Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Your Wednesday Psychology Lesson

Well friends, I (W) have been waiting for a while to post this one. Mostly because I am 1) not a psychologist and 2) unable to take my own advice. But, in the hope that by writing it out here I will be better able to monitor my own mental and psychological actions in addition to giving you some food for thought about your own, here we go.


What's that funny little word I just wrote?

STERBs. It stands for "Short-Term Energy Releasing Behaviors." I learned about it in a book called the Grief Recovery Handbook that a counselor once suggested to me and that I, lover of self-help books that I am, actually read. We all have them-- these STERBs-- whether we admit it or not. Some are relatively benign while others can consume our whole lives. And all STERBs distract us from finding contentment in Him who has promised peace which surpasses all understanding.

So, what is a STERB? A STERB is any activity that you partake in to help relieve energy-- particularly negative, anxious energy. It's that action you take when you feel bad inside because you are stressed, lonely, nervous, bored, mad, or sad. It is what you turn to for comfort, albeit short-lived, when you want to make yourself feel better.

I have a long list of STERBs. I think it comes from being a more high-strung person than normal. While my STERBs are not of the life-threatening or relationship-threatening variety (think gambling, substance abuse, porn addition, etc), they are no less serious in the sense that they reveal the same deeply-held beliefs as those with more "critical" afflictions.

Depending on my mood, I will partake in the following behaviors to help ease anxiety:
-Picking at the skin on my face
-Eating when I'm not hungry, or eating poorly in general (particularly sugary foods...okay... nutella)
-Idling on facebook/blogs/trash websites (I'm looking at you,
-Watching strange documentaries and horrible reality tv
-Compulsively filing my nails

Now, in moderation, any of these activities are not bad. It's okay to pop a pimple and then eat candy while surfing facebook and watching Toddlers and Tiaras in the background. And it's certainly okay to clean-up afterwards.

What is not okay is to do these activities because you feel bad, and because you secretly think (even after years that prove otherwise) that they will make you feel better. Because they never, EVER do. More often than not, I end up feeling worse than before because my face which looked decent is covered in red spots, I wasted a bunch of time, I'm aware of how completely unclean everything typically is and I feel like my teeth are going to rot. Oh, and that everyone else in the world is more popular than me and has a better job than me and is having more fun than me. Thanks, Facebook!

But I continue to do these things, these STERBs. Because I think they are going to make me feel more in control, or feel better about my life in comparison to others, or at least make me feel like others are as miserable as I am. But I NEVER, EVER feel better afterwards. Hence the "short-term" part of STERBs. The relief lasts only as long as I am engaging in the behavior, and then afterwards comes the guilt and shame of making the wrong choice yet again.

The reason why I never feel better after doing these things is because nothing can bring us true fulfillment and joy outside of the Lord. And when we look to these routine behaviors instead of turning to Him, we shut ourselves off from the healing, contentment, and peace that He wants to give us. He says, "I'd like to help," and we reply, "Actually, I think watching 3 hours of reality tv will make me feel better than You can make me feel."

When we put it like this, doesn't it seem ridiculous? As Christians, we have given up the belief that we can ultimately save ourselves, so why do we still believe that we can soothe ourselves and heal ourselves? We can only cope successfully if we turn away from our placeholders for God and give him the space to do what He does best-- love us with compassionate, merciful love.

My challenge for you today is to think about the actions you are taking, especially if you have a sneaking suspicion that your motives are not correct. Think:

-Why am I engaging in this behavior?
-What am I hoping to get out of it?
-Is what I'm hoping to get something that ultimately needs to come from the Lord?

And then pray. Ask Him for forgiveness that you have made an idol of your STERB to take His place in this area of your life. Ask Him to give you peace, or reassurance, or a sense of control, or whatever it is you are seeking. And finally, ditch the guilt and shame and revel in the fact that you now have more time to dedicate to something more worthwhile than your STERB.

Whew! And that folks, is your Wednesday psychology lesson.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A "Biblically Qualified" Spouse, by M

The other day I went back and read through some of these blog posts. Can I just say that I love journaling and blogging? I know it's not everyone's thing... but I just love getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper(?). I feel like I can breathe easier when things are put out there and not flying through my brain at lightening speed. I'm always fascinated when I can go back and read my journals from months and years past... it's so funny to be reminded of what was going on at that time and how I felt about it. Something that strikes me when I go back and reread is how strong my faith always seems. I guess in-the-moment it always seems like a meager attempt, and then looking back I find myself consistently impressed by it. I think that's just the nature of faith... "if you had faith like a mustard seed"... It's all that it takes!

Anyway, I recently reread my previous post about the "dating covenant," and it was good stuff! Although, I discovered that I had said that I would mention the idea of being "biblically qualified" for marriage in a future post... and turns out I never did. Oops! So, ladies and gentlemen (I'm pretty sure no gentlemen read this, but you never know...) here it is!

I came across this idea of being a "biblically qualified" spouse when I was reading through an online resource of Christian dating articles called "The Single Guy's Guide to Marrying Well." Now, of course I wanted to read through that! I had to know what all of these Christian marriage experts were saying about how to choose the right woman! Maybe it would teach me how to be the right woman!? So, I read through the entire thing in like one afternoon and much of it was thought-provoking and interesting. In fact, I found it, on the whole, to be far more interesting than "The Single Girl's Guide to Marrying Well." Maybe I'm just tired of the same old message that the church sends single women? Anyway, I digress. You can access one or both of the guides by visiting and then you can make a decision for yourself!

Okay, so as I was skimming the articles, I came across one that was cleverly titled "Stop Test-Driving your Girlfriend." Ah ha! Perfect! Teach me, o article of wisdom, what is the key to avoiding being a "test drive" and instead being the keeper! Yes! As I anticipated, it was full of nuggets of wisdom... perhaps the most significant being the idea of "biblical qualification." See the gist of the article was this...

God has a purpose for marriage. God has a plan for you. God wants you to date someone who is qualified for that purpose... and He likely doesn't care about the rest of your "perfect spouse" laundry list, which is likely irrelevant.

But what about the fact that my husband must be over 6 feet tall? What about my childhood dream of marrying a firefighter?! How am I ever going to have green-eyed children if both my husband and I have brown!? Ahhhh! I thought that God grants the desires of our hearts!?!?!

Well, no... not according to the article. It argued that the problem with the way many Christian singles view marriage is that it's consumerist. It's "what can God do for me?"... It's "let me take my laundry list to God and then He'll serve me and give me what I want." That's a problem. The design is for us to serve God... for marriage to serve God. Why do we think it will work the other way around?

So, the article argues that we need to change the way we think about dating for marriage, and that starts with asking the right questions. It starts with NOT asking "is this person right for me?" (again, since it's not all about us) and instead asking "is this person biblically qualified?" Meaning... would God approve of this person for my marriage? You see, the terrifying thing is that God sets out shockingly few qualifications for marriage material. They are important... but few. Which leads us to believe that if a person satisfies these few, perhaps it matters not to God where they fall on anything else. Perhaps this means we're destined to be with a 5'4" non-firefighting hazel-eyed man. Who knows?

Now, how do we tell if someone is biblically qualified? Well, look to the Bible! Or, even easier, peruse the following list and treat yourself to some serious honesty:

For you:
1) Are you thinking like a servant or like a consumer?
2) Do you have a proper understanding of God's design for marriage?
3) Does your relationship with Christ define your life and actions?
4) Are you biblically qualified?

For him or her:
1) Does s/he radiate true godliness and internal beauty?
2) Generally speaking, will you be able to serve God better together than apart?
3) Do you desire to fulfill the biblical role of a husband or wife with this person, as outlined in scripture?
4) Does this relationship spur you on in your Christian discipleship, or does it dull and distract your interest in the Lord and His people? Are you more or less eager to study God's Word, pray and give yourself in service as a result of time spent together?
5) Do you think s/he will make a good discipler of your children?
6) What do other mature Christian friends and family members say about your relationship? Do they see a relationship that is spiritually solid and God-glorifying?

And that, my friends, is what it's all about. And if that's all that God cares about, then I'm pretty sure that's all that we're supposed to care about. Scary! But, in the end, we'd rather have a marriage with someone who satisfies these things, than with someone who satisfies our silly list of superficials... I mean, right?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Random Thoughts about Living with a Man

I, W, have been talking to M, my mom, my friends, and pretty much anyone who will listen recently at how strange it is to be living with T. Not because of who he is, or because of any strange habits that he may or may not possess, but because he is a GUY.

I don't know if any of you out there have ever lived with a man, but it is a very weird phenomenon.

I have had lots of roommates over the years. 11 to be exact-- not including my first and longest-lasting roommate and wombmate (get it!?) M. Each of my roommates had their own quirks, and I have enjoyed living with most of them and have learned a lot through each of them. My roommates have been snorers and insomniacs, writers and engineers, bakers and take-out orderers, cleaners and potential future hoarders, social butterflies and introverts... I've experienced the roommate continuum from end to end.

But, until about a month ago, I had never had a roommate who was of the Y-chromosome variety, and that has been an interesting experience indeed. Note: these thoughts are not disparage my new husband or call him out on weird habits. Instead, they are only meant to highlight some of the differences between us that I think other wives or girlfriends may recognize and sympathize with. I also recognize that these traits may be shared by XX-chromosome friends, and in that case, I probably would have thought it just as strange had you been my roommate instead of T.

Anyway, the big question always seems to be, "Why in the world would you do that?" Examples include:

- Setting three alarms that go off at 7-minute intervals for a complete hour and a half before said husband has to get up. One alarm is set to a radio station, which blasts 1000+ decimal sounds from the bathroom. These have been affectionately labeled, "the jams." I HATE the jams.

- Buying enough beer to fit the fridge and to take up the entire bottom shelf of our pantry. First, I don't drink beer. Second, T is so busy that we never really have friends over who can drink the beer. Doesn't beer go bad? Don't we have more important things in our 800 sq foot apartment to store than extra cases of beer?

- Deciding to eat sushi as his first meal after a 48-hour bout with seafood-borne food poisoning. No explanation here for why this is baffling to me.

- T's propensity, upon coming home from work, to remove all clothing deemed unnecessary.

- T's ability to fall asleep pretty much anywhere, at any time, in any position, provided I have just scratched his back.

- His love of grilling-- anything-- while defiantly stating that he refuses to cook because he doesn't know how.

What's so funny about all of this is how much T prides himself on being logical. He thinks he is pretty much the most logical person in the world, and tends to lord it over my head that he is logical and thinks with his head to my emotional, think-with-my-heart tendencies. But in looking at this list, these things just don't seem logical to me. If we're tight on space, why buy more beer than you can drink in a month if I go to the grocery store every week and have promised to keep a full stock? If you are constantly sleep deprived because of your job, why interrupt your sleep with constant alarms for an hour and a half when you could be getting more deep, restorative sleep during that time? And for goodness sake, if seafood made you so sick that you couldn't eat for 2 full days, why would you choose more seafood to eat on your first day back!?

I guess this just shows that we all have our own type of logic, and what makes sense to one person for one reason may not make sense to another. It all comes down to what we value and our priorities in life-- do we value feeling good more than we love sushi? Depends on the person.

What do you think? Is logic absolute? Is there always one smart, right, logical way of doing something? Or is it malleable depending on the situation at hand and what someone wants out of it?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Heart Today

It's W today. I've been busy lately, and two of T's bosses have been on vacation for several days so his workload has lessened to the point where I have a husband who's home at 7pm for consecutive nights! It's been crazy and awesome. FYI, it's also still weird to say the phrase "I have a husband."

I had planned all week to write this big post about work-- mainly in reference to my spending 2 hours at the DMV this week-- and how the Lord calls us to work as though we were working for Him and not for man. I was all set to give my usual, "This is your JOB!" rant about people (i.e. those at the DMV) who have no passion for their jobs and who aren't even kind to the people they serve. People who duck out of work early and who text and facebook on the job and who breathe with their mouths open and don't even pretend that they're glad to be there.

Alas, my heart's not in it today. Not that I don't love telling other people how to do their jobs and how they should behave (and breathe, for that matter)-- because, Lord knows, I do. Judgement and I-know-everything attitude included. But today, my heart and my mind are focused on the reality that I am no longer in control of my future.

I know, I know-- that's a pretty dramatic statement. And in reality, anyone who is a follower of Christ should offer up their future to whatever God's will may be. But I'm not talking about that-- I'm talking about marriage.

It hit me hard yesterday that my life is now tied with T's, and our livelihood and the livelihood of our future family is dependent on T's job and not mine, and this means that I go where he goes, and he goes where the job of choice happens to be.

And it hit me that I may never live in Nashville again. Even though it is one of the strongest desires of my heart. Even though, if I were single, I'd move there in a heartbeat and get my masters in the education of students with visual impairments and vandy would pay for it. Even though I daydream about being back where it's warm, and back where my community is, and back where the cost of living is reasonable and where I can go to Trader Joe's without parking in a parking garage.

It hit me that I may never get a full-time job at Special Olympics, because my networking contacts are all in Tennessee rather than Illinois.

It hit me that in a few years I probably won't be working anyway.

And I KNEW all of this going in, and I am happy that I married T, and I'd rather be with him and be in Chicago than be anywhere else, doing anything else. And yes, my desires matter and my dreams and ideas have input. But when it comes down to it, if there's a job for him here (or in Dallas, or in Charlotte) and no where else, than that's where we go.

And that's the reality that I am settling into-- the reality that my life isn't all about my needs and my wants and getting things my way (and frankly, it's not T's way either-- he doesn't want to go to Dallas or Charlotte or wherever we end up just as much as I don't), but it's about following God's plan for our lives rather than just my own.

And this is where I begin to understand that God's design for marriage is to make us holy rather than happy, and what it means to deny oneself for the sake of God's will even if it doesn't align with our own desires.

But man, I want to get back to Nashville.

And that's what's on my heart today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Faith and Politics, by M

Okay, this may be somewhat of a controversial post. You have been warned with this preface… Sorry if that bothers you!

I’ve decided lately that with the increasing media coverage of the Republican presidential hopefuls that I should maybe start paying attention and/or thinking about how I’m going to vote next year. I don’t believe that I’ve really made much of an informed voting decision in the past (given that this will only be my third presidential voting period and for the first two I wasn’t a real adult who cared about real adult things). True story: W and I voted for the first time at 17 (scandal!) in the 2004 primaries because we were going to eventually be 18 by the time the general election rolled around. Do you know enough at 17 to be a legitimate voter? Hmm. I’m tempted to say no.

Anyway, I haven’t at all made up my mind for how I’m going to vote, and I realize that there are still many, many, many months of campaigning and propaganda and hateful TV commercials and speeches and Newsweek articles left before I need to make up my mind. That said, I have a couple of random thoughts floating around my brain regarding the subject, which I figured might be beneficial (if only for myself) to get out there. Please note that these thoughts are heavily informed by conversations, sermons, books, research, etc with friends, my dad, Andy Stanley, Philip Yancey, and The Bible. I’m not taking too much credit for any of this. Haha

Thought #1: I am intrigued by how conservatism in the south is a cultural thing.

I have attempted to explain my thoughts about this to various southern friends with little success. Probably because it’s all they know, and how are they supposed to know or understand otherwise if it’s all they know? My experience in the North has been this… people have their religious beliefs, they have their political beliefs, and they have their experiences related to both. There seems to be a general consensus that everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but these thoughts and beliefs are very rarely wrapped up in the self-definition or identity of the person. Not so here in the South. Here, religion and politics seem intimately tied to who people consider themselves to be. I think that’s part of the reason that southerners typically aren’t super forthcoming with their thoughts about it. And because religion is an integral part of that southern identity (here we are in the Bible Belt!), conservatism swiftly follows. This intrigues me. I’m not entirely sure what to do about it or how to approach it. Sometimes it seems to me that southern people are conservative "just because we’re southern"… like that’s all the justification that one needs. It’s like southern people grew up on conservatism like I grew up on Ohio State football. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also not something that I really understand.

Thought #2: I am bothered when conservatism is marketed as being congruent with Christianity

I'm going to tread lightly on this one and attempt to stay off of my soapbox. Bottom line: Republican agenda and that of the religious right is NOT Jesus's agenda. It is not the same as the "Christian agenda" (if you can say that there is one). I'm highly bothered and concerned when political conservativism and Christianity are treated like they are one and the same. They are not. Based on my reading and understanding of the Bible, here's my guess about where Jesus "aligns" and where He doesn't with some hot-topic issues in contemporary politics:
-Jesus would agree with conservatives that we shouldn't murder babies and that marriage is between a man and a woman.
-Jesus would NOT agree with conservative thought that it's okay to murder murderers and that gun possession is a necessary and personal right.
-Jesus would agree with liberals in that we all have a responsibility to care for the poor, that humankind wasn't designed to have a handful of "haves" and nations upon nations of "have nots."
-Jesus would disagree with liberal thought that a bigger government is the answer to our worldly problems.

Hmmmm... It looks to me like if Jesus were around today, He wouldn't pick sides. He couldn't pick sides and stay true to all of His teachings. It concerns me when people are quick to pick up the flag of conservatism and carry it in the name of Jesus. It's not the same and I fear that Christianity's alignment with any political party (regardless of that party's platform) ends up doing more harm to the greater work of building the Kingdom of God than it does good.

Thought #3: The Issue of Free Will

Here's a conundrum... God is a God that believes in free will. He values humans' free will mightily; if He didn't, why would He have given Adam and Eve the choice to turn away from Him? Why would He have created them with the ability and the option to choose another way? God values free will because He wants His children to choose Him... not out of coercion, but out of love. In this vein, God gives us the option today, every day, to choose to accept Christ's sacrifice, to choose to believe what He says to be true, and to choose obedience to Him.

The conundrum is this... both of the reigning political parties in America force American citizens into some part of God's agenda. Conservativism forces Americans into a moral code that is decidedly Christian. Liberalism forces Americans to give economically for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned - also decidedly Christian. In this way, participants from either party can claim (and frequently do claim) to be acting on behalf of God...

...but God doesn't force us into anything...

So, if any political party is acting "on the behalf of God" (whether they admit to it in that verbiage or not), but they're actually acting contrary to the foundational nature of God in their pursuits, are they truly aligned with God's will or are they not? Many pastors argue that God doesn't hold non-believers accountable to the same standards of behavior that He does His children. As such, are we right to force God's standards on American citizens today? I don't know... The tricky issue of free will. Hmmmm.

So anyway, those are about all of my thoughts for the day. You can clearly see that I have many more questions than I have resolutions or answers. That's okay. Just a few things to think and pray about in the coming months! I also welcome your thoughts and comments - leave them if you have 'em!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grace and Gratitude, by M

First of all, can I just say that I thought W's last post was fantastic!? That sets a pretty high standard... lots to live up to! Go read it if you haven't already!

Grace... you know, probably the best description that I've ever heard of what exactly grace is was a brief summary of the story of Elisabeth Elliot. (Remember her? Yes, I'm still a bit obsessed.) I don't even remember which book or blog or journal or song or whatever introduced me to her grace... grace like this. But it really, really changed my thinking about grace. Specifically, it helped me to understand the difference between grace and that other oft-referenced word - mercy.

Here's my brief attempt at summarizing (I really wish I could remember so I could share the exact quote! Maybe it'll come to me...) The story of Elisabeth Elliot goes like this:

She felt called as a young girl to follow Christ and be a missionary for Him. In college, she met her future husband, Jim Elliot, and they began what would turn out to be a 5-year courtship while both earnestly prayed for discernment about whether marriage and missions were in God's plan for them. Eventually (again, after 5 longgggg years) they both found themselves in Ecuador, and, after spending some time apart in separate rain forests on different sides of the Andes, were married. (Go read Passion and Purity and get all the details on their courtship. It is a fascinating case study in patience and faith!) They enjoyed 3ish years of blissful married life (bear in mind, these two didn't even kiss or hold hands pre-engagement...), had a daughter, and then Jim Elliot was savagely murdered by the native people he was trying to reach with the gospel. They drove a spear through his heart when he and Elisabeth's daughter was only 10 months old. It is an absolutely heartbreaking story.

Here's where grace comes in, though. Elisabeth Elliot had a couple of choices for how to respond after her husband's murder. She could've chosen bitterness. She could have chosen tolerance. She could have chosen forgiveness. She could have chosen mercy. Instead, she chose grace. You see, mercy means letting someone off the hook for the consequence that is owed them. Elisabeth Elliot could have been very merciful, and told the murderers that she forgived them, wiped away any feelings of bitterness she had towards them, and gone on with her life praying for their souls. She did all this... and then she took it a step further. She continued to live with these people, with her husbands murderers for many years. She raised her daughter among their tribe. She taught them English, prayed with them... she gave her husband's murderers, their wives, and their children hair cuts. That's grace.

While mercy is just sparing someone from what's coming to them, grace is giving someone what they don't deserve. The haircuts? It blows my mind.

I like that story because sometimes when we hear about God's grace, it becomes like a broken record that loses its meaning. I mean, of course God gives us grace... that's like His job. That's what makes God, God. But to think about grace in the context of Elisabeth Elliot makes the sacrifice of grace real again. It makes the reality of its undeservedness very clear.

Lately I have felt blessed by the gift of gratitude for this grace. I've made it a point to say "gift of gratitude" because I know this gratitude is not coming from my own heart! For example, on Monday of this week, I started my "early hours" back up at work... this means waking up an hour and a half earlier than I have had to wake up all summer. My initial reaction is to be bitter and annoyed; the temptation is to be upset at God and life for taking away something that I really loved and enjoyed. However, recently I've been able to look at my life through a clearer lens of gratitude. I can take this situation and earnestly, honestly say to myself and to God "wow, how lucky to have 3 months of sleeping in. Praise God for this summertime treat!" The same goes for many other situations and circumstances I've encountered lately. My boss (who's not a Christian) likes to remark about my consistent positive attitude/optimism... but I think it really is all about gratitude.

God doesn't owe me anything. He doesn't owe me an 8am wake-up call, He doesn't owe me vacation time... He doesn't even owe me a job at all, or an able body for work. It's easy to become entitlted; it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God serves us and not that we serve Him. So these days I'm enjoying this gift of gratitude and trying to cultivate it. I want to be known as a person who is not upset, frustrated, angry, or bitter... but one that gives praise and witness to God through my gratitude and recognition of His grace. We all have plenty to be grateful for... not the least of which (certainly!) is Christ's death on the cross for our sins. All of the rest is just icing on the cake!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Living the New Testament minus Christ?

I, W, have been reading a fascinating book lately, and if you've been anywhere near me or spent longer than 10 minutes in conversation with me than I have probably told you about it. It's the first book I ever downloaded to read on the "IBooks" feature of my Ipad, and while I enjoy the convenience, I am most definitely sad about not being able to lend the book to someone else or regift it to my sister.

This interesting, inspiring, hilarious and sometimes painful book is The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs.

I had heard about it when it first came out, and honestly, I happened to pick it simply because IBooks was offering a free sample and it was highly recommended in the "Bookstore." Here's the premise:

A 30-something writer who grew up culturally Jewish but identifies as Agnostic has a kid. He realizes that he needs to impart some sort of moral code to his wild animal-like child (...he is a 2-year old boy, after all!), so he sets out on a journey to try to discover what the Bible REALLY says by living according its rules in a very literal sense.

The first 8 chapters he dedicates to living the Old Testament literally. This gets comical as he makes his way around NYC each day with all-white, single-fiber clothing with tassels on the corners and the commandments bound to his forehead, money tied to his hand, and a beard that is just as untamed as the hair around his temples. He throws pebbles at adulterers and sacrifices a chicken and blows a rams horn at the start of each month. He also tries his best not to lie or lust over other women, to discipline his son out of love, and to avoid his wife at all costs, much to her dismay, during the days which she is "unclean." To help guide his journey, A.J. meets with MANY different advisors who he deems to be literalists-- a Hasidic rabbi, an amish man, Jehovah's witnesses, etc. As such, I have learned a lot about these various religions and sects, and have enjoyed the book very much.

And then, at month 9, he turns his focus to living the New Testament literally. I have been waiting for this moment for the whole book, ready to see him living out the teachings of Christ.

But there's a major problem. The man doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ. He was raised a Jew, after all, and just cannot accept that Christ is Lord.

And it got me thinking. Can we gain anything from the New Testament without a belief that Christ is the Savior?

I honestly have struggled with this for a few days. One part of me says, "Of course! Whether or not Christ is involved, it's still a good moral teaching to love one another, and to treat others as you'd like to be treated, and to respect your parents, etc." Another part of me says, "No way! All of the teachings in the New Testament revolve around a shift in thinking away from punishment toward undeserved grace, and there is no way to understand true grace unless a person understand's the sacrifice of Jesus."

And then there is another layer, which is that through Christ we are able to die to our old sinful nature (or rather, our sins have died with Christ if we accept His atonement for them), so if a person chooses NOT to accept Him, are they even capable of following of Christ's teachings that direct us to act unselfishly and illogically the way a follower can through the gift of the Holy Spirit within us?

And what about the issue of honesty? Can a person believe that Jesus' teachings are good, and then decide that Christ was lying about being the Son of God? A person would have to believe that at some point in the Bible, things stop being true. That Jesus isn't who He says He is, that He isn't going to do what He says He will do, that He isn't as important as He makes himself out to be. Can a person gain any meaningful moral teaching for a person who they believe (even at the necessity of preserving their own beliefs) is a liar and a fake?

It's an interesting topic, this idea that the New Testament might be relevant to some people without the divinity of Christ. To be honest, I cannot see how, and I realize this post may be controversial. It's not intended to be, nor is it intended as an attack to those who do not believe in Christ as the Messiah. Rather, it's just some of my recent musings as I read about a Jewish man trying on the New Testament for size without accepting what, in my mind, is an absolutely essential part of it.

What do you think? Is it possible to live the laws/rules/suggestions/recommendations of the New Testament without believing that Christ is our Savior? Could someone who is a believer live it better?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Stewardship, by M

So, those in Christian circles like to throw around the word “stewardship” a lot.

I like the word. It’s definitely the best word for the concept behind it. There’s just a small problem though… well, actually two. 1) We don’t really talk about “stewards” that much these days and 2) when we do, it just seems like kind of a boring topic.

However, I’ve had an interesting thought about stewardship lately. Please bear with me as I dedicate this post to the topic!

A brief synopsis of the Christian stewardship idea is this: if we believe that everything that is "ours" is actually a gift from Almighty God, we automatically turn into stewards of these things that actually aren’t "ours" but His. We become responsible for what we do with these gifts that He has entrusted to us to take care of and use wisely. The big one here that people like to talk about is money. Duh. But we’re also a steward of our time, our bodies, our resources, our influence, etc.

My recent thought is that active participants in contemporary Christian culture tend to be pretty good stewards of their time and money. Maybe this is because we feel like we have a guideline for it in the generally accepted principle of 10% tithing. Maybe because we love our churches, we feel called to serve when our pastors ask us to serve, or when we recognize the need for service.

However, what I’ve noticed (starting primarily with my own attitudes and behaviors and then increasing my observation outward to others) is that what we’re not so great at is being good stewards of our bodies. I think there are many reasons for this (including Americans’ incessant need to feel in control and in charge of things that are “theirs” without “interference” from anyone else. That’s another post for another time.) However, the main reason I’ve stumbled upon is this:

We think what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter to God. Here’s the thing; when I think about the spirit of God living within me, I tend think of it as this little "God Pocket" that floats right in the middle of my chest… that hollow part right below your sternum and in between your ribs. I mean, it’s a perfect little spot for Him right there!

It’s easy think this way because it’s safe, and because it excuses behaviors that aren’t honoring to our bodies. If I think this way, I can kind of think to myself "Hey, what goes in my stomach doesn’t bother God… He’s not in there!" For friends that use tobacco: "It doesn’t matter what I put in my mouth or lungs, it’s not like I’m hurting God there." For anyone in an inappropriate sexual relationship: "Look, this is like a whole other half of the body… He’s definitely not down here." Etc.

It’s easy to be concerned about the emotional state of your heart, or the psychological state of your brain, or the spiritual state of your soul, because those things seem relevant to the God who lives inside you. Whatever happens in your other random organs just seems… not as much. He’s living in the little God Pocket, remember? It’s like… barricaded from these things by a magical orb of holiness!

Hmmm… not so, actually.

One of the best learning experiences I have ever had was my senior year of college when my bible study leader/ discipler Lindsey set up a walk-through mock tabernacle in her basement. It was set up according to all of the qualifications for the ancient temple, from the sacrificial bowl out front to the Ark of the Covenant all the way in the back. It was fascinating! My favorite part, though, was the story she told us about the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant (ie: the spirit of the living God) was housed. Once a year (on Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement), the chief priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices to the Lord on behalf of all of the people of Israel. He was the only one ever allowed to enter the presence of the Lord, and when he did, he wore two things around his waist: a rope, and some bells. Why? The bells were so the other priests (who were standing outside the Holy of Holies) could hear the priest inside moving around. The rope? So they could pull out the high priest in the event he were struck dead by God when he entered. They would know this to be the case if the bells stopped ringing.

Seriously. This must have happened more than once, for they had quite a genius system going. Here he was… the very high priest… the holiest of all people in the entire nation of Israel, bringing with him the absolute best, most perfect sacrifice he could find, entering the tabernacle, which was immaculately kept according to God’s commands (take a look at Exodus 35-40 for a LONGGGG list of instructions)… and sometimes God would strike him dead if any part of his entering the Holy of Holies defiled it. Boom. Dead. Reel in the rope.

That makes me think. If my body is the new temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19)… I’m doing an unspeakably poorer job of keeping it holy than those priests of old did. Praise God for His grace because if the old rules still applied, He’d have struck me dead longgggg ago! And the reality is that maybe God doesn’t live in my stomach, or maybe He does. Or maybe he doesn’t live in my lungs, or on my skin, or in my eyes, or wherever else… or maybe He does. What we do with our bodies matters to God because He doesn’t just live in a special God Pocket – “Holy of Holies” place inside our ribcage. Our whole body is His new temple, and that means that His resting place is affected by what we chose to do with and do to our bodies. Respecting our bodies means respecting the holiness of the God who lives there… respecting His grace, His gift of the Spirit, and His sacrifice for us. We are to honor our bodies, for we were bought at a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Progress, or My Growing Acceptance of Being a Single Single

After my retreat this weekend, I had to explain to W that single is a noun these days. As in "I am a single." It's used in church language to mean "anyone who is not married"... although I suppose it technically means "any full-grown adult of marrying age who is not married." However, the problem with being categorized as "a single" is that it doesn't provide a lot of clarity about your actual status as a non-married person. You could be a single that's in a relationship, a single that's engaged, a divorced single, a widowed single, or a single single. Whew! Now, many of those singles actually aren't quite that single are they?

So here in the middle of the dating fast, I've been trying to come to terms with being a single single. Wow... not sure if any other phrase possibly makes you sound quite so lame or alone! haha

Seriously, though, I am happy to report that I've been recognizing progress lately. What a blessing! So much of the time we don't even realize that we're making progress... we just wake up one day and all of a sudden we've arrived somewhere without really being aware of how we got there. As such, I take it as a great gift from God to be able to notice progress. It helps me to know that He is working in me, that I'm on the right track, and that I'm steadily headed somewhere better than the place I left. It's exciting!

I've been praying lately that I would find my heart more captivated by God's love than I do by the hypothetical love of some future man. This, it has become clear to me, has been the crux of the problem that I'm dealing with in the dating fast. Relationship and marriage has been an idol for me because at the end of the day I tend to see it as more exciting, more enticing, more important, and more valuable that God's love. Eek. It may be more tangible, but that's about it in terms of its superiority.

So I've been praying for God to help me understand His love more. I figured I'd learn to love Him more if I first better understood His love for me. The great news is that God has been faithful in answering this prayer! I've been reading through Genesis again lately, and truly internalizing the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man. Truly, the story that the Bible tells is one of the unending heartache of a loving God who just desperately wants to be loved back by His children. I don't know that I've ever really thought about how God feels about all of this. When I try to wrap my mind around God's emotional qualities, I start to better understand His love for us. He tries over and over and over and over again to win our love back. He gives us chance after chance after chance to run back to Him. He pursues each person on earth mightily because it breaks His heart to not have them as His.

As I type this, I recognize that these are all statements that I have heard and known for some time. That said, I feel blessed in that it is penetrating my heart in a new way these days. I had a moment over the weekend where it became awesomely clear to me... there's a song that we often sing called "How He Loves Us" and it has a verse in it which says "if grace is an ocean we're all sinking..." Now, I've never quite liked the song because it's unfortunately forever tied to Mr. Sleepyhead, who was the one who introduced it to me. But anyway, as we were singing it this weekend, I imagined myself floating in the middle of this giant ocean, and God's waves just crashing over me. One wave was love, one wave was grace, one wave was forgiveness, one wave was a second chance, one wave was sustenance, one wave was goodness... repeated in a cycle as many times as real waves crash upon the shore... for eternity.

Sorry if that sounds strange or melodramatic, but the reality is that that's how much God loves us. The waves never stop, never run dry, never grow weaker, never retreat. Crazy to think about, right? I mean, really... really think about it.

In conclusion, I find myself slowly letting go of my death grip on marriage as I start to let first things be first in my heart. Not to say that I don't want it (I still do, at times desperately) but that I'm growing in my peace about it day by day. Being a single single isn't that bad after all, when you've got God on your side and you know that you're still desirable and wanted even if no one's choosing you right now. I pray that I can continue to think this way and continue to grow during this single single season! Here's to progress!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Regarding T's Job and my Struggle with Patience

It's W again! Alive and well and enjoying the fact that it's still summer in Chicago.

You know what I'm not enjoying? T's job.

I don't know how much I have discussed with you all the circumstances of T's job or how it affects our relationship. Here's a brief run-down:

-T works as an investment banking analyst with a boutique firm here in Chicago focused on M & A work in the automotive and industrials industries.
-Consistent with most IB analysts, he works anywhere from 80-115 hours a week. Yes, you read that correctly.
-On an average night, he gets home between 2 and 3 in the morning, only to get up, shower, and return to work by 8:30am.
-He typically works at least 10 hours over the course of Saturday and Sunday on most weekends.
-He is always on-call, meaning that at ANY time, his bosses can call him into work and he must report.

Sounds miserable, right? It's actually a highly sought-after career choice because the compensation is high, as is the prestige level and it apparently sets a person up pretty well for future endeavors.

What this means for me? I miss my husband. I can never make plans. I never know when he's going to be home, and if he is home, how often he'll stay here. I start preparing for work at 7am so this means, in a typical 24-hour period, our paths cross for roughly 4 hours in the middle of the night when I have already been asleep for hours and he is a walking zombie as he crashes into bed.

I say this not to elicit pity, because we all know than I signed up for this. I entered into this marriage knowing full-well that for at least another year, this would be our reality. I say this to help give context for you to understand how the Lord is using this situation to teach me patience.

After a year of teaching first grade, I thought I was THROUGH learning about patience. I thought it wouldn't be possible for me to ever be in a situation again that required more patience. Well, folks, I've been back in Chicago for just over a week and the patience train is calling me to hop aboard.

I hate being patient. As much as I don't like to admit it, I am a big fan of instant gratification. I want what I want and I want it NOW. I don't like to wait, and I certainly don't like to wait while it's uncomfortable and painful.

But in this season of patience (both waiting for T to come home each night and waiting for the days when he has a job with more normal hours), the Lord is teaching me many things:

1. Again, that my life is not all about me.
2. That I need to lean on Him for my fulfillment and joy.
3. That He has made me capable of more than I would've believed a year ago (T's not available to help me dig my car out of the snow? T's not available to assemble the desk from Office Depot? Guess that's my job now!)
4. That the love of God can be felt so closely through the connections I have with my wonderfully supportive friends and family members.
5. That I need to trust in the truth that He has made everything beautiful in His own time.

So, that's what I'm learning. And I HATE that I have to learn it because I'd rather have a husband who is home at 6pm to eat dinner and help me do the dishes, to watch TV with me and talk about our days and cuddle before bed, etc. But that isn't our season right now, so I'm trying to accept these lessons as a blessing for this time.