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Category Archives: Other thoughts

Texting God Isn’t Loving Him

 

Recently I took The 5 Love Languages assessment, which tells whether you give and receive love most through: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, physical touch, or acts of service. It turns out my strongest love language is quality time. I love long, face-to-face conversations with people. Visits over coffee. Walks through nature. Meals at home. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing as long as we connect in a meaningful way. Even a decent phone call can communicate love.

But in the past months, I haven’t given God even that. Instead I settled for texting God. Life got busy, and I made excuses. I was doing lots of great stuff, all for him (that’s what I said). Meanwhile, we stopped talking like we used to.

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Credit: Lord Jim (https://flic.kr/p/8iH4En)

Many things can make fulfilling quality time. Texting is not one of them. Texting is useful for simple questions or quick information.

“I’m at store. Do we need milk?”

“Yes”

“K. Got it.”

“Thx :)”

Texting is a great tool. And a poor way to love someone.

We used to meet every morning. I’d settle in a chair with my breakfast, coffee, and Bible. Sometimes writing in a journal; other times meditating on what I read. I would tell him about the day I had planned. Sometimes he’d tell me what he had planned too. I liked to listen for a while and wait on him to interrupt the stillness. The front porch was a good place to sit on warm spring mornings, watching the tree limbs swaying and birds taking flight.

Now my prayers are short, direct, to the point. A few seconds sent heavenward. Texted prayers.

“Get milk.”

Usually I think of them in the car. “Thanks for the sunshine today, God.” Or, “This day is tough. Please give me strength to get through it.” Maybe it’s because driving gives me time to think or because the Christian radio station is playing. Maybe I’m lonely driving by myself. But texting while driving is a dangerous habit. Another driver or a light or the GPS soon distracts me. I press send and move on.

That kind of relationship never grows deep. How could it? There’s no time for intimacy in 140 characters.

In the book Too Busy Not to Pray, Pastor Bill Hybels writes:

“Some people tell me they don’t need to schedule regular time for prayer; they pray on the run. These people are kidding themselves. Just try building a marriage on the run. You can’t build a relationship that way, with God or with another person. To get to know someone, you have to slow down and spend time together.”

Some friendships can survive months or years without contact and yet the friendship won’t suffer for it. The friends say they “pick up where we left off.” But could you imagine treating someone you’re dating or married to that way? Your relationship will die. There may be nothing left to pick up when you get back to it. I’d guess most committed couples expect to hear from their partners daily. Months or years are out of the question.

If that’s the case, and there’s a God of the universe who cares for us, then how much more should we communicate with our Creator, Father, and Savior? No wonder Paul wrote to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Finding Hope in Suffering

I moved in with my sister’s family when she was already five months pregnant. She said these last few months felt more difficult than her first pregnancy. I wasn’t around the first time, but for this one, I had a front-row view of the restless nights, the back pains, the swollen ankles. Almost every day had its own challenge to endure. By the last month, she felt ready to be done. Instead, the pain continued to increase as the baby grew.

The contractions began two days before her due date. At first she wasn’t sure if the pain was part of labor or only false signs. We took a walk around the neighborhood, putting my niece in a stroller. When we returned home, the pains had gotten worse. She timed the lapse between each wave. Some made her halt in place, braced against the kitchen counter or couch back.

All the while, I stayed nearby and kept my niece distracted, wondering what else I could do to make my sister feel better. It gave me a new understanding of Romans 8:18-24. Paul writes about the groaning of creation, like an expectant mother, anticipating relief from its present pain.

“The midwife said that the hardest contractions are the ones that do the most good,” my sister told me.

That didn’t make it easier to watch her in pain. As the birth drew closer, the contractions magnified. They grew more painful and more frequent. My sister could do little more than shuffle restlessly around the house. But good was happening, even though it didn’t feel good at the time. When it came time to push, her groans rose to the crescendo of screams. Nothing less could express her agony. And in the end, the pain was overcome with joy when her second daughter took her first breaths. My sister glowed in euphoria, hugging the precious baby to her chest. The pain had been worth it for this gift. There were no more utterances for how much she hurt, only for how beautiful her daughter looked.

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Credit: David J Laporte (https://flic.kr/p/9jYqvc)

In Romans, Paul pictured childbirth to describe all of creation’s suffering. He wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I don’t know if Paul was ever close to a woman about to give birth, but after seeing my sister’s experience, I’m inclined to agree with him. Paul was thinking about the corruption of everything that was once good, which started with the original fall of Adam and Eve. Since then, nothing has been the same. God’s creation was damaged beyond healing. It was true in Paul’s day and it’s true now.

But like any childbirth, the pain is getting worse. We’re seeing widespread suffering and crises on a magnitude that Paul never experienced. Any regular reader of my blog knows that I don’t normally comment on trending issues. However, I wonder if current events like ISIS attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis, even the polarization of Americans, are all part of birth pains just like Paul said.

Agonizing events like the Paris bombings last week shock us all, not just because of what it means for particular people but its ultimate impact on all humanity. The state of this world isn’t looking good. Where can we find hope?

Paul wrote, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Thankfully, we’re promised that redemption is coming (or in process already). Joy will overtake pain. Good will conquer in the end. This is what we cling to; this is what creation longs for in groaning.

I don’t often write on issues under debate, the “timely” or “relevant” news, because I’d much rather focus on the One who will end suffering. If I only have a number of words to use in my life, I want to dedicate them to Our Savior, the only good news that is always timely and always relevant because he came to redeem all people. I’m called to tell the good news until my last breath. Why water down that message with trendy arguments and debates? They may tempt temporary relief, but what else sustains a mother like the expectation of seeing her labor’s result? If we must argue, let us argue Christ.

“And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. … Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Matt. 13:7-8, 33).

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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Choosing Between the Plane and the Freefall

There were fourteen people squashed inside the back of the gutted airplane. We couldn’t see much out of the windows. The smoke from Eastern Washington’s summer fires had finally rolled over the Cascades. Seated behind me, my tandem instructor said he would normally point out the nearby islands but they were lost in the grey. I nodded, a little disappointed we wouldn’t have a view for what was coming next.

“Spotty” asked me why I had decided to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Good question.

“I like heights.” Besides, it seemed a better option than whitewater rafting. “You’ve got to choose something,” I said. Why not skydiving?

A cloudy view.

Spotty had been skydiving ever since his first jump for a hospice’s charity event.

“What’s your favorite part?” I asked him.

“Jumping out.”

Funny. That was the part my friends and I were most afraid of. If there was any point likely to test our courage, we felt sitting at the open door looking down at miles of open air would be it. Self-preservation tells you to stay seated. Courage is all talk until there’s nothing holding you up.

It wasn’t exactly the freefall that scared me though. I knew that part would be amazing. It’s called “the ultimate freedom” for a reason. I knew I would enjoy the flight up and the fall down, but it was the transition between the two that had me worried. Maybe it’s the self-preservation instinct, but I think it’s because I hate change.

I wish I had Spotty’s attitude in the rest of life. He didn’t choose either the plane or the freefall but rather the moment in-between. He had already jumped at least nine times that day, but it was still his favorite part of every trip. Lately life has felt like skydiving tandem with God, and I still dread the leaps of faith. I know I like where I am, and I know I will like where God calls me to next. Both are great. It’s just the in-between that terrifies me into paralysis.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

Cross arms. Look up. Say a prayer.

When it came to it, I didn’t actually jump. And no one asked if I was ready. Instead, my instructor told me to put my arms in the “safety position”– crossed over my chest, like a dead person. We dangled our legs out the door. He told me to lean my head back and look up. And he pushed us off. One moment we were seated safely on the plane and the next we were plummeting through free air, 13, 500 feet off the ground.

Switching between the plane and the open air caught my breath. I couldn’t think, only react. So I screamed as loud as I could in the rushing air. It was as much from overwhelming joy as awe and terror. After the first few seconds of shock, I could put thoughts to what I was feeling: “This is really happening! I’m really here! This isn’t a dream! This is AMAZING!”

Flying with Spotty.

Flying in the airplane–seat-belted in safety–was a fun ride. The tandem instructors were cracking jokes. The new skydivers were nervously laughing. We had a pretty view of the ground through the windows. But skydiving…that was exhilarating. So much better than the airplane.

In the Christian life, there’s a similar choice of experiences. I could be safe and have a pleasant life without ever taking risks for Christ, but I don’t believe that’s the kind of life God wants for me. The other choice is to go all-in, giving up everything and following Christ whatever the cost on an adventure beyond my imagination. Too often, it’s tempting to settle for less than the exhilarating ride God offers. I pray that he will give me the courage to sit on the edge, the faith to look up, and the trust–when the time is right–to be pushed out.

“My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.”
Psalm 71:23
When has God told you to jump in faith? Did you let fear keep you in the airplane, or did you jump gladly, trusting in him?
 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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Why I Love Living in Community

This past week, I said goodbye to my intentional living community. We lived together for a whole year. We are seven diverse, uniquely-created people, but we did not once attempt to kill each other. We never had to ask who committed murder with the candlestick in the billiards room. We didn’t have billiards; we played darts.

All seven survived. What may be yet further surprising is that we all like each other after a year thrown together. Some people can hardly wait to leave their roommates far behind when their lease expires. I’ve felt the relief when it is time to move.

Living with people is hard. That’s not exclusive to romantic relationships. Life in shared space is guaranteed messiness, despite the clean freaks (maybe especially so). Yet even in the mess, community life can also be beautiful.

Saying goodbye was hard. Throughout the last week, I could physically sense myself building a brick wall around my emotions, blocking them out until further notice. I coped by convincing myself that we will keep in contact. We exchanged our new addresses to send each other mail. It isn’t goodbye forever…just goodbye for now.

A family photo on our front porch. Credit: my housemate Katie Butler

A family photo on our front porch. Credit: my housemate Katie Butler

As an introvert, I understand the need to be alone. It fills me up. But the more I’ve enjoyed rich, genuine community, the more I’ve found there are needs that only community can satisfy. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses the importance of having human community along with room for solitude.

Bonhoeffer writes, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

Community is like a safety net in some ways. It saves us from ourselves. It can both reveal and reverse selfishness. It pulls us outside into the world of others, reminding us that we do not exist in a vacuum. We have the daily opportunity to either build up or tear down other people.

Last year was an enriching time of intentional community for me. I don’t want to lose my growth and turn stagnant. So when my last community had to say goodbye, continuing in community became one of many reasons why I chose to move into my sister and brother-in-law’s house. Some people paused when I told them my plans. They told me an unconvincing, “Oooh, that’s great.” It didn’t make sense to them. They asked how I felt about living with family. The truth is I was both excited and nervous.

My exact feelings before moving in with my last community. Because I knew living with others, like any close relationship, would be challenging…but a wonderful adventure the whole way.

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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The Dangerous Prayer that is Guaranteed an Answer

If you’ve ever felt frustrated with silence from God, I know of at least one prayer that he always answers. And it’s one of the most dangerous questions to ask God.

If you’re courageous (and just a little crazy), try praying: “What more do I need to become like Christ?”

You better be prepared for the answer.

When the rich man asked Jesus something similar (how to “inherit eternal life”), Jesus gave him an easy three-step plan for success (Mark 10:17-22).

1. Liquidate everything you own.

2. Donate your assets to the poor.

3. Leave your life behind and follow me.

Is it really any wonder that “the man’s face fell” and “he went away sad” (Mark 10:22)?

Credit: galaxies and hurricanes (https://flic.kr/p/9R9JTS)

Credit: galaxies and hurricanes (https://flic.kr/p/9R9JTS)

It may sound like a humble prayer, but I actually tend to pray this only when I’m feeling confident in my spiritual growth. (Or “proud,” in biblical terms, and we know what happens to the proud.) I’ve made some recent victory over sin or breakthrough in my relationship with God, I tell myself. Or maybe I’ve plateaued for a little while, just coasting along with the wind at my back. Life is easy, and I think I’m doing fairly well.

So I naively fling this almost rhetorical question into the cosmos, challenging the Great Infinity to reveal what faults I have yet to conquer. I honestly have no clear conception of what I might improve on next. I’ve made it, my subconscious whispers. My work is done. With this thought floating through my mind, I drift to sleep already dreaming a faint glow of sainthood rests about my head.

Soon afterwards, God proceeds to “bring the hammer down.” You may picture Thor in all his demi-god fury, claiming vengeance on the unworthy, or Jesus comparing Pharisees to vipers and unmarked graves. With a few swift strokes, he smashes my idealistic self-image and obliterates my pride to dust. Remind you of a certain gold calf?

The decimation often comes through a loved one who bluntly informs me that my act is not together and, in fact, I have quite a lot of work left to do.  It’s amazing how much this news comes as a shock—mentally, spiritually, even physically. The clouded scales flake off my eyes.

While my self-esteem drops to zero, my gratefulness to God skyrockets. I turn to him again and admit I can’t pull myself together. He is the only one with the strength and mastery to complete me. So I hold out my hands and ask that he would pour his refining Spirit over me again, filling me up until nothing else can be contained in the same jar.

“Make me pure,” I cry.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

And he answers that prayer too.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

Don’t Look Down; Here’s Why

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I hadn’t thought before how important it is to have a belayer you can trust. Now I know better.

Eighteen feet in the air, the boy peeked over his shoulder. He looked down, just like we told him not to do. His long arms and legs were splayed as he flattened himself to the rock wall. He was a bear cub stuck halfway up a tree trunk.

The boy’s 5th-grade classmates below shouted for him to keep going. But the boy ignored his classmates and looked at me, the stranger holding his rope. He didn’t know I had just learned to belay that morning. He only knew my camp name (Swing) and that somehow I was his lifeline to the ground.

“What happens if I fall?” he asked quietly.

Most of the kids had never tried rock climbing. Many were nervous and doubted whether they could make it to the top. They didn’t realize that it was more important to believe in my ability than their own, since I was the one who would catch them when they slipped.

Each child who approached the wall needed me to be more confident than they felt. So I automatically put on a positive attitude and bolstered them with encouragement as I clipped the rope to their harnesses.

“You won’t fall,” I told the boy-cub clinging to the wall. “I won’t let you.”

He seemed to consider it and looked around for his next step up. Then he peeked again.

“But what happens if I fall?”

I anchored myself with a wider stance and bent knees so I wouldn’t lose balance. Braking the rope, I offered, “Put your hands on the rope, and I’ll show you.” I wanted to prove he couldn’t come down as long as the rope held him up.

He took the rope in one shaking hand and then changed his mind. The spectators cheered louder as he found a new handhold and pulled a foot closer to the top. The next time he looked down, he said he was done. The fear of falling kept him from going any further.

Down on the ground, it was easy for me to think he should have trusted me more. I knew he was safe. But if real life is like rock climbing, I wonder if my faith in God is any stronger than that boy’s in me. If God told me to let go of the wall and dangle from my harness, would I? Or do I try to make it one foot higher on my own strength before giving up, afraid to fall?

Isn’t it interesting how close the word “fall” is to “fail”? How many times has fear of failing stopped me from reaching my goals? Like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet when fear glues me to the wall, God tells me I won’t fall, not because of my own ability, but because he holds my rope. My mistakes won’t mean my death because he won’t let me go. He points out the footholds I can’t see and encourages me to keep climbing. With confidence in him, not myself, I can go on. It’s still hard work, of course, and my body will be sore from the effort. But I’m not on my own.

Later in the day, a girl told me she was worried about her injured back but she wanted to ring the bell at the top. I reassured her she could come down whenever she was ready. She started off well and then slowed about a third of the way. She had trouble finding her next steps. She squatted down instead of extending up. Her arms got tired.

The girl said she needed to rest, so I told her to let go of the wall and I would hold her up. She hung from the rope until she felt ready to continue. She took longer than any of the other kids that day, but she went to the top and finally rang that bell. When she came down, she breathed hard and said her arms hurt but her expression revealed something else.

The boy came down in shaking fear. She returned to earth in blooming awe and joy.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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Savor This Precious Moment

How often do you taste your food? I mean, really taste it.

Sometimes when I’m eating, I have a sudden epiphany of This food is absolutely delicious. It surprises me because I was eating too quickly or with too little attention. Hand-to-mouth out of instinct rather than intention. But when the epiphany does come, I notice that there are only so many bites left and only so much can be consumed without upsetting my stomach. So I chew slowly and enjoy each bite as much as I can. (Bonus! Savoring food also means reduced risk of choking.)

Credit: tbz.foto (https://flic.kr/p/9g1zTb)

Credit: tbz.foto (https://flic.kr/p/9g1zTb)

Unlike many other college seniors, I wasn’t ready to leave when it came time for graduation. I had transferred and so missed the full four-year experience (and four years of debt). In my last semester, I wanted to squeeze out all the sweet juice of the college experience until the last drops.

So I began planning coffee and lunch dates with people I wanted to know better. I made more friends in my last semester than in any of the ones before. I lingered after classes to talk to my professors and made office appointments to pick their brains. I attended campus events even when I knew I’d be up late finishing essays. I napped by the student lounge fireplaces and filled up my travel mug with the cafeteria’s free coffee. I took long walks around the campus by myself just because the sun was shining through the pine trees.

A similar season of my life has come up once again, and I’ve been pondering the word “savor.” Especially when I feel caught up in the moment exactly where I am, not where I used to be or plan to be in the future.

Now savoring looks like joining my housemates on the front porch. Without agenda or plans. Just enjoying the warm sunlight and waving at passersby. We have three months left in this house before we all part ways. Only one of us plans to stay in the city.

Tomorrow we will host a backyard BBQ for our neighbors. On one side of the house, there’s the family with the friendly boxer that had puppies. The other side has the clean and sober smokers who stand on their porches and talk to us over the wood fence, offering gardening advice. And there will be the little girl who always asks to play with my housemate who painted her nails once. We’ll set up the volleyball net that has been in our basement since we moved in. We don’t know yet if we have charcoal for the grill.

Many of my housemates are job searching for their next adventure. They don’t know where they will live or what they will do when they get there. My plans are more settled but not lacking in uncertainty.

I remind myself that all I have is this moment, this breath. The next is not guaranteed. I’ll enjoy what I have while it lasts.

Like spring blossoms that fall from the trees in showers of petals, making room for fresh leaves. Or like the dessert almost too pretty to eat. Maybe they are more beautiful because we know they won’t stay. Maybe it’s easier to treasure something because we know this precious moment will soon be gone.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

What will you savor today?

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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