tea bags and trust

the other day while reading before class I threw out a tea bag without using it twice. this is unheard of for me.

I threw it into the bag of trash waiting by the door to be taken out and I said to myself, “you are going to stop obsessing over money and ish and start trusting God to provide, and that includes tea bags.”

baby steps.

WHY: my mentor

CJ is my mentor, both literally (for school) and honestly (she is God’s heart to me). I wish I could number all the reasons why she’s a gift from God in the wake of G&J moving south.

Yesterday, at our weekly “meeting” which is usually a walk or a lounge in a new coffee shop, I told her all the things i have to do for next week: two papers, a presentation and a devotional for my office (sort of). I also work at a conference this weekend for high school girls. And next weekend I have the Fall Retreat for my own youth group…. Needless to say, I was expressing some stress.

We talked about E and all my consistent emotional confusion there (some day I will explain this more fully). I said I was so busy and preoccupied with school that I didn’t mind the fact that he was stuck in the mountains though I did want to see him in a distant sort of way.

And then she asked what I was going to write for the Christmas Devotional that goes out to staff, board members, donors, alumni, etc. I recited a couple of basic ideas: kingdom, Mary, in breaking of God’s reality to ours, advent as waiting, maybe something about my high school girls. She looked at me with the half grin that always says she’s going to call bull on something I’ve said. And with her one cheek puckered up into her bright blue eyes, she said through the lower half of her sideways smile,

“can I just be honest and say, all those things are easy? too easy.”

“well, I’ve thought about writing something more personal but I don’t know how to narrow it down. I don’t know how to write about my own stuff.”

She leaned forward and said, with hands clasped together in anticipation, “what does Jesus coming mean to you?”

I didn’t even have to push down the normal backlash against such postmodern language. The answer came immediately. My eyes welled up with tears as I sort of shrugged and said, “hope. hope that things will… get better. that someday I’ll be whole again. and lots of stuff. but hope.”

CJ settled back into her chair with a nod.

“then that’s what you write about.”

WHY: nothing

Today, I have absolutely nothing left. I told a friend at school that I’m stressed already this semester and he responded quite bluntly by telling me I’m just a stressed individual. He said it was good because it motivates me to get things done. Perhaps. Maybe I am a stressed person. I take on too much, I don’t know how to relax.

Either way, it’s been a long week (and it’s only Wednesday) I’ve spent most of today on the verge of tears (big deal for ms. strong-no-problems-ever), I’m behind in two classes, I can’t seem to get a grip on my emotions or anxiety and I just really wish I could see E and have him put his arms around me, telling me to stop doing homework and reminding me to just sit and enjoy not only his presence but God’s.

Moments like this are frustrating and disappointing. I’m not supposed to be this weak, easily defeated person. I’m supposed to be strong! I know Jesus, I should always be satisfied! I have a great and powerful Abba who cares for me, so I shouldn’t worry or be anxious about anything but should cast my cares on him!

Instead, I feel lonely despite sitting with friends in class, tempted to turn my affections on all the wrong things and completely exhausted and overwhelmed.

But I am learning, that in moments like these, I’m not the only one who struggles and that God doesn’t seem to mind. He just comes alongside and reminds me to rest in Him and then to speak truth to my soul. So I do. It isn’t always immediate relief. But it seems to help. Because in moments like these, I have to fight to turn my attention off myself and onto the One who settles all things and will bring it together for good.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God. {Ps 42}

High School

On Wednesday night I went back to high school. I’ve done that a few times since graduating. I once went and visited an old teacher, actually lectured in her classroom about Sudan and Darfur. I’ve been to a couple choir concerts at my old school and I think I walked the halls once just to reminisce. That was a bizarre experience I don’t care to repeat–mostly  because high school itself was a bizarre experience. It was full of laughter and chaos. There were mission trips, retreats and friendships that I thought would last forever. But there were some rough low times of displacement, misunderstanding and serious pain. It was a confusing adventure. When I graduated, I swore I was never coming back. Not to high school, not to Littleton, not even to Colorado. I applied only to out of state universities and I had a plan for leaving the country.

Ironically, I’m back in Colorado, attending the only grad school program I applied to when I put my sights on those three little letters: P.h.D.

And, on Wednesday, I went back to high school.

Youth Group.

I was terrified. I had two presentations at school that day, in front of peers and many lettered professors. But nothing prepared me for the moment I entered the parking lot of my old church and realized what I had committed to. There were girls in denim shorts putting face paint on to match their tyedye shirts.* The boys were taller than me and everyone had more make up on than I’ve owned in my entire life. I was wearing chacos and a sweater; I’m very Coloradoan in that I wear chacos with everything, regardless of matching.

I could tell you about the entire night: the amazing scavenger hunt, the fact that I indirectly encouraged cheating,** or that I had two girls hug me before the night was over. But what I really want to tell you isn’t that my team won or that I somehow ended up on leadership for the “cool group,” with the one person that I worried about being on staff with.*** What I want to tell you is that as I watched those kids running around like madmen scavenging pop tart flavors for their lives, and as I watched some of them hang back for a wide variety of all too obvious reasons, I knew that this is where I was supposed to be. I never dreamed of serving at youth group. But not only did I come out of Wednesday night alive, I came out filled with energy and thrilled at the prospect of this school year.

I’m terrified still. But I’m also really excited to love some girls, give them big hugs every week and tell them that Abba loves them more than we could ever imagine. I’m excited for their stories, their redemption, their dreams and their futures. And I’m really excited that for a short time, I get to be a part of their lives.

hopefully, I don’t encourage too much cheating…

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*the first night is a kick-off with colour coded teams and an immense scavenger hunt through the city
**of course I encouraged cheating! when one student looked wary of how they were getting through the obstacle course I pointed out that the judge hadn’t specifically said they couldn’t do what they were doing, so it couldn’t really be wrong. I just wanted us to win!! (and the youth group pastor’s wife smiled teasingly as she said “I like the way you think!”)
***it will be a good lesson in patience and growth to work with said individual. I’m actually excited about the chance to serve with them and eventually even grow to love them. apparently, I’m not just at youth group to work with kids. I’m also there to get some work done myself.

WHY: Married Couples

Before I started dating E, I hung out with a lot of married couples. Some might call this masochism, others might consider it purely inevitable since I attend a seminary where 60 or 70 percent of the population is married. Maybe I simply missed married folks and family life since I had left G&J’s last summer. Or perhaps it’s because I was desperate for good cooking and free meals.

The truth is, I did it on purpose, so option (b) definitely doesn’t hold up. There were plenty of singles at my church and in my social circles at school. But if I could choose who I would spend the majority of my time with, it’d definitely be married couples. New or experienced, I love hanging out with married folks.

The younger married couples in my life, such as N&L are sweet and fun. They are also working out a lot of their ish as they’ve only just passed their first year anniversary. They argue, they cry, they fail to meet each other needs, they fail to even know what those needs are! But they pick themselves up and they keep on moving forward. I love N&L as they are so honest about their struggles in adjusting to married life. It reminded me that I didn’t have to be perfect and I should expect some amount of struggle and adjustment whenever I started dating someone. Now that I’m with E, I love hearing their stories even more because I am encouraged that our arguments are not unhealthy or abnormal. In fact, we probably fight less then most of our married friends–though, that’s because we don’t live together and I don’t have to clean up after him every single day.*

I also love my  more intermediate friends. These are people like J&K who have been married for a couple of years and are past that first stage of adjustment. They recognize that some things are disappointing but that those things are just “life” especially given the stage we are in–things like having opposite class and work schedules and not always being on the same page about life’s little details. There are also couples like A&J who have a few kids and are on the next stage: parenting. They have made it past the hurdles of one another’s sin and have ventured into bringing more depravity into their home: children!! They are full of wisdom about loving each other and learning what it means to hand that love over to easily shaped minds and hearts. I love watching them work with each other–or try to–and I enjoy learning how they serve one another in the midst of family life. It’s a real encouragement to me and a huge challenge as I’m dating E. I am so selfish, I realize, and it is hard to put myself aside for one man whom I dearly appreciate. Watching men and women do that with their spouses and their children is even more powerful. It’s a witness to the Gospel, that we can love one another like that.

The last group are the more experienced folk. People like G&J who exude wisdom with everything they do. Even simple FB updates and texts contain those nuggets. And I don’t mean just cheesy simplistic stuff. I mean, these people are so full of wisdom and experience, love and hope that it just pours out no matter what they say or do. You can almost feel it when you walk into their house. It’s like Narnia when Aslan was on the move: you can feel the difference in the air. This group also includes older couples whose kids are grown and they’ve made it past the last long jump–living with each other (again). They still love and care for one another, more deeply perhaps, after all they’ve walked through together. I think that’s amazing. Love and longevity have never seemed to go together for me…doesn’t it end eventually? Being with these people while I was single was an encouragement that it could happen someday. Now that E and I are dating, it’s more a question of how does one make it happen? We know it’s possible, so how do we do it?

You don’t learn that kind of stuff from single folks. There are good things to learn from them. We remember how to have fun, that marriage isn’t the end game, that God can use anyone, that there is a healthy element to singleness. But there’s this weighty joy when I’m with married couples–even if I’m with them all by myself.

So it isn’t just coincidence or accident that I skimped on a paper due today in order to talk with a friend about him and his wife. It’s not because I’m nostalgic for when that happens to me or that I couldn’t have other friends. It’s because married folks are great. And I think every single person should have four or five couples in their life that they respect and look up to. Maybe if we loved married couples who are healthy and learned to emulate them even while we’re single…maybe we’d have fewer divorces. But that’s a big maybe. Which is for a much longer (and not forthcoming) post.

For now, thanks to N&L, J&K, M&R, K&I, S&D, J&G, A&J, P&J and many many more.

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*I suppose this could go both ways. But I’m a neat freak, so it’s probably more like… he doesn’t have to untidy anything to make it feel like he’s not living in a hospital every single day.

Jam Packed Weekends

Last weekend I camped with E and friends from church and then I moved from one side of town to the other. Let’s just say, I didn’t get much homework done and I’m pretty exhausted.

But it was all very worthwhile.

The camping trip was absolutely perfect. E and I arrived early since my classes ended in the morning and he can take off work. We set up a massive tent (the Grand Lodge by Jeep), took logs from nearby campsite, chopped wood and settled in with books around the fire. When the family joining us finally arrived E was taking a nap and I had only struggled through 50 pages of my philosophy homework.

Their dog, Jeremiah, shot out of the car and into the trees, thrilled by the crisp air and the whistling winds above us. Every stump help a new smell, each little path a new adventure. The children followed suit as soon as they were released from their carseats. T and little A stumbled around, weary from the drive and overwhelmed at the sights. O had to be held, cranky and teething but full of wide eyed wonder.

That night, after the children had been put down, E and I enjoyed some time with our friends. We savoured s’mores made with nutella instead of chocolate and talked about culture, religion and the mess in between.

This couple is about ten years older than us and they are full of wisdom and grace. The weekend, especially the evening without kids, was so encouraging for E and I. That isn’t, of course, why we invited them. We actually wanted to get J to try camping since she hasn’t gone in years and was a little worried the entire time. We don’t go camping by ourselves anymore, and we thought that J and her husband would be great fun to have along.

But in our conversations it was a real privilege to hear J’s heart while E talked with A about work, fishing and church. I love having more insight to someone who I look up to and who has so many qualities that I hope to one day exhibit. She was sweet and honest and I appreciated hearing more of her story. I was surprised at how similar we are in several areas and God used her to remind me that I’m not the only one who struggles in walking the faith or living the life we’re given this side of Heaven.

It might have been easier to move on Saturday and had the weekend to unpack, finish homework and find time to breath in the midst of the city’s chaos.

But it was better to find that chance of rest in the mountains with wise friends who could encourage and challenge us by just being themselves.

WHY: Hard is Good

This week I had to write my first (short) paper for a theology class. It was pretty great, but pretty intense. I’ve read 200 pages of a massive philosophy book on the Doctrine of God and I had to expound on a theme from those pages and then explain why it was important for an aspect of the Christian life.

The paper itself wasn’t overly difficult. I sat outside under a warm blue sky where the clouds glowed such a brilliant silvery white that you could hardly look at them. Mambo and D stopped by which provided a good amount of laughter and ended with an unexpected dinner that I hadn’t provided for myself. I wrote about immanence and transcendence–the topic I’ve always scribbled about in Eastern Orthodox classes. And even as the headache settled in due to serious concentration on not enough coffee, I thought, it’s such a privilege to study here. It’s so great to be challenged by Hegel, Altizer and Hick. I love that my mind is sometimes stretched and twisted while I wrestle through philosophy and theology. Because the mind is a gift to be enjoyed and a tool to be sharpened and I’m so blessed to have a chance to do both.

Especially on warm September days, with boys playing futbol and yelling in spanish while children scream past on bicycles and I dream about a kitchen with unopened boxes and a room with a view.