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.


visitors are people, too

Happy New Year.

I realize that it's been the new year for a while, but I haven't been here in a while, so this is my formal New Year's address to you.

Let me catch you up to speed:

A year ago I moved from KY to WI, then four months ago I tried moving back to KY but moved back to WI shortly thereafter. Now I have a good (non-church) job that gives me lots of chocolate to make me feel like a valuable (and diabetic) employee, and I'm living in my own (albeit lonely) place with my cat, who is sitting on my lap right now like the fluffy toasted marshmallow that she is.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and Sundays were, once upon a time, my busiest days. Full of coffee and bustling hallways and being on stage and meeting new people and avoiding the bulletins because it was too late to fix any mistakes and hustling from one side of the building to the other to make sure everything was running the way it was supposed to be running.

Now I'm sitting on my living room floor trying to decide which church to visit tomorrow, preparing myself once again to be another visitor at another new church. I'll get there early and sit in my car until it feels a little less early, then I'll take a deep breath and walk through the doors and smile and shake peoples' hands and find the auditorium and sit by myself and fill out an "I'm new here" card and observe what style of music they have and analyze the pastor's sermon and occasionally glance around the room to see what kind of people go here and if they are like me at all. And I'll simultaneously hope that they notice I'm new and that no one notices I'm new.

Has this ever been you?

It had never been me, till now, and suddenly I realize how very hard it is to be a visitor.

For example, I went to this church a few weeks ago where the pastor asked, "How many of you are Jesus-lovers in here today?"

My arms had been crossed around my middle and, as I saw out of the corner of my eye all these hands shooting up around me, I went to raise my hand, too. However, my ring got caught on my sweater and I tugged and tugged but it didn't unsnag, and before I could get it free the pastor had moved on and everyone lowered their hands and I had not proclaimed to be a Jesus-lover.

I felt judging eyes all over me. I was positive that someone in the back of the room had made a note on his little clipboard, "Girl in red sweater. Not a Jesus-lover. Talk to her after."

That same church sent me this card in the mail:

A few facts about this card:

  1. It came 2 weeks after I'd visited their church.
  2. I left before the service was over, so it's not probable that he talked to me at the "After Party."
  3. I don't know what this "difficult time" is that he speaks of, but I will also be praying for whoever it is that is going through it. (Unless he's referring to me not loving Jesus, according to Clipboard Guy, in which case okay, pray for me if you want.)

Oh, how very important it is to feel welcomed and noticed and remembered.

If you're a church-attender and you've been at your church for 5 or 15 years, maybe try to step out of your comfort zone a little and greet someone new. They probably really want you to and really don't want you to at the same time. But they do want to feel welcomed, and noticed, and remembered. And your one little action can make all the difference.

If you're searching for a new church and feeling weary of the search, I feel you. I grow impatient for a place to call home. All I can say is enjoy the adventure and take advantage of the free stuff. I have so many copies of Andy Stanley's How Good Is Good Enough? I'm beginning to use them as coasters.

And if you're a church staffer and every weekend is the same ol' time to make the donuts, remember that people are walking in your doors to find a place to belong, and you can either offer it to them or make them feel like just another outsider of some cool clique. I get that it's hard to tell who's new sometimes, and you don't want to embarrass yourself by asking someone, "Are you new?" when they helped plant the church 25 years ago. But guess what: church isn't about you. So maybe risk some embarrassment and make people feel welcomed.

Also, make eye-contact. Nothing is more annoying than talking to a staff member who's scanning the halls for other people. SEE ME!

Okay I'm done now.

Here's this song to kick off the new year [two months late]: