Monthly Archives: October 2014

Trick or Treat

Walking through the stores right now it’s pretty easy to notice two things.  First, that Halloween is quickly becoming (if it isn’t already) as big of a deal as Christmas is.  Second, that Christmas is right around the corner.  Being that today IS Halloween, the last tid-bits of remaining Halloween paraphernalia have been pushed to the end, and room is being made for Christmas.  Which is interesting.  Well, not the Christmas part.  That part I sort of understand.  It’s the Halloween part.

Now, granted, I never really celebrated Halloween as a kid.  My wonderful parents decided they didn’t want to potentially expose me to potential evil that might occur on this night.  So, it makes sense that I don’t completely understand the hype.

Except that, I really think I get part of it.  Aside from the obviously addictive draw of candy’s sugar, and the fun of getting to play dress-up as an adult, there’s something more there.

Otherwise there wouldn’t be scary movies and haunted houses and people trying to scare each other.

But even more than that, Halloween is pretty much the only time of year when, if you’re not Christian, you can admit that maybe, just maybe you believe in, or at least are intrigued by, the spiritual world.  Any other time people might listen, but you wonder if secretly, inside they think you’re crazy, or just being tolerant.

But this time of year, talk about ghosts and haunting and spiritual encounters is really encouraged, and no-questions-asked pretty much accepted.  And I think we like that.  I think it’s like a breath of fresh air to be able to actually talk about this world that exists, that normally we’re too smart, advanced, and educated to admit that there’s something inside of us that knows a spirit world exists.

So, what do you do with that?

I don’t know.  That’s up to you and God.  But it’s interesting, and kinda encouraging, really.  And, really, opens the door for some interesting conversation potential.

Have a great night, and stay safe!

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To Be Loved and To Love God

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                What does God’s love for me feel like?  And, for that matter, what does me loving Him back look like?
I’ve gotten this question a lot recently.  It almost seems to be whispered by the air, filling the minds of many wondering teenagers.
And I totally get it.  I mean, how DOES God, a non-human being (or presence, or whatever un-humanly-fathomable God is) love us humans?  We are incredibly physical beings.  If you buy into the five love languages (gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physicality)…all of those are pretty dependant on this physical world.  How can God, who is outside of time and space, reach into our little three dimensional world and express His love to us through one of the incredibly limited ways we receive love?  I mean, really.  How?
And, okay, say that God does reach through time and space to show me He loves me and…I don’t know…has some flower bloom extra-brilliantly for me with the exact right lighting, right as I’m walking by?  How do I know that was God, and not just a really pretty moment?  What if I didn’t even notice?  Or, if God does one of His “talking to me” things which feels a whole lot more like instinct or premonition or my subconscious trying to get attention, how do I know it’s God?
Yeah.  Exactly.
And how do I love God back?  I mean, He’s not human, not to mention He’s not even really a “He” (No, don’t go yelling at me for that one, it’s true.  If God made man AND woman in His image, than both reflect Him, which means He isn’t a He, nor a She, but both…somehow.  We can talk – nicely- about it if you want.)  How do I know what He likes?  He’s not human or a creature – how do I even know He CAN “like” stuff?  I can’t give Him a hug.  I can’t give Him Christmas gifts.  I can’t even find His profile on Facebook (well, I found a Facebook page that was named “God”…but I’m pretty sure it’s not actually His), so I can’t like any of His pictures or statuses.
So, HOW!?!
I really wish there was a formula.  I wish I could play Cogsworth (the clock dude from Beauty and the Beast) and tell you exactly how God loves you and how you can love Him back.

I mean, of course, as for God’s love, He has shown us the ultimate love by coming to Earth and taking our place and the consequences of our sinful lives.  Which is really, untruly, unfathomable.  But, on an everyday basis, in an incredibly physical world, sometimes we need a little personal reminder, right?  A man can marry a woman, but if he doesn’t tell her at least daily after the ceremony that he loves her, things are going to get rather ugly.  She’s eventually going to believe lies and she’ll forget that he loves her.  Saying “I love you” only at the wedding is just not enough.  This is common sense (or should be).
Same is true of us and God, I think.  I say that feeling a bit guilty and ashamed.  I mean, Jesus’ sacrifice should be enough.  But I’m human; I need a daily reminder.  (I think this was true before the world got all messy too – hence why God came down and walked with Adam and Eve in the garden often.)
After wrestling with this for years myself, the best I’ve come up with is actually pretty simplistic.  Though, keep in mind, unlike Cogsworth, I really don’t believe there’s a formula to this.  God, though orderly, is willing to enter into our mess, which means He’s not bound by formula.
First, you just gotta believe.  If you love God, if you want to love Him better, if you’ve surrendered your life to Him, than you need to remember that the Holy Spirit dwells with you.  He helps you out.  And often that feels like, for me anyway, a huge urge within me.  A desire that is so pressing is almost feels like a need. I had it explained once to me as the “blow fish” feeling – it feels like everything inside you is pounding / getting larger/ pressing to get out, and if you don’t do whatever it is you need to do or believe whatever you need to believe, you’ll explode.
Sometimes He’s much more quiet than that, and I wake up one morning realizing that I believe something I didn’t know I believed, or that I’m determined to do something I didn’t know I was going to do.
And I have to believe Him loving me happens in those moments when I feel close to Him.  Those moments when there is no real reason to feel extra close to Him, but I do.  Or when I notice that yellow flower growing on the side of the road, or I get a needed hug from an unexpected source.  Or dinner is extra delicious for no real reason.  Or, those incredibly rare, extra special moments when I’m being still, or even taking a walk or a hike or something and I can almost, physically, feel His presence surrounding me.  I have to not let my mind explain those treasured moments away.  I have to have faith that those experiences are actually God reaching out to little, limited, broken me.

As for loving Him back, I firmly believe that God gave each of us things we love to do, that can be forms of us telling God we love Him, us worshipping Him.  For me, that’s writing, taking pictures, going for walks, spending time in His creation, or having good conversations with friends and my kids.  For my dad, it’s learning or completing a Sudoku puzzle.  For Mom, it’s gardening.  For some, it might mean baking.  For others, it might mean painting or sewing or doing ceramics, or creating sculptures.  For some it might mean throwing a football, or scoring a basket.  Or driving.  Or doing some sort of complicated mathematical formula.  It looks like many different things.  For me, the key is picturing God in my mind, doing it with me.
And, of course, the main way we love God is to love others.  We are His reflection.  We carry His image within us.  How we treat each other is how we treat God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul” and the second was to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  He said it in the same breath, even though he had only been asked what the greatest was.  It was as if the two commandments lead to each other.  As if one can’t really be done without the other.  Love God – through people, through your neighbor.

So, in summary (because people like summaries and I’ve “talked” a lot):
TRUST
trust that, when you think it might be, that it actually IS God speaking to you, loving you.
LOVE OTHERS –
Do whatever you have to do to let others know you love them.  Pretty “simple”.  Ha!
DO FUN STUFF –
Do stuff you enjoy, the stuff that gives you endorphins (even if, as is often true in my case,
there is no physical reason why you should be having endorphins running through you) and
invite God along.  He’s coming anyway, you might as well acknowledge Him, hang out with Him,
get to know Him better. It’s so much less awkward than when you’re ignoring Him when He’s
coming along anyway.

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The Exception

DSCN8247                So I’m half way through my semester, and one of the main things I can tell you that I can take away from my Brief Therapy class is “the exception”.  When nothing else is working in your life, think back to a time when something was working, preferably something that was working that is similar to whatever “everything” isn’t working right now, or a time when the “everything” was working.  Generally something was different.  That one different thing was what was helping it work.  That different is called the exception.   Once you figure out what the exception was – do more of it.  It’ll help fix whatever “everything” is going wrong.
One of the ways I remind myself to slow down is to always carry a camera with me.  It’s a reminder for me to take time to listen to God, or to be aware of God’s love for me.  I have found, in taking pictures, that often my favorites are ones with “exceptions”; ones with the one scarlet leaf or even a cluster of crimson flakes clinging to a towering pillar of golden coins.  Pictures with a single white rose amidst a garden of red, or the sunflower that has its held titled just so, allowing the sun to illuminate it, while the rest are pointed in just enough of a different angle so as to not be lit-up.

The exceptions.  They’re the ones that make us stop and take notice.   They’re the ones that help make things better.

The exception – this is what Christians are called too.

The thing is, it’s hard to be an exception.  There is something inside humanity that seems to desire to fit in.  And yet, while we want to fit in, we want to stand out.  We seem to innately understand that the unique ones are the ones that are noticed, and we want to be noticed and not blend in with the crowd.  We want to be recognized for who we are, for the person God crafted us to be, and we recognize that God only crafts unique individuals.  We want our individuality to be known, and we want to be loved despite (or even better – because of) it.

And yet – being the exception is scary and potentially painful, and so we also have the instinct to simply be blend in with the crowd.  I think we want to fit in because we’re insecure and need the safety of a group.

We’re confused, basically.  We want to be wall flowers and the life of the party all at the same time.

Beauty is always unique.  The minute it becomes commonplace, it is no longer as easily recognized as beautiful.  It no longer makes us stop and stare.  We no longer appreciate it.

But being willing to be the one that stands out, the one that everyone stops to notice, is hard.  In our currently messed-up world, it means being willing to be ridiculed or worse, celebrated.  It is painful.

And yet, this is exactly how God created us – each with our own unique thing that can make others stop and take notice.  And as Christians, our lives are supposed to be the exception to the world around us.

There is pain, sure, in being the exception, but there is beauty too.  And this is what Christians are called to – being the exception.  Being the ones who can fully embrace the being God originally created them to be.  Being the ones who accept better than anything else.   Being the ones who can see pain and need and joy better than anyone else.  Being the ones who can see the exception in others and celebrating it.  Being the ones who can enter into others’ pain better than anyone else.  Being the ones who love all types – the easy and the hard, the confusing and the understandable, the painful and the happy – better than anyone else.

Be the exception.

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A Wrestling God

Hey Guys!  I (Amy) am back, for this week at least.  Meagan wanted to work on her next entry a bit longer.

I am firmly convinced that God is a wrestler.  Causes weird mental images, doesn’t it?  I don’t really like to think of God in one of those weird unitard things modern wrestlers wear.  Or as a Greek wrestler.  More like a dad wrestling his 7 year old son, playfully pinning him to the ground.

And yet, in my own life, the wrestling doesn’t always feel so playful.  Mostly it’s just frustrating, despite the fact that wrestling with God seems to be a pretty common theme – in my own life, in the lives of those who are several steps ahead of me on this journey, in the lives of my kids – we all wrestle with God over something.  Whether it comes to wrapping our heads around an aspect of God’s character, or working through trying to forgive someone, or trying to accept His love for us, or working on a certain vice, it all seems to be a pretty messy wrestling match.

I wish someone had told me that when I was younger.  I wouldn’t have thought I was the only one for whom this Christian thing didn’t come easy.

I mean sure, I had heard the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32), but Jacob was a trickster, a shepherd, a polygamist and one of the patriarchs of the nation of God.  That description didn’t apply to me, and so why would God wrestle with me?  Why wouldn’t things come easy so long as I loved Him with all my heart and tried to please Him (which, I admit, years later is pretty much impossible without His help).

But more often than not, I find myself identifying with Jacob (re-named Israel), wrestling with God, asking Him “why” or “how come.”  Whoever said following Christ would make life easier was lying, or that understanding God, or even stepping in His footsteps would be easy – liar.  Life might be more fulfilling (in the long run), but definitely not easier.  And  I’m still trying to figure out why.

I mean mostly, to me, it doesn’t really make sense.  I ask God to help me forgive someone, or get “over” a certain sin, or understand His love for me, and He seems to take it as a challenge:  “Oh, you want to see yourself through My eyes?  Well, fight me for it.”  And I don’t get it, because isn’t that something He should WANT to give me?  Something that is good and will help our relationship?  Something that will help me reflect Him more truthfully?  So why make me fight?

It’s like He wants to make sure I really want it – whatever it is.

Or that somehow, in the struggle, I begin to understand the worth of what I’ve asked for.

It’s like He’s like a good parent – He doesn’t want to just hand me it, He wants me to work for it.

But when I was a kid, no chapel speaker, Bible teacher or youth pastor ever told me that.  It was like I was the only one wrestling with God.  It was frustrating.

So, I’m putting this out there.  If you’re on this journey with God, and He’s at all a central figure in your life, He’s gonna wrestle with you.  God seems to like to fight that way.  And it’s okay.  In the long run, you’ll appreciate whatever you were wrestling over better anyway.   And don’t feel bad about wrestling with God.  Don’t let anyone tell you this life is easy.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong to fight with God.  Don’t deprive God of a fight.  He can totally take you anyway.

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Grasping Christ Among the Tangles

Hey Guys!  Meagan’s back with a follow-up from last week!  YAY!!!!!

Hiya! Have I said what a privilege it is to get to share my thoughts and meditations with you? It’s a huge privilege and I hope it will be encouraging.

So last week we were talking about how easy it is to compare yourself to everyone around you and feel inadequate. I caught myself doing this *again* this very past week at work, even though I make a good salary and have a “real career.”

Here’s why I was moping: I work for scientists. Not just any scientists, but the kind who get interviewed on CNN, have their research featured in Science Magazine, and are changing the world by inventing vaccines to stop disease in Africa, engineering working human body parts, and targeting cancer cures. My boss is a Nobel Laureate. Every day, I come into my building and am surrounded by engineers, bioscientists, and every other kind of over-achieving Ph.D. you can think of.

Then there’s me: I got my B.S. (B.arely S.craped by) in Journalism, got laid off when the newspaper industry died, and was slowly sucked into research accounting, where I have now been stuck for 5 years. I don’t race in triathlons or volunteer to help Haitian refugees. I don’t have any particular skills or accomplishments to put on my life resume.

I wanted to write for the New York Times— to write stories about gorillas in the mist, and doctors helping people in the slums of India.

Instead, like some of you, I’ve been thinking about my life, going “how did I land here?” Some of us never merge into the Ph.D. track to ultra-life success. And not because we didn’t try.

Walking to my intimidatingly-large bioscience building Monday morning, I was overwhelmed, unmotivated and uninspired. Trudging into my drab, windowless office, I felt unappreciated and largely ignored by the scientists I support (unless, of course, they need something that involves money). Sorry for whining at you.

The point is that I started concentrating on wanting to feel significant. To do things that I believe are significant like influencing and inspiring others, taking care of the poor, giving of myself. Hear me: Those desires aren’t wrong. My focus was wrong.

God reminded me on the walk to work–

“Where do you get your value? From them? Or from me and what I say is true about you?”

“From you, O Lord.”

“What is more precious to you—their evaluation of you, or mine?”

“Yours, O Lord.”

Alright, but do I really believe that? Do my actions and thoughts consistently reflect the things I say to God? It’s easy to say in the moment, but not so easy to practice, is it?

Yeah, I feel ya. I cry out to him in my self-inflicted pain: “I know you say you’re there, God, but how do I find you in this mess?! How in the world do I even start?”

Some pastors, well-meaning but shallow Christians, and devotional writers will preach: Just put your eyes on Jesus. Just. As if it’s that easy. Well, instead of condescending to you, I’m going to give you an actual, practicable answer. Ready?

How you find life purpose and peace through Jesus:

The ugly answer, as in all things that are life-changing, is (and sorry for this):

It takes brokenness.

Then desperation.

And then it takes practice.

Not simple. Definitely not pretty.

Why these three things?

  • Brokenness: Your grand life plans = Epic Fail. All kinds of things break people: discovering a cancerous tumor, the death of a child, spouse or sibling, losing a job or a home, addiction and mental illness, being the victim of a crime or natural disaster. Sometimes it’s bad choices you make. Sometimes it’s bad choices others perpetrate on you. Sometimes, it seems like the universe just singled you out.
  • Desperation: You realize you aren’t actually the master of your destiny. Loneliness and fear descend upon you like a shroud. You cry out for help into the empty air. Times of desperation are when you are most likely to be open to change – to finding a better way that can sustain you in the long-term.

(Before number three, there is a wall that some people are unable to break through. That is a discussion about suicide, for another post.)

  • Practice: You emerge from the shattered glass that once mirrored your life, and grasp on to something. Let’s hope the something is not a radical new diet or extreme-makeover fitness program. Let’s hope it is Christ. You may not be the master of your own destiny, but you are the master of how you respond to it.

You don’t just magically change from your old, bad habits though. You constantly revert back to them like a baby blanket that you believe has protected you from harm, but really has no power at all.

To change, to really hold on to what you have found and fully transform, you have to practice. Like any athlete who sustains herself through the finish line.

Well, crap. How do I “practice” grasping on to this invisible, elusive Christ?

Don’t be discouraged! There are some tools to help you start. And unlike a trendy fad diet, the results are lasting– because they are backed by a King who wants to know you, who wants you to succeed in the life He gave you, and who will help you along the way…

We’ll get to some practice exercises next week. This week, meditate on what brokenness looks like for you. Consider what it feels like to be desperate.

Um… Amy Leigh… can I hijack your blog for a Part III?

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