internal struggle

"Today on the blog," she began to write, but then she erased it because it sounded too pretentious.

She looked at her cat, sleeping in a lump like a clean wash cloth tossed straight from the dryer onto the living room chair, and she smiled at how cute she was.

She thought, "Maybe I should eat some peanut butter," but then she looked at her calorie-counting app and saw she was already 16 calories over her daily goal and it was only 5:32pm.

She sighed and drank some water.

"Today on the blog," she began again, but then she erased it because it sounded like an episode of 20/20.

She looked at her copy of The Crucible lying on the ottoman and wondered if she'd like it as much now as she did when her 11th grade English class took turns reading different parts aloud. That was when one student pronounced "conjure" like "bonjour" and then everyone thought that was how it was supposed to be pronounced and continued pronouncing it that way through the entire book.

She sniffed a laugh and thought about how foolish her classmates were, but then she remembered how her 11th grade notebook had been slathered in pictures of Mel Gibson and Aragorn and she shifted on her couch to try to forget being 17.

"TODAY ON THE BLOG," she began louder, but then she erased it because who was she? Just another voice in the din.

Her cat stretched on the chair and she wished she was a big enough wash cloth to wrap her around her shoulders, using her little pink nose as a button to fasten at the front so she wouldn't slide off.

That could be poetic, she thought, and she tried to write it down, but then she thought, was it poetic? Or just taxidermy?

Sometimes she'd read things she wrote when she was 20 and wish she could be that person again. She'd read the words like a distant spectator and think of them as belonging to someone else, someone she wished she could know better but could never become. The same way you watch a famous person be interviewed on TV.

Maybe she could just tell them what she'd done this year, she thought. She started to make a list.

1. Went to Colorado
2. Went to Tennessee
3. Went to Florida
4. Went to Europe
5. Went to a Twenty One Pilots concert
6. Went to Northern Wisconsin
7. Went to therapy

She looked up at the clock on the wall above the TV. 6:16pm on a Monday night. Who was playing Monday Night Football? What should she wear tomorrow? Why does peanut butter have so many calories?

8. Got a new car
9. Got a ukulele
10. Got a tattoo
11. Got an eHarmony account
12. Got a better idea of what journey God might be asking her to take
13. Got the flu

Just another voice in the din, she thought.

14. Got rid of the eHarmony account
15. Almost got a gun to protect herself from the stalkers she accumulated from the eHarmony account
16. Did NOT get hepatitis from her tattoo like her coworker Pam thought she might
17. Did not get a gun
18. Got the Hallmark Channel

Well, she supposed, being another voice in the din meant she had a voice, at least. Suppose she used it and left it up to the din to decide whether or not it listened?

She went to the cupboard and grabbed the peanut butter.


Vive la Liberte

Five Things I Learned by Traveling to France

1. Funny things makes friends out of strangers. 
Three instances taught me this: 

Instance #1: When the Egyptian guy in the Chicago airport thought the TSA agent was being serious when he told us to empty our pockets of all things, including lint. He looked very concerned (what are you hiding in your lint, hmmmm?) and I had to tell him it was just a joke and we laughed and then chatted for so long in line that eventually he invited me to smoke hookah with him and his friends in Milwaukee sometime. I politely told him he was a strange man in an airport and no thank you, and he said foreigners are friendlier than Americans but he understood and gave me his phone number just in case. (I still have it.) 

Instance #2: When the Indian woman sitting next to me on the plane said not one word to me the entire 8.5 hours from Stockholm to Chicago, not one word, even though I know she noticed that I was discreetly watching her movies from my seat to see if they looked interesting enough for me to watch. (She kept glancing over at my screen every time I started a new movie, and I tried to stare straight ahead with an expression that said, "I came up with the idea to watch this movie all by myself.")
Then as we were preparing to land, the pilot gave some long Scandinavian instructions to his flight crew and, when he'd finished, translated succinctly into English, "Cabin crew, sit." 
I giggled. 
The Indian woman giggled. 
We looked at each other for the first time in eight hours
She said, "It's like they're puppies," and I laughed and said, "I was thinking the same thing!" 

Instance #3: When the guy on the tram that takes you from the Chicago airport to remote parking looked at my guitar and said, "You must be a professional if you're going to carry that thing around the airport." 
I nodded to his five pieces of luggage he was engulfed by and responded, "Says the guy who's carrying around an entire department store." 
He laughed and from there I learned that he just came from Mexico where he was in a wedding and he needed to pack seven different pairs of shoes just in case he needed gray ones or brown ones (depending on his pants). He just moved out of Chicago, so "It will take me 2 hours to get home from here, how bout you?" 
"It depends on how much longer I decide to ride this tram," I responded, and he laughed again, and we're getting married next June. 
(Just kidding. He didn't even tell me his name, unlike the Egyptian guy. Americans are so rude. Hesham was right.)

2. European Netflix is different from American Netflix. 

3. Where canola oil comes from. 

This is the view that welcomes you to France: Fields of colza which gives us canola oil (and engine lubricant, apparently) and smells like feet. Isn't it pretty? Did you ever wonder where canola oil comes from before this? I did, all the time. JK I never did.

4. How to say "pigeon" in French. 

"Pee-jo," basically, only prettier. I also learned how to say "socks" and "don't drink this water" in German (which I thankfully learned before it was too late). I spent the whole week with the Rooses and they taught me a lot. I'm very humbled by the love which this family responds out of daily. Their generous and sincere hearts make me so very grateful to know them and to have been a part of their family for the week. (Pictured: Fayth, Hannah, Tony, and a stately building in Dijon, France. Not pictured: Raeni, pigeons, mustard.)

5. Freedom comes in letting go.

These are the Alps, as seen from Annecy, France. 
I don't think it's any secret that I did not plan to end up living in Wisconsin and working for an insurance company. My plan looked much different and others' plans for me looked much different, too. And I've been feeling the burden and weight of those dead plans and dreams and I think I've been trying to resurrect them or repaint them somehow, or something similar.
But as I sat in an empty field and stared at these mountains, I felt very strongly that God was telling me to "be free." Be free from past plans and others' plans and the expectations of being female or 20-something or Christian or single or a pastor's kid or a businesswoman or artsy or brainy or blah blah blah, the list goes on. Just let go of all the expectations that I or anybody else has placed on me, and let God build something new, and delight in the newness without trying to salvage any of the old pieces to incorporate in the new building. There is freedom when you let go of expectations and old plans and old ways of doing things, when you just let go and let them drift away like curled-up leaves that float atop the water like little boats, not anchors. Freedom in just being you and being happy with being you, today, undefined by anything past, present, or future.

It's a new day. Be free each new day.


Now, Voyager

"I do not know what the future will bring, but it cannot be as beautiful or as satisfying as the past."
Ashley Wilkes says that, in Gone With the Wind, in a letter he writes to Melanie (his wife) while he's fighting in the Civil War. He's remembering lazy and carefree barbecues on giant, successful plantations with money flowing out his ears.

I had meticulously copied that sentence in my journal as a 15-year-old and sighed in longing agreement.

Because apparently, at the ripe old age of 15, I had lived so much life as to have built many of my own plantations I could enviously look back on, discontented with the world-weary life I now lived.

It seems that, no matter where we are in life, there is always something to look back on enviously. We compare where we are now with where we were then, and somehow "then" is always shrouded in this pleasant, hazy glow, like dream sequences from 90s sitcoms.

However, if you were to travel with the Ghost of Christmas Past into an actual scene from your past and peek in the windows on yourself in your living room, you would probably find yourself fretting over something, or discontented with something, or complaining about something. You'd remember how, even though you had a job you loved, you couldn't afford to save money or buy socks. You'd remember how, even though you had such close friends around you, you were far from family and sad to miss time with them. You'd remember how, even though you lived in a city that felt like home, you were too stressed out most of the time to enjoy it.
"So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we must decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Gandalf says that, in The Lord of the Rings, after Frodo says he wishes that the Ring had never come to him and that none of this had ever happened.

It's one of those quotes that people post on Pinterest on very spiritual backgrounds that they think will inspire them to live different lives. Instead, they just forget about it as soon as it's their turn at the Starbucks drive-thru window.

Not that I have done this.

Don't Pinterest and drive.

(This is my own personalized one. You may have it. As your phone background, maybe.)

I recently met with a woman who, when laid off from work several years ago, decided to use her new-found free time to volunteer with several organizations around town. After doing so, she saw a gap in the programs available and decided to found a new organization specifically geared toward mentoring middle school and high school girls. Now she's retired and leads this nonprofit that serves girls all over the county.

Looks like she didn't sit around on her bumpkin pining for the past, did she? Talk about deciding what to do with the time that is given to you.

I think Ashley Wilkes was right that nothing will be as beautiful or as satisfying as the past, but not because the past is better than the present. It's because the past has already happened and we don't have to work at it anymore. We can simply enjoy the good memories of it and the good fruits from it and not remember how there was still buying milk and there was still loneliness and there were still crises that we weeded through and things we wished for.
The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.
Walt Whitman says that, in his book of poems, Leaves of Grass. I like it because he is saying that sometimes it isn't placed in our laps, and sometimes we must be adventurers and go find it.

Not necessarily to be ambitious, big-dreaming world-changers who stand on stages and whose names everybody knows, but to be common people who are grateful in the day-to-day, to use both our busy and our not-busy time wisely, to find joy amidst buying milk, to invest what we have (which means being aware of what we have), and not to wait for our lives to work themselves out for our enjoyment but to intentionally make life happen. To give of ourselves and make good use of the time we have and be present.

So that's my little speech to myself. That I'm sharing with you so that I am without excuse to remain stagnant any longer.


Good Friday

A couple of years ago I helped plan the Good Friday service at the church where I worked. We attempted to make the entire service focus solely on the somberness of the crucifixion of Christ - which meant leaving out Scripture passages that talked about His resurrection and ending songs a couple of verses before we got to the "up from the grave He arose" parts. The whole service was meditative, contemplative, dark, and serious, following the theme of Bob Sorge's quote that "resurrection is glorious, but worship is empowered primarily by the cross." It took months to plan, and it was one of my favorite church services ever.

It's easy to focus on the cross when your job is focusing on the cross.

This year I forgot about Easter till last week, when someone at work told me we had Good Friday off. Then I admit that I was more excited that I had Good Friday off than that it was Good Friday. I even proclaimed to my coworker, "I'm so glad Jesus rose from the dead!" Because I get a day off work.

I also admit that, on a daily basis, I think more about God as someone who offers direction and guidance and comfort than a God who came to earth as a human and went to the cross to make me whole. When I thank God it's usually for providing for my daily needs and giving me good friends and parents and a job and my cat.

So this morning I was thinking about the Good Friday service I will attend tonight, and how we'll most likely take communion, and I'll think about the sacrifice He made 2,000 years ago and try to focus on the gravity and weightiness of the situation before moving on to my next thought (which will most likely be something about what I should eat for dinner).

But here's where I think a lot of us Christians are getting it very wrong. We take a moment out of our week, out of our month, out of our year, to remember Christ on the cross, and then we move on. I want to please God, so I spend most of my time asking Him how I may please Him, what I should do to please Him, where I should go and who I should marry and how I should use my talents to please Him. As a result, I live most of my life feeling like I'm never doing enough and never quite achieving the status of "Christ-follower" that I should be.

Because I am spending most of my time thinking about me.

A.W. Tozer addresses this very thought in his book I Talk Back to the Devil:
"In most cases it is a kind of plodding along, without the inward life of blessing and victory and resurrection joy and overcoming in Jesus' name. Why is this? It is largely because we are looking at what we are, rather than responding to who Jesus is! We have often failed and have not been overcomers because our trying and striving have been in our own strength. That leaves us very little to sing about!"
He goes on to say that "no one will make progress with God until he lifts up his eyes and stops looking at himself."

Oh, me.

My prayers are so much, "Help me trust you," "Help me love you," "Help me obey you," "Show me where to go," but my eyes are always cast on the "me" part. I am looking at what I am, rather than responding to who Jesus is. And who Jesus is is displayed, for all to see, on the cross.

The cross.

There is no question we can ask that is not answered in the cross.

When I wonder, "Am I loved?" I am reminded that God purchased me on the cross, and He would not purchase what he does not want.
"You were bought, not with something that ruins like gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, who was like a pure and perfect lamb." - 1 Peter 1:18b-19
When I think, "How could I possibly forgive?" I am reminded that Jesus paid all debts - those I owe and those others owe me - on the cross.
"In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another." - Andy Stanley, Enemies of the Heart
"Forgiveness does not demand repayment. 'But where is the justice?' ask the victims. It is in the crucifixion of Christ." - Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker
And most of all, when I wonder what to do with the countless voices all around me, telling me daily who I am and what I am and what I do and how I measure up, I am reminded that God declared who I am - once and for eternity - on the cross.
"Identity in Christ starts with believing something about Jesus and then believing something about ourselves in light of what we believe about Jesus." - David Lomas, The Truest Thing About You
Tonight is a night we Christians have specifically picked out of the year to focus our hearts and minds on the cross, but the cross is not meant for a once-a-year reflection time. It is the foundation of our hope, our identity, how we love others, how we love ourselves, how we face trials, how we respond to opposition, how we react to success, how we move on, how we grow up, how we stay grounded.

And it is how we know Jesus.
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." - Colossians 1:15, 19-20
That is my prayer for us: As we press on to know Him, may we keep our eyes fixed on the cross. Not just tonight, or this weekend, but every day for the rest of our lives till we're finally with Him face-to-face in heaven. In Jesus' name, amen.