Friday, April 29, 2011

Going backwards, moving forward

"Now," he thought, "that all these transitory things have slipped away
from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a
small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I
have learned nothing." He had to smile again. Yes, his destiny was
strange! He was going backwards, and now he stood empty and naked and
ignorant in the world. But he did not grieve about it; no, he even
felt a great desire to laugh, to laugh at himself, to laugh at this
strange, foolish world. (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha)

The message of "moving forward", of "success" or "progress" in our culture is very much a linear experience. This progression is supposed to launch us forward in a straight line, from one point to another, ever climbing higher. With it, we have our expectations of what's supposed to happen in life at certain points, benchmarks we're to meet. When they aren't met on time, or at all, it creates a dissonant tension or a crisis. We wonder if we're ok, or believe we're stunted or unsuccessful. We tried the formula, and it didn't work.

What if there was another way to look at progression in life, a non-linear understanding?

I've been thinking and writing lately about how it seems I've actually gone backwards in life, according to my expectations and definitions of personal progression. It has appeared that the ground I worked so hard to gain in my twenties left me not having attained any of the end I sought. Or maybe... maybe I am finally reaching the end of myself. Having thrown up layers upon layers of false selves, perhaps this feeling of going backwards is created as each layer of false self falls away, revealing more of who I really am. And I am not who I thought I was.

We start out life with numerous influences. Many people, whether directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, shape who we become from childhood to adulthood. We cannot help but influence each other, and much of this can be positive, though just as many experience painful influences from childhood. But even among the greatest of intentions, we can find ourselves funneled along a path that we did not entirely choose. Perhaps it seems we did. And along the way, layers are laid upon us, telling us who we are, making us feel we are progressing. When those layers begin to be stripped away, we often feel our identities, our way of being in the world, our values, our very sense of worth or achievement, is threatened. This feels like moving backwards, but flip it around and it may be that this is when we actually begin to move forward.

The first part of our lives are spent growing up, away from childhood, and yet, this stripping away seems to draw me closer again to childhood. And I stand in life with the humbling revelation that, as Siddhartha described above, "Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing." Or at least, my learning has brought me to the place of realizing that I know much less than I thought and have heaps more to learn. I am more like a child than I thought, and this is progress.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A very present help

In times when words escape me, I appreciate the depth of honesty and humanity in the psalms. These ancient psalmists timelessly capture the essence of being human while desiring to seek after the heart of God. They can be explosive in emotion - rage, despair, sorrow - and still, explosive in faith.

It seems that the more natural and human-made disasters that accost our world, with increasing regularity, the more difficulty I have not feeling fearful of the future. I used to eat up the news about these sorts of things, wanting to stay in the know on the unfolding events. Now, I struggle not to cringe and shut out the news when I hear about the facts of the disasters, the toll they are taking on lives. I learned last night that one of my cousins, whom I've only met a few times, lives in one of the towns that has been reported to have been wiped out by the tornado in Alabama. My grandma called my mom last night in tears, saying she hadn't received her usual morning email from my cousin. I stood there in partial shock, trying to imagine an entire town being carried away or flattened by a tornado.

I opened to a psalm, having once again no words, and I read this cry David wrote thousands of years ago, imagining many in the south and midwest could identify:

My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. So I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. ~ Psalm 55: 4-8 (NKJV)

I'm not even in the midst of a tornado, and I can relate to wishing I could fly away and be at rest someplace safe. To hasten my escape from it all. It's cowardly, perhaps, not very faith-filled. But it's real.

Then, I turned back to another psalm, needing something more than this raw emotion David expressed. I found solace in one of my favorites, Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling (verses 1-3).

There is the fear, the terror at times, the desire to escape the storms. And then, somewhere in the midst of it all, there is God. The safe place, the one refuge in the storm that cannot be plucked up, blown over or ripped to pieces, is a very present help in trouble.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

simple pleasures

My head needs a little break from thinking so much, and since pictures are worth a thousand words... it's picture time today. These pictures - recently taken from various excursions around the city or in my neighborhood - are lovely reminders to slow down and savor the simple little things in life, moment by moment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saying goodbye to Oz

I had a dream that gave way to huge plans. That is one defining mark of my twenties that, at times, I look back on with a wistful sigh. I had a couple years of wandering about sandwiched between college and graduate school, where I was trying to figure out the next step of the plan, that weren't part of the plan in my book, though I grew to appreciate them for the experiences gained and relationships built. But all in all, I was moving forward, gaining ground, on the road to becoming someone I thought would be successful.

And then life happened to the plan. And as plans often go, it flashed illusively before my eyes before disappearing like a mirage I reached out to touch on a hot summer day.

I've learned some interesting things about myself through the curveballs of life the past couple of years. I like plans. Oh, I like to fancy myself to be an entirely spontaneous, free-spirited, wherever-the-wind-blows sort of girl, but I've learned the painful truth about myself. When it comes to life, not just extracurricular activities or vacations, I crave a plan. I want a blueprint. I want a dream, a vision, something to sink my time into and invest in. I'm a dreamer. Perhaps that's why the end of my twenties and beginning of my thirties has felt so strange, as if I've actually slipped backward in time. I don't have a plan anymore. I don't even have a dream.

I remember watching the Wizard of Oz. How Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow imagined the Wizard of Oz to be this powerful, omniscient, full of wisdom and strength sort of being who could bestow on them the things they sought after. When they reached his headquarters and finally caught sight of him, so small and ordinary and unimpressive behind the curtain, it was such a let down. Turns out he wasn't a wizard at all.

In some ways, I can identify with that non-wizard of Oz. I think for much of the decade of my twenties, I was a lot like him. When life finally pulled down the curtain to reveal just an ordinary girl, it was both shock and relief to myself. I was just me. And I suppose that was the first huge step, to not run and hide when that curtain was pulled down. But now, in my first year of the thirties, I'm wondering if the next big step isn't to leave Oz all together.

This idea that I have control over my life is merely an illusion, and one I'm painfully, yet gratefully, acquainted with. After all, it does me no favors in the long run to live under an illusion. But strangely, I seem to have the phantom-limb thing going on, where after my arm was cut off my brain wants me to think and act like it's still there. The plan I so carefully controlled for much of my twenties has long been cut off, and yet, I still want to think and act like it's still there. Of course, it's not. And I'm not the same person I was before. At some point, I need to accept that my plan's been scrapped and that I have an invitation to leave behind this imaginary land of Oz and embrace the mystery and adventure of another plan.

My counselor recently pointed out to me that there can be great freedom in not putting my hope in future dreams. Embracing today fully doesn't leave a lot of room for trying to re-imagine the past or fret about the future. Could it be that God's plan for my life is not so much a specific set of steps and achievements to be completed as it is a vast treasure of daily experiences - encounters with the ordinary and with the Divine - to be savored?

I'm packing my bags, getting ready to leave Oz. I'd like to say I'm leaving today, but I'm not sure when it will actually happen. But I imagine as I'm walking out the dusty road and the city gleams behind me in its mirage-like attraction, I will wave goodbye and shed the last vestiges of my costume. Where I'm going, I need no costume. Simply being myself, carrying the presence of God inside of me wherever I go, will be enough. Now the challenge is to let go of the phantom and believe.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A favorite four-letter word

It's got to be one of the best four-letter words. At least it's one of my favorites. I know what it means and how it's defined, know how to use it properly in a sentence, how to write entire articles about it, how to philosophize about it. I even know how to temporarily live in it. But I haven't yet figured out how to hold onto it, come what may.


I keep returning to this word. I can't leave it alone. I think I'm good for awhile in the hope department, but then, I start to feel weary. Worn down. Anxious. Negative toward the future. And then I try to figure out what my problem is, may even think I've pinned it down.

Easter, for me, is more than a symbolic holiday. It's a season of remembrance, of feeling the pain of failed hopes and then the joy and resurrection of a greater hope. For some reason, I know that I could celebrate Easter all year long, that my soul needs this continual remembrance, but it so quickly slips away onto a calendar. Yesterday, I didn't even realize how deeply I thirsted for Easter. I almost didn't see it.

I got to church in tears. It seems at Easter that my losses are so close beneath the surface of my heart, crouching with my emotions, waiting to spill over. I tried to focus, but my heart felt dull. Up until my pastor began with his message. It was all about how Jesus is the King of those who are too weak to hope. My attention focused sharply when I heard these words, at once recognizing myself in that group of people. He read from a gospel account of the resurrection, a few stories of how Jesus appeared to different people and none of them recognized him right away.

One such story tells of how Jesus showed up walking beside two disciples on the road to Emmaus - leaving Jerusalem. They looked sad, depressed, hopeless, and talked with him about how the one they thought was the Messiah had been crucified that weekend. He listened, and then as they continued walking, opened up to them all the scriptures that spoke of the Messiah, of how he must suffer for the sins of the people, from beginning to end. When they finally arrived in Emmaus, he was going to keep walking, but they begged him to stay the night with them. It wasn't until they were sitting down to dinner and he blessed the bread and broke it that their eyes were opened and they finally recognized who he was.

How could they be so blind, to not recognize the man they'd seen and followed for the past three years? Their own non-hope, broken spirits and losses blinded them to see Jesus, just as these same things blinded me that morning as I came to celebrate my risen Lord. How easy it is to talk about my hope being in Christ alone, but when I find myself despairing of the future, afraid of further disappointment and loss, of dead-ends and ruts, I see how many imitation hopes I still hold onto. How difficult it can be to let them die so that the one genuine hope beyond all other definitions of hope can be resurrected and live unchallenged, anchoring my life.

I'm thankful that Jesus showed up beside me walking yesterday and opened my eyes. I'm glad I didn't miss him, because I almost did. Now, to take it day by day, walking in sight of hope - Easter year round.

Friday, April 22, 2011

If only

I'm sitting here at a coffee shop this morning, slightly distracted, trying to focus on my writing (though I didn't really know what to write) and not on the conversations of other customers coming and going in the cafe. I was doing alright blocking things out, but couldn't help overhearing a snippet of this conversation between a customer and the barista at the register, discussing plans for this Easter weekend:

"Baby Jesus at Christmas, I can handle. But dead and resurrected Jesus at Easter is just not my cup of tea."

How often I hear this sentiment about Easter. I hear it again and again when people ask me or others about whether or not they're doing anything for Easter. Most people seem to want to make it clear that they could care less about the "religious" aspect of Easter, but they dig the chocolate, the Easter egg hunts, the nice Easter dinners. And I really get this, I think. Why care about Easter if you don't care about Jesus? If you believe it's all a bunch of fluff or crazy religious, anti-intellectual beliefs, a way for Christians to make themselves feel good inside. I'm not offended in the slightest bit. But it does make me sad.

I think, if only. If only these same ones encountered the Jesus I know and love, would things be different? Our lack of belief doesn't change history. It doesn't change the fact that Jesus came several thousand years ago to a people (all of us) who didn't receive him, that love compelled him to give his life, and that this same love is alive and still pursues us today, whether or not we acknowledge it.

Many may want nothing to do with the love of Jesus, but what they don't know is that his love is alive in me. I just need to be myself and let Jesus do his loving through me. Then maybe that if only can become something more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A fine backdrop

We may complain a lot about all the gray skies here in Seattle. Winter may run into spring with such blurred lines that it's nearly impossible to tell when one ends and the other begins. It may seem that the warm weather will never plant its feet down to stay, but for quick visits here and there. An artist's eye, however, cannot help but appreciate the inherent beauty composed in the sharp contrasts of a Seattle spring. The gray backdrop only serves to showcase the vibrant colors popping up in and around the city. There's an anticipation that stirs in all of us. Sunshine, warmth, longer days are coming. Seems to me that this is one of nature's many ways of pointing to something greater. A greater hope to come. And so our hearts swell with expectation, and Easter approaches.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Balancing act

This idea of beautiful rubbish is perfect, in that it keeps me in check. The point is never to become so up to my ears in rubbish that I can't see past to the beauty. Not that it would be a bad thing, in the reverse, to be up to my ears in beauty. As long as the beauty is the work of Christ in me - it would benefit my soul greatly to be completely overwhelmed by this beauty on a daily basis - and not gazing in infatuation at my own reflection, deceived into thinking I'm so full of beauty that there is no rubbish in my life in need of God's transforming grace.

Unfortunately, I think I err on the side of focusing critically on the rubbish. If ever this masquerades as humility, let me assure you, it's not. It's a more subtle form of pride, actually, for it puts me in disagreement with God. When I focus on my rubbish, to the exclusion of seeing beneath it to the creative and breathtaking ways that God works tirelessly to redeem it, I refuse to agree with Him that He sees me as a beautiful, and dare I say, perfect creation. I can claim that, not by my own merit, character or track record, but solely because in Christ's death and resurrection it is so. I assume a new identity: perfect, holy, beautiful, blameless, forgiven.

Let me be clear here: God doesn't make junk. He doesn't create rubbish. When I say I have rubbish in my life, I am dead wrong if I imply that I am the rubbish. Contrary to what some theology encourages, I don't believe it brings glory and pleasure to God to hear those He has redeemed (those who have received Christ, whose lives are now in Him) going about with the "I am a despicable worm, a sinner saved by grace" language. Once we're in Christ, we are new creations. We may still sin, but we are not sinners. It may seem like a subtle distinction or semantics, but it's not. There's a big difference, because one denotes an ongoing wrestling match with something other than ourselves - that is, the sin. And one denotes an identity. Sin is no longer my identity in God's eyes. Christ becomes my identity, and because He is perfect, the reflection of Christ's perfection is what God sees in me.

This may seem like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo to some, but to me, it's freedom. It's mystery. It's scandal. It's hope. It's beauty beyond what the eyes can see, the hands can touch or the imagination can stretch. It's grace heaped upon grace, mercy that brings a flood of relief. It's empowering in its truth, sobering in its magnitude. It brings me to my knees, not as a filthy sinner, but as a humble and grateful recipient of a gift I could never earn or pay back.

It's Holy week, and this is beautiful rubbish in action.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Healing these crossed eyes

You cannot fail God.

Huh? The thought broke through my inner dialogue, stopping all my other thoughts in their tracks. When I slowed down to listen, all the disjointed pieces of thought and emotion that have been floating around me in a sea of anxiety also slowed. As if they were fishes caught on the end of a line, they were reeled in, inch by inch, yard by yard, toward this prevailing force. The timing was perfect; I needed the intervention. Drawn toward a Good Friday death, on the cusp of a Sunday resurrection, I followed the trail to this thought that I knew didn't come from nowhere.

Here I've been, during the season of intentionally remembering and adoring Jesus for the great lengths He went to, willingly, to pay the price for my sins and restore me to life and relationship with God, obsessed not with Him, but with my own shortcomings. Caught again in a mindset of performance, basing my sense of failure or success in God's eyes on my own actions, instead of on Jesus' actions on my behalf. I've all but ignored the work Jesus finished on the cross and set into motion with His resurrection. For several years now, I haven't been able to shake off this deep sense of failure, that I have, in fact, failed God and can never make things right again. The truth is, I never can make things right with God. But the second part to that truth is that Jesus has already made things right between God and I for me.

A wonderfully simple and poignant thought was planted in my head this week while reading a book called The naked gospel: the will of God is nothing more than Christ in me and my life hidden in Christ. All my identity is in Him - not in what I do or don't do, what I accomplish or fail at, where I come from or who I know, my virtues or my vices. That means all my successes are also in Him.

Think about it: if we are in Christ and Christ is in us, and He cannot fail (and indeed, has already won the ultimate victory), then the only logical conclusion is that we cannot fail God either. What is there to fail at that Jesus has not already covered, paid for, taken care of and triumphed over? I surely cannot add to or take away from what He's already done, either with my sins or with my good deeds. God cannot forgive me more than He already did when the blood that poured from His beloved Son trickled down the cross and spilled to the ground. To think I can somehow obtain more forgiveness seems to imply that Jesus' sacrifice didn't actually finish the job; to obsess with my shortcomings, as offensive as saying to God's face, "Yeah, I know Jesus took care of it, but I just want to make sure we're good."

How much precious time I've wasted going cross-eyed staring at my own blemishes, instead of staring at the beauty of Jesus until those crossed eyes are healed.

That's why the timing of this gentle correction feels so... right. What a perfect time to call it good, to turn my gaze from my own darkness and behold the perfect, spotless, emanating light of Jesus. Maybe then I'll finally believe that God does not see me as I do. Maybe then I'll accept this merciful mystery, that when God looks at me, He sees Christ in me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy week

It's less than a week until Easter, the first season I have celebrated Lent, and still I find myself scrambling to prepare my heart. What, exactly, am I trying to prepare for, I wonder? The events have already taken place in history and live on today in their glorious mystery, regardless of how prepared I feel. But as my pastor read the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, His triumphant entry, with the crowds waving palm branches and shouting praises to Him, knowing that many of these same characters would be among the crowds crying, "Crucify!" a few days later, I saw myself. That I, too, am prone to such fickleness of heart. The people were not ready to receive Jesus for who He was. They were looking for a different messiah and weren't ready to let Jesus reshape those hopes and dreams, not having the eyes yet to see that He, in fact, was the answer to the promises they held onto.

I sat in church, asking myself the same question the crowds asked after they'd waved Jesus through: "Who is this?" It's a question I need to ask myself more often; because it's a question that, no matter how deep I go with God, will never fully be understood. He is bottomless, boundless, infinite. It is impossible to contain Him in our words, and yet, that is part of the invitation to know Him.

As our pastor continued unfolding the layout of the triumphal entry, revealing some profound parallels between this and the resurrection story, one thing he said really caught in my heart. It was during the account of Jesus clearing the temple of money changers once He arrived in Jerusalem. Pastor Kelly said, "What angers Jesus most is the message that we can make our way to God. It's the only thing in the gospels that really infuriates Him." The statement struck me as obvious, but for some reason, I'd never really thought of it like that. After the religious and the money changers had been cleared from God's house, the temple, there were particular groups of people that emerged and came to Jesus. I never noticed this in all my readings of this story. In the aftermath of the passionate clearing, the ones who remained were the blind, the lame, and the children. In other words, the ones who, before, could not afford to make their way to Jesus. Couldn't buy or work their way to Him. These were the ones who received Him. These were the ones He came to, and to them He offered the kingdom of heaven. Not because of their status, but because of their hearts and their dependency on Him. They were ready to receive Him.

This week, this holy week leading up to Good Friday and then to resurrection Sunday, I want to approach Jesus among the blind, the lame and the children. From this perspective, I hope to see Him up close, to receive Him as He is.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The beginnings of love

Whether we consider ourselves religious or not, spiritual or not, adhering to a certain faith or not - regardless of where we come from - I'd bet that that most of us have heard this phrase, or some version of it: Love your neighbor as yourself. These are Jesus' words, actually, from one of his many talks to the crowds of people who gathered during his ministry to hear his profound teaching. I've heard these words taught since my early Sunday school days.

What I couldn't have grasped as a young child, when this principle was first introduced to me, was where the ultimate challenge is embedded in those words. I was always taught to focus on loving others - a good focus to have, and one I still need more of. I don't recall ever being taught, however, what loving myself actually means. In fact, though all of us struggle with self-centeredness (those who call themselves followers of Christ and those who do not), in the Church it has seemed almost taboo to talk about love of self. And I can understand why; it's rampant in our society, like an untamed animal roaming about with access to whatever it pleases. But still, it's there, included in Jesus' words. We are not to love others as we love our dogs, or love others as we love our possessions, or love others as we love our passions and causes and careers. Our measure for loving others is as we love ourselves.

This is a hard pill to swallow. For as I struggle with self-centeredness and self-indulgence on one end of the spectrum, I also struggle with self-flagellation on the other. I am severely critical with myself. I really need no enemies, for I can be set against myself as a most formidable foe. It is true, I can "love" myself too much (though it is not really love to indulge myself), but I can also love myself far too little. With such harshness, judgment and lack of grace.

Of course, this in itself is a problem. But the greater problem lies in the consequence that, if I am unable to show true love and grace to myself, I will be incapable of showing it to my neighbor.

All I have to do is think of all the ways I have "failed" to live up to my own standards and expectations over the past few years alone, how I have taken a metaphorical baseball bat to my heart and beat it time and time again. I think of how harsh I have become with myself over time and circumstances since my Dad's death. And it becomes more clear to me, why I can, in turn, struggle with being more harsh with others, more critical and judgmental, more sharp-tongued. Even as I write this, it sounds so... extreme, so serious. Perhaps I am not really as bad as it sounds, I reason. But as with everyone else, I know my soul's struggles. I know what I try so hard to conceal. There is beauty in my heart, but there is also darkness that I wrestle with. I am far from perfect, particularly in my love. I know this well.

So my challenge is this: in what ways can I begin to show myself love, the kind of love I would wish to show others, the kind I would wish to receive from others? Jesus knew he was striking to the core of the heart when he pointed us to begin with ourselves. Not in a self-serving way, but in a way that opens up our hearts to love others.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A nameless mexican delicacy

It's early, much too early for my taste this morning. My brain is still trying to shake off its daze and my eyes are noticeably puffy. There are things I could write about, but even for me they seem too personal to place here. So instead, I'll share something I didn't add in my last blog about Mexico. A recipe.

Ricardo and I came up with this one night about one month ago, taking quick inventory of what we each had on hand in our fridges. It was late, and we didn't want to spend much time cooking. What we came up with is so simple, I don't even have a name for it yet, but I've made it at least three or four times since we first created it. It's too good, too easy, to keep to myself. So here it is, in its nameless glory:


*Assortment of vegetables (I go a little crazy here because I love vegetables: mushrooms, onion, zucchini, spinach or chard, and bell peppers are good)
*1 tomato
*1 avocado
*corn tortillas
*1 can black or kidney beans, undrained
*a few chunks of onion (white, yellow or red will do fine)
*Dried red chiles
*salsa (optional)
*shredded cheese or mexican cotija (optional)
*oil (your choice - I love olive oil)

Take whatever vegetables you have and chop them into small, bitesize chunks. Saute them in a small amount of oil and garlic. Cook until vegetables are done, but still slightly crunchy.

In a saucepan on the stove, heat a little oil. Add a few chunks of onion and some crushed red chiles, cooking for only a minute or two until the onion is barely browned. Add a can of whole, undrained black or kidney beans to the saucepan. Using a masher (the bottom of a glass cup works, too), mash the beans in the pan. They will still be a little chunky, but more resemble refried beans. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat.

In another frying pan, add a little oil and heat several corn tortillas (two per person), flipping them over, until they are slightly moist from the oil and warm through and through, not crunchy. It only takes about two minutes for each tortilla.

Chop the fresh tomato into chunks. Cut the avocado into small slices. Set these to the side.

Place one heated tortilla on a plate. Cover the tortilla with vegetables, then place the second tortilla on top. Smother the top of the tortilla with the frijoles (beans). Add salsa to the top if you have it. Shredded cheese or mexican cotija on top is also good. Garnish with tomato and avocado.

Your creation should look like a fat tortilla sandwich, filled with veggies and smothered with creamy frijoles and a colorful garnish of tomato and avocado, salsa, and whatever you desire. The spicier, the better, in my opinion. Go crazy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Traces of Mexico

A year ago, I never imagined mexican culture would fascinate me the way it does. I never thought I'd daydream about what my life would be like anywhere in Central or Latin America, let alone Mexico, or of being fluent in Spanish. More and more, I find traces of Mexico in my story, for now remaining on the surface of culture. My cravings for Mexican cuisine dominate. I listen to salsa music in my car and while I'm cooking, my body responding almost involuntarily, swaying in beat to the vibrant rhythms. My grocery staples now include avocados, limes, onion, tomatoes, corn tortillas, serrano chiles, canned chipotles, pickled jalapenos, Tapatio sauce and beans. I've purchased several mexican cookbooks but most enjoy the recipes Ricardo and I whip up spontaneously in the kitchen, depending on which ingredients we have on hand.

Maybe six months ago, I saw a Groupon in my email for a year-long language course online. I signed up for a Spanish course right away. I own a pocket Spanish dictionary, several books covering the history of Mexico, and am working my way through several books about life in a small town among the mountains in central Mexico. I've attended a handful of Catholic masses with Ricardo, attempting to understand God not only through his eyes, but also through the eyes of the majority of mexican culture, where Catholicism is deeply woven. I attempt to converse with my Spanish-speaking customers and feel a little sigh of happiness when I hear Spanish spoken elsewhere, straining quietly to make out any of the words, smiling as if we shared a secret, knowing I am all but invisible to those speaking.

Lately, as I've been reading Tony Cohan's On mexican time, my senses become lost in the sights, sounds, tastes, colors, celebrations, warmth, smells, pace and priorities of life in the small town he and his wife relocated to in central Mexico when escaping L.A. It sounds romantic without being romanticized. Something in me yearns for the quality and simplicity of the life he describes. And something in me fears the changes, wondering if I have what it takes to adjust my life to Mexico. I desire it, the challenge and opportunity to expand my life, to go deeper into another culture, to go deeper into the hearts of people both like me and unfamiliar to me.

I desire it with a sense of urgency, now that I'm thirty and realize that I'm growing more set in my ways with each year. I hate to admit it, but I like the familiarity of my culture, the way things are, in general, as I expect them to be. I understand the way time works here, the way it's valued, the way it's violated. I understand how relationships work here. I don't have to worry too much about whether or not the people I'm communicating with will understand me, will understand the same things about our culture that I understand. I know how to get around here, with my eyes closed. How would it be starting over in a brand new town in a brand new country? Ricardo did it, but could I? I admire his tenacity, knowing I barely appreciate what it's cost him to make a new life for himself here. I long to know that I, too, could rise to that challenge. I long to take in all the facets of the rich culture that has shaped him into the man he is today. I long to know it's not too late; I'm not stuck in a comfortable, status quo life here.

I am filled with a growing curiosity and desire to know our distant next-door neighbors, across that politically charged border that separates our two countries.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A place called home

When I was a few years younger, I'd joke about having some gypsy in my blood. Call it the product of growing up moving every three to four years. I learned at a young age how to let go, say goodbye, and start over. It never got easy, but it did get easier with time and practice. In fact, I don't remember envying those kids who grew up in the same town, in the same house, their whole lives. As I got older, I felt grateful, and perhaps a little prideful, that I felt so capable of embracing change. I assimilated this into my identity, like the gypsy in my blood, aware that along with the freedom of not having roots in one place also came the handicap of not allowing myself to fully attach myself to anyone, anywhere. The rose came with some thorns.

As a young adult, I inherited my father's restless dreaming of "other" lands. There was always someplace else I wanted to live. I didn't want to be tied down. My perfect life, I thought at one point, would be living in one place for six months, then moving onto another place for six months or a year, and then another - for as many years as I wanted - never calling one place home. I dreamed of England, Australia, Montreal, Vancouver, B.C., New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Boston, Austria, Brooklyn, Ireland, San Francisco, Kenya, Rwanda, Liberia, wherever the winds would take me. I lived with one foot in the place I was and one foot out the door - or, at least in my imagination.

I never thought anything would break me of that. I never thought I needed to be broken of that mentality toward life. But my dad's death did it. When he died, I had one foot in Seattle and one foot out the door, ready to head to my new home in Minneapolis. From there, I hoped to finally leap frog my way to Africa, full time. It didn't happen. I watched those dreams wash away, like water down a drain pipe, along with a piece of my identity. Part of me was sad while another part of me felt deep, unexpected relief. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I felt, I was staying in Seattle for longer than my several year stint, and I was relieved.

Over the past several years, I've found myself opening up more to the idea of having a home, of putting down roots in a place, and I've got to admit, it's strange. It's the warm, cozy feeling of familiarity and belonging, and it's also the frightening feeling of vulnerability because you need to have that place of belonging. The very thing I never wanted to happen, in some regards, has happened. I'm really attached to this place, to the people here and to the city itself.

While I was in church this past Sunday, the pastor delivered a powerful message, reminding us all that this place is not "home." We can love and invest in this place, but always remembering it is not home, not even close. We must not become too comfortable here, not love it too much. I tasted the sober reminder and it was bittersweet. In some very good and healthy ways, I have allowed myself to finally invest in a place, to be fully present in my home town instead of dreaming of the next move (ignoring my recent dreams of moving to Mexico). I have allowed myself, finally, to rely on people, to need relationship with them, to attach to them. The frightening part of this shift for me is that I have grown so comfortable here. I know the city, in some ways, like the back of my hand. It's going on ten years that I've been here. I know it better than I've known any place, and I love that. But the longer I'm here, the harder it becomes to think of leaving - the very sentiment I've tried so hard to avoid.

Perhaps that's not such a negative thing. It's another thorn in the rose, and roses are worth the thorns. Investing in people, in relationships, in a place and in community, is worth the thorns of pain in saying goodbye, if need be. Like loving, it comes at a cost, it comes with risk, always. But it's worth it. It's what colors life with rich hues and forges depth in our character. The challenge for me is to know the difference between loving a place and loving it too much. When I love it too much, I treat it as if this is all there is. As if this place is the only home I've got, the best one I'll ever know. When I do that, I suffer from nearsightedness, unable to see beyond the present to my eternal home. To the treasure that is mine, not in a place, but in a person. In Jesus. I suppose that will always be a challenge, especially when the home I have here is so beautiful to my eyes, when I have it so good in so many ways, it's easy to forget that this home is only a speckle of light in the shimmering ocean of eternity.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Goodnight moon, the adult version

For all of the adults in the world who have trouble turning off at night - and for Pete and Laura and Chris, who helped inspire this idea from the original...

Goodnight dishes, goodnight taxes
Goodnight wishes, goodnight faxes

Goodnight bills, goodnight cable
Goodnight politics, goodnight email

Goodnight facebook, goodnight twitter
Goodnight i-phone, goodnight world hunger

Goodnight housing market, goodnight economy
Goodnight laundry, goodnight housecleaning

Goodnight rising gas prices, goodnight global warming
Goodnight earthquakes, goodnight tsunamis

Goodnight Japan, goodnight Middle East
Goodnight famine, goodnight feast

Goodnight Libya, goodnight Afghanistan
Goodnight information overload, goodnight C-Span

Goodnight spring, goodnight cold
Goodnight magazines, goodnight remedies for growing old

Goodnight aches, goodnight pains
Goodnight losses, goodnight gains

Goodnight brain, goodnight thoughts
Goodnight self, goodnight God

Now, hushhhhhh.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Trees among us

There's something alluring about trees. Perhaps its their stable stature, that offers just enough security to take the challenge of scaling as high as you can among their branches. Up above, you feel hidden, peering down at the world below from a strange and wonderful perspective. As a child, I learned to both enjoy and fear trees, reaching to the strong branches for support while never fully trusting my safety in them. As an adult, my appreciation for these very qualities in trees has not disappeared. Thankfully, neither has Ricardo's.

Trees can be an awesome thing to behold. The grace and beauty with which they sway in the breeze, the fragrance of their blossoms as they dance from the branches to the ground. The artful ways in which they filter light and sift shadows in the late afternoon. The ways they whisper if you stand still enough to listen in the forest. Yet on the other spectrum of awesome, there are the ways they, too, are subject to the forces of nature, bending sideways until even the hardiest trunks can snap in two, roots being uprooted in a storm like carrots in a garden and then tossed wherever the wind pleases. I remember sitting on the couch in the living room as a teenager at one of our houses, watching our tall, thick trees in the backyard whip back and forth in a storm, my heart racing, praying one of them didn't end up on top of our house. Trees can make you feel, in equal parts, vulnerable and protected, exposed and shaded, carefree and cautious.

I don't know how it came to be that I decided to write about trees today, except I went for a long walk at Discovery Park this afternoon. This park houses some of my favorite trees in all of Seattle. The kinds with the wide trunks, branches low to the ground, with nooks and crannies inviting you to climb inside and sit for a visit. It's as if they want to share the beauty of their home with you, to showcase the stunning views from their windows.

So on my walk today, I accepted the invitation and climbed inside one such perch in a tree. It wasn't a long visit. The wind was too chilly for me to sit for more than a few minutes, but as I leaned against the tree, I noticed the wind. I admired its presence in the tops of the trees that, from my perch, were in the canyon below me. I filled my lungs with this refreshing spring breeze, sweeping in from the bay in front of me, the Olympic Mountains and San Juan islands out in the far distance. As I sat, I felt peace filling my soul. My little stop to fill my tank at a gas station. I silently thanked God for this tree, for this breeze, for the shimmers of sun breaking through the clouds, for the peace carried like oxygen in the wind.

Friday, April 8, 2011



Peace. Nothing missing. Nothing broken. Well being. Completeness. Wholeness. Perfect. Fullness. Safety. Soundness. Rest. Harmony. The absence of agitation or discord. Tranquility. Prosperity. Health. Welfare.

These are the components of shalom, which is often used as a synonym for peace. Oh, but it's clearly more than peace. Much more. On the flip side, when I think of peace, I rarely think of shalom, not in this complete sense of the word. It seems that peace is equivalent in my mind, to some degree, as an emotional state that comes and goes. Sometimes I feel peace, and sometimes I don't. Of course, there is peace in the broader sense - as in absence from war - but in my life, this is how oversimplified it becomes. Feeling peaceful.

But reading these words that make up this beefier word, shalom, I find myself hungering to know the word they describe. I yearn for it now, in the present - not only in my life, but in the lives of those I love, in the lives of those I pray for, in the lives of people across the world. Shalom. And yet I also know it is a hope for the future. We hunger for this shalom now, and we must continue, knowing that it is a promise that will completely be fulfilled in the not yet. Only one can fulfill this impossible order. Only one is the embodiment of this word. And He shares Himself freely with us, that we, too, might taste of His shalom and live in the state of being that is His shalom.

How different life could be if we lived and breathed and ate and slept and worked and played and loved and served in this broader, deeper understanding and hope of shalom.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I'm contemplating the words to this song I've been singing a lot the past several days. I might as well turn these contemplations into prayers.

Water You turned into wine, opened the eyes of the blind...

God, open my blind eyes today. Help me to see people the way You see them, and not to be blinded by my own prejudices, judgments, emotions, or desires. Use what I give today as a refreshing drink of water to the ones who are thirsty - water that You can turn into wine.

There's no one like You, none like You...

You stand alone, God, in a world of counterfeits and cheap imitations. Help me not to settle for cheap versions of You. Nothing can compare to the greatness of knowing You.

Into the darkness You shine, out of the ashes we rise...

Sometimes, I get sucked into the darkness, God. I can lose sight of Your light that shines through, cutting the darkness and illuminating with hope and life. Thank you for your unwavering, unfading, impenetrable light. Thank You for raising us to life out of the ashes of death.

Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God You are higher than any other...

I am reminded, God, that though my life is but a scratch on the timeline of eternity, You are greater than that scratch in time. Though I am weak, prone to wander away, prone to selfishness, prone to pride, You are stronger. You are high above my successes and high above my daily failings. Lift my gaze beyond my shortcomings, to see how great, how strong, how high above You are - and how, even being those things, You are not too great or strong or high above to come near and gather me into Your arms.

Our God is healer, awesome in power, our God, our God.

I know people today who need to experience You as healer, God. They need to see You awesome in power in their lives. You know them each by name, You know their need. Show them, God, who You are. For all of us who are in desperate need of Your healing in the broken areas of our lives, show us who You are. Let us experience the touch of the Healer, awesome in power.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The stuff of building

I've been thinking lately about life and about construction. Yep, that's right. I've got buildings on my mind. Not physical buildings, mind you, but spiritual ones, if that makes any sense. Let me try to expound on that thought.

Today I was reading something Jesus said to the hoards of people that started following Him, maybe near the beginning of His ministry. His groupies. I think Jesus understood that most of the multitudes liked Him for His refreshing differences from the religious leaders of the day, for His miracles, for their hope for a Messiah that fit the image they had in mind. They didn't necessarily know what they were signing up for when they followed Him. I think that's why, during one such instance of being followed by such a multitude, Jesus turned to them and clarified what being a follower entails:

"...Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' " (Luke 14:27-30)

If such clarification was needed for those who wanted to follow Jesus while He was actually living on earth, I wonder how much more we need it today. When we can't see Him. How easy we make it to follow Him, how often we try to form Jesus into the image that best suits us or others. Rarely do we sit down and count the cost, to the point where we feel the weight of it, yet see beyond to the magnitude of the reward that far outweighs it.

And I wonder, when I set out to begin building on this foundation that is Christ, years and years ago, did I really consider what I was choosing and if I could finish well? I honestly don't think I did. I didn't really have a clue. It's something I have absolutely no desire to go back on - I love Jesus and need no convincing that He is everything I want in this life and beyond - but counting the cost has come over the years, step by step, not at the beginning.

Were I to survey my life up to this point with the eyes of a builder, I wonder, too, what I would see. A bunch of half-finished buildings? A tower in my honor? A foundation with not much on it? Are my hands set to building things that make a difference in eternity, that emphasize the greatness and glory of God? What, exactly, is my life constructing or adding to?

These are not questions that can be answered in a moment. I'm not even sure I have the eyes to see clearly to the answer. But I must try, I must pray, that God would give me vision to see - and more importantly, to build where He is already working.