My Blog List

Monday, December 10, 2012

Five Things I Loved in November

Note: I feel slightly ridiculous posting this since we are now a third of the way through December...but oh well.


What can I say? After reading several books earlier this year that were either set in Portland and/or written by authors who live in the Portland area (as well as seeing a movie based on one of those books, which was filmed in Portland), I decided I'd like to visit the city some day. The opportunity arose to do so this fall, and I went and was not disappointed. I have good friends who used to live in Portland whose love for the city has made me feel as though it was an old friend, a fascinating character that I wanted to get to know myself. We had two days there and I loved it. Portland somehow has a "thinking" vibe to it, which suits my near inability to ever turn my brain off. I nearly cried the morning we left as we drove through the city on our way out of town, because I felt like there was so much about the city that I hadn't gotten to know yet. I don't know when, but I will return some day.

Rainy Days

I honestly didn't know how I was going to feel about Portland's abundance of rain, but I actually loved it. Somehow the gray, rainy weather just seems to fit Portland, and I actually came back to usually-sunny Reno missing it. Incredibly, we have had an unusual number of rainy days in Reno since I came home from Portland, and I must say, I have loved every single one of them. The rain makes me want to read. And think. And I love that.

Searching for God Knows What

I bought a used copy of this book at Powell's while I was in Portland, and it might be my new favorite piece of Don Miller's work. I won't bother reviewing it here since I already did so on Goodreads. Suffice it to say, I loved this book and think it is absolutely worth reading. I also love that it came from Powell's, in Portland, on a trip I probably never would have taken were it not for Miller's book Blue Like Jazz; and I loved reading about several places we saw during our trip in the book in the days immediately following the trip.


Oddly enough, I got to enjoy this and the previous two items on my list all in one day a few weekends ago. I spent a couple of hours at one of my favorite local coffee shops on a Saturday afternoon, reading my book and enjoying the rain, before meeting up with Judy to see "Argo" for her birthday. I'd read a great article about the movie prior to seeing it that gave it extra meaning for me, and I loved the movie so much I've been to see it two more times since I saw it with Judy. (I also bought the soundtrack. It never ceases to amaze me how much a good soundtrack enriches a good film. Such is the case here.) This is an excellent story.

Thanksgiving Weekend

Our young adults group hosted the first annual "Turkey Bowl" for our church. Several families and individuals got together at the church for a flag football game followed by a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. After our meal, several of us went to see "Lincoln" (which is another great movie, by the way). Then I spent the night at Cassidy and Erin's so they could go Black Friday shopping while I stayed home with Caleb. Throughout the remainder of the weekend I also got to enjoy a lazy movie day at Cassidy and Erin's, the first of three Friday evening "Lord of the Rings" viewing parties with some friends, a productive day at home, an encouraging morning at church, and my second viewing of "Argo" (this time with my parents, who also loved it). It was a great combination of activities that made for a really ideal long weekend.

November was a good month.

Monday, November 19, 2012

paddling in place

{photo source}
"It's like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you're finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn't seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you'll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn't going to be over soon.

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It's about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat...the far shore doesn't get closer no matter how hard you paddle.

The shore you left is just as distant, and there is no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea. Maybe there's another story at the bottom of the sea. Maybe you don't have to be in this story anymore.

It's been like this with all my crossings. I have a couple of boats, and every couple of years I take them to Orcas Island and make the crossing from Orcas to Sucia, and it's always the same about leaving the shore so fast and getting to the middle and paddling for hours...

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger...they go looking for an easier story...

If it weren't for the other guys on the trip, I would have quit that night. We'd gotten up before sunrise, spent the day at Bob's, and were paddling now nearly twenty-four hours later. If it weren't for the other guys, I would have lay down in my hatch and slept and drifted out with the tide. But hours after I thought we'd arrive, I made out the gray wall of the cliff face on my right. We were close to it before we saw it, and it was like the walls of an ancient cathedral; our sounds were coming back at us off the rock. We had to follow the cliff to another, smaller crossing where there was a beach we'd made camp at on the way to the back of the inlet.

Then one of the guides pointed out bioluminescence was happening. He dropped his paddle into the water, and what looked like sparks splashed, and some of them floated like embers on top of the water. We all looked at our paddles and stirred them around in the water, and there in the darkness the oceans glowed. The farther we paddled into the opening, the darker the water got and the brighter the bioluminescence became. We could see each other now because there were comet trails behind our boats and there were sparks flying off our bows and onto our spray skirts, so bright you thought you needed to wipe them away for fear they would burn the fabric.

{photo source}
It was four in the morning, but we were energized by the ocean. As we got closer to the other shore, there were a million fish swimming beneath our boats, each leaving a trail, and the ocean was flashing from beneath us as though fireworks were going off in the water. "I've never seen it like this," one of our guides said. He said he'd seen the ocean glow when you splashed your paddle, but he'd never seen the fish light up the water from underneath. When we were a hundred yards from shore and paddling into the lagoon, the whole ocean glowed like a swimming pool. None of us wanted to get out of our boats. I paddled around in circles in the lagoon, watching the fish streak beneath me like a meteor shower.

It's like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand."

-Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

For whatever reason, God has given me a story in which my only real dream in life has been deferred for much longer than I ever would have imagined. My story currently has me paddling, waiting for the other shore to start growing, hoping against hope that once it begins, it will indeed grow fast, welcoming me home. By and large, I deeply enjoy the journey God has me on even though it's been a much longer one than I'd have ever chosen. My journey has been richly blessed, with some amazing experiences and most greatly by the companionship of so many dear friends and family. But this is one of those days where I long to see the shoreline of my dream approaching, so rapidly that I actually feel bittersweet about this part of my journey is coming to an end. Until then, I just keep paddling...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living a Good Story

{photo source}
In two days (weather permitting) I'll be heading north to spend a long weekend in Oregon. I read several books earlier this year that were, coincidentally, all set in Portland, and I also saw a movie based on one of those books which gave me some visuals to go along with what I'd read, and after reading about the city and seeing it on the big screen, I decided that I'd like to visit it myself as soon as I could. Two friends and I made plans to visit a mutual friend in Salem this weekend before spending a couple of days in Portland. In anticipation of our trip, I began rereading one of those set-in-Portland books last weekend, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I don't think it's an accident that I'm reading it again right now. This book is all about recognizing that our lives are telling a story and learning to make choices that contribute to a story that is compelling -- living in such a way that, if put on paper, our stories would actually be worth reading.

Unless you're new to my blog, you've probably picked up on the fact that this year has been pretty revolutionary for me as a follower of Jesus. The best way I can describe it is to borrow the words of the apostle Paul and say that God has been leading me through a process of "being transformed by the renewing of my mind." My brother likes to call this process "worldview transformation." Essentially this means that the way I look at all of life has changed, and as a result, so has the way I interact with the world around me. There are so many elements that have created the framework that now comprises my worldview, many of which I've written about in previous posts (in particular, much clearer understandings of God's gracethe Gospel, and the Kingdom of God; Christ's call to live a life of humility by dying to self; God's design for the Christian life to be lived in community and His heart for unity within the Church; and clearer understandings of spiritual gifts and personality types, among other things). ALL of these facets of my worldview have led to shifts in attitudes and actions, in how I live my life.

When I read A Million Miles back in the spring, I think I was vaguely aware that God was doing something new and significant in my life, but there was no way I could have known at that time what a deep impact this new work was going to have. What I'm noticing as I read the book this time around is that the way God has transformed my thinking this year has led me to live a better story, just as the book had suggested months ago. I think learning to embrace the call to die to self has been particularly important, because I can think of multiple decisions I've made -- primarily about how to spend portions of my time -- by running my options through the filter of dying to self that would have played out differently before God began this season of transformation in my life. Dying to self is what has led me to:

  • go downtown (alone!) to watch a friend's dance performance after youth group instead of going straight home and crashing for the night
  • message someone who had unfriended me on Facebook to see if there was an offense I needed to make right instead of becoming self-righteous and indignant
  • commit an entire Saturday to gather with a handful of friends to fast and pray for our church
  • attend a barbecue with a houseful of people outside of my usual social circle (quite a challenge for an introvert) in an effort to build community and promote unity in my church family
  • drive all the way across town on a Saturday evening to watch someone perform at an open mic night instead of staying planted on my futon watching old episodes of "Arrested Development"

Now PLEASE understand, I am in no way trying to give myself a pat on the back for doing any of these things. I fear some may infer, not only from this brief list of life examples but also from my frequent & enthusiastic sharing of what God is teaching me (whether that's here or on Facebook), that I'm seeking the praise of man, but that is not my goal at all. I am not so deluded as to think I've somehow arrived, and I am fully aware that I have plenty of room to continue learning and growing for the duration of my time here on earth! But at the same time, praise God, by His grace there HAS been progress in my life this year in areas I previously withheld from Him, and I've discovered that when you start surrendering to Him and begin to taste life as I believe He really intended it to be, your natural response is simply to share it because it is SO GOOD! I only share some specific examples of ways I've chosen to die to self this year because I am suddenly realizing each of those instances has contributed to a better story being told through my life than if I'd acted from a more natural [read: selfish] response, and that brings joy to my heart.

Here's the truth about telling stories with your life. It's going to sound like a great idea, and you are going to get excited about it, and then when it comes time to do the work, you're not going to want to do it...People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.
-Donald Miller

{photo source}
A few days ago I was wrestling with frustration over some of the meaningless stories that are being lived out in this world, but as I was pouring out my frustration to God, He began speaking to my heart and shifting my perspective to how I myself can continue to seek ways to live a better story with my own life. As I began to consider how I can improve the story my life is telling, my frustration began to fade. I can't always affect the story someone else is telling, but when I'm in a funk, there is almost always something I can do to make my own story a better one. It's rarely easy, but it's ALWAYS worth it.

I HOPE that I am increasingly living my life in a way that reflects the story of Jesus to the people around me and draws them closer to His Kingdom. I hope that the smaller stories I live within the larger story of my life, which is only a drop in the ocean of the grand story of God's work in the world, are telling a story of irrepressible hope and joy that flows from my belief that God is in the business of restoring His original good design for mankind. I believe He created us in His image to live beautifully in right relationships -- with Him and with others and with our environment -- and to be conduits of love and creativity and justice and mercy in this world. And although we are surrounded by brokenness and are broken ourselves, and although we have all rebelled against God, because of Jesus' death and resurrection, I believe redemption is possible. As we learn to die to self and embrace Christ's lordship, submitting to Him as our just and merciful King, He transforms us so that we increasingly reflect His image and His Kingdom to the world around us. And nothing reflects His Kingdom more than our reconciled relationships -- with God, fellow believers, family, those who don't share our faith, friends, enemies, possessions, creation, self, etc.

This is the story of restoration, and I hope that it is the story my life is telling, because there is no greater story to tell!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Cry for the Gospel

It.............has been a while.

Haha. I've actually had several blog ideas in mind for quite some time; I just haven't taken the time to sit down and compose them. I'm hoping to do that over the next few days. For today, my thoughts are fairly simple.

{photo source}
Saturday morning I was listening to Mumford and Sons' "Sigh No More" album while getting ready for the day, and although I've enjoyed the title track more than 30 times (according to my itunes play count) and even blogged about it once before, the last few lines of the song suddenly captured my attention in a way they never had before:
Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be 
There is a design, an alignment, a cry of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be
After spending vast amounts of time this year pondering the Gospel as told in its entirety through the simple elements of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration, it finally occurred to me that these final lines of "Sigh No More" seem as though they could portray a cry for the Gospel.

Only in Christ can we find a love that does not betray, dismay, or enslave us but rather truly sets us free and makes us more like the people we were made to be. Or to put it in different terms, Christ's love is the sole thing that can transform us as human beings and restore us to God's original design -- that which only Adam and Eve ever experienced after God created them, before they rebelled and sin marred (not erased, but marred) the image of God in humanity for the rest of history.

In the final lines I'm reminded of the longing all mankind has for transcendence, for something greater than what we experience in our current reality. I believe God has designed us this way, giving us an intrinsic desire to experience love the way it was meant to be, which we somehow know is not the sort of human love we experience now -- even the very best of human love. It is this longing that only the Gospel can fill.

Was this what Mumford and Sons had in mind when the song was written? I highly doubt these were their exact thoughts. I believe most artists prefer to leave interpretation up to the listener, and I happen to greatly respect that, so I would never claim that I've figured out "what they really meant" when they wrote these lyrics. But I do believe I see reflected here a glimpse of the desire God has built into each one of us, the desire that will only ever truly be filled through the Gospel.

Monday, September 10, 2012

to set free those who are oppressed

Wednesday night my parents and I happened to catch the movie "Mississippi Burning" just as it was coming on TV. As we watched, there were points at which I felt deeply troubled by what I was seeing. Even more than the horrific way the whites treated the black community, I was disturbed by the oppression I saw as evidenced by the black community's refusal to speak up about the injustices being committed. It reminded me of what I saw in "The Help," which also deeply troubled me.

A couple of days later I was looking at a worksheet my brother recently created that's intended to help people identify different aspects of God's design for them as individuals. One question on the worksheet asked, "What makes you mad?" I immediately thought of oppression. It's not just the historical racial oppression I see portrayed in movies that angers me, it's also the spiritual oppression I see in the lives of people I know personally. I had already been thinking about this a few weeks ago. I become extremely troubled when I see people I care about, brothers and sisters in Christ, missing out on the full life God intends for them because they're being oppressed by lies that have been fed to them by he who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. The worst of it for me is to see people who have given up fighting. It is not in my nature to give up, and I feel like my spirit is suffocating when I see that someone I care about has resigned him- or herself to the way things are, no longer seeking change because change has been thwarted so many times in the past.

{photo source}
As I've found freedom in God's grace and living for His Kingdom over the past few months, I've also experienced a deep desire to see others find that same freedom. Jesus said He was sent "to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set free those who are oppressed." We as believers are to carry on the work He began on earth. And lately it seems as though God has been shaping me with a particular draw to the part about setting free those who are oppressed.

Saturday morning I was praying about this and I thought again of "The Help" (the book version of which landed in my hands less than 24 hours after I watched "Mississippi Burning" and really started thinking about how much I hate oppression...coincidence?). I thought about how writing was the tool Skeeter used to fight the oppression she saw in her community. I've always considered myself a writer (though a slow one) and I suddenly wondered whether writing might be a tool through which God is leading me to fight spiritual oppression. I don't have any big ambition in this regard, I just think perhaps through this blog and through various personal communications part of God's design for me might be to fight spiritual oppression through my writing.

I've been re-watching season 4 of Chuck, and yesterday I was watching an episode in which Chuck has been captured during a time when he does not have the intersect, leaving him defenseless against his enemies. Sarah is bound and determined to find him and heads to the roughest part of Thailand when she gets word that's where he's being held. Once she arrives she agrees to fight someone in order to gain information about his specific whereabouts. (Meanwhile Chuck's mind is being poisoned with a substance that is designed to erase his memory.) This is not the only time we see Sarah kicking some tail on this show, but I couldn't help but notice the passion with which she fights in this scene.

{screen shot from the fight scene}
Sarah's passion resonated with me, because I feel passionate about helping to free people (especially people I already care about) whose minds are being poisoned by satan's lies, whose memories of God's truth and faithfulness are being stripped away, and whose hearts are becoming overwhelmed with such hopelessness and despair that they've stopped fighting for freedom. I wish a few powerful punches and a couple of roundhouse kicks would be effective in my situation (and that I knew how to deliver such to begin with, haha!), because it sure would feel good to release some of the frustration I feel when I witness oppression in people's lives! But as it is, it seems the weapons God has given me to use are those of prayer and pen (or keyboard, as it were). So my hope is that I can pray and write with all the fervor and determination I see in Sarah Walker as she fights physically to set Chuck free.

Last weekend I downloaded Josh Garrels' album "Love and War and the Sea In Between" (which, side note, just might be THE most fantastic album I've ever owned), and one of his songs really reflects my heart in all of this. I'll close with the lyrics, and if you'd like to hear the song you can listen at the bottom of the page.


I hung my head for the last time in surrender and despair
Before I'm dead, I'll take the last climb up the mountain, face my fears
The time has come to make a choice, use my voice for the love of every man
My mind's made up, never again, never again will I turn 'round

Though they may surround me like lions and crush me on all sides
I may fall, but I will rise
Not by my might or my power or by the strength of swords,
Only through Your love, oh Lord
All that's lost will be restored

Take courage sons, for we must go under the heart of darkness to set them free
But don't lose heart when you see the numbers -- there's no measure for the faith we bring
And it's given us to overcome if we run where the Spirit calls us on
The greatest things are yet to come; with the dawn we will rise

Though they may surround me like lions and crush me on all sides
I may fall, but I will rise
Not by my might or my power or by the strength of swords,
Only through Your love, oh Lord
All that's lost will be restored

Jesus, make me an agent of the restoration that comes only through Your love.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kingdom-Minded: Living for Something Bigger Than Me

{photo source}
As I've really begun to understand God's grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God over the past few months, I've discovered, probably more than anything else, a sense of FREEDOM that I never had before. I don't know if I can adequately explain the previous disconnect in my thinking or how exactly the shift in my thinking has so drastically changed my perspective, but it has a lot to do with recognizing that as Christians, as we are being transformed to look more like Christ, we are not so much being made into something completely new and foreign as we are being RESTORED to God's original design for us. I guess you could say I've come to believe the Christian life is less about striving to overcome my identity and more about learning to fulfill it as God intended, and that makes transformation seem a lot less overwhelming to me and a lot more exciting!

Along these same lines, I've realized that the Bible is not filled with arbitrary commands for Christian living but rather glimpses of how we can represent God's King-dom (that is to say very simply, His governing rule) in our lives. This frees us from the misconception that we need to know every individual instruction directed at believers, because the point is not to memorize every single principle but to live in a way that shows God, not SELF, is on the throne in our lives. Old Testament Law and New Testament principles are not an end in themselves but are a means to an end. The goal is to reflect God's Kingdom to the world around us. 

Clearly, this shift in perspective doesn't change the fact that transformation is a lifelong process that comes with challenges and trials.  But understanding God's original design for humanity and that our transformation is actually a restoration of that design, and understanding as well what it means to represent His Kingdom here on earth, come together give us a bigger picture for the Christian life that makes it not only less overwhelming but also more meaningful and exciting.

As these shifts in my thinking have been taking root and I've been finding more freedom in my understanding of the Gospel, I've oddly found myself feeling weighed down by a lot of what I hear in messages from Christian leaders. This can come in the form of sermons, Facebook posts, books, blogs, magazine articles, etc. For a while I couldn't put my finger on a reason, but I am finally realizing that I feel weighed down because many of these messages, while they convey Kingdom principles and challenge the listener to live by them, don't really acknowledge the Kingdom. More often than not it seems the greatest motivator we are given for Christian living is along the lines of it making us more like Christ, building our character, etc. And that's all well and good and true, and granted that in and of itself brings glory to God, but it seems as though that kind of thinking essentially puts ME back at the center of the story, and it's become abundantly clear to me that that's not where I belong. 

{photo source}
It's also become clear to me that I quickly lose heart when I imagine myself at the center of the story. I need something bigger than myself to live for. When Christian living becomes challenging and I find myself struggling, I quickly lose motivation if the greatest aim I'm aware of is my own personal development, because at best that feels anti-climatic and at worst it feels rather hopeless. But when I begin to realize that Christian living is more about representing God's Kingdom to the world around me, then it becomes invigorating, even with all its challenges, because it's serving something much more epic than my own personal story. This doesn't make Christian living less challenging, but it does make it feel a lot less burdensome and a lot more meaningful, and that gives me a lot more motivation to press on when things get difficult. 

I just think our purpose as the Church is a lot more significant than many of us recognize, and I think if we really understood the Gospel of the Kingdom we would be living lives of greater freedom and purpose, and the messages we relay as Christians would be less about what Christian living is intended to do for our own personal lives and more about what it is intended to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God!

I actually composed the above thoughts a few days ago, but sometimes it's such a labor to articulate my thoughts, I have to take some time away from something I've written and come back to it later with a clearer mind to see if it even makes sense. In the meantime I came across the following paragraph in Chuck Colson's book How Now Shall We Live, which succinctly described almost exactly what I was trying to say in my first paragraph...
Christ's resurrection is only the beginning of the story of redemption. At Pentecost, the risen Christ sent forth the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers, to work out his purposes in their lives. Today as well, all believers receive the power to become children of God, to be transformed and restored to our true nature, people created in the image of God. And we live as the community of hope, in eschatological expectation, knowing that Christ will return and establish his rule over all. God's redemption, then, does not change us into something different so much as it restores us to the way we were originally created. 
{photo source}

Yes. You may have already read my final thoughts on Facebook, but here they are nonetheless:

The more I read the New Testament, the less I believe Christ's provision of salvation is intended primarily to draw me to a personal, individualized, private holiness, and the more I believe it is intended to draw me into right, restored relationships in ALL aspects of life ~ with God, people, creation, possessions, etc. The restoration of those relationships to God's original design is only possible when I'm submitted to God as the ruler of my life instead of trying to rule my own life, which is exactly where salvation ought to lead me. Thus, salvation should have effects that extend FAR beyond self.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thanksgiving All Year: 491-520

Wow. So much for staying caught up, eh? Well I've decided, since I've fallen so far behind on this for the past two months, that I am going to stop at 520 (which marks one year's worth of Thanks-giving) for the time being. I may revive the tradition at some point or alter it to a monthly list, but honestly my blog has been on the back burner for pretty much the entire summer (just in case you hadn't noticed, haha) and I have so much going on right now it just isn't a priority for me currently. This doesn't mean I'll stop posting, but I am going to relieve myself from my weekly (in theory) posts!

With that said, over the past few weeks, I have been thankful...

491. For solo coffee dates spent reading.

492. For good books (such as Donald Miller's Through Painted Deserts)...

493. ...and for great songs (such as U2's "With or Without You")...

494. ...and for delightful moments when I get to enjoy both simultaneously.

"With or Without You" came on the radio while I was reading at the
coffee shop. It was such a perfect moment I had to take a picture!

495. For surprise birthday parties and for friends with whom to celebrate. (Alina and Alona are twins, born on August 11, and Patricia and I were both born on August 18!)

Left: Birthday Girls (me, Patricia, Alona, and Alina)
Right: My winning teammates from the first game!

496. For a friend who shares my heart to get together and pray for our church each Sunday morning.

497. For our church family's willingness to step outside its comfort zone by holding Church in the Park.

worship team warming up at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno

498. That God sometimes provides great encouragement to me through people I barely even know.

499. For the new Mumford and Sons single, "I Will Wait."

500. For my recently reestablished weekly coffee dates with Jessie...

501. ...and that our favorite coffee shop recently reopened after being closed for almost three years!

It's in a different location now but we'll take it!

502. For my new lotion dispenser that says "Restore" on it ~ a memorial of how God has captured my heart in a whole new way this past year with the concept of Restoration.

503. For fun "blingy" jeans and "Life is Good" pajama pants purchased during my first thrift store excursion.

504. For Mimi's Cafe's chicken tenders.

505. For Sunday afternoons hanging out with the girls.

506. For a relaxing birthday celebration with my family, some of my best friends, my favorite pizza, and a good movie.

507. For laughing so hard I cried twice in one day watching Caleb bounce in his bouncy seat. SO. FUNNY.

You should see the video!

508. For the incredible beauty of God's creation at Yosemite National Park...

Yosemite Valley and Half Dome as seen from Glacier Point

509. ...and for the joy of being with people who are seeing it for the first time. (I think I tear up every time I hear someone's first expression of awe!)

At least half of our group had never been before!

510. For friends who I, as an introvert, am comfortable having in my "hamster ball" with me...

511. ...and that I got to spend the many hours of drive-time during our Yosemite trip surrounded by such friends.

Alex was in there, too, you just can't see him!

512. For a hike through a beautiful forest to see incredible views of Yosemite I'd never seen before.

513. For my ridiculously adorable nephew.

514. For the nearly perfect ending to my birthday: lying on the floor of Yosemite Valley, next to some of my best friends, spotting TWO shooting stars while star gazing. James 1:17

515. For the transforming work God has done in me since my last birthday.

516. For an evening with the beautiful (inside and out) Balkenbush, Steinhardt, and Bain girls.

517. For a deeper understanding of how God designed me through the Myers-Briggs personality assessment
(I'm an INFJ in case you're curious)...

518. ...and for the resulting increase in confidence to follow the direction I sense Him giving me.

519. For the discovery of great music. (Currently LOVING Amy Stroup, Josh Garrels, and The Autumn Film.)

Thanks for joining me in giving thanks for the many beautiful things God has done in my life over the past year! Rest assured the thankfulness will not stop even though the weekly list is going away! Have a great weekend and a lovely start to your September!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Gospel vs. The Chicken

A couple of months ago our young adults pastor shared a very simple truth one Sunday morning that had struck him while watching a television program about a group of people engaged in some really bizarre and ungodly practices: "The only thing standing between me and these people is the cross of Christ." It's a thought that has both stuck with me and been instrumental in transforming my thinking ever since.

If all this Chick-fil-A controversy had arisen but a few short months ago, it's highly likely you could have found me helping lead the charge to support a company that is near and dear to my heart not only because I love its food but also because I have treasured memories of working for it when I lived in Tennessee. However, because of what God has been showing me about the Gospel and Christianity over the past few months, this is not the case. (For the record, in saying this I'm not implying that I'm helping lead the charge against this company, either.)

It doesn't seem to me that all the uproar over this situation has been warranted; however, I don't think one unwarranted uproar makes another one right (especially when the latter is coming primarily from Christians), and I question whether the general Christian response to the backlash against Chick-fil-A has served the Kingdom of God very well...

Over the past few months I've finally come to understand, after many years as a Christian, that the heart of Christ's call to humanity is to find real life by dying to self. Not only does this mean dying to my blatant sin, it also means dying to my more subtle sin of self-righteousness, dying to whatever pride I cling to that makes me think my ability to be in a relationship with God has anything to do with my own behavior. 

At the end of March God started putting a whole slew of messages from various sources (thank you Donald Miller, Louie Giglio, and the apostle Paul in particular, haha) in my path that finally really awakened me to the truth that His grace is truly a free gift, made possible by the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit alone, not by anything I've done! (If you need convincing, check out Romans 5 where Paul describes justification and take note of every "by" and "through" phrase in the chapter... I promise you not one of them is followed by any work the reader has done!) Finally grasping these truths has opened the door for God to begin a level of transformation in my life that is far deeper than anything I've experienced in the past, because in the past there was still a lot of SELF getting in the way, both on the side of not recognizing the call to give up control and on the side of thinking my relationship with God was somehow made possible my good moral behavior.

At our fellowship group last night, someone very eloquently described how God spent the entire Old Testament showing us that we could NEVER fulfill His Law. That's precisely why we needed Christ's life, death, and resurrection ~ to provide the grace necessary for us to be in relationship with God again since we couldn't earn our way into that position... 

It's not that I find fault with Dan Cathy's stance on family relationships. My concern is that perhaps with the manner in which the general Christian public has taken up the banner of promoting traditional marriage in defense of Chick-fil-A, all we've effectually done is point to the Law, which we ourselves cannot fulfill, and pridefully elevated one tiny portion of it that isn't a struggle for us, as if this somehow makes us holier than the rest of the world. The truth is we've all broken some part (MANY parts, actually) of God's Law, and even as Christians most of us have strongholds that take us years to finally hand over to Christ, which means every last one of us is just as guilty as the next person.

The more I recognize just how filthy my own sin is, the less interested I am in calling any other person out on his or her sin. And the more I understand the Gospel of the Kingdom and recognize the fact that Jesus took me as I was and is being incredibly patient with the very slow process of my being transformed to reflect Him more clearly, the less I believe He expects anyone else to fulfill ANY portion of the Law before He is ready and willing to embrace and welcome them into His Kingdom. 

Granted, accepting the call to follow Christ and find real life by dying to self is going to produce fruit in our lives. As we learn to walk with Him and obey His commands, He begins to restore in us His original, good design. But without HIM guiding the process, whatever morality we possess is ultimately worthless because we will never fulfill God's whole Law by our own endeavors. 

I don't believe Jesus put us here to enforce God's Law. I believe He put us here to reflect what it looks like when we submit to His rule in our lives and to extend the invitation to others to taste and see that this is a good thing. I don't know if I would have agreed with this statement a few months ago, but I believe it now. I'm not saying we shouldn't hold to Biblical values, I'm just saying we're all broken and Jesus is the only One who can fix us ~ Dan Cathy and the LGBT community and the Christian community alike. I don't believe reminding a group of people of how they fail to measure up to God's design is going to help spread the Gospel (which for heaven's sake means good news) or further the Kingdom. I'd rather say "come just as you are" to all of the above and let Jesus take it from there.

Part of me doesn't want to post this at all because I don't really anticipate a particularly favorable reception from either side of the debate. And I hate controversy. But the more posts I see on Facebook the more compelled I am to say something, because almost every post is making me further question whether we are accurately representing the Gospel. And the Gospel is a lot more important than my popularity.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:12-17

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thanksgiving All Year: 451-490

Holy cow. July has been a whirlwind of a month, and it's been both awesome and challenging! But since I am FOUR WEEKS BEHIND on my thanks-giving lists, I'm going to cut to the chase and let my list speak for itself about what I've been up to, then maybe I'll compose another blog later to elaborate on some of it. (Or maybe not, who knows!)

This MONTH I have been thankful...

451. For my Nana and Gramps, and for the joy of having them visit for the first time in five years.

452. For the beauty of witnessing Nana and Gramps meeting Caleb for the first time.

453. For my sweet nephew.

454. For family dinners.

455. For beautiful downtown Reno.

456. For the opportunity to enjoy ice cream and fireworks with our young adults group.

457. For the freedom we have in America.

458. For waffles containing oats and walnuts, topped with blueberries and real maple syrup.

459. For my "worldview group" that's going through Chuck Colson's How Now Shall We Live? together. I grow SO MUCH through our discussions!

460. For family picnics in beautiful places (in this case, Donner Lake).

461. For inside jokes that never die ~ FREE LEONARD! (Sorry, you had to be there...)

462. For beautiful days at Lake Tahoe with friends and family.

463. For volleyball.

464. That so many of my closest friends got to meet Nana and Gramps (and vice versa) during their visit.

465. For family birthday celebrations.

466. For homemade grilled pizza. YUM.

467. For having four generations in one picture.

468. For fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread from the Sparks Farmers Market.

469. For a friend so thoughtful as to show up at the church before 7 am to bring me Starbucks the day of a youth trip... Thanks, Judy!

470. For our youth group's annual camping trip to Santa Cruz.

471. For Chick-fil-A. (Disclaimer: This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the recent controversy. Consider me a neutral party, please. I simply love their chicken and have incredibly fond memories of working for this company.)

472. For the excitement of saying "WE'RE HERE!" after hours on the road!

473. For spending time in closer-than-usual proximity to God's creation.

474. For my girls (that is to say, those who were in my discipleship group in Santa Cruz).

475. For Tristan and Jacob ~ such GREAT guys who make me laugh so much!

476. That I got to be with Cloe' the first time she saw the ocean!

477. For Manresa State Beach... I have sooooo many treasured memories of this place.

478. For these HILARIOUS pictures of Griffin having people throw bread at him to make the seagulls flock around him. Our youth are crazy!

479. For "Beach Day" at Santa Cruz, where we have the whole afternoon to nap, read, swim, build sandcastles, play volleyball, etc. on the beach. So. Relaxing.

480. For time with Caleb during the Santa Cruz trip.

481. For laughter.

482. For great teaching by Cassidy and Eric in Santa Cruz.

483. For our youth group. I truly love these kids.

484. For the girl in the Starbucks drive-thru the other day who immediately told me how beautiful my hair was when I pulled up... Amazing how one simple compliment from a stranger can make your day when you're feeling down!

485. For the song "Learn Me Right" by Birdy and Mumford and Sons.

486. For my bestie, who was a part of so many of my good memories from this month.

487. For our young adults planning team and the encouragement I receive from meeting with them.

488. For time spent recently with new friends and with old friends I haven't gotten to spend time with in a while.

489. For glimpses of continued healing, restoration, and growth in various relationships.

490. For an ever-deepening understanding of the Gospel and Christ's call to find real life by dying to self and submitting to His good and loving rule.

Wow, I feel like this was even longer than my Seven Years in Reno blog... Yikes! I trust my next one will be MUCH shorter! Until then...