WHY: the cleaning doesn’t matter

I had a long day yesterday. I’m not entirely sure why. It was just one of those days. I was having a hard time adjusting to reality after a lovely weekend in the mountains near a river that still had ice in the early mornings. I arrived at work on time, but my boss wasn’t ready to start my training. So instead, I sat outside, chatted with a friend and attempted to catch up on three weeks of homework that I’ve  been skimping on for my online class.

And then I arrived at E’s where I made him an orange smoothie slushy thingy because I knew it had been a long day at work. I laid down on the bed with a novel (again the procrastination) and waited for him to arrive in the hour long gap he has between jobs. There’s no couch in this apartment, just an odd little two person bench probably purchased at Ikea. So, while the bedroom was dark and a messy disaster after camping, it seemed a more comfortable alternative to the bench thingmajog.

I made dinner, had to throw out some hummus that had gone sour. I threw out two loads of trash. I sat and read while he finished up work and then just sort of…glazed over. I cleaned up after dinner, just like I cleaned up after dinner last night, or whenever I cooked for him last. I went into the bathroom to blow my nose for the umpteenth time today and glanced around sort of miserably at the fuzz, the hair, the dirt that has stuck to the sink when he washes his hands after working outside. The floor has markings, water droplets that have caught dust and trapped it on the tile. The kitchen floor needs swept which it does almost every night after I cook (I’m a messy cook).

He collapsed on the bed ten minutes before we left to meet friends for my birthday and said in a despondent voice, muffled by the pillows, “I made a mistake….I laid down.”

I didn’t want to go in at first. I was feeling quite selfish, in fact. This is my birthday. This day belongs to me. But G used to tell me things that annoyed her about her husband and she would always follow it by saying “I remind myself, G, this is you showing love to him. So just get over it and do it.”

So I went into the bedroom with the clutter of camping and life strewn all about the floor and I sat on the bed beside E and rubbed his arm. Not much. I’m still a very selfish person.

But as I walked out of the room, I heard the boyfriend of the woman who lives next door. He was out in the parking lot again, screaming in that voice, deep and hollowed out by heavy sobs and tears. One of her dogs was barking, the small one that thinks it’s as big as the pit bull. But all I could really hear was his voice, pleading and begging just like he did two weeks ago when E wouldn’t let me leave the apartment for fear the guy might do something unstable.

And I thought, my God has done great things for me. We have multiple jobs–six between the two of us–and we don’t have much money or free time. He’s almost always tired after work, and depending on the job, I usually am too. Our respective apartments are both messy. My fridge desperately needs a clean out and his bathroom is even more precarious to someone who occasionally struggles with germ-phobia. But we have these apartments and we have jobs and we have friends and we’re doing so well. I don’t stand outside an apartment, begging to be let back in.

And that’s not because I’m awesome and popular and everyone throws their doors open wide to let me in. It’s because God has healed me of some incredible brokenness and he has blessed me with friendship, love, security and he has gifted me Himself. It’s because my God found it worthwhile to save me and blot out my transgressions for his name’s sake. And so I’m whole and I’m hopeful and I’m grateful and…and none of this makes sense. But I was just struck that afternoon, the man next door; he doesn’t know hope. He’s lost and broken and hurting. While my life is not perfect and I’m not always the happiest of people, how can I worry about small things like the bathroom and the trash and the never ending dishes when I have been given such a great gift in the salvation offered by my God?

High School Graduation

Last week I attended a “senior celebration” at a high school within walking distance of my apartment. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, I don’t live in the best part of town and the high school near us is no exception to that general rule. Granted, it’s not like the school where I took my SAT, where there were rumors of weapons and gang fights (most of it was probably made up by the easily frightened white kids at my own suburban high school). But it doesn’t rank very high in Colorado. According to CSAPs the freshmen were 48% proficient in Reading last year. Now, I’m not a statistician but that doesn’t seem very good. A group called “Great Schools: Involved Parents, Successful Kids” only gave it a 3 out of 10 and the over all district received the same score. I read on another site that it’s the 128th district out of 136 in Colorado. Let’s assume the stats are somewhat accurate, despite the fact that I only just googled the information about five minutes ago.

Danny, Laisa, Haley, Sara, Helen, Emmerance, Tshite

Even with a reasonable margin of error, that high school still isn’t doing well.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from my neighborhood is a place like Douglas County where I later attended the graduation party of a young woman I once nannied during my college years. It was a very different experience from the previous night, and not simply because it lacked tedious awards ceremony with perfunctory speeches which no one will recall by the end of summer. It was a party with food in chaffing dishes and cupcakes that cost $3 each at the shop where they’re made. The women were in dresses, the graduate in heels. I wore my chacos and a pair of loose shorts that were $7 at Goodwill last summer. But it is more than that, the clothes and fancy food are only symptomatic. This young woman is attending CSU with the plan of graduate school afterwards.

I’m relieved my neighbor was accepted to two colleges and even has a small scholarship to help cover some first costs. When we leftthe ceremonylast week, another friend who had attended hooked her arm into a younger sister’s elbow–another refugee who will be a freshmen next year.

“Four years!” she said brightly as we skipped down the stairs outside in the warm night air. “We’re going to see you here in four years, right? You’ll be getting awards and scholarships too!” The new freshmen giggled but agreed.

That is the difference. Most days, I’m happy the kids in my neighborhood can read and that some can write. The syntax is often a mess, the grammar is usually backwards. But this is at leasttheir second language, for some it’s a third. I want them to graduate high school because I want them to have a chance in life. Education in America is the beginning of anything. It’s hard to communicate that to our refugees, but there are a few students who seem to understand.

The young woman in a wealthier part of town–I love her and I’m thrilled about her future plans. But for her, for me, college was just an expectation. It was a factual part of life that followed soon after high school. This is what is different about the children where I live. College is a dream. High school graduation is a journey.

But it’s the beginning of life in America. The start of life in a new land to which they’ve escaped, where they are rebuilding everything from the ground up. High school is no longer just a fact of life, it’s the foundation for a future that was vastly altered the day they left their homes and set out for this place.

High School Graduation never meant so much.

WHY: My family is awesome

My brother and his family are visiting from out of town this weekend. I have two nephews ages 3 and 5 months. This morning, after I spent the night at my folks’ the “little man” came down and woke me up on the couch with three kisses and a mischievous grin.

I’ve spent most of the week thus far at my folks’ place. Thankfully I’ve had time off of work to spend with everyone.

The easiest way to tell you how my family is awesome might be to just point out that we’re all very good looking. But that seems…pretentious. So the next best example of our quirky intellectual awesomeness comes from Monday afternoon.

My mum was at work (sadly) while the rest of us lounged in the backyard. My brother read a military book on his Kindle and my dad held the infant on his lap, bouncing to the sound of Beethoven’s 5th. I was reading philosophy and my sister in law soon chased the little man out to join us while she and my dad played backgammon. How many families read philosophy, military history and play backgammon while forcing their children to appreciate classical music?

not many.

but mine does.

Garden Building

{EDIT: I apologize that this post went out early to some of you. It was meant for Monday morning, not Sunday! I planned to have some time picking out the pictures I wanted to share with you…. Sorry about that mixup! Enjoy the real post!}

I’ve wanted a garden for ages. Two years ago I grew tomatoes in a pot on my parent’s back porch. The taste was better than anything else, sweet and tangy, rich with earth and sun. It made the desire for a garden even greater. Last year I tried to figure out how I might scrape one out of the dusty backyard at G and J’s house. I thought the fringes of the yard, near the leaning fence might be the best hope for a place the kids wouldn’t trample in their afternoon adventures between lunch, naps and chores. But G and J were stationed to Colorado Springs and I realized that the garden would just be sprouting in time for them to move. This year I thought about trying to plant one in the courtyard of our building. There are these areas near the bottom of our staircases, empty plots of dusty earth that get tracked into our apartment by barefooted children, screaming and laughing and wanting to learn. But it couldn’t be protected from neighbors or the cats that keep multiplying and prowling the parking lot.

And then E moved into an apartment with free rent in exchange for property management. He gained a back patio with plenty of sunshine and just enough room. The roommates abandoned their one bedroom house and they tore down the loft that allowed four grown men to share that one room and there was all that wood…with bolts and screws and absolutely everything you might need to build a little enclosed garden.

So we did. (or, he did.)

Which goes with the next point: I decided my blog could use some more pictures. Since it’s summer time and I’ll be going on lots of adventures (see WHY: I love the Summer) there will be plenty to share with you! So here are the first ones from that garden. E building the garden boxes (and building me a loft for my bed–now I can fit more bookcases in my room) and some pictures of us filling up those boxes. We used a mixture of dirt from a property he’s working on (they had to dig out the driveway) and potting soil bought at Lowe’s, on top we finished off with a bag of compost (we’re both sort of green). It took 12 18gallon buckets of the free dirt, three bags of soil and 1 bag of compost to fill these beauties and make them a welcome home for the plants we chose.

The pictures are your chance to journey with our little plant heaven on the back patio at E’s new place. So, welcome to the week of planning and set up. The hardest part–digging up dirt, building the boxes, lining with trash bags, and filling with aforementioned dug up dirt and finally, a watering can to get this garden off on the right foot. No thirsty plants on my watch! It’s a good thing we did much of this in the evening and on some cooler, rainier days! I love the sunshine but not always the heat that goes along with it! (I’m a pansy!) You can click for a larger image and slide-show your way through the magnificence.

Welcome to Ithir.

WHY: Summer Days

Last week was the end of school. I wrote about 120 pages. Essentially,  I wrote a thesis. Or I wrote as much material as a thesis would be, but on more topics. Still, can we marvel over that number? I don’t mean it in a pretentious way. I mean it in a oh-my-word-how-could-anyone-write-that-much-and-still-be-sane kind of way. Maybe I’ve lost my sanity without even realizing it….

I’m very glad that I’m done. I don’t love change, I don’t love things ending (like classes, semesters and assignments) but I’m quite glad that the semester and her massive amount of writing is all done. I’m also glad to be done for the year because it means something more than just the end of assignments and schoolwork.

It means that summer has begun.

I love the summertime. It means, later nights with brilliant, burning sunsets. Bike rides become leisurely without looming assignments that snag the wheels and threaten your perseverance up that hill of wasting time (which should, obviously, be spent on said looming assignments). It also means that the mountains will have shed their thick white blankets and dried out in the afternoons of late spring. And that means two very glorious and spiritual things can happen:

hiking.

camping.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I love summer time in Colorado. I love hiking. I love camping. I’m a journey hiker (which will be a later post) and I’m both a backpacking and car camper. Just give me those Rocky Mountains and I’m happy as a clam in the deep blue. Except there’s not much blue here. It’s more brown with runs of green and forests that look black as smoky ebony when the setting sun hits just right. There are great things to learn of God that come through intellectual discussion in classroom settings. But most of those great experiences with God recorded in the Bible take place outside. If you come to Colorado, you will discover why he speaks in the wilderness–or perhaps, he always speaks, but you will discover why we hear in the wilderness. There is a majesty there, a magnitude that cannot be described or uttered, it can only be seen and experienced and it leads to worship in a way that nothing else can. I can’t put the picture into words. So here are the reasons I love Colorado summers told by photos, here is a sample of the beauty in which God has manifested himself to me in the wilderness that I am privileged to call home:

(Mountains, with snow, in August; Hiking trail; Under the waterfall at Hanging Lake; Standing above Hanging Lake; Looking down onto Hanging Lake; Dusky sunset at a park overlooking the foothills; Before a concert at Red Rocks; Backpacking up to Mt Evans; Giants must live here–Narnia!; Backpacking with a friend from college; Feeling small amidst the Rockies; Clouds on one of my favourite trails; A recent sunset caught in my side view mirror by my cellphone camera)

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In Denial (but Towards Freedom)

Summer classes started today. Instead of doing homework, however, I read a good portion of Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. I appreciated the following:

In the more classical understanding of the matter, whether pagan or Christian, true freedom was understood as something inseparable from one’s nature: to be truly free, that is to say, was to be at liberty to realize one’s proper “essence” and so flourish as the kind of being one was. For Plato or Aristotle, or for Christian thinkers like Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, or Thomas Aquinas, true human freedom is emancipation from whatever constrains us from living the life of rational virtue, or from experiencing the full fruition of our nature; and among the things that constrain us are our own untutored passions, our willful surrender to momentary impulses, our own foolish or wicked choices. In this view of things, we are free when we achieve that end toward which our inmost nature is oriented from the first moment of existence, and whatever separates us from that end–even if it comes from our own wills–is a form of bondage…

This means we are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well. For to choose poorly, through folly or malice, in a way that thwarts our nature and distorts our proper form, is to enslave ourselves to the transitory, the irrational, the purposeless, the (to be precise) subhuman. To choose well we must ever more clearly see the “sun of the Good”…and to see more clearly we must continue to choose well; and the more we are emancipated from illusion and caprice, the more perfect our vision becomes, and the less there is really to choose… As we progress we find that to turn away from that light is ever more manifestly a defect of the mind and will, and ever more difficult to do. Hence Augustine defined the highest state of human freedom not as “being able not to sin” but as “being unable to sin:” A condition that reflects the infinite goodness of God, who, because nothing can hinder him in the perfect realization of his own nature, is “incapable” of evil and so is infinitely free.

Not my favourite book, thus far in the opening chapters. But certainly a well put description of classic freedom, so different than our own modern understanding.

One Year Down

and…. two more to go? It’s grad school so, who really knows?

In a fitting end to our year, two of my friends decided to strip and run for the River behind campus yesterday. It was a brilliant day of sunshine, festering studies and tedious exams. But it was finished. Last night at 915, we were free men and women as we strode from the lecture hall and headed to the Mellow Mushroom for gluten free pizza and half price margaritas.

I thought you might appreciate the pictures of my friends who took a little swim, then tried to catch trout with their bare hands. All the while, screaming and jumping and laughing after that beast of an exam in NT.

Enjoy.

WHY: Social Media

I used to manage social media for people. A friend and I started up a company that worked with authors, businesses, and musicians to manage their social media and marketing via networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It was a fun summer spent outside on the back patio at the home of a friend who was remodeling while being on tour with his band. But school started and I needed more income more quickly, so my part in the journey of entrepreneurship ended. My friend still plugs away at that company, building it slowly, arduously, from the ground up.

Because of that short term position, I understand the power of social media, for good and for bad. I spend too much time on Facebook, to be honest, it sometimes destroys my contentment. Twitter wastes much of my time as I invariably click away at posts by favourite authors and networks like the Resurgence and Desiring God. I’ve thus far refused to join Pintrest but I watch girls in class who are always adding to their boards and I know that would ruin my time management and contentment as much as the first two.

But these networks aren’t all bad. I have not quite released my grip on Facebook because it is useful in a number of ways. I am also decently committed to my Twitter account as it allows me access to articles and stories that are encouraging and convicting.

Stories like this one about Ian and Larissa. They were married even after Ian had a brain injury in 2006 and lost a number of physical and mental capabilities. I almost cried while watching it in the student center and I don’t think that’s simply stress from the end of the school year. I was struck by the beauty of their relationship and love–their commitment to each other and to God. In so many ways I look at their situation and it makes me almost envious to know that kind of love and devotion. Not envious because I want to experience that (though I do) but because I want to be like that.

Suffering is painful, no one desires it for a reason. In the west, especially in white suburban America, we have a pretty weak view of suffering. We don’t understand it, we avoid it, we ignore it. But in the midst of suffering there is such growth and beauty. I see it in the story of Larissa and Ian, I see it in my friends at school and church who are struggling through a variety of things. In all these different situations, my friends are becoming new people, greater and stronger in the faith–even when that means admitting their weaknesses. Even when life seems to come apart, God is always reconstructing it and making all things new. He suffered as one of us and he knows our pain. Not only does he know it, but he is always working in it to make something good come of it, for our sanctification and for his glory.

I’m on social media sites and I read blogs because they remind me, even in the midst of finals week in grad school and great exhaustion both mentally, physically and emotionally that God is here, in all things, and he is working.

soli Deo gloria.

WHY: The Time Wasters

It’s finals next week here at Seminary. That means I have a paper due tomorrow, another due Tuesday and four exams before next Friday. I also have a conference at church this weekend, a garden to plant and work to keep up with. But really, it’s no big deal.

In fact, it’s such an easy, carefree time that I’m blogging right now, rather than editing the paper due tomorrow. I don’t need to revise that piece of artwork, I thoroughly thrashed the book I was reviewing and backed up every argument to the point of a walled in fortress that could never be successfully assaulted. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen. It may have gone over the page limit, but it was necessary. I’m sure the grader will agree.

This morning I arrived on campus at 8am and met with a friend. This afternoon I’m going on a run. Tonight I work and have a study session. See?! Study session tonight for an exam more than a week away! I’m clearly prepared for anything the professor might throw in my general direction. So what else do I have to do today besides checking my Facebook and enjoying a variety of videos on Youtube?

Time wasting? Procrastinating? No.

These social media sites are far from addictive time wasters. They are:

Educational. For example, as a young woman with many friends of the male persuasion I was shown this video only an hour ago. It’s not for the squeamish or those disturbed by dark humour. It’s the story of an eagle attacking a goat twice its size. But please, enjoy. If you need a biologically educational study break–which I had earned after an hour of socializing and complaining about my paper–here’s the video for you!

Communicative. Please enjoy the recent status update on my Facebook:

Informative. The Denver Channel informed me via Facebook that the Charger’s Linebacker Junior Seau has died after being shot in his San Diego home. Police are starting an investigation. Also, let’s be honest. You’re getting an update on my life from this post. Clearly this other use of social media (blogging) is informative. Who doesn’t want to know what’s happening in the life of Sara B— at 1.58PM Wednesday the 2nd of May 2012 AD? That’s right. No one. Because everyone wants to know.

Formational. One name: S. M. Lockridge. I got chills listening to this man in my Church History class yesterday. I kid you not. I had goosebumps from a cassette tape that warbled the great man’s voice. Watch it: That’s My King. Be transformed.

Deceptive. Finally, I’ll admit. Youtube and Facebook are deceptive because they steal away my time before I even realize it’s gone missing. Dangit. I just practiced emotional cutting in surfing through pictures of friends who are engaged, married, pregnant; I’m still single. That’s terrible. Facebook just told me my life was incomplete and that with the right social life it would be vastly  better. It said that I was lacking something other than just Jesus. Youtube promised distraction, but I was reminded, once I hit the pause button, this is real life and it isn’t going away. Crap. Shoot son.

I’ve got finals next week. I’ve got work tonight. I have bills to pay and people to love.

I need to get crackin’.