He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

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We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

New Year, New Goals

New Years resolutions have always seemed like a thing that everyone around me sets and then (most often) fails to accomplish. A way to set up disappointment before the new year even gets started.

My roommate had a tradition that she shared with me (and I tweaked a little bit) where she takes all of these categories and sets goals for each and then checks in on them throughout the year.  I added scripture I found for each category which helped lead me to the goals I set.  I think it transformed the way I view the upcoming year and what I could accomplish in it. I’m going to share those today.

FINANCIAL

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10

  1. Make a budget and stick to it.
  2. Continue to give first; don’t let fear prevent generosity.

LEADERSHIP

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

  1. Find a mentor who leads through a posture of humility and compassion.

PHYSICAL

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I Corinthians 6:19-20

  1. Regularly track food (MyFitness Pal).
  2. Build stamina and strength: at least 30 minutes of activity at least 3 times a week.
  3. Lose 50 lbs. this year.

COMMUNITY

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” Romans 15:5

  1. Be intentional about developing relationships in Uptown and Clifton (regularly show up to groups and serving role).
  2. Demonstrate a servant heart, both as a leader and a follower.
  3. Pray for my groups more regularly.

CREATIVE

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

  1. Get a keyboard/piano.
  2. Make a stained glass piece.

INTELLECTUAL

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

  1. Finish my Master’s Degree.
  2. Develop an understanding and application of the prophetic.

PRAYER

“praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all saints.” Ephesians 6:18

  1. Pray for the right leadership to be called to Katie’s camp.
  2. Establish a prayer board with Katie and pray together each Sunday for the people and things on the board.

REST

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Psalm 127:2

  1. REMEMBER Psalm 127:2.
  2. Schedule rest weekly.
  3. Sleep at least 7 hours each night (set sleep reminders, track via Fitbit)
  4. Spend time at a cabin and time near some water.

COURAGE/REQUESTS

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12

  1. Foster an open heart and grow in vulnerability (eyes and heart open to opportunities).
  2. Seek a godly man more faithfully and hopefully.

 

Moving Away

I found out yesterday a friend of mine is moving away and it made me more sad than I expected. As a native Cincinnatian, you get used to people leaving and I don’t see him often now that we don’t work together but it still sucks. He’s not the only one leaving or considering leaving.

“Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven 

I used to want to get away from Cincinnati, you know? I wanted to get away from what felt like a tiny town with suffocating people and go… anywhere but here. Looking back, I can see that was more about how I felt than it was about the city. I doubt I would have been happier anywhere else. At the time though, when God put His finger on my heart and on this city and said, “Abide in me through them,”  my gut response was, “Shit.” I mean it’s not a classy response but it’s how I felt.

I’m locked into this city and saying no to money? Sounds like sacrifice. Yet here I am over two years later and I LOVE Cincinnati and her people. I praise God for the community He has blessed me with and the opportunities He’s provided me to build into others and be built into. I still want to travel, I want to see things. But I’m not running from or to anything anymore. This is a city that God is moving in and I am excited to be a part of it.

Not everyone feels that way about Cincinnati and I get it. Maybe Cincinnati isn’t part of their story. My last class I read this book written by a man who was dying (paper posted earlier). In part, I think he was saying what I believe: that life is not all “live, love, laugh…” It is suffering and sacrifice. For instance, the cost of love, particularly when death is involved, is loss. Does that mean we do not love? No, we should love all the more fiercely and profoundly; let this life be something that is a tragedy when it ends. The REAL question is, what do we sacrifice and suffer for? What are we giving our life over to?

“Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and so they give their lives to little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it…and then it’s gone. But to surrender who you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying – even more terrible than dying young.”
Jeanne d’Arc

For me, it used to be promotions and money. Relationships outside of work suffered for that and I was willing to leave my family and friends halfway across the country for a pile of paper. Not even a passion! I wasn’t invested in my industry; it was just money… But now? Cincinnati. The possibility of building into a community where I hope to someday have my own family surrounded by these people I love dearly and of course my sister and parents? These things are worth dedicating my life towards.

 

Reflections on Viorst and Dying

In “The ABC of Dying” Judith Viorst writes, “For how can we live as fully conscious animals, the only creatures on earth that know they will die? How can we, in the chilling words of Ernest Becker’s great book The Denial of Death, endure the awareness that we are “food for worms”?”[1] It is a provoking question and one that philosophers, theologians, psychologists, doctors, artists, and many others have searched for answers to over the millennia.

The theory of unconscious denial of death that Freud proposed, making the yawning unknown that awaits us on the other side of death possible to be ignored, is a popular choice by many. We distract ourselves with other more “manageable” anxieties and block off parts of life in an effort to convince ourselves that we can exert some sort of control over the future. Yet it is only in the juxtaposition to death, as she points out through the words of poets, physicists and theologians, that we fully see and experience life. The character from Memento Mori probably best summed up the sentiment in this, “If I had my life over again…I would practice, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practice which so intensifies life. Death… should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.”[2]

Viorst was forced to face her own mortality when she lost three women she was close to in the span of six weeks. Although she had once feared flying; it was no longer an issue. She realized staying off airplanes wouldn’t guarantee her immortality. Certainly, the best course of action in her mind would be to learn how best to die, if one must go through the experience of doing so. Perhaps this was her mechanism for coping with death.

She examines death in the abstract and the applied, using the example of Ivan Ilych. “The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter’s Logic: “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,” had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself…”[3] Full of memories, experiences, emotions, joys and grief. And in the example, Ivan is further isolated because his community won’t acknowledge his impending death. Viorst writes that this mindset against speaking of death is being challenged in more modern times through individuals like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote on the five stages she sees people pass through towards death.

The first stage is said to be denial, followed by the anger/envy stage.  Commonly asked within this second stage is, “Why me?” The third is bargaining, something offered if they can have just a little bit more time. The fourth is depression over present and future losses. A need for others to be present and sit with them in this time is called out. Last is acceptance; this is not a hallelujah moment but an absence of emotion and struggle. Instead of resisting their end they meet it “with a certain degree of quiet expectation.”[4] Not everyone makes it to this phase, or should, according to Kubler-Ross. Dr. Edwin Shneidman disagreed strongly based on his own substantial experiences with the dead and dying, saying: “…I reject the notion that human beings, as they die, are somehow marched in lock step through a series of stages of the dying process. On the contrary… the emotional states, the psychological mechanisms of defense, the needs and drives, are as variegated in the dying as they are in the nondying…”[5] Whereas Kubler-Ross felt that acceptance was often the implied end of the journey, Shneidman pointed out more often than not life was abandoned to death without any real readying, leaving loose ends. I have yet to have the breadth of experience with those in the midst of dying to be to discern for myself whose theory might be more accurate but I certainly think the knowledge of both helps me to be better equipped for whatever state I might identify a dying person to be in.

Viorst reflected on the ways three of her close friends chose to handle their death, and on the increasing interest in assisted suicide in society today, or even those like her friend who spend their time with the people they love the way they want to and then end it on their own terms. “The wish not to suffer, to stay in charge, to be remembered by loved ones the way they were motivates some to choose the hour of their death.”[6] While I understand our society’s propensity to run from suffering, it softly rings of the warnings I heard in the book A Brave New World, in which there is a society that avoids any pain, suffering or discomfort at the cost of maturity, intimacy, faith and intellectual depth. Interestingly, she points out later that Philippe Aries studied the history of death and “the concept of the ‘good death’ has been redefined, so that instead of its being a conscious, expected, ritualized departure, as once it was, a good death today ‘corresponds exactly to what used to be the accursed death’: Sudden death.”[7] Why, as a society, do we fear the death our ancestors hoped for and long for a death that was once viewed as a curse?

There’s another section of the dying population who wouldn’t take their lives yet also don’t view death as an enemy. “Death becomes a friend. It offers the chance to lay their burden down, whether the burden they yearn to lay down is the agony of a last illness; the helplessness, uselessness, loneliness of old age; the sufferings, at any age, attendant upon an unendurable loss…”[8] There are endless reasons why one might be ready to hand over the endless drudgery of their current existence for the hope of whatever death might offer. They don’t flee life, but recognize its inevitable end. One thing that Kaufmann postulates might make this easier is that we have a project of our own that we’ve seen to fruition; that we’ve in essence beat death in one place if we cannot beat it at retaining life.

This may be why some people experience such transformation near their death. Eissler even proposes: “The full awareness of each step that leads closer to death, the unconscious experience of one’s own death up to the last second which permits awareness and consciousness, would be the crowning triumph of an individually lived life.”[9] This is where we see the meek demonstrate courage and bravery or the shy become forward and outspoken. Their final moments are their last chance to be the person that they perhaps always saw themselves as becoming but were never brave enough to allow themselves to actualize within their day to day lives.

Immortality is the only way to counteract death, and this can be done through several ways. One is religion, which “Freud argues that such religious beliefs are illusions built up by man to make his helplessness in this world endurable. He writes that just as children depend on their parents to protect them, so anxious adults depend on gods and God.”[10] Another option is through nature, through the fact that we are part of an earth that continues on long after we do. We are made up of that ancient material and will merge back with it when we are dust. A third option would be through works or acts that influence future humanity; we see things like this in the great structures built, sculptures, works of art and literature, the rise and fall of nations, etc. Lastly, there is the biological continuation through progeny or even just humanity in general. While I can’t agree with Freud in that God is an illusion, I certainly see the drive for immortality in the behaviors of people daily. They want to leave a legacy, to be remembered, to have impacted the world. Perhaps this goes back to what Kauffman was saying. If a person has the sense they’ve achieved one of these levels of immortality, perhaps it makes it easier to go with death, feeling like they’ve already defeated it.

[1] Viorst, Judith. Necessary Losses. “The ABC of Dying,” pg. 306

[2] Viorst, 306

[3] Viorst, 309

[4] Viorst, 310

[5] Viorst, 311

[6] Viorst, 315

[7] Viorst, 320

[8] Viorst, 316

[9] Viorst, 319

[10] Viorst, 321

The Dating Game and God

I had been through some challenging things in my previous relationships and so I had taken some time off to heal, and I was also trusting God in the space of dating. I’d never dated in the Christian world. For me dating in my early 20’s involved parties with (sometimes) too much alcohol, friendships with blurred lines, drama, etc. So the IDEA of dating a man who was after God’s heart sounded fantastic.

I focused on God, healing and continuing to try to grow more into the kind of woman God calls us to be. At first I found this confusing but I think the Bible speaks pretty clearly into this and a lot of it actually comes fairly naturally as you enter into relationship (thinking of biblical examples and also Proverbs 31). So I just chased after those things and figured the guys would eventually come. That’s how it used to work. I’ve never really had a problem getting into relationships before.

But they didn’t. That is to say, the Christian guys didn’t show up. 30+ months and not a single Christian guy was interested in me. I have gone on two prayer retreats regarding husbands the last two years, and I felt like the first was more about getting myself aligned with God and where he was calling me, preparing me if you will. But this second one felt full of promise and hope. And maybe I’m expecting too much too soon.

Then there’s this guy. He’s not like most guys I’ve experienced in that I… I can’t say exactly HOW I feel for him but I know I deeply value his thoughts on things and find much to admire and not much with which to find fault. I never considered dating him but people started mentioning his name to me as someone I should consider… I shut them down but as I examined the list of attributes I had discerned from the prayer retreat, he seems to possess most of them. Rather than being helpful I find this even more confusing in that now I realize these traits rest in individuals to whom I remain mostly unnoticed.

Then there’s the guy I met when, out of frustration, I went online. My profile was super God heavy and filtering through the weirdness I get even with that, there’s this guy that matches up in all the worldly ways. He can say some of the church stuff, he says he’s cool with sex waiting until marriage and thinks the fact that I’m selling my house and downsizing to take a lower paying job to better serve the community is cool (even though money is super important to him). But… he didn’t know what a tithe was and it doesn’t appear he goes to church or has any spiritual community. He’s open to the idea of kids but afraid because he doesn’t want to be locked into anything.

So one guy is interested and the other I’m… not a blip on the radar. All the ladies know what I’m talking about, right? But then again, how many times have I been here… entering into relationships that are less that what I need because I think that maybe they’ll get there? But then I ask, who do I think I am? Aren’t I being too picky? I want to have the faith. So I pray. I ask for God to convict hearts or give me a dream, a vision, send a message or a sign. Lead me, Father.

The next day my roommate, who doesn’t know about this saga I’ve created, comes home after traveling for work all week with a bouquet of flowers for me (because she’s a beautiful person) with a verse that came to her for me:

“If God clothes the grass of the field in splendor, will he not much more clothe you? He knows your needs.” Matthew 6:30

And in my heart, I feel myself wanting to be less like Sara who doubted that in her old age God would give her a child (I’m not that old, I’m relating to the doubt, not the age). He knows my needs. I can trust Him. And as soon as the doubt creeps in I will repent, and if I struggle with disbelief I will pray that God help me with my disbelief. God knows my needs, and I want my family to serve Him.

I Wrote a Prayer Before My “Interview”

I really feel like lately God’s been emphasizing a few things in my life right now:

  1. Be vulnerable. (Ouch… this is a hard one. I know how that used to end for me…)
  2. Trust in me. (It’s not a testimony to God’s power if I do all the work, right?)
  3. Go to your community. (What does that even mean?)

So I’m doing my best to do only what I really feel I should do right now and leave space for God to show up. I’m attempting to be more open and vulnerable with my close community, and invested in those around me. The depression that had settled over me lately (for the first time in years) has lifted and I am very relieved. It is not surprising with EVERYTHING in my life changing that I would have such a reaction, but I did find it comforting. Up until a couple years ago I was medicated regularly, and the antidepressants were adjusted for everyday things. Now I can undergo major life changes all at the same time without medication thanks to the support of my community and being deeply rooted in my faith as it says in the verse below (although this is not to say this would be everyone’s experience, just where God is showing up in mine).

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

Much of this deep rooting comes from a deepening in my prayer life. I was heading into a pre-interview or interview type of meeting and planned extra time and so I prayed beforehand. Occasionally I write them down, as I did this one:

7.27.16

Abba, I praise Your name because it is good. You made me without mistake and pursue me when I abandon You. Your faithfulness is without measure, Lord. You took me halfway around the world to show me you were always there and are always good. My love for You overflows from my heart but it doesn’t compare to Your love for me. My life is a testimony to the power You have to not just restore broken things but transform them. I’m following You to where You call me. Lead me, Father. Your Will be done. Amen.

And I didn’t hear back about a follow-up, but I did hear back about sharing my story with my church. In reflection, my prayer does seemed to be very focused on sharing God’s testimony and less about procuring me a job… haha… The good news is God knows what I need and so even if I missed the mark on my prayer, I’m sure God has this covered.

And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Matthew 6:6-7