Category Archives: Relationships

…of all shapes and sizes

I’m in a cultural diversity class this semester at seminary, which I have absolutely loved. And because of this class, I have simply been more aware of the people around me. And, of course, I have been thinking about diversity, and unity, and how humans can’t seem to help but to hurt each other in painful, identity-shaking ways.

Sometime in the last three weeks or so, someone brought up the end of the world,the fullness of time, and mentioned how they were looking forward to the peace that would come, because unity would be possible. We will all be unified in our love and worship of God. And then this person went on to say that they were looking forward to the time when we are all more alike, that there wouldn’t be as many differences between us.

…that there wouldn’t be as many differences between us…

I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think, in the end, there might even be more differences. God is a creative God, and He LOVES diversity and variation. Just look at how many different kinds of everything there is on this planet – let alone different kind of stars in the universe, or planets, or stuff in space we have no idea is there. I mean, just here on little ol’ earth there are flowers in every color. There are how many different kinds of dogs, birds, cats, spiders (shudder), snakes (again, shudder) or squirrels. So. Many. Different. Kinds!!! God LOVES variety. He loves all shapes and sizes and types. He loves the spastic, and the calm, the crazy and the boringly-sane.

All that to say, I think when God restores His creation to His vision, I think there might be more diversity than there is even now.

Which means, I think, that true unity does not mean we all look alike or think alike or act similarly. I think true unity means not being afraid of the differences between ourselves and others. True unity means celebrating the differences and variety. True unity means loving others and simply accepting them exactly as they are.

Exactly. As. They. Are.

Love each other simply as God has made each and every one of us. Look at each other through God’s eyes, not through the tainted glasses of the broken world around us. Get to know the beauty in each person (because there is beauty in most every person).

Stop demanding that the world around you look like you. Learn to love differences. Differences, after all, help us see different sides of God.

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Fanta and Mirrors

In the last week, there have been a couple moments of simple beauty that struck me.

The first, I was stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the infernal red light to turn green, when three boys around the age of 12 come out of the corner gas station.  They all wore t-shirts and long, baggy, teenage boy shorts, and were each carrying a bottle of orange Fanta. They walked across the street and into the neighborhood of houses, and I no longer could see them.  I don’t know what it was about that sight, except that it felt precious, innocent, and rare to me.  Three boys just hanging out.  Friendship.  No technology in sight.  It was almost like a moment from the past reached into the present.  I wish more of my youth kids had moments like those – moments of pure friendship.  Moments of walking to the corner store to buy a soda after school.  Moments of hanging out and having conversation without technology somehow infringing on their bond.  And sure, these kids were probably headed to some basement where they would blow bad guys up for a couple hours.  But even that walk, to the store to get a Fanta, that was moment enough to actually build friendship.

It left me smiling for the rest of the day.

The second I again was in my car (I spend quite a lot of my time in my car these days).  I was driving by a small lake (pond in any other part of the country) and noticed how absolutely still the water was.  When I say it was a mirror, that there wasn’t a single ripple on the water, I’m not being metaphorical; I’m being quite literal.  I have never seen such still water.  I could see the reflection of every single tree and bush that graced the edge of the lake.  I could see every single cloud in the sky perfectly reflected in the water.  It was as if some giant had carefully placed a mirror on the ground.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  And I was reminded that I was made to reflect my savior as this lake was reflecting its surroundings.  I wondered how well I’ve been doing that recently.  Am I such a reflection as this pond?  Or am I a more stormy or muddy pond that is too anxious or contaminated to reflect His beauty well?

It was a pretty sight, and one that has challenged me.

I love when I notice the little moments; they are usually the ones that dig into me most, the ones I remember and stick with me.

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Reflections

The last Friday of the year, a great time (and place) to reflect.

Things I’ve learned this year:

– Treasure your friends and never take them for granted. You never know when they will be called elsewhere. And you have no idea how much you are going to miss them.

– Also, sometimes you become friends with people you weren’t expecting, and it’s wonderful.

– You can be still and have a heart at Sabbath even when your world is spinning a million miles a second.

– That being said, times of physical stillness are incredibly necessary.

– Being thankful for what you’ve got, when you’ve got it is crucial to enjoying life.

– Relationships are the most valuable thing you will ever invest in. Don’t give up on them. Keep working.

– God loves you, beyond imagination.

– Priorities, priorities, priorities… and remember that HIS priorities trump yours.

– Be ready for surprise, side trips, and bunny trails.  And enjoy them.

– God restores, redeems, and blesses…though usually none of that looks like what you think

– Pain is not necessarily something to run from, or try to end.

– The Velveteen Rabbit is still my favorite children’s book out there. Read it before the end of the year if you haven’t yet.

– Laugh

– Take care of yourself, and trust your instincts. Often, they’re right.

– Love God and trust Him above all others.

What about you?  What did you learn this year?

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Sensei God

Hey Guys!  Meagan’s back with her brilliant thoughts! 

While my husband and I were on a backpacking vacation this summer, I poured out my heart to God, sitting in our tent. I have poured out my heart many times over the past two years, as we have faced physical, emotional and spiritual struggles like none I’ve never experienced. While I was in that tent, ferociously scrawling out prayers and thoughts into my tiny travel journal, a word came to me: Abide. It was unmistakably a word from God. Abide. What does that mean anyway? It means stay. To stay within, and partake fully in something. God told me to abide in him.

Specifically, he wanted me not to be looking for anything while I abide. Soley to know him better by staying in his presence. Over the past years I have been constantly seeking answers about my future, my past, how to deal with a lot of pain. I look for purpose, I ask for direction, I pray for all kinds of temporal blessings. All of those aren’t bad things until they become a laundry list of requests as if we are wishing to a Genie. God is not a wish-granting factory. He is a God of relationship.

So, I spent the rest of vacation pondering that word, abide, and how I might proceed to abide when I returned home. I began reading a daily devotional that is specific to experiencing the presence of God and how he sees, guides and nurtures us. Through scripture, the short daily readings have expanded my understanding of his character, and taught me to trust him with my life. That’s a HUGE step for a control freak.

Though, when you think about it, aren’t we all control freaks? We make every decision based on our belief that we can command the outcome of every part our lives. If something goes wrong in our master plan, we look for where we screwed up our system, or blame someone else for screwing it up.

In abiding, I’ve been trying to learn how to let go of that habit, and let God handle my outcomes. But like a classic control freak, I got wrapped up in the habit of “doing my devotional” rather than practicing the Presence of God. I went back to my usual daily treadmill, kind of half-praying to him when I “got the chance”  instead of truly listening to him. I let myself be distracted by every other thing.

This happens when we start feeling confident and good, doesn’t it? We forget to hang out with God. Or we remember, but put it off. Why IS that? Why do we forget to commune? We start relying on our own perceived strength and promptly forget he was the one who picked us up off the floor in the first place. Talk about lack of gratitude. Talk about abandoning and ignoring a friend that has helped, you, or rather, saved your ass.

When my life started getting disorganized and overwhelming again, I realized the auto-pilot habit I got into. I had a one-on-one date with God to just hang out. I need that radio-muted, inner-racket-muted, TV-off, chores-left, quiet, in order to hear him and really communicate — two ways. He doesn’t yell over my own noise. He waits for me to pursue him and gently reminds me that he is pursuing me.

This season, where I’m waiting and kind of wrestling with him to stop trying to run after some life that I find “meaningful,” is the abiding season. In a desert, there’s nothing else to do but talk to God. And drink lots of water.

The purpose is not to do anything but know him. Not to halfway know and then ask for something, but to really KNOW. Not to try to get answers, but just be still and know. Know his character, know what he expects from me, let him teach me His ways (which are so far from my ways, it’s laughable) and take those ways as my own. Sort of like a Sensei and his student.

There’s a scene in the movie Kill Bill, where Kung Fu Master Pai Mei teaches his student, Beatrix Kiddo, to punch a hole through a 4-inch thick wall. He says to her, “Now that your arm belongs to me, I want it strong.” She spends the next several months with a broken, swollen hand, learning to master the wall.

Displaying Pai_Mei_teaching_Bride_Punch.jpg

In the same way, our body, mind and soul belong to God. Like any good teacher, God shows us our weaknesses, through our own flailing attempts control our lives. When we end up in a puddle on the floor, he uses our utter dependence upon his mercy to rebuild us with divine strength. Strength that actually lasts. Strength that can beat any foe.

This process is going to take a LOOOOONG time for me. God has a lot to teach me, and is very patient. Meanwhile, I’m very flawed, very undisciplined, and incredibly impatient. I am going to have to hit a wall with my fist until I break my hand.

I  challenge you to learn what it means to abide in God and learn his ways as your Sensei.

I challenge you to discipline your mind so that you can give your full attention to the ultimate teacher.

More than anything, I challenge you to fully trust him. Every morning, choose to let go of your little dominion of control, and let him handle your worries, fears, and doubts. Let him show you the better way, through his eternal view.

I’ve been practicing these three moves, and I can tell you from experience, it’s been the most rewarding learning in my life. If God can redeem a disaster case like mine, he’ll do it for you, too. He’s made that promise in his infallible Word — Check out Genesis 28:15, Hebrews 11:6-7 and Psalm 37:4-7.

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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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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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