Archive | March, 2011

The Greatest Romance Ever.

26 Mar

Last night, I went to see the new Jane Eyre movie with my friend Jess. It was SO good. I first read the book in 9th grade, then re-read it last November, so when I heard that they were coming out with a new movie, I just had to see it. Travis and I even made a deal that if I went and saw True Grit with him, he would go see Jane Eyre with me. Well, he didn’t go last night, but the movie was so good, I might still make him go with me so I can see it again.

The movie stayed almost completely true to the book, which I was delighted to see. But it also, inevitably, left out so many good parts that I still hold to my belief that the book is always better than the movie. The slow development of the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester is so much more anticipatory and well-founded in the book; in the movie, it just feels like their relationship moves so fast.

Nonetheless, the movie did get the scene where Mr. Rochester asks Jane to marry him completely right. I started crying, it was so beautiful. Even today, I am still thinking about that love story. There is something about that kind of deep, emotional love story (not the kind we have today where it’s about looks, success, and circumstances) that stirs longings in your heart.

I think a lot of women use romance novels to escape their real lives. I mean, let’s be honest. Marriage isn’t glamorous. As wonderful and amazing as having a life partner and best friend is, and as life-changing as it was to fall in love and get married, soon real life sets in and those butterflies in the stomach and telling gazes fade away (for most couples, though some are very lucky to retain those). Women turn to these tales of romance in order to live vicariously through someone else’s love story.

But the amazing truth is, we are all called into The Greatest Romance Ever with God Himself. Jane Eyre was simple, plain, and small. All her life, she had been treated despicably by others, like she was less than the dirt they walked on. She viewed herself very lowly. She did not expect anyone to take notice of her, and yet in her heart, she yearned for someone to do just that. We are like that – dying for Someone to take notice of us, to see in us a value that no one else sees, to validate us, love us, and esteem us.

Enter Mr. Rochester. He sees something in Jane no one else has ever taken the time to notice. He defies social convention and perhaps his own common sense to unite himself to her in marriage. He chooses to fore-go a “sensible” marriage, one with Miss Ingram who is a sophisticated, elegant lady to marry his true love, Jane Eyre.

When Jane is told by the housekeeper that Mr. Rochester is making wedding preparation, her heart is broken. She assumes her true love is going to marry someone else. And certainly that makes sense. How could Jane, so lowly and plain, merely a paid subordinate, expect Mr. Rochester to marry her?

But that was not Mr. Rochester’s plan all along. He loved Jane. And as they are standing in the middle of the garden, after many abstracts and misunderstandings, Mr. Rochester asks Jane to go through life at his side, as his wife. Jane can hardly believe her ears. “You love me?” she asks, incredulous.

Here, we “catch sight of…the power of the Higher, just in so far as it is truly Higher, to come down, the power of the greater to include the less,” as C. S. Lewis writes in Miracles (though not about Jane Eyre specifically). We see the rich, sophisticated Mr. Rochester condescending to love Jane Eyre, the governess in his household – an allegory of the Greatest Romance where God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, condescended to love lowly sinners, completely undeserving in every way, by making the Greatest Sacrifice Ever.

Mr. Rochester is described in the book as having harsh features, made even harsher by his frequently being in an ill humor. Jane was not pretty either; she was very plain, simple, and small. Yet, Mr. Rochester’s spirit united with Jane’s spirit in the deepest form of love.

Likewise, Christ “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). We are like orphans covered in blood, abandoned, despised (Ezekiel 16:5-6). But Christ’s spirit unites us with His through His sacrifice and we find in Him everything we’ve been longing for our entire lives.

All of the great romances and stories that stir longings in our hearts are really versions of the gospel. I am so thankful that I can watch a movie like Jane Eyre, which awakens my own heart-desire for a Great Romance, and find that exact thing in the Love of my life: Jesus Christ.

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

The news of life

21 Mar

In an effort to crawl out of the little bubble I live in, I have attempted to read the news online for the past week. And I hate to say it, but I find the news so…boring. All the useless facts, people I don’t know, countries I’ve never heard of, and conflicts that never end just don’t hold my attention. Unless Travis tells me the gist of the major news, I am embarrassingly out of the loop.

I’ve had the thought to just watch the news but the local news would do me no good with the stuff I actually want to know about, like the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, the fight going on in Libya, and the iPad 2 coming out (ok, so the local news would probably cover that last one). Usually, it’s just fluff and stuff on the evening news. I could turn on CNN or MSNBC since I’m home all day but then I’m still at the mercy of whatever they think is newsworthy, and that is usually either politics (yawn) or finances (gag me). What I need is a website that dumbs down the basic news for non-newsy people like me. You’d think there would something like that out there…

In other news, I still don’t have a job. I haven’t heard back from the 2nd company I interviewed with so I’m assuming that’s a NO. I have still been applying for jobs but nothing more than a few emails indicating a small amount of interest. I have made some good progress on my book, however, so there’s still hope for me. I was just thinking last night that if I didn’t have this book idea in the works, I think I would be going crazy right about now.

On the bright side, we finally sold our Pathfinder, which means I finally got to buy my tri bike! I will definitely be doing the triathlon on June 12th (I started training the last week of March). Woohoo! Travis and I ordered my bike yesterday so I should have it in a week or so. I am very excited.

Since it is warming up outside, our perennials are starting to grow again, which is exciting to watch, and I am especially excited about our tulips! We are also going to plant a vegetable garden this spring. Travis and I figured out where we’re going to put it, how big it’s going to be, and marked it off with twine on Sunday. In about a month or so, we’re going to rip up the sod, till the dirt, and then plant a whole slew of veggies! We are planning on planting potatoes, onions, zucchini, squash, rhubarb, strawberries, garlic, sage, asparagus, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, and lettuce. We talked to our neighbor, Patty, last night about gardening – there is so much we don’t know! I am going to check a book out from the library about gardening. I am really looking forward to having fresh produce this summer!

 

Blaming God for what I did.

14 Mar

I had a momentous realization on Friday morning of last week.

It started Tuesday night at my women’s book study. We’re reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller and the chapter was about viewing every event of our lives through the lens of God weaving His story. There was a little chart with two columns – one for not believing there was a story and the other for believing there was. With no story, we would be bitter, angry, cynical, and hopeless. With a story, we would be waiting, watching, hoping, praying and submitting.

The question was, Which of these do you see manifest in your life? My initial instinct while preparing for the meeting was that there was a story. Even though I didn’t really understand why God had used the things He had to tell His story in my life, I believed that there was one. But then during the meeting when we were discussing this, I all of a sudden had the thought that I struggled with seeing God’s story in the early years of my marriage. I had struggled so much with my own sin and being a person I didn’t want to be, that it was really hard to see how and why God had chosen that struggle to accomplish His purposes.

I ended up getting really emotional and asked the other women what they thought. One woman said that God never causes us to sin – we choose to sin. Another said that God disciplines us for our own good and that seeing our sin is a form of discipline. The whole time they were talking, I wanted to interrupt and say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand.” I felt like my problem went deeper than that.

After the meeting was over, I had no desire to even attempt light-hearted chit chat so I left abruptly. As I drove home, I wondered, “Why does this still bother me? I mean, I felt like I was over this. It was a hard time but God used it to bring me here.” I could see how my struggle with sin and my consequent accusation that God wasn’t helping me led to my decision to take control of my life. I could see how taking control of my life led to disillusionment and depression, and how that led to my realizing my dependence on God. I could see how it all worked together. Maybe that was all.

I mentioned it to Travis when I got home. He asked the same question I had – “Why does this still bother you? I mean, it’s in the past.” I started giving him an answer, but realized that I had none. I explained the sequence of events to him but it didn’t seem like the answer as to why it still bothered me.

The next morning, I was surprised to find an email in my inbox from a woman I had met during the book study. She said that she had an encouragement for me from the Lord and wanted to confirm my email address. I replied, saying it was the correct one. When I checked my email later that day, the woman said that she knew what it was like to struggle with God’s purpose when your own sin caused the situation. She wrote about how she had been angry with God after her parents died and had slipped into sin out of rebellion and anger. Even though she should have ended up “divorced, miserable and broke,” God’s grace had been “undeniably present” right “in the midst of the situation” and redeemed the situation.

I was again unsettled. I felt like the email signaled that God wanted to say something to me about this situation but why? I had dealt with this… I understood that God used it for my good. That was enough, wasn’t it? I wrote back that I could see how God had used the struggle in my life but that since it was relatively recent, I was just beginning to see that I was still mad at God for putting me through that. I felt like singing the song by The Fray, “Where were you when everything was falling apart? Why’d you have to wait?”

The next morning, I read the reply from the woman to my email and that got me thinking again. I still felt unsettled about the issue, like I was restless and wanted to go shake off the stiffness. I had to get dressed for my coffee date with my friend, Cathy, so I walked into our bedroom, still thinking, and I said, “Well I guess I’m wondering why You had to use my marriage. Why couldn’t You have used a problem at work or something, instead?” I felt God say, “It wouldn’t have broken you enough.” My complete brokenness had been God’s plan and purpose. I needed to come to the end of myself. I understood that I had been accusing God of abandoning me during that time, when He had been there all along. I re-read the woman’s first email, where she talked about God’s grace being undeniably present in the midst of the situation. God had been there. He had seen and gone through it all with me. I cried a little, thanking God for the insight.

Then during coffee with Cathy, I shared my realizations with her but didn’t get the reception I had expected. She said that she didn’t believe God used our sins in order to teach us lessons, that sins were part of living in a fallen world, and that He redeemed and freed us from our sins. She shared about one of her experiences of not seeing God do what she had wanted and how she had realized that she needed to first let go of the bitterness and anger she felt toward Him before she would feel release. She was the one who had been holding on to sin. I told her that in my first year of marriage, I had cried out to God for Him to help me, for Him to sanctify me and give me love for my husband, but that He hadn’t. And then one day, without any correlating realization or experience, things had gotten better. I couldn’t explain it. Why would I have gone through that if He hadn’t planned on using it? Why would He allow me to continue to struggle with sin if He didn’t have a purpose behind it? I don’t think Cathy and I ever really got on the same page—more just like we agreed to disagree. When she left, I felt unsettled again, like something just wasn’t right. I felt that way all day.

Friday morning, I was praying and thinking about what Cathy had said. The unsettled feeling returned. I tried to think through what I meant about God using it for a purpose. I understood it was my sin that caused it, but I kept thinking, God allowed it to happen; He could have stopped it if He had wanted to. Since He didn’t stop it, He must have had a purpose in it. That answer didn’t satisfy me—I still had the unsettled feeling—but I was sick of thinking about it. My brain hurt, I felt like I was going in circles. Finally, I asked God, “Why does it matter how I feel about the situation? What happened, happened, right? The situation is what it is. I mean, does it really matter?” I felt like God said, “Yes.” So reluctantly, I continued to think.

I started typing my thoughts. And the realizations started pouring out of me. I was blaming God for my sin. I was saying that my life would have been fine if God hadn’t caused me to go through that struggle, that I would have been fine without His plan. But the truth was, I was denying that I had desired for my marriage to go my way, to fulfill my own expectations, and for Travis to be the exact husband I wanted him to be. I was denying my selfishness and unbelief in God’s promises and plan.

I had tried to solve my marital problems on my own. I had run to God, yes—but only after all of my own efforts had failed miserably. Once I was done crying, what had I done? I went back to living in my own strength, only to fail again and wonder why God wasn’t blessing me. That’s the real story. It wasn’t that God had abandoned me—He just wouldn’t bless my efforts to live apart from Him.

And why would God bless my efforts to live apart from Him? That wouldn’t be for my eternal good. He would only be reinforcing my natural propensity for self-sufficiency and independence. It was God’s grace to me in that time that I was not successful in sanctification, because I wasn’t seeking Him in the midst of it. I was only seeking the solution to my situation, not the Solution for my soul.

The truth about walking in dependence on God showed up in my journals for the entire three and a half years of this struggle – God was trying to teach me that lesson the whole time. He was telling me the truth. But I refused it. I refused it. I said that it was too easy. Surely there was more to the Christian life than that. God stuck with me, through all of my sin and my misery and my refusal to believe the truth. And finally, I got to the place where  I was so broken, exhausted, and disillusioned that I could finally accept the truth. I had to try out all the solutions I could think of to life. I had to test out all of my theories, everything I could think of to be the meaning of life, before I could accept God’s definition and meaning. I would not accept God until I had proven everything else wrong. I was SO pig-headed! God was SO faithful and patient!

As I realized all of this, I started crying. This awesome truth humbled me to the core.  Even the way God revealed it to me had His fingerprints all over it. I am absolutely amazed at the way God works in the lives of those He loves. Amazed. This discovery further proves that God’s glory is our joy. The more I think about the situation, the more I am convinced that it could be no other way than this: me being humbled and God being exalted. I need to be needy and God needs to be sufficient. I need to admit my sin and see God in all of His shining, brilliant holiness. I am fickle, finite, and wretched; He is faithful, forgiving, and loving.

It’s funny – it seems counter-intuitive that such release should come from understanding that the whole situation was my fault. I think my flesh was resisting the discovery of the truth for that very reason – it puts the blame squarely on my shoulders. But that is slight compared to how it magnifies God. I had been tarnishing His character and reputation. I had been questioning His goodness, faithfulness and wisdom. I had been doubting His love for me. But now, I see God’s character, reputation, goodness, faithfulness, wisdom and love for me utterly magnified and shining in all its eternal brilliance. There is no reason to doubt His character or purpose – God is even MORE amazing than I could have fathomed! Not only has He used my struggle to bring me into a deeper relationship with Him, He demonstrated utter faithfulness and patience to me when I could not have deserved it less.

This realization has had implications that reach even farther into my Christian walk but I will save that for another post. For now, I will just say Praise the Lord for revealing my sin to me!

Never underestimate the power of sleep

8 Mar

For a couple of years now, I have had this notion that I must have less energy than the average person. Everyone else seems to go, go, go while I consistently have the feeling of needing a nap. I figured I just needed more downtime, more time to recover from the demands of life.

Well, since not having a job has allowed me to get at least 9 glorious hours of sleep a night (but I still get up before Travis, ha!), I have discovered that it’s not that I have less energy than most people, it’s just that I need more sleep.

My body really needs a good 9 hours a night to feel actually rested. If I get even just 8.5 hours, I feel ready for a nap all day long. This past Sunday, after going to an early afternoon barbeque at the house of one of Travis’ co-workers, I had planned on grocery shopping and working out. But I had absolutely no motivation to do either when we got home because I felt…so…tired. Why? Because I had gotten a measly 8 hours of sleep on Saturday night. So I took an hour long nap and felt refreshed enough to do what I had planned.

All of this has taught me that I cannot underestimate the power of sleep. I am a person who needs plenty of sleep to function at the top of my game. And if my body really wants 9 hours, it’s no wonder than on 7 or 8 hours, I constantly feel tired.

I’m guessing that the majority of Americans feel this way – hence the explosion of energy drinks, caffeine-laced nutrition bars, and espresso concoctions. The smartest answer to the phenomenon of being tired would be to just get more sleep. But that seems to be the last thing anyone wants. Our society is constantly moving. I just read in a book that back in 1960s, “those who predicted the future advantages of technology and innovation felt the biggest challenge to the future would be boredom. They believed that time-saving technologies would increase productivity, and they informed a Senate committee that in 1985 people would work approximately twenty-two hours a week, twenty-seven weeks a year, and would retire at age thirty-eight.” I bet those people would have slept 10 hours a night too…

The thing about technology is that we have let it control us, instead of us controlling it. Take, for example, how hard it is to turn the TV off at night and go to bed. After the show you planned on watching ends, you grab the remote and are ready to turn the TV off until wait – that looks interesting. Pretty soon you find yourself sucked into watching a show that seems entertaining, but when you finally do shut it off 2 hours later, you realize that you just wasted 2 good hours of your life. And you could have spent those 2 hours sleeping.

Even though my days of freedom could be at an end (had another interview today), I am determined to not let my 9 hours of sleep per night fall by the wayside. I have discovered the secret to having energy and I’m not going to let Conan, Parks and Recreation, or the Chicago Code steal it from me!

Food is not a solution.

5 Mar

You would think that after a year of being at home everyday, I would have it figured out how to handle having the kitchen constantly ten steps away from me. Not so much.

Yesterday, Travis had to work and then he had a conference in downtown Denver. Since the company pays for the hotel rooms, he will just stay down there until the conference is over tonight. So after hanging out with a friend from church in the morning, it was just me and Katy for the rest of the day.

As I was watching TV, I found myself fantasizing about what I was going to eat for dinner. Should I go get curly fries from Arby’s? Maybe a blizzard from Dairy Queen? Or maybe I should make waffles and cover them in buttery, syrupy goodness… Whenever I am home alone for an entire day, these are the thoughts going through my head. Sad, isn’t it?

I took Katy on a walk and was pondering the state of my food-craving soul when I realized: the reason why I wanted fatty comfort food was because I was lonely and bored. That’s how it always is when I’m alone at night. I get lonely and bored. Besides showing me how much I love having my husband around, this also explains why there’s always a subtle feeling of disappointment left lurking underneath my full stomach. Food is not the solution. It’s not even a solution.

So what is the solution? Ultimately, it’s God. Only God can truly comfort my loneliness and entertain my boredom, because only He understands what I really, in my heart of hearts, want. (But He has also given me a wonderful husband and friends to help out as well.)

Nevertheless, a solution is nothing if not employed practically. So the way the solution of God works itself out with this struggle is through prayer, discernment, and flesh-control.

Flesh-control: The thing about using food as a solution is that it always make you feel worse afterward. Not only are you still left with your original feelings, you’re also stuffed and feel like a Goodyear blimp. My sinful nature cannot be bothered to reckon with these implications in the moment of a craving, however. That’s where the flesh-control comes in. Some people say self-control. But as I understand it, my true self desires God alone. My flesh desires food. So I have to control my flesh and let my self win. Flesh-control.

Discernment: My food battles are born out of legitimate, God-given desires. It’s not wrong to desire comfort and excitement – what’s wrong is turning to things other than God to fulfill those desires. I deceive myself by thinking that food is the solution, when it really isn’t (as we’ve already established). So discernment, enabled by the Spirit, is what helps me see the desire that I’m expected food to remedy. Last night, it was loneliness and boredom. Sometimes it’s a desire for comfort and warmth. Ultimately, it’s a desire for more of God.

Prayer: After I discern what my true desires are, I take them to God. Instead of denying those desires, I find the fulfillment of them in Him. I also go to the word and remind myself of God’s promises. Yesterday, I was reminded of what Jesus said in the desert when tempted by Satan to eat: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This verse not only shows me that food is not ultimate (fear of God is), food is also not the only way to get nourishment. Physical nourishment is meant to come through food, but spiritual nourishment is through “every word that comes from the mouth of God” – the Bible. My spiritual desires can only be remedied with a spiritual solution. That is why God is the answer.

So what did I end up eating for dinner last night? A multi-grain tortilla with eggs, taco meat, salsa, cheese and spinach. Then for dessert, a banana dipped in chocolate. When I’m not grasping after food to fulfill spiritual urges, I actually do enjoy eating healthy food. Instead of feeling deprived, I feel good about myself. God truly knows what is best for us – if only we’ll believe Him.

Priorities

2 Mar

Like I posted a week or so ago, I created a schedule to organize my free time. Days upon days of having nothing that I have to do are piling up and I want to put them to good use, as well as make sure that I’m not neglecting anything that I should be doing (like editing the curriculum I volunteered for) in order to the things that I’d rather be doing (like reading and working on my book). The interviews I had on Friday and Monday kind of messed up my schedule but I’m slowly getting back on track.

[Side note: Both interviews went fairly well but I heard back from the one on Friday already – they went with someone else. The company I interviewed with on Monday is doing more interviews this week and next week and then are going to call people back in for 2nd interviews. So while I wait, I’m going to get back into the unemployed groove.]

While my free time schedule addresses the big things related to my career goals, it doesn’t address everyday things, like exercise, food, time with the hubby, etc. I have more things that I want to get done in a day than I can possibly do. After I found out about my rejection on Monday, I took Katy on a walk and was telling God that I wasn’t as excited about writing as I had been before the interviews because I felt slightly overwhelmed with all the ambitions I had. Getting a job would have given me an excuse to not achieve those ambitions – at least, not any time soon. Now that at least one job was out of the picture, all those ambitions came screaming back and I felt like I had to scramble into productivity or else something bad would happen.

Then I remembered something that Gary and Betsy Ricucci, the couple who presented the marriage conference at our church, said. Betsy seemed to be a lot like me, with her to-do lists and efficiency mode. She also seemed to me like me in that her ambitions often overwhelmed her. Whenever she got frazzled, Gary would ask her, “Betsy, do you really believe that God has given you more to do than you can handle?” Of course, the answer was no.

As I asked myself that question, and discovered with a joyful heart that indeed the answer was no, I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness. He doesn’t expect more from me than He knows I can give. He is utterly realistic about what I am capable of. And He will accomplish His purposes even with my meager efforts. For the rest of our walk, I felt like I was walking on air.

So how do I decide what to do everyday? Part of it is taking each day one task at a time. If there’s something I know needs to be done, and I’m at a good spot to do it, I do it then and don’t worry about what will come next until I have to. Then I take enough time between tasks to ask both God and myself, what is the next most important task or thing to do? Sometimes it’s just reading a book. Other times, it’s finishing that project I’ve been putting off for weeks.

But the main way I decide what I should do with my time is my priorities. I start with the most important and go on down the line, so if some things don’t get done in a day, they weren’t the most important ones anyway. So here are my priorities:

1. God.

The first thing I do every morning is spend time with God through reading the Bible and praying. God is my greatest good and He deserves to get my first attention every day. My desire to know God more also influences my other priorities, in that they are bound up in pleasing and obeying God, as well as wanting my time to be well spent.

2. Husband.

Over the past couple of weeks, God has really convicted me of my role as a wife – not only in the context of submission, but also in serving my husband. This priority has many implications. I make an intentional effort to provide Travis with lunches and have dinner ready when he gets home (or at least be ready to start it). I also am making exercise and eating right a priority because I see how the way I feel about myself physically affects how much I want to be close to Travis – and since physical touch is his main love language, I am loving Travis by taking care of myself. Additionally, I keep up on laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, dishes, and different errands for Travis.

3. Fellowship.

God has also convicted me that relationships with other believers aren’t just nice – they’re necessary. So I try to be intentional about getting together for coffee with a couple ladies every week, to talk about God and encourage one another. I also make it of utmost priority to attend our weekly care group and women’s meetings, as well as my women’s book study once a month.

4. Friendships.

Travis and I are trying to be more intentional with inviting our friends (believing and unbelieving) as well as people we would like to get to know out to dinner, either at our house or out. We are getting better at this but still have a lot of improvement we can make.

5. Writing.

I feel like this time in my life, sans job, is a very unique opportunity I have to pursue my dream of being a writer. So I’m taking it seriously and may need to cull some lower priorities in order to devote more time to this than I currently am. This also involves blogging, because the book project is very long, and not so much writing down my current thoughts as sifting through old ones.

6. Jobs.

Even though the unemployment office probably will never check how many jobs I apply for because they’re so backed up, I want to be honest about how many jobs I apply for. So I am trying to keep up with the quota of 5 a week – although that is definitely easier said than done, mostly because there aren’t that many jobs out there in a particular field.

7. Editing curriculum.

I’m not totally convinced that I want to continue with this volunteer opportunity. But I am committed to what I have right now, so I do need to keep working on it.

8. Everything else.

There are definitely times and places for fun – like going to a used bookstore (which Travis and I did last weekend), shopping at an antique mall or thrift store, going hiking, watching TV, painting my nails, doing crafts and other projects, etc. The best approach to these is do them with someone else, so that I’m growing my friendships while also doing things I enjoy. 😉

So there you have it folks – what my life looks like right now.