Monday, December 26, 2011

A Future not our Own

It's M again. W has been very bad about updating this lately... Since I'm with her now on Christmas vacation, I will be sure to give her some grief about it and hopefully she'll reemerge! haha

This will be a short one.

I have had the pleasure and privilege over the last couple of months to be invited to participate in a "mentorship group" through Buckhead Church. The group consists of 10 women (all who are leaders of single women's Bible studies) and our leader, who is all of our groups director - the woman on staff with the church who is in charge of equipping us as leaders. We've been meeting once a month and going through two different books, as well as sharing our joys and our challenges, holding each other accountable, and just getting to know each other better. It's been such a blessing to have fellowship with other leaders and to spend increased time with so many beautiful women of God!

After our last meeting, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems. We were discussing the difficulty of sometimes feeling like we all are responsible for saving others... our friends, our families, our Bible study members. I love reading these words (of someone far wiser than me - Arch Bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador) and remembering that God is in control... and that I'm not failing at God's work if I don't immediately see the fruit of my own labors. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do, and take a minute to think and pray over the seeds that you have planted in others' lives.

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it well.
It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Marriage is Hard and other Tidbits

It's W here, obviously. Just giving some tidbits about marriage now that we're about 5 months in-- we're practically experts at this point, ha! Not really, but I do think I've learned a lot about relationships, compromise, patience, and God's design for our lives through our marriage so far. Here are the top five things I've learned:

1. Marriage can be hard. So, pretty much everyone says this. And I was like, "okay well yeah I'm sure it is but we love each other and God brought us together and blah, blah, blah." But really, it is hard. It's hard to put another person's needs before you own, and it's hard to compromise when we're inherently selfish, and it's hard to give up the dreams and plans for your life that may not reconcile with the reality of your life now that you've melded it with another life. That said, it's hard in the way that exercising can be hard. It pushes you, and exhausts you, and forces you to reach beyond yourself for strength. This is the kind of "hard" that makes you a better person, with a stronger faith, and a more compassionate outlook. This is the kind if "hard" that makes me understand why God's vision for marriage is to make us holier, and not necessarily happier.

2. Marriage can be hilarious. So, T and I can be pretty funny. This has been exacerbated since we got married and have been living together. It's incredible to have someone who can share all sort of inside jokes and secret strange behaviors. It's like having a roommate who is also your best friend who understands the intricacies of what makes you convulse with laughter but ten times better. M noticed this trend when she visited us this past week...we've gotten funnier. Well, maybe just quirkier and it seems funnier to people. I don't know, but there's something about having the space and grace to really be yourself that brings out the ridiculousness in us.

3. Men are often beyond comprehension. Okay, so in reality this is probably more like "T's actions are often beyond MY comprehension," but I would bet that most wives would agree. Men seem to just think differently from women. This is probably a good thing-- it creates kind of a "checks and balances" system in the relationship that prevents me from adopting 5 dogs and T from drilling a hole in our refrigerator and turning it into "The Kegerator." (He's hoping this dream can become a reality in our next home. We'll see). That said, sometimes the way that T thinks just baffles me. I know that he feels the same way about my thought processes. I believe that it is because of this fundamental disparity that both #1 and #2 are true.

4. Married people aren't that different from single people. When I was single, I had this idea that married people were on a different "plane" of some sort. Like, they had entered a protected world that was exclusive to other married people and contained all sort of secrets about life and adulthood and relationships. Now that I'm married, I don't necessarily think that is true. I don't get along any better with other married people then I do single people. I don't claim, (outside of this particular blog post, ha!) to have any greater knowledge of life or love than anyone else, married or not. I still need friends, and sleep, and time alone just like everyone else.

5. No one is ever "ready" to get married. I'm assuming this is sort of the same thought as when people say it's never the "right time" to have a kid. Marriage looks different for everyone, and maybe the biggest lesson I've learned is this: every single married person is simply just winging it, trying their best to hold fast to the vows that they made and learning a day at a time what it means to be a good spouse to their partner. I do think that there are a few necessary qualifiers a person should achieve before marriage-- being able to provide for yourself, having a strong relationship with God, understanding the gravity of the marriage commitment, knowing how to communicate your needs and wants effectively-- but really, if you wait until you think you've found a "perfect person," or you're the "right age," or you feel "really ready" to commit to loving someone for a length of time that is simply incomprehensible on the day you say "I do," you'll never do it. At some point, there is a leap of faith that takes place and you say, to yourself and to your partner, "I'm not really sure how to be a wife, or what it takes to have a good marriage, or how love you for this incomprehensible amount of time, but I promise to try my best now and forever, and I want to figure it out with you and only you by my side."

And those are my thoughts about marriage after 5 months. Maybe I'll check back in after another 5 months and see if I feel the same!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Entitlement: the enemy of gratitude, by M

My small group and I have been talking a lot about entitlements lately. No, not the kind of entitlements that have to do with government spending and the national debt (although that does spark some heated discussion these days, doesn't it?). Instead, we've been discussing those things that we feel entitled to (given by God, country, or perhaps our own hard work)... those things that some may argue that we have a "God-given right" to possess or enjoy. However, the big question lately has been... do we really have a right to these things? Scripturally speaking, at least?

The more we’ve talked and researched, the more I’ve become convinced that we truly have no earthly entitlements if we claim to be in Christ. He has given us the greatest gift – eternal life through his death and resurrection – but truly, we are promised very little other than that. Well, let me take that back… we are promised suffering, persecution, loss, grief, etc. (ha!) It’s easy for us to confuse God’s desire for our joy and peace with a belief that He promises us lives that are happy, comfortable, and easy. While that would be nice, it’s simply not biblically true.

"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

About a year ago, I went through a program at my church called Hope Ministry. It was a life-changing experience that encouraged me to think about my faith through the lens of truth and not emotion or experience. One of the most challenging parts of the Hope Ministry curriculum was a document called “Letting Go of my Rights” – it is simply a long list of all those things that we may feel entitled to, which we honestly are never promised by God. The idea behind the list is that “letting go” of all of these “entitlements” will bring us freedom and help us recognize God’s goodness, independent of whether we ultimately receive any of these things or not.

(I know I’ve shared this with many of you before; feel free to peruse the list below if you’ve never seen this before!)

I let go of my right...
-To be happy -To have an attractive body -To health
-To my possessions -To my time -To comfort
-To my past -To my recreation or activity -To my habits
-To wealth -To my future plans and dreams -To self-sufficiency
-To control-To have consequences follow what I've done -To my satisfaction
-To my significance -To my securities -To prosper
-To strength-To know future outcomes
-To my old ways of getting my needs met
-To getting my way -To my reputation -To success
-To notoriety-To my feelings -To my choices
-To my occupation -To be loved -To know God's will
-To demand anything from God -To life itself -To be used by God
-To escape bad circumstances -To fear -To my opinions
-To my judgments -To my timing -To judge
-To emotional security -To my expectations -To be accepted
-To pleasant circumstances -To be understood -To be married
-To my geographical location -To be thanked or appreciated
-To be acknowledged -To have relationships
-To have a child-To have a happy marriage
-To blame -To be rescued-To tell others what I know
-To rescue another -To be heard-To be needed or wanted
-To meet others' needs -To be right-To have others' approval
-To good finances -To take offense-To have justice done
-To defend -To my entitlements -To be justified

That’s heavy, right? I always find myself having such a strong reaction when I read this list. The reality is that we want these things. Is it wrong to desire a healthy body or a happy marriage? No, it’s not… but we also must realize that we can’t expect all of these things, or feel like we’re owed them.

As I reflect upon Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season, it becomes clear to me that feeling entitled to things… or really, feeling entitled to anything, is the enemy of gratitude. We can choose to believe that God owes us the right to be understood or to have good finances (especially if we believe we’ve been good stewards and made good financial decisions)… or we can believe that we are potentially enjoying these things because He simply wants to bless us abundantly with them for this season. We can choose to feel entitled to our geographical location or to have justice… or we can count them as blessings.

Although this list is tough to swallow, and it’s something I’d rather stash away and not revisit frequently, I’m slowly starting to see the value in really internalizing this truth. I encourage you to go through the list and determine which of these entitlements you cling to with fervor and think about loosening the grip and raising that hand instead in praise to an unbelievably generous Father. I know that’s what I’m trying to do these days.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Selling Chicken for Jesus, by M

When W returned home for the holidays after her first semester of school at Vanderbilt, she said "M, I've learned something... you think you know about the South, but you really don't... not until you live there." Now that I've lived in Atlanta for almost a year and a half, I totally agree with and understand this statement. I'll refrain from elaborating (this time) about what I've learned so far about SEC sports, politics, fried foods, guns, etc... but trust me, it's been a lot and it's been highly intriguing!

One thing that I would like to spend a minute talking about, though, is religion in the south. In my experience, it is a totally different situation than religion in the north. I wish I had a great way of explaining what I think the differences are... I've tried and failed on many occasions to communicate my thoughts on the subject. The best I can do is to say that, generally speaking, (Christian) faith is a cultural thing in the south. Moreover, maybe it's just better to say that a "southern culture" exists... more than a "northern culture" exists. In my experience a "northern culture" is simply the absence or opposite of those things which clearly define "southern culture"... does that make sense? Anyway, most southern people identify with their culture, are proud of their culture, and live and breathe its defining characteristics... which brings me back to Christian faith (and SEC sports, etc).

In many places and with many people down here, it's kind of just understood that most people are real-life practicing Christians. How could you not be with churches literally on every corner?! Faith is just generally more present here. And this intrigues me... I like it. And I'm learning a lot from observing this southern phenomeon, specifically about how to be a better witness to others. I guess you could say that I'm learning from southern culture how to wear my faith a little more on my sleeve.

And now... to the most fascinating case study of this, which I have creatively titled "Selling Chicken for Jesus."

Do all you northern friends know that Chick-fil-A is a seriously Christian institution?! I totally didn't until I moved to Atlanta (home of the CFA national headquarters). Seriously, Chick-fil-A is selling chicken for Jesus non-stop, all day, every day (well... minus Sundays, actually). The company observes the sabbath, has Bible verse(s) all over their corporate office, hires almost exclusively practicing Christian people, is massively philanthropic, and models Christian values and leadership all the way up the (food) chain (ha! I'm so funny!). The more I learn about the company, the more fascinated I am by this incredible example of living, breathing Christianity in a very secular industry. I think we can all learn a lot from some of what they do (and don't do). So, here are some observations about what they do right:

1) They put their financial success in God's hands. Who in any kind of food industry thinks that it's a wise idea to be closed during 50% of the weekend?! That would be NO ONE. Yet, Chick-fil-A remains closed on Sundays because they practice the idea that if we're faithful and obedient to God, He'll credit that faith back to us.

2) They follow the Golden Rule. Do you know that Chick-fil-A employees get free lunch every day? True story. There are thousands of employees at the corporate office and each and every one of them gets whatever they want from a massive cafeteria every single workday for free. Do you know that instead of saying "your welcome" all CFA employees have to instead say "my pleasure"? Chick-fil-A models servant leadership from the top down, and they work hard not just to treat the customer as though s/he is always right, but as though s/he is a valued child of God.

3) They share the fruit of the spirit. I mentioned previously that Chick-fil-A almost exclusively hires real-deal Christians. Seriously. One of the girls in my Bible study last year went through a 5-round interview process just to serve up sandwiches at a store. They are serious about filling their ranks with people who are spirit-led, kind, honest, forgiving, passionate people who are in line with the CFA mission and values.

4) They are "on mission." They want people to know that CFA is down with Jesus. I already mentioned the Bible verses. Some stores give away free sandwiches to customers who show up with a church bulletin. Many stores play instrumental versions of popular Christian songs throughout the store. They live up to their reputation in their actions and words.

I just think all of this is so fascinating! I literally forget that Chick-fil-A is in the business of selling chicken because it seems so much like a ministry to me. But that's the thing... it is a ministry. They don't go around selling fries in the shape of crosses or forcing people to pledge their allegiance to Jesus at the drive-through... but they do a couple of things very well that communicates clearly that their big boss is the man upstairs. The company works hard at fulfilling Paul's charge to us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

That inspires me. If they can sell delicious chicken for the glory of God, I think that I can find a way to glorify God in my secular work environment as well. Maybe it truly is as simple as being faithful, obedient, spirit-led, and missional. Maybe I don't need to hand out crosses either, but simply do my thing as a Christian person unapologetically, and let people see it. Perhaps that's what Christ meant when He said "let you light shine before men"? I'm definitely thinking so...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Old Man Winter...

Life in Chicago (W here) is getting darker, colder, and more gray. It snowed last week. I'm not going to lie... I'm struggling with this. It seems like every single winter I enter a phase of mild depression. I don't know if I believe wholeheartedly in this idea of seasonal affective disorder (also know, ironically/brilliantly/terribly as "S.A.D"), but if it is a true condition, I think I have it.

And part of me thinks...why wouldn't people get depressed in winter? It gets dark at 4:30pm and it's freezing out. Who doesn't think these things are obnoxious? Who isn't happier when the day is full of sunlight and you can feel the warmth on your neck as you walk to work?

Anyway, as the winter is creeping in, and as my mood is consistently more blue, I've been thinking a lot about the common perception in the world of Christianity that mood disorders and mental illnesses are an indicator of sin wreaking havoc in the life of a believer. In one sense, it's easy enough to think that way when many of these mental issues present themselves as extreme fear, lack of hope, worry and anxiety, etc, and the Bible is clear that when we are in Him we should not feel that way. As such, it's easy to say, "If you feel fearful/anxious/hopeless then you must not be spending enough time or are not serious enough with the Lord." In another sense, I can't believe that the majority of Christians are going to argue that chicken pox or the flu or whatever other physical ailment is a result of sin.

Why is it that we can so easily recognize that physical ailment is simply a period of our bodily systems going awry in the face of attack, and not recognize that mental ailment is simply a period of our brain going awry in the face of challenging life circumstances?

It' so easy to tell a hoarder to just "throw that stuff away," or a depressed person to "cheer up," or a phobic person to "get over it."

No one tells a person with a broken leg to "shake it off and move on." Rather, we give that person assistance to heal. We give them painkillers to help them function. We put their leg in a supportive cast. We tell them to go to physical therapy to retrain the muscle. We avoid, in the future, whatever activity caused the injury.

A person with mental illness needs the same assistance. They need a supportive environment to recognize and treat the issue. They go to therapy to retrain the brain how to cope. They may take medication to jump start the brain to start producing hormones like serotonin again. And they avoid, if at all possible, whatever situation caused the injury.

I think that we, as the church, have got to start coming alongside people with mental illness instead of treating them as though they have personally failed because of their disease. We know that an addict is never going to get better unless they have a supportive group surrounding them, yet so often in the church we banish those with "issues" as though their disease is a threat to us and our view of what "saved people" should be like.

Just some thoughts as I read more about mental illness in the church, and through my own experience as I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past and have worked my way through the gamut of thoughts about what that means for my life and my faith. And what I have come down to is basically that those who are struggling need support, not a lecture. They need love, not condemnation. They need treatment in addition to prayer.

And that is how I am approaching my mood as old man winter approaches.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Sin of Self-Rejection, by M

I’m reading a fantastic book right now called Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning. If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you stop what you’re doing IMMEDIATELY and go pick it up. It truly is one of the most insightful and convicting books that I’ve read in a while.

Abba’s Child starts with a long look at the sin of “self-rejection.” As I’ve read, it’s become clear to me that self-rejection is something that I’m quite familiar with; however, I’m not sure that I’ve ever acknowledged it explicitly as sin. Manning describes self-rejection, through the words of Henri Nouwen, as:

 “When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable… Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us ‘beloved’.”

Self-rejection, simply, is refusing to believe that God has made much of us through Christ. It’s self-criticism, self-defeat, and can even be self-hatred. Manning goes on to describe self-rejection as an environment that many of us live in. We simply take it as one of our natural surroundings, just like sunlight or grass. To live in a state of self-rejection feels familiar and normal… it’s all that we’ve grown to know.

This all resonates with me very much. I am admittedly a self-rejector… I can only assume that it often goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism. So I got to thinking about why this self-rejection is so rampant and so powerful in many of our lives. Why is it so difficult for us to accept ourselves? Love ourselves? See ourselves as worthy?

I started thinking about the messaging that we hear that counteracts God’s voice that calls us "Beloved." The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the message of self-rejection is everywhere. We (especially women) are raised on a diet of self-loathing.

If you think that that sounds extreme or melodramatic, I ask you to come up with an example of contemporary rhetoric that builds women up without putting other women down. Seriously. Can you think of one?

Our beliefs are almost always informed by four major social institutions: family, church, education, and media. To choose just one, we all know that the media is not kind to women. I don’t need to write a dissertation here in order to convince anyone of that. The media distorts its representation of womanhood in myriad ways, not limited to underrepresentation, misrepresentation, stereotyping, archetyping, photoshopping, objectification, etc. This is no surprise. We’re either too much of this or not enough of that… we can’t win. Can you even imagine hearing newscasters talk about men the way they talk about women? Can you remotely picture how ridiculous it would be if young men were portrayed in film the same way that young women are treated?

Clearly, media is not solely to blame for all of the world’s problems. However, it intrigues me that we don’t acknowledge its influence more than we do, especially in Christian circles. We realize the danger of letting our kids watch violence or exposing teens to sex-ridden MTV programming, sure. But do we ever take a moment to internalize what mainstream media is telling us, even as adults? Media, of all other institutions, is primarily responsible for constructing what we take as reality. Think about that. At the end of the day, oftentimes without our realizing it, the media define what we believe, what we value, and more importantly, what we take as normal, natural, and right. I spent one of my college degrees studying this, and what absolutely fascinates me is not this phenomenon alone… but how insidious it is. How quick we are to claim immunity and how little we’re actually aware of our participation in it.

Lest you think that you really are immune, I ask you to consider this: why do most Christians tend to think homosexuality is a major sin and remarriage is a minor one (if one at all)? That’s not what the Bible says. It’s what media says.

So here’s the thing… as I continue to think about self-rejection and our subsequent inability to receive Christ’s love, I encourage you to think about who you’re listening to. I encourage you to think critically about the “norms” that the media feeds us about who we are and what we’re worth as women. At the risk of sounding like a charismatic revivalist preacher… I encourage you to recognize that media may be one of Satan’s primary tools against us women. Without wanting to and without realizing it, we eat up lies about ourselves daily. Who else would be feeding these to us?

You know, I don’t really know the answer here. Studies have shown that even people who aren’t TV watchers, internet users, or travelers (can’t forget the impact of billboards) are every bit as susceptible to these beliefs as those who consider themselves regular media consumers. It goes to show that the things media tell us are woven into the fabric of our society…they make up our reality. I suppose the only way to take away its power is to recognize it. Once something is recognized and named, it’s so much easier to fight, right?

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that makes everything visible… Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise.” –Ephesians 5:13-15

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Update, by M

Hey there loyal blog followers!

Sorry to have been MIA for a little bit. It was not my intention, but I've been busy (as usual) and also somewhat distracted (more on that later) recently. I have a post in the works that's about 3/4 completed. I will do my best to finish it up and have it on here this week! I'm excited to share with you all about what I'm learning and mulling over these days!

So, it turns out that my post on single men created quite the firestorm on facebook a few weeks ago! Whew! I wasn't fully anticipating that, but perhaps I should have. I definitely will be more aware in the future of who could get their hands on this thing. I wouldn't be surprised if I have a few more male readers these days as a result... that's kind of fun? It was very interesting to read their feedback. Some of it was constructive and insightful, others were ranging from insensitive to just plain mean. I'm not sure that they were aware that I was reading their comments. Perhaps they were and just didn't care? Anyway, I'm calling it a learning experience and moving on. That said, one guy in particular said something that stung (and boy, he wanted to make it very clear), which was something along the lines of "Wow! I know why this girl is single!"

To him, and the various other friends and family members who read this, I'd like to formally update you all that...

I'm not!

I'm going to try to refrain from sharing much about him or the relationship on here... at least at the moment, as I don't have his explicit consent. However, those of you who are my facebook friends can find out all that you want on him with very minimal digging... help yourselves. =)

I will say this... Many of the men who commented on my article said something along the lines of "this girl will NEVER find someone with expecations like that!" "She is delusional!" "She needs to start looking on eHarmony because no man like this exists in the real world." To that I say... FALSE. I am beyond pleased to report that this new boyfriend of mine exceeds all of my expectations... seriously. He is fantastic - nice, cute, mature, gentlemanly, funny, smart, and (shocker) he has a great idea of how to treat women. One of my small group girls remarked yesterday "Aww, M... he treats you like a princess!" And she's right! So I'm thrilled to report that he exists and that he has blown me away with his awesomeness. Ladies... there's hope!

And that's all I have to say about that! I'm excited!

One more thing: if you're interested, one of my wonderful and favorite friends directed me to the following article today, written by a highly educated and influential pastor, author, and teacher. Lest you think I'm the only one who has been disappointed in many single Christian men, I encourage you to read his thoughts:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thoughts on Forgiveness

It's W again...back with some more deep thinking to cut the lighthearted air surrounding M's latest blog post.

This topic of forgiveness is something I have thought a lot about over the years, because I believe that I held some mistaken views about forgiveness--that is, until I was really challenged to forgive someone who hurt me deeply a few years back. As such, here's a short post of what I have learned about forgiveness in my adult life.

1. Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.

For some reason, I had come to believe, in my youth, that forgiving someone only took one prayer. Imagine my surprise when, after offering a prayer of forgiveness toward someone, I woke up the next morning feeling just as bitter and angry toward them as the day before. "But I forgave them last night! Lord, I told you I want to forgive them! Why do I still feel this way??" This feeling went on for days, weeks...probably months. I didn't realize that often, we as Christians must choose forgiveness day after day. It is not in our nature to let go of our hurts and offer grace to those who have hurt us, and therefore, we must learn how to do it an inch at a time as we look to the Lord for guidance and strength. The journey of forgiveness can be an exhausting one.

2. To forgive does not mean to condone.

I struggled with this for a long time. I constantly felt that by forgiving someone for what they had done, it meant that it was "okay" that they did it. I felt like if I forgave them, it gave them permission to do it again because they "got away with it" without consequences. Not true. Forgiveness instead says "I do not agree with what you have done, but I can separate you from your actions, and I will no longer hold against you the poor choices you may have made." Forgiveness does not necessarily mean letting the person back in your life, or letting the person off the hook for their actions, but rather letting go of the bitterness toward them.

3. Forgiveness is about reconciling yourself to God, not to the person who hurt you.

In my early struggles with forgiveness, I often felt like I couldn't forgive until I received an apology. This system works fine enough until you encounter a situation where an apology isn't given. It is then that you realize that forgiveness is not about "fixing" what's wrong between you and another person, but rather about realizing the depths of grace that you have been given from God, and using that grace to give to the other. If God can forgive me for X,Y, and Z bad choices...over and over and over again...then surely I can look past the faults of others.

4. Part of forgiveness is recognizing that we are not entitled to anything.

It's easy to feel bitter towards someone for "ruining" what we think we are owed, whether that may be a promotion, a great spouse, a healthy child, or anything of the like. However, when we really see ourselves in our true state, we realize that the only thing we "deserve"-- the only thing that we have ever "earned"-- is death from our sins. Everything else that we have is a gift on loan from our Creator. When we view our lives in this light, we stop holding others emotionally hostage for preventing us from getting more, more, more of this or better, better, better at that. As hard as it may be, when we realize that the Lord never promised us a healthy child, we can forgive the doctor who may have made a mistake. When we realize that Lord never promised us an important job, we can forgive the person who fired us to hire someone else. And believe me, I am the WORLD'S WORST at accepting this reality (see previous post about living after the Fall), but I do believe that this is a key to forgiveness.

I wish there was a 5th bullet point, just to round out the list, but there's not. And this, folks, is what I have learned about forgiveness over the last few years.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Single Men and Bad Behavior, by M

I'm going to apologize in advance that, while W's posts have been very deep and meaningful these days, my posts haven't been as much. I suppose that's the beauty of having a co-author, right?

Okay, so I just feel the need to share some of my current thoughts about single men these days. Hint: I am generally displeased with them. Now, I’m going to go on record and say that I’m referring to a very generalized concept of the twenty first century mid-20s to early-30s single man. This is not all men. This is not all single men. This is not even all "twenty first century mid-20s to early-30s single men." I’ve encountered some exceptions… like maybe 5. Haha! However, I’ve encountered dozens of non-exceptions, and thus the generalization was born. Please note that I am (unfortunately) not distinguishing between Christian and non-Christian men, because frankly, I have not noticed a need for such distinction.

I’ve done my fair share of dating various iterations of this man, and I’ve also watched my friends cycle through their own. Ladies… if you haven’t had the pleasure of being single and dating in adulthood (no, high school and college do not count), let me tell you that it is rough. A good man is hard to find.

Here are some of the trademarks of the twenty first century mid-20s to early-30s single man… recognize any of them?

1) He’s into "hanging out"… not asking you out. Hanging out is more casual… it’s less pressure. Hanging out means that he can see you but not prioritize you. Hanging out means that he’s not responsible for planning, paying, or even getting fully dressed. He lets you know when he’s "free" (normally 1.5 hours max before desired "hang out") and just wants to know if you’re free too. The reality is that he’s bored, broke (likely ha!), and not man enough to risk the possible rejection of a real date invite. Not impressive.

2) He’s into texting… not calling. Texting is easy! It’s fast! I can do it while I’m at work! I can do it while on the toilet! Texting takes absolutely no commitment. You can say what you want, when you want, with almost no consequence. You can text multiple people at the same time... you can text while literally on a date with someone else. Texting keeps you from investing your time or your emotion into this person or this relationship. Texting is a poor, poor substitute for real communication, and that's precisely why these men prefer it.

3) He’s into being casual… not exclusive. He comes up with every possible vocabulary word to describe what this "thing" is, with the exception of "relationship" or "girlfriend." You meet this guy and find yourself "dating"… "talking"… "hanging out"… "courting"… "seeing each other"… maybe even "hooking up," but Lord knows that you aren’t in a relationship. He refuses to get attached, be vulnerable, give up his other options, and get serious. If you express concern about this fact, it’s suddenly your fault. Didn’t you know that it’s unreasonable to think you’re the only one? Please.

4) He’s single because he "just hasn’t met the right one." Homeboy lives in some alternate universe where apparently being with "the right one" means never having to compromise, sacrifice, do chores, communicate, be honest, meet her needs, and ride out a rough patch. He’s always looking for the next best thing… because it’s a deal-breaker that this beautiful, smart, kind, God-fearing woman just doesn’t love the Patriots. I mean, how could we ever raise children together if she doesn’t love the PATRIOTS!? He nitpicks and fault-finds to avoid facing the hard reality of his own baggage – namely, immaturity, emotional unavailability, and commitment phobia.

5) He’s too postmodern for chivalry. Didn’t that officially die with feminism? Has this guy ever opened a car door? Doubtful.

6) He’s consistently unsettled and uncommitted. Okay, we’re not even talking about relationships here. Now we’re talking about general life… We’re talking about the life of a real, full-grown adult. He doesn’t settle anywhere and doesn’t commit to anything. He switches careers every 6 months, switches roommates and apartments every year, refuses to make any kind of long-term plan, wants to keep himself "available" at all times. Available for what? For chasing after some boyhood dream of living in Key West and drinking coconut milk all day? For running around after the flavor-of-the-week women he encounters in bars? He spends all of his energy running away from that which distinguishes adults from children: responsibility. And we wonder why the thought of marriage terrifies him?

I am more and more convinced that real, respectable, mature men are a dying breed. And ladies, I regretfully say that I believe we’ve had a hand in killing them off. So many of us (definitely myself included) have grown to accept this bad behavior because we simply lack confidence that we can expect anything else. Isn’t that sad? But really, why should we anticipate different behavior if this is what we see over and over again, day in and day out, one by one with all of our friends? Like I said, it is rough.

One time W said that being engaged is like entering a secret circle of women who are all silently communicating with their shimmering eyes and glittering rings "We did it!" I wouldn’t know, but I think the unspoken victory might also read "We actually found a good one! We seriously, actually found one worthy of us. We win! We win!" That’s cause for celebration in my mind. Ha!

Anyway, my point of all of this was not to depress you, fair readers. But it was to bring all of this to light and say "Are we really going to deal with this any longer?" Are we really going to continue to make excuses for men who are apparently comfortable being immature, maladjusted, weenies? I vote NO. We deserve far, far better.

I’m halfway convinced that once we realize this and start to act like it, maybe some real men will step up their game. I mean, it’s worth a shot, right?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On This Side of Eden

Well friends, it's W here. What is on my mind most presently is the fact that I will be starting a new job soon (!), but I still have about a week and a half until that happens so I suppose I'll write here to distract myself.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be living after the Fall. You know, after the whole "Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit" thing.

This is what it means for me:

I was created to live in a world in which I do not live.

M mentioned this once, and it blew my mind. As such, I've been thinking about it a lot recently. This phrase has actually done a tremendous job in helping to assuage the guilt and self-condemnation that I often feel about not being good enough, or strong enough, or whatever enough. I have to remind myself that my sensitive soul was made to live in perfect communion with God, without the knowledge of anything evil, with eternity at my fingertips and a body and mind free from pain and illness. That is the environment I was MEANT to live in, when the Lord created me in His image and crafted me in His heart before the world even began.

When I remember this, I feel less bad about not being able to "hack it" out here in the fallen world. I no longer feel weak for crying when I'm sad, or cursing when I'm mad, or feeling defeated when I'm frustrated. I may try my best to develop good coping skills (an ongoing effort, ha!), but the final word is that my soul was never meant to bear the pain and brokenness that often surrounds it.

The other side of the coin, for me at least, is then to acknowledge the brokenness and accept it as reality for this life. I have a hard time just realizing and being okay with the fact that FOR SURE my life is going to suck sometimes (many times?) in the future. I hate knowing that I will inevitably get hurt (physically and/or emotionally), that my loves ones are definitely going to die at some point, and that in general, a lot of pain awaits in the future. I mean, that thought is really, really not fun.

But if I don't accept it, then I live in an idealized world where everything should be jolly, and it makes the crash even harder when things inevitably aren't. And if I spend all my time striving for things that are a "sure bet" for goodness and not pain, I will be constantly let down.

Henry Cloud says (...duh!) that we will never have a home here on Earth if we spend all of our time searching for that which only exists in Eden.

You know, that perfect job, and house, and husband, and life. How often do I find myself wanting to leave one thing for the next under the guise that it must be closer to perfect than the last?

I will never have a home on Earth if I spend all of my time searching for that which only exists in Eden.

Such a powerful thought. I think M needs to internalize this reality for her dating life, haha. But really, how does a person just accept that things are going to be bad sometimes, and people will hurt you sometimes, and life will just suck sometimes and be okay with it?

I don't know the answer. I never know the answer at the end of these posts. What I do know is that my hope and joy must lie in the promise that one day I will cross over to Eden itself and be redeemed into the holiness and perfection that my soul was created for and longs for. And until then, it's my job to bring as much goodness as I can into this broken world, to create as much love as I can from the Lord who lives inside me, and to be patient and enduring in the face of challenges.

But it's still no fun being on this side of Eden.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

That girl, by M

I'm back! Sorry about the delay... as W was saying, I have been rather occupied lately with a handful of suitors. HAHA! Really, I've been working overtime, had a few sick days, and okay, maybe one or two suitors. =)

I've really been feeling like my brain is cloudy lately... I don't know what it is. Maybe I need to be journaling, writing, and blogging more to try to clear some of my thoughts out? Who knows. In any case, I haven't been on here because I haven't had many cohesive thoughts to share. I hope that maybe this will turn it around!

Recently, I was thinking about "that girl." You know...that girl. I suppose that "that girl" can mean many things, but in this case I'm referring to the one in Christian circles that terrifies all of the young women who meet her. She's terrifying in that she's so freakin' awesome... and pretty... and single.

Okay, you know exactly who I'm talking about. She's on every campus on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (or should I say "Cru"?!). She leads YoungLife for high school students. She mentors young adult single women through the church. For heaven's sake you are reading her books and blogs now and probably listening to her sing your favorite worship song! Everyone who is active in a Christian ministry knows that girl. She is in her mid- to late-30s and incredible... She's fun, she's hip, she loves Jesus like most of us love sleeping, she's radiant, she's beautiful, and she is probably the wisest person to walk the earth since Solomon.

And she is terrifying. Her very presence strikes fear in the hearts of her disciples. Why? Because we cannot possibly understand how she can be so darn fantastic and remain unmarried. We grab coffee with her and spend 80% of our time thinking "for the love of God, I would marry this woman if I could!" And we look at her perpetually ring-less finger and we fight off this little voice in our heads that says "that could be you, you know..."

And we become terrified because we know that that little voice is right. Give us 5, 8, 10 years and we could be those girls, certainly. Give us one or two more bad relationships and, holy cow, I'm that girl.

We know this terror isn't right, though... right? We shouldn't fear this woman in the way that most of us single women do. The reality is that her singleness is what has made her incredible. She is wise and radiant in her love for the Lord because He has been her focus... He has been her sustenance. She has determined that if God is not giving her a spouse (now or ever), she'll let Him rightfully fill this space. This is what we should want. But, naturally, we don't... because the ring and the dress and the attention and the sex and the security and the husband all seem better. We clearly believe that they are better. If we didn't, we wouldn't be so afraid of becoming that girl, would we?

I read a quote today that was really convicting along these lines. I pray that you'll read it, think about it, and maybe it'll move your heart.

Time for some honesty. Sometimes I think that we try to shove God into the role of spouse because we want a husband more than we want God. We try to fit the omnipresent God of the Universe into the mold of ‘lover’ because we want Him to make us less lonely, make us feel more loved, give us a hug.

At the end of the day, it’s not Him that we want. We want to feel wanted, and we’re happy to ‘worship’ God if He can make that happen. We’ll use Him to serve our purposes.

God won’t be used. He is too big to be squished into one role in our lives. He is more than a husband and He is more than a father and He is more than a friend, and He won’t pretend to be less than He is.

Powerful, right? It comes from a blog I follow regularly at, if you're interested in reading the rest. It certainly has made me think... and it's made me consider that I really need to accept being "that girl," whether or not it's in God's will for me. Because the reality is that whether I end up there or not, 1) it's already been decided and 2) it's no better or worse than the alternative. God's bigger and better than any husband. Perhaps one of these days I'll truly get that through my head?!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Mish-Mash of Thoughts

This is W here, saying that M needs to post again. She's been having fun gallivanting around Atlanta with all of her friends and numerous suitors and is apparently too busy for this blog. And she's going to kill me for writing that, ha!

I don't even have anything substantive to say right now either-- I just feel bad for leaving you guys hanging for a week.

I was searching for something I could write about, and the following topics popped into my head:

-My current favorite TV shows
-How exciting it is that my co-worker Lauren got engaged
-How I am dreading the impending start of winter
-The great deal on grown-up shoes I got this past weekend
-Thoughts about putting the best dog ever to sleep last week :(
-How I feel about not being at Vandy homecoming next weekend
-My current love of making soups from scratch in way-too-large quantities
-My random pet peeve about stepping in something wet when you're wearing socks
-The fact that I should be reading Henry Cloud/the Bible/journaling/praying instead of writing this pointless post.

So, maybe that is the point of this post...that even "good Christians" waste time on the internet instead of indulging in quality time with their Savior. Surely I am guilty of that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Choices, aka Me Being Vulnerable With You All

Well, if you're hoping that this post won't include a blurb about Henry Cloud, today is not your day. It's W this time, and as you all know, Dr. Henry Cloud is my favorite author. So much so that I am currently doing a book study of "Changes that Heal" at my church, and it's dredging up all sorts of insight that I had forgotten about since I first read the book 4 years ago. But, more on that later.

I've been reminded lately that every choice we make includes a sacrifice of what we've chosen against, even if it's an easy choice or a good choice or the right choice. To put this concept into an Economics model, we say that every choice must be made by evaluating a cost-benefit analysis which includes the opportunity cost. "Opportunity cost" is what you lose by NOT doing something. For example, if I decide to go back to school and get my Master's, it's not only going to cost me $50,000 in tuition, but ALSO the income that I could have earned had I kept working instead. Say the program is two years long and I had been making $30,000/year at work- then, the program will actually cost $50,000 plus $60,000 in lost income, so I need to evaluate if the predicted future gains of having a master's is really worth the $110,000 it will cost me to get it.

When I first heard this whole thing about opportunity cost, it blew my mind. I had never thought about decision making in this way. For awhile it kind of paralyzed into a place of never making any decisions because all I could think about was the lost opportunity that would come from making a decision. Obviously this can't go on for too long before one has to pick herself and say "C'est la vie," but it really did reorder my thinking about how to approach choices.

I say this as a preface to the actual topic of this post, which is that I realized recently that I have been majorly unfair to T for the last 16 months since we moved to Chicago.


Because I have consistently given him a hard time about "making me" move here. It's been no secret that I don't love Chicago. It's been no secret that I want to move back to Nashville as soon as I can. It's been no secret that I feel "jipped" that T gets to live the dream here in a job that he's aspired to have since childhood while I feel stalled on the sidelines. It's no secret that I have spent some time making him feel guilty about this.

That is BAD wife behavior.

I was just so haunted by the opportunity cost of moving to Chicago. I spent a fair amount of time in the last 16 months thinking about what my life would be like "if it weren't for T's terrible job." In my mind I would've have a great job at a non-profit, I'd be chilling in Nashville with lots of friends and beautiful weather, we could afford a quaint, cute starter home for half of what we're paying in downtown Chicago for 800 square feet, and life would be great. But, because of T, and because of his job, that wasn't my reality. And I held HIM accountable for it.


Here's where Henry Cloud comes in and slaps me across the face with truth.

Nobody put a gun to my head and forced me to move to Chicago.

I am a 25 year-old woman, I am an adult, and I am responsible for my own choices. If I chose to be with T at the price of losing my "ideal life in Nashville," then I need to let it go, get over it, and take ownership over the fact that I made a choice and it's MY choice.

I often treated T like I had no choice to move here and that it was his fault that I was miserable. In fact, I did have a choice, and I made it. I decided that I value T more than I value the weather, and more than I value a bigger place to live, and more than I value having my dream job right now (...more on that later...). And because every choice we make is a sacrifice of whatever we have decided against, and because I'm the one who decided, my disappointment and anger at what my life was like last year were and are MY problems to own. And my happiness in Chicago is MINE to make.

I told you Henry Cloud slapped me in the face.

More than anything, I'm just feeling kind of bad about it. I fell so easily into the trap of "I feel bad so I want to make you feel a little bad too because for some reason I think it might make me feel a little better." And that's the kind of stuff that can RUIN marriages if it goes on too long.

And so today, I'm thankful for Henry Cloud, AGAIN, for helping me to see how I can grow to become a better person, Christian, and wife. And I'm also looking out the window and trying to view Chicago on this beautiful, 75-degree fall day as the home that I chose for myself, for better or for worse. And I'm trying to remember that there will be more choices to make in the future, and more opportunities to be gained and lost, and that life is a maze of trying to figure it all out and better yourself along the way.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Suffering, by M

This past week was a rough one for me at work. Most of you probably know that I work at a non-profit that funds cancer research and provides support services to patients and their families. I work specifically on a fundraising campaign that we do in schools, which means that I’m primarily focused on serving pediatric patients. Did you know that cancer is the #2 cause of death in children? Did you know that cancer "survival" is measured as being alive 5 years after diagnosis? 5-year survival is great if you’re 70. It’s not great if you’re 3. So we have all these statistics that say 80% this and 90% that… and it’s for 5 years. They rarely publish a 20- or 30-year survival rate for pediatric patients because it’s… well, it’s not 80%, that’s for sure.

As I’m sure you can imagine, things can get pretty heavy around here. There are literally times that I forget that the great majority of children do NOT have cancer… I walk through my office and see little bald faces staring back at me… some of them smiling, others decidedly not happy. It’s hard. It’s something that I’ve more or less grown accustomed to, between my personal experiences, my 2 years volunteering on the pediatric oncology floor in college, and my 10+ months working here. But, sometimes I have a week like last week and it just makes my heart ache. It just makes me sad and frustrated and upset and angry.

It makes me angry because it’s not even just the cancer. It’s the suffering. It’s the not knowing. It’s the hair and the insecurity and the loss of hope. It’s the side effects and the secondary cancers and the waiting-for-a-transplant-donor. It’s just so much, and I know enough to be aware that I don’t even know 10% of their pain. And so occasionally I get angry… because I’m helping but not enough. And I struggle with God over it. And I wonder how He can let His children suffer so…?

W and I had a friend growing up who had brain cancer. We were too young to totally understand it, but we knew she wore hats and sometimes a mask… and she had a collection of band-aids on her fridge. She was diagnosed when we were 6 and passed away at 15.

Shortly after her passing, W and I got involved in Young Life in high school, and really heard the whole story of Jesus for the first time. Someone finally told us that Jesus died for our sins and that He wanted to have a relationship with us. Pivotal moment… clearly. But then they said something else, and it sent what felt like a lightening bolt of anger through my body. "The penalty for sin is death." And here I am 16 years old, trying to make sense of my earliest friend dying from cancer… and are they trying to tell me that she deserved her death at 15? It took me a long, long time to wrestle with that one.

Now that I'm 9 years down the road in my faith journey, I have come to terms with the reality of what they were trying to express. No, our friend didn't get cancer and die young because she was somehow worse than the rest of us (very much the opposite, in my opinion)... but death IS the "pentalty" or the consequence of sin. Have you ever truly thought about the fact that before the fall, in the Garden of Eden, there was no death? Adam and Eve were created to live forever. They ate food that was endlessly provided by God and they neither saw death, nor knew of it, nor expected to experience it. Yet, the whole deal with the forbidden fruit is that these two trees in the Garden of Eden were mutually exclusive. Adam and Eve could eat from the tree of life, and be in communion with God, and live forever... or they could eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God simply says "look, you can't eat from both trees. Sorry." And we all know what happens next. In taking the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve forfeited their access to the tree of life. Death eventually came upon them (and the rest of the animals and plants and humanity) simply because they no longer were feeding upon life-giving fruit.

This isn't new information for me, but for whatever reason, I don't know that I'd ever truly thought much about the Tree of Life and what it meant. I don't know that it had actually occurred to me that Adam and Eve were created to never die. And it all makes death seem so simple doesn't it? It's just what happens when you stop living... when God stops giving you those temporary life-fruits that He still offers us, despite our sin - blood in our veins, food in our bellies, and breath in our lungs. We are not promised anything more, this side of heaven.

So I think about cancer and the unbelievable suffering that accompanies it, and I can't even pretend to understand why it's all necessary. But I find peace in the knowledge that it breaks God's heart more than it breaks mine. Because He didn't create life to be this way. His blueprint for humanity didn't include cancer. Sure, He's all-knowing, so I don't at all think it has caught Him by surprise. However, that's why He sent His savior so that, just like Christ, all of His children can have victory in death. Death is the only way for God to deliver us out of this fallen world and back into the world that He created for us. It is not pretty, but it is a gift. God has given us back our access to the Tree of Life through Jesus - the "giver of life," the "living water." It's simply a matter of getting there.

So, I pray constantly for the people I hear about in and through my work. I pray for their bodies, for their grief, for their spirits not to be shattered amidst suffering and seemingly unanswered prayers. I think I will always carry the burden of their pain, and it likely will always make me angry. However, I try with all that I have to focus my anger at the true culprit. I make sure that it does not dim my hope in a good and gracious God who is bigger and greater than death. For truly, it is only in death that He ultimately rescues us and brings us back to Him.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dating and God's Will, by M

Okay, so I really tried to put off talking about singleness for a while. This is in part because if you look at the "tags" for our blog, you’ll see SINGLENESS in gigantic letters because I talk about it approximately 10x more than either of us talk about anything else. That’s kind of embarrassing… and I wish it wasn’t constantly on my mind. But, the reality is that it is.

So, the other day, W signed me up for eHarmony. For any of you who are curious, registering a profile on eHarmony is a serious process that typically takes between 1.5 and 2.5 hours. W did it ALL… because that’s how much she loves me. Or, that’s how much she wants to live vicariously through my dating life, as now she’s just boring and married. (haha love you!) Anyway, I didn’t really ask her to do it and I didn’t get around to doing it myself because I just wasn’t quite sure I was ready for it. But, she did it anyway and after clicking on my profile and perusing my "matches" I found myself phenomenally overwhelmed. It was really strange, actually. I had this almost visceral response where I literally felt I just couldn’t take it. It was just… too much.

Why was it too much? Why was I so freaked out by it? I shocked myself with the response I had to it. So, I’ve been thinking about it, and I decided that I’ve grown to believe (what I hope is) a gigantic lie. It is this:

God doesn’t want to give me a nice, wonderful man… and He will not be pleased if I ever find one.

Hmmmmmmmmmm. That’s a big one. It’s lead me to believe that although wanting a husband is within His will, dating or doing anything about it is contrary. While there are some people that I believe are truly called to singleness for life (Jesus, Paul, the Pope(s), Mother Theresa, Shane Claiborne are all great examples) I really don’t think I’m one of them. So why do I believe that God will be upset at me for dating? Why do I feel like His only role in my dating life is one of antagonism? Does anyone else feel this way?

Thought #1 – Experience is Nature's Teacher
Part of the reason I think this way is because of my past. Although God has given me a handful of "love interests" over the past couple of years… we all know that they’ve been less than stellar, on the whole. Moreover, the longer I’ve been on the dating scene, the worse the men seem to be getting! My relationships have seriously steadily declined in duration from about a year and a half (at 19 years old) to just a couple of weeks or months now (at 25). What the heck!? Some would argue that "it’s better to have loved and lost"… but really this situation just has me increasingly discouraged. I think it’s better to have loved and lost maybe one or two great loves… loving (or liking) and losing upwards of 10+… now that’s just getting absurd. How am I supposed to believe that God wants someone good for me (and will give it to me) when experience has proven very much otherwise… over and over and over?

Thought #2 - Distraction is of the Enemy
It's a widely-accepted Christian idea that distraction is one of the primary tools that Satan uses to tempt and take down Christians. We talk in our churches all the time about avoiding distractions. Ambition distracts us... greed distracts us... pride... laziness... the list goes on. The primary argument against many of these sins is that they are inherently bad because they distract us from our ultimate purpose of serving God. Idolatry is such a grievous sin because it distracts us from appropriately worshiping God. Take even lying... the issue is not simply that it hurts others (although it does); the issue is that living the lies and keeping track of the lies is a major distraction. Any time we are consumed with anything other than God... we call it sin. But here's the problem... is there any greater distraction than love? I really don't think so. Grief is a distraction... but isn't grief really just a symptom of love? Jealousy, certainly.

So, I find myself starting to get distracted by someone... and it feels like I'm doing something wrong. Like I should be "setting my mind on things above" (Colossians 3:2) and using all of that mental space for something better. You know? But, at the end of the day, I don't think it's possible to love and be undistracted. I don't think there's a feasible way to be captivated by someone and not find it distracting from everything else. Yet, it still feels like there is sin in doing so.

Thought #3 - "Use this Season"
My final thought here is that I really think this false belief is wrapped up in the rhetoric that the church uses to talk about dating. Although well-intentioned, all of this talk of "using your singless for its purpose" and "God will give you a relationship when it's His time" also subtly communicates something else:

You're supposed to accomplish something right now and God is going to withold your spouse until you do it.

That's dangerous thinking. This kind of thinking turns God into someone that I like to believe He isn't. But that's totally what the church says... and it's one thing if it could be something tangible like "Hey, learn to speak Portugese because you don't know it yet, but your husband is Brazilian!" It's quite another, though, when the message seems to be "Hey, you better fix this about your [insert deeply personal issue here about body, emotions, past, etc] or else you'll never be marry-able and God knows that." Granted, no mainstream church is really saying that... but that's really what it feels like from time to time.

So, all of these things put together have caused a great bit of confusion in my mind, and, I believe in the minds of many other single, Christian men and women that I encounter. Moreover, there are a host of other false dating beliefs out there and this is only one of them. Eek. Maybe I should do a series of these? Lord knows I've encountered enough of them across the handful of men that I've dated!

In any case, I definitely think this is something that needs more prayer time in my life... Perhaps God truly is giving me a red light (and for good reason?) or perhaps this false belief is nothing more than a stumbling block created by the brokenness of the world. Whatever it is, I need to figure it out! I need to believe that God will be just as happy about me finding my future spouse as I will. I mean, He will be... right?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who knew?

It's W today. I just got back from a lovely birthday weekend in NYC with my 2 fantastic sisters (yes, two! We have a gorgeous sister who is nearly ten years younger than us) and I am procrastinating on all of my productive yet boring day-off tasks.

Anyway, the title of this post refers to Stephen Colbert. WHO KNEW that he was sort of a modern day philosopher? Not me, until I came across some of his quotes recently. This one, in particular, spoke to me:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition. And then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Convicting, right? And yes, we could get bogged down (blogged down? ha!) in the fact that the US is not a "Christian nation" in reality, but that would be missing the point of what Colbert is trying to say.

The point is this: We need to stop ignoring what Jesus told us to do.

My favorite part of this quote is without condition. That's what I think we as Christians often miss. It's easy enough to give our 10% to the church or text the Red Cross for $5 after a natural disaster, or even to volunteer at a reputable soup kitchen once in a while. But do we really serve and give without condition?

I know if I'm honest, I have several conditions for my serving and giving:
-I only give to people and sources that "feel" reputable
-I only give when it is relatively comfortable for me to give, i.e. when it's not going to take away from my lifestyle too much
-I only serve when it fits into my schedule, when the place is close enough to be convenient, and the population I'm serving isn't too "scary"

I think Colbert is right. Why do I not serve unconditionally? Because I just don't WANT to do it. It's inconvenient, uncomfortable, and scary. It puts me in a situation where I'm not in control, and I hate that. I'd much rather give to the church and volunteer with the children's ministry and refuse to give the man on the corner the time of day, thankyouverymuch.

Me, me, me, me. It's scary how often my life reflects a selfish attitude even in regards to my giving and service. To be clear, giving and serving in any capacity is fantastic, and I would never discourage anyone from doing so, especially if they are confident that the Lord has led them to serve in a capacity which just happens to be convenient and comfortable.

But I think Stephen Colbert has hit the nail on the head when he calls us out, as Christians, for creating a disparity between the way Jesus gave and served and the way we give and serve. If we want to live like Christ, and be like Christ, we have to ACT LIKE CHRIST. And sometimes that means going to scary places and hanging with shady people, and giving without judgement and serving without condition.

It's easy to think that He has called other people to that reality, but not us. As long as other Christians are serving in the prison ministry and distributing food under the bridge to the homeless and taking trips to Africa, and getting their hands dirty, then we can sit back and give a litte here and serve a little there and promise to pray for those who are doing the tough work and still feel like we're going "our part."

My dad used to get on my case a little bit back in college about my future career choices and my desire to go to Uganda. He used to say, "Anyone can hand out a piece of bread," meaning, "You have a degree worth hundreds of thousands of dollars-- go do something with it and leave the easy stuff to people who can't do anything else." Which, coming from the man who paid for my fantastic degree, is a worthwhile thought. But I can't get past this idea sometimes that even though anybody can not everybody will. And if the Lord has given me a willing heart to do the dirty work, then that is where I will go.

So, are you giving and serving unconditionally? Have you prayed fervently about where the Lord wants to direct your time and money? Are you being honest with yourself about our requirement as Christians to go where God wants and do what God wants even if it's scary, uncomfortable, or inconvenient?

And if not, why not?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Writer's Block, by M

I’ve been wanting to update this again this week, but I truly haven’t been inspired with what to write about. Normally I have a stream of thoughts and ideas floating through my head, and this week it’s just kind of been dry. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do… so my thoughts haven’t been stirred by anything new or exciting. As such, it’s just been “the usuals,” which are literally just a constant rotation of the following:

-I’m hungry
-Why is it so difficult to find a good man?
-Starting work at 7:20am is miserable.
-Seriously, people have having legitimate babies now?
-Adulthood is not that fun… for real.
-Why does my hair look like a rat’s nest 80% of the time?

Seriously. I’d bet that 76% of my conscious thought processes are spent on these things. The other 14% is probably broken down as such:

8% work
3% prayer (that’s bad, I know)
2% random problem solving
1% food and cooking

The other activities are relatively mindless, such as driving, cleaning, watching TV, talking on the phone etc. Haha!

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to post something brilliant and inspired, and it just hasn’t been coming to me. So there you have it… maybe I’ll have something here in the next couple of days. Fingers crossed!

Monday, September 19, 2011

An Ode to the Mega-Church, by M

Oh Mega-Church… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

1) I love your Sunday evening services. Thank you, mega-church, for granting me the ability to take Sunday as a second glorious day of sleeping in. I appreciate the opportunity to attend church and be wholly awake and alert for the message. I love being able to put forth my best cuteness effort, with more than 10 mere minutes to dress and do my hair. I can beat the rush for Sunday brunch and avoid crying babies and wiggly preschoolers. Love, love, love.

2) I love your worship music. Thank you for providing more than 6 barely-audible hymn singers to surround me. While sometimes the thumping bass resonates through my ribcage, I do enjoy the contemporary lyrics, electric guitar, and occasional fist pumps nonetheless. I like watching the diversity of worship – the fall-to-your-knees, charismatic former Pentecostals, the barely-moves and barely-sings former Catholic, the hands-in-the-air-wave-em-like-you-just-don’t-care born again. There truly is a place for everyone, and it’s loud enough that even the worst American Idol wanna-bes can’t really be heard. It’s just perfect.

3) I love your relevance. Dear mega-church… thank you for taking context into consideration. I love that you make God’s word as living and breathing as Jesus promises it to be. You do an admirable job of walking the line between fostering conviction and alienating non-believers. Even if you do claim to be non-partisan, I appreciate your secretly deliberate clues regarding political affiliation. Your use of hip and modern phrases like "DTR" and "Rock of Love" is charming. Thank you for this.

4) I love your elaborate set pieces and props. Honestly, who doesn’t want their mega-church jumbo-trons flanked by life-sized goal posts? The treadmill, the 20 pounds of skittles, the live camels… it all really helps drive home the life-or-death seriousness that is your eternal destiny. A special shout-out to designers of the worship music power points… I’m never more inspired than when I’m singing to Jesus and watching quiet streams flow through the wood, doves soaring over the faintest rainbows, or fields of wheat blowing gently in the breeze. Your creativity never ceases to amaze me.

5) Most of all, I love your singles ministry. Where else can I find such an assortment of attractive, single Jesus-loving men? The answer: absolutely nowhere, this side of Heaven. I reluctantly appreciate your "guidelines" for single male-female interaction, which closely resemble those of a middle-school dance. I trust that this is God’s best of us, even if we are full-grown adults, mostly capable of righteous decision-making without a curfew or a dress code. I will take your awkwardness and forced mingling and run with it… how else may I expect to meet a nice man? Wait for him to approach me as I strut gracefully towards the communion elements? That has yet to happen. As such, I love that you give us mostly attractive and yet somewhat desperate single adults a place to call home. I pray that I won’t lean on you forever.

In conclusion, mega-church, thank you for what you do. Thank you for your larger-than-life approach to winning souls for Jesus. I’m with ya… and so is 30% of my monthly tithe. Because, really, I don’t want the rest going towards unicycles and ping pong tables. Although, I do appreciate both. Really.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Justice vs. Revenge

So I have to be honest here-- as usual I'm ripping off the concept of this post from an older, wiser Christian. In fact, if you scan back through our blog, most of what M and I say is simply our perspective on what someone else has said. We read a lot, listen to a lot of podcasts and sermons, subscribe to a lot of blogs, and as such, we come into contact with a lot of pieces of insight that rock our worlds. Should you think that what you read here comes from our own strokes of spiritual genius, you are wrong. I think we are pretty good at being upfront about the original source of the content. Today's post stems from a message I heard on Sunday at church from our lead pastor, Bill Hybels.

With it being the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, (and also our 25th birthday, but that's not quite as relevant), Bill spent his message reminding us of the tragedy, asking us how it has impacted our lives and faiths, and questioning if we treated those who practice Islam, in the time immediately following the attacks, with the grace and love that Christ calls us to.

In this vein, Bill brought up a point that stopped me in my tracks. He asked if, in our patriotism, we had desired to seek justice for those who committed these crimes, or if instead we desired to seek revenge. 

Here's a quick synopsis from

Justice is the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offense-- it includes righteousness, equitableness, and moral rightness.

Revenge is to exact punishment-- it's an opportunity to retaliate and gain satisfaction.

When I look at these two definitions, sometimes they look similar to me and sometimes they don't. I believe if I were not a Christian, justice would be synonymous with revenge more often than not. Considering the scope of this tragedy in particular, the idea that the punishment should be proportionate to the offense seems obvious—if one man orchestrated the deaths of thousands of our people, aren’t we entitled to kill a few thousands of his? And if this was the case around 9/12/01, I believe that more than a few people would feel satisfied by that turn of events.

But then I remember the Bible. Revenge means “an eye for an eye.” Justice means “turn the other cheek and believe that the Lord, who is just, will provide the punishment.”

When I think about it like this, I am incredibly proud of our military and Seal Team Six for acting with justice, not revenge, in the killing of Bin Laden. By giving him a proper Muslim burial and by not exposing the photographs of his body, our military acted in moral rightness while also honoring what is just—those that kill others may justly be killed. Justice is killing Bin Laden for his crime. Revenge is killing, harming, or discriminating against Muslims simply because they may or may not believe in radical Islam, look like, or live near Bin Laden. I think we have walked a fine line after 9/11 between our desire for justice and revenge, and I do not believe that we, as Christians, always took the high road.

Extrapolating on this concept beyond our current state of international affairs, I think finding the difference between justice and revenge is crucial in order to sustain our relationships, and the key is to try to separate our emotional response from the reality of a situation. In our relationships,

Justice says, “I will allow you to suffer the natural consequences of your choices.”

Revenge says, “I will make you feel bad when you make me feel bad.”

See the difference?

It’s easy to turn to revenge when someone hurts us. We want them to feel hurt too. We want them to pay for their actions. We want to feel better and gain satisfaction out of their misery. For example,

Justice says, “If you are constantly late to dinner, I am going to start without you because I will not partake of lukewarm food simply due to your irresponsibility.”

Revenge says, “If you are late one more time, I am going to wait until you get home and then dump your portion in the trash right in front of you the second you walk in the door.”

The revenge scenario seems extreme and even comical, but how often do we actually do stuff like this in our relationships? All the time! If we’re not careful, it’s incredibly easy to blur the line between boundaries and irrational consequences; between justice and revenge.

For some reason this post has been difficult for me to write. Not in an emotional sense, but rather that my thoughts aren’t flowing neatly as I’d like.

Basically, the idea is that we can ruin our lives by believing that we know the right way to make someone pay for actions that we deem unacceptable. As Christians, it is our job to act with justice (the Lord does not call us to be doormats—He has not given us spirits of timidity!), and to stand on the side of mercy instead of punishment, and grace instead of revenge. We must believe that our God, who is just, is correct when He instructs us not to repay evil for evil.

So, my charge for you today is to watch carefully what stirs in your heart when you feel hurt, betrayed, or angry. Are your actions seeking justice or revenge? Are your desires following after Christ or after the world?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Design of Diversity, by M

This post is going to be a little bit of an addendum to my previous blog about finding a "biblically-qualified" spouse. So, if you haven't read that one... maybe you should!

Here's the thing: I'm pretty sure those of us who are not married, or not yet in a serious-to-the-point-of-probable-marriage relationship, spend a heck of a lot of time thinking about who it is that we will eventually marry. We make lists of what qualities they will and won't have, we mentally note all of the cute things that men in the moies do that we hope they will do, and we watch and scrunitize all other men (taken or not, married or not) and keep a mental tally of what we hope for and what we certainly wish to avoid. Let's be honest, it totally happens... a lot.

And so, we take all of this time, and lists, and hopes, and tallies, and dreams, and desires, and we make a nice little mental file that we label "husband!" and it all seems well and good. Those of us who are Christian women also make very sure that all of those biblical qualifications are snugly situated in the file, and all of those secret-warning-signs-that-tell-you-he's-not-really-a-Christian-even-when-he-might-say-that-he-is are left very much OUT of it. And then we wait, and we look, and we try to be patient, and we keep our eyes peeled... and we wait some more, and we look some more and we think that one day we'll stumble upon someone who just fits perfectly into the little husband mold that we've built for ourselves. And then we'll know that it's the right one because it just fits... like magic! Like God designed it!


Okay, so I went to this meeting at church on Friday and I heard a statement that has kind of haunted me all weekend. And it wasn't even intended to speak at all to this issue of who ends up as our husbands and who doesn't... but I can't get it out of my head, and I can't stop thinking about how it pertains to this. Maybe that means it's something worth paying attention to? The statement was this:

We tend to see others as flawed versions of ourselves.

Think about it. It's true. We have conflict with the people who are most unlike us because we literally cannot figure out why they just can't get it together and start thinking the way we think and being the way we are. We rarely value difference... In fact, perhaps the only time we readily value it is when it directly benefits us. Think about it. Pretty much every other time we find difference to be frustrating, annoying, bothersome, etc. That's not much middle ground; either it's fine because we're benefitting, or it's impossible because we're not.

So then this leads us to another thought, which is this:

We tend to value people and traits more highly that are the most like us.

Again, we all totally do this. Of course, we think that we were all designed and/or raised the "right way" and that the things that come easily to us do (or should) come easily to others. It's so very difficult to understand how something so natural as our gifts should be challenging for someone else to master. So, we tend to gravitate towards people who share our gifts, and we also tend to value those people more highly than others.

Here's the rub, though. In doing this... in gravitating towards people like us... we align ourselves with people who not only have the same strengths, but who also have the same brokenness. I like the word brokenness here better than the more conventional word "weakness." Because let's be honest, two people with two equally weak legs can still run a race, albeit slowly. Two people with equally broken legs. Um, no. Not at all. The Bible makes it clear that we are all broken... not simply weak.

So, God in His great wisdom and mercy designs diversity to solve this problem. If one person has a broken foot and one person has a broken nose, they can complete that race, certainly. It won't be pretty, but that's the nature of the fall, right? This is not news to us; God tells us throughout the Bible that His design is diversity and that diversity is intended to grow us, help us, complete us (in some ways), and strengthen us (1 Corinthians 12). We know this. Woo hoo! It's all good!

But really, here's the thing that's been haunting me about it. I have made my little mental husband mold out of traits and characteristics that I value. Which means that I've crafted my future husband to be made up of all the same ingredients that I am... Which means that I've been potentially setting myself up to run the most important race there is with two broken legs. And let me tell you what... I have found men like this, and they just fit so nicely into the mold I had in my head... and the race was ROUGH. And the race ended with far more broken bones than we started with... both of us limping away in opposite directions. Why am I surprised? And why do I continue to think that it will work the next time, even though I refuse to change the formula?

The thought of throwing out the list, the tallies, the expectations, the hopes, etc terrifies me. Yet, it's becoming ever clear that my own mind and heart is not to be trusted in truly knowing what is best for me. So what am I left with? What are we left with?

1) Accepting possibilities
2) Preparing for curveballs
3) Praying, praying, praying, praying.

...and not praying that God will give us just what we want. I'm talking, praying, praying, praying about whether the one we have (now, maybe, or in the future, God-willing) might just be the one He wants... even if it doesn't look like we expected.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conditional Vows?

W here! I first want to encourage you to go back and read the post before my last one. M wrote a FANTASTIC post about being "Bibically-qualified" for marriage and for some reason it got posted before my "wednesday psych lesson" even though she wrote it after. If you haven't already, please check it out! It's one of my favorites that she's written.

Back to the topic at hand. Conditional vows. I've been thinking about this a bit recently, as T and I just attended our 5th wedding of the summer this past weekend. As such, I have been inundated with vows. One of the best things about going to a wedding as a married couple is that you are reminded of exactly how you felt and exactly what you promised to God and to your own spouse when you got married.

Most of you probably know what the promises love and cherish one another regardless of circumstance (in sickness and health, in plenty or want, for better or worse). T and I added some additional promises:

I take you to be my wife/husband, my partner in life, and my one true love. I will cherish our friendship and love you today, tomorrow, and forever. I will trust you and honor you, I will laugh with you and cry with you. I will love you faithfully through the best and the worst, through the difficult and the easy. What may come I will always be there. As I have given you my hand to hold so I give you my life to keep-- so help me God.

The vows are pretty clear. I will be faithful. I will trust you. I will value our friendship. I will always be your wife.

The underlying commitment, then, is my promise to T that NOTHING will ever prevent me from following through in these ways. This is unconditional commitment, and this is what is intended for marriage.

This all seems pretty straight forward until I start thinking about the "exit ramps" that our society has created for leaving marriage. Examples include:
-A cheating spouse
-An abusive spouse
-An addicted spouse
-A spouse who leaves you first
-A spouse who has broken his or her vows

Given any of these circumstances, it is not only acceptable but often encouraged that a person leave a marriage. And when I look at this list, I completely understand. There is no part of me that would ever want a person facing an abusive or addicted spouse to stick around in a dangerous situation.

But what this means is that our vows ARE conditional. What we are committing to is not, "I promise these things regardless of circumstance," but rather "I promise these things for as long as you follow through with your end of the deal."

And this is dangerous thinking. We can see in our society how these "exit ramps" created for extreme cases are exploited to justify divorces that result out of diverging passions, irreconcilable differences, and the assumption that something better must be out there.

I know that I have only been married for two months, and that marriage is complex and challenging in a way that I cannot yet understand. But, I have been married long enough to know that if I hold up my vows only as long as T does, we are screwed from the start. We are sinful people who are bound to make mistakes along the way. Hopefully they'll be minor (maybe an infraction in honoring each other rather than a slip-up in faithfulness, for example), but I simply cannot assume that if T makes a mistake, it gives me permission to do the same.  Our commitment must be SO unconditional that we commit to each other even if we break the vows themselves.

I don't really have an answer to this weighty topic. My thoughts range from, "Where do we draw the line?" to "How do we protect those who need it without undermining the gravity of a marriage commitment?" and "How would you even continue to love someone unconditionally if they have not done the same for you?"

I think the most promising answer comes from looking to the Lord and the example that He has set forth in Christ-- a gift of grace (received freely even though we did and do not deserve it) with a promise that we can NEVER do ANYTHING that will make the Lord stop loving us.

This is why we strive to love our spouses like Christ loved the church-- so that we can say, with the power of perfect grace residing in us, that there is NOTHING that our spouse can EVER do that will prevent us from loving them. And this means that we love them even if they do not love us, and we keep our vows even if they do not hold up their own, because this is the example that the Lord has set.

So, how do we reconcile this fact with the reality of abuse of and infidelity? How do we keep ourselves from adopting an "I'm in if you're in" attitude toward marriage? What do you think?