out, made a phone call for some much needed reassurance and went on figuring out how to make this work. After walking back to the car shop I told them I needed to go home and get my credit card and I'd be back.

On my drive I thought better of not getting a second opinion. I remembered another shop in town that has been great to me and usually gives me a discount. What could it hurt to make sure I'm not being jipped. So I drove on over to them.

The guy took one look at the quote I'd been given and said, "This is outrageous. I can't believe they get away with charging people like this. Let's take a look at it. I think we can do a lot better."

I walked over to a different coffee shop. Thank you Austin for having one of those on every corner and on my way, again I thought, "God, why." And in true Job fashion was responded to with a, "Who are you to ask Me that? Where were you when I created the earth?"

Indeed. Who am I to ask why? To question the great decisions of the One who has never left me in need.

I took a seat at a table outside and started getting fidgety and teary-eyed. I looked at the clock over and over again. Checked credit card limits. Wondered why it was taking them so long. Wondered how long it would be before I could get home. Wondered how long I'd have to sit here before I could just move on with my day.

And while I was busy banging my head against the couple of trees in front of me (a surprise expense and being "stuck" at a coffee shop) I missed the beauty of the forest.

In this current struggle, a previous prayer was answered. The prayer for uninterrupted, unhibited time. Time to journal and write, to read and be. Here I was not only given that gift, I was stuck with it. God made sure that I would utilize it.

My forest.

I don't know how long I'll be sitting here. I don't know how much my final repairs will cost. But I know that in this, a prayer has been answered and somewhere down the road, my other prayers will be answered as well as seen fit by my wise and wonderful Lord. My job is to simply recognize my forest of blessing in the trees of struggle.

With that, I'm going to wander down the road in search of food. And on my way I might beam up a few thank you's that I owe to somebody upstairs.

"I'll sing it when the sun is shining, I will scream it in the dark. You are faithful...when You give and when You take away, You are faithful." {Steven Curtis Chapman}