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: