Introduction

At some point in time, I realized I would never stop learning. My current season of life inside Academia might one day end (dear God, I hope), but I will never outgrow my need to learn from the things around me. Even more, as I started to glean from the wisdom of those older than me, whose entire academic careers are mere childhood memories, I realized that in about 5 years, I would start understanding just how much I do not know, and if I just got on board with that, I’d be better off.

So here I am, getting on board.

In an earlier version of this blog, I had my posts categorized into three basic types of publishings. I wanted what I was learning separate from my thoughts, and I wanted those separate from moments of emotionality or wandering, where my mind may have been warring with itself of simply a little lost. While the intent was for this blog be to that of a human, the structure really hampered my ability to do just that: be human.

So instead, I’m keeping them together. They may keep the tags that used to separate them, or not; I haven’t decided yet. Hopefully the result will be that you won’t be able to distinguish one section from the next. I don’t want to trap myself with the need to be right before I publish something I might later look back on with embarrassment.

Some entries may contain more data and assessment, whereas others very well may have none at all. In both cases, I pray I do them well, even if I’m wrong in the end. And with God’s grace, the things I’m learning and experiencing may one day help those who read it step with me towards a God who deserves our every thought and every praise.

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On the Beauties of a Broken Routine

One of the side effects of staring your college graduation in the face that doesn’t get talked about enough is the ever-growing proclivity towards existential crises. It’s just this perfect storm of knowing a major chapter of your life is ending, feeling the expectation to have a solid plan in place for the future, and stressing over normal daily college classes that pushes you to near wit’s end before dumping the Great Uknown of the Future on you, too. Except you have to have it at least a little figured out. And no matter how many times you hear “[insert famous name here] didn’t have it figured out at 22”, you still feel the pressure building. Pressure to perform, to succeed, to transition into adulthood smoothly. I’ve watched quite a few people go through this process, and while all of them seemed to have survived (my sister’s transition was probably the most notable because of how graceful it was..or at least looked), none of them were close enough to me for me to learn how on Earth they coped with the stress in their last semester of undergrad.

Some actually had a plan–this one couple got married; he started the job he had lined up and she started grad school–so there wasn’t as much stress over the major logistics (like, they stressed over venues and honeymoon plans, not if they were going to stay together or have a place to live at all). To my recollection, the guy of this couple did watch a lot of Netflix in his final year of college; that’s certainly how others cope, too: denial. I know this one girl whose coping strategies all center around avoiding the problems at hand. Getting on the same page as this girl is usually pretty difficult because I never know if the page being described is what we’re actually working with or just the bits and pieces she’s willing to deal with at that moment. There are entire schools of thought addressing the pros and cons of Escapism, so it must have its merits, if not just popularity; I’m just too big a fan of disillusionment to buy into it.

Instead, I’ve retreated into the security of what I know I can control: my schedule. What I do, who I see, when I do it, where I see them. At first it was an avenue through which I dismantled a raging depression that left me defeated and my parents worried for the better part of 2016. The additional structure was what I needed to visualize the places of my heart that needed healing, or space, or just something to fill the void that loss leaves behind. I began to wake up earlier and go swimming three times a week after my morning classes. I started writing again and reading more. I’m not exaggerating when I say that routine, and the disciplines I’ve learned from it, were the ropes let down to haul me out of the pit of darkness I’d found myself in. It’s for this reason I’m so keen to depend on it when times get rough.

Overwhelmed? Go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5. Find a pastime that leaves you feeling exhausted and accomplished. Start eating breakfast and reading before you go to sleep. Your whole mindset will change, your heart will take a sigh of relief. But if you’re anything like me, and you decide to really commit to such a routine, be warned. Scheduling can become an idol of worship that steals the throne of our hearts just as easily as video games, drama, or football. It’s in those times, when you depend on the strength of your idols, that God comes in and, in love, blows hard on the houses of cards you’ve built in your life.

I mean it; he’ll jack your crap straight up.

For me, he introduced a number of people into my closer circle of friends who are more nocturnal than I’d actually like. Relationships I know are important for me to foster and participate in, which almost always have me meeting up with them at the same time my bedtime alarm goes off. It only took 3 nights in a row of seeing these people before I stopped having a “Quiet Time” during breakfast because I was too tired to read my Bible and really pray with my heart in it. My mind went into overdrive trying to figure out how to continue being a part of these people’s lives without compromising my plans.

Ultimately, of course, it didn’t work. My control issues started resurfacing in areas of my life I thought I’d already dealt with, I became grouchy and my thoughts became increasingly condescending, I depended more and more on coffee to explain my behavior instead of owning up to poor time management; the list goes on. What’s important is that it eventually all caught up to me. In his grace, God called attention to it before I did anything too terribly damaging (not to understate some of the carelessness of what I was doing in this time), and basically asked for his throne back.

“That’s my seat you’re sitting in,” he said.
I still have a bedtime alarm, and I still read before going to sleep. But I’ve learned that life without the interferences of other people to my schedule is not a life I want for myself. There’s no room to love others when you only pay attention during your allotted time for them. And I think God’s called us into something greater than the systems we can create for ourselves; He’s called us to follow him, to leave everything behind and live like him. To break down the prisons we set up for ourselves and walk free and uninhibited into the true safety of his hands.

God’s too big for any routine we can come up with anyway

I am Willing

Because this week is my University’s Spring Break, I’ve only just now had the time and space to reassess a couple of things. There’s just something about 90% of a city population abandoning their posts that leaves whoever’s left to think about stuff; it’s an easy enough rabbit-hole to fall into as soon as you think, “Now why is it so many of my friends are at the beach, or with their families and old friends, and I’m not?” And off to Wonderland we go. 

I could really digress here about the innumerable things I’ve spend far too long thinking about over the past few days, but that’s really not why I’m writing. The point of this post is that while I’ve had altogether too much time alone, for some reason I’ve avoided publishing anything I’ve written. The cause for this avoidance was unknown to me until I read a  particular part of this book I’m traveling through for the third time (it really is a journey, this one), where the author talks about a writer’s block he had experienced some time ago. For him, it was the fear of disappointment that stopped him from writing; he’d written his first two books in 8 months each, but as he wrote the 3rd he also gained some popularity. His third book took a year, his 4th took somewhere around 2, and his 5th took 4. It was then that he realized something was amiss and decided to do some soulsearching.

You see, he was scared of being known through his writings and found wanting, a fear that was present not just in his career as an author but in his relationships, too. Apparently the fear of being known and being vulnerable is a  common thing in humans. 
Anyway, he made a list of statements in order to begin combatting his fear of intimacy, a list I’m implementing in my life as of now: 

  • I am willing to sound dumb
  • I am willing to be wrong
  • I am willing to be passionate about something that isn’t perceived as cool
  • I am willing to express a theory 
  • I’m willing to admit I’m afraid 
  • I’m willing to contradict something I’ve said before 
  • I’m willing to have a knee-jerk reaction, even a wrong one
  • I’m willing to apologize 
  • I’m perfectly willing to be perfectly human. 

Pruning and the Life Loss Brings

It’s at this time that I need to introduce the biggest, most consistent inspiration of learning, growth, insight, and so many other traits I could never have possibly attained alone: my sister. While studies do show that siblings can in many cases be more influential to a child than their parents, it also usually stands that until you meet a person’s parents, that person won’t make total sense. This isn’t the case for me, for while I’ve been truly blessed by parents who love and encourage me, I won’t make much sense until you’ve met my sister. I’ve said it before, and I will likely say it many times in the future, that I could write entire books solely on the things I’ve learned by watching and listening to my sister.

The reason I’m introducing her now is because she, too, has a blog (a much better one, might I add) and in her most recent post, she talks some of the pruning she’s experienced in her life over the past year. I highly recommend you read it (and everything else she’s written). It’s a metaphor I’m rather familiar with, the one about God pruning us like a gardener does a plant to enable us to grow fruit more healthily. What I hadn’t thought about until I was reading my sister’s blog was this one, very simply truth:

You don’t prune a dead plant.

Put differently, the act of pruning is really only necessary for plants which are otherwise growing and producing all the usual fruits. The gardener–or in our case, the One True Gardener–cuts back the bits and pieces that are holding the plant back from more growth. I’d always taken it as the gardener basically amputating sicknesses to keep the plant alive. Can you see the difference? The biggest effectual change in this difference is that the healthier the plant is, the more branches it yields and the more opportunities to prune it creates. But you don’t prune a dead or dying plant. You burn it and start over (or I guess just throw it in the trash, if you’re too urban for minor arson). And the less healthy a plant is, the less growth there is and the less a gardener will have the opportunity to prune it.

The significance of this fundamental shift of mentality, for me, has been immense. I’m no longer having to work for a perfection I’ll never achieve just to minimize the damage I deal in this life. Because unlike an amputation, a pruned branch grows back, usually with more fruit and more branchces than before. You don’t have to be an amputee to know that what the surgeons cut off will never grow back. And that’s the glorious thing about God’s grace and redemption that He’s bringing about in our lives; we grow back more whole and pure than we were before, not less. I’d always thought that because of my inadequacies, God would have to cut something out He’d originally created for good. The guilt, and then the shame, that accompanied my seasons of pruning were an area in and of themselves that needed pruning, creating even more shame and guilt… you can see where that cycle goes.

That the loss of a pruned branch is the growing pain of a maturing soul and not the casualty of God’s original plan was a new and foreign thought to me, one I desperately needed to learn. I began to feel free to lean into my Pruner’s sheers, really see what it is He wants me to grow into, mourn the loss of what was dear and look on for what is greater and yet to come, stop using more of my time in this life trying to earn back what I thought I was too sinful and incompetent to keep.

Redemption in Christ is not supposed to look like a more functional version of what you were; it’s supposed to be very different. New branches grow from the healed scars of the dead and gone, and a fuller, more fruitful, and more beautiful tree grows on, more alive than it ever was before. And that is what God’s plan has always been.

Oh, Ye of Little Faith

So, I’m reading through Matthew currently in my morning quiet times, and right in the middle of the book (something like Chapters 14 – 18 or so), Jesus really kicks off his ministry. Another way this could be said is, “…right in the middle of the book, Jesus’ disciples really start making a fool of themselves.” It’s a bit funny at times, actually. Jesus will say something, and the others will totally miss it. My favorite is in Chapter 16:

The disciples reached the other shore, and they had forgotten to take bread.
Then Jesus told them, “Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
And they discussed amongst themselves, “We didn’t bring any bread.”
~Matt 16: 5-7, HCSV

While the context of this passage is somewhat implied and otherwise irrelevant, for those curious: Jesus and the other Priests had gotten into another spat, and it had ended with Jesus announcing their hypocrisy, stomping away, and leaving on a boat with his disciples. The important part (to me) about this passage is that Jesus said something relatively simple–simpler, anyway, than the monologues where he tells his followers to drink his blood and eat his flesh–and the disciples’ minds are all somewhere completely different. It cracks me up.

Unfortunately, this is how I am a lot of the time, too. God will push me in a specific direction, through His word or through the encouragement of another Christian, and I’ll take it and run with it in the exact wrong direction. I’m thankful God doesn’t chastise me as harshly as Jesus did the disciples:

Aware of this, Jesus said, “You of little faith! Why are you discussing among yourselves that you do not have bread? Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you remember the fives loaves for the 5,000 and how many baskets you collected? Or the seven loaves for the 4,000 and how many large baskets you collected? Why is it you don’t understand that when I told you, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” it wasn’t about bread?

It was then that the disciples realized Jesus was talking about their teachings and not their baking ingredients.

What’s weird to me is that Jesus gets upset, not at their stupidity or their complete lack of understanding basic literary tools he’d been using all along but at their lack of faith. “You of little faith!” He said, “Don’t you understand?” As if their faith impacted their capacity to catch the shade Jesus was throwing.

Is that how it works? Does my faith in God really have that much an effect over how well I discern his warnings to me throughout the day? This isn’t rhetorical; I really don’t get it. It’s something that Jesus does in some other sections of the Bible, too. The disciples or some other random dude will do something, or not do something, and Jesus’s response will have to do with the person’s faith and not the thing that directly applies to the person’s actions. I guess he’s onto something–I mean, he’s Jesus–but I fail to see the connection.

Maybe all these things are so much more interconnected than my mind readily accepts. Or maybe my faith isn’t big enough, and that’s why I’m missing something. I don’t know; it’s just been something I’ve had on my mind lately.

Waiting on His Promises

I never went to Elementary or Middle School. Instead, I attended a small, local private school which called Grades K-5 “Grammar School” and 6-8 “Logic School”. In addition to high expectations for behavior and dress, I was also rigorously challenged academically; it’s one of the biggest reasons I am such a philomath today. I never appreciated the things I was being taught, however. It would take me graduating from a public high school and rooming in college with someone who’d never experienced that kind of education to see just how well that school had equipped me with the tools necessary to excel, not just academically but spiritually, too.

This private school laid the foundations for a well-developed pool of knowledge concerning the Bible, the Church, the history of Israel, you name it. I can think back to reciting Deuteronomy 6 as a 7 year old, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength…” At some point it got lodged in my mind that the Kingdom of Israel divided after the reign of King Solomon between the North and the South, though not for long. In the 700’s BC, Assyria took the Northern Kingdom; the Southern Kingdom fell in the 500’s to Babylon. It was such a blessing (once I got past all the spiritual callous and intellectual pride that came with it). But in learning about God and the relationship He has had with His people all this time, one thing was never fully communicated to me.

God’s promises are nuts.

I mean, it’s one thing to talk about how in Genesis 6 Noah was instructed to build a freaking massive ship in the middle of the desert, having never seen rain before or likely even heard of it. That’s just how God worked back then. He told old people they’re going to have the baby that will begin the lineage chosen to bless the whole world, only to wait another 25 years before giving it to them. Then He instructed those same old people to sacrifice that child without any indication of intent to intervene (See the Story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac in Gen. 12 – 22). But to really try and convert that into a modern example doesn’t quite compute as well. God would never tell me to build an inter-dimensional space station to save us from the sentient vegetables that will destroy Earth and all its inhabitants. Right?

And what’s weirder is that these people go along with it. Noah built the Ark, despite it taking 100 years to make and destroying every shred of a reputation he had in his community; Abraham prepared Isaac to be sacrificed, knowing that the likelihood of him having another child was basically nonexistent; Moses confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt during the nation’s height of power, fully aware of every way the stunt could go wrong and get every slave in Egypt killed (Exodus 5 tells of the confrontation itself, but the story of Israel’s liberation ranges from Chapter 2 through Chapter 12); the list goes on and on. But that’s just how they lived back then. God let them in on his totally bonkers plans, and they went with it (albeit imperfectly on all counts, because, ya know..sin).

This isn’t how we live today.

I usually question if it was really God speaking when I feel him telling me to inconvenience myself in some minuscule way that may or may not involve some risk of fairly low levels of embarrassment or vulnerability. “What? Are you sure? I don’t think God would really ask me to do something like that. It’s so strange! People don’t act like that; Why would God ask me to be so different?”

But what kind of a People would the Church become if we did listen for God’s voice and trustingly stepped into His craziest promises? What kind of things would happen if it weren’t just something God and His people did back then? I think we’d all see that the God of Abraham and of Moses is a God that makes good on His promises. We’d all start to see the absolutely outrageous results to His laughably outrageous instructions (See Gen. 18).

And we’d all come to trust and praise and bring glory to His name more than ever before.

Right now I’m wrestling with a promise I felt him tell me a few years ago, a promise I distorted and then discounted and eventually forgot about until about a month ago. It’s not nearly as weird as some of the stuff of the Bible, but even so I find it completely reasonable to doubt it on a daily basis. I scrutinize every detail of the encounter, I prepare as many excuses for why it might not be what I thought it was, “just in case”, and I explain blow-for-blow (usually to God) why it makes no sense for it to be a promise from God–it’s abnormal, inconvenient, and requires so much more humility and forgiveness (and patience) than I honestly want to extend to the other person involved. Besides, the likelihood of such an event occurring is just too small. “God would never say something so improbable would happen!” I say to God, as I feel Him chuckle and roll his eyes at me.

Today I’m learning that while God’s promises are sometimes more bizarre than what we’re expecting, and almost always take more time than we thought we would ever be prepared to handle, they are undeniably worth listening for. Not only are they from a God who loves us and wants what’s best for us–a fact crazier than any other promise He’s made–but they are moments of God extending His hand out for us to grab onto, so that we, too, can take part in His plans to redeem this world and bring all the glory to Him.

That’s what the people of the Old Testament really lived for: not how nuts the promises were but how faithful God is. Today I’m content to wait on God’s promises, that they might bring me to such a place that only He can be given the glory and that He may prove in my life that He is faithful to His word and to His people.

My Dishonest Heart

When I was young, my mother ran a daycare in our house. It was a way to keep an income while also being able to keep me from going to a daycare myself. She sacrificed those five years of working as a teacher, so she could spend that time looking after me (and however many other children who were running around the house at that time). At some point, maybe when I was 3 or 4 years old, I got in my head I was destined to become a barber–what I mean is, I took a pair of scissors to one of the other children’s hair.

This is my earliest memory of shame. I remember hearing my mother’s footsteps coming down the stairs and knowing she would be mad at what I’d done. In a split-second decision, I threw the scissors behind the TV into a corner I wouldn’t actually see with my own eyes until I was 21 (you can imagine the kind of stuff we found back there).

And I lied.

I lied about having anything to do with the hair-cutting incident. I lied about knowing the location of the scissors, or having put the scissors there myself. I lied about everything.

Of course, none of it worked. 3 year olds make for sloppy liars, and it was clear I had done it. But instead of learning not to do the bad thing, I learned not to do the bad thing so poorly. This would become the takeaway of almost every learning moment I had until High School. And as a result, I became a pretty good liar. I could convince almost anyone of almost whatever I wanted.

Eventually God found me and pulled me out of that lifestyle, to put it briefly. But even now, as an adult, I still find myself in situations where a well-placed lie to an unsuspecting other seems so much easier than harder truths. God finds me in those moments, too, and pulls me away from that lifestyle. What He hasn’t spared me from is myself.

You see, I’d become so proficient at lying to others that I never noticed how well and how frequently I lied to myself. And I lied about everything. I lied about having anything to do with that one friendship that totally collapsed on its own, and I lied about knowing the consequences that one action would have on others beforehand. I lied about being enough for that one person who left without much of any explanation. I lied about God’s plan for me already being decided and not up for personal interpretation.

They’re all lies, you see, and I fall for them because I trust myself more than I trust God. Despite knowing how dishonest I naturally am, I trust the voice that says I’m not enough to keep any real friend for very long, I don’t have the strength to overcome the struggles of this life, I can’t possess the eloquence it takes to write a blog…

Before long, these lies make a home in my mind, and they usurp the true King’s throne of my heart. And without my knowing, I’m not listening to my Father in Heaven’s voice anymore but my own. Instead of empowerment and intimacy in Him, I find discouragement and loneliness.

This must end.

No more can I afford to gamble away my daily potential for bringing God all the glory by doubting his influence over my life. No more can I fool myself into believing that I was ever supposed to be enough in this life without God there to sustain me and fulfill me. No more can I subject myself to the Death dishonesty brings; no more will I give it a power over my life that only my Savior Jesus should have.

I must put my dishonest heart to death, that in Christ’s holy, life-giving grace,
I am made shameless and honest.

“When She Looks at Me”

Just a bit of context on this one: a few years back I spent a Summer on an island. If you’re ever in the market for a vacation spot, look up the Azores. The history is rich, the architecture beautiful, and the people both welcoming and loving. Every day was the perfect combination of cold, ocean breeze and warm, July sun. Sometimes the memories seem more like a dream than reality. At least that was my experience of it.

At any rate, I had the sea on my mind a lot, since it was literally always within eyesight. It really shows in this rare proof of artistic potential:

The tide came in and I was swept undertow, a sea of excitement and wonder swallowing me whole.
I try to fight it, but I’m lost in her zeal for youth; I’m drowning. But just as sudden as the waves crash over me, she looks away.
I’m tossed ashore, and forgotten until the next time the tide comes in.