Sunday, March 30, 2014

Space, Matter, and Me

Two years ago, we moved across town and out of our fist home. It was a tiny (and I mean tiny-- 275 sq. feet!) garage apartment and we were "upgrading" by about 600 sq. feet-- but I wept leaving that little place. 

Today, I had to throw away an article of clothing that my grandmother bought for me in college. I'd worn it to threads, and continued to try and make it work because I just so loved the memory of her giving it to me. It's a piece of fabric-- but I wept saying goodbye to it. 

I used to denigrate emotion over physical things. "Stuff doesn't matter," I used to think. "If I say I'm a Christian, then I should value the spiritual over the physical. What matters is the internal, the invisible, the immaterial." 

But then I learned about the God who spoke the world-- physical reality-- into existence; the God who loves to "let there be" light, water, plants, animals, people; the God who says, "It is good." 

I learned about the God who valued His physical creation so much that He assumed it, by becoming flesh. In the Incarnation, He put on the very stuff of creation and called Himself man. 

I learned about the God who invites His people to encounter Him in the tangible, physical bread and wine week after week after week. It is in the menial and mundane material of this world that I most understand His powerful gift: "This is my body, broken for you."

I learned about the God who intends to redeem all of creation through His saving acts; whose glorious end is to unite the "invisible"-- Heaven itself-- with the "visible," by coming to dwell with His people on earth. 

And so I've realized, if God honors physical reality, why shouldn't I? These things reflect His character, His love, His very self. I'm called not to elevate any created thing to the place of idolatry (making material matter into my god-- materialism), and yet my tendency to care for the tangible gifts of this world isn't sinful or silly. Rather, it's evidence that I'm made in His image. And so I've realized, the loss of things that are meaningful to me isn't necessarily evidence that I should try and be more detached from them, but it is an invitation to long even more for His coming. For these are things He came to redeem: Space. Matter. And Me. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Accepting my Vulnerability

In less than two months, my husband and I will be done with seminary. Aside from that fact, we have absolutely no idea what our lives will look like. We have a certain hope about what it will look like, but it involves things working out that are beyond our control. As the time for graduation has gotten closer-- and as this vision for our lives has gotten clearer-- I find myself in the really uncomfortable place of wanting something desperately, and being powerless to secure it. 

In short, I'm encountering the reality of my creatureliness. Despite what I was told as a child in Disney films and despite what I've heard all my life from "the American dream," there's a point at which my hard work, good intentions, and star-wishing fall short of controlling the world around me. Let me say it practically: even with a good education, a good work ethic, and good connections, I could still not get a job when I graduate. And so the reality is that there is a vulnerability to my life, a dependence upon Someone or something other than myself in the unfolding of my own story. 

This is a harrowing reality, and I think it's the reason so many of us actively seek to remain ignorant of it: we grasp for the feeling of control or power over our own lives and then drown out the gnawing sensation of vulnerability through whatever means available. We numb it with just enough alcohol to take the edge off; we rage against it by maintaining a "perfect" body or the upper hand in romantic relationships, or we distract ourselves from it by working so hard and so long that at the end of a 16-hour day all we have energy left to think about is sleep.  

In my own life, this "defense" against the sting of my own powerlessness is to pretend I don't really care what happens. If I remain callous to my options for the future-- If I don't really admit to myself or anyone else how badly I want it-- then maybe the pain of rejection or loss will be lessened somehow. And yet this is just as much protecting an illusion as is drinking myself to a stupor night after night. Because the reality is I really want this to work out. And I can act above it all, but in those quiet moments when I find my own guard down, the truth is plain; unprotected; dangerous. 

So what's a girl to do? In the last few months, this tango of desire-and-utter-dependence has helped me to realize something that's a bit of a game-changer: the character of the Creator. See, I am dependent, vulnerable, powerless; but He is not. And while that could be a really scary thought (don't we love and hate the One with the power?) He invites me to ask Him for what I want. He doesn't expect me to stuff my desire or pretend it's not real; rather, He welcomes it to the conversation. As His creature, I'm called to accept my limitations, but not in such a way that would leave me jaded or stoic. Instead, accepting my limitations leads me to greater intimacy with the One who holds my future in His hand. 

God is good. He cares about my hopes and dreams, and doesn't handle my heart lightly or with a trace of vindictiveness. This means I'm safe to ask with abandon-- to freely confide the extent of my desire in Him who calls me not just "creature," but "daughter." And because He is both good and the One with the power, I can sleep at night knowing that His answer-- His plan-- is one that I can accept, whatever it is. It might be "yes" to what I'm asking. It might be "no." But either way, He is trustworthy. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thank You Before Goodbye: Redeemer Seminary

A few nights ago, I shared my "student testimony" at my school's annual fundraising dinner. Aside from the typical jitters of saying anything in front of 500 people, I was really blessed by the opportunity to thank the people who have made such a difference in my life and the lives of my friends. It will be really hard to say goodbye to this place, but getting to say "thank you" first is making it a bit easier. 

Here's an excerpt: 

"...I'd summarize it like this: at Redeemer, I’ve been informed, and I’ve been formed. The program is academically rigorous and has equipped me to engage in settings I never before thought possible...I am confident that I truly needed every single class I took in order to prepare me for what lies ahead.

And yet in every single class, I was taught that true preparation for ministry goes far beyond having the right information. My professors have shown me that my calling as a minister is not to be puffed up with knowledge, but to be confident in Christ and His love; to believe that He is the great treasure and I the jar of clay; and to take up my cross and follow Him, no matter what. See, for all its academic rigor, Redeemer has ultimately been a school for my heart. Another student summed it up like this. "Here are some lessons I learned at Redeemer: Weakness is better than strength. Love is better than knowledge. Grace is greater than all my sin. Hope is deeper than my despair. Story is bigger than systems. Christ is brighter than everything." I shudder to think what would have become of us as ministers if we had not been given a chance to learn this." 


Monday, March 17, 2014

Fear or Love

So, in the last few months my husband and I have started watching the BBC show "Call the Midwife." Now, however you feel about the name-- it tends to make one giggle, I'll admit it-- stop what you're doing and go watch the first two episodes. If you still think it's silly after that, well, God help you. 

The shows are actually based on someone's memoirs, and the writing (narrated by the main character) is beautiful. The amount of one-liners she's had have made me (almost) want to open a Twitter account; but one comment in particular from one of the characters has been ringing in my ears since I heard it: 

"I've come to realize there are only two motivations for doing anything: fear or love." 

As I reflect on my last semester in seminary, this pretty much sums up the landscape of my heart. I'm nearing the end of a precious season and there is much to grieve, but there is also much to fear: Will we get jobs? Will the next place be as wonderful as this place? Am I actually ready to be a minister, or have I just been kidding myself? 

But there is also much to love. The people I've come to know and call family for the last four years; the season that has been such an unexpected and life-changing gift; the God who brought us here and made a way for us to both be in school; and the place He is currently preparing for us next, are all gifts from Him to be celebrated even in the pain of transition and the discomfort of uncertainty. I can fear to say goodbye to my life in Dallas, or I can lovingly thank God for the gift it has been. I can fear the future or I can trust Him to provide it. I can fear my failure as a minister or I can step out in love for those to whom God calls me. 

I want my steps these last few months to be energized by love more than fear. I want to apply for jobs without believing the lie that securing my future is totally and completely up to me, and I want to sincerely pray that God would provide the right person for those positions, out of love for the people who need them. I want to look into the fog of the future and cling to the God who has governed my past, not bite my nails in anxious agony. And I want to be so secure in Him that I am able to pull my head out of the sand and actually see the people who are around me right here, right now. I don't want to miss out on love because of fear. 

Because I'm God's child in transition-- the transition from old to new creation-- I know fear continues to be a dynamic even in my love. And yet, because I've been united to Him by faith, I can trust that He is at work to eliminate it completely. See, Love is His name. And "perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) 

What are areas of fear in your life? What would it look like to let Jesus replace that fear with love? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Inch by Awkward Inch

Some of you know the story of how I fell in love with my husband. Others of you don't, so I'll just summarize it like this: it was slow. From day one of our knowing each other, he saw what I didn't: that we were perfect for each other. So for the next two years, he patiently convinced me. And I came around, but not in one fell swoop. I came around inch by awkward inch. 

The other day I heard the song to which we had our first dance and I remembered this awkward (and long) transition stage in our romance. It was after a formal event that he had invited me to attend with him, but I had turned him down (exhibit A of my Heisman-like resistance and his optimistic persistence). So he came by my dorm room to say hello afterward, still in his formalwear. I met him outside where he had parked his car; his keys were in the ignition, music was playing through the open doors, and he asked me to give him one dance. It was slightly raining. He was in a suit and I was in pajamas. 

Sounds romantic, right? The funny thing is the whole time, what was going through my head was, "I guess this is romantic. I just don't think I really like this guy that much." Today, what goes through my head when I remember this scene is, "What was I thinking? Moron." In other words, since that day, my perspective has changed. Someone I once saw as "not my type" is actually the most amazing person I've ever met. My feelings about him went from ambivalence to awe. 

I think this is how some of us feel about Jesus. He's like that really good guy who unwaveringly pursues us with kindness, goodness, truth and beauty. And for various reasons, we see him as kind of blah. Not our type. We hear about his incredible love or his world-changing goodness and think, "I guess he's really great. I just don't think I really like him that much." But over time, things can change. Because He sees what we don't see-- that actually, we're perfect for each other-- and He's willing to help us come around. 

So I encourage you: even if you're not head over heels for Jesus-- even if you haven't decided you want to belong to Him in one fell swoop-- don't be closed to the possibility that your perspective could still change. He just might turn out to be the most amazing person you've ever met. And you just might come around inch by awkward inch.