Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fly on the wall

Jesus said to his disciples, not long before he gave his life up, that the world would know who belonged to him by their love for each other (see John 13:35). Sometimes I really wish I could be a fly on the wall of the world, objectively observing the Church - God's family - especially here where I live, in the U.S. I wonder what I would see (and I'd have to be quick in my observations because flies don't live very long). I wonder if it would be confusing, while also mysterious; lovely and inspiring, while also gut-wrenching and frustrating. Yes, I wish for more than a peek from this vantage point. But even sociologists know that being a part of the very thing you wish to observe is as tricky as skating on the thin ice of impossibility.

I can at times wager an educated guess at how the world observes those who claim to follow Jesus by their reactions toward us, which are sometimes accurate and sometimes not. Yet I've often thought, it must get very confusing to people, to see so many people belonging to so many different versions of the same religion, most of them not doing a great job at loving one another. Protestants not loving Catholics. Catholics not loving Baptists. Baptists not loving Pentecostals. Pentecostals not loving Lutherans. Lutherans not loving Methodists. Nondenominationalists not loving denominationalists. Emergents not loving fundamentalists. Republican Christians not loving Liberal Christians, and visa versa. Around and around we go.

I inwardly groan when someone, as in a non church-goer, asks me what kind of church I go to, and in effect, what "type" of Christian I am. Most of the time, they have no clue what the differences are in the terminologies used to describe churches, and quite frankly, neither do I, so I do a poor job of explaining. I think to myself, I don't belong to a club. I belong to the Church. Not a church - as in a local church, with or without a denomination - but the one and only Church. Why is it so imperative that I affiliate myself with just one, as if I were marking a ballot, when I just want to be known as someone who, in loving Jesus, also loves the rest of Jesus' family?

Jesus was certainly onto something. What a radical thing it would be if the world saw the Church loving each other, respecting each other, caring for each other's needs, preferring each other above themselves, above our doctrinal differences, yet still within the teachings of Jesus, the One we claim to share a love for. How can we really love people who haven't met Jesus yet, who don't know him, if we can't even love each other? Who would want to belong to a family whose loyalties were so divided?

Jesus also said we need to love each other as he loves us. That's a tall order, and certainly not one we can walk out in life without clinging to him. The more obsessed we are with him, the more naturally we love like him, as easily as breathing. That is my prayer for myself and for all who are in love with Jesus, who will follow him wherever he goes. That we would be so obsessed, so consumed with longing to know him, and in that obsession, be compelled to love each other. That the world would see, and that this love, which cannot be contained, would spill over and spread to every nook and cranny of every continent, every country, every city, every town and village, every highway and byway, every street and field, every mountain and desert, every home and every family, and every person. Everywhere. They will know us by our love.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Table talk

It’s past 10 pm, and a group of about twelve girls from church have finally arrived, with some herding skillfulness, at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen in Belltown. Sushi bistros that were much too tiny to accomodate a group our size, several pizza joints, and an overpriced tapas bar were bypassed after my persuasive vote for the cheaper Mexican diner finally won the group over. Plus, I was at the head of the herd and I knew how to navigate the distance from our church at 1st and Clay to the restaurant at 2nd and Bell. Mad skills, I’m telling you. We settled down at two adjacent tables in one of the many eclectic rooms at Mama’s, and the group relaxed into the laid back energy of the Belltown joint.

At my table sat five other girls (I call us girls because I just can’t bring myself to call us women; it sounds way too adult for my taste). I hadn’t known any of them longer than a day, but I liked them already. Now, if you’re ever wondering what a small group of unmarried girls who love Jesus and who generally lean more toward a conservative bent (though I admittedly hate labels) talk about in the latter hours of the night, over chips and salsa, when no eligible bachelors are around, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It starts with a B and ends with O-Y-S. I haven’t had one of these conversations for awhile, seeing as most of my friends are married, so I just went with the flow, observing the youthful sparkles in the eyes of my new friends as they talked about their hopes and dreams for the future, about what they want in life, or specifically, in a man.

One of the girls threw this question on the table with a soft giggle: “Ok, so what is the most attractive thing in a guy?”

This elicited a playful, collective sigh and then a groan. “Just one thing? That’s way too hard,” we protested.

“Just choose one,” the girl who initiated this cajoled back at us.

Round robin, we circled the table awaiting everyone’s reply. One of the girls described a guy who is a true gentleman, the kind you can tell by the way he not only treats you but other women, that he is genuine and respectful. The next girl said she wanted the same thing. That he knows how to treat a woman. Heads bobbed in emphatic agreement. Another girl described a guy who is sensitive, more heads bobbing. And another, a man who really fears God, because she said, a man who fears God will treat you well. I saw a theme emerging here.

When it came to my turn, the group fell silent, waiting to hear my answer. I didn’t exactly know what to say, having long since thrown out my “list” of things I wanted in exchange for this sense that I would know what I wanted and needed when I met him. So I talked about the first thing that came to my mind, how I wanted a guy I found interesting and exciting, a guy who wants to live the kind of life I want to live, not the status quo. I think I started rambling at this point. “I don’t meet a lot of guys who capture my interest,” I admitted. “When I hear what they want in life, I often become bored. It’s just like everyone else. And not that it’s bad, but I guess it’s just not what I want. I want to live this life with God on the edge, ready to go anywhere, do anything, not just live comfortably. Maybe I just don’t meet those guys very often.” From here the conversation turned toward the importance of guys who have “a plan” in life and are actually doing something to move toward that plan. At this point my mind trailed off someplace else. Perhaps because I no longer see myself as a person with a “five year plan,” so I can’t really relate. But perhaps because I wasn’t really feeling the conversation to begin with.

My mind trailed off to the message I’d heard that night at church, the one about how those of us who are part of God’s family shouldn’t be uncomfortable entering into anyone else’s world, no matter how different it is from ours. That’s what Jesus modeled for us. It was a good message, but what I was thinking about during the whole talk was my new friend who was seated beside me at church. A few weeks ago, I met Joey, with the pink and yellow and blue hair, the long extensions, the fake eyelashes, the makeup and the sparkly decals on his face. He’s been coming to our church longer than I have, but he said no one really knows him and he doesn’t really know them either. I've been trying to get to know him. Throughout the message, I was troubled, wondering who has really tried to enter into Joey’s world. I’d like to, I’m really curious to hear his story, to listen to him and know who he is and walk beside him as he’s figuring out this stuff with Jesus; however, wisdom tells me a young woman friend isn’t what this lonely, 50-something, former drag queen needs.

So as we’re sitting at the table talking about boys, I’m thinking about Joey and about how I long for Christian community to be something more than going out to eat after church or hanging out at someone’s house. I love these things, don’t get me wrong - they’re wonderful aspects of community. But they’re not everything. They don’t include people like Joey. And I think if Jesus were hanging out with us, He’d put His arm around Joey and walk with him down the street to the restaurant, sitting beside him at the table and asking him about his life. Or maybe just being in Jesus’ presence, having this unfamiliar sense of being utterly known without having to say a word, would just be enough, like it was for that Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at the well. Either way I know that, while God’s family (as in the Church) has so many beautiful attributes, we are still very much a work-in-progress until we act and think and love like Jesus. I have no desire to criticize the Church - since I, too, am a living, breathing, imperfect member of it - but I long for the day when I, when we, are living and moving about with the fullness of Christ’s heart pounding in our chests.

So maybe that is my true answer, that is what’s most attractive to me in a man. Someone who, when I observe his life, I see the passionate heart of Christ beating in him as he loves on people. Not in perfection, but in ever-changing growth. I hope that is what he would see in me, too. But the honest to God truth is, I’d rather not talk about it around a dinner table; I’d much rather live it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Love and timelines

When I was sixteen, I could have sworn I’d be married by twenty one. It’s the perfect age, my friends and I agreed. A mature age. But when I reached that perfect age and the very real possibility of marriage was staring me in the face, something in me freaked. I bolted, leaving the poor guy heartbroken and confused. I’m sure he’s thanked me quietly again and again, however, since he’s now happily married with two kids. Life has a way of working out for the good in the area of love, if we’re willing to wait and navigate the obstacle course. At least I tell myself that, since I’m still in the process of navigation.

I was really particular about the next two guys who came along. And they came along with years separating their season in my life. Very driven, ambitious, intelligent and disciplined guys. I admired them, but it took them awhile to win my heart. I know this will sound arrogant, but I convinced myself it was in my best interest to be with someone like myself, so after some time, I fancied myself in love with them. Perhaps I was mostly in love with myself. It’s possible they, too, were in love with themselves because they both ended up choosing themselves over me. Each guy broke my heart, my first bitter tastes of heartbeak. I grew a lot from this. I learned a great deal about love and myself and the love of God. But I also grew disillusioned with love. I threw myself into my passions and pursuits in life, becoming more and more picky about the “type” of guy I needed and more and more convinced he didn’t actually exist.

Another several years went by, and time stopped, then started over. Experiencing the death of a loved one will do that, or so I’ve found. When my Papa died, it was like starting the calendar back at 1 AD, and time now proceeds from this new point of reference. That is how much his death rocked my world: turned it completely upside down, inside out, and then blew it up for good measure, starting over from square one. At this same time, a new love entered my life. He offered me strength and comfort, joy in the midst of grief, acceptance and companionship, and something to look forward to in the future. I fell deeply in love with him as he walked with me through the darkest time of my life. Strangely, he was nothing like the other guys I’d fallen for. He was almost nothing like me, except we shared a similar goofiness and childlikeness to life. Unlike the others, he did not share my particular (and at the time, former) passions in life, though we shared a love for God. At first this was a major source of tension in me. But over time, I surrendered to the longing to love and be loved, and I laid those passions to rest, beside my Papa. I was a new person, I assured him. He needn’t be intimidated by the kind of life I used to want to live and how he didn’t fit into that life. I would be happy enough in the suburbs with a nice house and a nice car and several kids and a couple of dogs. I would be happy with a nice marriage and a nice ministry together at church. As long as we could travel, just a little. And as long as I wasn’t bound to the house forever in the role of wife and mom, but was free to pursue whatever God laid on my heart. And so, over time, we came to a sort of agreement that we could see ourselves doing life together. I was utterly convinced this is what I wanted; after all, I really loved this guy.

In the year 2 AD, however, things began to quake underneath the surface of our relationship. I can’t speak for what was beneath his heart, only mine. I couldn’t see it at the time, all I could see is that something else I loved - someone else - was about to erupt and possibly die, and I was scared of the potential loss. I thought I was happy, that this eruption came out of the blue and threatened the life of love I had found. I hated this eruption for happening. What I couldn’t see is that the things I thought I’d laid to rest back in 1 AD when Papa died, well, they were beginning to fight back. Quietly at first, but then with a dogged persistence. Apparently they didn’t think it was their time to die. Apparently, I still wanted more in life than I thought.

It’s taken me several months to convince my heart that this eruption, this loss, is a good thing. When you love someone, really love them for them, whether or not it’s the “best” fit for you, it can be a long, painful process of evicting that love from your heart. There is no switch for turning love on and off, not real love. But over time, I’ve found that as the romantic love has left the building, there’s been room in my heart for a different kind of love. I still care for this man, but the love has changed. My heart used to resist this, but now it breathes a sigh of relief. It’s free, and that feels nice. Real nice.

In the wake of this eruption, as the dust settles, I’ve been able to see a few things more clearly, too. I can see that I was willing to exchange parts of me that seemed inconvenient to love - the Unknowns of life that I embraced, the adventurous, artistic, not-fitting-the-mold types of things - for the comfort and security of the Known. I began to believe that this exchange was necessary, that I had to choose between the comfort of love and the fulfillment of a life lived in the ways God designed me to express it. It’s pretty sobering now to look back and see how fatal a mistake that could have been. Fatal, that is, to my heart; and therefore, fatal to the relationship. God was doing us both a favor, I just needed the dust to settle before my eyes adjusted to the change. In the meantime, I’ve learned an awful lot about the unfailing love of Jesus, of my identity as His beloved. You could say I’ve fallen so much more in love with Him since this big messy eruption, and I wouldn’t trade the mess for anything in the world. I don’t know what that means for the future, if I’ll have a love to do life with or not. But I’m learning, day by day, to embrace life and to live it where I’m at. To tread lightly in each day, hold delicately the moments, give fully of myself, and love deeply the ones who are in my life now.

Yeah, I look back and the twenty-one marker hangs back far in the distance. And it’s a strange sensation, being this far in life, how quickly it’s passed and how vastly different it is from how I pictured it to be years ago. I think of how much I’ve experienced, how much I’ve grown into my own skin as a person, as a woman. And I’m thankful, deeply thankful, that I’m not alone in navigating this obstacle course of life. My heart is grateful to have had this time, up to this point, to know Jesus more deeply each year, and in that reflection of Him, to know myself. I am better for it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A gaggle of goats

Yesterday I wrangled my good friend, Laura (and her baby Isaac - he kinda had no choice), to come on a drive with me to visit a farm up north that rescues goats and tries to find good homes for them. No one knew we were coming, I was just hoping they wouldn't mind once we showed up. Thankfully, when we arrived, a lovely volunteer greeted us at the gate and invited us in to meet the goats. Between Laura and I, we took over 140 pictures in one hour, but I've included just a few of my favorites here, along with the stories that make these pictures so memorable.

This first pic is what I'd like to call a goat posse. If you've never been around goats, the first thing you might want to know is that they are very social (unless they haven't been socialized, in
which case they'd be antisocial...). When we walked inside their fenced home, they came running, ready to sniff us and nibble us and rub their horns against us. Some of them followed us around, never shy to solicit us for affection, and sometimes butting others out of the way who would compete for our attention. I could tell from the get-go, this bunch was full of personality and overall, a gaggle of goat loves.

This dude right here (pic #2) he latched onto me right away. He's a big goat, but thankfully, he didn't have horns (it's easier not having to dodge them). He was all legs and pretty skinny, and he just get nuzzling me for some hugs. My kind of guy...

Speaking of horns, this guy in picture #3, I also caught his eye upon walking into the pen. And notice, he's got rather large horns. I think there's something about the horned goats, because this guy's got a load of personality as well as a flair for mischief. He also followed me around, and after awhile, noticing I was paying attention to a whole bunch of others in addition to him, he must have gotten starved for some affection.
He began
rearing up on his back legs, turning his horned head toward me in mid air and then charging me to do a little head butting (though in my case, it would have been my stomach). I wasn't prepared for this and didn't quite know what to do. I grabbed him by the horns and held him back, though he kept wiggling free and doing the whole routine again. The nice volunteer came and rescued me and remarked that he must be in need of attention. I guess so! This jealous, affection-starved, head-butting goat decided he'd show me just how unhappy he was with my choices by soon after eating my coat. I had rather naively, I'll admit, hung it up on a
gate post outside the entrance to their pen. I was enthralled with taking pictures of goats in another pasture when the volunteer called out, "Is that your coat he's eating?" I ran over and sure enough, Mr. McCoat-Eater was happily chewing the corner of my coat, having already digested part of the elastic cord and working on a piece of plastic that had been fastened around the cord. His little ploy had worked, and we made up (picture #4). I don't know why, I seem to attract the obnoxious ones.

Alright, so pic #5 is just downright heart warmingly adorable. This was Isaac’s first time meeting a goat. He’s a pretty chill baby who takes everything in without giving much away in expression (a lot like his daddy), so you can’t tell by the picture, but he’s pretty enthralled by this first encounter. This was the only baby goat on the farm, and she won her way into all three of our hearts. Someday she’ll be the same size as the big white guy above, but right now, she’s soft and petite and her horns are a very person-friendly size.

Ok, so there was this goat teeter totter that Laura and I thought was amazing. These two goats playing on it (pics #6 & #7) were like actors on a stage, reenacting a scene from the Matrix, barnyard style. It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to laugh about it until I looked at the pictures.

Now this goat in pic #8, I don’t know her story, but she’s the new kid on the block. She was a bit aloof, but you could tell there was a strong personality underneath all that hair. The more I studied her, the more she resembled a character out of a Shakespearean play.

Finally, the little spotted goat on the left in pic #9, this is Romeo. The volunteer pointed him out to us and shared that she recently adopted Juliet, the goat. It sounds like the makings of a tragic story, because little Romeo here is indeed in love with Juliet, but the volunteer has been unsuccessful thus far in adopting Romeo. The two star-crossed lovers are separated, for now, hopefully with a nicer ending than the play.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I remember back in college, watching my friends and roommates go all ga-ga over babies and little kids, talking about how they couldn't wait to be moms. They'd search out babies at church or at a gathering, or stop to admire them on the street or in the store. And I'd just stand back, smile and let them be the ones to hold the babies and change their diapers and stuff. It was then I came to some conclusion, rational or not, like I must not be a kid person. I would see dogs out on their walks and stop to squat down and scratch them behind their ears and coo. Yeah, I'm more a dog person. I wasn't really concerned about this difference between my friends and I, except, on some level I began to wonder, Will I be a good mom someday if I don't dream about it the way my friends do? I just wasn't sure.

It was also during college, though, that I discovered how adorable babies are from other countries. Especially babies from Africa. I know that sounds really shallow, and there's no denying it was to begin with, but I just really loved to look at and hold these babies. I thought they were more beautiful than any babies I'd ever seen. Someday, I thought, I'm going to adopt some babies from Africa. At the time, I can't say I felt that desire because of some grand calling or altruistic motive or knowledge of the situation of many orphans in Africa. I was merely responding to the only inclination I'd felt up to that point to be a mom. As time went by, however, I began to learn more about AIDS in Africa and how it left millions of children without parents. And then I saw a presentation at my university from a guy who worked for International Justice Mission and heard about the director of IJM's experience in Rwanda after the genocide years before. I felt the tears well up in my eyes as my heart began to break and I approached the presenter afterward with a sort of urgency, wondering what I could do to help these children around the world - the ones who are being sold as sex slaves, the ones who are orphaned because of genocide or poverty or AIDS. I don't remember what the presenter suggested - probably law school, which I didn't do - but I do remember being a little different from that point on.

Long story short, over the past ten years, my desire to adopt kids from destitute, desperate, hopeless situations has only increased. My desire to be a mom has increased, too, but mostly only in relation to adoption. I can see myself as a mom now, something I couldn't really envision before. I think it would be pretty incredible to carry my own child and give birth. But I've got to be honest, when I think about being a mom, what moves me most is the thought of taking in kids who wouldn't be otherwise loved and cared for. That gets my blood pumping and my heart engaged more than thinking of having my own children. And it no longer matters whether they're from Africa. I'll take them from anywhere. When the earthquake hit in Haiti, all I could think about for weeks were all the orphans before the earthquake, and now, all the newly orphaned children. It tore me up inside, this feeling of helplessness. I just wanted to love and protect these kids, and I knew I couldn't right now.

For the record, these are things I don't usually tell people. I don't know why now, but I just wanted to get it out. Something happened last night when I was driving home from church. I'd been pleasantly surprised when one of my close friends who is Buddhist invited herself to church with me. In fact, surprised is way too tame a word. So she came with me and said she really enjoyed it, especially the music, and remarked that she thinks what we believe is the same message as Buddhism and all the other religions. We had a nice, honest discussion about our beliefs, but I didn't push it. I love my friend, and I figure the only One who will be able to convince her of His love and desire for relationship with her is Jesus.

Interestingly, the message my pastor talked about that night was adoption. The story of the gospel really culminates in this beautiful, unbelievable act of adoption, of God reaching out to orphaned humanity and saying, I choose you. Come home with Me. I've got a place for you, a place where you can always belong and be forgiven and loved. And you can call me Daddy. I'll treat you the same way I treat my only Son, Jesus, and you'll even share in His inheritance. We'll be one beautifully redeemed family. I'm not an expert on world religions by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know this message is unique to the gospel of Jesus. It was a beautiful message, and the whole time I'm sitting there wondering what my dear friend is thinking as she's hearing this. It must have sounded absurd. And let's be honest, in rational terms, it is. Grace is absurd.

So getting back to my drive home, I was thinking about my friend and felt the same kind of urgent longing in my heart for her to be adopted, the way I'd felt it for the kids in Haiti. And I began to cry, which I know isn't that unusual, as I've become a bit of a blubberer the past year and a half. But these tears felt different. I didn't connect the dots right away, but then it was as if a light turned on in my heart and my Papa God whispered, Here are more orphans to love, the ones who don't yet know Me. The ones who, apart from Me, would not experience true life and true love. I realize this all sounds extremely sentimental, and I'm not trying to be overly such; it's just that, when Jesus captures your heart, your emotions are not untouched. And for me, that often translates into tears. So there I was, sitting in my car with tears streaming down my face, wiping my nose and talking with God about how badly I want to not only bring orphaned children home someday - the kids who don't stand much of a chance in life without someone taking them in - but I also want to bring into my home the orphaned people who need to know the inexhaustible love and grace and adoption of their Father God. If I can love both these kinds of orphans, I told God, I will not need children of my own. To love these would be enough, unless of course, God has other plans.

One last thing. There are few times in life, sadly, when I truly feel satisfied with Jesus alone - nothing else, no one else. I'm just being honest. Those times are perhaps becoming more frequent as my love for Him deepens, but I don't live in a perpetual state of contentment and bliss in knowing He loves me. But I'll tell you, one of those moments crept up behind me last night and took me by surprise. As I was falling asleep, I was thinking about how much Jesus means to me and how much I mean to Him, and I'll just say it, I couldn't hold back the tears again. I think for the first time in my life, in that priceless moment, I was convinced in my heart that no earthly love could ever come close to the love of Jesus. That even were I never to marry, He would be enough for me. Instead of that being a disturbing thought or arousing fear, like, Oh my gosh, does that mean I'll never get married?! - it was so sweet and satisfying, and I fell asleep peacefully for the first time in several weeks, thinking of the One who loves me eternally. It was blissful.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The color of my paint brush

I was reading today in the sunshine, overlooking the water and the mountains, enjoying what felt like an afternoon out with Jesus. In the book I’m reading, Searching for God knows what, by Donald Miller, I came across these words, which Don paraphrased as being part of the message of Jesus: “Follow Me,” He said. “I have no opinion about what color the paints should be in this prison. Follow Me.” These words stopped me, and I just sat there, chewing on this picture as a cow chews on cud, wanting to digest it. I found myself thinking about all the colors that have been on my paintbrush throughout my life and how they’ve changed and how, regardless of the color, it’s all just murals painted on the walls of a prison. Let me explain.

I feel that, when people ask me “What do you do?” it’s their way of asking, “What color is on your paintbrush?” For years, I dipped my paintbrush in the colors of refugees and Africa, the poor and oppressed, social justice and counseling. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a passion, to some degree, for all these people and ideas and principles. But I painted with a desperation fueled by a need for redemption. I needed something to paint that redeemed my time, that gave meaning to my life, something that expressed to the world, “I am doing something with my life, and therefore, I am valuable.” As if the culture, or the world, were my court of peers, approving of my life or casting their vote of disapproval. I know it sounds like it was something blatant, but it was actually quite subtle, and I would have denied (and did deny) for a long time that this was actually in play. So you see, it was not these things themselves that were amiss - such as caring for justice for the oppressed - but the way they were strangely twisted into a form of validation in my life.

I used to get a lot of satisfaction from telling people who asked what I wanted to do in life, what I was studying and what I cared about. I felt like it was a little advertisement for myself, something that would either capture their interest or not. Since losing my dad and being employed in a job that is largely viewed as a setback for me or a last resort or a detour from my career path, I have on more than one occasion written about how strange and at times frustrating it is to find a new kind of language for authentically communicating with people who I am and what I’m about. To separate myself from my old vocabulary has been very difficult, especially in a culture that places so much value on what people do for a living. And when you have an "advanced degree,” you are seen as a sort of peculiar person, or a person lacking direction or ambition, if you are not pursuing a career path in your field of study. You will receive some sympathy if you have fallen on some hard times, financially or personally, things outside your control. But at some point, that sympathy turns to something else, perhaps even a form of judgment. Why don’t you get off your duff and do something worthwhile with your life, stop wasting your talents?

The realization I’ve come to, however, is that, while I do desire my life to be lived fully and meaningfully, I'm really not as picky about the color on my paintbrush. It’s true, this life, this world, is like one big prison groaning for redemption. The Bible talks about this in its story, woven throughout the entire narrative. Yet this prison is not one without hope, but with the promise of a loving Creator and Savior Who has and will redeem it. And we can paint it a bunch of beautiful colors, but until it is fully redeemed, it will still remain a beautifully painted prison. So rather than obsessing about the color on my paintbrush, I’d rather obsess about Jesus, the One who left His kingdom and gave up His throne to come live within our prison walls, to set us free so we can know Him and love Him and experience life again in unbroken relationship with Him. If I’m painting a mural on any wall, I want it to be love. I want it to be expressive of the beauty of Jesus. I want it to stir in people a longing to fall in love with this Jesus.

I can’t adequately put into words what I’m about by simply answering what I do for work or how I want to use (or not use) my degree. I’m thankful for my education, and I don’t take that lightly. But whether or not I ever pursue a career of it no longer ranks very high on my list of priorities. I feel less “lost” now, not knowing what I want to do for a career, than I did when I thought I had a clear direction, a clear passion and sense of calling. I guess a better way of putting it is that I don’t feel that sense of desperation to prove my worth in life - to God or others or myself. I feel quite content and fulfilled in loving the people I am with at my job. I am far from perfect at this, at loving people. But if I could be good at anything, that’s what I’d want to be good at. For in loving people, I want them to see Jesus. Not the American version of Jesus, or the evangelical version of Jesus, or the religious Right version of Jesus, or the liberal version of Jesus, or the privileged White version of Jesus, but the real Jesus. And to be frank, I guess I’m still finding out who that is, because He’s so much more than (and in some regards, so very different from) who He’s been painted as in our world and who I’ve thought Him to be. This Jesus that I love, He’s just too good to keep to myself, and to do so would not be very loving of me.

All that to say, I don’t know what color is on my paintbrush. But the One who supplies the paint, He’s much more interesting than whatever it is I’m painting. I’d take a look at Him, because you might not be able to tear your eyes away once you really catch sight of Him. I just want to follow Him.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


This may border on the ridiculous, but I'm actually a lot bit serious about it. If I'm to be married someday, there are a few non-negotiables: 1) He loves kids (of the human variety) and 2) He loves kids (of the goat variety). Not to trivialize the matter, but I can really see myself adopting both. Right now, I'm particularly drawn to these kids... how could you not love these faces?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beautiful rubbish

I like thrift stores, quite a lot. If I'm in the right mood, there's a scintillating challenge, like the great treasure hunts of childhood, in discovering little treasures that others have discarded. I'd like to say, for the record, that I dug thrift stores before they were cool. Before "vintage" things were in. I just wanted to get that out in the open, and now I can move on. But as I mentioned, as thrift stores are now cool and boutiques of "previously owned" clothing are popping up all over the place in the city, I'm not alone in feeling the thrill of finding my own creative expression in someone else's rejects. Now some may say this trickles straight down from the fashion experts to the magazine publishers to the people, like you and me, who buy into this propaganda, though we may protest we don't. I think this is partly true. But, without sounding too spiritual here, I think there's more to it than that. I think we inherited this eye for creative redemption from God.

I know we talk about God as the Creator, those of us who believe in Christian spirituality. It's so easy to read through the telling of creation in Genesis like it's nothing special. And God created the heavens and the earth, day and night, the water and the land, the fishes of the sea and the creatures of the air, plant life and animal life, man and woman. Yawn. We breathe out the words almost like we're running down a grocery list. Creator, check. All powerful, check. Provider, check. Redeemer, check. And so on. We talk about God the Creator as if it's an old story passed onto us from our father's father's father, and we weren't actually there of course, and it happened so long ago, remembering the one time that God was so creative. He's famous for it, that initial act of creating, but since then He's retired, and He doesn't create much anymore. The natural laws of science and reproduction create things. Gardening creates things. Artists create things. Entrepreneurs create things. God just sits back and supervises it all, chiming in every now and then. I guess I'm overexaggerating here for a reason. My point is, how often do we think of God as ridiculously, brilliantly, delightfully, magnificently creative in our every day lives?

I think if God had a house here in Seattle, it would be an old fixer-upper. A colorful one. With a beautiful garden and fruit trees (that we could eat from) and funky, cool pieces of art in the yard made out of someone else's junk. I think He'd have a huge wrap-around porch and a couple of swings, and there wouldn't be a fence or a huge wall of shrubbery encircling His yard for privacy. And of course, He would have some goats (the city of Seattle couldn't forbid God, of all people, from having goats in city limits now, could they?), and some chickens, and some dogs (to engage with the culture of Seattle-ites, no doubt). He'd be so organic, any green-composting-fair trade-free range-vegetarian-vegan person in Seattle would pale in comparison. But who compares themselves to God anyway? That'd be so silly.

But it wouldn't be just the outside of His house that was so eclectically beautiful, it would be the inside, too. Now, you may argue with me here, but I don't think God would go out and buy His home decor from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware or Crate and Barrel or Bed Bath and Beyond. I like these places, really I do, but I just don't think this is where God would get His decorations. I think He'd get them from the dump. Now, I'm not advocating that God is some sort of Divine cheapskate or that He's too poor to afford nice things. After all, He's got a reputation for "owning the cattle on a thousand hills," which must have meant something really grand to the ancient Hebrews at the time it was written, but not being part of a nomadic, agrarian culture, I can hardly appreciate the full impact of wealth that suggests. Still, I get the drift of the metaphor: He's infinitely wealthy. Moving right along.

What I'm saying is that I am convinced that God has a keen eye for creating beauty out of other people's rejects. He's the Great Recycler, incapable of discarding much as waste, capable of transforming any old, outdated, broken, scuffed up, stepped on, spotted, ordinary, shameful thing in our lives into something wonderfully useful and redeemed. He's the type of artist who gets a big kick out of taking something like a broken toilet - which I've seen some creative friends do in Philadelphia - and turning it into a flower pot. I know this with certainty because I've experienced His creative touch in the broken toilets of my life and I've heard and witnessed story after story of this same touch in other peoples' lives. Flowers blooming in toilets. Beauty from rubbish. It's brilliant. And that's just a start.

Yep, He's quite the Artist. And that is how His artistic expression flows through me. I write because I love to express truth as I know it (another work-in-progress). But mostly I write because I am a living expression of His artwork, tenderly, diligently crafted from the broken pieces of my life. Where I've seen a heap of rubbish, God sees potential for beauty. And He sets to work with a fervent devotion and delight I can only marvel at in wonder. He's not afraid to get His hands dirty, that's for sure. And He is untiring, His creativity inexhaustible. From places of pain and grief, darkness and doubt, wrestling and waiting, regret and disappointment, I see something fresh and lovely emerging over time. It catches me by surprise, and then it takes my breath away. Slowly, steadily, gently, His hands work on me like some lump of clay (I borrowed that analogy from the prophet Jeremiah, who borrowed it from God and put it in the Bible, in case you feel I was plagiarizing).

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a lump of clay in the hands of a potter? I've taken a ceramics class, and I know it's not as romantic as it sounds. It's hard work, and the clay can be rather stubborn. You have to know how to handle it. You have to pound it and smooth it and get every one of the air pockets out. You have to throw it on the wheel and center it just right, or it will wiggle all over the place and possibly fly off. And then, if you get centered, you have to keep adding enough water to it as you work so it doesn't dry out, but not too much so that it turns to mush in your hands. Then you begin to stretch it out, bit by bit, pulling it up and out and holding your hands around it with the right amount of pressure to shape it without crushing it. It's really quite difficult. But what a cool picture of what God does with us, and specifically, with the the junk in our lives.

I used to think that when God was at work in my life, all the junk would disappear as if it had never been there. Like He'd take a big eraser and wipe it all away, or put it all under lock and key - those Things We Don't Speak Of. Now, I do believe that when it comes to confessing our sins to God, like the Bible says, He removes them from His memory, as far as the east is from the west. I find this utterly humbling and wonderfully freeing. But I don't think that means that it's as if they never existed. I think, in their place, there is crafted a phenomenal testament of God's redemptive artistry in our lives. A living art exhibit of His work, on display, twenty-four seven.

And then, I'm convinced that God stands back and studies His work, and smiles. God likes to smile. Don't ask me how I know from a theological, scholarly stance, I just know. And while He must have shed a lot of tears since He created us, I think He smiles more often than not. Because He likes us, and He likes His work, and He's promised He'll finish it. And He never goes back on His promises.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Journey within the box

I grew up "Christian." For half my life, I was known as a "PK" (the label given to a Pastor's Kid) and looked upon a little strangely outside church culture. A sort of odd specimen. Most of my friends growing up were nice Christian kids who believed much the same as me, and then, there were the "others". The kids who weren't from Christian homes, who I was a little intimidated by and couldn't relate to. Those were the kids who did bad things, things I couldn't even speak of, though I was too naive to know what most of those "unspeakable things" were.

As I grew up, though, my faith became something not just passed onto me through my parents, but alive and real and relevant to me. Jesus was not just some far off God I heard about week after week in Sunday school (or didn't really listen to my Dad talk about in his sermons... I don't recall what I did during his sermons, but I don't remember being terribly engaged in whatever he was talking about) - He was my friend. Sometimes, my only friend. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, or at least it seems that way in my memory. Moving around every few years meant starting over every few years, having to break new ground and reintroduce myself into a new environment over and over again. I didn't mind so much. I got pretty comfortable with being the new kid, and pretty comfortable being by myself. I was blessed with the ability to be good at entertaining myself, coming up with elaborate stories and adventures in my mind that I would write about or act out in play on my own. During those times, I remember Jesus was a close companion, crouching beside me in the wheat fields pretending to be on safari, or fording a treacherous river (a.k.a., our creek) on our way to a new frontier, or creating a fort in the woods like it was our abandoned cottage we stumbled upon, something out of the Secret Garden.

And then, as I got older and experienced the not-so-fluffy realities of life - when I learned my family wasn't as perfect as it once seemed, that all families have their own pain and secrets - Jesus became more than just my closest companion. He showed me His Father. My own Dad was gone for awhile when I was a teenager, and I was in a lot of pain. It was just my Mom and I at the time, and I wasn't too good at sharing my emotions with her (not many teenagers are). You could say I closed up inside, and I also took a lot of my pain out on her. I just wanted my Dad, and I didn't know how to make sense of this new world I was experiencing. I think that's when I first got to know, to really know, my Father. I remember shutting myself in my room and having conversations with Him, through tears, and feeling as if He were holding me somehow. It didn't take the pain away, but it gave me peace, and that is what I wanted.

I guess I say all this stuff about my childhood as some roundabout way of saying, I grew up within some pretty clearly defined lines of Christianity. I grew up sheltered, but not entirely. I grew up in a home where I never knew what it was like to not know God, on some level, and yet thankfully, this did not stop me from knowing Him as more than a heritage passed onto me that I had no choice but to receive. I think I was destined to know God, but He's become progressively more real as a Person to me over the years. But all this is not really what I'm getting at in this particular blog. I keep trailing off my course of thought, and probably that's okay, but it doesn't make for the most organized reading.

So I'll try again. I'll just say it plainly this time: I grew up thinking within the lines. I don't view that as a "bad" thing, just as a thing to know about myself. Over my years in high school and college and grad school and life beyond school, I've encountered a lot of people and many of them have stories and beliefs and ideas that are outside the lines I grew up knowing. We hear a lot about "tolerance" in our culture, and in the church, it's kind of a bad word. I'm not sure I really know what tolerance is, except, I realize it messes with my black-and-white thinking.

There have been times I've fancied myself, quite honestly, to be an out-of-the-box thinker. Looking back, most of the times I've thought this, I've been surrounded by people who are simply further inside the lines than I am. When I'm around people who are closer to the edges of the lines of the box, or outside whatever "the box" is, that's when I see that I'm no more outside the box than a Jack-in-the-box. It's not being outside the lines or inside the lines that's the point; it's learning that thoughts are progressive, and when they're not, they risk becoming stagnant. I don't have to always be changing my beliefs, like some spiritual chameleon, nor do I want to be. But neither do I want to live in the world of black-and-white, where I think I have things figured out that none of us will ever fully figure out. Some things are black-and-white, like Jesus being God. And many things are not. The trick is learning to live in this tension, and as some have articulated, even enjoy it. I'm still working on that.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jogging n' blogging

Two coworkers were discussing my passion for writing, and one of them, surprised upon hearing the news that I like to write, asked, "Oh, so you're a blogger?" In a nanosecond, I could feel all the righteous indignation stemming from my years of training in track and cross country return, rising up and burning my throat, much like a greasy hamburger does to me about an hour after consumption. I do love a good hamburger, but hamburgers do not always love me. Sadness. Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, that statement about blogging, it was so casual and dismissive, or so it felt, like I wasn't serious about writing or something. It drew a similar reaction as to the old, "So, you like to jog, huh?" I'd square my shoulders and look them dead in the eyes, "Only when I'm warming up or cooling down." No, I'm a runner. There's a difference. Geez, people, figure it out.

Joggers wear trendy little warm up suits from the activewear section at Nordies. Joggers own shoes that don't look like they've seen a day outside in the rain. Joggers frequent the gym on treadmills while reading the latest from Oprah's book club. Joggers exercise in pairs or groups for the sole purpose of socializing. And there's nothing wrong with these points, not a thing. Except, I'm not a jogger. Runners are out on the streets, on the trails, on the track, rain or shine, wind and hail. Runners prefer hills to the "incline" setting on treadmills. Runners may enjoy exercising with a partner, but really honestly, only one who doesn't slow them down. Runners don't mind getting wet and dirty. Runners like going fast, dagnabit - and here I'm beginning to huff ever so slightly.

Ok, I'll admit I sound a little, well, snobbish. So maybe I am. But that's how I feel about blogging, too. Everything in me wants to insist, "I'm not a blogger; I'm a writer!" Why? My brilliant response is, "yeah, I dunno." There are some really excellent blogs out there, by really stellar writers. Way better than me. And I'm sure not sitting around in my pajamas all day working on a book, hoping to submit something for publication, and fellowshipping in the sufferings of C.S. Lewis or Jane Austen or Anne Lamott. So what's the big indignation toward being called a blogger?

I pause, think deeply... yeah, I dunno. But maybe it's partly because I don't write to be trendy. I'm not trying to gather a following (obviously, unless you can call eight people a following). I don't need an online journal to record my daily innermost thoughts and experiences. And in five years, when blogging is possibly passe, I'll still be writing.

And yet, there's also a part of me that hopes beyond hope that I'm the real deal, and not just a blogger, though I have little to show for it yet. Well, besides my collection of academic papers, spanning over a decade of school. And about twenty-something journals I've filled since I was a teenager. And the stories and letters I composed as a child. It's like something deep within my DNA shouts up to my brain, "You're more than a blogger, you silly girl!" But I don't quite believe it, not yet.

So if you ever read in my blog about the social exploits of some jogging club I've started, I'm doubly in trouble. A double hypocrite. Let's hope it never gets to that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jesus is synonymous for...

A guy saw me reading my bible at work today on my lunch break, as I sat on the floor in a quiet corner of the lobby. “Reading anything good?” he called out. I looked up, “Sure am. My bible.” He looked a little surprised, then laughed good naturedly, “Oh, I always get zapped every time I try to read that thing. It’s like God’s trying to get me back, or something.” I chuckled along with him, but before I could respond, he was onto his next thought. “You know, though, the best kind of ‘book’ I’ve read for that sort of thing - or, well, should I say, spiritual stuff, ‘cuz I’m a spiritual person - is Buddhism. But, you know, they all seem to be pretty much the same thing. All about respect and harmony and doing good. Well, except for Islam... they seem to be stuck in - you know, back in the time when Moses, I think it was him, and the Israelites were going to battle and doing all that killing - yeah, stuck in that.” He continued on with his thoughts on women and Islam, but as quickly as he entered my lunch time, he was on his way out the door. “Well, nice talking with you. God bless you!” And he disappeared outside, to smoke with his buddies.

I looked out the door for awhile, processing our little exchange. Then I looked down at my bible, where I was reading in the book of Romans...

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31-32, 35, 37-39).

And I thought of that guy, whose name I don’t know, and I prayed for him. A nice fellow, I thought. Not unlike many of the nice people I often meet in Seattle who are seeking to know truth. People who probably want little to do with “organized religion,” but are quick to classify themselves as “spiritual.” People who are hungry for God, yet are searching in many different places for that fulfillment. Similar to what Paul is talking about in Romans when he says of Israel, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (10:2-3). I think many people, to varying degrees, agree with the fellow’s (on my lunch break) rudimentary theology - that all these religions and spiritual movements are, in essence, the same. Just different branches of the same tree. Different tributaries of the same river. You get my drift. I’ve heard many people voice their belief that the “God” worshipped in all the major world faiths is the same, just packaged differently. After all, they say, isn’t it all about the Golden Rule? Isn’t it about doing good to each other, about peace, love, and faith? Why does one have to be right and the others wrong?

Those are good questions, fair points - if you don’t know have a knowledge of Jesus. Last time I checked, Jesus didn’t come preaching zen-like meditation, self-actualization, enlightenment, do-goodism, peace and hand-holding, kumbaya-singing harmony. He didn’t come proclaiming, “I and the Father - oh, wait... and Mohammed, and Buddha, and Joseph Smith, and the Pope, and all the yogis, and the great scientists and philosophers of the ages, and nature, and your inner self, and all the collective good intentions of humanity, and all created things - are One and the same.” Nope, Jesus claimed He was God, that He and the Father are One. Either He was crazy (delusional), He lied (He’s not really God), or He was right (He alone is God). But He cannot be all of the above. Following Christ cannot be boiled down to merely having respect for humanity and creation and being responsible, socially active and conscientious people during our sojourn on this earth. We don’t achieve salvation (or “actualization” or “enlightenment”) through good karma, good works, good religious rituals, or the Golden Rule. In fact, no other religion or faith offers a Savior as the solution to the problem of a fallen, broken humanity. Salvation either depends on what we do or who we are - not on the radical love, mercy and grace of a sovereign God. Only in Jesus do we find life handed to us as a gift, not something we have to work for.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Following Jesus is not smooth sailing. It costs something, mainly the death of Self. But the truth is, that’s not even the best way of putting it. Because the more you come to know, to really experience, who Jesus is - and the more you fall in love with Him - the less you view this life of following Him as a “cost.” Following Jesus...it’s a reward, a privilege, and a mystery. A deep and lasting joy. An unending source of power and wisdom (not found within self, but within Christ, whose Spirit now abides in us). A comfort beyond all comforts. A rock of unyielding, impenetrable strength. An adventurous path. A life of purpose beyond ourselves. A well that never runs dry. An experience of pure, unadulterated, unfailing and unconditional love. Complete liberation. Healing. Forgiveness. Transformation. It’s challenging, yes. The experience of faith can be like walking with your eyes closed off a steep cliff. But a sacrifice? That it is not.

I just hate to see Jesus reduced to some moral principles, religious or cultural buzz words. He’s so much more than that. Did Jesus come to bring peace on earth - was that His goal? Um, I suppose in a roundabout way. But before peace comes a lot of other non-peaceful things (I believe He mentions bringing “a sword” instead of peace to the earth - Matthew 10:34). Did He come to bring justice and mercy, relief for the poor and oppressed? Yeah, He did - praise God for that. But that wasn’t His main objective. He came to restore us to relationship with God. And to think that we can somehow achieve these things without Him, that we can come together as humanity with our best moral/political/social efforts and right what is wrong in the world, simply by trying harder, educating more, legislating more, warring more or warring less, meditating more, protesting more, creating more... that is foolishness. It’s arrogance. Jesus did not come simply to offer us a ticket to life in some far off future, nor did He come simply to allow us to live good lives here on earth and follow His example to the best of our abilities, with no guarantee of a future with Him.

What does this have to do with the passage I was reading in Romans, you might be asking. Well... not directly (as in verse by verse) much, but mainly this: for any who argue that following Christ is the same as any other religion or faith, I have one question. In what other religion, faith or spirituality does “God”, driven solely by a relentless love, offer himself (or herself) to human beings entirely without condition - withholding nothing good, not even his (her) own life - for the purpose of redemption, salvation, liberation, complete transformation, and relationship? I know of no other God like this, no other but Jesus. He’s no synonym. He’s not a metaphor or a symbol for All that is Good. He’s not a means to an end. He’s a divine Person, the very essence of God Himself, and He desires intimate relationship with all of His creation. For we are tattooed upon His heart, upon His hands, and He wishes that all would know Him as the One, true God and Savior.

For this God, I eagerly devote all my love and passion. And how could I not? He really is irresistible once you get to know Him. I dare you to try, for when you do take a step - even a tentative, doubtful one - toward Him, you'll find He's already running toward you with open arms.

For "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved..." (Romans 10:13).

I'll close with these thoughts from a book I'm reading, Blue like jazz:

The ability to accept God's unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. Accepting God's kindness and free love is something the devil does not want us to do. If we hear, in our inner ear, a voice saying we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of Satan trying to convince the bride that the groom does not love her. This is not the voice of God. God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with the passion of His love.