Here Comes 2018

Here Comes 2018

Confetti, resolutions, and staying up late are all part of welcoming the New Year.  These days, reflection doesn’t just come from laughing through memories with friends and family as we wait for the ball to drop (or rise if you are an Okie).  These days, reflection isn’t quite reflection until we do it through some form of social media.  The past few years the most popular reflection I’ve seen is “the best nine,” which is primarily on Instagram.  I don’t remember actually making a collage of my top nine moments the past few years, but I do remember each of those posts making me think a little more about my “best nine.”

As 2017 started, I remember thinking “it could be difficult to choose nine moments from 2016.”  I had too many to choose from! Frankly, 2018 is a different story.  The difficulty isn’t having too many to choose, it’s not knowing if a collage of nine photos of my dog would make people stop following me.  (And, honestly, how do you choose between the one of him in the mud, the one in his Halloween costume, or the one in his Christmas sweater?)

Joking aside, 2017 has not been the best year for me.  It’s been one of those “enough is enough” years.  I don’t mean that I haven’t had good moments, I have had plenty, but looking back it’s not been a year of celebrating.  It’s been a year that often felt like spinning my wheels, of boundaries and pruning, not-so-pleasant growth, hurt, and disappointment.

Even though 2017 was not a year of celebrating, it is still a year worth celebrating.  I am still thankful for moments here and there (and I could come up with more than “the best nine,” I’d just have to be creative to come up with representative photos).  I am still grateful for the work God did in 2017.  Most of all, I am still hopeful for years to come.  Currently, for 2018.

For those of you who also haven’t had “the best nine” kind of year and are ready to shove 2017 out the door, here’s my hope for 2018.  I have goals and resolutions too and those relate to my hope in some ways, but they aren’t the same.  This is my hope.

Very simply, Jesus.  More specifically, beauty.

No, not the kind of beauty that comes in a bottle or a gym membership.  Beauty that comes from hardship and mourning.

Isaiah 61:3 (HCSB) says (emphasis mine),

to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him.

Twenty seventeen hasn’t been a year of mourning, ashes, or despair for me like it has been for some, but it’s been enough that I’m ready for a crown of beauty, festive oil, and splendid clothes.  I’m ready for the Lord’s promises that good does somehow come from all the hard things that life brings our way.  I don’t expect to magically have every problem resolved in 2018, no new hardships, or “the best 100” next year, but I do have hope that 2018 will be closer to the beauty because I expect to be closer to Jesus–whether it’s through that pruning-not-so-fun-growth or some welcome joy and relief.

So here comes 2018.  Welcome, beauty.

The Chase

Growing up, my sister loved nothing more than a good chase. Tag of any kind was her absolute favorite game. She was fast, so it was no surprise that she never grew weary of the chase. I, however, was not, so I was inevitably the one chasing instead of being chased. There were countless times where tag ended in me being frustrated. (Except in the pool, then we were more equally suited.)

Maybe you were also the one chasing. You know how it feels to long to be able to just touch the sleeve of the person you were pursuing.

Being in a waiting season feels a bit like one of these unequally matched games of tag. There are so many longings that are just out of reach, and so many times I just want to throw my hands up and ask to play a new game. It’s easy to be out of breath, out of tricks, and out of hope.

Yet, even a pudgy girl chasing her beanpole sister can sometimes feel enough desire to drive a quick-paced chase on occasion.

For me, that chase has recently been toward Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always chasing Jesus. My quiet times exist, but they’re often rushed and in a rut. But in a waiting season, there are times that motivate a chase. In this wait and others like it, I’ve literally ran to spend time with Jesus. I remember one occasion running with my Bible to get to a park bench and finally meet with Him.

I also remember times when I’ve so deeply desired to meet with Him, but every attempt has been squelched by some distraction. That can feel more like chasing my sister did.

Maybe you’re in a waiting season too. (After all, most seasons do have some element of waiting.) May I encourage you that the God of the Bible is worth the wait, is worth the chase, and makes Himself accessible to us.

One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is Luke 8:43-48 (HCSB),

43 A woman suffering from bleeding for 12 years,who had spent all she had on doctors yet could not be healed by any, 44 approached from behind and touched the tassel of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched Me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

46 “Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” 47 When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly cured. 48 “Daughter,” He said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

 This woman had a wait I cannot fathom, and her chase displays the weariness of an unquenched thirst.  But her relief was found in simply touching the tassel of the Savior’s robe.  Jesus doesn’t promise that our waits will end by chasing Him (…or that they’ll end at all on this side of Heaven).  He does, however, offer sweet relief for our weary, restless souls.  He is the One that never grows weary of pursuing our wayward souls.

Multitasking? Or Not Connecting?

Empathy seems to be a buzz word in my life right now.  It may just be the whole trying to be a therapist thing that makes me keenly aware of the word, but it seems to be everywhere.

As my lack of blogging reflects, lately I’ve been busy.  Probably too busy. I don’t feel that busy.  After all, I’m not juggling as many things as years past, but I think even just working more than full-time is enough to squeeze away any extra space in my ever-changing schedule.  Fast.  The problem is busyness seems to be what destroys empathy the fastest.  I’ve seen that in my own life, but I also see it in the lives of others.  I could give countless examples of this busyness-over-empathy phenomenon, but the example that comes up six days a week for me is in the drive-thru. 

When working at a fast food restaurant (or as Chick-fil-A describes themselves, “a quick service restaurant”), you see the worst of rushed people.  One of my co-workers often quotes the saying “a lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part,” but laughs and says “unless you work here!” Her sarcastic remark about sums up our day-to-day experience with catering orders, but in the rush of each order at the drive-thru we see other mini-emergencies hundreds of times a day.  Suddenly, workers go from being people to robots. Despite our best attempts at connecting with guests, our guests often seem to forget they are interacting with people.  (In their defense, we do get them when they’re hangry.  I, too, am not my best right before I eat.) Though so many of our guests are kind, caring people even in their lunch emergencies, the rushed guests tend to taint each shift.  Talking on the phone during a transaction is one of my personal pet peeves.  Drive-thru phone talkers are always distracted, but somehow their distracted mistakes always manage to be our fault.  Their self-focus and lack of listening tends to squelch their ability to really engage.  After rushing through a transaction with a team member, the drive-thru phone talkers often apologize to the person on the other end of the phone (the human that means something to them) and whiz past our workers (who also happen to be human) without a second thought.  This behavior displays so well our busyness-over-empathy society, and our choice to multitask over connect.

Brené Brown describes this so well in a blog post, ironically also written about the same quick service restaurant.  I’ve read a lot of her research, so I’m sure much of what I write on this topic is influenced by her work (whether I realize it or not)…and she writes a lot better than I do!

Our capacity to empathize is so often limited by our inability to listen. Really listen. Do you ever get tired of listening? I do and I’m supposed to making a career out of listening.  It gets old hearing the same thing over and over again.  Close friends would tell you that I often become an advice-giver or a fixer instead of a true listener when I’ve heard the same problem over and over again.  The problem with that (other than that makes for a terrible therapist) is that it lacks empathy.  As a Christian, I would even assert that it lacks love (see 1 Corinthians 13). 

To empathize better, I need to listen better to my friends.  However, I think there are also some smaller steps I need to take.  When the hangry guest comes through the drive-thru, I may need to try to read between the lines of their mini-emergency.  Chick-fil-A also has a powerful training video that displays empathy well, Every Life Has a Story.  Knowing that every life does have a story—from whatever perspective—I want to hear those stories and love the people behind them better.

Where can you listen, empathize, and connect better?

For me, questions that also help me assess this better are:

When/where do I need to multitask less?

When is my own schedule getting in the way of my willingness to listen, empathize, and connect?

Who have I interacted with transactionally today?

When did I treat someone (anyone) as less than human today?

Who can I listen to better?

An Unexpected Check

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Do you have a bucket list?

I can’t say I have a formal one, but I definitely have a few goals I’d like to accomplish before I kick the bucket.  Of course, there are the normal/more serious items on my bucket list like continuing to grow with God, getting married, having a career, etc., but there are also less serious items.  I’ve done some of the less serious items like being a mascot, running a half marathon, and learning to make a pie, but there are still many things to go.  One of the things on this list was unexpectedly checked off this week: to see a polar bear.

I don’t know what originally started my love for polar bears, but ever since I can remember I’ve loved them.  I have always wanted to see a polar bear.  Oklahoma City doesn’t have one in their zoo, which is the zoo I’ve frequented the most.  When I went to the Bronx Zoo as a child, they also didn’t have this furry arctic creature.  People have told me that the zoo in Tulsa has one, but I was told there wasn’t one when I researched it.  Central Park also supposedly had one once upon a time, but we missed the memo when visiting family in New York.  No surprise, New Orleans also doesn’t have a polar bear.  Despite these failed attempts at seeing a polar bear, I still kept seeing one on my bucket list.  I just figured it would still be awhile before I could actually make this dream come true.  After I graduated, I knew that I would be tied up with work and unable to see one for even longer.

After I loss my job a couple months ago, I decided it was a perfect time to sign-up for a training I knew that God was leading me to do.  I expected to wait a little to do the training, but the timing seemed perfect.  I also found a training that was in St. Louis, which was driveable, and I found a good deal on a hotel.  Better yet, my mom was off during the time I had the training, so I’d have a companion for the trip.  As I was looking up St. Louis and what we could do while we were there, I saw the zoo advertised.  Normally, I’d pass right over the zoo (especially in December), but the zoo was advertised with a picture of a polar bear! To my delight, the zoo did indeed have a polar bear.  The zoo quickly moved to the top of my list for St. Louis.

Seeing the polar bear did not disappoint.  The polar bear was very active (not surprising since it was frigid).  The zoo was also empty so I didn’t have to push kids over to see him (again, the weather probably helped me there).

Although I didn’t plan to be in another in-between season, I am so grateful for unexpected opportunities of joy.

I wonder if you may also be in a season you didn’t expect.  After all, life just never seems to go the way we planned.  What are some joys you have experienced that you wouldn’t have if life had gone the way you planned? What are some opportunities you can take now, despite unexpected circumstances? God may be calling you to take a step of faith, or He may be blessing you with a little joy like seeing a polar bear.  Either way, how can we make the most of our present reality?

And finally here are a few pics of the polar bear…I wouldn’t want to deprive you!

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Look how close he came to the glass for me?! He must have known we were destined to be friends.

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He was a little dirty, but the zookeeper said he’d been playing in the mud–adorable!

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Isn’t he pretty??

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He even smiled for the picture! I have a feeling he was almost as happy as me (especially in the freezing cold weather).

 

Old Dog, New Tricks

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It’s honestly kind of amazing that one of my blog categories isn’t “Quigley,” “dogs,” or something similar.  As much as my speech, camera roll, and social media are consumed by my ancient dog, I don’t think he’s had nearly enough time on my blog.

This past weekend earned him a post.

Let me reiterate that Quigley is ancient.  He’ll be fifteen in February.  According to the mystery person that said a dog manages to pack seven years into every one human year, that means my dog is almost 105.  One hundred and five years old.  When I think of 105, I think of someone living out their last days in a wheelchair or at least a walker.  I think of little energy and a lot of medicine.  I think of calm.  Yet, when I think of Quigley I think of exactly the opposite.  Sure, he sleeps most of the time, gets specially made medicine, smells horrible, has more moles than I can count, and is very stiff when he walks, but he’s still not calm.  This weekend proved it.

When Quigley was a puppy, we had the brilliant idea to train him to “drop it” when he stole an item like a shoe, slice of pizza, pillow, or $100 (yes, that actually happened).  This plan worked wonderfully while he was a puppy.  It saved us from replacing countless flip flops (though my mom still replaced her fair share).  The problem was when he got older and really didn’t care about eating the items, he thought this was just a fun game.  He’d go into someone’s room, steal a shoe (or whatever looked fun), run into the kitchen, and get a cookie when he promptly dropped the item after the command.  I’m sad to say that my fifteen year old dog still does this.

Recently, he amped-up the game.  Each night when everyone is winding down, Quigley decides it’s time to start his stealing game.  He’ll steal items over and over until his attention-seeking is satisfied, running with two bad knees throughout the house just to get a cookie or someone to chase him.  (And, yes, it works every time…who is training who?)

This weekend my mom and I were cooking when Quigley decided it was time to start his game.  He started his game with a pair of socks.  The problem was my mom and I did not give him sufficient attention.  We heard him continuing to root around in the other room and expected him to come back with another pair of socks.  The noise didn’t last long, so we just assumed his game ended early.  (He is, after all, 15.)

A few minutes later, my mom came in and showed me an empty Sudafed container that Quigley chewed.

So we went to the Internet.

Turns out that Sudafed is pretty bad for dogs.  You never know what’s exactly accurate, but I saw one post that said “your dog will likely die a slow and painful death.”  Another mentioned that it was one of the “top ten” poisons for dogs.

So at age 15, Quigley, the dog that’s managed to digest plastic, chocolate, and countless other items as a puppy, took his first trip to the doggie ER.

Turns out that the doggy ER is a pretty hoppin’ place on a Saturday night after 10pm.  The parking lot and lobby were both packed.  According to the receptionist (and the people we surveyed in the waiting room), the majority of the visitors that night also had furry friends that ate something they weren’t supposed to eat.

Other than admiring the other pets, I had a lot of thoughts while sitting in the waiting room: “At least I can’t catch what these patients have.” “I think the dog that sneezed twice probably doesn’t need to be here.” “At least we didn’t give our dog the poisonous medicine like that person did.”

But I also couldn’t help but think how my dog (and it looks like many other dogs) works so hard to get into trouble.  I’ll admit we are not the best disciplinarians, but Quigley has always been particularly mischievous.  For him, there is something fun about being ornery.

That reminds me of myself, but my mischief is far less innocent.  Rather than stealing a shoe, I try to steal God’s glory.  Rather than stealing a slice of pizza, I covet gifts God gives my friends–stealing those blessings with my thoughts, rather than loving and celebrating with my friends.  It seems like I am always finding new ways to use my flesh to taint (or steal) God’s image in me.

Quig’s new trick landed him in the ER with medicine designed to make him vomit.  My new tricks (aka sins) also require a Physician, who purges me of those toxins.  Without Jesus’ sacrifice, I would be doomed to a much more slow and painful death than Sudafed might cause my dog.  Praise God for His infinite mercy, His complete healing, and eternal life! The cleansing process may not always be pretty, but it’s worth it.

As for Quigley….don’t worry, he’s back to normal.

Like a dog that returns to his vomit
    is a fool who repeats his folly

Proverbs 26:11, ESV

As much as I love my dog, may we strive to not be as foolish.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

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…make lemonade.

I’ve heard this age-old expression a lot lately.  For some reason several friends have posted DIY projects with the before labeled “lemons” and the after labeled “lemonade.”  Maybe it’s a trend like #yolo or #treatyoself that I just missed, or maybe I just have particularly optimistic/resourceful friends.  Whatever the reason, these friends have definitely made the most of items I’d never consider useful.

But when I think of lemonade, I still think of the classic beverage sold at lemonade stands.  I’m flooded with memories of pouring lemonade powder into canisters for college ministry lunches (and hauling and cleaning those canisters each week).  Of course, I also think of time spent at Chick-fil-A, home of the best, fresh-squeezed lemonade.  For those that haven’t had the pleasure of working at Chick-fil-A (pun, intended), the lemonade really is fresh-squeezed.  When I worked there they never asked me to squeeze the lemonade (the people that run Chick-fil-A are also wise), but I remember watching one of the guys squeeze the lemonade.  He was a champ! He made cutting and squeezing the lemons look like child’s play.  He cut and squeezed the lemons at lightning speed, never missing a beat.  (If I had been cutting or squeezing, it would’ve taken twice as long, inevitably included lemon peels, and eventually a trip to the hospital without a finger.)

If you’ve ever worked at Chick-fil-A or been on a Backstage Tour at one of their restaurants, you know that Chick-fil-A lemonade only has three ingredients: lemons, water, and sugar (or Splenda if you’re a diet lemonade kind of person).  I never bothered counting the number of ingredients in the powdered lemonade I was using in my college days, but I have a feeling it had more than three ingredients.  But even three makes that expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” kind of tricky.

Think about it.  You’re given lemons and someone says, “Make lemonade!”  It’s true, you could rip the lemon apart and squeeze the juice into your mouth, but I would hardly call that lemonade.  To make lemonade, you have to go get the other ingredients and combine them. You need the right tools, supplies, and skills.

My DIY friends were spot on with their expressions of lemonade made from lemons, showing old items made into beautiful creations.  They had the lemons available to combine, but it took their creativity, resourcefulness, and hard work to actually make the lemonade.

I think the first step to making lemonade is thanking God for the lemons.  This is something that I’m not always good at doing.  I’m often so blinded by the pile of lemons in front of me that I can’t see the potential for lemonade.  It might take a while to get to the point of thankfulness.  (I mean, honestly, there are some lemons that just seem extra useless.)  One thing that might help is remembering that God could view us as lemons too, but instead He uses us for great things.  If God can use sinners that nailed His son to a cross, surely I can use possessions, circumstances, feelings, or other lemons that I’d rather trade in for something that seems more useful.  I have a feeling a thankful heart is kind of like the sugar that flavors the lemonade.  Any good lemonade has a lot of sugar.  Without it, the lemonade is just lemon juice that purses your lips and destroys your enamel.

With a thankful heart, it’s easier to work hard to use life’s lemons for great lemonade.  May we not forget that good lemonade isn’t just pouring powder into a canister and stirring it.  Good lemonade involves hard work.

Good lemonade also takes time.  With time, water can dilute the overpowering sour flavor of the lemons and turn it into a refreshing beverage.  With time, God can shift our perspective and help us see how He’s using the lemons He gave us.  With time, we may not like the lemons or enjoy the process, but we can taste more than the bitterness.

Let the Living Water into the lemons of life, trusting that He can do great things through anything we have to give.

Pumpkin Guts

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Different seasons bring different flavors.  Christmas is peppermint or egg nog, summer is watermelon or peach, and fall is without-a-doubt pumpkin.

Some people aren’t into pumpkin and that’s okay, but I like to embrace this fall favorite.  Yes, I’m the person that gobbles down pumpkin bread, burns pumpkin candles, goes for the pumpkin tea, and has to resist buying every possible pumpkin item sold this time of year.

So naturally my mind has been on pumpkin a lot lately.  But my mind’s been on a lot of other stuff too.  It’s been on hard stuff.  Like the “why God” stuff and the “what now” stuff.  It’s not surprising that my mind combined the two.  Thankfully, it wasn’t in some sort of crazy nightmare about pumpkins, but it was a reminder of a poem that I’m sure many of you have read previously.  I honestly don’t know where this poem originated or who wrote it, but this is how one of its many versions goes:

Being a Christian is just like a pumpkin! First, God picks you from the world and brings you in.  He then washes all the dirt off the outside that we received from being around all the other pumpkins.  Then, He carefully removes all the yucky stuff out from the inside, all those seeds of sin, doubt, hate, greed, and fear from inside us.  Then He carves a new smiling face.  Now He fills us with His light.  So you see, we Christians are really like this pumpkin! We will never be the same with Jesus inside of us.

The poem isn’t perfect, but I think it serves as a good illustration.  It’s also really helped me mediate on the Lord as I’ve driven by countless pumpkin patches, pumpkin decor, and pumpkin-flavored-everything this fall, especially as I’ve wrestled with the hard stuff.  You see, I’ve felt like lately God has been spending a lot of time removing the yucky stuff.  The problem is sometimes the yucky stuff doesn’t seem so yucky.  Sometimes the yucky stuff seems fine.  Sometimes the yucky stuff actually seems great.

It seems like I usually hold onto the yucky stuff until it creates some sort of problem.  The thing is the problem has to be pretty big for me to even realize it’s worth investigating.  Even if the yucky stuff is seeping out,it usually takes some sort of painful carving and gruesome lid-lifting before I see just how yucky my pumpkin guts really are.

The lid of the pumpkin isn’t the problem.  A nicely carved pumpkin could be just as clean with the lid nicely in place, but something has to go in order to see what’s inside the pumpkin.  Maybe the lid is a relationship or a dream or a job or a feeling.  Maybe it’s even one of life’s horrible losses like health or death.  Maybe it’s something that makes total since to lose or maybe it’s something that makes no sense at all.  Maybe it’s something God called you to do.  But for some reason, that pumpkin lid had to go to expose the pumpkin guts.

In this season, I feel like I keep having lids removed that don’t make sense to me.  I’m sure they make sense to God, but that doesn’t always make it easier to be walking around without a lid.  Sometimes it makes me want to try to fill the big hole exposing my pumpkin guts with something else.  Sometimes it makes me want to try to roll myself up to a wall and hide the big hole and the yucky stuff.  Sometimes it makes me wish I could just start over with a whole new pumpkin.  If being completely exposed isn’t bad enough, examining each seed, string, and bit of goop, mush, and slime just makes this process plain old excruciating.

But how else will I get to a place where God’s light can shine through me? How else will I keep from rolling back into the dirt? How else will I be able to tell others about the new face He’s carved on me?

If I were adding a line to the pumpkin poem, I might include something like this:

With Jesus inside us, He is constantly working to remove the yucky stuff that seeps back into our pumpkin.  He loves to melt away our sin, but first we have to take a look inside and see what needs to go away.

 

Rise Up!

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Have you ever been to a spin class? Lest you think I’m a hardcore cyclist, my spin class attendance is hit-or-miss.  I’m not really hardcore anything, but definitely not anything exercise related.  I do very vividly remember the first time I went to a spin class though.  I remember people talking about them and what great cardio they are.  I always thought “it can’t be that hard, it’s just riding a bike.” In some ways, I would still say that’s true.  Unlike other exercise classes, the participants don’t have to be coordinated, follow a beat, or have good dance moves.  What I didn’t understand before going to a spin class was that participants are expected to stand and pedal during the class.  Instead of sitting the whole time, you get up at various points during the class.  (It is also excellent cardio.)

When I first did that, I thought “this is awful, let’s sit back down.” I remember thinking it’s like running and the whole point of being in a spin class was so I did not  have to run.

Now I realize it’s actually easier to stand up.

Let me clarify, my heart rate is typically higher the more I stand.  In other words, standing definitely doesn’t mean it’s an easier workout.  It just means there’s relief from the strenuous leg workout sitting requires.

Here’s how it typically goes: we’re biking along, the instructor says “add some tension” (horrible news) and then eventually we’re asked to stand and pedal.  As I’m pedaling in a sitting position when the tension is high, I’m miserable.  Yet, when the instructor says “prepare to stand” (aka add more tension), I am never enthused at first.  I always think “could we just sit this time?” But when I get up, I’m rejuvenated.  I feel a new burst of energy and new motivation to keep going.  Sure, sweat is pouring down and I moan each time a new song starts or I get a glance at the clock telling me we’re only 10 minutes into the class.  But it still feels so good to stand.  I feel free when I’m standing.  I want to do better, I want to work harder.  Call me crazy, but after I’ve warmed up I actually am excited to stand.  I start pedaling faster as soon as the instructor says we’re getting ready to stand–almost like the faster I pedal, the faster it will come.

One of my favorite instructors boisterously proclaims “rise up!” each time we are about to stand. Each time he proclaims those words I can’t help but think about my relationship with Jesus.  (I’d love to tell you that I always am prompted to think about Jesus in random circumstances like this, but it’s sadly not that common.  I still have a lot of thought battles and keeping Him at the forefront of my mind is not easy.)  When I hear “rise up!” I always think about how miserable standing seems at first.  I think that if it were up to me, I’d just continue sitting.  Without the instructor, I would never stand.  Similarly, Jesus often calls us to “rise up!” He often tells us to get out of the pits where we’re oddly content and enjoy the race He’s called us to run.  We–or let me be more specific, I–often respond to God’s call to “rise up!” with “eh, I’m good, I’ll just sit here.  Maybe next time!” or “that looks a little hard for me.  Any other options?” We may even try a few of our own plans.  Maybe we just leave the class altogether when we hear that call.

To “rise up!” with the Lord, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a walk in the park.  It may mean there are moments of relief, but sometimes it may still be hard to get up.

The question that invades my heart when I hear that call is: What am I failing to do because it just seems to tough? When do I hear “rise up!” and respond by staying seated?

What follows is: What is keeping me seated? What is keeping me down? Where am I too content in my mess to enthusiastically “rise up!” and run with the Lord?

After all, we aren’t living to just burn a calorie or two.  We are living to run with the Lord.  We are living so our hearts beat way faster for Him than they ever would for a spin class.  May we “rise up!” and join Him.

Patience: An Underrated Attribute

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Patience.  A word so often tainted by its lofty requirements.  In fact, how often have you heard the warning “be careful what you pray for” directly related to patience? Honestly, who really wants to be more patient?

Patience is difficult.  It’s under-admired, under-desired, and overall just under-rated.  Job is the guy most often associated with patience, the one no one wants to be in the Bible.  When I think of the most patient people in my life, they’re generally the ones that have been through the most difficult circumstances.  Who desires difficulty? Not me! Though I think there’s an untapped wisdom in desiring patience that I don’t yet fully understand, there’s another aspect of patience that has recently demanded my attention.

God’s patience.

Yes, we all know God is patient.  He’d have to be to deal with us, right? But that’s not something often considered in great length.  When I spend time in adoration, I often mediate on His love, His grace, His mercy, His holiness, His omnipotence, His self-sufficiency, His goodness, and even His justice… but patience rarely makes the list.  From a human understanding, adoring God’s patience requires me to acknowledge that I’m the reason for His long-suffering as He bears with me in my ongoing sin-struggle.  Though mercy, grace, and many others prompt the same self-reflection, it seems the Church has been anesthetized to the cost required of these great gifts and the sickening role we play in needing them.  As one that is also too often deadened to the role I play and the sacrifice He made, acknowledging His patience stirred some needed self-reflection.

This journey started as I read a story of her mother’s patience with her children.  (It is not surprising that moms would start this time of reflection as they so beautifully personify patience.)  As I read this story of a mother patiently loving her child through deep pain and beastly behavior, it was hard not to think about the Lord’s patience with me, the most beastly of children in my behavior toward Him.  The child kicked, screamed, and rejected the mother’s love, but the mother patiently waited with an understanding, unshakable love.  She did not let go of her child, even when the child tried to let go of her.  God, too, patiently waits for us to return to Him.  He is constant, while we are fickle and disloyal.  He is present, while we are pushing away.  He looks at us with compassion, while we too often look at Him with hate, anger, and rejection.

Of course, I would not recommend telling God off or throwing an adult-sized tantrum (though I have no doubt He’s big enough to handle it), but I think it’s a game-changer to consider His love in light of His patience.  God’s patience does not merit our sin, but it gives us a glimpse of who He is.  Patience is, after all, the first word used to define love in 1 Corinthians 13.  God is the epitome of this love, as displayed in His patience.  It helps my simple and stubborn mind to mediate on His ongoing forgiveness, and remember how much greater He is than me.  I hope it will also spur me on to forgive again and again (Matthew 18:22), and exercise a percentage of the patience He has for me with others.    In a day where anything is accessible within minutes, jumping a line is worth any cost, and any delay causes merits indignant behavior, it is no wonder why God’s patience is so difficult for us to grasp.  It is inexplicable that He would wait for me and choose to do so.  Why I am worthy of His wait I will never know, but why He is worthy of my worship I see a little more.

Scales

SCALES

Recently, I was able to go to the beach.  No matter how many times I go to the beach, I love the beach.  I’d never been where I went most recently, nor had I been anywhere close to this area.  Yet, I still had a general idea what to expect: lots of sand, water, and sun.  When my friends and I arrived at the beach, we were disappointed to find one of these key elements missing.  THE SUN.  Despite being in the “sunshine state,” all we saw the first evening we were there was rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Thankfully, the next morning we woke up to sun shining in the windows and a beautiful day for the beach.

Excited, my friends and I packed up our stuff and walked to the beach across the street from our condo.  Although food and towels filled the bags we carried, we also had an umbrella, sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen.  My fellow redheaded friend and I prioritized lathering ourselves with sunscreen and setting up the umbrella.  We both knew the damage sun could do.

You see, my redheaded friend goes to the beach every summer with her parents.  One summer she got so sunburned while floating in the ocean with her mom that she actually got sun poisoning.  She woke up that night nauseous, shaking, and in severe pain.  Unfortunately, I have also learned this lesson the hard way, it just took a different form.  The first day of my first summer job as a swim coach I stayed in the water too long without taking a break to re-apply sunscreen.  O, how I regret that decision.  When I got out of the pool, I knew I’d probably made a mistake.  I noticed my shoulders were already slightly pink–a sure sign of sunburn.  I told myself “I’ve gotten sunburn before, it’s fine” as I cleaned up around the pool and prepared to head home.  Later that night I noticed my shoulders started to hurt.  Really hurt.  I applied aloe, took a cold shower, and wore a sleeveless shirt the rest of the evening.  But the morning came and I noticed my shoulders were starting to blister.  Everyone’s had a blister on their fingers, toes, or tongue, the size of a coin or less.  But these blisters spanned the entire surface of both my shoulders.  They blistered, bubbled, and peeled.  They kept me propped up on my couch, covered in aloe for days.  The only thing I know to compare them to is scales.

A few weeks ago, I read Acts 9 and was reminded of a different kind of scales.  One day Saul, who was busy killing Jesus’ disciples, encountered Jesus, “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9:3 NIV).  Based on Saul falling to his knees, this light was probably frightening.  But I imagine it was also beautiful.  Then Jesus called Saul out.  He asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4 NIV).  Saul immediately responded by acknowledging that this was the Lord, and then Jesus clarified who He was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5 NIV).  After that, Jesus told Saul to go into the city and obey Him.  Saul did that, but he was blind and couldn’t eat the whole way to the city.  But then Saul met Ananias, who the Lord had prepared for his arrival, and “immediately [after Ananias spoke to Saul], something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again” (Acts 9:18 NIV).  

I wonder what Saul’s scales were like.  Were they like my blisters? Physically, I don’t know, but it seems his scales share the same journey of my scales.  I encountered something beautiful, the sun.  Saul encountered something beautiful, the Son.  As a result, something disgusting and painful happened.  For me, scales on my shoulders.  For Saul, scales on his eyes.  After those scales, I was different.  Now, my family teases me at the beach because I cover up so much.  Now, I go to the doctor regularly to make sure I don’t have skin cancer.  After those scales, Saul was different.  Saul’s name changed.  Saul’s career changed.  Saul’s friends changed.

My sunburn pales in comparison to Saul’s (pun, intended).  No earthly transformation can compare to a spiritual one.  This eternal journey is one with greater encounters of beauty, greater hurts, greater scales, and greater transformation.

I only have a small idea what those scales falling off felt like for Saul.  I know what it felt like when my own scales fell off as I first encountered Jesus, and how it continues to feel as Christ makes me more like Him.  I think C.S. Lewis describes it better than anyone in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader as he explains Eustace’s transformation from a dragon back to a boy,

The the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.