Tag Archives: Christianity

From Where I Stand

14 Apr

Everyone who’s spent eleven minutes in a first grade Sunday School class knows that you’re required to bow your head and fold your hands when you pray. It’s a requirement that gets less strict as you age. As far as I can tell, it’s mostly meant for littles to keep them from whispering while you bend the ear of the Great Creator to thank Him for letting you be in the same room as the food you’re almost allowed to eat.

I was okay with this rule as a tiny one, but I didn’t really get it. As I grew up and found out God could hear you regardless of what position your hands were in, I started to think maybe praying eyes-open-and-face-forward was superior to it. in any case, it seemed like the way big kids prayed. Folding your hands feels very first-grade after a while.

Now, flash-forward a few years to one of the maybe nine things I know now: the cool thing about praying is that there’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re being honest and know that you’re talking to the one who made you.

But still – I think posture does matter. Bear with me. Kick out that image of Mia Thermopolis being told that Princesses don’t slouch (weren’t you thinking of that scene? Get out of my face I’m always thinking about Princess Diaries).

Let me go ahead and point at some other people who say this better than I do.  I have a distinct memory of one middle school church service in which we were asked to assume a “posture of reverence” before praying. I also remember blinking a few times while I processed the request. Look, I was homeschooled, I wasn’t dumb. I knew what the words meant, but I only sort of got what he was saying. Mostly, it was a strange thing to hear from the person who said it – i.e., the game leader, i.e., the coordinator of so much sixth-grader on sixth-grader violence.

It was interesting to see how the group responded to our leader’s suggestion. A couple dozen middle school kids channeled their respect into their respective positions – some bowed their heads, some tilted their heads back, some closed their eyes, and some nodded through the prayer. Obviously, I peeked or I wouldn’t know this at all. Sorry James.

But I get it now.

Another church leader I knew just a few years ago used to ask the congregation to stand when he read from the Bible. This one was a jolly good time because in the bigger crowd of a grown-up service, there were more reactions. You heard a couple of complaints from the people behind you who had “just gotten comfortable” and you saw a few people hop to their feet like they were about to welcome in a bride on her wedding day. Still, everyone stood all the same.

(they got it then)

In the Good Friday church service tonight, the pastor talked about Jesus’ sacrifice. What else can you talk about on Good Friday? We talked about a crown of thorns being pressed down over Jesus’ forehead. We talked about how a man was mocked, flogged, nailed to a cross, and impaled.  We talked about how all this was done to Him not because of anything He had done or hadn’t done, but because they didn’t believe He was who He said He was.

Quick aside: I wonder what people outside of the church must think when we start to wax eloquent about this topic. Does it sound as morbid as I think it sounds? Look – I’ve been going to church for twenty years. If I know anything, I know that we use way more blood metaphors than is probably healthy.

But the thing about the story of Jesus is that just where it gets morbid, hopeless, and dark, it gets brilliantly bright. Jesus is alive. That’s why Easter is a celebration.

When the singing started again, there was a burst of energy in the mood. People danced and laughed and cried. As we slipped into the chorus of the song, our pastor asked everybody to raise their hands as a sign of surrender to God; I swear, arms went up so fast anyone would have thought they were waiting for permission.

It wasn’t just some mob mentality. It wasn’t a tired group of people following orders. What happened tonight, and what has been happening for thousands of years when Christians get together, was a posture of reverence. It was a physical reaction to a spiritual sensation.

Bodily posture isn’t the moral of this story. It’s wonderful, and it’s a form of worship, but mental posture is where we really need to hold that respect. Everything we do comes from our attitude and our intentions. It’s really what all communication is about. How would your manner change if you were about to have a conversation with the person who created the universe with all its sunsets and birdsong and oceans and orange trees and mountains – and then felt it just as necessary to create you? The person who loved you so much He died for you?

Someone I want to be when I grow up once said, “You will never fail to meet God if you bring Him with you.” It’s worth a mention that God does not groan about having “just gotten comfortable” when you ask Him to come along. So why are you hurting yourself? Why are you waiting to be better before moving forward?

The work is done. The battle is over. Jesus already won.  Even as you think it’s gotten too dark to see, it’s about to be too bright to take. It’s only Friday. To borrow a phrase used by hopeful people the world over, Sunday is coming.

I don’t mean to shove a sermon in your face because I know I’m not qualified to do that. What I do know is that my posture needs work; in a world that has been slouching for years past and for years to come, I want to encourage all of us to stand up straight.

Your posture of reverence may well look different from mine (and I’ve got a bad habit of peeking, so I’ll know when it does), but the important thing is that we have that reverence and let our worship come from it.

One last thing before you go: Happy Easter! Here’s to Jesus and eating chocolate until we’re sick.

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Real Life?

19 May

(Click here for this post’s year-old predecessor)

My current moment of celebration has been brought to us by this fact: I graduated high school last Friday night. 

It follows then, that now I’ve been on the receiving end of a surplus of advice and/or inspiring comments. I’ve been told both that my life has finally begun and that nothing really changes after graduation (Don’t be a motivational speaker, friend). Mm, and yes, my college plans have been questioned seventy-nine times in the past three days.

But even that is not enough to bring me down at the moment. I had a blast graduating, I did so with some terribly cool people, and I am super stoked to no longer be asked what school I go to, or what I’m doing after graduation. (the spirit of the second question will still be present often, but I choose to at least appreciate the change of tense)

I am no longer a high schooler. 

This is joyous news.

But I have a mission in today’s post, one that I must not forget – the geek speech. I mentioned this topic last year, when I got super stoked about putting fandom references in my grad speech and wrote a post (linked above) about how I would let you in on it someday.

That day is here. I have linked every otherwise-unidentified reference for explanation purposes.

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*pats microphone*

First off, what a turnout!

How wild is this, huh?

All we did was complete twelve years of schooling. And now look at us. Dressed in glorified trash bags. How far we’ve come.

But where to begin on the list of people we couldn’t have done this without?

I do feel like it would be an injustice not to give a shout-out to my school curriculum, so as much as I’d like to ignore Abeka and Saxon, I do have to say thank you to Adventures in Odyssey and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego for being the thinly-veiled education machines that made up a good chunk of the important things I learned in my school years.

And of course, I have been immeasurably blessed by the people in my life. My friends are the best, most fantastic friends I could ask for, and my family is beyond marvelous. I can not say enough good things about them, and I could not have hoped for anyone better to be raised around. My parents, especially, have been so much better to me than I deserve. I want you all to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are loved. By so many, and so much, and by no one more than me – except maybe One. I thank the Lord for you daily, which leads to the next order of business – thanking the Creator who made every bit of this possible. Thank you for your strength, your wisdom, your unconditional love, and of course, for this moment. For all these bright young men and women who are ready to get down to business to defeat the tons of opposition that we may face.

After all, the protagonist of every story finds herself in a battle at some point.

And we’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one. Cos it is, you know? It’s the best. Remember, all of our stories have already been written by the best author our universe has ever produced – or, actually, the best author that ever produced our universe. And stories are not meant only to entertain, but to teach. There are lessons in stories. The moral of the Three Bears, for instance, is never break into someone else’s house. The moral of Snow White is never eat apples. The moral of WWI is never assassinate the Archduke Ferdinand. What will our stories tell others? That’s up to us. But we really ought to make it interesting, make it inspiring. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. And you know God does not create anything that doesn’t make some sort of glorious difference in the world. After all, no artist can resist signing his work.

The world didn’t come with any extra parts, but it didn’t come with any that were interchangeable either.

We all have something that no one else has, and that thing is exactly what the world needs, and the thing we need to give away.

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This place is not our home. But any good houseguest knows that you should leave a place in better condition than when you first arrived in it. It’s no different here – except that you don’t usually find opposition when you try to clean a guesthouse.

The world, however, will do what it does best and tell us to do what everyone else is doing, and to stick to the status quo but the status is not quo. The world is a mess, and we just need to… school it. It is our job to educate the world, to go and make disciples. Be fishermen, be fishers of men. So we’ll beat on, boats against the current. And, I don’t know, fly casual.

Madeleine L’engle once said, fittingly, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up, we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

This isn’t my favorite truth to accept, but it’s definitely a pre-requisite. I don’t pretend to be grown-up now, but I know I’m on that road. I mean, all children, except one, grow up, but our pace on that journey, the way we deal with the walk, who we become along the way is all on us. And this milestone we call graduation, it means growing up far, far less than it represents it.

Regardless of age, you have always been important, you have always been something. Age just reveals the facts that always were, and experience uncovers the you that always was. Never let people look down on you because you are young. Set an example.

And if you’re ever discouraged, the world gets on your back, and you find yourself beating yourself up and saying that now would be a really good time for you to grow up – don’t ever allow yourself to be downtrodden. Growing up is an adventure, not a destination – and that’s your secret.

You’re always growing up.

Thanks for sticking with me today and for the past years.

Catch… you… later.

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In closing, I just want to extend the warmest thank you to my excellent friends who used the moment after to yell out,

“No you won’t!”

Sweet Spot

20 Mar

Today’s post requires an explanation. 

I’m taking a class at a local Christian College (the Kilns) called Personal Calling and Mission. For the midterm project, everyone had to give a “sweet spot” presentation to illustrate what each individual was passionate about, and to apply learned concepts in the class. The following post was my sweet spot presentation (given in speech form), so know before you dive in: It has nothing to do with pop culture, it’s quite personal, has no pictures, and, for a blog post of mine, it’s lengthy, my friend.

Quite lengthy. Should you choose to proceed, do so with caution.

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I have a name, but it might tell you more if I told you something different about myself: I am an INFP. According to the well-known Briggs Myers personality test, that stands for Introvert, Intuition, Feeling, and Perceiving.

In my case, or a condensed version of it, that means I’m a sappy, wildly imaginative person who’s bad at small talk and has a sometimes questionable work ethic.

I admit to a certain amount of temptation during the test to manipulate my answer. I was kind of hoping for a different personality type. I didn’t have a certain one in mind, but I was shooting for a specific niche, a sort of divergent style of personality with a whole new combination of letters (e.g., WOW), and it would lead to a secret encoded page in the back of the book that said, you were meant to do, no doubt about it, [fill in the blank].

That didn’t happen.

I actually ended up with the same personality as someone else in the class, which kind of felt whatever the opposite of empowering is.

I found myself wishing, against all the force of my common sense, that I had gone first so I didn’t, heaven forbid, look like a copycat. To explain away that last statement, I want to remind you, I’m the youngest of three daughters, and the closest in my family to being a toddler.

My prologue to this class, Personal Calling and Mission, starts several weeks ago. I was looking over the term’s available classes with a friend, and she pointed to one I was thinking of taking, and asked if at the end of the class, someone was going to hand me a slip of paper identifying my true calling in life.

I responded, pretending to joke around, “I certainly hope so.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t continue to hope so throughout the class.

A lot of things scare me, but few so much as the future and the massive and potentially damaging effect that I am capable of having on it. This fear, I’m sorry to say, definitely crept into my early approach to the class. For example, as I was writing down my five-year-out goals, I initially held back – because what if, in five years, I look back on these goals and haven’t accomplished them? Are my grades in this class dependent on the 22-year-old me being a successful adult? I feel very uncomfortable placing so much responsibility with someone I have yet to meet.

I think that says a lot about me.

And whose goals and priorities don’t shift through the years?

When I was about seven years old, I wanted to be a professional singer. I sang all the time, to the point where my parents were forced to institute a “no-singing” rule at the dinner table. Of course it seemed like the eventual best choice to sing and get paid for it. That’s what a life calling is all about, anyway, right?

Today, due to many, many issues with it for me, the singing dream is gone. But one thing that stands out to me about that age in my life is from when that dream was still alive and well.  I had just told an older friend about my aspiration, and she replied,

“Well, every little girl wants to be a singer.”

True. But few things really tear down a dream like being told that the dream is commonplace – and not only commonplace, but a rite of passage, a phase that you’ll eventually get over.

I’ll concede that it was a realistic point of view, but in the worst way. Reality has its place, and that place is at least three kingdoms away from the hopes and dreams of seven-year-olds.

Furthermore, I believe I stressed earlier that the last thing I don’t want to believe that I am a copycat. I’ve certainly never wanted to believe that I belong in a collective group entitled, “every little girl,” a group that will one day collectively grow up and develop realistic aims.

I find, however, that that little soundbyte has stuck with me.

Of course, it’s been several years and dozens of “when I grow up”s since then. I’ve been through detective, spy, librarian, waitress, receptionist, married to a rich guy, masked vigilante, and coroner, but as of the past few years, I believe God is calling me to write in some fashion. I would love that to include a career as an author or screenwriter, but I haven’t gotten to look at God’s road map yet.

It’s wonderful to know at least a facet of your calling, and to be able to meet with others who seem to have the same one. I have a lot of writer friends – being a writer surrounded by writers is the best thing in the world in a way. There’s a whole community of people who think like you, share ambitions with you, and can help you, but in other, more selfish ways, there’s also a downside. For example, you see firsthand just how much better your friends are than you at doing the thing you love. You see how many people there already are in the career field, doing the thing you love, and then, if you’re me, there’s also a little voice that chirps every so often in the back of your head,

“Well, every little girl wants to be a writer.”

Even without the original statement that this one is derived from, I believe I would still feel this particular anxiety. It’s a very me fear. I’ve already said I don’t want to be in the “Every Little Girl” class, but it it’s even worse to worry that I won’t even be part of the acceptably gifted ones in that class. The writers that inspire me so much are the ones I’m terrified to be compared to.

As a result of this sort of fear, I have found myself in a trap: believing that to succeed in my own eyes means to succeed in the eyes of everyone else. Therefore, to improve in this area, I start to think that everything about me has to point toward my someday writing something that everyone will like.

Earlier in the class, when we were writing our short-term and long-term goals, I remember being a little bit disappointed with mine, as they turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with what I want to be when I grow up. However, if I have learned anything in this class, it’s that “what I am when I grow up” does not stop or start with a career. It’s just in the mix somewhere. Furthermore, if our primary calling is to make God happy and my principal aim is to make strangers like me, then I’m doing it very wrong. Why would the opinion of a clay pot mean more to me than the opinion of its potter?

Everyone has their own areas of expertise and “transferable skills,” as the class text, Live Your Calling calls them, and there’s only one opinion of how we use ours that should matter to us: the One who created them.

My transferable skills started with writing, editing, and designing/creating for preferred career inclusions.

Those three are  things I love – and coincidentally, things that seem to fit well into my personality type.

The book’s description for INFP said, among other things, that this particular group of people care intensely for people and ideas, and are drawn to careers in which they can foster growth and development in others. I really found this to be true in me.

Now first: Lord knows I am not exactly qualified to be the wellspring of growth and development. I still get a stomachache when I think about paying bills, and I’m undoubtedly long overdue for most of my impending maturity. But what I do learn, I want to pass on. And what I have learned, I have always learned through what I love: through stories, and though words.

The whole art of words has grown and evolved, and it is always shifting into some new, beautiful medium to touch more people. You must love words; you must love the magic of communication to learn.

Words were never meant to be kept silent. If something is worth writing down, it is worth being sung, spoken, shouted, or whispered. More often than not, it is the verbalization that makes the words something special. As flames lick at anything to come too close, voices ignite words with a new life, unlocking the potential energy and turning it kinetic.

You won’t ever be able to avoid it– there’s a sanctity in words, and we’ve all experienced its glory. Even if that’s not something you tend to think about, you will always notice when that glory is spoiled. For example, I feel I can safely assume that all of us have had that terrible moment, in a classroom, in a Sunday school, in a club, etc. The group is eventually asked to volunteer to read a selection out loud and as that one kid raises his hand, he lifts up the words in print, and he slays them. Every word containing over seven letters has been stretched to an unbearable seven syllables, punctuated with question marks and nervous laughter.

In that moment, as you try in vain to block out the near heretical voice, you realize there is something magical in words written and spoken well, and it doesn’t take much to break the spell.

People have used words to build wonderful causes for the advancement of good and to raise armies of terrible evil in equal measure.

The gift of words is so powerful that God literally filled volumes with his own purest and truest of words just for us.

How crazy is that?

One of the best bits for me in those heaven-inspired volumes is in Deuteronomy 31:8. It says, “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be discouraged.”

I always feel, when I read my Bible and trip over a verse about fear, anxiety, and discouragement, that God is trying to kindly slap me in the face. I do find most things terrifying, and as I said earlier, one of the primary subjects in that broad “most things” category is the future.

My typical strategy for overcoming fear or discomfort is pretending the cause of that fear or discomfort does not exist.

For a very vivid example, when my dog, whom my family and I had had for as long as I can remember, died, I didn’t even tell my oldest and closest friends about it for a week or longer. My infallible logic was that if I didn’t think about it or admit it, it didn’t have to have happened, and I didn’t need to be sad about it.

That might be more sad than pathetic if it happened years and years ago, but it didn’t. It happened last August.

So it follows that when I’m scared of the future, I tend to pull on my forever-young attitude and pretend none of my questionable and lazy choices will ever have an adverse effect on my life.

One of my core values, as I found during the course of this class, is laughter/fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that – but when it starts to take precedence over another of my core values, truth, then there is a serious problem.

That’s what I’m trying to change. If anxiety and the avoidance of it is the driving force in my decisions, then I’m not going to live up the potential God created me for.

That’s what I love about Deuteronomy 31:8; it’s tailor-made for fearful people. It says “He goes before you.” God is with you now, absolutely. But not only that – he’s already been there with you. He’s been there before you, with you, and after you. He is eternal – no matter how much we’ve messed up and we will mess up, we are incapable of messing Him up. He created us on purpose, and He personally tuned our unique weaknesses and strengths. He knows very well what we can’t handle, and He’s given us every gift that we possess to handle what we can. There’s no way you can cling onto God’s arm too hard. If you were to even ask Him to carry you for a while, He wouldn’t refuse.

He hasn’t refused so far.

He knows this path, and He’s far steadier on it than you or I will ever need to be.

Every little girl wants someone like that.

I know I am beyond blessed to be one of His little girls, and I believe that knowing that is the first half of anyone living their calling.

The rest is faith.

Weak

9 May

Last night, I found out that my youth leader follows comic books. I probably shouldn’t score people, but I do, so I have no shame in saying this was absolutely an instance where his points went up. Fantastic job, good sir. 

We were talking about superheroes, and he brought up why he doesn’t like Superman (I’m not trying to start a rumble, Superman superfans. Just stating opinions over here). He said he thought DC had a god complex with their heroes, illustrated when Superman died and came back to life, and how he doesn’t really have weaknesses – he has a weakness (kryptonite [which just so happens to be only native to a dead planet]). Because of his strength, Superman became less interesting to him.

I understood, but the very fact that I understood struck me as ironic. I mean, the main reason that people are attracted to superheroes is that they are so much stronger than us. They can do the things we only dream of doing – they can fly, teleport, draw adamantium claws out of their fists (That’s not just me, is it? Who doesn’t want claws? Claws are fabulous.), and so on. But we don’t want them to be too strong. We want even our heroes to be flawed and messy.

Spider-man is one of the world’s most popular superheroes, and he could not be more different from Superman. No one thanks Spider-man for saving the day, he is consistently broke, and he is generally thought of as one of the criminals that he pursues. And yet, he is just as popular with readers as an invulnerable man from Krypton whom everyone loves.

[Excuse me while I take a rabbit trail that I promise applies] Ask any person why they enjoy the company of their friends, and one of the answers will definitely include the things that they have in common.

We love to identify with people. The joy of having someone know what you mean to say even when you can’t find the words to say it is fantastic.

Even with all the people in the world, we still tend to be surprised when we find someone who has something in common with us. And we adore it. Misery may love company, but so does happiness, so does love, and so do we.

We search for people who remind us of us. And we want our fictional heroes to be the same way. Obviously, not everyone has shrapnel trying every second to cut its way into their hearts, but we can still identify with many of Iron Man’s struggles. Most of us are not battling a past full of treachery, but we can still find a bit of us in the Black Widow. Not everyone of us is an orphan, but Batman still speaks to us in some small way.

Because they are broken.

Because we are broken.

Because no matter how much we try to improve upon ourselves, we will always have infirmities, and we want to see someone with our infirmities prove that we can overcome them. As the good book says,

“I am glad to boast in my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9

People are ridiculously diverse, but we all have one thing in common – we are weak. Some of us fancy that we are weaker than some and stronger than others, but not a single one of us is perfect, every one of us is weak. If we weren’t, strength would be so much less marvelous. We would not find it spectacular that a drug addict turned her life around and got clean, or that a father returned to his abandoned family, or that a community banded together, despite their differences, and did something good.

Light shines brightest in the dark, and the strength God has given us is all the more remarkable in weakness.

We can be strong, not despite our weaknesses, but because of them.

So be strong, be dazzling, and be a superhero.

And have a nice day.

 

Disclaimer: Yes, I understand that nearly every superhero ever ever ever has died and come back to life. Hey, someone’s got to make money off of serial comic books, yeah?