Trucks are prohibited...but you are always welcome

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What am I worth?

What am I worth? What is the value of a human life? Does the individual life have value simply because it IS? How much value is placed on a beating heart, the snapping of synapses? I am going to make some statements and please decided before reading further if you: 1.disagree completely 2.moderately disagree 3.have no leaning 4.moderately agree 5.agree entirely
A.Human life has intrinsic (internal) value and is sacred
B.There is nothing in life more important than the lives of people
C.All human lives have equal value
D.God loves all people equally

These are all suppositions I feel have been increasingly perpetuated in modern society. But I've been struggling within myself about if they are beneficial, or even accurate.

Let's first look at the idea that human life has intrinsic value. There are several situations in which this seems to be factual. For example, a person who murders a pregnant woman is charged for both the murder of her, and of her unborn child. This bestows value to something that has no effect, positive or negative, on society. Its only impact is purely potential (Aside from economy-boosting money spent on prenatal health care). But there are other situations where the value of a life is superseded by situations surrounding it. Abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide (for the purpose of population control), all negate the value of life by pitting it against the scale of quality. The negative implications of the life can outweigh its potential benefits, and in each of those situations that decision is made externally. That means the value is not internally born, it is flexible. It is externally decided. Children and women were prioritized in emergencies, because their external potential was greater. Women could bear more children. Children had more life ahead of them. The lives of the men were devalued, there was nothing inside them that changed... only the circumstances. If a beloved philanthropist with a large adoring family passes away, it is a great loss. If a lonely hermit with no social contact and no family passes away, is it a loss as well? When things of value are destroyed it is a loss. Did the life of the hermit have value? It may be entirely possible that our value is purely externally derived by our circumstances and even more by the people around us. Those who love us, need us, and surround us may very well bestow on us our value. What is a diamond worth with no one to admire it?

Let's now look at the idea that nothing is more important than human life. In the movie 300, the small but proud Spartan army knowingly charged to their graves. They had no illusion that the battle would end in their favor. In the latest Hunger Games movie, a scene occurred where a small band of rebels charged a dam providing power to the Capitol. The rebels in the front of the onslaught knew that the guards would open fire surely killing some, but the sheer numbers would eventually overpower and allow the last of the group to place explosives in the dam, destroying it. These scenes played for an audience of modern patrons who all nodded, with hearts aflame, admiring the bravery of the protagonists in the scene. No one sat with pursed lips, scowling, "What a waste... surely there must have been another way to spare the people!" It was generally agreed upon with out approval that there are things more important than individuals. Pride. Honor. Freedom. The good of the majority. It's been chanted throughout history, so why refute what has been a building block of our "modern" society?

On another note, I'm not implying that societal trends and behavior indicates absolute truth. If that were so then we would have to suppose that the racism in the seventies defined African Americans as having inferior value. I only use social examples because with inscrutable topics such as personal worth, the observational sciences are some of the only data that can be presented without dipping permanently into philosophical reasoning.

Now I want to focus on the push towards egalitarianism. Are all people truly created equal? Picture a post-apocalyptic society. Any illusion of total equality is discarded for a "survival of the fittest" mentality. Those with skills are prioritized, the strongest conquer the weaker for rights to scarce supplies and property. If the weakest were protected, the group as a whole would be weakened as there is simply not enough resources to go around. So why, if it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, would egalitarianism be discarded when survival is most important? It seems that equality is a luxury, adopted only in times of plenty and not in fact based in core truth. So as we become more evolved, why push for a concept that is apparently not evolutionarily advantageous?

Now I turn towards things of spirituality. As a follower of Jesus, I turn towards scripture as the source of truth. And I ask myself, was God an egalitarian? He definitely made sure the door to Him was open to all through Jesus. Jesus spent time with the religious leaders, the poor, the rich, and the outcasts of society. He definitely seemed to share a special affection for the downtrodden of society and stated that the rich and "religious" would have an extremely hard time coming to Him but that was not his doing, simply the way it was. The broken realized the need for him more easily, the well-off did not. But in the Old Testament God prioritizes the Israelites, the Chosen people, time after time. He gives victories to His armies, and wipes out entire populations. Populations of people>. The Egyptian army was buried by water as the Jews escaped on dry land. These soldiers were just men following orders, they all had families and lives. They were no more sinful in nature than the Chosen people. Maybe He loved them and valued them, but He also destroyed them. It's a hard truth of scripture. God is a just God, and the price of sin is death. Not all will be saved. Not all are meant to be saved. Some are favored. Before the birth of Christ, obedience is highly valued. After the birth of Christ, faith is highly valued. After the death of Christ, the tables seem to be turned. It makes sense that the value of something is determined by the price paid for it. The price for us suddenly became the blood of the Christ. Invaluable. For those under the grace of the cross, a value is received that is completely separate from all external factors. It is the great equalizer. All the other situations that shake other definitions fall away in the weight of the worth given to the Children of God. Scripture says that He adopts them into His royal family. From the point on that worth is bestowed there is no need for any additions. Wealth, beauty, talent, love, status, or even life have any impact on our worth in God's eyes. Our value is set, and it is SO high. And since I choose God as the bestower of my value, I feel freed to simply BE. In Him, I can simply BE.

I've been processing worth and value for weeks, trying my very best to take God out of the equation and look at it objectively but I find time and time again I simply cannot. It's the only one that makes sense to me, the only one that doesn't leave me an insecure, self-doubting, self-depricating mess. So even if it's wrong and even if no one agrees with me, I like the sense of security and safety in the full knowledge of the value I have. Not because I'm good, special, smart, or anything else I did or could do... but simply because He came to me and He told me so. And thanks to Him, I believe it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Head is Spaghetti

I haven't posted in some time... I usually only write when I've got a thought I've worked through and come to some resolution, and I was in no way prepared for the vichyssoise of feelings, emotions, urges, and ideas that my recently ended journey would submerge me in. I am still very much in a processing place but I really need to let some air from my brain-tires, as I fear they will burst from all the spinning, spinning, spinning.
My trip leader said it best, and it's the hardest part to describe to people who inquire; "You are not here to make a difference, you are here to learn and then take your new knowledge back home where you understand the culture and can truly make a difference" (paraphrased). I may have helped a few people but what I, we, did for them is infinitesimal compared to what they did for me. And that goes for the people in my group as well. I found both my group and the Guatemalans so inspiring. My Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand cohorts showed me how little I truly know or care about my surroundings, both locally and globally. This will change. It must.

I was primarily inspired by how well they were able to love the world, and see it as whole instead of an us/them mentality. They intentionally and actively try to embrace and positively influence all kinds of people while I feel I seem to do the opposite. I surround myself with people similar to myself and never leave this safe haven of like-mindedness. As a believer, I am specifically called to go out and feed the sheep and to love others as I love myself. So why do I not? Why do I waste time in silly, selfish endeavors instead of answering the Call of the one who drank with the lowest in society and embraced the ones the church scorned? I call myself a Christian because I go to Bible study, church, I spend time in the word, and talk about God with the other people in His fan club... but where is the love? I spend time learning the ins and outs of the minutia of my faith but Corinthians 13:3 warns against going through loveless motions to look the part. I'm so worried about how I appear to the world, I distract myself from loving it.

So what does this mean for my life now? To sum it up as best I can, responsibility.
Now that I have seen how poorly the farmers in these growing nations are paid and treated so that I can have cheap imported produce, I will change my spending habits. I've seen what these mass-imported and mass-produced products do to people. Poorly treated workers, on top of produce and animals filled with harmful chemicals and antibiotics to keep production up and cost down. It disgusted me both on a heart and head level, and I retched at the thought of all the harm I was doing to both myself and people around me by not shopping/eating more responsibly. (I recommend documentaries like "", "Walmart: the high cost of low prices", and "Gold Fever") My part is small, but I can vote with my dollar. And my vote goes to ethically sourced produce and ethically treated livestock despite higher cost. Right now, the only way to ensure that is to buy locally, where I can actually get face-time with the farmers. Buying locally also provides a huge boost to the Indy economy by keeping the money here in the city where we need it. Each dollar spent locally returns three times more money than that spent at a chain, quoted American Independent Business Alliance. And it will give small business a chance to flourish, giving our wonderful city some character and individuality. If enough people make this lifestyle change, larger companies will fall in line and begin ethical sourcing to regain our lost business. Clothes, too, I've felt convicted about. My relentless cycle of consumerism leaves me with a full-to-bursting closet filled with tags that cry the names of abused cheap laborers: Honduras, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and countless more.
On the interpersonal side, I will essentially open myself up for God to show me populations that need loving. This may look different than feeding the poor or clothing the needy... Need for the father reaches from the inner city to Carmel. I hope to do this through my passions for coffee, but I don't know how exactly yet. But I know the Lord didn't place a love and talent for coffee in my heart for nothing. The unique thing about coffee is it's a way to love both locally and globally. I can use it to connect with people in my city as well as those in growing nations and bless both. How? I don't yet know... but I trust that as long as I make myself a willing vessel, a way will be made and I'll keep fighting and learning until I find it.
I have also had my eyes opened to the pain of the world around to me, and I've been blind to it. I never watched or read the news, but now I see that knowledge is power. How can I help if I don't know? It is part of the calling to be burdened for the pain of the world. My worries have been so fleshly: my fitness, my appearance, my dating life, my job, etc. I pray for a husband and fulfillment at work when I should be praying for those affected in gaza and Israel. I am counting carbs when I should be fasting, interceding for those displaced by civil war. God, forgive my blindness and my calloused, selfish heart.

I don't know what to do with all these feelings stirred up but I feel like the Lord has grown me tremendously through my experiences. He has softened my heart, grown my confidence, and opened up my eyes to the impotent nature of my lackluster faith. I'm excited to see where it all goes!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Santa Anita update

Our last few days with CCDA were lovely, and they sent us away with an extremely touching farewell dinner. We spent the afternoon on a touristy hotspot on the dock, followed by a boat and then bus ride to Santa Anita de la union, a small but proud coffee and banana farming community. They are wonderful people, and have welcomed us into their homes and fields. Many of the coffee farmers here are ex guerrillas, and regale us with stories of the civil war. Our host is an ex guerrilla fighter who told us he spent six months in the mountains to escape death and was taken in by a group of people who would become revolutionaries. He told us about three times he was nearly killed in battle, and now he farms a plot of coffee plantation in the daytime and reads his Bible in the evenings. "I am quiet and serious sometimes," he tells us, "but I have a very big heart". 
Our second host, a warm woman named doña Maria, cooks and cares for us. She is the wife of a beekeeper and has no children. There is no shortage of honey or laughter in her home. Her two dogs and pet parrot, Paco, are a constant source of entertainment. She tells us of brothers and mother in Guatemala City, and with a touch of pain she told the story of her other brother who was active in the resistance and was disappeared by the government. She never found out what happened to him, but suspects he was tortured to find the location of her and her family. She is only alive because he did not actually know where they were at the time. This community, this country, has seen so much pain but still they press on. The president of the community cooked us tortillas and told us they we should rejoice in our suffering and failings because they are opportunities to learn and grow. I am humbled by them. 
We have been put to work in the community alongside the men. We've helped in construction in the project we funded, a housing for their pulpera. We have helped weed coffee plants and chop firewood, and have one more day left of construction before we bid them farewell and make our way to higher ground to visit the mining communities. The weather here is subtropic, hot and humid every day and rainy and cold every evening. The insects are thick and during my running tally of bites on my body I counted 62. I'm sure I'll add to the number tomorrow. 
The lack of plumbing has been hard and I am craving a hot shower but yesterday I bathed under a waterfall after a long hike to and from the fields and I must say... I'll take that over a hot shower any day. But for now, bucket baths are a small price to pay for the privilege of working alongside these incredible people. 
Be well, friends

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Update 6-17-14

We've just left the charming city of San Lucas Toliman, where an incredible coop called CCDA is located. It's stands for cooperativo campesinos del altiplanos (farmers coop of the highlands). They welcomed us with open arms and worked alongside us as we did work in carpentry, farming, and creating all natural compost and pesticides for their crops. It was a wonderful time of learning, growing, and laughing. We enjoyed evenings discussing food responsibility and watched a documentary called King Korn. I definitely want to shop and eat more responsibly as I can see the impact of my choices in the States directly on the people I'm working with here. I've been conscious about what I put in my body, but now I am moving past "what" and into the realm of "from where". 
I've begun to feel extremely convicted about my consumerist ways and have been thinking about all the things I want to change when I go home. I can't change my whole country but I can change my own habits. 
My health and heart are both good, I've been reading "glittering vices" in early morning spare time when the roosters give their 6am wake up call. It's been following the theme of the trip so closely it can't be mere coincidence. I read about vain glory and felt the need to be still and listen rather than talk, both to God and my group members. It spurred many a good conversation. I read about sloth and realized the pull in my heart to respond to the call of love, and to action. I am now reading about avarice and feel the weight of my need to consume, and to accumulate. I trust in my money and possessions rather than God, and find myself instead possessed by them. I have built myself an ikea cage, a fortress that halts the hand of giving. His mighty hand has been gentle, showing me the corners of my heart that still need His attentive touch. Please pray for me, that I open them and let his Work be done in me. We're leaving this afternoon for Santa Anita where we'll be constructing a pulping machine for a coffee farm there. I'm excited! Be well, friends.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Update, post trek

Today is the last day of our hike. After a full day yesterday, everyone is ready for a wash and a rest. Our mode of bathing is a Guatemalan sauna called a temezcal. It's a small encasement about 4x6 ft with a coal fire in one corner to heat it. A pail of very hot and very cold water sit on a plank, where you sit in the middle with an empty pail and mix the two to desired temperature. We use a small bowl to pour this water over top of us to wash and rinse, usually two people at a time. It definitely encourages bonding and discourages modesty. 
 We woke up at 3am to begin our hike today, extra early to catch the sunrise from a lookout point not far from our homestay. We sat bundled up with hot coffee and oatmeal as the slow sunrise lit up the seven volcano peaks silhouetted in the distance. I've never seen a skyline like this, and the soft purples, pinks and grays created a scene no camera can fully capture. I chose a few select songs to soundtrack the moment and I think I found a few that were just about perfect. Our first settling, with mostly dark except for a soft blue directly East, was accented by "the earth is not a cold dead place" by Explosions in the Sky. The soft early dawn as the peaks began to take shape was enjoyed with "the Universe" by Gregory Alan Isakov. "Pathos pathos" by Kishi Bashi  seemed to coax the first bright flashes of sun to emerge, lighting up the clouds, lake water, and cities scattered below. Stunning. We have a few hours yet of our hike to the lake, where we'll begin our next project. We're smelly, tired, and sore from the voyage but spirits are high. As hard as it's been, it's been broken up by breathtaking views, dips in waterfalls, and picnics under delicious shade trees. I could live like this forever... But I'm excited for the work to begin again. 
The group is still getting along well. Our last hosts had a guitar, so I recruited a friend to play a few tunes. He played guitar and sang, and I sang harmonies to various folk tunes for the group. Luckily our taste in music is nearly identical, and knew all the same songs. It definitely made me feel much more at home, as I've sorely missed making music. 
I'm falling in love with the people here, they are so kind and inviting. The Mayan family I helped build a stove for thanked me with a traditional garb with stitched patterns so intricate it takes over a month to complete. I had trouble accepting it, and it was hard to express my gratitude with my broken Spanish. They taught me how to say thank you in quiche ('kee-chay), the Mayan language, but even that seemed insufficient. It's hard to believe our time is nearly half over. It seems I've been here for ages, and at the same time I feel like I just got here. 
Please pray for my speech and actions, that I portray Christ well. Be well, friends

Update, mid trek

The trip has taken a turn for the remote. We've traded hostels for home stays with the locals of the altiplanos, and it's a different world. Dirt roads, livestock everywhere, outhouses and high cresting hills painted by farmland. This is more what I pictured when I imagined the trip, I almost wish we hadn't been spoiled by the modest but modern cities we've been enjoying. Showers, indoor plumbing and electricity are a thing of the past. As I speak, we're all huddled on the concrete floor with our sleeping bags pressed together as we play cards by the light of our headlamps. Our hosts are incredibly kind although facial expressions are the only form of communication since they speak an ancient Mayan language none of us know. We hiked the majority of the morning and worked on stove construction until sundown. The trek took us to a height of about 10,500 ft and was by far the most physically challenging thing I've done in my life. Two more like it when we migrate to the lake to stay at the next village and the next project. 
As for the internal goings ons... I think I'm getting increasingly introverted as alone time is rare. Privacy is nonexistent and I'm thankful the majority of the group is made up of women. 
Hiking today, I was struck by the beauty and the bigness of my surroundings. My God is so big and otherworldly, I feel so lead to this trip as He reminds me every day of his qualities revealed in His creation. I've also been reminded of my own fragility as I've been sick and weak, and finally conquered by a tortuous hike in daunting altitudes. I am weak in mind, body, and spirit and the delicious dependence I feel is much needed. I make God so small... But looking at the beauty of the mountains, the harshness of the volcanos, the resilience of the Guatemalan people, I see Him all around. It is hard trying to process through these feelings about my relationship with Christ alone, as there's not really anyone to talk to about it and I tend to be an external processor. But alas, I suppose I'll have to save it for later. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Guatemala update 6-6-14

Finally got some adequate wifi access at an amazing cafe, a 3rd wave gem called Melatte in Xela. I wasn't sure whether to blog activities or emotions of the trip, so I'll break them into sections. 
It's been raining an insane amount here, nearly every day save for a few precious hours of sun. Morale is low as most of our party is sick with various illnesses and sad from lack of sun. But we've found ways to cheer each other up. My room at the hostel has five occupants, it's a cozy windowless sanctuary we've dubbed "The Cave." We built a blanket fort and watched movies during the heaviest rain, hard to believe we're all in our 20s! The past few days have been a mix of work and fun. The days are taken up entirely by language training one-on-one and cultural immersion to prepare us for the remote village on our next stop. Evenings are usually cooking, documentaries about Guatemalan history, or recreation like salsa lessons, drinks, or games inside if it's raining. Yesterday our trip leaders surprised us with an impromptu trip to the altiplanos to see the famous hot springs birthed from volcanic fissures. The scenery was unreal, I'll try to upload a picture. After a nice soak morale was much improved. 

The group is growing closer by the day. Despite being from five different countries, we're like family after only a week together. I feel so comfortable and at home with them, connected in a way I can't even describe. We cook together, clean together, laugh, cry, hug, cuddle, and grow together. We've become brave and are more comfortable conversing and connecting with the locals.
 I think this has been a lonely couple days. I try to post on Facebook so my friends and parents know I'm alive and well, but seeing the posts of everyone else is making me homesick. It's also very different being around people that don't share my beliefs, it's challenging and isolating but also very refreshing. Conversations have been stellar and extremely stimulating. People are so environmentally and socially conscious and it makes me feel so guilty that I've lived so much of my life ignorant of the issues in my and other countries. I must admit I find myself overwhelmed as I discover the amount of social injustice present in my world, even in my own country. I don't know how to process this just yet.
Tomorrow we start our three day journey to the mountain village. Covering about ten miles a day, it will be a challenge because none of us are used to the altitude and most of us are weakened from travelers sickness. But once we get to the village we will begin our first big project, building stoves for the women of a Mayan organization called AMA. They suffer from eye and respiratory problems from cooking over open fires and they live in the smoke every moment indoors. They cook tortillas to sell, a popular occupation. The stoves we're constructing will prevent the lung diseases they suffer from, and they are thrilled for the help and also to share their homes with us. I am so excited to get started with the work.
My prayers for this week are: health to be well enough to work, to have a soft heart that is burdened for the pain of the world, and pray that the comfort of God will be sufficient in days of new surroundings. Thanks friends!! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

First week: culture immersion

We have spent this whole week experiencing the culture of the three cities we've seen, Guatemala City, Antigua, and Quetzaltenango. We got to shake hands with a small coop coffee farmer and walk along enormous
 rows of a corporate farm that supplies big name buyers such as Starbucks and Stumptown. Hearing the insane amount of time and work they both put into the product makes me so glad that I have the opportunity to be the finally step in their work and process. By paying attention to detail when presenting their product, I pay them respect. They warm my heart. 
The next few days were emotionally taxing. We heard the stories of the civil war survivors, and those whose family had been slaughtered and kidnapped by their own government. We talked to women who had been raped and tortured for asking what had happened to their husbands and why they had been taken. The students there talked about how the bodies of their colleagues would be dumped on the school grounds as a scare tactic. Some, as recently as ten years ago. 
We talked to women of mining farms who had their homes burned by mining companies because they refused to abandon their ancestral land. This is a population abused, with little advocate or political voice and corruption infiltrates every modicum of government entity.
We hand spent much time with the people, who welcome us into their homes. Yesterday we killed a chicken for a traditional soup... On that note, I think I'm a vegetarian now. 
This trip has been fulfilling and I am so excited to start the more intensive volunteer work after language classes.
So far several in our group have gotten sick but by the grace of God I am in good health despite a wicked sunburn after hours in the coffee farm. 
The pace here is breakneck so downtime is rare... I'll try to update as much as I can. Some specific prayer requests I have are:
1. Health
2. Eyes focused on the cross. Time alone  with God is hard to come by here, and distractions are a constant.
3. To see the pain and need of people the way God sees it, to have my heart burdened.
Please let me know which you're praying for in comments, I would love that! Be well, friends

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day 1

A bittersweet goodbye at the terminal, the earmark of the life that happens in airports. Sweet hellos, tearful goodbyes, and strangers passing in forced proximity.  I love them, I love the mesh of stories and hurried happenings as I fight the urge to ask each of them where they've been and where they're going. 
The flight, uneventful, seemed like magic. It always does. The chaotic power and the quiet lift as wheels kiss pavement farewell. I have the window seat, nose against the glass like a child. The sun is starting to rise, I feel as if we're racing its ascent... Who can touch heaven first? The sun blows smoke in our faces like a brute in a bar, and the turbulence makes us all clench our armrests a little tighter, prayers intermingling with nervous laughter. 
The first coming together of the group was effortless as we all shared stories and laughed as we poked fun at stereotypes of our respective cultures. Land and sea, far or near, our humanity looks the same and bonds us. 
Our laughter sounds the same and our smiles are unaffected by accents. 

Day one is going well, spirits are high and we all look forward to cooking Guatemalan style pizza... Because who doesn't love pizza?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Freakin' Germany....

I saw a post entitled "10 German words with no English equivalent" and I've experience three of them in the space of a week.
The first, "weltschmerz", describes a specific depression or apathy that comes from comparing the ideal world to reality. Ah... yes, weltschmerz. I know you well.
The second, "kummerspeck", roughly translates to "grief bacon" and describes weight gain brought on by emotional eating. Just look at the amount of pizza and chocolate containers in my trash. Grief bacon is a staple in my diet, atop scrambled eggs and toast.
The third, "torchlusspanik", translates to "Fear of the gate closing" and describes the acute fear that time is running out and opportunities are slipping away.

If you had asked 16 year old Stephanie what her life would look like at 25, she would have said that she would be a physical therapist married to a veterinarian who also plays in a band and loves camping. She'd have a kid on the way, but still has time to care for her two cats and volunteer at the homeless shelter. She'd live in a little yellow house NOT in the suburbs and has a willow tree in the yard she likes to read underneath. She has a pool probably.

So imagine her weltschmerz if she discovered that real 25 year-old Stephanie is a single nurse with an apartment in the suburbs, no pets, and no pool. She still volunteers, but the nearest willow tree is miles away. Bring on the grief bacon, here comes the torchlusspanik.

But in all reality, the fact that God's plan for my life has so far diverged from my own does cause me some stress, confusion, and occasional sadness. I long for the feeling of moving towards something, rather than treading water. But God has also granted me an insane and totally supernatural amount of contentment in this season. I pine, yes, but rarely. Most days I wake up and relish my freedom. I make my own amazing breakfast, enjoy coffee just the way I like it and get quiet uninterrupted time with the Lord followed by raucous, un-judged dancing. I do yoga in my living room and let the dishes sit as long as I like. I sing always, and I come and go as I please. I cook the food I like, listen to the music I like, sing the songs I like and apologize to no one. It's a wonderful life. But despite my happiness with it, I've also discovered I idolize relationships and love in general. I only thought you idolized love if you said things like "once I get married I'll be happy". But I've recently realized my heart often says, "I'm happy... but I will be even happier after I get married". They are the same, and both are attitudes that make marriage an idol and prevent readiness for it. Lately my prayer is for God to make me content in my life NOW, because once He is all I need then everything else is icing on the cake. And boy, would I love to trade my grief bacon in for some cake.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sweatshirt Weather

I still have your sweatshirt.
It hangs in my closet like a secret.
It reminds me of you, in the way that it smells, among other things. It's a simple, unassuming grey. Boring? No... classic. It matches and alludes to you in that it keeps me warm, gives me comfort. It wraps around me fitting too big, but strangely perfect. The company that makes it is well known for their reliability and durability. Your Maker too, took great pride in your construction and it shows in the quality. If they sold you in Macy's I would not be able to afford you (but I may ask for you for Christmas).
You lent it to me expecting to get it back. I lent pieces of myself, expecting the same.

Your sweatshirt and my heart, neither of which will return to the original owner any time soon.

Monday, April 28, 2014

I'm a pretentious jerk.

I enjoy music of all kinds, and always have some song or another playing in my head at all times (a trait I inherited from my mother). My house was always filled with music, either my mom practicing piano or three of us cooking and singing in three-part harmony, spontaneous and unrehearsed. I like music, but some music I love. It's not specific to a genre... what I love is a musical artist who paints. But rather than painting a picture, he/she paints a feeling. Like an abstract piece of art, my favorite musicians create a canopy of sound, with vague and artful lyrics that allow me to interpret and enjoy whatever feeling they elicit. They don't force a story or meaning on me with bluntness. The feeling is my own, the meaning is my own and it hits hardest when the song resonates a current experience like a finger sliding along the edge of a crystal glass. It rings clear and perfect, leaving nothing but an echo when the moment passes. My favorite artists shift and vary to match the seasons and the weather. I like folk in the fall, I like electronic pop in the spring. I like anything acoustic when I'm in love.

My favorite song lately is one I've had for years... it's the opening track to Kishi Bashi's 151a album, "Intro/ pathos pathos". The song, aptly named, is very emotional. Mostly strings and synth, the song opens up with soft strains of melodic violin layers. It's the feeling of a slow awakening, the fibers of a dream still clinging to eyelids and the momentary confusion that comes as they slip away. The tune slowly becomes erratic and almost cacophanous. Eye lids flutter open, the chaos clears quickly and bursts forth to drum-driven, toe-tapping beats with a harmonic vocal backdrop of Japanese lyrics. This is the first draw-back of the blinds to find a brilliant early-day sun streaming in. High-pitched looping strings and vocal beats almost mimic a flock of birds. The song makes me feel the way an awesome morning feels, and I love that.

The lyrics vaguely describe a scene that fits the mood already set by the music. A couple sits beneath a tree discussing birds in the branches, urging each other to enjoy them before they fly their own separate ways. The Japanese chorus translates to "what would happen if we could meet?" and "aetara iina" means "I wish I could see you". It's a cute, bright setting with an undertone of temporality. I seems like the couple is being compared to the birds, who perch and enjoy each others' company for a time, and inevitably move on. The nature of birds and the nature of love seem implied to be both similarly flighty and impulsive. I also get a message to not let opportunities for love and life pass, because they are fleeting.

And I fully realize this makes me look and sound like a pretentious ass... but I really, really like this song. In fact, the whole album is just stellar. I could go on for ages about it. Literally.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Fault is Not in Our Stars

I guarantee the first Man and Woman never thought to compartmentalize their "religion", their bonds with God. To them, the connection to the Maker was their life's blood. It breathed through them, giving them a sense of vitality and security so potent that they knew no death or shame.
I feel my own foolishness when I realize my attempts to compartmentalize my connection to God. Sundays, occasional (often distracted) time in the Word, and unfocused and infrequent prayer; it is a sorry substitute for that all-sustaining, life-giving bond known in the Garden. I suffer quietly and unknowingly, slowly being overtaken by the symptoms of a weakening soul that hungers in silence. My spiritual body wastes away, all the while I convince myself that the diversions I crave will fulfill it. But the most decadent desserts do nothing for the malnourished, it's only farce that hastens me to the grave.
The signs of my poor diet slowly emerge almost imperceptibly. They do not even seem particularly spiritual in nature, but I know well enough after all this time walking that they very much are.
- My security, previously supplied by His heart beating in time with mine, is gone (or so faint it's barely palpable). My thoughts become as wild and wavering as the sea as doubts and worries sweep over. The ebb and flow is constant, and it seems all I can do to tread water.
- My thoughts, now untrained to Him, lie with filth and filth emerges through my pores in a feverish sweat.
- My sense of self-worth vanishes as my venom is loosed on myself in the forms of self-deprecation. Oh, how it must hurt Him to see me treat the gifts of my body so critically!

The first step to banish the disease is to purge; surrender everything holding me from Him to His control. Rather than allotting Him time in my day, I need to breathe Him. Intake every small beautiful moment and exhale gratitude for a life I do not deserve. With His permission, allow my mind to attend my business and daily tasks, and then fly back to Him upon completion. Pray without ceasing, and admit fully that I am wholly incapable of maintaining a connection with Him. Praise Him for patience in pursuing me, and ask forgiveness for my lack of response. In medicine a good doctor treats the underlying cause rather than each symptom, and I realize that once my connection with the Vine is restored, all else will fall into place.

Matthew 6:33-34 "Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Love is watching someone die

He was a ghost of the person he was before. The last time I saw him, his belly rotund and his laugh boisterous, I found myself frustrated by his constant fighting of me. He fought me because, unlike his disease, I was present and palpable with a face to place on his struggle. He tired me.
Now, his hollowness and tiredness made me long for the fight. "Fight me", I pleaded inwardly, "fight what is happening to you!" The skeletal frame he now pushed around could not support the weight of hoping. I complimented his newly growing, greying beard and his laugh and his cheeks were sallow and sunken. I hated what had happened to him. I hated him because I could not help him, and his lack of desperation made me feel desperate. Sometimes you see what terrifies you most in life mirrored in the face of a person, and their mere existence forces you to confront the demon within your own self.
But how can I help someone when I can barely help myself?

Monday, March 3, 2014


I'm a damp dishrag. I find myself draped over the furniture, warming in the light of the morning after last night. Last night. My edges are curling and darkened as I try to collect my fire-ant feelings. I feel there are so many they blur to a swelling, swirling mass with no discernible border. Sadness, perhaps... anger? Not now. My anger is an aerosol can in a campfire. I'm sure I will confront it when I'm 30 and my toddler drops a dish.
Empty. Hollow. Shockingly devoid. A cave so dark you can not see your hand before your face, even when it's so close you can feel the heat of it. And him... I think of him and he's gone from the real to the abstract. I realize I can't think of him as a person right now, or else I risk thinking of myself as a person as well. Only a person can be hurt. Objects are safe, they can be broken but never hurt.
Soggy and limp and used, I watch the hands of the clock spin and spin like a record playing a stupid, too-long song about finding love. And I, I lie in my own damp chill and wait and wait and wait. Why hope for clean? For now I'll just settle for dry.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Totally Depraved

I've always believed in the inherent goodness of man.
That is, until I looked a little further into the controvery of the Augustinian stance of Total Depravity vs. the Pelagian views of Inherent Goodness. In reading 'What is Reformed Theology' by R.C. Sproul, he explores the two, and makes a compelling argument for Depravity that I can't help but agree with... It resonates with my own perceptions of the condition of the wild beast that is Man's heart.
The monk Pelagius held tight to a Humanist view of free will; that God gave man free will and power to do good or bad, and the Law was given to discern between the two. He believed that people were inherently good, but strayed towards evil post-Fall. St. Augustine argued that scripture indicates that post-Fall, the human heart is entirely incapable of doing "good" (from a godly standpoint) and the Law was only given to make us realize the extent of our own sinfulness and the unattainable nature of righteousness. Pelagius stated that God would not demand perfection without giving us the means to attain it. Augustine stated that God demanded perfection so that we would relent our hope in self, knowing fully that our only hope is truly in Christ. Our own totally depraved state enhances appreciation for grace.

*Sproul makes a distinction I think is important to note, between utter depravity (being as wicked as possible) and total depravity (every aspect of being is in some way tainted).

Scripture, as well as real-life observations, would support the human condition of total depravity. Sproul addresses arguments about free will, saying that though man's will is free it is wholly bent towards disobedience and even enmity towards God. We may in fact do things that appear "good" from a human standpoint, but will always be colored by self-preservation, desire for praise, self-promotion, etc.
Romans 3:12 gives a blanket statement covering all of humanity, which may be taken literally or as a superlative. "No one does good, no not one."
Romans 7:7-25 supports that the Law is given to show us our sinfulness... and is followed by a context of grace and despair in our own power to fulfill the commands of a perfect Deity. For if we had it in our power to fulfill the Law, there would have been no reason for Jesus' sacrifice. For He said, "I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it."
There's something sort of freeing in relenting my belief that I could strive for righteousness. All the trying and failing always led to shame and frustration, pulling me farther from God. But depending on Jesus to be my righteousness and my daily bread pulled me closer, grateful and unashamed. The gratitude increased my love, and here's the kicker... my love increased my desire to be obedient. The system works, and though I believe Pelagius had a genuine walk with God I have to side with Augustine and Paul when I say, "Christ came to the world to save sinners... among whom I am the worst."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Naked and Unashamed

My favorite part of the Genesis description of life in the garden was the phrase noted several times, "they were naked and not ashamed." I've read a couple studies on Genesis and my favorite one emphasized this point: that Adam and Eve were in such close communion with God, their sense of security and self-assurance was so perfectly intact, that they did not even realize their own nakedness.

I've found this beautiful concept coloring my alone time with God in a new way. I used to dislike my devotional time, seeing it as a chore and an obligation. Now I see it as time to be transparent and naked in the most freeing way. Going about daily life, we all hold our cards close to our chests. There is some vestige of a blockade 'round our hearts, even around closest friends and family. Fear of social pressures, fear of rejection, fear of saying/doing the wrong thing are nearly constant. Pressure to look our best and behave comes from every angle. Time alone with my Savior means I can finally drop every form of self protection and step into the blessed state of being fully known and fully loved. Naked. Naked, and unashamed. I run my fingers over Words from a living Savior and the weight lifts. I breathe a sigh of relief and feel breathe and sun on my skin, fresh like a newborn.

What a relief.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ezer Kenegdo, the sustainer beside him

Once I was in a hot tub with a group of girls from a church I visited about two years ago. We were discussing relationships and what we desired for our future marriages. One of the girls to my right tossed her damp ponytail and chirped, "I feel like all we women really ever wanted was a strong man to be a cheerleader for!" All heads 'round the circle nodded curtly in agreement as I swallowed hard against the bile I could taste in my throat. Was I broken? Am I built wrong that I wanted to have my own adventure, rather than tagging along someone else's?

My mother, bless her heart, taught me to be a strong woman. My father, bless his heart, taught me to be a strong man. She taught me to not be lazy, to go after what I want, to love big and never stop pursuing the heart of God. My father taught me to shoot, fight, camp, survive a zombie apocalypse, plan ahead and never compromise my values. Being a strong woman is my burden and my blessing. The biblical role of a woman is something I've rebelled against my whole life. Independence and selfishness steered me towards dating men who allowed me to be the leader, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of power and control. But despite feeding into my sin nature in a satisfying way, I could feel how poor a fit it was. But the curse of being a strong woman is that I know that for a relationship to work, he must be an even stronger man. Yikes. I found it impossible to allow the men in my life to lead me, but I realized it wasn't because I was broken... but it was because I hadn't found the right man! I started asking myself some difficult questions regarding my dating life.

-Do I see active growth in his life, and a passionate pursuit of God?
-Do I trust him, both in day-to-day life and in matters of the Spirit?
-Can I respect this person, even when we don't agree?
-Am I guarding my heart?
-Am I in a good place spiritually to be lead, to encourage, and to uplift?
-Are we both surrounded by godly, intimate community able to speak truth into the relationship?
-Does he have a good character to endure in tough times? Do I?
-Is he strong enough in character and faith to lead me when I stumble?
-Is he considerate and gentle with me?

It's quite a laundry list, I know... But I believe in God's design for relationships. I believe it because I've done the opposite for years and it is such a poor substitute. *Sigh* This is going to be another one of those half-baked posts to process through some thoughts, forgive me. I'll do another when my brain isn't so scattered. Goodnight!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Walking in Faith

Walking in faith. I never understood it fully until a youth pastor gave an analogy I remember to this day. "You see this chair?" he said while gesturing to an old metal folding chair. "Belief is saying that this chair will hold you if you sit on it. You can know and say with confidence that if you put your weight on it, it won't buckle and send you crashing to the floor. Faith is belief in action. Faith happens when you sit in the chair." There are several passages about faith, with the mustard seed, mountains moving, and all that goodness... but what comes of it when the rubber meets the road? I have been called to sit in my own proverbial chair. I prayed about the chair, consulted my beloved brothers and sisters about the chair. I thought back to previous times when I was called to sit and didn't, followed by intense regret. Would the chair hurt? Would it feel peaceful? Would it lead to some sort of spiritual enlightenment? No answers; only "sit." I have told the Lord I would do what He asked because He knows the plans He has for me. They are plans to prosper me, to give me a hope and a future. Yet doubt rages. I would much prefer for Him to deliver the reasons, and let me in on the big picture. Then, I would gladly sit. I would gladly obey. But that's not faith. Faith is acting when we don't know why, walking when we can't see, and traversing straight down a path where the only visible step is the one we are currently standing on. Proverbs 20:24 says, "The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way." Touché. James 1:3 reminds me that the test of faith grows perseverance and it does feel like just that: a test. I will admit, it doesn't feel good. It feels awful, actually. But I have to believe that the purpose of my act of obedience is for the furthering of His plan. So without further ado, I think I'll pull up a chair and make myself a little uncomfortable. Hebrews 11:1 "Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The best kinds of problems

Everyone has problems. Lately I've been blessed with the very best kinds of problems, which are those that result from the deepening of friendships and relationships in my community. After a very long and lonely season (one I am grateful for, mind you) I was blessed with some very specific bonds I'd been praying for. I've had acquaintances and fellowship but very few deep, few super substantial that challenged me at my core. (I will exclude a few, you glorious dears know who you are) But now I find myself in challenging situations. I am subject to new pressures to increase my committment to church via volunteering and community group involvement. I now have friends who have graciously allowed me to see into their imperfections, and speak both love and guidance into them. And I allow my vulnerabilities, previously guarded like a national treasure, to poke their heads out and sniff the hands of those in my inner circle. It's scary and extremely sanctifying, and it is oh, so good. I find myself frustrated, tested, and burdened at times. It is uncomfortable to be known, for fear of being known and unaccepted. But it is right and it is good. For the first time, my most sincere prayer is for wisdom. Not for my own benefit, but for theirs. When do I offer grace, tough love, consolation, or honesty? What offenses do I address, and which do I ignore? When should I hold tighter than ever, and when do I walk away for the good of myself and the other? Like Solomon, I cling tightly to the knowledge that godly wisdom is the source of all riches. And I find myself filthy rich with the best kinds of problems.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Toddlers and tiaras

The hardest and most confusing part of young adulthood for me is the progression of developmental milestones. Childhood is so predictable that there are textbooks delineating each step and it's cause for concern if each milestone isn't met in the expected time frame. But when first words and potty training are behind us, where are we left? When should I expect to be mature enough to master coping mechanisms when I am handed disappointments and frustrations of life? When should I be prepared emotionally and financially to start a life with someone in the bonds of marriage? I never realized these milestones existed until I noticed a pattern among my acquaintances. The posts about smart financing and photos from weddings and baby announcements from people I consider peers came pouring in. Am I developmentally delayed? I feel this ache echoed in various people around me lately. My female friends who share my single status lament their bare left ring fingers. My childless married friends feel inadequate and self-conscious. The pressure to equate value of self with a husband, child, 401K, etc is overwhelming for us "delayed" 20-somethings. It's whispered by every ad and hinted by family members and friends. "This is where you should be in life and if you are not, there is likely something wrong with you." But I exhort myself and those like me, I implore... we are no less beloved, valuable, cherished by the Most High because we are the last of our friends to marry or the least financially stable. Our worth is not tied up in these things, and our story does not always match that of our peers. The Psalms tell us "Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." In Jeremiah I find a comforting reminder, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" His timing is perfect, and His plan will be sanctifying. Perhaps the sanctification includes a few years of growing pains and some unanswered questions. But I have trusted Him thus far with much grace, and I try to remind myself that as long as I dedicate my steps to His plan He will not steer me wrong. Even if I feel I may have taken a few wrong turns... It's all about the journey.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bow to the almighty god of busyness

I am an idolater. I have always been aware that our modern idols take the form of hobbies and jobs, as the days of stone figures and the golden calf have gone by the wayside. But I always saw modern idols as something that consumes your life, like a professional athlete or musician... With their lives wholly dedicated to perfecting their craft. But as I've been trouble-shooting some lackluster behavior in my walk with God, I see my own adulterous, idolizing patterns. It's the little things that count. This cliche sums it all up. Each time I practice music for an extra hour or hit the gym in lieu of devotional time, another brick is laid separating me emotionally from Him. No wonder I feel far from him these days. It's no different than if I consistently neglected one-on-one time with any one of my friends: the relationship would suffer. There's no dialogue, no bonding. Each time I choose one of my little idols over him, I communicate my priorities. I am busy. I am busy, and I am dying. To be healthy, I need a constant refueling. My idols drain, adding nothing and taking everything. In this new year, I hope to readjust my priorities. Where my treasures and my time lie, there lies my heart also.