Archive | February, 2011

Where the rubber meets the road

27 Feb

One of the main points of the book I’m writing is that reminding oneself of the gospel as motivation for living the Christian life isn’t enough. It’s definitely a start. And I totally believe that the gospel is the foundation of the Christian faith. But we can’t stop there. We need to press on into a living, intimate relationship with God that pervades every facet of our lives. I am mystified by the number of God-fearing Christians who say that they exist to glorify God and yet still struggle with having a daily quiet time and praying. If our “beliefs” aren’t translating into tangible actions, then we’re not really believing them. And if we’re not really believing our beliefs, the place to start is an intimate relationship with God, not just jumping to activities because we’re guilted into them.

Another one of my main discoveries has been that Christians’ hearts are redeemed, and therefore, good. We have good desires. Our innermost beings desire and delight in God. We are holy and righteous in our hearts because the Holy Spirit dwells there. Christ reigns in our hearts. But there is this thing still living in the rest of our bodies called sin. We therefore still commit sins. In that sense, you can say that we are still sinful. But in our innermost beings, we are no longer sinful because of Christ’s presence. Think about it: Christ literally dwells inside of us (a point which the Bible makes very clear) but since He is holy, He could not do that if our hearts were wicked and evil. But since Christ does dwell inside of us, the only possibility is that our hearts are good.

I am by no means a theologian and there is much a biblical scholar understands that I do not. But these realizations have been proven in my own experience (and others’) and have brought me immense freedom and joy in my relationship with God. Without these truths, Christianity is just based on a bunch of events (the cross) and we have no hope for ever growing in our resemblance to Christ. I truly believe that an intimate relationship with God and our redeemed nature are fundamental truths, without which our experience of God will be drastically limited.

There is a mentality among God-fearing Christians that the more we are aware of our sins, the more we glorify God. I whole-heartedly reject that thinking. I agree that the more we know God, the more we will be aware of our sin – the contrast between our depravity and God’s holiness will be increasingly obvious the more we see of God. I also agree that God is glorified when we know and are satisfied in Him. But to seek to know our sin more in order that we may more glorify God is masochism. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve been so confronted with my sin that I thought to myself, “If this is what the rest of my life is going to be like as a Christian, I don’t want it.” And I know that I barely even skimmed the surface of how sinful I really am.

Perhaps for those who struggle with self-righteousness and thinking that they’re actually doing pretty good at the Christian life, reminding themselves of their sin is helpful. It keeps them humble and in recognition of their need for a Savior. But there is another kind of person. A person who tends to be self-condemning, to lament who they are, and to feel like they can never do anything right. Reminding this person of how sinful they are is only putting salt in the wound. It is not helpful. Additionally, reminding that person that their self-loathing is just another form of pride is not helpful either. It is kicking them while they’re down.

The antidote to self-loathing, rather, is being reminded of God’s love, His infinite, abounding, overflowing love for people who are broken and needy. This, too, is part of the gospel. Only when the self-loathing person sees how very loved they are by God, can they see that their efforts to “be good enough” were a form of pride . But you can’t start there. This person needs to know that God is on their side because of Christ’s death, that they do have the power to change because of Christ’s resurrection, and that they are assisted daily, moment by moment by the Holy Spirit living inside of them. There is hope. There is victory. They don’t have to dwell in despair over who they are naturally.

But the self-loathing person doesn’t seem to be addressed much when talking about the gospel. Usually, the gospel truth goes something like this, “You are more sinful than you ever imagined, but you are more loved than you ever dreamed.” I agree with that statement. But while there are many, many sermons at my church on how sinful we are, all the different ways we are led astray, and what we need to do to fight for holiness, and there are some sermons on God’s love as demonstrated on the cross in forgiving our sins, I haven’t heard many sermons on how God’s love enables us to live differently. And not just the idea of God’s love (as in, I’m reminding myself that God loves me and as such, I change my behavior), but God’s love living and active inside of me, accomplishing in me what I cannot do for myself.

I’m basing these statements on my current church, not Christian churches in general. So it probably comes as no surprise that I am becoming more and more discontent with our church and its teaching. At first, I felt like the preaching just wasn’t that challenging. But I chalked it up to having become a Christian listening to John Piper preach, so most preaching would be a step down from that (because Piper is a very gifted preacher). But now, I am flat-out disagreeing with what our church is teaching. I don’t think that they’re blaspheming or teaching another gospel. I just think that their focus on our depravity isn’t helpful to everyone – but they hold that it is.

I also feel like in the challenges they issue us from the pulpit, they’re in a way assuming that we’re living half-heartedly for God. That we’re dabbling in known sin on the side, or letting sin run rampant, or keeping areas of our lives separate from our relationship with God. And I hate to say it, but I think there are a number of Christians in our church who are doing those very things. Like I said earlier, this mystifies me. Why the apathy and indifference? Why are we fooling about with the things of this world, making mud pies in the slums, when we have been offered a holiday at the sea? I dare say I’ve discovered my passion: to see apathetic Christians desiring God with every fiber of their being.

I don’t want to be an argumentative, divisive Christian and I do believe that our church still has some good things going for it. So I don’t necessarily feel called to move on. But I am interested in investigating other God-fearing, biblically sound churches in our area, just to see what other pastors are preaching. How do other people approach living the Christian life? What do other people think about reminding ourselves of sin as motivation for loving God and a basis for glorifying God?

What do you think about all this?

 

 

Praying boldly, in community

24 Feb

Since I had the realization that the Christian life is all about walking with God, I have been thinking about prayer. Prayer is one of the ways that we connect with God the deepest. And I believe that it is through seeking God in prayer that we gain wisdom and direction for our lives.

Just this past Tuesday, I was challenged by two verses. One was Psalm 21:2-3 – “You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.” The other was Matthew 21:22 – “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

This is bold prayer.

I don’t often pray like that. I usually add “But not my will, but yours” to end of my prayers, just to avoid being presumptuous about God answering my requests. But then I realized that the very addition of that saying (for me) was presuming that God wasn’t going to fulfill my request – for me, that phrase was synonymous with “But I don’t really expect you to do what I’m asking.”

When thinking through my future with writing, and my desire to be a published author, I have shied away from asking boldly that God would make me a published author because it seemed like a long shot. It seemed like I was asking a lot of God. But that’s exactly the point. At least twice in the gospels, Jesus says that we can literally move mountains with our faith in prayer. Is not being published easier than that?

My problem is that I diminish God’s goodness. Surely, God can’t be that good. I believe that He can do it; I just don’t believe that He will. Yeah, He’s given me this talent, desire, and opportunity to write but that doesn’t mean anything, I think. But when I was praying through the two verses above, and my doubt in God’s goodness, I realized that God doesn’t give us talents and desires only to say “Oh but sorry, you’re never going to do anything with that.” He gives us desires to call us to fulfill them! It will be in His timing and His way, but He still calls us to use our talents.

So often I view God’s will and goodness as only perfect and good in His eyes – I just have to trust that it’s perfect and good, though I can’t see that it is. Sometimes He does call us to trust His goodness without necessarily seeing it. But other times, He blatantly displays His goodness in ways we can’t describe as anything but good! I trust that I will see God’s goodness to me during this season of life.

Another thought I had about prayer is that if I truly believe it is the way we connect with God, and that it’s of utmost importance, I should desire to pray in community (with other people). So this morning, when I had coffee with my friend Cathy, I asked her if she wanted to start praying together. She loves corporate prayer so she immediately said yes. We prayed and it was a great experience. I felt like God met us there.

There is a prayer meeting on Sunday mornings before church. When I first heard about it, there was no way I wanted to go to something like that. “All you do is pray?” But now, I’m intrigued and excited by the possibilities of prayer. You never know how God is going to move!

A Trip Down Memory Lane

23 Feb

This morning, I’ve been reading through some of the literary journalism I wrote back in college in preparation for my interview on Friday (gulp!). I am planning on bringing writing samples of marketing copy and a couple of third-person narratives with me, in addition to my resume, just in case.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this story again, so I thought I’d share it with you all. Enjoy!

 

Milk Carton

My friend, Kelly, called it my Milk Carton. Small and white with painted silver hubcaps and a hatchback that wouldn’t stay open, it went from 0 to 60 in a minute and a half. I called it my Putt-Putt car.

In the winter, my own breath puffed warm air into the frigid car faster than the heater. The heating I provided, however, did nothing but cause the windows to dangerously fog up. And for a short period of time, the brakes didn’t work unless the whole weight of my body forced them to. In the summer, cranking the air conditioning up to full blast was synonymous with cranking the windows down all the way, which inevitably blew anything lighter than a rock out onto the garbage-speckled highway leading to my house. To a stranger, those quirks would have been considered defects; to me, they were the endearing idiosyncrasies of a good friend. And while my friends snickered about my ’90 Mercury Tracer, I was proud of it.

The fondness I developed for my Tracer didn’t surprise me. Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was play make-believe in my parents’ old Ford Country Squire with the fake-wood side panels. Countless times, I buckled My Kid Sister in the back and climbed into the driver’s seat. My feet dangling from the seat, I turned the key counter-clockwise—“backward”—so that the radio turned on and the doors dinged when open. As I fiddled with the radio, I imagined I was a mom driving my kids to school, going to the mall, being important. The day that I would be able to drive seemed like the day that I would go to college—I knew it was coming but never expected it to arrive.

My dad bought my Tracer for me before I even had my permit. Even though I couldn’t legally drive, he and I often took my car out on the deserted country roads around our house, driving aimlessly. As my dad’s lifelong hobby and current “just for fun” job has been driving coach buses for long trips, he empathized with my desire to go speed along a stretch of pavement in a curiously entertaining metal box on top of four rubber wheels. Driving came naturally to me, as if all those hours I had spent in my parents’ station wagon out of a “driving desire” had infused a sense of understanding before me and my car.

When I did get my permit and started driving around town, it became startlingly clear to me that driving on arrow-straight country roads with no other cars in sight and driving on the complex and congested city streets were not the same at all. I hated all the other cars around me and was constantly poised to beep my car’s feeble horn if anyone dared drive a little too close. But with practice came ease and familiarity. Pretty soon, I felt like an experienced driver, confident of my abilities to successfully navigate through clumps of traffic and maneuver in and out of snug parking spots.

The day I took my driving test, six months after my sixteenth birthday, was the day that confidence of mine went missing. It didn’t help that it was also the day every school in Rochester closed early, due to bad weather. A foot of snow covered everything; I was worried that the Bureau would cancel my test. The man evaluating me obviously wished they would have. I could practically smell his sour mood as we got in my car.

Parallel parking was first, the man informed me as we put our seatbelts on. So I got prepared to exit my parking spot; I put my car in reverse, looked in the rearview mirror, glanced around me, and slowly pushed on the gas. My car didn’t budge. I pushed on the gas harder. Still nothing. My tires were spinning because of all the snow, I thought. I sheepishly told the instructor that I was stuck. He smartly advised me to take the parking brake off.

I outright failed my parallel park. Paralyzed with the fear of hitting a marker and thereby automatically failing, I backed halfway into the parking spot before sitting still to evaluate, then asked the man if I should start over. He said no and marked FAILED on my test.

Next up was the ninety-degree backup. I aced it involuntarily to make up for my previous humiliation. Then I slid the car around ten blocks in white powder to somehow demonstrate my driving ability. The dead silence between us, intensified by the blanket of snow, lack of music, and snail-like pace, stretched longer than a wad of Silly Putty being pulled apart.

When we got back to the Bureau, the man sat silent, as if deliberating my fate in his head by mentally picking off flower petals: She can pass, She cannot. He turned to me and rattled off my failures: I forgot my parking brake on, I completely failed my parallel park. I got ready to cry as he begrudgingly said that I passed. I was too confused to be happy.

It wasn’t until I drove alone for the first time, going home from school, that I began to comprehend the oddness of my new reality. Glancing around me at the car’s empty seats, I felt strangely alone. Independently alone. At that moment, the distant future had become the present—it was just me, my Tracer, and the road ahead.

I started off being a careful driver. But it wasn’t long before caution gave way to confidence and confidence gave way to hazard. My Tracer remained ever faithful though. It forgave me for the time that I bent its rear passenger door backward by backing the open door into a mailbox. It understood when I flew into the ditch at the end of my cul de sac on a slippery winter morning, cracking its plastic fender by decapitating a Dead End street sign. It accepted my apology when I slid it too quickly over the mud-covered grass and into another girl’s car before danceline practice. It bailed me out when I plowed into a snow bank while trying to turn left and change a CD at the same time. It got over the two times I forgot to fill its tank and we ended up abandoned on the side of the road. No matter how many times I accidentally abused or selfishly under-appreciated it, my Tracer always sputtered alive and drove me at golf-cart speed to my destination.

Then one night, our friendship ended. I was driving home to put on my dress and do my hair for a New Year’s Eve party I was hosting at a local hotel. I stopped my Tracer at the only stop sign at a T in the road, its left turn signal blinking and clicking. Through the foggy side windows, I quickly glanced left then right then left again. I saw no one so I went.

As I was pulling out, I noticed two white dots quickly growing bigger as they moved toward the left side of my car. The realization hit me a split second before the other car did. I was thrown against the door as the left front of my car was forcefully smacked around 180 degrees. After two long seconds, the car stopped moving. I tried putting it in reverse. The car went nowhere. I was oblivious to the fact that the hood had popped up and was blocking my vision. All the other windows were so foggy they were opaque. I unbuckled my seatbelt and stepped out to survey the damage.

When I saw what was left of my beloved Tracer, I detached from reality. I balked at my car’s unsightly transformation. I was devastated and stunned. What had just moments ago been a square hood covering a square engine was now a crumpled hood popped up to reveal a smashed triangle of mangled engine parts. More of my car’s engine parts were strewn about haphazardly. My shaking hands fumbled for my cell phone as I saw people run over to the other car. I called my boyfriend as I heard the witnesses ask if the victim was all right. I felt indignant that no one asked me how I was.

I apologized to the lady whose car I had hit. She snapped back something about it not being her fault. An apology to my car elicited a similar response. Every problem my car and I had previously encountered could have been considered a happenstance, a fluke, a stroke of bad luck. But like the lady said, this one was my fault.

Through shaky sobs, I told my parents on the phone that I had killed my car by accident. They didn’t ask questions; they just came. The firefighters talked at me—they wanted to make sure I wasn’t physically in shock. As far as I could tell, I wasn’t even physically there. I kept waiting for the moment when I’d wake up and realize that it was all a bad dream. I went and sat in my parents’ minivan, in a daze of sadness peppered with the relief of being alive. But somehow, through the thick air of that night, I understood that I would never again drive my Tracer.

I went to the impound lot the next day to retrieve my CD player and anything else I thought was of value from what I now had to call “my old car.” The car sat there, sad, forlorn, abandoned. The open hood revealed the embarrassing heap of gnarled engine. It was no longer my car, my friend with a personality I knew so well. Now it was just a car, a heap of scrap metal.

My dad pried out my stereo and we walked back to his car in defeat. On the way home, my dad said, “I’m happy that you’re safe. But I’m sad about the car. I liked that car.” So did I.

Organizing freedom

22 Feb

A couple weeks ago, I realized that even though I have full days of freedom with nothing that I have to do, and even though I’ve been staying busy with writing, doing errands and chores, reading, and meeting friends for lunch and coffee, my whole volunteering-as-an-editor gig was collecting dust and I had fallen woefully behind on applying for jobs, causing me to apply for a record 15 jobs in one week.

So I decided to organize my freedom by creating a Weekly Schedule. Here ’tis:

Sunday – Free Day

Monday – Study/reading, Household Chores (laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning), Editing curriculum (volunteer gig)

Tuesday – Work on book

Wednesday – Apply for jobs, Freelance writing

Thursday – Coffee with Cathy, Editing curriculum

Friday – Work on book

Saturday – Study/reading

At first, I was pessimistic about my ambitions – since when have I ever been known to follow a schedule like this? I enjoy creating them and fantasizing about my organized schedule but the tedium of follow-through swiftly kills my eagerness. But amazingly, I have actually followed my schedule since I created a week ago. Woohoo! And I do feel so much more organized. Moreover, I have now spent 2 days editing curriculum and finished one whole workbook. Another woohoo!

In addition to my Weekly Schedule, I also created an Exercise Schedule. Normally, I have no problem finding motivation to work out because I honestly enjoy it and love the way I feel afterward. I’m also often training for a race, which is motivation in itself, since I don’t want to go make a fool of myself or suffer through something that could be easy (or at least easier).

But lately, I’ve been enjoying reading and writing so much that it’s been hard to tear myself away long enough to work out. Adding to that, I’m not training for a race (yet), I had been waiting to work out at night with Travis (bad idea), and I’ve been eating cookies of all kinds like it’s my job. So I had been averaging about 3 days a week, instead of my normal 5-6. Unacceptable.

Enter my Exercise Schedule.

Sunday – OFF

Monday – Yoga class

Tuesday – Swim

Wednesday – Run

Thursday – Yoga class

Friday – Bike

Saturday – Free Day (meaning I can do whatever exercise I want)

I think it’s a pretty good little schedule. The yoga classes provide flexibility and strength training and then I’m doing one workout of each triathlon discipline, plus a “fun” day.

However, my stupid little foot has thrown a wrench in my plan. I think it started in yoga, when I noticed that in Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 on the left side, my right ankle collapses to the outside, causing it to get sore and achy. Then I went on two runs outside after a couple month hiatus, which was perhaps a little too ambitious. During my 2nd run, the outside of my right foot started to hurt and ever the idiot, I decided to try to run through it. Bad idea. After a mile and a half, I had to walk and my foot has hurt ever since (about 6 days now). Since I thought yoga would aggravate it, I have skipped the past 2 classes, in hopes that it would get better. But even taking Katy on a 20-minute walk makes it hurt. Poop! So I’m out of running commission for sure, and possibly yoga too. The elliptical is still fine (if I position my foot right) and swimming is totally fine. Maybe I should create a revised Exercise Schedule for the time being… 😉

Anyway, those are my latest attempts at organizing my days of freedom.

 

I heart reading.

20 Feb

So I have totally failed at finishing the list of books I posted in January. They’re not completely off the list but they have been ousted by other books that excite me more at the moment. For instance, I had started reading (again) No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton when I was lured away by some books on writing, namely The New Writer’s Handbook. Then I was enticed to read God Is the Gospel by John Piper and currently, I have been sucked it to My Life in France by Julia Child. I hope to still get around to those other books… eventually.

But I have to be careful about my insatiable appetite for reading or it dominates everything else in my life. For instance, I haven’t been working out very regularly lately because I can’t read and run at the same time. I would much rather read a good book than pretty much do anything else. I absolutely love reading. I love learning new things, getting to see into other peoples’ lives, being challenged to look at things differently, and taking journeys to different places.

Every time I walk into a bookstore, I am floored by how many books are in print. It is mind-boggling. Which is why, I have decided more than once in the past several months to break my cardinal rule of reading: not finishing a book. It’s like watching stupid TV shows just because they’re on or finishing a horrible movie because you paid the $1 to rent it; you’re better off cutting your losses in the middle than carrying on in the name of “muscling through.” So if I start a book and it’s pretty bad, or I lose interest because I no longer have questions about its topic of choice, or I’ve found another book that I’m liking better, I table it. If the book was bad, I will not return. If it’s good and I want to read it eventually, it goes on the shelf at my desk, alongside the 15 other books sitting there, half-read, waiting for my eyes to scour each line on the rest of their pages.

At times, I’ve thought about how nice it would be to just be able to absorb the book through its cover in a matter of minutes instead of spending hours immersed in its pages. I’d still get the knowledge but without the investment of time. But I guess that would kind of defeat one of the main points of reading, wouldn’t it? The thrill of the story or argument developing slowly, word after word, paragraph after paragraph, through the physical act of reading.

I have to admit, though, that when I get to a part of the story that is suspenseful, I often skim through the paragraphs to figure out what happened. Once I know, then I go back and read the details surrounding the event. For me, it’s like chewing a piece of Bubbalicious gum and trying not to swallow it. The more I focus on not swallowing, the more I notice the tangy, sour strawberry flavor causing my tastebuds to gush saliva. Then before I know it, the gum is in my stomach.

Do you love reading? What book(s) are you reading right now?

Things are in the works!

17 Feb

I worked on writing my book for 4-5 hours on Tuesday. Still have a long way to go on that and am a little bit stumped as to how to arrange it but it’s progress!

Yesterday, I spent the better part of my day looking for jobs and writing a query letter to be submitted to an online Christian magazine for women called Kyria. They don’t pay much for freelance work but it is money and it’s me getting work published (if they’re interested in my idea). The only drawback is that they said it could take them up to 8 weeks to respond. That’s a long time to wait.

In addition, yesterday morning I got a phone call requesting that I come in to interview for an editing position! It’s just for an editor internship, but it’s a well-paid, full-time position with what seems to be a great company, so I couldn’t be happier. I’m not chomping at the bit for another full-time job quite yet but if one comes along that involves writing or editing of any kind, I am definitely going to take it!

I also put out some feelers to my supervisors from Dare 2 Share to see if they know of any job openings or people I could contact. They both responded and I think it will be at least worth a shot!

I just feel so blessed by the Lord right now. After almost a full year of feeling so out of place in my job and wandering aimlessly through fields of confusion about myself and life, it is so pleasant to have a vision and a goal. It’s even more pleasant to see that vision becoming a reality!

Seriously, if I ever am a published author, I think I might faint from delight.

Being a Thoughtful Valentine

14 Feb

One of the things that I took away from the marriage conference Travis and I attended at our church back in January was that as a loving wife, I should desire to do more thoughtful things for my husband. So I’ve aimed to view this Valentine’s Day (and every other holiday, whether cheesy or not) through that lens.

One thing that has always hindered me from doing romantic, thoughtful things every year is the feeling that “Well, I can’t top that…so I might as well not try!” For example, last year on Valentine’s Day, I took Travis snowshoeing up in the mountains, then we went to a natural spa in Glenwood Springs, and then I made a delicious dinner at home (though the dinner ended up being the day after Valentine’s Day because we got home so late from the mountains). The raspberry-chocolate angel food cake I made for dessert last year was one of the best desserts I ever made. It was quite a bit of work, but oh so worth it. You can find it here. Needless to say, after a Valentine’s like that, I felt like I had my work cut out for me.

The same goes for Travis’ birthdays. Two years ago, I surprised Travis with Avs tickets (and they were playing the Wild!) and a birthday party with our friends downtown Denver. This past year, I was at a loss. What do I do now? I’m running out of good ideas! And frankly, I’m out of energy. I kept asking Travis what he wanted to do for his birthday but he doesn’t make a big deal out of them (the opposite of me!) so he just hemmed and hawed, “I don’t know…” We tried to go bowling but the lanes weren’t open for free bowling until 10:30 pm on a work night. So I made him an angel food cake and we went out to dinner but that was about it.

The marriage conference helped me realize that I don’t need to continue “topping” the past year’s holidays/birthdays. I would probably run out of ideas and I would definitely run out of money. Rather, what matters is being thoughtful and doing things (whether for them or with them) the other person would enjoy. So that’s why this Valentine’s Day I created a crossword puzzle (one of our favorite past times) using words and clues that relate to our relationship. I think Travis will enjoy it. I am also going to make a delicious dinner of butternut sage lasagna, steamed green beans, red potatoes with rosemary and thyme, crescent rolls, champagne, and chocolate cherry pie for dessert. Mmmm… I can’t wait!

Hope you have a very enjoyable Valentine’s Day as well!