Sunday, June 30, 2013

Checking In

I picked up The Giver for my summer reading list a few weeks back.

Not that I actually have a list, but in the process of listening to someone else's recommendation for a young adult science fiction series, The Giver kept enticing me as I stood in the public library. I had read it once a long time ago and remembered it being good... so, why not?

Dude.
If you haven't read it, you should.

I started reading it today (and I hope to finish it today...)... but I'm so entranced by this utopian world that's created. Within a few pages, an idea leapt out at me. An idea for an ideal... probably catered more toward the female than the male (but perhaps just as necessary for both).

In this book, the family unit is required to share feelings each night. It's one of their rituals. Each night, they go around the table and tell their feelings from the day.

The idea stirred something in me... perhaps a longing. A longing for a time each day to share feelings...to hear from others and to have someone else hear me. To know that each day there would be a safe place for this to happen... a place where I could be heard and still loved.

When I think of my favorite living situations, it has always been the times where we had the freedom to share our feelings. To come home each day and debrief what happened. There was a comfort in knowing that someone else was going to take the time to hear about my day, that someone else wanted to hear about my day.

When I think of some of the aspects of dating that I really enjoy--one of them has everything to do with knowing someone else cares about my life. A checking in on each other and finding out how the other is doing each day. It's probably one of the things I miss most or makes me feel most lonely as a single.

Because we're created for relationship. We're created with a longing to be known, to be cared about, to be heard. And sometimes we get in the habit of stuffing this inside and not wanting to really open up at all. We get in the habit of thinking that no one cares or that no one wants to hear, or that if we just talk to God about all of these things, that we're okay.

I'd like to challenge us to be people who check in with each other more regularly. Whether you're married, or living with roommates, or have a full-fledged family with kids and dogs and goats... what might happen if we were willing to take time each day to ask the others how they're feeling, how they're doing, how their day was? What might happen if we were able to release all of that pent up emotion in a safe place as well? Even if it was just for a season...?

Because I honestly think that God created us for relationships like this. That even when it was just Adam and God, the Lord declares that it's not good for man to be alone. There's something necessary about having other people in our lives.

And I think we need to take advantage of that.
I think we need to be more intentional with those around us.
I think we need to check in with each other more often, I think we need to be more transparent about how we're really doing and what's really going on with us/our emotions. There's something cathartic about it... something healthy...something strangely important. I think this 'checking in' needs to be more of what's expected versus the exception...a ritual in our life versus the every-so-often-when-I-think-about-it type of ordeal.

Let's be creatures of deeper purpose than simply existing together as we crowd around the television set for dinner, or talk on a surface level about how our days were. What emotions did you feel? What did you learn? How are you growing/processing/wrestling through life?

Let's share these things with each other.
And let's be iron sharpening iron... in our families, our marriages, our roommate situations, our friendships...

This sharing of feelings...?
I just think it's a valuable ideal that we can strive for, even if we aren't perfect at it. A time where we can be heard and make others feel heard... which ultimately leads to a feeling of being known and knowing others. Which, I think, is a really beautiful thing.


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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Not Invincible

I might have given myself a concussion a while back.

It was one of those times when you open up a car door and either miscalculate your distance from the door or underestimate your brute strength compared to the weight of the door and before you know it, a heavy piece of metal (that you're controlling) is nailing you in the forehead. It's the worst. The Worst.

Not only are you embarrassed by what just happened, but you're left with a goose egg of a bump on your head that might eventually turn purple. There's no way to play it off in any sort of cool way...

I might have fallen down the stairs the other day, too.

It was one of those moments when you turn quickly, your foot catches and you feel your upper body propelling forward and downward while your feet get stuck behind. You hear yourself distantly yelling, 'Oh shoooooooooot!' (and you're honestly somewhat surprised you aren't cursing) as you desperately try to clutch onto the banister before you break your neck in the tumble. You succeed, fortunately, and walk away with your legs a big banged up and your pride a bit wounded (especially when your landlord runs over after hearing the loud ordeal and offers to take you to the hospital).

It was one of those days when you feel like you're getting really old.
And one of those days when you're not invincible.

After the dizziness had passed, I decided I was in good enough shape to drive thirty minutes to meet a friend for a hiking escapade. As I drove, I couldn't help but think about how much worse it could have been (and how stupid it still was...).

But both of these events (no matter how trivial) remind me that I'm human. Bad things can happen to me... when I least expect it. Bad things can happen to me...accidentally. I don't deserve for them not to.

They are things that remind me to be thankful for what I have. To remember the blessings. To remember that I've been given infinitely more than what I need, even when I still feel like I want what I don't have.

I have already been given more than what I deserve.

And I don't want to forget that.
So even when I have little scares... or even major things don't seem to be lining up the way I ever thought they would...

I want to remember Jesus.
I want to remember what I deserved.
I want to remember that He saved me from what I deserved.
I want to remember how He saved me from it.

And I want to remember that anything I get beyond that is a blessing, not something I'm entitled to. And anything that seems bad or scary or harmful...there's already been true victory in my life.

I want to remember that I'm not invincible.
And even though bad things can happen at any moment, at any time...
I don't need to live in fear of it, but I can live in gratitude for what I'm continually given each day.

The perspective shift.
Sometimes you just need a good hit in the head, or a good fall down the stairs to get it. Sometimes something worse wakes us up to those realities. Sometimes we just remember and we're thankful.

But, in the end, no matter where we stand... Jesus still reigns. He still saves.
Even when we suck.

And today I am thankful.


Your entries will remain anonymous

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting.

Today was one of those days where, try as I may, I couldn't write.
Writer's Block?
Maybe. Maybe I just got tired of writing about sex and relationships and things that, sometimes, feel so secondary to what actually matters. These trivial things that seem to take such a priority in our lives, but are often exhausting and cause us to lose focus...

So I began sifting through some old writings and came across something that I've thought about blogging about before, but hadn't. Here you have it, though...what we do in the moments in our faith when we feel distant from God, when we feel like we've lost that emotional connection with Him..

Check it out:

Waiting when it doesn’t Click

In the depths of my soul, I feel a stirring.  I feel with certainty that there must be more than this; more than this life I am living.  Beyond the normalcy that life tends to lend itself to, beyond the tragedies and the heartaches, beyond even the greatest joys we can ever know on this earth… I'm absolutely convinced there is more.  That life was meant to look differently, it was meant to be more fulfilling, more whole… 

We catch the glimpses, we catch these small pieces that leave us wanting more.  Where do we go from there?  Where do we go when our hearts crave something bigger, something better, something that seems out of reach…even if only by a few centimeters? 

We have the moments that click… yes.  And then it seems that the rest of our lives are comprised of dissected scenes; scenes where we are wallowing and wandering and striving to find our way back to those moments where it all makes sense. 

I’ve recently realized that I can’t make myself be in an intimate spot with the Lord; the place where it clicks and where everything I'm saying and living finally makes sense because I feel His presence so fully in my life. No matter how much I pray, or how much I read my Bible, or fast, or attempt to love others… I can’t make myself get there. It seems that I'm simply waiting on the Lord to move me into those places of intimacy with Him. 

We are waiting. Constantly. There seems to be verse after verse in Scripture about waiting on the Lord, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe it has something to do with this, too.

And I keep wondering what will our response be as we are waiting. What will my response be as I wait? Sometimes I want to flee. Sometimes I literally think, “Screw this… if God’s not going to respond when I'm trying to seek Him, why should I even bother?”. Sometimes I am convinced it’s my fault… that I'm not being as good of a Christian as I should be. I'm not reading enough or praying enough or loving people well. I'm convinced that if I do more, than I will achieve the intimacy with Christ that I’ve experienced before that is sweet and beautiful. Sometimes I'm merely apathetic… and I just do what’s before me, I do what I need to get by… and I become a human robot, void of emotion or concern for much…

I'm convinced that the Lord longs for us to be faithful in the waiting. And I'm convinced that being faithful means being diligent in the things He has called us to, even if we don’t always feel like it, even if we don’t always understand it, even if we don’t always care…. but I also think it’s a fine line between doing these things in order to achieve this emotional connection with the God of this universe vs. doing them because we love Him and we trust Him and we have given our lives to Him. 

Will we abandon everything to follow Him? And while we’re waiting to be drawn back into those intimate places where we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is real and good and sovereign… will we walk faithfully?  Will we walk in the hope that we have in Him… even when we can’t always feel it?  

Your entries will remain anonymous

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Oral Sex Question

(Just a heads up... the content of this post is a bit more sexually explicit than some of the others. Consider yourself warned.) 

The comment: 
So many teens, including many Christian kids I know, think oral set is NOT sex. They say it isn't penetration so it is ok to do. What is your opinion? How do I respond to them when they tell me they are having oral sex with their bf/gf?
Remember that time when I welcomed in questions and comments about sexuality and then I got a question like this and wanted to avoid it because of how heavy and detrimental it can be? Yep. That's how I feel right now. 

Because... this is a big question. A big question because it's the question a lot of teenagers and Christians in dating relationships are asking. It's the question that's essentially asking, 'How far can I go without committing the sin of pre-marital sex, without losing my virginity, without maiming my purity?'

But, I think it's the wrong question. 
The last thing I want to do is set up another restriction for Christians without first understanding why this is important. It's easy for me to say that I think oral sex is sex (of some fashion, although it's clearly not genital intercourse... but is that solely what Scripture is even referring to?)... but if that's just fuel to prove that something is sin, I think we miss the point. 

The point is that when we enter into physically intimate relationships with people who are not our spouses, something is lost. Something beautiful, something mysterious, something deeply intimate. That when you're participating in an act that brings the other to full arousal, when you're in such a place of vulnerability of completely exposing parts of your body to another... something happens. There's a connection that's made. And the more we do these things with various people, the more we miss out on the way it was intended to be, the way it was designed. The more it just becomes another thing to do (sometimes complete with STDs and other emotional garbage)...but it has lost the true connectivity. 

We get more interested in what we can get away with over what it means to hold tight to integrity, holiness and purity. We are more interested in getting whatever we can out of each moment instead of recognizing the long term ramifications it can have (on ourselves, our current make-out partner, our future spouses, their future spouses). We begin to see our current relationship as a means to our temporary sexual fulfillment, instead of honoring them in each moment. What if your relationship right now doesn't work out? What if you break up? 

I'll be the first to admit that I want to have sex. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a sexual being, with sexual desires who struggles with sexual temptation. 

But all of this stuff that we play around with, that we focus on, that we try to get away with? It doesn't seem worth it. It's not fulfilling. It's a life of perpetual regret. A life of giving in, feeing frustrated, being consumed by sex (or a lack of sex). Sex is not the end goal...it's not our final destination. And, it seems the more that we buy into this sexual identity, the more we are consumed by it. The more we mess around with our boyfriends/girlfriends, the more we're thinking about it, the more we want to push the bounds because it's all we can think about. 

I talked to another single friend of mine the other day about our singleness. She feels, most assuredly, that God will bless her with a husband someday and challenged me in thinking that if that's the promise, what does it look like to work backward from that. Meaning, that if she knows that she is going to marry, how can she live now, as a single, honoring that fact...honoring her husband-to-be. How can she make decisions now that can impact her future in positive ways and not negative ones? How can she date well with that in mind? How can she not give of herself too freely, but not hold back as she's still dealing with the unknowns? 

Because as much as we can argue about oral sex being sex or not... as much we can give teenagers another thing to add to their list of 'don'ts' (which there are also just practical purposes for avoiding it outside of marriage...)... I think we need to somehow get further into the mindset of it. 

Why do they feel like they need to have oral sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend? What do they gain? What do they lose? In five years... was the temporary enjoyment worth it? On the off chance that they do marry this person, does it harm their relationship if they maintain boundaries that didn't involve ejaculation, orgasms and touching genitals and doing things they wouldn't want their parents in the room for? Does it benefit the relationship if they refrain? What's most glorifying to the Lord? What's most edifying to the other person? Does these things matter to them? Why or why not?

So this is where I say.. let's have conversations about it. Before just trying to convince kids that oral sex is bad and they shouldn't do it... let's figure out what else is going on. Let's figure out ways to show them that a life of purity (a road that's very much less traveled in this day) is worth it. That it's worth maintaining.

But in the end, let's open up conversations about what it really means to follow Christ. That maybe the goal isn't to keep youth from refraining from 'sexual immorality', but maybe the goal is to give them a fuller glimpse of who Jesus is, to show them the path that's rough and hard and full of self-discipline and not giving into our fleshly desires... because it leads to something better. Something more whole. Something that we're all really searching and longing for.

Because what they're wanting (shoot, even what I'm wanting)... it isn't found in sex, or even intimacy with another person here on earth. It won't be fulfilled through that, or drugs, or food, or in having the best body, or being popular, or always having a boyfriend, or getting your dream job, or getting into the best college in the world...

I think when we can show them a fuller picture of the Gospel, of who Jesus is, of what it means to follow Him (and when we're willing to go there ourselves)... that we might be a people who stop asking questions about what we can get away with, and getting trapped in the legalism of the law. We might then be a people who are living for something abundantly more than the pleasures of this world because we recognize that it doesn't satisfy.. not ultimately, anyway.

Easier in theory, yes. I get that.
But I just don't think the solution is grinding into people's heads a bunch of rights and wrongs...and having them refrain from things strictly because someone told them not to. There's a bigger reason to abstain, and I want us to to be willing to go there... and I want us to be willing to live that way and model it well (even if not perfectly).

So.. how do you respond?
Dive in deeper. Just because you tell them it's wrong, it doesn't mean that they're going to stop (despite all the facts about how bad it can be for your body--we always think we're the exception...). So start asking questions, get to the heart of the issue... and don't lose hope even if they don't stop. Trust that the Holy Spirit is going to do His thing and that we believe in a God of redemption and second chances.

Continue to be someone that they trust, that they confide in, that's willing to dialogue with them about hard issues in life and not just the person who makes them feel guilty and condemned every time you converse. Love them well, make your stance clear... but don't stop the conversation there.

So.. there you have it. I suppose that's my opinion on it.
Oh, and if you're reading this and you're having questions about this very issue? I'd challenge you to ask yourself some hard questions, or to be willing to have open dialogues with others you trust about this very issue. Stop asking, 'Is this really that bad?' and start asking the harder, deeper questions.

I think there's more for all of us when we stray from the checklist of rights and wrongs and begin pressing more fully into the design that God created for us (even when it means feeling like we're sacrificing things and denying ourselves in the moment).

Freedom.
The Better.

I want that. For all of us.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Physical Attraction

(Below is a written dialogue between myself and blogger/friend, Bryn Clark...he's a he, in case there's any confusion. Check out his blog when you get a moment!) 

BRYN:
So here's the thing: physical attraction matters...doesn't it?
It's not shallow to want to be with someone you find attractive, right?
It's okay to have a "type"...a certain physical body-type that you find particularly good-looking...true? 

In the world of Christian dating, marriage and general shenanigans, physical attraction is a touchy subject. The world tells us that attraction and compatibility are all that matter. Our Christian sub-culture, on the other hand, tells us that looks are fleeting and true beauty is to be found inside of us. So is it shallow not to want to be with someone because of their looks? Do looks matter at all?

The truth is that God created sex and sex inherently involves arousal which is physically (not emotionally or mentally) created by attraction. The Bible is full of allusions to the attraction between a man and woman; Songs of Solomon mentions that a man is to be raptured with the beauty of his beloved breasts. In the words of Timothy Keller "There's no getting around that one". Attraction is a necessity in a relationship, and it's not shallow to admit this.

That being said, there should be a difference between how Christians treat physical attraction and the difference is that we don't idolize it. Attraction should never be the bond that holds a relationship together, nor should it be the fuel for the fire that ignites it. Could it be the spark? Could catching the eye of a sexy-someone across the room lead to a healthy, Christ-centered and God-honoring relationship? Absolutely. But if physical attraction is the only thing getting a relationship off the ground, then it's going to fall really quickly. In our sex-crazed culture, especially one in which visual stimulation is momentarily accessible whether we want it to be or not, it will not be long before we find a physical blemish in our significant other. A pimple there, maybe a scar or crooked tooth, perhaps a little too much or even too little weight- the list goes on and preferences vary. 

I find this to be an issue, generally speaking, more often with men than women. Men are visual beings, it's part of our wiring and physiology. This is why pornography entraps men a little easier than women; and even in cases in which women struggle with porn it's usually for different reasons than men. When you combine visual stimulation for men with a consumeristic society that is entirely infiltrated with pornography, it's almost guaranteed that a man will have trouble always finding a woman attractive. This is why, for guys particularly, attraction is important but it needs to give way to commitment. 

Emotions, attractions and desires come and go, but a relationship based on commitment is one that will be enhanced not dictated by attraction. When this happens, true attraction takes form, both sexually and emotionally.

What are your thoughts, Debbie? Is this the same for girls? 

ME: 
Yes. 

You bring up some good points, and I do think it's easier for most women to become attracted to a man over time as she gets to know him, even if she wasn't attracted to him initially. 

Here's a little confession from yours truly, though.. 
I have the tendency, upon meeting men, to immediately put them into a category based on their physical attraction (yes, I'm shallow at times). They either stay in the, 'Maybe this could be more' realm, or they are immediately cast into the 'Friend Zone'. Granted, those that are in the friend zone can come out of it (and have). Because, physical attraction is important...but it's not the most important. And yes, it's fleeting and it isn't the thing to base a relationship on... but if it's not there, it's not there. 

There have been a few times when I tried to force it though, and I found myself trying to convince myself of all the reasons why I should date a certain guy, even though I wasn't really physically attracted to him. But, I don't think that we should have to convince ourselves. I think there's this combination that's necessary, a combination that creates attraction/arousal... a combination that's good to hold out for. I would never encourage a woman to marry a man just because he was great if she had no attraction toward him. Could it work? Actually, it probably could...

So maybe the whole attraction thing is bogus and a product of our society. I could throw in a Fiddler on the Roof reference and talk about arranged marriages and how physical attraction doesn't seem essential at all to a long-lasting marriage. That maybe it's all about commitment and choosing to love each other day in and day out, no matter what. That maybe our desire for physical attraction is a superficial, shallow thing that we place entirely too much focus on (myself clearly included). 

Check out these lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof (I decided to go look them up after I thought about the song "Do you Love Me?'). An older couple's daughter is about to get married out of love and, while they are reflecting on this newfound idea for their culture, the husband (Tevya) asked his wife (Golde) if she loves him: 

(Golde)
Do I love you? 
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

(Tevye)
Golde, The first time I met you 
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

(Golde)
I was shy

(Tevye)
I was nervous

(Golde)
So was I

(Tevye)
But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

(Golde)
I'm your wife

(Tevye)
"I know..."
But do you love me?

(Golde)
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

(Tevye)
Then you love me?

(Golde)
I suppose I do

(Tevye)
And I suppose I love you too

(Both)
It doesn't change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know

It's this beautiful picture, to me, of what love can look like. What commitment can look like. And how dating, perhaps, can easily influence us into breaking up with people simply because of the little things that we are unattracted to in another person that hold absolutely no significance. 

Because..
What really matters

As much as we let physical attraction matter...
I'm not sure it should. 

I think I've just convinced myself of that.. 

What if we were truly able to be people who aren't so quick to judge the surface? If you're anything like me, let's seek to not be so quick to cast people into "dateable" and "undateable" solely on physical attraction. Can we be willing to go deeper? Can we be willing to see them in the fullness of who they truly are? Can we be willing to not let what others think matter (because, let's be honest, sometimes we don't want to date someone just because we fear others won't think they're attractive at all...)?

Maybe we're too broken and our society has engrained too much junk into us to fully escape the desire (and need) for being physically attracted to our significant other... but let's not be people who define our relationships by it. Let's not jump out of relationships because of something external. 

Let's be committed, let's honor the other... for who they are, not just what they look like (blemishy, fat, skinny, crooked teeth, grey hair and all). 

Because it is fleeting.
And the other stuff just matters more.

Let's live like it. 

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Healthy Sexuality

I'm sitting in on a Human Sexuality class this week...and nothing is really off limits.

We began class by listing the various slang terms for sexual intercourse, our professor informing us that we need to be comfortable with any terminology a client might come to us with. We sat for a few hours, listening intently, engaged in provocative discussions... all while vulgar words stared at us from the blackboard behind our teacher (including the most vulgar of them all...).

It's been enlightening, the say the least.
To be able to talk about sexuality (and anything having to do with sex) from both a biological and Christian viewpoint, to acknowledge the darkness, the depths of addictions, but also to be reminded that there is a healthy sexuality, that God created something good when He created sex... and we can't ignore that.

I'm not going to lie, there have been times when I shift in my seat uncomfortably as our professor casually talks about what happens during arousal or explains the purpose of various sex toys....and where I'm maybe prone to giggle out of awkwardness, a quick glance around reminds me that I'm the most immature person in the room and I better shape up.

I've found that when I post about sex, people want to read about it. In the secret, of course. These are the posts that others don't share on their Facebook wall or retweet... because, while almost all of us are extremely curious and interested in the topic, we don't necessarily want everyone else to think we're obsessed with it. There's a certain shame or guilt that's often associated with sex and sexuality... and it makes us scared to really talk about it.

As much as we live in a day and age where sex is everywhere, it's still something that we have the tendency to hide, be bashful about, avoid. And while sex is definitely a private matter... the secrecy that surrounds it often allows us to more easily go into the dark and dangerous ensnarements of it.

I guess I just want to remind us that healthy conversations about sex and sexuality are good. That they're important. That they can be life-giving as we are able to ask questions about what is true and good, so we can gain more understanding about the fact that we are very sexual beings. It's important for us to not ignore the fact that we have sexual desires and that we're facing sexual temptations constantly.

I think I fear that when we aren't willing to talk about it, especially in the church or other religious settings, that Christians can get the wrong idea about sex. That we can spend our lives growing up believing that sex is bad, wrong, and something we should avoid at all costs... and then when we're finally married it feels impossible for us to flip a switch that suddenly allows for sex to be good and something we are supposed to do. Or else the absence of understanding it/talking about it enables us to take it to the opposite extreme.

Sexuality is broad...
and I want us to be able to talk about everything it entails. I want us to be able to work through the awkwardness, to laugh at the uncomfortable words, but to have healthy conversations about what it means that we are sexual beings and what it means to embrace that in a good and holy way, a way that still allows us to operate in the fullness of who God has created us to be (but also recognize that we aren't created solely for sex...it's not our ultimate purpose for existence--not even close).

Per usual, I'll be bringing up some topics in the future about various specifics of sexuality. I'd love any questions/thoughts that you have about it, though. Because if you don't have people in your life that you feel like you can have good conversations with this about (youth pastors, pastors, parents, mentors, friends) that you can trust and really open up to with your thoughts/struggles... then I'd be happy for this to be a place that you can come to safely (at least initially.. and then I'll definitely want you to be talking to people IN your life).

Let's shed light on the darkness.
Let's not be people who condemn ourselves because we don't fully understand how we were created, but let us not be people who abuse or idolize our sexuality either.

There's a balance and we need to find it.
Let's start some conversations. Good conversations.

Not this..


Your entries will remain anonymous


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tired of Christianity

The Comment: 
I'm kind of tired of being a Christian. I'm not tired of Christ. Or God. Or the Holy Spirit. I actually think I like Jesus now more than I did 6 months or even 2 months ago. I'm just tired of all of this "where is your heart" business and "what are your motivations for things" and all the heaviness that comes with being a Christian. Even though I'm actually not tired of those things when it really comes down to the heart of them. I'm tired of the fakeness that creeps in with them. I'm tired of trying to say things nicely. Like confessing sin in such a way that makes me sound super Christian and awesome. Or like my sin isn't that bad. I've grown a lot the past few months in being super honest with God about my heart. Telling Him if I'm mad. Jealous. Annoyed. Happy. If I like someone. If I want to kiss [a guy]. Things like that. It's been really refreshing. I feel like before I didn't want to really say how bad my heart was because then people might be like, oooh, you need to go work that out with the Lord... or ooh, you should stop dating that boy that likes you and you like him simply because there is crap in your heart.
I love this.
It's maybe one of the most refreshing things I've read in a while... because it's so honest. Honest, raw, willing to admit that while you most assuredly love Jesus, it doesn't have to fit into this cookie cutter shape of all the proper lingo and etiquette.

I share your sentiments. I've shared them for quite a while, as I've strived to get back to the root...to get back to Jesus and understanding what it means to truly follow Him, to examine Scripture correctly and to really love others.

I was actually in the middle of (singing) worship the other day and I felt this guilt start to creep up on me. Guilt for not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not being intentional enough, not meaning my words enough while singing...

And then I immediately thought: No! That's bogus (sorry, I've been reading a young adult science fiction series that uses the word far too often...). Because I don't think that's how the Lord sees me, and I don't think that's what He's trying to communicate to me. He's not a God who is measuring me up to this list that He's established for all believers. The guilt wasn't from Him.

He just wants me. All of me. But He knows that I'm not going to know the fullness of what that really means here on earth, because we still live in a fallen world. He knows I'm constantly battling my flesh and my human desires and trying to pick up my cross, and place my burdens on Him and let Him be my portion... and all these other truths that we are attempting to live our lives by. But we fall short.... constantly. And it's only by His blood that we have been redeemed.

So it's bogus that we think we have to live our lives by these pre-established standards that wreck us with guilt and force us into being robotic Christians stripped of our personality and individuality and the very fullness of who God has created us to be. You aren't a bad Christian if you don't ask a fellow believer 'how their heart is', you aren't a bad Christian if you don't read your Bible at 6:45 a.m. every day or if you've never read My Utmost For His Highest. You aren't a bad Christian if you want to kiss your boyfriend, or if you feel lonely even though you have Jesus. You're human.

It's why we need Jesus.

And if we could all be people who really live honestly in relationship with the Lord? I think we might find ourselves being refreshed, being filled, being more burden-free than ever before.

So thanks for your words, for your honesty, for your openness, for your willingness to step out of the mold and be completely honest before God. I'm so glad you've found freedom and I pray that you continue to embrace the fullness of what that entails as you learn to really follow Him and what He commands, not what our societal American Christianity seems to have demanded from us (although some of those things aren't bad.... we just have to carefully determine what is truly from the Lord/Scripture and what is not).

Be honest, friends. With the Lord... and let that affect the rest of your life.
Let the bogus guilt no longer define your Christianity anymore, so there's room for what the Lord is really saying to you and trying to do in you as He sanctifies you through and through.


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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Man Cave

(Below is a written dialogue between myself and blogger/friend, Bryn Clark...he's a he, in case there's any confusion. Check out his blog when you get a moment!) 

MYSELF: 
"What are you thinking...?"
"Oh, nothing... what are you thinking...?" 

It's this endless charade between couples, a vicious cycle that highlights the vast differences between males and females. Because, when a man says he isn't thinking anything... he usually isn't. When a woman says she isn't thinking anything... she usually is

I didn't really believe this until recently when enough guys that I casually surveyed admitted that there, indeed, is such a thing as the 'man cave'. The place where men go mentally to escape every day life. The place where they are literally, sometimes, not thinking about anything

I can look back at myself in the "what are you thinking" circles in past relationships, believing firmly that the men were actually holding back some secret thoughts from me. I knew I was...so, naturally, they would be too.  The thing about the "what are you thinking" moments, is that the girls ask guys what they are thinking out of some desire to know, but mostly out of an ulterior motivation to be able to tell men what they are actually thinking (or they're simply fishing for compliments). The thing about the "what are you thinking" moments, is that guys are usually honest about their thoughts (no matter how shallow, stupid and non-related to the relationship they are), where girls tend to reveal only half truths or generous overtures about their significant other in hopes that he will one-up her. The thing about these moments is that girls are often verbal processors and guys just need to think about absolutely nothing for a while...or something seemingly insignificant to her or their relationship. 

I don't really get it, since I'm currently unable to sleep because my mind keeps racing and because, while I'm in one, a relationship seems to occupy a lot of my thoughts. How do guys think about nothing? Can you enlighten me (and our audience) on this one, Bryn? 

BRYN: 
This is an interesting question, and unfortunately I think it varies wildly from one guy to another, particularly as you cross lines between extroverts and introverts. I’ll simply speak from personal experience as a somewhat (read: very) introverted male.

There are innumerous times when my fiancĂ© will ask me “what are you thinking about?”. To be fair, it’s usually because I asked her first. More often than not, she has a clear succinct answer and it’s usually sweet or endearing; it usually relates to us. What’s awkward is when she turns the question around on me and the only thing I’m positive I wasn’t thinking about was exactly what I should’ve been thinking about: us. Many a car trip has evolved around conversations such as:

Me: “What are you thinking about, dear?”
Her: “Oh, I was just thinking about how much I love taking drives with you. What are you thinking about?”
Me: “Oh-uh, I was just wondering who on earth came up with the color for yellow lines in the middle of the road. Don’t you think life would be totally different if they were, say, lime green?”

The thing is, I find females (particularly extroverted ones) often take this personally and think that because a guy isn’t thinking about them while they’re sharing a quaint experience (such as cross-country road trips) he must not care. This simply is not true. The only time an introverted male has a one track mind is during sporting events or in the middle of a really gripping movie; I’d throw physical intimacy into the mix but the truth is even during passionate moments a guy can be pondering deep mysteries of the universe. Horrible as that may sound, this is nothing personal; it does not mean we don’t care about you, its just part of how we’re wired. For introverted men, we are either hyper-focusing (to the extent that breaking our concentration would be as safe as lighting a fire cracker by a sleeping tiger) or wandering down a million different paths of thought at once (which is where the nickname “space cadet” may come in handy). Many times, the thinking question will catch me off guard, and instead of attempting to explain everything that was running through my head (“did I turn off the stove?”, “I bet the Bruins are gonna pull up an upset tonight…”, “Man, Bill Bryon’s new book was spellbinding…”, “Did I call my Father for Father’s day?”, “Oh- I love this radio station!”) my response will just be “nothing”. This is not a lie, but a simplified truth. As a fellow introverted professor one told me “you have no idea what it’s like being inside my brain!”. Sometimes, ladies, we tell simplified truths to spare you the realization that you’re dating a half-crazed, ADHD poster-child.

On the flip side, there is truth in the fact that we sometimes need to retreat into a space where we don’t need to think about anything and can just clear our heads. For me, this is while running and the drive to work in the morning; if anyone tries to talk to me during these moments they will be greeted with the conversational quality of a brick wall. This is how we recharge; it's how we empty ourselves and gain a sense of where we are in the world. It's vital that an introvert get this time, vital that a man feels secure in his place in the cosmos before stepping into a relationship. Thus, if my significant other asks me what I’m thinking about in these moments, she’s lucky if I even answer “nothing”. If I do, this is not a simplified truth, but as real as the car we’re driving in.

The key to understanding another person isn’t (ironically) understanding them. It’s grasping that there’s some spheres of their consciousness that you will never understand. It’s easy to take things personally, and easier still to fill in the blanks. The response “I wasn’t thinking about anything” can easily lead into the conceived notion that “he’s lying, he’s gotta be thinking about something. So I bet it’s how annoyed he is with me. Or I bet he’s thinking about his ex-girlfriend, and that cashier at the counter that bashed her eyes at him…how could he do this to me?” In situations like this, trust is essential. Learn to trust the person you’re with, let their “nothing” be nothing and their silence be a sign of respect. Let them sit in their “man-cave” when needed and leave well enough alone.

After all, we may just be thinking about why the median lines aren’t lime-green.

MYSELF:
I think it's good for us females to realize the broad spectrum of what we might be up against when we ask The Question. Mostly I think it's good for us to realize that we shouldn't take it personally and it may be good for us to recognize that we should be aware of possible ulterior motives when we ask what our guys are thinking.  If we really want to know, fine... but if we're just fishing for a compliment, or if we are trying to get him to ask us what we are thinking...
we should maybe think twice about 
our approach. 

I think there's something really valuable in letting go of this need we have to understand each other, too. Of letting ourselves exist in our weird trains of thought without having to completely understand the other and without taking any of it personally. Great points and insights here. Trust is essential and letting these moments be what they are can simply be life-giving...instead of having to over-analyze, read into, believe lies about what the other is thinking (or not thinking).

Sometimes the silence is a beautiful thing, too.
The silence as we both think about a million things, or stare off into the abyss, wondering about absolutely nothing at all...and letting ourselves just exist in each other's presence, understanding that we won't understand everything and that it's okay.

Let's let the men have their mental 'Man Cave' and not take it personally when we can't go there with them.
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Going Back, Moving Forward

I'm terrible at deciding things.
How do you ever really know if you want a plate of cheesy chicken nachos topped with sour cream and guacamole OR a shredded beef chimichanga smothered with chile con queso? I love both...

Yes, I am comparing major life decisions to figuring out what to order at the Mexican restaurant down the street. Sort of, anyway.

To catch you up to speed...
I left my camp job in August, knowing it was time to go (some of you may recall the post I wrote about that big decision). And it was time to go. My fall consisted of traveling, spending time with family, meeting new friends in Africa... and it was perfect. I decided to take the plunge into graduate school in January, moving up to the Boston area to pursue my Masters of Arts in Counseling. If you recall, it wasn't ever a decision I felt sure of...but it was a risk I was willing to take, a stepping into the unknown of where that would actually lead me.

Meanwhile, there was always these musings and possibilities of new camps and new opportunities on the horizon. Possibilities that sometimes felt enticing, but felt far off and not-probable. At one point in the fall, I knew that if such possibilities became a reality that I wanted in. I knew I wanted to get dirty again. But then life kept happening... and it was good.

My transition to the northeast was smooth. I was blessed with two jobs very quickly, I was learning a lot, and I was meeting new people. Things were working out. Not to mention it's beautiful up here. But there was always a question nagging me that I didn't want to answer: do I really even want to do counseling?

I successfully avoided the question until recently. Until recently when I was presented with the 'opportunity of a lifetime'. Suddenly, in a whirlwind of events, an incredible job offer stood before me and as I toured a camp just outside of Santa Fe, I couldn't help but dream of the possibilities... but now the possibilities could become a reality, and I could be a part of helping them come into fruition.

The next few weeks were filled with conversations, questions, prayers, tears, confusion. Because how do I, indecisive about my food (and everything else in life), possibly make a huge life decision like this? How do I choose between two things that are good, two things that I want? How do I choose one without always wondering if I chose wrong, or if I am missing out on things because I didn't choose the other?

I began asking myself some hard questions:
-Why did I leave camp in the first place? Were the reasons why I left going to be there if I returned?
-Why did I decide to go to school?
-What are my long term goals?
-What do I really want to do?

I enlisted the help of others as I mulled through the thoughts. I didn't really expect the Lord to just shout down which path to take--because both felt good, both felt right, both felt honoring to Him. It was like choosing between nachos and chimichangas on a much greater scale.

So in all of this, I began to recognize that counseling wasn't what I wanted to do. The more I learned about it, the more I stepped into the various aspects of it... the more I recognized that my gifts and my passions line up much more with discipleship. I knew then that even if I stayed at school, I would not be continuing to get my degree in counseling. I began to look into other degree programs that would cater more to discipleship.

Every day brought up new emotions in me. Some days I was convinced I wanted the job and other days I was convinced that staying in the northeast was exactly where I should be and wanted to be. I felt bipolar. I did pro/con lists, I prayed...and I still wasn't sure what I actually wanted. I felt like the people I trusted and respected most had given me their full support no matter which direction I went.

And then one day, while journaling, this flowed from my pen:
I want the job. If I'm being honest...I want the job. But I'm scared of everything that entails. I'm scared of failing, I'm scared of the hard work, I'm scared of doing things I don't like. I'm scared of not liking it. I'm scared of all the responsibility that comes with... but I want it. I want to dream, to create, to be a part of lives changing, to tell people what the Lord is doing, to write, to speak, to have endless opportunities. I want to get people on board with this new vision and direct them, enable them, to challenge them toward the better. I want this job. 
In that moment, I knew that despite all the fears and all the hard work... that it was worth it. I knew that the last year of my life had been absolutely essential in preparing me to make this move back. I knew I was different. I knew I had grown. I knew I had a fresh perspective on things, I knew I had new connections and new relationships with people in different places. I knew that I could be successful in a setting outside of camp... and I think, on some level, I needed to know that. And, in the end, I knew it wasn't about me and what I could or couldn't do. I knew that God was going to move regardless, but I knew I wanted to be so willing that He might choose to use me for such a time as this.

So I began praying more specifically for peace about taking the job. And as I prayed for that, I felt an overwhelming need to rely on the Lord. A reminder that I can't do this job. Not without Him. Not without Him leading, not without me following. There must be an abandonment of my pride, a leaning on Him, and a willingness to go to Him constantly. I got even more excited about what it could look like, recognizing that we'll also need the support and prayers of many from outside of camp as we embark on this crazy endeavor, as we ask for Him to change thousands and thousands of lives each year.

I took the job.
As I've told people here (roommates, landlords, friends, employers, school), I've only encountered more affirmation. I'm so humbled and eager to see what the Lord does with it all.

For those of you who care about the logistics: 
I'll plan on moving from Massachusetts in August (probably mid to end) and driving to Missouri and spending a week or two at home before making the rest of the move to New Mexico. This summer I've decided to not take any classes and lay low, doing some work and just having a time of rest/adventure (like surfing in Nicaragua with some friends, and potentially going to Greece/Italy)! Once I've made the move, I'll then decide if continuing on with classes is something that I wish to do/is even feasible with the job requirements. There's the possibility of transferring to Denver Seminary (which is only 5 hours from the camp), and the possibility of doing a lot of a degree online (although not counseling). The school has told me that I can remain a student for now and to not feel like I need to make any sudden/drastic decisions on withdrawing immediately-- so I have time to figure that one out! 

And so we begin a new journey... 
A journey that involves me going back, yet moving forward. 
A journey that involves true life-change.
A journey that's still full of the unknown, full of risk, full of hard work, full of adventure... but a journey that's worth it. A journey that, I believe, maximizes my gifts and my passions for the glory of the Lord. 

How could I ever say no to that? 

I'm learning that I can make decisions without regrets, without looking back, without wishing I had ordered the nachos... because what's before me is so good. 

So good. 
I'm so undeserving... and so thankful. 
May He truly be glorified in this. 

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Out of your League?

What do you do when it feels like he/she is out of your league?

I was talking to a friend recently, asking him for some clarification on how him and his girlfriend got together. I had heard the story from her side, but I wanted to know it from his. Through a series of accidental events, it wasn't very long before the girl who he thought would never look twice at him was considering him as a serious romantic possibility. And then they were dating. Just like that. 

He was a little paranoid about how it all went down, asking if because she had never really thought about him romantically before if it meant that she wasn't truly interested in him. 

No.
Absolutely not. 

Because sometimes, when we encounter people who seem very clearly 'out of our league', we don't ever let ourselves think of them as an actual possibility. Sometimes we get really good at convincing ourselves that it could never be and so we miss all the opportunities, or convince ourselves that any cues are just miscalculated judgments. 

But it doesn't mean we're not interested. It just means that we're not really allowing ourselves to go there mentally or emotionally. It means that we only see rejection at the end of the line, and so it seems easier, safer, healthier to exist in a world where it's just never going to happen. Maintaining friendships without an expectation or a hope that more could happen... that's what we do. 

It gets super challenging when both parties think that the other is 'out of their league' and therefore no action is taken...which leads to a missing out of, what could be, an incredible relationship. 

So this is where I urge you into risk-taking and putting yourself out there. To watching 80s teen movies and reminding yourself that sometimes scrawny Patrick Dempsey gets the popular girl (on a lawnmower, mind you) and sometimes awkward Molly Ringwald successfully ends up with the guy of her dreams. Yes, they're movies... but they reflect shades of reality. I've seen the true stories before my very eyes. 

It's never a guarantee...(hence the risk...).
But then you never have to wonder. You never have to ask 'What If...'. 
My brother once told me when I date someone, I should think they're the coolest person I know. The problem was that most of the time, the coolest person always felt 'out of my league'. I guess I just want to acknowledge that sometimes our feelings aren't depicting truth. And sometimes the way we think things are, aren't the way they actually are. We won't know until we try. You know? 

Guys- If you're into the whole traditional pursuit of a girl (you know... where the guy goes after the
girl), I'd encourage you to put yourself out there with the girl you think is 'out of your league'. I think there's a strong possibility that you'll be surprised by the response. When a guy is willing to step out, be bold, make his feelings known... girls will at least consider it (and maybe they never have before because they felt like you were out of their league). 

Ladies- I'm not saying that you ought to start asking the coolest guys you know out... but I am asking you to not immediately cast them into 'it's never gonna happen' territory. Don't sell yourself short. Remain open- enough to where you aren't missing out on his possible interest in you, enough to where you don't seem closed off and resistant to any type of romantic relationship, enough to where you don't make yourself appear out of his league to the point where he is discouraged from pursuing. 

Anything can happen
Why not take a risk? 
Why not just see? 
Why not remain open?

Maybe there doesn't ever need to be such a thing as 'out of your league'... 

Or maybe this is just my romantic side kicking in. 

Either way...

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