Friday, April 27, 2012


I think that "settling" has become one of those words in our language that has taken on a negative connotation where one may not have existed before. We can settle down when we're angry, we can settle our affairs, we can settle a disagreement, we can even settle in a new place. The most common usage that I hear lately, however, is "settle for less."

We hear this a lot in terms of career choices and dating choices. I think it's a product of our "you can be whatever you want to be" and "you're great at everything you've ever done" upbringings that make young adults of this generation feel like they're constantly settling. This job market has forced many of us to "settle." And not just settle in the sense of putting down roots, but settle in the sense of achieving less or earning less or moving up slower than we expected to or were told we could.

I read something a few months ago, and was reminded of it again recently, and it totally re-framed my thinking on the idea of settling. Here's a brief run-down, but first, a quick and important reminder:

Those of us in Christ are entitled to NOTHING. That job you "settled" for? A huge, undeserved blessing. The apartment you "settled for"? Having a roof over your head at all is something that the Lord never guaranteed. Remember when you "settle" that it's an act of God's provision, not a shortcoming on your part.

So, with that said, here's the other piece of knowledge that opened my eyes immensely:

Maximizers VS. Satisficers

We all fall into one category or another in our decision making.

Maximizers tend to be optimistic in the sense that they truly believe that there is a perfect "fit" for every decision. They believe that a perfect partner, a perfect house, a perfect pair of jeans exist-- and it's their job to find them. They embody the ideal that working hard means you get what you want. Maximizers are perfectionists.

Satisficers are realists in the sense that they believe there are many options which could work as the solution for a problem. They believe that as long as they find something that meets X, Y, and Z criteria, that it's good enough. They embody the ideal that people and objects can be trusted at face-value, and as such, there's no reason to look further. Satisficers are settlers.

Kind of crazy, right? I don't know about you, but I can't look at these two terms without thinking about the people in my life who fit these roles. For example,  our dad is a total maximizer, and our mom is a total satisficer. They are also completely opposite in other ways, but this is an obvious one. Unfortunately for my dad, I believe M and I got the satisficer gene. Our younger sister could be another story (her prom dress shopping extravaganza may prove this)!

I say that I'm a satisficer to make this point: settling doesn't have to be a bad thing. I'll say that again for the sake of those reading who are caught up in the "more, more, more attitude" of this world: settling doesn't have to be a bad thing.

We've been indoctrinated from an early age to reach higher, perform better, grow stronger, and look prettier. It's EXHAUSTING. It says, "You're not good enough as is." And you know what settling says? "You are perfect as you are."

And God really believes that. He really believes we are perfect no matter the job we have or the money we don't have, the awards we receive or the promotions we don't receive, the competitions we win or the offers that we lose. God is SATISFIED with us and by us, just as we are at this very moment. And if we are made in His image, is it so wrong to be satisfied with ourselves or our choices, even if the world says that we're "settling"?

I'm not saying you should give up on the idea of growth, or fixing your bad habits, or losing that extra 10 lbs. I think it's important to be the best "you" that you can be. But I also think it's important to maintain the mindset that even broken things can be valuable, and that "good enough" sometimes really is good enough. And to maintain that mindset without guilt.

Because if God can take our weakness and use it for strength, we can certainly take a terrible job or a crummy apartment and use it for good. Settling doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Good and Evil, by M

Recently I’ve been reading through CS Lewis’ masterpiece Mere Christianity. I read it once in 2007 (when I was still somewhat of a baby Christian) and I’ve been really enjoying re-reading it now. I had forgotten that it is not a book, per se, but a series of published speeches that Lewis gave over the radio during World War II. As such, it doesn’t read quite like a normal book… sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it’s not.

In any case, I’m reading it as a sort of "book club" with one of my friends who doesn’t identify as Christian. It’s been one of the most interesting, challenging, and fruitful things that I’ve done in a long time. Not only is CS Lewis' writing dense and philosophical beyond my ability to fully comprehend, we’ve also been having great discussion about his theological points. Through the process, I’ve been forced to become better at effectively communicating what I believe and why.

Something that I read recently was CS Lewis’ description of good and evil. I think it is actually quite simple and strikingly true:

"I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness; you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness... In other words, badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled... And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angle?...Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel."

Now, I historically have not really bought into the idea of spiritual warfare. It kind of creeps me out and makes me feel like we’re all paranoid conspiracy theorists. I don’t like that feeling. However, I agree with what Lewis is arguing here. I also think that we all agree that evil is a "presence" in the world, even if it’s a presence that we may not like to readily personify. Evil being a "he" becomes so much more menacing than evil as an "it," doesn’t it? It becomes scary when we think of evil as having some sort of active, manipulative agenda, as opposed to something we just perhaps… fall into now and again. That’s probably why I don’t like to think about it that way very much.

However, I’ve encountered something interesting lately, which I think backs up Lewis’ claim. You may remember that since January I’ve been reading through a "guided tour of the Bible." Let me remind you that this is NOT a "read through the Bible in a Year" plan but instead a "one chapter a day for 180 days" plan. Just wanted to clarify that lest you think I’m far more dedicated than I actually am. Haha Anyway, about 1 and a half weeks ago the tour finally arrived in the New Testament. It’s been really interesting for me to read the story of Jesus across the gospels… one chapter in Luke, two chapters in Mark, back to Luke, over to John, etc. It’s provided a new perspective for me on some stories that are on the verge of feeling old and tired. I’ve also started to sense themes in Jesus’ life and ministry that I hadn’t picked up on before when I’ve been isolated in a singular gospel.

One of the things I’ve noticed lately is that every time Jesus drives out a demon, they always already know who He is. The demons always fear God, always call Him by name, and often recognize Him as Lord before the actual person does. This is fascinating to me. Now, we don’t talk much about demons these days… we don’t often suggest that people who are manic-depressive get an exorcism to cure themselves. And I’m not here to suggest or diagnose who may have demons and who doesn’t… or even hypothesize whether demons inhabit human bodies these days like they apparently did in Jesus’ time. That said, let’s just think about this for a second…

We think of demons as eternal beings… kind of like mean ghosts, or, more appropriately, as angels that have crossed over to the dark side. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that these eternal demons would recognize in Jesus the face of our eternal God? And why should they fear him if not for a full understanding of what He is capable of? They understand that they simply cannot continue to exist in the presence of our Savior, just as darkness stands no chance of existing in the presence of light.

When I read through the Gospels and specifically the stories of Jesus driving out the demons, I anticipate that the demons will mock Jesus or refute any claim He has made to be God. If they're of the dark side, it seems consistent for them to antagonize Jesus, right? Isn't it amazing and encouraging, then, that this is not what happened? Check it out for yourself: Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 1:21-28, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 4:31-41, Luke 8:26-39.

Although it is creepy and sometimes scary to think that evil exists and that there's a mind behind it in the existence of Satan, I love that we have this proof in the gospels of our victory in Christ! It is truly awesome!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Breath of Life, by M

About once every 2-3 months I’m reminded that I need to loosen the grip of control. Or, really, I should say that I get a spiritual conviction about this about once every 2-3 months. In my life otherwise I’m reminded of this approximately 4-5 times a week… whenever I encounter traffic jams, hidden onions, rainy weekends, and past-my-bedtime necessities. The reality is that I want everything to be under my control at all times, and despite my best intentions, I struggle to give this control up to God in things both little and large.

It’s all so dumb, isn’t it? The reality is that we rarely have any control over anything, let alone everything. Me wanting to control the weather for my beach vacation doesn’t mean that I actually have any control at all. Instead, this desire for control has the power to leave me frustrated and upset when things don’t go my way. Didn’t someone know that my plan was for it to be sunny and warm??

So, I’m well aware that desiring control is a fruitless, if not downright sinful endeavor. Controlling the things that are in your control is great. Everything else… wasted effort. I was reminded of this recently.

You see, it is very easy for me to get wrapped up spiritually in thinking that I’m responsible for others’ choices, behaviors, or even salvation. I’m not sure if this comes from my position of leadership in the church or my own nature of desiring to control things (probably both), but it’s something that I’m aware of is a temptation for me. I start off well-intentioned and thinking that I’m just doing (or attempting to do) God’s work here on earth. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Aren’t we His hands and His feet here? Next thing you know I’m up at night beating myself up about all the people around me whose lives aren’t changing. I think "well, if I were doing a better job of witnessing or evangelizing or making God ‘attractive’ wouldn’t people want to know Jesus? Wouldn’t I see more life change?" It’s bad. It’s a total lack of faith and a total belief in only that which I can see.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Passion City Church here in Atlanta and listened to Louie Giglio preach a sermon on the Gospel of John. He talked about how the Bible says that those who believe in Jesus are made alive in Him - "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24). Meaning, before our salvation, we were dead. He went on to say that no one raised themselves from the dead. They don’t choose to become un-dead, they don’t raise their hands and ask to be made alive again… they are straight-up dead. He made the point that we cannot boast or think that we have saved ourselves. No, God finds us, calls us, pursues us, and raises us to life... meanwhile, we're still just dead.

So I've been thinking recently about how this relates to my desire for control. The reality is that the people around me who are non-believers are yet "dead in their transgressions" (Ephesians 2:4); they have not yet crossed from death to life. This means that no matter how much spiritual "shaking" I do, they aren't waking up from my effort. Sometimes I feel like if I just try a little harder or turn up the volume a little more, they'll finally "wake up." The truth is that no one wakes the dead other than God himself.

This is comforting to me, but it's also convicting. I feel relief but also the temptation for apathy. I certainly don't think that this truth lets us (who are alive) off of the hook. The reality is that God can and does use us as His hands and feet, and that we very well may play integral roles in others' process of "waking up" to Christ. However, the reality also is that that first breath of eternal life must always come from God... and that is going to come on His terms and in His time.

So, I'm once again reminded that I need to release my grip of control to Him and His plan. Feeling like a failure for not doing more to raise others to life puts me and my works at the center of this universe. It creates an expectation that I am responsible for stirring that heart... and yet, I am not anyone's Savior. I am not meant to be. God will not yield to my agenda and time-frame. Moreover, can't I trust Him with others' salvation? He clearly did a fine job waking me to life.

I'm thinking, then, that I need to (once again) trust God to do what He says He will do. I need to believe in my heart that God desires for each and every one of his people to wake up to Him and follow Him... and that He is more than capable of accomplishing this. The wise words of John the Baptist remind me that, in order for me to truly aid in accomplishing God's purposes, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2nd Place, 1st Loser?

I've been thinking a lot recently about the events in my life that have led me to where I am today. Not a very unique journey, but as we are on the precipice of T starting a new job this summer, I can't help but think back to other significant transitions in my life.

A common theme? 2nd place.

I say that not to be melodramatic, but just as a general observation of my life.

Case in point:

1. ALWAYS coming in 2nd in all-around scoring-- with M in 1st-- in many years of gymnastics, I can only remember one time when I came out on top, and the dang trophy didn't even say "First" on it. I wrote it on there myself in permanent marker afterwards to make sure everyone knew. Ha!

2. The top-10 students (including M) in my graduating high school class were honored with a special banquet, awards, a newspaper feature-- I was #11.

3. I was cast as the understudy to the lead in our high school musical. I never got an actual lead part (Guess who did? M! Surprise!).

4. Getting wait-listed and eventually rejected from Vanderbilt the first time around. Lots of my fellow alumni have been recently saying, in regards to the ever-increasing competitiveness of admission, "Man! I'd never get into Vanderbilt these days!" to which I respond, "I know! I couldn't even get admitted in 2005!" They laugh uncomfortably.

5. I was hired at my school last year only after 2 previously-hired employees backed out.

Looking at this list, which simply recounts the most significant of many 2nd-place finishes, I'm surprisingly not depressed. Maybe it's because I always tried my best, and maybe it's because I'm older and wiser and all that business. But really, I think it has to do with the greater context of these situations.

Take gymnastics. Yes, I consistently finished runner-up to Monica. But I was also one of the best gymnasts in the state during my year of competing.

So what if I was #11? Out of 500+ kids, that's still darn near the top.

And let's face it-- I was never cut out to be a teacher anyway in a Chicago public school. I'm sure they WOULD have been better with one of the first two people they hired for my position.

But it's Vanderbilt that really puts things into perspective for me. Getting wait-listed and rejected was devastating to me at the time. After all, I was a golden child at my high school. I rocked at the ACTs, I was in the show choir, I had excellent grades, strong recommendations, and many leadership positions. Why wouldn't they want me?

But, they didn't. Until I transferred.

Fast forward 5 years to May 2010 and I'm accepting an award for graduating summa cum laude and being the top student in my major. So much for not being good enough for Vanderbilt, right?

What I take away from these stories is this: you don't have to sit idly by and accept that someone else has judged you as 2nd rate.

I spent years of my life wondering why nothing I ever did was good enough. Cue the perfectionism and anxiety and comparison and panic attacks. I wondered why nothing was going according to plan, why I couldn't just WIN. And these episodes of being runner-up taught me an important lesson: if we allow ourselves to find our value in how we perform, we are setting ourselves up to feel worthless if we don't perform at the top. Looking objectively, I have always been far from a failure. I have always been NEAR the top. But I was convinced that unless I was AT the top, I was the #1 loser. And #1 loser might as well be #1,000,000 cause I was still a loser.

This is where Christ comes in for me. This is where I surrender my preconceived notions about what I want my life to look like and what I want to accomplish through my own strength. By finally accepting that I am pretty much useless outside of Him, I can see my accomplishments through a different lens. Rather than trying to win for the sake of my own pride, I can view any success as a gift that I do not deserve. Rather than wanting accolades and praise from others, I can focus on how my actions fit into the greater plan of being His hands and feet-- and if He wants me to be runner up for whatever reason, I'll be the most grateful runner up that I can be.

And with that, maybe 2nd place isn't so bad after all.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Attractive Faith, by M

A couple of weeks ago the BF and I flew to Midland, TX for a wedding of one of his best friends from college. I'll spare you the details of my Texas experience (I've been assured by many native Texans that Midland is NOT represenative of the rest of the state)... but let's just say it was an adventure characterized by dust, oil rigs, and ancient taxidermy. ha! Aren't you curious now!?

Although it was an epic process getting there and back (I spent 17 hours en route for a 22 hour stay), I was really glad to go and share in the bride and groom's joy at getting married. It was also an exciting and important time for me to meet and spend time with lots of my bf's closest friends. All in all, I would call it a valuable experience, taxidermy aside.

Now, on to the point of this post... In the twoish weeks since the wedding, I've been thinking about one of the things that their presiding pastor said during the ceremony. The bride and groom are both Christians who I would say are really "walking the walk," and the pastor took the time to acknowledge the sacrifices they've made to walk in the faith, the love they've already shown each other, the way their relationship reflects the love, grace, and forgiveness of Christ, etc. (All pretty standard fare for Christian weddings, I believe). However, he then said this:

"Thank you for the way in which the two of you make the love of Christ attractive to all who watch your lives and your relationship."

And something about that really resonated with me. I love how he used the word "attractive." To be honest, I'm not sure that I've ever heard anyone use such phrasing. It immediately got my head spinning... "am I doing that? I want to do that!"

So I've been thinking lately about what it means to make the love of Christ attractive to those who watch us... especially those who don't know Him. (This is made more difficult by the fact that I truly don't know the bride or groom. Thus, I can't use any knowledge of them or their actions as evidence of what the pastor was referring to). What does it mean? How do we do it?

I know that the answer lies not in preaching a prosperity gospel. We can't win people by promising things that the Bible doesn't promise. Sure, it's attractive to tell people that if they believe in Jesus they'll get a great job and have healthy kids and never face trials... but that's a lie. Actually, the New Testament promises more of a "poverty gospel" (yes, I just made up that term... it's the opposite of prosperity, isn't it?!) The Bible says "come follow Jesus and you'll have the pleasure of suffering, being persecuted, and possibly even stoned to death!" Hmmm, okay... that is not attractive to me.

Back to square one. So I got to thinking about how Christ was an attractive guy (meaning, He was like a magnet to many people who heard of Him or crossed His path). He didn't spare the truth or sugarcoat the reality of things, but people were still drawn to Him nonetheless. He had a magnetic quality... which means that his Holy Spirit in us is meant to be magnetic, too?

At the end of the day, maybe the answer to this question is simple: what makes us attractive for Christ is the fruit of the Spirit. What draws others to us is allowing Christ's goodness to flow through us and pull other people in like Christ's own magnetism did in His day. As a reminder, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)

So then the real question becomes, am I living my life in the Spirit? Are the people I encounter experiencing my own spirit (which is self-centered, sometimes nasty, and certainly unattractive) or experiencing the Holy Spirit? If I take a look at my actions and ask myself "did that interaction make Christ seem more or less attractive?" I can pretty easily see which force was ruling over my heart in that moment. This is terrifying. It reveals to me how much further I have to go to live a life that does a good job of glorifying God. I tells me that yet I struggle to "live a life worthy of the calling [I] have received." (Ephesians 4:1) For what calling do we have if not to glorify God and make His ways attractive to man?

I encourage you, then, to think about this as you act. Even better, before you act... ask yourself "is this an attractive choice?" If not, perhaps Christ desires for us (and from us) a different one. Can you imagine how this world would look different if Christ-followers acted as attractive as Christ did? The love, the mercy, the forgiveness, the grace? It would blow everyone's minds! And that's the point, right?