December 17, 2014

Keeping Christmas Well

via awesomeimages.com


Christmas is a tough season. I get it. I am an empathizer in every sense of the word. Even when my life is going just fine, I hear your words, I see your pain, and I place it in my heart. I feel your hurt. That's why I write. That's how I cope. I see the world through the eyes of a million people and I spill words onto paper to figure out some sense of normalcy. Growing up, I had family members read my poetry and ask my mom if I was okay. They read the pain, the anguish, the abandonment, the eating disorders, the scars on wrists, the death, the heartache...they read all these emotions out of my writing and called my mom. But you see, I've had a pretty easy go of it. I know I have. My parents aren't divorced and my family has very few scars etched on their DNA. My childhood was consistent, with a few bumps and scratches, but only the type that build you and don't break you. My life has been fortunate to a point that I have nothing to complain about. This could change tomorrow. It could change in the next five minutes, but for today, I am thankful. Yet, I am an empathizer. I walked closely with friends whose lives were torn apart out of no doing of their own. I saw the scars and the black eyes, I hugged friends when death had permeated their lives and a hug was the only thing I knew I could give. I have loved deeply and felt strongly. In this way, I get it. Christmas is a tough season. 

This year, I have grappled with eternity. The purpose of the here and now. The anguish of the saints and the questions of mankind. Elaborate, astounding, old as time and frustrating as ever. The questions that always seem to go unanswered. 


Why her?

Why him?
Why now?
Why cancer?
Why death?
Do you hear me, God? 

This year, I have prayed to more ceilings and felt the weight of the words press back down on me more than I have ever prayed in my life. I have cried more tears on the drive home from work and cleaned them up before I walked in the door than I have ever cried. I have harbored more anger and tried to surrender it more times than I can count. 2014 has been a year of reckoning. 


Christmas is a tough season. As we celebrate the season of Advent, the thrill of hope, the quietness of a baby born in the night, the depth of joy found in knowing that we no longer live in darkness, as we celebrate all this and more...it's tough to see the joy through a lens of pain. Because the questions are still there. The why's, the lonely prayers, the anguish...it doesn't disappear when the calendar flips to December. If anything, it is magnified. 


Every year since I began blogging in 2010, I seem to scrounge up a few words around Christmastime. Often, they revolve around the Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." This is no coincidence, as this is my favorite fiction Christmas story in all the world. Scrooge is my kindred spirit. He is my favorite, my homeboy, the BFF I've never met. Scrooge, to me, represents humanity so very well. Through Dickens' writings, we watch as grumpy, miserly Scrooge is confronted with the past, the present, and the future. We see his life; the pain, the hurt, the broken dreams and desires, we see how so many events and so many choices shaped him into the terrible old man that he is. Scrooge was given a bad lot, and after too many disappointments, he becomes something old and as good as dead. Yet, in this terrible state, he is given a second chance. In the most horrible of moments, during the most painful time of the year, Scrooge experiences an awakening. He becomes the most generous, the most kind, and the most loving man in all of London. 


Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  


This story, this parable, stirs up Christmas in my heart. It's a rough season. I feel your pain. I know the heartache behind seeing all this holly jolly Christmas decor. I know the way it feels to look at a fireplace with one less stocking. It would be easier to just skip the holiday season, skip the traditions, skip it all and jump right into a new year with new days and put the old days even further behind us. 


~


Life is tough sometimes, but it is still beautiful. Redemption is beautiful. Second chances are beautiful. Joy is beautiful. Scrooge gets it, eventually. And for that, I love him. I love him because I see myself in him. In his redemption. In his reckoning. 

This year, you might be in a similar place. You might be reckoning with the world, with heartache, with God. You might be yelling to the ceiling, "Why?!" You might be crying on your drive home from work just trying to get through tomorrow. I don't know where you are, right now, on the dreary December day, but I have a good feeling that like so many of us, you are tired.

I have really, really good news.

Christmas can be tough, but despite the difficulties, no, because of the difficulties, we can celebrate it more completely and more beautifully than ever before. The pain, the heartache, the hurt, the tears, the tiredness...they are the reasons why we can look at this season with the blinders taken away from our eyes. In our desperation, without rose colored glasses on or the warmth of happiness wrapped around our shoulders, we get to see Christmas for what it is. A thrill of hope in the darkness. A glorious awakening in the world. We can celebrate Christmas more completely in our trials and through the rough patches of life then we ever can through the happy and the giddy moments because Christmas is here for the broken and the tired. We celebrate Christmas, truly, because we are celebrating the birth of Christ into a world that is so desperate for him. A world caked in sin, in despair, in darkness. He came at the worst of the worst moments. When hope had all but disappeared. When humanity was at a dire point, we celebrated the birth of a baby. Christmas, in the current Christian calendar, is an event that has already happened. Now, we await for the coming of Christ, once more, as we celebrate the fact that he has already come and saved us. We await the reunion and we celebrate the introduction. Christmas, while a beautiful season for so many reasons, is essentially a time when we are desperately aware that in the coldness of winter (metaphorically), hope came alive.

You can celebrate Christmas in the joyful seasons of life. Indeed, Christmas is easiest and wonderful in these moments. But if you've had a tough year, if Christmas is tough this year, I challenge you to embrace this season with open arms. It was made for you. It won't be easy. Pain and heartache will cast their shadows still. But I have good news..."The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). Matthew 1:23. This is the season when we step back from wherever we are and recognize that God is with us, indeed. In the hardest moments of life, in the mourning of grief, in the difficult questions with no apparent answers, God is with us. Christmas was made for the tough moments. 

December 11, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - Redemption


One of my all-time favorite stories is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. Throughout the story, we watch as the bratty boy Eustace lives in selfishness and pride. Then, by a terrible choice, Eustace is transformed into a dragon. He longs to be human again. To undo his mistakes. To take everything back. Alone, dragon Eustace cries hot heavy tears. It is in this state that Aslan meets him and leads him to a pool of water. To be free from his scales, Eustace knows that he must bathe in the water, but Aslan tells him that he must be undressed first. In vain, Eustace scrapes his scales, once, twice, three times...but they will not come undone. He cannot shed his dragon skin on his own. 


“You will have to let me undress you,” says Aslan the Lion.
Eustace's pain and loneliness was so great that he set aside his fear of this great lion and allowed him to undress him from his scales. As Aslan scrapes his scales away, the previously bratty boy Eustace said, “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.”  Tossed in the water, scraped clean, a boy emerged from the pool. Redeemed. Restored. Forgiven. Eustace was never the same after his encounter with Aslan. 

Re-birth is painful. Breaking free from bondage and breathing clean air has a steep price. Your old life, your old habits, your old patterns...they must be ripped away for a new thing to take place. To be restored you must acknowledge that you are broken. To be renewed you must put aside the old. To be re-born you must die. 
~

Marriage brings out the dragon in me. The selfish, prideful dragon who blames everybody but the true culprit. Living closely with another human, keeping a home with another human, has peeled back every layer of false decency I have ever possessed and revealed a roaring dragon who likes to get her way. Before a husband was ever in my wildest dreams, I knew the dragon existed...but oh how easy were those days when I could hide behind my walls and never let anyone see just what really lies beneath the surface of my heart. In marriage, I am no longer afforded the luxury of retreating into myself and hiding away. I am exposed, and my flaws are revealed. 

I have scraped and scraped these scales away. Clawed off layer after layer, only to reveal another layer of scales that will never budge. On my own, all of these efforts have only led to frustration and hot, heavy tears. On my own, I have been left with sleepless nights and a million questions, blaming everyone but myself and seeing problems everywhere but where they truly exist...beneath my layer of dragon scales. To be free from the burden of selfishness and greed, to love others without the limits of self-interest, to be re-born and restored... what an awakening this process entails. 

Within these words, I mention marriage because it has been the mirror turned on my face, revealing an ugly side I never even knew existed. I mention marriage because it has revealed just how selfish we can be, even in the best of relationships. I mention marriage, because vowing your life to another, binding your world onto theirs, forces you to be unselfish, and the process is much more painful then I ever would have imagined. I mention marriage because it has been the vessel in which I have seen myself more clearly. 

Indeed, marriage is the mirror, but in itself it does not heal. I don't buy the "self-help" hype because I don't buy the idea that we exist purely to exist and create the best possible world for us. My core identity, my theology, my DNA is interwoven with the belief system and the faith that we were created for so much more. We were created. And if we were created, then I believe that there is a Creator, and oh how that story is so fantastic and so marvelous that my words will never be enough to explain it all. Needless to say, I believe that the Creator can redeem and restore when my hands cannot. He can scrape away the dragon scales, piercing my very heart, to reveal a new person, a new heart, a fresh page. 

It is through marriage that the depth of redemption is being revealed in my life. Through this union that I am seeing just how far my husband will go to forgive me. Just how far I will go to forgive him. Through this union, I am catching a glimpse of just how far God has gone to forgive us. To redeem us. To scrape off the old and make us new. Through this [painful] process, I am learning that this covenant we have made completely depends on the third wheel to survive. On our own, we would continue to fail over and over again. But with God, all things are possible. With him, we can embrace the forgiveness and the redemption we have been offered and somehow, in the smallest of ways, learn how to extend it to each other. 

This series is titled, "Keeping this Covenant." It is the real-time journey of my walk through marriage. I am not a wizened old pro sitting in a smoky room offering elusive advice. Rather, I am sitting in a 750 sq. ft. apartment watching a football movie and embracing the joy that comes after a tough moment has broken through. Good weeks, hard weeks, joy, and pain...we feel it all in our daily lives. Today, I am embracing the topic of redemption. This is my heart on the subject, these are the lessons I am learning. 

Redemption will take your life. On the path to a holy marriage, it is in the painful painful moments when I glance back and see just how much I have lost. I have lost the ability to answer only to myself, making decisions that will only affect me, choosing roads that I can only walk down alone. I have lost the ability to hold onto bitterness without letting anyone know, the option of being selfish and not letting anyone see. Through marriage, the old is exposed, through Christ, I am being redeemed...together, in marriage and in Christ, I am being transformed. The old life is slowly slipping away. I hold onto it often, my fingers clench onto my selfishness and it takes much prying to loosen them up, but I can feel the process happening. 

Redemption requires you to die to self. One of the definitions in the dictionary for the word redemption is, "the buying back of something that has been lost." To live in sin is to be lost. To choose selfishness over love is to be lost. To live for self is to be lost. We have been bought back at a steep price so that we may no longer be lost. Soak those words in. Read them over and over again. We have been redeemed so that we may no longer be lost. In today's world, marriage isn't esteemed very highly. The act of marriage is old fashioned and the vows of marriage are antiquated. Often, it seems as though marriage is a ceremony that ends before the couple cuts the cake. I choose to believe that there is more to this covenant than this. I am choosing to see the beautiful joy found in honoring another person with your life. In serving God with your hearts and your hands. I choose to see how we, two broken individuals, are being redeemed by God's grace and folded into a story together that is greater and more beautiful than we ever could have imagined on our own. We have been bought at a steep price, but we don't have to be lost any longer. 


Redemption is different than forgiveness. In the hurt that comes with marriage; the family hurt, the personal hurt, the life hurt... there are so many chances to forgive. People screw up all the time. Deeply, personally, our lives have been changed by big choices and massive consequences. The act of forgiveness, telling someone that you forgive them, and really meaning it, is freeing. The longing for redemption we feel in those moments, when it is denied, is heartbreaking. When we long for redemption, we long for things to be made new. Sometimes, often, other people aren't willing or ready for that renewal. So we live in the forgiveness, forgiving them over and over again even though they may never change and the deep process of redemption is denied. In this small way, I wonder what the heartbreak of God must be like. To love us deeply, to forgive us over and over again, and to be denied the renewal that restores relationships. I can't control what other people do. I can't control the consequences of other people's actions or the ways in which they will affect my life..but I can control what I am willing to offer, extend, and accept. I choose the heartache of rejection. I choose the sorrow of a lost relationship. I choose forgiveness. I choose the hope of redemption over the hurt of bitterness. Forgiveness is the action we take to extend grace, redemption is the restoration of what was into something new and beautiful. 


~

I am thankful for marriage, thankful for this mirror being held up to my life and allowing me to see just how many scales need to be peeled back. The dragon still roars, clinging to a lifestyle that honors me and find the path that is best for me, but daily I am thirsting for the painful process of re-birth. I want to be scraped clean from the things that hinder my relationships. I want to be sensitive to the breath of God and the nature of his heart. Marriage is teaching me, daily, what it costs to die to self. Just as we joined hands and became as one, so we are one with Christ through his redemption of our sins. Just as I am daily seeking forgiveness and renewal within my marriage, so I am in this holy union and relationship with God. Just as Christ has offered freedom to us, so undeservedly, so I see freedom offered to me by my husband so undeservedly. I see Jesus through this journey. It's tough at times. Re-birth usually is. It's scary, difficult, and painful...but I will continue to pray that we may be ever aware of our need for redemption, our scaly nature, and more importantly, the freedom that is waiting just a breath away. 


Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 

December 4, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - Loneliness



Loneliness. The very word conjures up images of a cloudy day and an empty home...save for the one poor soul who was left behind, again. Or a playground with laughing children...except for the quiet child in the corner whom nobody seems to notice. Dramatic, intense, and depressing...loneliness is a difficult topic to handle.

Yet, we have all felt it. In a crowded room or an empty house, often the emotion has very little to do with external circumstances and everything to do with the state of your heart. Loneliness is magnified in sadness and highlighted during the difficult moments of life. Often, we enable its presence and pity ourselves for its existence. We stand in the crowded room, feeling alone, and whisper, "Oh, does no one understand me? Does no one know how...lonely it is standing here?"

Within marriage, all excuses for loneliness disappear from the outside world. After all, marriage in itself is the joining of two lives, two worlds, into one. Even when your significant other cannot attend your company party, your coworkers all know that he will be there when you return home. Marriage, in essence, seems to guarantee the presence of the most significant person in your life to be there with you at all times. "How dare you be lonely?", cry the voices of the outside world. "You have your spouse, are they not enough? Your bed is not empty, why can you not appreciate what you have?" And so easily, loneliness is buried under a layer of guilt as the dearly beloved try to figure out, secretly, why they are indeed...lonely.

I believe that the very word "loneliness" and its meaning within our society do not do the emotion justice. We all seem to be acutely aware of the fact that a crowded room can still feel very isolating, but we do not extend that grace to married couples. I believe that there are several key things we must remember about the qualities of loneliness. In this way, may we ever be compassionate to those (myself included) who may feel lonely.

1. It's okay to feel lonely. Whether you're married or not, you are a unique individual with specific moments and memories that no one else in the whole wide world can claim. You are beautiful. You are extraordinary. You are fantastic. And it's okay if you feel lonely when everyone else tells you that you shouldn't.

2. Change is hard. Internal change. External change. I have a whole slew of blog posts just sitting in the pot covering those topics. I'll dip my toes into a small one real quick if you don't mind. I just graduated college a few months ago. Two days later, I started my first full-time corporate job. Oh, and this happened a week after moving back from Central America. Lots and lots of change has happened. Somewhere in there, I've been trying to process it all. This transition into the next phase of my life is sometimes hard. For myself and my recently graduated peers, we're all going through this weird transitionary period of life that can feel isolating. I'm surrounded by an amazing friend group and it's still odd. It would be odd if I were single, it's odd despite being married. The loneliness that can come through periods of growth is often painful, but on the other side, you look back and you see just how far you've come. Allow yourself to know that change can be lonely, but it will be okay, and we're all walking this road right along side you.

3.  Loneliness is not isolated to the single, the abandoned, or the forgotten. We are all humans and we are all capable of feeling deeply. If you are able to approach all people with compassion, not condemnation, you will begin to see that their capacity for hurt, anger, joy, and love are very similar to your own. Never underestimate the power of asking good questions and empathizing with sincerity. Often, lonely people just need someone to ask them what's wrong and someone to care enough to try to help. Don't assume that just because someone is in a relationship, they don't need a friend.

4. Friends are important. Like I previously mentioned, I am a fairly new graduate. In my past life (8 months ago), I was an actively involved student who honestly never felt alone in college. Even in the midst of internal growth and struggles, I found engaging conversations around every corner and a slew of friends who were all living life right there with me. The post-grad life has far less interactions. An 8-5 schedule leaves little time for mid-day coffee shop conversations or after midnight Taco Bell runs. I don't know what phase of life you're in, whether you're like me and figuring out life after school or if you've been married for 35 years, but I think friends are crucial in our lives. They provide a sounding board and present new ideas when you're overwhelmed. The crazy ones can bring out new sides of you that enrich your life and the true blue ones can sit in a quiet room with you and make you feel better without saying a word. I love the best friend I go home to every day, but we both need friends outside of each other. Thankfully, we operate on a similar wavelength and kick each other out of the house often enough to go meet up with our respective friend groups. It keeps us sane and it cultivates an enriching life. Loneliness usually creeps into my world when I draw back from these much-needed relationships.

I began writing this post trying to express my thoughts on loneliness within marriage. After writing, deleting, writing, deleting, and writing some more...I began having conversations with my friends. Slowly, my thoughts have churned from the "marriage" thoughts to the "this is just life" thoughts. There are so many circumstances that bring about loneliness in our lives, and there are so many different types of loneliness, it would be cliche to offer a 3-step article on how to beat the blues. While marriage offers a complexity to the emotion, because living with someone who knows your heart intricately seems like it should diffuse the loneliness, so very often, it doesn't. Life continues to move forward, good things happen, bad things happen, and as change sweeps through and situations are altered...we have to discover for ourselves how to take the next step. In my conversations with friends,  I have been struck by the thought of how often we discount people who have a significant other. I wish that would change. If anything, I wish we could pull away the veil of marriage and stop seeing it as a divider between the "singles" and the "marrieds", and instead, recognize that as humans, we are on this journey together. That, I believe, in the first step in recognizing that you are, most definitely, not alone.




November 28, 2014

Counting Thankfuls

Family time around the fire pit. 


Let me be thankful.
Thankful.
Like, really thankful.
Eyes squeezed shut, tongue sticking out a little, thankful.

What am I thankful for?

God, family, friends, and food. The classic G3F's. The important Thanksgiving rituals.
God, family, friends, and food. Repeat. I am thankful. Thankful.

Come on, Mandy, remember to be thankful.

Coughing. Hacking. Laughing. So very, very sacrilegious. The Thanksgiving pilgrims would be ashamed at my lack of Thanksgiving. It's just all so, covered in "Happy Fall Ya'll" banners and decorated with mason jars. Pumpkins and pilgrims and I can guarantee that those turkeys made out of brightly colored paper look nothing like the real deal right before the real deal becomes a meal.

I'm thankful. I really am. I'm thankful for the G3F's. God, family, friends, and food. I'm just...over-stimulated and over-fed. Desiring a detox almost as much as another piece of pumpkin pie. Pass the seconds, if I can't learn how to do a cleanse, at least I'll eat till my little heart goes out on me.

I hope, in some small way, you're catching on to my sarcasm. Even more importantly, I hope you're catching onto the small, thin, scraped too scarce layer of truth I feel in my heart.

There's too much food in my life, too many distractions, too many Instagram pictures blowing up my newsfeed for me to feel really and truly connected to the feelings of thankfulness instead of the emotions of Thanksgiving.

Today was a very unique Thanksgiving in my corner of the world. My handsome man flew off to Arizona to be with his dad for the weekend, my sister and her handsome man are spending one last day in Colorado before their big move (yipee!), and my grandma opted out of a get-together today in favor of one on Saturday. With a happy heart I drove the two hours to my parent's house, listening to music I haven't listened to since my freshman year of college, and I played the student card once more. Complete with a laundry basket full of dirty clothes.

Some things might never change.

With laughing hearts, we hopped over to my dad's hospital while he made a few rounds to wish his employees a happy Thanksgiving, and we ate the feast that the cafeteria staff prepared. While this may sound absolutely terrible to some people, it was an amazing experience. Not because I felt like we were doing good gracing the hospital employees with our presence, but because we had an absolutely delicious meal prepared for us, and we didn't have to cook or clean a single dish. All in all, the infamous Thanksgiving dinner took 30 minutes from start to finish. I was totally, 100%, okay with our lunch situation.

However wonderful our lunch event may have been, it was not very traditional. Neither was our afternoon, which was not spent playing football or watching (much) football or anything to that extent. Instead, the three of us played a few vicious rounds of Candy Land and then promptly fell asleep on the floor. It's been a long week (/year), and a nap is a beautiful cure for all ails.

And then...here I sit. Typing away and trying to compose some sort of aura of thankfulness to fit in with what everyone else is saying. I am thankful for so many things, truly, but my parents know how much I love them and my husband gets enough sappy text messages when he's away to know that he is indeed, missed. My level of appreciation for the people in my life goes beyond one day or one emotion to be summed up so quaintly in a, "You rock!" sort of thank-you card.

So, with scattered thoughts, here are the things I am truly thankful for in the here and now:

1. I am thankful for hard moments. The moments that make you catch your breath and whisper, "Don't cry don't cry don't cry." I am thankful for the intense pain that reminds you that you are, indeed, alive. Even more so, I am thankful for the people who surround you in these moments and remind you that despite pain, it is good to be alive.

2. I am thankful for hearts that break. To have a heart that can still be broken when I hear about children starving or growing up as orphans, to have a heart that weeps when incarcerated men and women die alone, to have a heart that feels another's pain as easily as if it were their own...that is to know that your heart still works the way it was intended to work. May we never grow so callous, so cold, and so guarded as to have hearts that will not break.

3. I am thankful for friends that challenge me. You know the types, the difficult to love friends. The friends that never seem to love you quite as much as you love them but you just can't give up. I am so thankful for these people. They remind me that friendship takes effort and it is never free. It costs time, emotional involvement, and vulnerability. It can cause pain, heartache, and sometimes it just doesn't feel worth the investment. But these friends, the hard to love friends, are so beautiful and so worth loving. I am truly thankful for them.

With a different sort of heart this Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful for the things that have been difficult to deal with this year. Hard moments, hard friends, and hearts that are able to break. Truly, these things, difficult though they may be, have opened the doors to enrichment in my life, and for that I am indeed indebted to their existence.

I suppose, in some sort of fractured closure, I should also mention that I thankful for the silly pets we allow our hearts to love. Like our sweet Sammy dog, who never caught a rabbit no matter how many she chased, but was very content to keep trying. It's always hard to come home to a childhood house without a childhood dog to greet you at the door, but silly pets like these are worth all the sad emotions and more. Cheers, little Sam.

November 26, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - 4 Misconceptions of Marriage


The white dress. An absolutely, completely in love, my cheeks hurt but I can't stop smiling smile. Handsome suit and a handsome man. Oh the wedding bells do love to ring in every season. This summer alone, we went to eight weddings and turned down invites from six more. Wedding season. Ring by spring. It seems as though everyone and their man is going to the chapel. 

Then, the honeymoon draws to an end and the dirty dishes begin to pile up. But who will wash them while wearing that white dress? Who wants to get messy while donning a tux? Who can truly dance in sync with pinching shoes and sky-high heels on their feet? Life is beautiful, but it's not always pretty. Marriage is sacred, but it's not always fancy. Love is treasured, but it's not always simple. Growth is necessary, but it's hardly ever easy. 

In modern society, we spend so much time dreaming of an event, that the marriage slips to the side. The allure of "true love" sparkles over the troubles of "real love." It's the real love that attracts me. Even during the hard weeks, and there are hard weeks, I am reminded that we chose this road. Even in the midst of the arguments, and I love a good argument, I know that at the end of the day, we will resolve the issue. Even when life gets rough, really rough, I know my husband is still on my team. We might be throwing golf balls at each other and swimming for our lives, but somewhere beneath it all, we're on the same team. There are these misconceptions that float around, dreamy ideas, romantic and sweet, but they're weightless and float away at the first sign of trouble. These are the misconceptions that trouble me and I fight against them every time someone asks me, "So how do you like married life?" 

1. You're marrying your soul mate. 

I don't believe in soul mates. I don't believe in "finding your true love" or the "Prince Charming" scenario. If Blake and I's paths had never crossed, I'm sure we would have been just fine. Callous? I don't think so. You see, I don't believe that Blake is my "soul mate". I don't believe that he "completes" me. I was a whole person before I met my husband, and I never want to put the pressure on him to fill up a part of me that was never his responsibility to fill. Is my life truly enriched and so much better with him in it? Well of course. Yet I hope that if something were ever to happen to me, he wouldn't spend the rest of his life alone. There are so many people in this world who can enrich our lives in so many different ways. We could have loved and married other people and lived entirely different lives, but we made a choice to choose each other. That's marriage. It's not always romantic and we don't always fit together like Snow and Charming, but knowing that a choice, not a fleeting idea of a "one true love" is behind our marriage, is beautiful. 

2. If you don't make each other happy, it's not working.  

Alright, folks, I am not a total cynic. Chances are, yes, you will make each other happy...but this not what marriage is about. You will feel mad, thrilled, ecstatic, lonely, warm n' fuzzy...if there's an emotion, marriage will bring it out. At the end of the day, those emotions, while important in how they're addressed and handled, are not the goal of marriage. If I got married on the sole reason that "Blake makes me happy." Oh what a sad moment it would have been, after those vows were said, when Blake...like it or not, did not make me happy.  Marriage isn't about how happy you make each other. It's about choosing the other person in happiness and in sadness. There's so much depth to be found beyond "happy", sorrow and anger and loss and joy bring so much more to the table then one single flat emotion. In happy moments, be happy...but in hard moments, recognize that this is where the true character of a godly marriage can shine through. In selfless acts of love, in kindness, in patience...marriage is more than making your spouse "feel" any certain way.

3. An argument is the sign of an endangered marriage. 

 I love to argue. Slowly (I dare not say "but surely"), I am trying to curb this pattern. Arguing for arguing's sake is time consuming and worthless. Still, healthy arguments can teach valuable lessons. If handled properly (and that is key), you can argue constructively. When there is a constructive argument, the end result can help your marriage far more effectively then an angry silent treatment ever will. Now, can I tell you how to argue effectively? Nope. This is where it gets tricky, and I proudly proclaim that I am no expert. This is where I pass the baton and say, "Go talk to a marriage counselor/pastor/mentor/anyone who offers solid, Biblical and healthy advice." I am simply here to say that there will be arguments, and when they come, they do not mean that your marriage is doomed to failure. If you learn how to be kind in disagreements, be patient, be understanding, and work together to find an end goal, then disagreeing can still have a positive outcome. Learn to argue with respect for each other, with calm emotions, and with love... and you'll begin to argue less.

4. You love the person you married. 

I loved Blake with all my heart when we said, "I do." Six months later, I loved him even more...but if I held onto the person he was when we met, it would be easy to let myself become bitter. One constant in life is change. Situations change. Jobs change. Homes change. Babies are born and our loved ones leave this earth. Life moves forward. And people change. When I think back to who I was five years ago, I am so happy to see the progress in my life and the ways I have grown. In five years, I hope I can look back on who I am now and think the same thoughts. Yet, if I held onto my husband, the one who was standing at the alter with me only a year and a half ago, I would be sorely disappointed. In just a short period of time, he has moved to a foreign country with me, relocated once more, started a new job, gone through an intense transition within his workplace, and comforted friends and family during hard seasons of life. To ask him to remain the same would be disrespectful to who he is. Likewise, if he only loved me for who I was when we got married, the "a little-bit-sweeter" college student who worried too much about getting all A's...well, he would come short every day. We have been sharpened and shaped since we said, "I do." Change is hard. Sometimes it's painful. I know there will be days when I don't like the person I see in the mirror or the person standing next to me. I'll love them anyways. I don't love my husband because of who he is or who he has the potential to be, I love him because I made a covenant to love him until death do us part. Love grows. It looks differently at different times of life. Sometimes it looks differently week to week. But I cannot hold onto what it was in the past if I want to completely live in the present. I loved the person who stood next to me not too long ago at the alter, but I know, for the sake of our marriage, that my heart has to love the man who is growing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally every day of our marriage. He might begin to look very different from how he used to, but I choose him. Every day. Every year. Every moment. 

~

I loved wearing that white dress. I loved seeing all my friends and family members in one place. I loved the moment when Blake turned around and saw me on our wedding day for the first time. I loved the wedding. Still, my heart doesn't leap out of my chest when I think about our wedding in the same way it does when I think about the years to come being married. We are striving to be holy within this union. That is our end goal, our purpose. As we keep this covenant, life begins to look differently. The moments are small, the joys are abundant. This is our journey. Filled with passion, joy, and faithfulness. Marriage forces the cynic in me to take a step back and acknowledge that with God, all things are possible. May we ever be on the road to understanding this more deeply and embracing the call laid before us. To love as Christ has loved us. No facades. No illusions. No tightly held grip to imaginary romances. Instead, with whitened fingers holding on to old battered truths, we cling to the sacrament of marriage, the real words, the real commitment, as we take each day for what it is...a chance to be Jesus to each other when the dishes are piling up.








Disclaimer:
 In no way do I support abusive or unhealthy relationships. These thoughts are gathered from my own experiences within a healthy relationship and are by no means offered as a solution to deeper issues relating to problems not discussed within the article.  

November 19, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - An Introduction

Marriage is such an interesting journey, one that is still so new in my life. A journey that, God willing, will last us for another 70 years or so.

While most of my thoughts stem directly from our adventures and lessons learned in marriage, I have felt, until now, that I should stay a little reserved in the blogging department regarding this union. We're been married 1.5 years, hardly enough time to qualify us for any sort of advice giving. Besides, I have trouble accepting "well intentioned advice" from people who give it much too freely. While we've been given some amazing words of wisdom from trusted friends and family members...we've also been given a good portion of rubbish advice that has left me scratching my head and more than a little confused. So often, the advice I have heard has sounded more like a salve to make marriage feel better, instead of instructions on how to get dirty and dig through problems until they're eliminated.

Salves are easy in marriage. Problem solving, real, true, problem solving...it's trickier and much more painful.

As we've begun to walk along side other young couples and as our pastor has emphasized the fact that marriage is a covenant, not just a contract...my brain has been spinning with a fragile, beautiful, tiny idea. I want to write about us, about marriage, about this road we travel. My goal is not advice giving, but simply to offer a peek into our lives and the insights we're gathering along the way.

This will be the place where our journey in keeping the covenant we have made will be told. I promise to be real, to be raw, and to never gloss over subjects that might hurt. Writing has taken a back-burner in my life over the past few months for so many reasons. For the first time in my life, as I've grappled with difficult events, I have turned to my friends, not just an open journal page, to hash them out. While it's been therapeutic and healing, I am ready to write again. Really write. I'm ready to share my life with the open eyes of the Internet and be as real as I can possibly be.

 Today, I am beginning a blogging series that will last for at least 10 weeks. Every Wednesday a new post will go live. Depending on the content, the responses, and the desires in my heart...it could go on for longer than that. Really folks, I just want to write words that you can relate to and latch onto because we're on this road together.

Here are just a few of the topics that I will be writing about in the weeks to come:

Misconceptions of Marriage 
Healthy Habits 
Approaching Change - Personal 
Approaching Change - External 
Loneliness in Marriage 
Forgiveness
Restoration 
Communication
Honesty 
Trust vs. Love 

So if this doesn't interest you, or you don't think it applies to your life, or you have a Thunder game to get back to...that's okay too. I'm not a terribly sensitive writer as long as you just don't tell me you hate my guts (kidding.) But my hope is that you stick around, offer feedback, and join my story by telling me yours. And maybe, just maybe, through all these ramblings... we will begin to see something beautiful. 

August 14, 2014

Learning to Love With Abandon

I have been staring at this blank white screen for at least twenty minutes now. To be honest, I really don't know where to begin. Over the past few months I have had so many words that I have wanted to write. So much heartache. So many adjustments. So many stories.

So much life.

Yet, a simple thing like the frugalness of two people who don't find Internet to be essential in their lives has kept our condo wi-fi free and severely lowered my motivation to go elsewhere for the great world wide web. As a result, my words have bottled up for months just waiting to spill out onto paper.

It's been an odd summer. Life has felt more muddled then I ever remember it feeling before. Maybe it's because I am officially, in every sense of the word, an adult now. Although, I've felt like an adult since I was eighteen so I don't really think that's the problem. Maybe it's because we work 8-5 jobs for the first time ever, and the corporate world is fun and crazy and I've loved it thus far...although that doesn't explain the muddledness. I think, mostly, there have just been so many adjustments since coming back to Oklahoma and mixed in with heartache and words like cancer, it's been hard to find stable ground.

We hang out with other married people now, which is awesome. One of our biggest reasons for coming back to OKC was our longing for the community we had just begun to become a part of...and believe me, the only thing keeping me content here is this community. Knowing we have a time frame on how long we'll live here helps too, but who knows what will happen. I think, really, the words I'm struggling to find won't come because they're just too hard to spit out.

For so many years, I have been jumping from puddle to puddle, always with the next puddle in sight. Now, I have to learn how to be content for the time being otherwise I will grow indifferent to the people in my life and the purpose of this journey. So, contentment. Although to be honest, I've been trying to learn how to be content for so long with my physical location that I'm really beginning to feel like I was created for something else, otherwise this whole contentment thing would feel more natural. If God really put eternity in our hearts like He says, then I think the lid was loosened when he got to me and a whole bunch dumped out. I crave eternity even more then I crave chocolate (which is a lot) because I know that once we get to that place where heaven meets earth...my desires for adventure and fulfillment and Jesus will finally be satisfied. I guess you could say that I'm content being discontent, as long as my discontent comes from impatience waiting for Jesus.

Sincerest apologies if I'm rambling, but hey, it's in the name of the blog, I do what I want.

One of the biggest decisions in my life of recent days has been my decision to write a book. I won't give away the spoilers yet, because it's in the "pre-production" phrase...but trust me, if I can pull off the execution it'll be great...at least I know my mom will like it. And my grandparents, because it's about them.

Shhh. Don't say a word.

I guess, really, my words are so fragmented in these moments. I feel as though they're reflecting the state of my heart these days. Fragmented. Trusting God although I don't really know how or feel like doing it. One of the phrases that has completed shattered me in the past few months has been the phrase, "strong Christian." I don't believe it anymore. I don't believe that the Christ-followers I most admire are strong anymore. Rather, they are faithful. They are weak and God works through them in their weakness. They have hope in hard situations. They pray when their words are broken and their worlds are lost. I used to think I wanted to be strong and have it all together...but I don't feel that way right now. I feel like life just doesn't make sense and maybe it's not supposed to and maybe that's okay. Maybe I need to be faithful when I don't like the taste of faith in my life. Maybe I need to love when it is the hardest to love. Maybe I need to forgive when the last thing I think I can do is offer forgiveness. Maybe restoration is waiting just around the corner, waiting for me to drop the facade that says, "I have it all together and I am a strong Christian" and say instead, "I think I give up. I can't do this anymore. I don't know why I believe this, but I do. I don't know why I'm choosing this path, but I am. I don't know who God is, but I know that he is good, somehow. I believe that someday this image will be made clear."

Today, in the moments that I am living in, somewhere between Sprouts grocery store and Tuesday nights with our small group, I am learning that Jesus is so much more complicated then I have ever known he was. Yet, he is the same as he has always been, and he loves with abandon.

So I'm trying to love with abandon. Even when it hurts. Even when death rips holes in my heart and divorce pours pain on the wounds. I'm trying to love because I know that love heals these hurts. I'm not a strong Christian anymore. I'm a pretty broken one. Weak. Tear-filled on many nights and joy filled often. I have hard questions that aren't being answered and I'm choosing to believe that someday they will be answered or someday I won't need the answers anymore. I'm not strong. I'm weak as can be and I need Jesus more desperately then ever before.

And he satisfies.

That's the thing about Jesus, I think he shows up more visibly in the hurt and the heartache then anywhere else.

So I choose him, over and over again. When it doesn't make sense. When the world feels rough. When I feel him chipping away at my guarded and cynical heart...I choose Him.

You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.




June 7, 2014

Seeking God's Story


Sunset circa 1982

I have spent the last 5 years or so of my life trying to build a story. Not just any story…my story. I finished school early…high school & college…for the sake of the next adventures. I’ve traveled to foreign countries and I’ve lived in Central America. I left home at 18 and worked for a mouse. I ran races and sometimes I finished dead last, but I ran them nonetheless. I’ve jumped out of planes and I’m still itching to do it again. I met the man who was able to steal my cynical, guarded, skeptical heart…and it has never even crossed my mind to think that it might have been crazy to have married him. I’ve loved friends who haven’t loved me back and I’ve been loved by people whom I should have loved better. In the past 5 years of my life, I have been consciously trying to create “me”.  In a family filled with stories, tales that dive into world travels, interesting people, and raw reality…I have been desperate to have something to say for myself. I have wanted a story that is so obviously daring, courageous, and adventurous that people can’t help but say, “Wow. She’s done things.”

I want to be somebody. Somebody who is undeniably somebody. I want to smell like exotic Indian spices and have dirt behind my ears from crawling through Maya caves. I want to attend a ball in Austria and dance in the street in Spain (despite my lack of dancing feet.) I want to celebrate Christmas in Switzerland, nestled by a warm fire while the snow swirls outside. I want to eat real Italian food in Italy and maybe swing through the Middle East for a tour of the Holy Land. I want to be sunburned in Africa, serving alongside the people who are ingrained in my heritage and written across my heart. I want to be coated in dust, worn thin, tired, stretched to my limit, and so completely sure that I am where I am supposed to be.

I want to be somebody who doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody.

Over the past few weeks, an accumulation of events has led to me a desert ground. Not a dessert ground, as much as I love chocolate cake…but a dusty, dry, barren desert ground in my heart. On one hand, I have felt so sure that this where I am supposed to be. Right here, in Oklahoma…for the time being. Yet on the other hand, my heart has been weary, worn thin, and life has ceased to make sense.  I have questioned things that I have never questioned before and I have grown tired waiting for answers that I know I will never get.

Why do we have so many material things? How can a million people live in the same city and not feel the weight of humanity on their shoulders? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do parents have to bury their children and why do friends have to grapple with words like “cancer”?

Why? Why? WHY.

In the midst of my culture shock, life changes, and grief observed…I have prayed and yelled and screamed at God. But mostly, I’ve sat back and told Him, “This just doesn’t make sense right now. It doesn’t make sense.” I’ve said those words over and over again, hoping that maybe, if I say them enough, something will begin to make sense… and God has been gracious to me. He promised that he would be close to the broken hearted and, although I have struggled and groveled in desperateness…I have felt the full assurance that someday, things will make sense. Someday, if not on this world then in the next, the veil will be withdrawn and I will see clearly.

As I have questioned and begged and cried out to God, over and over again I have returned to the place where I have said, “I want to know You.” If I am going to choose to believe in something that cannot be anything less than my everything, I want to know God. My story, everything that I have ever wanted to be, has seemed more and more insignificant under the light of knowing God’s story. Knowing Him. All of my life, I have been wanting to build my story, as if it were mine to build. As if the puzzle pieces are moved around by me and I choose what the finished picture will look like. I have wanted everyone to see “me”, to see how good I am at putting together puzzles and to applaud my job well done. But that’s not how life works. My puzzle? I don’t know what the finished picture will be. Right now there are a million pieces all scrambled together that somehow don’t make sense. And still, I choose to believe that there will be a finished picture. I choose to believe that this small piece of life that I can see right now, filled with uncertainty, with new plans, with pain, and with joy…. I choose to believe that these are only the smallest images of what is and what is to come.

My story is insignificant compared to the greater story that is being told. There have been moments recently, in the midst of my questioning, when people on whom I have no claim have upheld me. They have reassured me without knowing they were doing so. They have affirmed me without knowing that I needed to affirmed. They have allowed me to catch the glimpses of heaven that I have so desperately longed to see. As I have struggled, I have equally been upheld. As I have cried, I have equally felt the joy of community. As I have questioned, I have been encouraged to find answers. The puzzle is being made with every breath I breathe and I have no idea what the finished picture will be, but I choose to believe that someday, I will be allowed to see it in all of its beauty.

My prayer, no my plea, remains the same, "Come quickly Jesus, please please please." As I stutter and stammer through this mystery of life, and as the "bigger picture" sometimes looks crystal clear but often looks so murky...I hold on to what I know to be true when I do not feel it to be true. I cannot wait for the story to be completed. For the painting to be revealed. For the purpose of pain to suddenly make so much sense. I cannot wait to have answers and to not feel the need for them any longer. I cannot wait until the day when Heaven meets earth. Unashamedly, I cannot wait. But I will wait, for however long I must, because I know that I know that I know...God is faithful. In the storms, in the sunshine, in times of action, and in moments of stillness...He is writing a story that is beautiful and beyond descriptions. A story that is worth waiting for. A story that will bring us to our knees as we can't help but exclaim, 
"Wow. He has done great things.


Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely. 
1 Corinthians 13:!2 

May 21, 2014

The Marginalized



Paint my lips with dust 
Coat my hands in dirt 
Rip my clothes and steal my shoes 

Comb each strand of hair in sweat 
Blind each eye with poverty 
Let me be, let me be

Let me be like them 
The ones that we let be 
The dusty, hungry, and obscene 

Cover my tongue in sand 
Break my skin, my back 
And tell me, it's my fault 

Hurt my heart and hurt my pride 
Make me long to close my eyes 
Let me be, let me be

Let me be like them 

April 15, 2014

The Road Is Life - Our Belize Ending




“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
 – Miriam Beard

We came to Belize with open eyes, two suitcases full of the unknown, and only the vaguest idea of what would happen. In two weeks, we will leave Belize with much more sun on our skin, new names in our hearts, and yet another vague and intimidating idea of what will happen. The unknown appears to remain consistent regardless of your location.


When we first started planning for Belize, we took a leap of faith and moved here without knowing if Blake would have work or not. Within a week, he had a job secured that was not only interesting, but it was comforting and it opened up the doors for a more permanent move to this beautiful country. Initially, we were enamored with the idea of staying in Belize for a few years...we told our close friends that we weren't coming back and we began to set our sites towards a future basking in the Caribbean sunlight.


Yet, as the weeks have moved on, we have begun to feel the weight of the things that we value more than location or job security: family, friends, and church. Belize, while beautiful, has been isolating. Eventually, we had two options: stay for Blake's job and the potential it offered, or go back to the States for relationships. This has been one of those "no matter what we choose, it will work out" decisions, which are, in my humble opinion, the worst. We have prayed, we have stressed over the details, we have weighed our options...and in the end, we decided that this is not where we want to build our home over the next few years. So we are taking another leap, for now, back to Oklahoma, with the intent to get some ground footing and figure out our next game plan from there.



Belize has tempted our pallets with the flavors of living abroad. I have loved getting to work with the kind, intelligent, and humorous Maya people. I will miss Julio's amazing chocolate and Aurora's tamales. Living just steps away from the Caribbean Sea has been, in a nutshell, my dream come true. I have always been drawn to the sea and I always seem to think clearer when I am on the water. I wrote a letter to a friend a few weeks ago telling her how we ride out to an island every Sunday for a part of Blake's job. "The sea is my sanctuary and the bow of the boat is my pew." I will miss living near this glorious ocean cathedral. Belize has been a wonderful home over the last few months, and it has changed our perspectives on life dramatically.



“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

Preparing for our return to the States has been both exciting and bittersweet. We are so ready to receive hugs from our friends and so ready to get into some great discussions with our Sunday school class...but we don't want to return to the nonchalant attitude towards wealth that we had before. By wealth, I mean the ability to buy a candy bar without depleting your family of a meal for the day. The people in Belize are poor, but they are not destitute, and the difference is a very important thing to note...but despite the lack of anything excessive, the Mayas I worked with were so content with what they had. The children here all go to school and no one is going hungry, and for the Maya people I have worked with, that is enough. Ambition and drive are almost completely foreign concepts here, save for a few individuals, because it is more important to them to spend time relaxing with their families then building wealth for their families.

Belize has taught me, if nothing else, that the simple life can be beautiful and that money does not equate any sort of happiness. Obviously, this is a basic lesson that I think is safe to say "well known", but it has become much more tangible to me as it has become reality. Perhaps this first-hand example of contentedness is what has encouraged us to take a leap of faith back to an "unsecured" area just to be near our family and friends again. We recognize the importance of family and our desires to be near those we love once more. So we're leaving the security of a well-paying job with potential and choosing to go at life from a different route...an unknown route at the moment.


Travel will always change you, if you let it. It will open up your heart to people with different ideas, different religions, and different ideas of home. Travel invades your soul, forcing you to grapple with reality as it is and create new realities instead of falling back on the things you once called familiar. Comfort zones have become less important to me compared with the ability to adapt to new circumstances and new trials. I am thankful for Belize, thankful for the Maya people for welcoming me graciously into their communities, and thankful for the friends that we leave behind here. Yet, I am ready to move on. Ready for the next adventure, ready to go over the pros and cons of microfinance in developing countries with strangers, ready to improve my business skills in various industries, ready to use the knowledge in my head to follow the passions of my heart. Belize has felt like a well-needed reprieve from American culture, it has helped us to reprioritize and refocus on the things that we are truly passionate about, but this has felt like a temporary assignment to allow us to get our footing on life again. So return we will to whatever lies before us in the States (or wherever our feet may land), refreshed but ready to get to work. We're leaving Belize with a pocket full of seashells, a bunch of photographs, and two suitcases filled with the unknown.


“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac

March 24, 2014

Adapting to Life in Belize


I could paint you a very dramatic picture of our life in Belize. If I did, I would fill it with the soft colors of a warm afternoon, the azul sky and the vibrant jungle greens. I would color the sun yellow and the horizon hazy, painting in the dragonflies that flutter over the tall grass and the yellow birds that flit from bush to bush. If I wanted to, I would paint you a picture of our adventures, riding the bow of a boat out to a tropical oasis of an island every Sunday and watching sunsets sink behind Mt. Victoria in the evenings. I would draw lines pointing out every location we have visited, from the brightly painted Placencia to the local, authentic Dangriga. I could paint you a dramatic picture of our life in Belize, leaving you writhing with jealousy and catching the next Maya Air flight to Kanatik.

Of course, I could also paint you a more realistic picture of our day to day lives. We wake up to the sunrise, although we are beginning to be able to sleep through the bright morning sunlight, and we eat breakfast. Breakfast is usually papaya, a boiled egg, and tea or coffee. Following this exciting event, we get ready for the day, I put on mascara to feel somewhat “put together”, and then I get on my computer. Blake will sometimes go to the office because the internet speed is better there, but he’ll often work from our home, answering emails, following up with clients and preparing for the weekend tour groups. I evaluate the Morningstar curriculum, take Spanish lessons, write a few papers here and there, generally wishing that I knew how to jump star Morningstar and get things rolling faster. 

We grocery shop in Dangriga, which I enjoy immensely. The man at the farmer’s market knows us now, and he has my favorite smile in all of Belize….second only to our yard guy, Victor. Victor has the best smile in the world. The Asians who run the grocery stores always stare at me and Blake, but that doesn’t phase us, especially since their stores are the only stores that carry our coveted dry goods. Next, we go to Dis Di Fi Wi Chik’n, where free range and organic are the norm and the prices will make your jaw drop because they’re so low.

A combination of high gas prices and a lack of our own vehicle has prevented us from running off all over Belize to explore. Before we leave, we will visit Maya ruins and hike the Jaguar Reserve…but we haven’t been able to be extremely adventurous yet. So we explore our immediate area, watching out for snakes and chasing iguanas on our bikes. Life runs slowly here, the afternoons are sleepy with the heat of the day, and our evenings are spent watching movies or playing Battleship.

If I wanted to glamorize our existence in Belize, I could do it very easily, but I don’t want to. You see, Belize is beautiful and the people are kind, but we live in a fairly isolated area and that has been a shock to our system. We’re used to the vibrant college campus community, the high energy that comes from working multiple jobs, visiting friends, and eating at new restaurants every week. I don't miss all those things, per say, but I think that I am experiencing a little bit of culture shock. The glamour has worn of, even though I still love Belize, I am aware of all the little things that are different now. I find myself getting a little bit more frustrated when I am unable to be understood or do what I need to do. Even though Belize is wonderful and not particularly difficult to step into, it is still a different world and it has taken a few months to realize that it is okay to feel "culture shock" here. 

One of my textbooks, Communication Between Cultures, says, "Culture shock is a mental state that comes from the transition that occurs when you go from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one and find that your established patterns of behavior are ineffective." In so many ways, this resonates with me because my normal patterns don't make as much sense here. People don't understand my sense of humor as well. As a young woman, locals view me as a daughter figure rather than a student with ideas or big plans. There are little things I would have never considered comforting, yet, I find myself longing for a carmel macchiato just to know that I can comfortably walk into a Starbucks and know how to order. I feel tinges of culture shock when I know that "normal" activities still take more brain power and courage then they "should". 

Despite all of this, I love Belize. I love learning new things and I love the challenges of living in a new country and making a new home here. Perhaps this is why I feel so much internal conflict: I am experiencing the smallest amount of culture shock despite loving our lives here. Some moments are wonderful, some moments are hard. We have our routines, but there is no real "normal" right now.

I could paint you a beautiful picture of our lives in Belize, and everything I would say would be accurate. It is lovely here and the people are so warm and kind. Yet, there is so much more complexity to this country. Good things, bad things. Poverty, extreme wealth. Two ends of a spectrum that can never seem to meet in the middle. I am trying to figure out what our lives look like here and what they will become in our time in Belize. Our lives are simple here, realistic, but challenges still exist despite our ocean backyard. I am anxious to make this country our home, but I am the tiniest bit homesick and craving a carmel macchiato today. 

March 5, 2014

Lent - Reevaluated


(via Twitter)


I get tired of Lent.

Before you jump to any quick conclusions about this statement and before you get all of my former pastors on speed dial for an immediate intervention, hear me out.

The Easter season is my favorite season on the Christian calendar because this is what it’s all about. Mourning the death of Christ and celebrating his resurrection. Shouting out to death “Where is your sting?!” Recognizing our need for repentance and feeling the magnitude of God’s grace. Everything that makes a Christian sound crazy comes out in the season of Easter, yet, we believe: Lord help our unbelief.

Still, I get tired of Lent. Or better yet, I get tired of what Lent has become in modern Christian circles. I remember being fourteen years old and for the first time in my life, I was exposed to an Ash Wednesday service. It was a little confusing, somber, but powerful. I remember wanting to take the period of fasting seriously. To use the 40 days as a time of reflection and draw nearer to the God whom I serve. I wanted to understand what Lent was and why it was so important in the history of Christianity. After the service ended, I was asked several times, in sing-songy voices, “So what are you giving up for Lent?” When I wouldn’t say anything, I remember the good-natured teasing and the competition for who was “giving up the hardest thing” began. In the years since then, this gets repeated almost every year. In college, I have become so aggravated when I have overheard girls say, “I’m giving up sugar, all forms of sugar, because it’s a distraction in my life. And if I lose a few pounds along the way, so be it!” Or the familiar Facebook status, “Giving up Facebook for lent! If you need me, call me, text me,  email me, or tweet me for a response!” This is always followed by another status 40 days later, “SO good to be back on Facebook! You never realize how much you connect with your friends through Facebook until you give it up!” Everything about these exchanges rubs me the wrong way.

Now I have to put a disclaimer in here because disclaimers are just how the world works these days…but in no way do I think that giving up sugar or Facebook or whatever is a bad thing. I’m not trying to make fun of these people or discredit their dedication. Not at all. My complaint comes from my own failures, recognizing how I have contorted Lent into something that it is not.

There are two things that I cringe at a little every year. First, the public announcing of what everyone is giving up. During this season, I am often reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:16-18, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” This verse has always compelled me to be quiet during Lent, to use it as a time of reflection instead of a time of public declarations of righteousness. I have often told a small circle of friends what I am abstaining from during Lent in order to be held accountable, but I struggle to make sure that I tell them out of humility, not the desire to “show off”. Oh how hard it is to be humble when you’re trying to be humble.

 The second thing that I often question is the use of the term “giving up”. Rather, I wish our terminology would change to something like, “I am replacing social media with time to focus on reading the Bible” or “I am replacing sugar with the need to crave spiritual truths”. This might sound weird, I know, it sounded weird to me as I typed it…but Lent is so much more than “giving up”. Lent is replacing distractions in our lives with solid truths. Replacing things that get in the way between Christ and us in order that we may know him better. Lent is more than a diet or a breaking a bad habit. It is not a season of bragging about our self-control, but a season where we are painfully aware of our need for a Savior.

I get tired of Lent.

I get tired of seeing the Buzzfeed quiz “What should you give up for Lent?” … as if it’s a game and you need the right sacrifice to win. I get tired of feeling inadequate if I don’t give up pasta, sugar, coffee, air, water, and the ability to walk every year. I get tired of questioning my commitment to Christ if I “give up” Facebook and then forget and log in to check my messages. I get tired of Lent when it becomes an accomplishment and a contest.


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I want Jesus. I want to be desperate to know God. I want to feel the scars on His hands and feet and know that I am loved more than I can imagine even though I have nothing to offer, nothing to contribute, and nothing to bring to the table. I want to know that I am human, that I am fragile, and that I am redeemed. This year, to be honest, I don’t know what Lent will look like for me, but I know what I want it to look like. I want Lent to be a season of reflection, a time when I shift the focus from who I am to whose I am. I want this season to be a time of worship, humility, and grace.  I have barely dived into the meaning of Lent, I am just taking the baby steps of understanding this season…but it so much more than giving something up. This season, I am challenging myself to find the meaning, to understand the tradition, and to recognize my need for a Savior. No diet plans included. No gimmicks thrown in for good measure. I just want Jesus.