"And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new...."
-Revelation 21:5

"An unmarried woman is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord...."
-1 Corinthians 7: 34

"To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance."
-Oscar Wilde

Friday, July 19, 2013


On Wednesday I had dinner with two friends who I worked with last year.  And if I'm being honest, I'm surprised (and very, very thankful) that they're still willing to spend time with me because last year I wasn't a very attractive version of myself, and I'm not sure I would still want to my friend.  Occasionally, people will ask me why I stopped blogging, and my answer is always that I got too busy with work.  But that's not really true.  When you write about what you're learning and how God is working in your life and then you stop investing in that relationship, you have to stop writing because you don't have anything to say.

Last school year was one of the most challenging times in my life.  (At dinner Wednesday I declared that I was no longer going to talk or think about it and was instead just going to refer to it as "My Dark Year" if it ever came up, and one of my friends agreed with me very, very quickly.)  Two things that are true about me are that I don't love things that are hard and I don't like things I'm not good at.  Really, I don't like to feel like a failure.  At all.   So when I was met with my most challenging group of students to date, it didn't take long for me to start falling apart.  I could list for you all the things that were challenging about them, but those reasons aren't important.  In fact, that list is just the first item in a much longer list of the things I did wrong.

As the year went on, I got more and more discouraged.  I felt like a terrible teacher, like I wasn't doing my job, and for someone who struggles with finding her identity in other people's opinions of her and in her own performance, this is a frightening and very uncomfortable feeling to have.  Instead of being honest about what was going wrong for me professionally, searching for ways to make it better, and trusting God and relying on Him, I pretty much did the exact opposite.  I started to blame people.  Things weren't going well because of our school's new discipline system.  Things weren't going well because my students were lazy and apathetic and disrespectful and incredibly full of themselves and spoiled.

These were my thoughts.  None of this was my fault.  It was obviously the fault of all the other parties involved.  Clearly, I was being wronged here.  I was a good teacher.  I had been told this so many times before.  I achieved my National Board Certification.  In just my fifth year, I was department head.  I led professional development for teachers across my district.  If my students couldn't see that and appreciate me, that was their fault, and they were very, very wrong.  Really, they should have been thankful to have me as their teacher.  That is what I kept telling myself.  And that, dear reader, is how I--instead of humbling myself before the Lord--exalted myself and entered into a long-term relationship with my pride (who is, rather unfortunately, a friend I have quite a hard time shaking).

As you can imagine, the longer I held on to my pride, the less like myself I became (really the more horrible I became).  First I was angry.  Then bitter.  Then sad.  Really, really sad.  And I realized exactly what was going on, but instead of admitting it, I just held tighter to my pride.  Work might have been terrible, I might have been lonely, but I had this pride, dang it, and I wasn't about to let it go!

But alas, instead of being a comforting friend, it was toxic.  I stopped being encouraging--to my students or my friends.  I stopped reading my Bible.  I stopped really praying, aside from occasional, half-hearted pleas for my day at school to be ok or angry reminders that I deserved better than this (I know--yikes!).  I stopped wanting to do anything really, except hang out alone in my apartment, probably under a blanket.  I became very selfish with my time.  I didn't want to plan or grade.  I didn't want to help people.  I didn't want to wake up for work.  I didn't want to go to church.  I didn't want to go to my prayer group (some of whom I've been in a small group with for over two years, all of whom are some of the most Godly, understanding, and encouraging women I've ever known).  I didn't want to have to go anywhere or see anyone.  (Reminder--it's my dark year).  All I wanted was for the school year to end because in my mind that was going to be the end of my problems (or at least I wouldn't have to go anywhere anymore...).

Really all summer brought was the chance for me to get some space and reflect, a chance for me to take responsibility for what I'd done, a chance for me to confess, and a chance to repent.  And the past few weeks have been a beautiful reminder that Jesus died for teachers who fail.  A reminder that I've been forgiven.  That it is finished.  It has been a time where God has quietly and constantly whispered to me that I am loved.  That I'm His daughter.  That while what I did was very, very wrong, I don't need to feel guilty and ashamed.  And that a life filled with pride and sadness isn't the life He has for me. He's restored my joy, and I'm actually excited about school starting in August, which is something I didn't think I'd be able to say.

In an effort to make this year better than the last, I'm going to start studying Mark, specifically focusing on Jesus as a teacher.  What I can learn from Him and His interactions with people that I can apply at school--in my leadership role, with my coworkers, and with my students.  Theoretically, if I'm doing that, I'll have plenty to blog about, so if I stop blogging again, you can ask me why and hold me accountable (or at least my Mom can...because she reads this and can be rather tenacious, which is just the English major way of saying can sometimes badger me out of love until I get unjustifiably annoyed with her...sorry, Mom).  So that's what you have to look forward to here (or at least now you can decide to stop reading).

Top Five Movies So Far

If you know me, you know I go to the movies.  A lot.  (And usually by myself, which some people think is weird but that I think is awesome.)  With the full knowledge that no one's out there dying to know what my favorite movies of the year have been so far, I present to you this list of my five favorites.  (As long as I have a blog, I may as well use it to inflict my opinions on the world.)

5. Upstream Color
This movie makes no sense (much like Shane Carruth's other movie Primer).  Except it does.  Almost.  The whole time you're watching it, you get this feeling like there's this perfectly reasonable explanation of how everything fits together and makes sense, but each time you think you figure it out, you realize there's a piece you left out and now have no place to put.  And then you think you've really gotten it,  but there's this bit about Walden that just refuses to make sense.  All that sounds annoying and frustrating, which it may be.  But regardless of that, this was the most engaged I've been with any movie I've seen in a long time.  There are usually a few times in a movie when my mind starts to wander, when I start to think about how much longer it is (not always because it's bad--sometimes I don't want things to end), or when I start to think about all the stuff I should be doing instead of sitting in a movie. That didn't happen at all in this movie.  Not once.  I was intellectually engaged with it, thinking about it, the entire time.  And I loved that.

4. Much Ado About Nothing
I suspect the sheer amount of enjoyment I got out of seeing this movie comes from two things.
First, I don't really go to see many comedies.  This is because most movies that come out in theaters where I live that are billed as comedies are either stupid funny or disgusting funny, and I've always been of the opinion that neither of these types of funny are, in fact, very funny.  I'm a much bigger fan of things that are quirky funny or stupid-but-we-know-we're-being-stupid-so-really-we're-making-fun-of-stupid-funny funny.  (I like to call this intelligent funny, but that makes me sound kind of like I think highly of myself and my sense of humor, so I'm not going to do that here.)  The point is, I don't see funny movies in theaters very often.  Usually I see movies that are realistic (read sometimes a little dark and sometimes a little sad), so there was something really great about seeing a comedy--a quippy, sarcastic comedy-- in a pretty full theater with lots of people laughing (especially this one group of ladies who were really, really laughing).
Second, when I was in college, I decided to take a Renaissance Drama class because I thought to myself it wasn't fair the only thing people read from that time was Shakespeare.  I thought there were all these other playwrights doing great stuff who had just been overshadowed, so I was going to take this class, learn about them, and then talk about them at parties (I don't know what parties) and sound really smart and above people.  This didn't happen.  Shakespeare's the only guy we still read because his stuff really is loads better than other stuff from the same time (except Marlowe's stuff, which is amazing, but since he died in a sketchy, bar-fight-type thing, there's not a lot of it).  I read Much Ado in college, but hadn't really thought about it, or any Shakespeare really, in a while.  So, the English major in me loved getting reacquainted with the Bard. And seeing his plays, in any form, is always better than just reading them, I think.
Bottom line, it's smart and fun.
(Plus the whole time you kind of feel like you're watching Joss Whedon's episode of Cribs, which is fun.)

3. Before Midnight
This is a classic example of a movie I like because it feels authentic to me.   I feel like I'm watching real people dealing with real life, and those are just the kind of movies I prefer (which is clear in my top two movies).  I loved the first two movies in this series, so I expected to love this one and I was not disappointed.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have managed to make me love their characters, so watching them fight, I was pretty worried about them.  I just wanted them to work it out.  If Upstream Color had me intellectually engaged, Before Midnight had me emotionally engaged.  I also love it because it's pretty much just talking; it's a movie based solely on conversations.  And I love those conversations; I want to talk to people like that.  (The series has probably given me a very unlikely idea of how I would like to talk with someone if I'm ever in a relationship because I'm an introvert and not particularly good at small talk or conversations, but that's neither here nor there.)

2. Frances Ha
There is no way I'm going to watch a movie about a twenty-something girl who feels awkward and out of place and like everyone's lives are working out except her own and like she's being left behind and not love it.  Because it's basically a movie about me.  Except I'm not a dancer and I don't live in New York.  But I know how it feels to watch your friends grow up, and do exciting things, and get engaged/married/whatever, and feel like you're somehow on the outside of the life you're supposed to be living, stuck in some weird place that's boring and dull and lonely.  So watching this movie, which tells the story of a girl named Frances who is exactly there, made me feel not so weird and not so alone.  And I love that the end isn't some big, dramatic thing.  It's simple and subtle, just like the ending of this movie in most people's lives.

1. Stories We Tell
Helping a friend plan for the upcoming school year, I realized how many documentaries I watch.  This is one of them.  Sarah Polley interviews her family and various family friends trying to figure out the answer to a family mystery, which I won't go into, but it really turns into a picture of how we remember things, how we piece together those memories into our own stories, and why we need to tell stories at all.  It's amazing.  I was particularly into all the parts of people describing Polley's mom, who died when Polley was young, and how people's memories of her were sometimes markedly different and how losing her had probably really shaped how people remembered her (this is probably because my dad died when I was a kid).  I'm not sure exactly how she does it, but Polley manages to take all these pieces of interviews and pictures and home movies and turn them into something truly remarkable.

(Bonus!  My favorite movie of the year that other people may have actually seen...aka my favorite one that played at a normal movie theater and not the art house theater downtown is Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I love for entirely superficial, shallow reasons (please note the distinction between favorite and best): 1) J.J. Abrams, who I will always love because he gave me Felicity.  2) It's another chapter in the beautiful Chris Pine/Zachary Quinto interpretation of the Cpt. Kirk/Spock bromance, which I adore.  I feel like a majority of friendships featured in movies involve girls, but guys have friends too, you guys.  3) BuffBatch. He's got muscles and a long monologue where the only thing that distracts you from his glorious voice is a lonely tear sliding down his face.  Don't even try to pretend you didn't love listening to his voice in a movie theater.  Don't even try.
Iron Man 3 and Monsters University were good too, but J.J. wins every day.  Because Felicity. )

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Single Serving 1

I really love to cook, but I never used to cook a lot.  Instead, I spent a lot of time lamenting how I didn't have anyone to cook for.  I would sulk around and wish I had a husband or a boyfriend so that I would have someone to feed (yes, this sounds very stupid, but it is very true).  Then, it dawned on my just how flawed my thinking was.  Obviously, I had friends I could invite to dinner.  But more importantly, I could cook for myself.  The biggest problem in my line of thinking was basically a belief that I wasn't worth the effort but a guy would be.  And that's just lame.
So since I've finally moved into my own apartment and have a kitchen of my very own to make messes in, I've started figuring out what it looks like to cook for just me.  There are, however, several problems with cooking for one person.  The first is leftovers.  Most recipes are designed to make more than one or two servings, so usually I end up with leftovers that could last for a week.  One, I'm not super in love with leftovers in general.  Two, I'm not super in love with eating one thing for lunch and dinner every day for a week.  The second is that most things are sold in packaging designed for a family.  Those things together meant that I basically ended up wasting food...most of the time a lot of it...either because I threw away leftovers or because I used half of something and didn't use the rest before it went bad.
Now that school's back in session, which means I'm on a schedule and have to pack myself lunches everyday, I've been working on fine tuning exactly how to shop and cook for one person.  Basically that means trying to come up with multiple recipes that make 4 servings or less and that use the same basic ingredients but taste different enough so that I don't get bored with my food.  And that don't cost so much that I blow my grocery budget.  And that don't take forever to make since I'm back at school.  That's essentially what this new blog feature will be...in case you are either cooking for 1-2 people or are just curious about what I eat.
So, here's what I bought and cooked this week: (It's just for Monday-Thursday lunch because Thursday is Parent Night at school, so I'll be grabbing something between the end of school and the start of Parent Night and because Friday as soon as school ends I'm going to Athens for the weekend...where I will be eating really great food from some of my favorite restaurants!)

Shopping List:
pork tenderloin (because I usually eat chicken and was starting to get tired of it...also Publix had it on sale)
bbq sauce (I got Sticky Fingers because it was the only mustard-based sauce at the store.)
lemon herb seasoning
white wine (to cook with...and drink)
*I also got myself some snacks to eat while watching football, orange Hi-C because it's all I want to drink when I'm sick, and string cheese because I love taking it for lunch...but none of those things are in the recipes I used this week.  So in the future, just know the shopping list isn't all-inclusive.*
Stuff I had from last week:
small red potatoes (I used half of a small bag last week to make roasted potatoes with Italian seasoning when I had people over for dinner, so I used the rest this week.)
cream cheese (from making apple dip!)
What I Made:
Pulled Pork BBQ: I took half the pork tenderloin, put it in my crock pot, poured in around 1/2 cup white wine, and cooked it on high for 4 hours.  You can cook also cook it on low overnight if you want to.  After it's cooked, pull it apart with 2 forks and pour in some sauce--whatever kind/however much you want (I use mustard-based sauce because it's really the only acceptable option in my opinion.  I also buy it....I guess you could make it from scratch, but the only time I've ever done that is when I lived in Russia and it wasn't available for purchase.)  It made 4 servings, so I ate if for lunch and dinner on Monday and Tuesday, which I didn't mind because a) I think it's really good and b) I changed up the sides.  But if I had to eat it for another day, I would probably be sick of it, so it's a good thing I finished it tonight.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin:  I covered the other half of the pork tenderloin with lemon herb seasoning and baked it at 375 for around 25 minutes.
Mashed Potatoes!! I love mashed potatoes, and I have a serious cold so I figured I deserved them this week.  Since I only had half a bag of potatoes left, it didn't make that many (3 servings), so I didn't feel bad for putting butter and cream cheese in them.  Here's what I did.  Cut the potatoes in half but left on the skin (because I like them that way and since I'm just cooking for myself, I can do whatever I want!).  Boiled them until they were tender.  Then I just mashed them with a fork, added 1/4 a cup of softened butter, around 1/4 a block of cream cheese, one clove of crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a splash of milk.  That's it, but they're pretty delicious.
Vegetables: One thing that makes cooking for one great is cooking vegetables.  It's so easy to cook 1 serving at a time because I just steam them.  Usually I make enough to eat for dinner and take some for lunch the next day.  This week I alternated between asparagus and broccoli.

Just a few notes:
You might be wondering about dessert.  Well, I eat it sometimes, but this week I haven't been because, like I said, I have a cold, so I haven't been super hungry.  But don't worry, future weeks will have dessert recipes too.  I'm a pretty avid baker, so making mini versions of some of my favorite desserts was kind of a summer project. Starting this week, I'll be getting my produce from the produce co-op that delivers to my school, so my recipes will be partially based on what I get from that, which should be fun and exciting!  So next week you can look forward to that and a fun ode to ramekins, which in my opinion are a must for cooking for one.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Joy: It's Not About Me

I like the word joy.  It's not my favorite (my favorite is hope in case anyone was wondering), but I'd have to say it's pretty high up on the list.  Just like hope, I like it because of what it means.  If you look it up, you'll see that joy is "the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires."  That's a nice definition, but I'm not sure it's right since that's basically saying it's how you would feel if you got everything you wanted.  Maybe it's right in a world sense, but I don't think it's really Biblical.  According to a song I learned at VBS when I was a kid (and also according to Galatians 5:22), joy is a fruit of the Spirit, which means it's not something I naturally have.  It's not something my sinful flesh can really muster up, even if I had "well-being, success, or good fortune," because it doesn't come from me.  If you grew up in church, you probably heard some form of the "happiness is dependent on your circumstances; joy isn't" thing.  That's a nice thing, but not super helpful because then you're just left wondering what it is dependent on.  Obviously, you're supposed to assume it comes from God, which it does, but I always found that definition lacking specificity, which as an English major I tend to enjoy.
In light of all that, I've always felt like the concept of joy was something I was always not quite getting.  And recently (say the past year or so), I've felt like joy was something I didn't really have.  If I'm being honest, I tend to go to the negative more than I'd care to admit, and it's very easy for me to let that determine my mood.  Sure there's been plenty of times I would say I was happy, and I'm pretty good at pretending to be happy even if I don't feel like it, but if someone asked me if I thought I was experiencing joy, I would probably have had to answer not really.  And that, I think, is kind of a problem.  As a Christian, shouldn't I be able to say I'm experiencing joy all the time?  So I decided to do what all nerdy people do when something seems to be eluding them.  I decided to study it.  And since that's what I'm working on, that's what I'll be blogging about for the foreseeable future. (Disclaimer: I know that studying about joy isn't going to give me joy.  I know that it comes from the Lord.  So I don't think that if I just read a bunch on the topic I'm going to be able to make myself joyful.  But, since I'm going to be reading about it in the Bible and praying about it a lot, I'm pretty confident that God will help me on the whole experiencing-joy front.)  

I started my study in Deuteronomy.  Specifically Deuteronomy 16:15, which says, "For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because theLord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful."  Deuteronomy 16 talks about the three big feasts/festivals--Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.  Verse 15 is talking about the Feast of Booths, which celebrates the harvest and remembers the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert.  Verse 15 basically says that during this time of celebration and remembrance, the people should be joyful (verse 14 actually commands them to rejoice).  But why?  (And actually, during this time some Jewish families still build "booths" to eat and sometimes sleep in, which is kind of like camping, and anyone who knows me well knows that that isn't on the top of the list of things that would bring me tons of joy....although I'm all for a good fort, which according to this website building your family booth is kind of like.)

During this feast, the joy comes from two things--remembering what God did while the Israelites were in the desert and celebrating what He just did with the harvest.  In short, it's about what God has done.  

So that's the first thing I'm learning about joy.  It's not about me at all really; it's about God.  Thankfully, I haven't been in the desert and am not a farmer, (I did get 8 plants when I moved to my new apartment, and 5 of them are still alive!) but God has provided for me in a ton of other ways, most of which I don't really think about that often.  But maybe if I did think about them more, I would be more joyful.

I have a wonderful family, a great church where I've met some amazing women I'm so thankful to know, a job that I love most of the time and coworkers who I love all of the time, my great new apartment, plus lots of other things.  But the biggest thing God has done is save me.  The biggest thing is Jesus and everything His sacrifice means.  It means I'm forgiven.  Even though I don't remember that all the time.  And even though I still sin a lot.  It means I'm His child.  Even if I take for granted or all out forget how much that means He loves me.  And it means I get forever with Him.  Even though most of the time I don't think that's a big deal, when in fact it's really the biggest deal ever.  

But really what it means is that my "well-being, success, and good fortune" are 100% secure.    And it means the "prospect of possessing what [I] desire," mainly getting to be somewhere where there's no more pain and sin, where I'm face-to-face with Jesus, is 100% likely.  So I guess when you look at it that way, there's no reason for me to not have joy.  And when you look at it that way, the dictionary definition is 100% correct.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Sick...But Getting Better

As I write this, I'm sitting in the waiting room of the hospital while my sister is in surgery. She's been sick for months. At first she thought there was nothing really wrong. Then she thought if she did things like change her diet she could make herself better. And finally she realized there really was something wrong and went to the doctor. A few months after that brings us to today where she's in the operating room so the thing that's been causing problems for months can get fixed.
The thing is, in about an hour if everything goes as expected, she'll be out of surgery and the thing that's been causing her so many problems will be gone. But even when she gets out of surgery, she won't be better instantly. She'll have to stay in the hospital for a few days. Then she'll have to stay home for a few weeks. And then she'll be well enough to go back to work and start living a normal life again.
Last week I had a conversation with a friend about habitual sin and how even though I've been a Christian for a while I still sin all the time. And how it's frustrating. And how much I wish I could just get to Heaven and be perfect already.
Being a Christian is kind of like being my sister right now, really. There's this point when we realize that we're sinners. And sometimes we try to handle that on our own--like if we can just work hard we can make ourselves good enough. Then we realize that won't work. We need help from a professional. Someone whose purpose is to fix us. So we go to see Him and He does. There's this moment when we go from being not ok to being ok. Not because of anything we do. Because of Him.
Right now my sister is lying on an operating table asleep. She literally can't do anything to fix herself. But some time in the next hour or so her surgeon is going to do some surgeon thing. And when he does that, she's going to be fixed. Because of him. Not because of her.
But even though she's fixed, she won't feel better right away. Even though there's this moment when Jesus takes my dirty, sinful heart and gives me a new clean one, I'm not better right away. I'm cured. But I still need recovery. There are setbacks. And times when I try to speed up the recovery process by taking control for myself, which usually make things worse.
And those are the times when it becomes really, really important to remember that I really have been made completely better.
I'm sure over the next few days, the next few weeks even, my sister will have times when she's in pain, when she doesn't feel all that great. And it's during those times that it will be important for her to remember she's better. And the pain that she's feeling isn't a sign that she's sick anymore. It's a sign that she's better.
So as I continue along this road to turning real it's important to remember that the hard and painful times are just that. They're a sign that I'm fixed. A sign that Jesus is helping me get better.
And in a few weeks, if everything goes as expected, my sister will go back to work. And she'll get back to life. And she won't be sick like this anymore. The only remnants of all this sickness will be a few scars.
And one day, I'll go home to my Father. And I'll get a life forever with him. And I won't be sick at all anymore. The only remnants of all my sickness will be a few scars. But they won't be mine.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Avoid Them Like the Plague

If you ever paid attention in your English classes and had a teacher who thought he or she would try and be a little clever, you'll recognize from that title that I'm talking about cliches. Those overused expressions we all love to say that have been hanging around so long they've lost their meaning and any real hope of being effective. Cliches, unfortunately, don't just take up residence in the papers of students doomed to get bad grades. If you're someone who has been in church for a large part of your life, especially if you grew up going, you may find that certain Biblical truth has turned into its own spiritual cliche to you. They're those things that become second nature for you--both to hear and to say--especially to people who seem to be going through a bit of a hard time. And over time, it's easy to forget what they really mean. (OK, maybe this doesn't happen to all Christians and I'm overgeneralizing things, but I know it happens to me....so I like to think I'm not the only one. But if I really am the only one, just substitute the following "we's" to "I's" and just think to yourself "wow, I'm glad I'm not as messed up as this girl.)

Like when someone's feeling lonely or unloved and you say something like "Jesus loved you so much and wanted a relationship with you so much that He died for you."
Or when something bad happens to someone or they feel like their life is going in the totally wrong direction and you say something like "God has a plan, and His plan is perfect." (Or if you're feeling theological you throw around a really cool word like sovereign.)
Or when something really bad happens and you pull out some Romans and say, "...God causes all things to work together for good...."

There's nothing wrong with any of those things. They're all true. The last one even comes word for word out of the Bible. The only real problem that I have with any of them is that Christians like to pull them out. A lot. And the more they get pulled out, the more nonchalantly we start to say them. And the more nonchalant shout-outs they get, the more we get used to hearing them. And the more we get used to hearing them, the more our minds meet them with the "yeah, yeah, I know" that we use to respond to things that we're sick of hearing, don't really want to be hearing again, and certainly aren't going to be taking seriously any time soon.

And that's a problem. When we get to a place where we've heard it so much, truth starts to lose its meaning for us. And then truth becomes that proverbial wolf that that little boy kept crying about.

So what are we to do when we wake up one day and find the fact that Jesus loves us isn't really striking us as such a big deal anymore? I think the answer lies in looking back at the whole truth. When we do that, I think we find that there are certain parts of it that get glossed over--or sometimes totally left out--in our rush to put spiritual band-aids on the things that ail us. And we find that there are certain sins that get in the way too.

Let's start with the first one: Jesus loved you so much and wanted a relationship with you so much that He died for you. That's true. And it's awesome. But there's another side to it that people don't like to think about so much: The fact that we're so bad that we need someone to die for us.
Most people, myself really, really included, like to think that they're pretty cool. If I'm being honest, I think I'm pretty awesome. And I would definitely want to be my friend. Nothing against some good old-fashioned confidence, but this kind of thinking can be really dangerous because it can lead us to a little place called pride (and yes, Avett Brothers, I mean like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad). And that pride is what can make this particular truth start to lose its luster. It stops being remarkable that Jesus died for us when we forget that we needed to be died for. We start to think that we're good enough on our own. And suddenly this really big love that we can't understand becomes mundane and simple and we start to take it for granted. Something that is great and more than we could ever need becomes small and not enough.
When we hear Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you over and over again, at first we believe it (which is great), then we start to think that maybe we really deserve it. We forget that "the wages of sin is death" and that "Jesus came to save sinners"--not people who weren't in need of saving. And then we start to feel entitled (which is not great).

That's where the second trusty saying comes in. Because when we feel entitled, we start to feel unsatisfied. Our minds take us on a little trip that goes something like this: Jesus loves me, so I must be pretty fabulous. And if Jesus loves me, He must want really good things for me. Fabulous people who Jesus wants good things for should have really fabulous lives filled with all sorts of awesome. So since my life is neither fabulous nor filled with awesome right now, God must have forgotten about me...surely there is something wrong going on here. There are ALL KINDS of problems with that train of thought, but I'll be the first to admit that when I don't think things are going my way and I decide to throw myself a pity party that's pretty much what my brain sounds like (and yes, that's a pretty embarrassing thing to admit).
And when I'm in that place, most of the time I don't get too excited when someone tells me God's plan is perfect. My definition of perfect is a world where I can sleep in every day, read all day long, eat peanut M&Ms and brownies and stuffed crust pizza and never get sick or fat, never experience anything remotely resembling unpleasant, etc. Perfect is happy.
So when people say God's plan is perfect, the word perfect carries all these nice, comfortable connotations. And that's kind of the effect we want when we tell people this because really, most of the time, we just want them to feel better.
But that's dangerous because the truth is that when I'm hurting, or when people I care about are hurting, it's easy for me to stop believing God's plan is perfect because in my mind perfect and hurting don't go together.
The part of the truth that we like to ignore here is that, when you're talking about God's plan, perfect doesn't necessarily mean fun. Perfect doesn't mean easy. Perfect doesn't mean painless. Perfect doesn't mean we'll enjoy it. Or even like it. Perfect is often times hard. Perfect is often times painful. Perfect often times means we won't enjoy it. Or like it.
And that's ok. Because when you get to the third saying, it all starts to make more sense.

Since it's an election year, it's probably a good time to remind people that quotes taken out of context or quotes taken in pieces and parts can be manipulated and used for any purpose, good or evil. That's what happens sometimes with Romans 8:28. We like the part about things working together for good. Good, like perfect, is a happy word in our minds. So we tell people that things will work out for the good because to our flesh that implies that things will get better, the day will get sunnier, and we'll be happy again soon. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the "things" are that we're talking about. We just like to think that if we keep going things will end up good.
But that's wrong too. Just like perfect doesn't mean easy, good doesn't either. It means beneficial, but too often the things that are really beneficial are the things that are challenging. The things that are hard. The things that are painful. The things that we don't enjoy.
The end of that verse says, "...to those who are called according to His purpose." His purpose. Not ours. We have no promise that things will work together for good when we're working towards our own goals, to accomplish our own purposes. When we're seeking His will, His purpose for our lives, ultimately things will work together for the good, which is His will being accomplished and our becoming more like Christ. Not our wills being accomplished and our lives becoming more like the lives we think we should have.

Each of these lessons is a huge lesson I have to keep learning as I am turned real. I'm not nearly as awesome as I like to think. I really need Jesus. Things won't be fun and easy all the time. The more I learn these lessons, the more I find I need to be reminded that Jesus loves me. That God's plan is perfect. And that all things work together for good.

And if the English teacher you thought about at the beginning of this post was any good, that makes you realize that while the Christian life can at times be plagued by cliches, it can also at times be quite ironic.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Name, Same Me

So I haven't blogged in quite a long time...and I decided it would be nice to do a relaunch of sorts (or basically just change the name of my blog). Originally when I started to blog, I was dedicated to writing about all the things I could do as a single girl and celebrating how great it was. Which was really just my way of ignoring that I was disappointed and hurt over the fact that my life hadn't turned out exactly as I had planned. But I learned that no matter how hard I tried I couldn't make myself super pumped about being single. I learned, however, that God could. I learned that once I let go of the idea I had of how my life was supposed to look, let myself hurt over it, and let God start to show me what His plan for me was, He would make me super pumped about it, even when it was difficult and not fun. And as hard as that was for me to do, it was one of the most beautiful things in my life. In light of that, I thought I would rebrand my blog to reflect more of where I am now, which is learning to be the woman God is calling me to be (and yes, right now a part of that is single....)
As you can see, the new title is Turning Real. It comes from this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

This is maybe one of my favorite passages from any book. Real is a thing that is happening to me because Jesus REALLY loves me. And yes, sometimes it hurts. A lot. And it takes a long time. Sometimes I feel like too long. But I can find comfort in the fact that because I'm not turning real alone, because I have Christ with me, I'm not going to break easily. And I can find comfort in the fact that when it's over, I'll be completely different than I was when I started (mind you, it will be more radiant than shabby). And it will last for always.

So from now on, the blog will be focusing on what God is doing in my life--all the pain of it but more importantly all the joy. It will be my journey to something that will last for always. The story of how Jesus is loving me real.