the end, and the beginning.

i’ve started dating someone.
yes, cyber friends, i have a person, and regardless of the fact that i don’t know quite how to refer to him (i keep calling him my “friend boy,” which always elicits some laughs), i like him.  and he likes me.  quite a lot.

so, at the end of Lent, there is sweet hope of a new beginning.

last night, as i was updating a friend on this matter of my love life, she asked if he was in the same place of faith as me.  she asked with good intention, i know, but i had to laugh as i reflected on this question later.

where exactly am i in my faith?

i am increasingly disillusioned with the way we humans have organized God, and Jesus, and the practices we devote ourselves too, but i am sure that i am sure that i am sure that:

i love God.
i fall more and more in love with Him as He whispers promises of grace and mercy and the opportunity to make my own choices.

i cherish Jesus, this sweet brother of ours who breathed life into me.
i am reminded this especially in the season of Lent, as i allow myself to dwell on the choices He made for me.

i believe in forgiveness.  whole and holy forgiveness, extended to us before we have even the consciousness to ask.

this is one thing i find missing in the Christian tradition.  at least, in my history with the church.  we believe in the context of forgiveness only from the perspective of highly guilty people in desperate need of it.  which usually means we tend to focus more on our guilt than the forgiveness.  we begin the conversation, not by affirming an individual’s beauty and being, but by beating them over the head about their bad decisions.

but who doesn’t feel anxiety with the weight of their guilt?  who doesn’t wake up at night wishing they hadn’t done that or said this?  in other words, our guilt we will always have, so why do we stress it so much as though the dwelling on it might be an appropriate penance?

all the while, there is this beautiful Man-God hanging from a tree, offering forgiveness first, to a rag tag group of people desperately in need.  he whispers forgiveness at every turn, every moment of our lives.  forgiveness of things we weren’t even aware of, forgiveness of things we’ve yet to do.

what if we focused on being forgiven first, and allowed that to shape our thoughts, emotions, convictions about how to move forward?  how humbling to realize there is a God who loves us even when we’re not aware of Him.

i remember walking into a yoga class in December, with the word “forgiveness” on my tongue.  my teacher at the time was very good about asking us to set an intention for the class, something that we focused on for during our practice, usually peace or grace for our bodies.  something of the kind.  my roommate and i were in the midst of issues and i was feeling bound up in irritation and anger so i knew my intention had to be forgiveness.  i needed to forgive her.

as i worked through the moves, taking deep breaths and allowing them to become prayers, a still and steady voice whispered, “you are forgiven with me.”  i felt a burden lift and knew, in that instant, that i must first be forgiven in order to forgive.  funny thing is, i didn’t ask for it, nor did i even know what i was being forgiven for, except that this God of the universe did not find fault with me, and i was suddenly relieved at finding fault with my roommate.

in the end, His life gave us the hope of new beginning.  if we seek, we will find a God who’s already forgiven us.  the hard part is not in the asking for it, but in the ability to truly sit with that humbling truth.  to accept the beauty of a gift so pure.  may this Easter be the beginning of such a journey.

hitting restart.

i’ve been itching for change, as i’ve written about ad nauseum.

still, change is upon me and i can’t look at it.  like strangers in a waiting room, we stare at the walls opposite us, not making eyes.  to meet eyes would have to equal acknowledgement.

a friend mentioned today needing to hit the restart button.
i could resonate.   except i hit that button months ago, and it feels like it’s not taking.  as he noted, maybe it already has and i just haven’t noticed.

then came another discussion/disagreement with my roommate about out living situation.  we moved into our own place in the fall and it’s been turbulent since day one.   we’ve been friends, close friends, for a long time, but there are some injuries that go too deep, some misunderstandings that can’t be overcome.   day after day, week after week, our wounds have been bumping up and rubbing against each other’s, scratching off the thinly-formed scabs.

now, here we stand, at an impass.  unable to go any further on this fitful journey, deciding to part ways.  we’re hitting the restart buttons, and i’m moving again for the upteenth time in the last ten years.

i would be more okay with the restart button if it didn’t make me a vagabond wanderer, always in search of my home.

in the fall, during a considerably stressful time, i biked to Beech Grove, to the monastery.  i couldn’t say why, but something in my heart pulled me to the prayer labyrinth in their yard.  the prayer labyrinth is a giant maze-like thing that winds around and around, until you reach the middle.  as you make your way in, the goal is to pray for something that you should be letting go off, a search-me type prayer.  you should have something in mind when you reach the middle, and then stay there–kneeling, standing, laying down–until you’re able to let go.  as you make your way out, you pray for the courage to walk forward without picking back up that thing you’ve laid down.

as i made my way in on that rainy, gray morning, i couldn’t think of anything i needed to let go off.  i grew more and more frustrated as i got closer to the middle with no revelations.  finally, i got to the middle and found myself in child’s pose, my forehead to the ground, and i let my mind be still. an image of my friend’s couch came to mind, a place where i feel like i can be myself.  where i can cry or laugh or just sleep.  everything within me wanted to be on that couch.  then i heard it: a still voice whisper,

“i’ll be your couch.”  i burst into tears at the comforting words of my Father.
“i’ll be your home,” he continued.

i need that memory now, when “home” is up for grabs and i’m feeling displaced.  the promise that i’ll always have a couch to find comfort in, and arms that welcome me back.

simple things.

there are beautiful things in this life.  simple, but profound.

usually, we get just a glimmer of them, a taste before they are washed away.  we see a sun setting, the sky oranges and blues and purples, and try to make it stay.  to hold onto it as its slips down beyond the horizon.  we feel the brushing kiss of a lover as they say good-bye, and try to recall the touch for hours after until it is a memory, only in our mind.  we hear the birds chirping in the morning and smile before going about our day.

simple, little pieces of life we have to work to distill out of the grit and gray around us.

sometimes, though, we get an extra blessing.  events line up in just the right way and we are able to experience these pleasures back -to-back, even overlapping.  today was one such morning for me.

i made a simple lemon tea and headed to yoga.  our teacher moved us through a series of poses and motions that were meant to energize.  i left feeling clear-headed, strong, and sweaty.

a colder shower continued the feeling of clarity and energy (i read in an Ayurvedic practice book that cold showers are good for my constipation because they open the blood vessels and facilitate detoxing; i’ve been attempting them ever since).

then i headed to the market, confidence exuding from my every pore, even as i shared with someone about my accident; this was a nice first.  picked up a strawberry and mint plant, as well as eggs and greens and brussel sprouts.  excitement brewed for the plants i could grow this spring and my spirit felt revived by the people interactions–both firsts for this crazy season i’ve been in.

i strolled back to the car, my hands and arms full of good food and coffee, the sun warming my skin to perfection.

then came another doozy of a pleasure–a veggie crepe and Intelligentsia coffee.  as my tastebuds danced and my stomach rejoiced, i couldn’t help but reflect on this series of events and note how blessed of a human bean i am.

confirmation

i have all the symptoms.  sore throat. trouble (ok, it hurts like hell) swallowing.  my glands are swollen.  my ear drums ache from the pressure.  and a look into the back of my mouth with a flashlight revealed: strep throat.

still, i needed someone to confirm.  fortunately, i am blessed to have a good friend and brother, who happens to be a dr.  within seconds of taking a look, he suggested antibiotics and a regiment of aleve for the pain.

i breathed a sigh.  i’m not crazy.  i really am sick.  a doctor said so and he gave me medicine.

i think about how much we just need someone to tell us we’re not crazy.

i meet bi-weekly with a mentor, and tonight was the night.  he listened well to my rants and struggles with, what i am calling, my “quarter-life/faith crisis.”  he listened without judgement.  he listened with compassion.  he was well-armed with thoughtful questions.  and most importantly, he said i wasn’t crazy.

even better, he said i made sense.

too often i find that we perpetuate emotional and mental “disease” because we will not offer a simple confirmation to people that they’re ok.  we suppress identity and encourage a sheep/herd mentality.  we suppress expression and push conformity.  we tell people they are crazy if they don’t fit our mold or revolve in the patterns of our society.

the freedom to process and ask questions and challenge the norm has always been important to me, especially lately.  it is hard to articulate what is happening internally, but the image i get is of having these cages around me, pressing closer and closer against me.  and just like that, the doors have been opened, and my fragile wings are spread, taking flight.  new perspectives abound as i stumble and fly and stumble again.

no matter what, i have a choice in this.  i get to choose.  and i’m not crazy.  i am a human bird, freed from my cage.  ready to fly.

Book Review: Prayer, by Richard J. Foster

so, one of the things i decided i want to begin doing with my blog is offering a review of the books i’m reading.  i don’t know about you, but i love to share about a good book i’m reading and why i’d recommend it.  Prayer by Richard Foster is one such book.  to allow for some consistency between reviews, i’ll have a set group of questions, followed by my answers.  feel free to comment if you have any questions or thoughts!

here goes!

what initially drew you to read this book?
Foster has been a familiar name (he authored Celebration of Discipline) for a good while now, but i finally took the plunge and read one of his books, Streams of Living Water in the spring.   that was such an incredible read that it solidified him in my mind as an author to keep on the shelves.

i initially saw Prayer on my friend’s coffee table and opened to read a few pages.  what i read had me captured and i decided it was time to really embrace this one.

the irony is that i was very much in a season of non-prayer.  many weighty concerns and heartbreaking situations were on my heart and mind, so much so that i began to feel very depressed and couldn’t find the words to even utter a prayer.  this book very much “cured” me of that.

basic overview:
“basic” and “overview” are words you could hardly use in conjunction with any of Foster’s writings.  i will try, however, to give just an idea of this book.  let’s see…it’s about prayer.  in all it’s many forms.  there are so many ways to pray, so many i didn’t even really think about there being a distinction between.  “healing prayer” and “intercessory prayer” i’d heard about, but “prayer of the suffering” and “authoritative prayer” have never crossed my horizon.  Foster goes through each one, describing the circumstances in which they can be found, why they are used, etc.  he begins each chapter with a quote from the fathers and mothers of our faith, and ends with a gentle prayer.

do you recommend this read?  why/why not?
hells yes.  Foster writes about our faith with such an incredible amount of grace.  one of my favorite lines from early in the book.  he is explaining that even prayer comes with a learning curve, and it is ok to start small.  “when you have had enough, tell God simply, ‘I must have a rest; I have no strength to be with you all the time.'”  gently, and yet with great authority, Foster makes this act of our faith a manageable item, instead of some surreal, lofty goal we can never attain.  the pages are chock full of tangible ways to approach God and prayer.  in areas of my life where i have become quite captive to my thoughts/perspective (namely the issue of free will, and whether or not talking to God is actually important, and the desperate brokenness of the world), Foster breaks down the gates and opens to the door to all the possibilities a life with God can bring.  he shares story after story of God’s people, who took a risk and asked boldly for something, and how God graciously answered.

which leads me back to what i mentioned in the first answer, that i’d been in a season of non-prayer.  this book ushered me into a season of continual prayer.  it was with a great deal of tears that i worked through several of the chapters, reading about God’s intense love.  as i read, i felt the Holy Spirit lead me to pray for others and for myself.  and i saw some immediate responses.  for example, i prayed that a certain family our church is supporting would come to church with us (from what i’ve heard, they’ve been deeply hurt by “church” in the past).  they did, and just as i was speaking to the group about having grace for themselves.  without pretension, we welcomed them in.

i prayed, in the vain of what Foster would call “the prayer of suffering”, where you literally take on the suffering of another, and then give it over to God, so as to free up that person.  i found myself awake at 3 am one morning, crying and praying for a friend who has yet to know God in a real way.  i don’t remember most of the words i said, only the deep sadness i felt.  later that week, i was able to share with him that i prayed for him, and he told me he had prayed in such a deep way, a way he had not in a very long time.

now, i acknowledge that all this credit does not belong in the hands of Richard Foster, but his writings were clearly a conduit for prayer to begin flowing again.  he even addressed my weighty concerns with hope that every prayer makes its way to the heart of the father.  “so we throw caution to the wind and pray not just for individuals but also for nations, not just for the renewal of the Church but also for the transformation of the world.”  anything and everything that weighs on hearts, he explains, also weighs on the heart of the father.  and it is through prayer that we learn to release such burdens into the hands of the One who can truly transform.

additional comments:
be patient with yourself when reading this book.  it may take a week to work through a chapter, or even just to digest it.  take your time.  journal.  open yourself to the kind of prayer Foster describes.   this book, and the work that God begins in you, will be transformative.

“today the heart of God is an open wound of love. . . .He longs for our presence.  And he is inviting you–and me–to come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created.  His arms are stretched out wide to receive us.  His heart is enlarged to take us in.”
-Richard J. Foster

better safe than sorry.

i have to admit, i’ve been a bit squirmy since my last post.  i’ve resisted the urge half a dozen times to go back and delete/hide/wipe away any trace of the admittance of certain things.  why does being vulnerable create such dramatic reactions in me?

for too much of my life, i’ve lived under the adage, “better safe than sorry.”  like most, real risk, the type of risk that would facilitate deep change and healing, is “unsafe” and just beyond me.  pain and past woundings remind me that being in those places hurts and leaves me with an overall sense of powerlessness.  “play it safe,” a voice, though i don’t know where it’s come from, consistently prods.  “don’t open up, don’t share yourself, don’t be honest….,” it continues.  “just play it safe.  stay here on the edge of the water.”

as i was discussing with a friend this morning, we are not encouraged to be uncomfortable.  everything about our culture stresses convenience, easy and immediate access, comfortability and safety.  the thing is about those, though, is their is no end to attaining them.  i am certainly not against safety in that we should all just play with dangerous, life-threatening situations…but when is enough?  we wear seat belts, sure, then install side-airbags, then outlaw phone use while driving, then only drive during the day…you could really go on and on.

this happens on all levels of our person–emotional, relational, physical and, worst of all, spiritual.  we disengage, we build walls, we flee to the suburbs, we shut off.  we forget.  we stay “safe” in fortresses we’ve built around ourselves.

on a different note, a friend recently remarked that i seem to “need a platform,” which i had to laugh, as that is usually what these blog posts end up being.  which is also why it was incredibly hard, probably, to write a post that was real and so close to home.  and wasn’t me “preaching.”  he suggested i push into public speaking and writing, which truly does get my heart pumping, i just don’t know where to start…so we shall see.

today, i am just contenting myself with a generally feeling of malaise and melancholy.  this means lots of Band of Horses, Ben Harper and Fleet Foxes.  i won’t complain.

life:unmasked

i recently discovered a circle of blogs initiated by Joy, who started a blogging project titled Life:Unmasked.  i loved the concept and have been looking for an opportunity to share.  now, you who know me/my writing know i am fairly unmasked as it is, so it my challenge became to really expose an area of my life that doesn’t get attention or air time.  i am generally frank in my posts, but i can easily hide behind that and say it’s good enough.

as i was chatting with my sis tonight, my first life:unmasked topic came up….my dating life.  (boo…hisss…screech)

truth be told, there really hasn’t been much of a dating life in my adulthood.  i’ve gone a few dates here and there, and have definitely had dates with people i’ve been in relationship with.  but i tend to either jump right in, going from 0-60 in two weeks, or hold back and just have random make-outs.

then, today, a new friend asks me to hang out and my mind starts racing, back and forth, back and forth.  questions spewing forth like lava.  do i pay, does he pay?  what should i wear?  what will we talk about?  is this even a date?  again, what should i wear?  what if i feel stupid?  what if he tries to kiss me?  what if this isn’t a date at all?

breathe, i tell myself.  pause.  then more questions.

“i don’t know dating ettiquette!” i hopelessly compain to my sister.  is this even a date, that little voice questions again.  she just chuckles.

“you what makes dating hard,” i finally conclude.  “it’s that i really just want a boy in my bed.”  she laughs, but i’m dead serious.  i don’t even necessarily want to have sex (though that would be nice), i just want a man there, to hold me, to be present.  this makes a potential date all that more stressful, as i try to resist daydreaming.

stay in the moment, i plead with myself.  don’t make more of this than is necessary.  think RATIONALLY!  but it’s too late.  my desert-parched soul has run away at the slightest hint of rain clouds.

i sometimes wish the whole physical intimacy weren’t even a part of the equation, that it weren’t such a big damn deal to just do with your body what you wanted.  it is, however.  confusion is introduced when situations happen outside their context (ie. random make-outs), feelings get involved (regardless of how adamantly you swear they won’t), and people get hurt.  i’ve lived through enough bad/selfish/impulsive decisions to know.  fortunately, their scars restrain me.

where do i go from here?  not sure, really.  i thought after all these years, all these decisions with their consequences, would grow me up.  turns out we’re all just crazy junior high kids when it comes to situations with the opposite sex…crazy, emotional, giddy, hormones raging…

so there it is….my dating life unmasked.  it’s a hot mess, really.  one i hope God can redeem and bring beauty from despite my stumbling….

Life: Unmasked