Category Archives: Thoughts in the Struggle

A Union, A Birth

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My brother and sister-in-law. Photo Credit goes to their friend, Alexander Roy 

My brother and sister-in-law’s friends are pretty legit – I had the chance to hang with them during the wedding recently.

They embrace life and community as a changing flux but hold each other closely.

As creative folk, they constantly evolve their thinking process and add to their narratives from the experiences and people they encounter. They yearn for doing work that gives life to them and life to others. And they don’t take bullshit because they know when things beyond them are worth releasing and jobs are worth quitting.

They know we are not yet home but they don’t spend time coasting. They get dirty in the hustle and the struggle until the dirt under their nails becomes a sweet aroma. Success is not a bar to reach but a wrestling that sometimes results in a bloody, cut eye. It’s like an injury that you’re not sure how or why you got it. But it’s there, so you wear it as your victory badge until it blends into the lines around your eyes when you laugh about it.

Before you know it, their casual words waft in across your temples, sinks down into your chest, past the pit of your stomach, and roots into your loins. It loosens the scales you have carried from birth and ones you gained through learning, leaving you naked but fully accepted. Then it births a tingle that clothes your skin and sets in as a patina on your spirit.

And you know you can’t go back, you can’t unhear. The cries of new birth cannot be stifled because all a new babe knows is how to cry for attention. And its cries erupt in my chest as I say my goodbyes, not knowing when I might see them again. As we part, I turn back to my babe, not yet adulterated. And I strap her close to my chest, knowing now that I am hers as much as she is mine.

 

 

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The Wiig Effect

I was having one of my Kristen Wiig moments this morning as I got in touch with my emotions after this week’s events. When I am tired, I get emotional and then I go into a Kristen Wiig spiral. No offense Kristen, but those are kind of your movies (watching two is enough to judge, right?) – girl thinks that she has it all and then loses everything -apartment, boy, job- then ends up moving back home but has quirky friends who show her how much she still has because they love her. Then there’s a redeeming plot twist at the end where she gets the guy and shows the world it can’t keep her down. Everyone feels warm and fuzzy, and, most importantly, that life may not suck after all.

But life does not find its full completion in the same way as a two hour movie. The working at it part kind of seems to go on forever. Until we get to the end (hopefully with you, Lord), can you just expedite this growing pains and groaning process? I know it’s supposed to build endurance and lead to hope, but really, can we just speed it up a little? Life is short. I only have 50 some years of average American life left to live and my age range has the highest rate of death from injuries and violence, so there’s really no guarantee. And at the rate the polar bears are dying, I may not even get to all those years with fresh air.

And it would also be cool if you could speed up the meeting-cool-guy-and-gettting-married process. I don’t really care for the awkward dating, not knowing, maybe he’s “just not that into me” ish. Just get me to the he-put-a-ring-on-it-and-sealed-the-deal so I know he’s committed. It’d be nice if you could give me a sign and I’ll quickly move on if a guy’s not good for me or vice versa. Kthanksbye.

Unlike Kristen’s characters, there are no friends today to interrupt my random morning of trailing thoughts that lead me to feeling miserable about myself. There is just me and my willpower (and I guess truth) to fend them off. Although it is tempting to believe, I am not a girl who has no friends. The world does not hate me. Guys do not suck (ok, maybe just the boys). I am not a miserably jaded Kristen Wiig character, or maybe I am, but she always finds herself among faithfully loyal friends who may beat her up, take her to bars, or lend them their life sized replica of an hermit crab’s exoskeleton. Well, really if any of those quirky friends are Darren Criss, that would be enough for me.

Anyways, I am a deeply flawed character without a concise two hour run time that ends with a hope for the future. However, I am hopeful because of the one I hope in. Things don’t automatically get better in the rough seasons (or days) but I know how to love and I want to love more. And that’s going to make everything progressively better.

 

 

P.S. For those who may not know, I was referencing the movies Bridesmaids and Girl Most Likely, with Kristen Wiig starring in both.

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Speaking from Woundedness

Maya Angelou, when asked what she would say to her younger self, said, “I would encourage her to forgive. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself…You can’t forgive without loving, and I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean much. I mean having enough courage to stand out and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.'” (The interview is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcOzaMGQzPg.) Her poetry, literature, and person speaks deeply to the spirits of those who encounter her words.

Today her words spoke wisdom into my daily task of choosing to forgive. Although those whom I need to forgive are still on the very mild end of the “offenders of humanity” spectrum, my experiences have taught me the deep resolve it takes to forgive. I can only imagine what the forgiving process looks like for those whose life and/or dignity have been threatened or taken.

I would like to say that today, I forgive and I’m finished with it but that’s not the case. I find myself needing to work at it every day, choosing to forgive despite the pain I endured and still will. In an untrue, but easier to accept, reality, I feel like I lose out when I forgive. My offender gets away scot free while I agonize and wallow and claw my way out of a dark pit. But true reality is that until I can fully work through forgiveness to my offenders, I will respond to life with a sense of woundedness as well as act out because of my woundedness. In such a state, I am unable to see in color and unable to experience wonder because I feel personally jaded by everything that goes wrong.

So on these hard days when I can’t profess that I forgive, I can remind myself that there is one who says, I know you, I love you, and I forgive you, when I can’tI need that gift too.

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Receiving Grace Again and Again

I am a mistake-maker. I am sometimes quick to speak – blurting out things in hopes of filling the silence. Some recipes don’t pan out as planned. And often, I find myself going the wrong way in spite of the GPS directions on my phone…

But through those mistakes – the big and little – I have been given grace by others, including coworkers, friends, or family. And some of those have been sort-of-big mistakes or near-misses. Despite their kind smiles and thoughtful words, I still have a hard time letting it go. The mature response would be this: I’ve made a mistake but everything is ok and I’ve learned an invaluable lesson that will continue to guide my actions. I will remember this every time after.

The actual response is – F—- (or any other expletive to your liking), I screwed up big time!  Aggghhhh – how could I do that? Can you just punish me instead? Just yell at me, a little…just a little…c’mon..

Perhaps this agonizing feeling is something others can relate to. I didn’t realize how much this agonizing feeling makes me want to run away from any sort of grace – until I reread the entirety of Romans 4. The following are the two verses I found myself cringe over:

When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.  But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.  (Romans 4:4-5, New Living Translation).

       Before this season, I don’t think I experienced such direct, real-life grace from others. (Before this season, I also don’t think I’ve made as many remarkable mistakes; although, that probably comes with the territory of being a “responsible adult.”) But if receiving grace for my direct actions is so cringe-invoking, how much harder is it for me to receive relentless grace that impacts me eternally?

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Minimizing the Soundbytes

This season of Lent, I’ve been pondering this verse:

Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you or your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 5:8, New Living Translation) 

And I’ve been consider where I need to feel hungry so I can know more of God’s sovereignty and presence. So I’m withdrawing my time on Facebook, checking it every other day, for no longer than 3 minutes. I don’t want to be a browser of people but rather an engager. I don’t want affirmation from a little thumbs-up button which took a half second to click. I want genuine, messy relationships with others in which I get to affirm others.

I want this to be a season of rejuvenation and rejoicing as opposed to bitterness and passivity.

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A New Season

I thank you for this season that has taken me from being a prude to being a much more real person. Yes – people cuss. People chase after money and glory. People get anxious and depressed. And sometimes we just don’t give a shit about things we know we should. But that’s the utter depravity we embody, without your guidance. Or rather, it is the depravity we endure until we are made fully whole.

I now better understand the woman with the “greater” debt. I am not blinded by my own debt because my pruddish-ness conceals what is there. I am the woman with the greater debt because I can see it better.

Thank you for the trials and tribulations so I can see you differently and others more wholly.

Oh Pink Ranger

Remember the pink ranger?

Yup, that’s her. Way back in the first season of Power Rangers she was the original it girl. She had it all – the looks, the popularity, and that complicated relationship with Tommy, the white ranger.  It was a looong time ago since I watched it so I don’t remember a whole lot of her story but she made a lasting impression in my 8 year-old brain. She had her damsel-in-distress moments but there were times she had to save the white ranger too. But pink ranger was  probably the first heroine figure I aspired to be, at least during pretend play time. I wasn’t a feisty child then (that hasn’t changed) but if I didn’t get to be pink ranger, I’d throw one nasty fit.

Even though I don’t take orders from Zordon and don’t have my own morphing montage, I’m (re)learning what it means to fight my own battles as an almost-adult 20-something.  Sure, my battles don’t involve an antagonist wearing a cone-bra but mine can look just as unnerving, often making me want to cringe. So I’m drawing a little motivation from the original it girl and suiting up for battle.

It’s mighty morphing time.

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Understanding Peace

I think I used to believe where there is peace, then that this is the direction I should go, sort of like the “go” from God. But I’ve learned that simply where the presence of God is, there is peace – regardless of the situation.

So it does not mean that what I’m seeking to do is necessarily the “right thing.” Rather, it is seeking God which brings peace. And through the peace may come wisdom and proper discernment as I communion with the Spirit of God.

Lord, may I have peace for the things before me and enough for my daily need.

Redefining the Modesty Talk

I often frequent RELEVANT magazine’s home page for fresh articles that contemplate real issues on the practical lifestyle of a Christ follower. It takes a microscope to the predominant protestant church culture and asks what it means to live out scripture in modern society.

One of the articles I was perusing is titled “Is Modest Really Hottest?” One time I said it jokingly in a group of Christian friends but a guy friend retorted, “Clearly…no.” I had brushed it off as a jocular response, but as I was reading this article I realized he probably wasn’t joking. And it seems that in the church’s “modesty talks” there needs to be a perspective shift. Some consequences for the one-sided modesty talk are found in the article: women afraid of physical intimacy, churches with a widespread legalism concerning attire, subjectifying women and girls based on their dress, etc…

The first time I went to a Christian summer camp, the girls and guys were separated and the girls received the recommended guidelines talk. For shirts, we want to lift our hands to “praise the Lord” without seeing your navel. For shorts, they should reach past or at the length of our fingertips when our arms are at our sides. They’re good and tangible checks but I think the modesty talks missed the heart of the issue (however, that is not to say that some girls just didn’t know that it tempts wandering eyes – that may be the case for some). But when we settle for that talk, the girls may cover up a bit more over the week of camp but they won’t know why it’s important. We miss the chance for a teaching lesson of the heart which they can carry through their lifetime.

I think the larger majority, I included, wanted or did push those guidelines for other reasons. It relates to the desire for attention, to be noticed and thought of as “hot” or “popular” or whatever derivative you want to choose. Maybe it’s because we know that it attracts guys’ attention and girls’ (for different reasons) that we want to try on that new outfit. So when we can talk about the heart issue, I think it does boil down to respect and an understanding of their beauty. Can they respect their own bodies, knowing that it’s a temple created for the Lord – not an object to be subjectified by others? Can you lay down your longing to be noticed by others for the truth that you are always noticed and loved by God? Can you let that truth that you are loved by Him be more than enough for you? So until we as girls and women learn to find our identity secure in Christ, the clothing guidelines serve to discipline our own intentions. 

By changing our angle of the modesty talk I think we can help girls and women to know that it’s not shameful to wear things outside of the guidelines but that the guidelines are meant to protect our hearts and those of guys. And I think it also teaches us as women to look at our intentions to display modesty and not merely  by the clothes that we wear. It also changes the tone so that other men and women don’t simply judge women based on their attire, but rather talk to their hearts. Maybe there is a need for healing to be met by God’s truth. Fashion and clothing will change depending on time and culture, but the heart of immodesty is almost always bound by the same things. 

Relevant thoughts before this summer since I’ll be a camp counselor at a Christian camp for 3rd to 9th graders – a season when all the hormones and feelings start.

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Lusting, a Different Perspective

As I was doing some blog surfing during fall break, I discovered a site dedicated to righting the skewed views women get about themselves and the realm of dating, marriage, and sex. It’s especially insightful for ladies who have only heard the “save sex until marriage” speech on marriage and dating. They’re short and sweet, so good for first thoughts to start dialogue.

But one article in particular summarized a bit of my experiences in the past with relationships or non-relationships. The post is titled “Christian Man = Future Husband” (it’s a good read). Although the post talks mostly about not equating a guy’s “Christian-ness” with his maturity for a relationship, there’s something else in the anecdote which the writer includes that I want to take in a different direction:

” ‘Perfect Christian man’ mistake number one happened in college. He was an officer of our college Christian organization, he was attractive, funny, smart, and *gasp* seemingly interested in me. We went to a few dinners and shows together, hung out with our Christian friends, watched movies and cuddled. He even took me to the top of our football stadium (which is not allowed, ps – what is it about breaking the rules that makes good men even more attractive??) to watch the sunset while we ate ice cream.

Pretty promising, huh? I certainly thought so. This was in the time span of about a month. So why, when we were having the DTR (define the relationship) talk a few months later, was I so heartbroken to not be walking away with a boyfriend (slash fiancé’, slash perfect Christian husband)?

Probably because I had let my imagination – my hopes, dreams, expectations – run away with me. I had planned out our wedding, future mission trips and babies.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, GOD, THAT THIS GREAT CHRISTIAN GUY ISN’T THE MAN I’M SUPPOSED TO MARRY? It hurt. It hurt bad.”

It’s funny how, especially as women, when we encounter a potential “prospective” our imagination takes off on its own…or maybe it’s just me? But there’s something about that daydreaming that crosses the line and becomes consuming. The Good and Beautiful Life put it this way:

“The word that is used for lust in this passage (Matthew 5:27-20)  is epithumia. The word had a very specific meaning. It does not refer to ordinary sexual attraction but to intentionally objectifying another person for one’s own gratification…Epithumia usually involves objectifying a body. But it can also involve objectifying a persona. While some women do not struggle with objectifying male bodies, they do struggle with objectifying a man’s persona. Take, for example, romance novels or chick flicks…The man whispers into her ear that she is the woman of his dreams and he will love, care for  and protect her forever. Women are fulfilling emotional needs -to feel loved and valued, to feel special and sacred…There is no interaction, no intimacy, no relationship, no mutual enhancement” (88-90).

Having good hopes for a potential person is healthy, but idealizing the “ideal boyfriend or husband” (or girlfriend and wife)  can often lead to lusting – a desire to fill ourselves for the sake of feeling fulfilled. I think a good indicator is if we go back to the same daydream of someone or some ideal figure more than once: “Epithumia is not referring to the first look but to the second” (90).

This is probably the best depiction I’ve encountered of what lusting looks like with a more “female” perspective. Obviously I must put a disclaimer that this type of lusting is not exclusive to women and not all women lust in this way – overt things like pornography are still a struggle for women. Although it might seem unseemly for me to post about this I think the lack of acknowledging it to “save face” would be equivalent to ignoring that this is a struggle. Consequently, the more we hide things the more we miss out on the saving grace already granted by Jesus.