Who to Be

Yesterday I sat outside, finished reading a book by a theologian whom I love for his work in the patristics while being staunchly Reformed and vaguely Barthian. A friend came over, chatted for awhile beneath brilliant sun at only eight in the morning; sometimes it startles me how Colorado goes from winter to summer in the course of a week. He’s married, this friend of mine, and his wife is one of my favourite women though lately between school and work and life we’ve hardly spoken more than two sentences. Squinting at me as I talked about camping, Romans and Corinthians he said to me,

“in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

I nodded, head bobbing up and down in natural agreement. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I like the sound of that, I have control to be the kind of wife and person I want to be. Today, I want to sweet and gentle and tomorrow I’ll be kind and gracious. The thought of control evokes something deep in me, a longing in my soul for consistency, foresight and independence.

This morning, I climbed into the land cruiser that still shudders while idling and I felt a surge of frustration. Home is a mess and I’ve an exam this afternoon for which I’m hardly prepared amid everything else in life. In the short lived cool of the morning I was hot and upset. Ethan asked me what was wrong, as he always does when he can sense that I’m on edge, when he reads me like an open book.

I heard those words from yesterday’s sunny conversation, “in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

Today, I wanted to be strong, sure and content. So I lied through my teeth; said everything was fine and settled into the old fabric seat of our twenty six year old car that Ethan will always call a truck. By the end of the five minute ride, I had nearly exploded.

It isn’t about me choosing and forcing myself into prescribed mold of who I want to be in marriage, in life, in work or school. My friend was right, he was wise and spoke a bit of truth over me. But like dealing with the patristic notion of deification, one needs certain nuances.

I will be content and strong and sometimes I will even be sure of myself and what life holds. But that does not come from me choosing and then creating such a state of existence within myself. It is choosing who I want to be: a woman who follows Christ, who loves him and trusts him, who gives space to the Holy Spirit to conform and restore? Or something of my own making?

The beauty of the Incarnation is that God took on flesh and saved us by uniting humanity with deity, by making holy that which was sadly warped and twisted. The beauty of justification is that we are given a new identity, declared righteous and put in right standing with God.

The question now is whether or not we choose to grow into who we already are, and submit to the will of the Holy Spirit, the one who changes us into who we, in our deepest hearts, want to be?

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Turxting

Because last week was long and hard and exhausting,

because sometimes we just need a little laughter,

I’d like to introduce you to texting (or turxting) conversations between Ethan and myself (hope you’ve seen Castaway):

S: …I’m asking if there’s a way for us to know what’s going on at the meeting and vote by proxy. I also affirmed we’re committed, sound ok?

E: We are committed

S: Great. Sending the email.

E: message in a bottle

S: I cc’ed you. It is floating your way.

E: WILSON!!!!!!

S: poor tom hanks.
S: I hope you know I just blogged that.

Easter Monday

Yesterday we worked. We went to work, and then we went to friend’s for lunch to celebrate a resurrection we’ve heard about hundreds of times. So, how does one — after growing up in the church — make the resurrection new each year? This is always the problem for me. Easter is a holiday that I don’t dislike but I don’t love. It is full of pastels like pink and purple, frilly dresses and deviled eggs. Yesterday I wore chacos with my jeans and we went for a long walk after a lunch of lamb, parsnips and yorkshire puddings.

But yesterday was full of sweet gifts: hospitality, warmth, hope, friendship and sunshine.slane ruins

See, Jesus dies and takes all the sins of the world on him. But something else, something slightly different happens when we light the Paschal fire at church and whisper on the eve of Easter here that He has already risen there.

  
The Paschal fire at our little church burns the thanks and prayers we bring to Holy Saturday and the broken day between Friday Good and Easter Morn. And we watch life be rekindled, stand in swirling smoke that raises voices to heaven like a pleasant sound and aroma to Him. We stand with each other, huddled against the wind coming over the mountains and we are resurrected to new life already and together.

It’s something about community and the call of the church. Perhaps this comes with Pentecost in a fuller way: the Holy Spirit indwelling where he had only once rested upon momentarily. But it starts here: with Jesus come back to life, calming their hearts and restoring to them the reason they had come together to follow in the first place.

So the celebration the next day — after work that drains and saps life because the curse has not yet been stamped out — that celebratory lunch over lamb and vegetables from the hopeful ground restores community, hope for tomorrow’s work and fellowship. And these moments: watching the sunset from a warm front porch, laughing and shouting over a boardgame and cheering to new life in Christ: these are the moments that make Easter beautiful and make Monday bearable as we return to the drudge of a world that is still being redeemed.

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photo is of the ruins at Hill of Slane. Copyright belongs to Wikipedia.

WHY: singleness, dating and sanctification

Well, well, everyone said with a smirk when we told them, and finally! with sighs of happy exasperation.

It’s been nearly a year since I finally came around and told Ethan I had feelings for him – and had had them for ages. He grinned, like a silly school boy who’s just been told that the girl of his dreams will go to prom with him. And then he recovered slightly, shrugged, said he’d known for a long time, and hugged me like I was a long lost friend.

Dating has been interesting. It’s pushed me through a lot with counseling, helped drudge up and heal things I’d forgotten were buried beneath layers of hopeful disregard. It’s been strange to discover needs and dependence – something I always let other people have and refused to find in myself. I’ve found encouragement, grace and confidence in myself – that I am loved, and will be loved. That I am in fact liked. I rediscovered womanhood, pulled down the walls of achievement and discarded the mantra that as a woman I have to do things twice as well to gain half as much recognition. Instead, my femininity became a gift and not a burden, something to celebrated and not battled.

But it has not been easy. We were both so independent, so used to our own lives and schedules. Perhaps most of all, we were neither of us prepared for the terror of needing someone else when our defense has always been to simply walk away. We still do it sometimes, me just last week. I slammed a door, stormed up to my apartment and then cried while I searched for supplies to make a lonely dinner. I’d barely stuck my head in the fridge for the third time when a fist pounded on my door and I realized I didn’t want to be alone or argue, just wanted to hug, make up and cry. I used to think I was the self-made-woman who everyone wanted to be friends with for her intelligence and skills. Looking into Ethan’s eyes that night I saw that version of myself crumble and I relearned that I need him and I need God and the self-made-man is an American myth of faulty independence. I relearn that every. single. day.

Last year, a friend of mine said marriage was hard because it was like looking into a mirror of his own selfishness every day. He said he could feel it claw up from somewhere inside him, sin and contempt, frustration over nothing, selfish angst over everything. He warned me, “you don’t know how easy you have it, being single.” I laughed, because in a way I knew how easy my singleness was, I knew because all my married friends were saying the same thing.

Today, E picked me up for work. He was late, so I was late, I stumbled in after the provost and hurried to a health screening, and I was seething while I cheerfully made small talk with superiors as we filled out paperwork. It’s not fair, my head was screaming, that he gets free use of my car and I am late to work nearly every day. The little child that personifies my selfishness was stamping her foot, arms crossed over chest and sticking out her lower lip. It just isn’t fair.

But, you see, it is actually quite fair – this give and take and compromise and frustrations that force growth. It is quite fair to be faced with my selfishness, my greed, my self absorption and unwillingness to budge on just about anything. I’m the sun in this little universe, but slowly I’m being deflated and pushed back to rightful position of tiny star orbited by nothing. It is quite fair, this learning to give up and putting sin to death. Because this is the beauty of relationship after the fall. He’s my best friend and there’s much good in that. I’m my own worst enemy and he mirrors that, he quietly, patiently, stubbornly forces me to grow. Marriage is sanctification, and dating is getting close to that refining fire.

So, to my single friends who lamented the holiday of love last week…you have it easy, in one way (one for which I’m often jealous). Don’t long for dating, don’t long for marriage as an answer to prayers and a fairy tale ending. Long for it as a chance to grow, to learn what it really means to love in spite of canceled dates, tight budgets, missed signals and reordered dreams. Long for the chance to be sanctified, to be continually reminded of the cross and redemption, of sin and futility in human nature. Because if we aren’t open to that chance of glorifying God by loving unconditionally even when things are hard – well, I don’t think we’ll make it far because we won’t have understood marriage and relationships in the first place.

Day One

It’s freezing in this room. I sit under a blanket and the space heater’s light blinks merrily as if to say he’s still pushing out warmth from between his panels of radiator style heating but I’m doubtful. E has gone of to a local pub with a dear friend, a man of fly fishing, wild mushrooms and family. He’s a man that E has learned a lot from, a man with a good strong wife whom I simply can’t get enough of. But I’m at E’s, finishing the last of six laundry loads, reading homework for class which hasn’t even started and freezing beneath the blanket I knit many years ago.

The New Year dawned bright this morning, despite stubborn clouds that failed to bring us snow as we rang in midnight and said goodbye to 2012. Today, Ethan sat at home and did paperwork, receipting, cataloguing business expenses and other end of year tasks. We made soup, did laundry, sorted, read, talked and cried.

2013.

What’s the year to be?

2012, someday I’ll write about it, I know my absence from the blog was long and abrupt. It was a hard finish to the year, missing family, crying for lost children, fighting the continuous battle for hope and joy amid a world that sometimes seems bent on pain and sorrow.

I don’t have new years resolutions–I’ve learned better than to do that at this point. But with the year ending on such a note of anxiety in my personal life and indeed in the world at large, I texted one goal to a friend: the same one I’ve pursued through months of prayer, counsel and late nights with E.

On this first day of 2013 I have decided to go forward in confidence and hope: God has given me so much and I am choosing to hold onto the peace of Christ that is sometimes harder to grasp than the fear I’m so well acquainted with.

Ethan’s laptop has played Celtic tunes all afternoon while I’ve read, cleaned and fought the battle for hope in my mind and heart.There’s a fiddle playing alongside a pipe and an instrument I can’t quite pick out. It’s full of cheer and hope. It encourages my soul even as I’ve told E that sometimes I don’t believe He has a plan to give us a future without harm but rather one with hope and prosperity. He hugged me at the door tonight, kissed my forehead and smiled with confidence. “He loves you,” were his words as he squeezed my arm.

The sweet simple words, the soft reminder.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [wildly out of context, but ever still the truth]

 

Holiday Week Mondays

It’s Monday in the office and despite the fact that two of my coworkers were here around 730am, you can tell that none of us want to be here. My eyes won’t stop watering, Lisa practically limps to and from the printer as if her feet are deadened to the world with sleepy Monday blues and Jessica came in half an hour later than normal. We have a lot to do. I’ve a project to finish before the end of the month, the advent devotional should be coming out, there’s an appeal to be written and mailed and a lunch to plan, and a thousand envelopes to stuff. But the boss is on a flight back from Chicago and no one wants to be here.

One of my high school girls is working on Thursday–all day. I told her I’d come visit between my first Turkey Trot and dinner with friends. She’s at a retail store that is open all day Thursday and all night into Black Friday. I was in shock when she told me about it and then I almost cried. What’s wrong, America? Why are we working on holidays to allow people to get more in debt with stuff they don’t need? My girl should be with her family, eating too much food and reminiscing about holidays past or running a turkey trot with the youth group; not at work selling clothes and shoes.

In something I recently edited a writer noted that we should be working for “kingdom change” in our every day lives as parents, employees, leaders, couples and students. It’s a rough Monday. It’s 10am and the most monumental thing I’ve done is update a single website and turn in my time sheet. It’s a holiday week and no one wants to be here–I’d rather be buying sweet potatoes, baking biscotti and enjoying a run or some OT work. What would it be like to work on the most momentous of family holidays?

I’ve been wondering, if I was the manager at that store, would I buy everyone lunch? Invite them over for a late night Turkey Dinner? Would I tell them all to call in sick, so I could lock the doors and apologize to the corporation for apparent widespread illness? Would that be the kingdom, breaking in, standing against the status quo and authority? Would I refuse to schedule anyone at all and take the hit for believing that family and rest are more important than profit? Would that be counter-cultural and civilly disobedient in a way that Jesus might have appreciated: to value people more than money?

I don’t know that I have such courage but….it’s something worth pondering.

In the meantime, I’ll be picking up my high schooler for her half hour lunch and buying her something to eat to make the day a bit tolerable.

Afternoons

E is sleeping on my futon. He rolled over twenty minutes ago, gave me a little grin as he tucked a pillow between the crook of his plaid covered a rim and his shaggy dark hair. He smiled teasingly and then closed his eyes. A moment later, he was asleep. I wish I could fall asleep like that.

I can smell chicken in the crockpot, and I’m counting down the minutes before I stick it in the oven and roast it so the skin turns brown and crisp. We have Mormon missionaries coming for dinner and I cook so rarely for others that I want things to be perfect. I look around at my apartment as I type that and sigh. This wreck is not going to be perfect.I had chest pains a few minutes ago. Nothing severe. But sharp enough that it forced me to break from my paper which is due tomorrow morning in my first class. I looked at the leaves outside, the orange, red, limey yellow and hunter green that stand defiant of waning daylight and cold night winds. I thought, what if the chest pains meant something? Something more than anxiety? I glanced at E, still sleeping on the futon, despite the sound of lumbering trucks on our busy street and the folks that take a four-thirty smoking venture every day below my window.

I thought, there are more important things than papers and grades and fear. We’re hoping for the future, him and I. We talk about the UK, about NT Wright and Michael Bird. We use acronyms like PhD, MATh and MB. But there are still more important things than dreams and futures and hopes I’m never quite sure will come to pass.

There is here.

And there is now.

And that is what’s most important.

WHY: No Facebook

I deactivated FB last night. Why? Well, first off, because I was on FB during one of my favourite classes.

Okay, granted. I’ve written three papers in the past week, worked a youth conference, and prepared a presentation for tomorrow. I’m a little brain-frazzled. And to most people, source criticism in the OT isn’t the most exciting topic (unless you’re me, then you love it). So it might seem excusable to be on FB during a three hour night class in which we aren’t allowed to have food… and of course, that wasn’t all there was to it.

Last night is symptomatic of another issue. I’ve been on FB a lot lately. I check it before going to bed at night, before class in the morning, on lunch and class breaks–I’m on there all the time.

It wouldn’t be such an issue if it was a diversionary activity. I can shut off my internet when working on a paper and that usually helps. I set goals like: finish this page and then check FB. That’s manageable. So it wasn’t only the time issue, though that certainly played into it all.

It was this:

the other night, a “story” came up on my “newsfeed.” For the non-FB people out there, a newsfeed is where updates appear from all of your friends. This story sparked a lot of anger quite suddenly and a good deal of jealousy and sadness as well. It was amazing how quickly and how intensely the emotions came. I don’t usually have much in the way of engaging emotions, hence, feeling something so intensely and suddenly was a startling experience.

I had to close my computer in order to tear my mind and heart from the invading feelings. It was overwhelming, the the depth of what I was feeling: injustice, ingratitude, sorrow, disappointment, failure, incompetency, anger and self righteousness all wrapped up in a whole lot of self loathing.

And I realized that I would never have felt those things if I hadn’t seen that story on my newsfeed. Which made me realize something I’d been thinking in the back of my mind without actually engaging:

FB causes me a lot of discontentment. Sometimes that’s in my relationship with E as I watch other friends get married, display flowers that their man brought home for them, or talk about how amazing their significant other is. It goes in reverse as well when I feel ungrateful for not pouring out my thanks to E all over the internet. Or I feel incompetent because I haven’t made us a five course meal this week with cloth napkins followed by desert which is, obviously, homemade ice cream and chocolate sauce from chocolate that is 80% cacao and totally organic-fair-trade-shade-grown-cacao-from-a-small-village-committed-to-sustainability. Whew! Is anyone else exhausted?

I feel jealous about friends who are overseas serving where I used to think God was calling me. I am discouraged by friends who seem smarter, and feel inadequate when friends post very spiritual things as their statuses–why don’t I love Jesus like that?

I realized I already have enough of a struggle comparing myself to others. I didn’t need another avenue for that temptation to plague me. So, in class, after scribbling notes about camels in the Ancient Near East, I logged on and deactivated.

I’ve already tried to check it several times, only to be reminded of my choice last night. But over all, I feel a bit less distracted, and a bit more at peace. Who knows? Maybe this abstinence from social media will stick.

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.

________
*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.

Timing

E and I at the Bluegrass Festival in Telluride

Today while spending time in a coffee shop where I used to spend entire days, I ran into a girl I’ve known since high school. I was jealous of her then, and to be honest, some of that jealous flared up again when I saw her this afternoon. It would seem I will often struggle with the same sins even years after they have begun.

But that girl is wonderful, and I’ve learned that in time. She works at the coffee shop so we didn’t talk long but she asked if I’d seen E lately. “He was my favourite person to work with!” she exclaimed and announced her disappointment that upon returning from six or seven months out of the country he had quit and moved to a different job. I smiled a little, the crooked smile that has hesitancy amid the cheer. “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him, we’re dating.”

“I knew it!” she practically shouted and sat down a chair just a little too hard in her excitement.

“Yeah, that’s what most people say–”

“I always used to ask him–”

“Or people are like, ‘took you long enough!'” And we laughed because it did take a long time for us to move from friends, to best friends, to dating and who knows where that will turn. But then she said something I hadn’t considered.

“Sometimes, it’s better that way. Taking a long time.”

So often we (or I) have looked at the long friendship between myself and E as a period of waiting and turmoil on my part. It’s as though it is my fault. E would never say that. He was patient and didn’t mind the time, though I think there were periods of exasperation when I lamented singleness and he stood by, waiting, hoping, trying to snap off the blinders that I wore. But as my friend pointed out this afternoon, it isn’t a question of “fault” as though I had “problems” that I needed to overcome before we could date. Some of that is true, but that is not the truth.

The truth is, we waited  because both of us felt that God wanted us to. I didn’t know my heart for a long while. He knew his but he knew it wasn’t the right timing–even if I had known my true feelings sooner. We took out time, we were friends and we prayed about what God was doing. When it came time for us to move forward, it was pretty clear.

I don’t know why it took so long, and I don’t think I need to. God has his reasons, some we will discover and others will always be a mystery. What matters is that we are moving, carefully, confidently and always prayerfully. God will reveal himself and his plans in his time–we just get to enjoy the ride.