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2010 in Review

Or, It was a Helluva Year, Wasn’t It?

Well, it’s the end of one year and the beginning of another.  Whenever I get to the end of December, I start to feel weird—restless, introspective, and vaguely unsatisfied.  Lots of people get reflective and zealous about the New Year, and I am prone to self-reflection throughout the year, so the New Year is like a double dose.  I look back on the year and wonder, what exactly did I accomplish?  And in the areas I feel I fell short, how can I improve?

While the idea of a fresh start is appealing to most of us, I think there’s something misleading in analyzing our months in terms of success and failure.  We set goals for ourselves with the best of intentions, but then get upset when Life intervenes and sends us off course. 

In 2010, I had three different addresses in three different states.  Believe me, that was NOT the plan when I started my year.  For ten and a half months, the vast majority of my belongings were in a storage unit in Branson, Missouri.  Also not part of the plan.  For nine months, I lived in my brother’s dining room in Austin, Texas.  SO not part of the plan (though I am grateful to him for putting up with me).  I also spent a third of the year unemployed.  But the other two thirds of the year, I did get to work with some really amazing kids whom I will miss in my new State.

In the middle of the year, I had an adventurous summer working at a day camp with the Y.  It was challenging, exhausting, and awesome.  I met some truly awesome and geeky tweens and got to experience a different side of Austin.  It absolutely was one of the highlights of my 2010.

In 2010, I searched desperately for direction and purpose.  I rediscovered a partly buried desire to go to Ireland as a missionary, to live relationally and be a part of the kingdom there.  The desire had never really left, it had simply been cluttered by other more immediate duties (like working, paying bills, and moving).  This year I did something about that desire: I attended an assessment conference held by the missions organization I wanted to go with, and they called me to work with them in Ireland.  It was such a moment of joy and clarity for me; but since then I allowed the same cluttering to reoccur, and I have done little since this summer to keep myself on the path to Ireland.  If I am going to go in 2011, I have a tremendous amount of work to do in the coming months.

I did a good bit of reading in 2010, including several books about the “new” things that are happening in the Christian community, things that excite me.  I attended a really wonderful church in Austin that brought me a lot of healing and encouragement.  I thought a lot about community and change and relational evangelism, but in reality, I spent most nights in front of the TV with my brother.  While I love a good story and I got see quite a few, there’s no doubt that I have been doing a little too much watching and thinking and not enough doing.  At the beginning of the year, I read Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” in which he talks profoundly about living a Good Story with your life.  It was part of what got me back on track about Ireland.  But now I am at the end of the year, and I wonder: did my months add up to a good story?

Now I am “home,” living with family again.  I never lived in Federal Way before, but about twelve years ago, we lived in Shelton, which is a couple hours away.  So it is like being home, in a weird way.  It’s beautiful here; the house we’re staying in has a view of the water, and on clear days (like today) you can even see the mountains.  My community is my extended family and the church that most of them attend—a tiny community church not at all like the one in Austin.  But my dad works there with the youth, and they feed the homeless every week, and they let us hold a Blue Christmas service.  This was my fourth year in a row putting together a service that allows people to step into the Christmas story with all their grief and sorrow and see that it may not be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but God is still with us.  

So I am facing 2011 and my mind is racing, trying to connect the disjointed stories of my year and retrace my erratic steps.  Did I learn anything?  Did I grow?  Did I change?  Did I discover anything profound about myself?  What did I accomplish (besides catching up on entire series of television)?  

  • I kicked butt at laser tag (and got my butt kicked at paintball!)
  • I paid off my credit card (cue hallelujah chorus, please)
  • I finished one novel and am a chapter or two away from finishing another
  • I kept my cat alive and well through three moves (sometimes with great protest on her part…)
  • I read over thirty books
  • I finally got some of the pictures I took in 2009 into frames

…Yes, major milestones all, clearly.  But seriously—what do YOU think the measure of success for a year is?  I’m still undecided on what to think of 2010 overall.  It was a strange and difficult year, woven from dark and knobby threads, but there were some strands of silver and gold in there, too.  Maybe the contrast is what makes it beautiful.  It was a hard year, but I am grateful for many things, including this opportunity to start fresh, close out one chapter and begin another.  

May my 2011 be less about goals and success as it is about telling a Good Story with my days, one I can be happy about when I am facing 2012.  And may you have a happy and blessed 2011, too.


"Home" for the Holidays

Three states in one year...that's got to be something of a record, even for a Richards.  Here I am, back in Washington state (but in a new town, Federal Way) and living with my parents again.  But this time I have the whole downstairs to myself.  Also, we are staying in this nice house for several months until next summer, by which hopefully I will be on my way to Ireland--Lord willing, if I raise all my support.  It's fun to have my stuff back after being separated from it for most of 2010.  Guess what I had the most of?  Around thirty boxes....of....BOOKS!

Anyway, so I'm in a new place, settling in and unpacking.  We had two Thanksgivings last week, one with neighbors across the street (whose relatives own the house we are living in at the moment) and then another with family on Saturday.  A couple of my cousins out here have kids--little kids, under three.  It was so much fun chasing them around the house; they are ADORABLE. 

I had this whole other post written about going "home" and how that's such a loaded term for me.  Can you call a place home if you've never lived there before and are only going to be there a few months?  Can you call a place you lived home if you were only there less than a year?  What is home, anyway?  They say it's "where the heart is," but what if your heart is in many places?

I mean, I still miss Pittsburgh.  I still root for the Steelers, as silly as that sounds; it's a little bit of continuity for me.  I didn't get to know Austin the town very well, but I did meet some very cool folks there whom I will miss (but hopefully keep in touch with).  I still miss Ireland.  I have been so many places and met so many people, worked with so many kids, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to look back on my life and try to figure out how it all fits together.

But then again, I'm here now, and maybe that';s what matters most.  The present, not the past, or the future.  Maybe I need to focus on the here and now for a bit and enjoy this time with family.  Because as temporary as it might be, for today, this is home.


Swallow Darkness Whole

If you want to know the truth, it's been a rough year for me.  And my family.  Not because of huge, disastrous events and misfortunes.  It's nothing huge or traumatic, but without going into detail--for me, it's been a year of feeling mostly displaced and under strain.  No, it hasn't been all darkness and gloom; there have been bright spots.  Like the camp I worked at over the summer & the kids I befriended there.  My parents moved to the Seattle area which was sad for me, but great for them.  (And they are still inviting me to come and join them, so don't be shocked if I up & move to Washington...)  I guess it's been a mixed bag of a year, but right now I just feel sort of weighed down and frustrated with my life.

I don't say all this to complain, but to explain.  When I share the things that have brought a little bit of light and hope to my life, I want you to understand that they are like islands of relief in what sometimes feels like an onslaught of disappointment.  I am blessed to have such a great family & far-away friends, and I know it.  I also go to a fantastic church & women's group here.  These things help ease my melodramatic sense of stress.  But one other thing that brings relief and even release is music.

In particular, I've recently gotten into a band called Sleeping At Last.  I first heard their song "Umbrellas" on the Relevant podcast and was blown away.  It took me a while to explore their other music, but for a while they had their album up for free on noisetrade.com, and I downloaded it & fell in love with them.  The more I've heard, the more quickly they've become a new favorite band of mine.  Though they have a different sound from Switchfoot (my very fave, for those that didn't know!) they have the same poetic, honest quality to their lyrics.

Recently, Sleeping At Last launched a new project, called Yearbook.  Instead of doing another traditional 10-12 song album, working on the songs for a year, and then recording it & releasing it all at once, they have committed to writing and releasing three new songs a month for a whole year.  They've already successfully completed the first two months, October and November, and I highly recommend them.  Not only is Yearbook and innovative project, the guys in the band are also very vocal about their process and often tweet and update facebook on the status of the songs for each month.  For people like me, who splurged and signed up for the whole year (actually, it was a good deal, considering you get about three CD's worth of songs by the end!), it feels like I'm involved.

The reason I wanted to share about this project is not just because I find it creative, and a perfect example of what post-modern music making can look like.  I wanted to share because I have found SAL's songs to be very encouraging and healing over the last few months.  They have a folksy, acoustic sound, with lots of piano, strings, and yearning, soulful vocals.  But it's not only their sound--their lyrics acknowledge the brokenness and fragility of life, but speak to a an understanding of hope in something bigger, truer, greater, and deeper.  Though I'm a writer, I don't know if words can fully express how much I have needed these songs this year.  Because music has a power that goes beyond scientific explanation and quantification, the best I can do is say that their songs have poured into me, sifted through the chinks in my armor, and filled me with light and hope.  They are not songs to rock out to; they are often more like lullabies that soothe the soul the way a mother helps a fussy child finally fall asleep and rest.

Sleeping At Last's Ryan & Dan paint soft impressionist watercolors with their gentle melodies and poetic lyrics.  They know how to use shading, and they know how to capture light.  The pairing of their melodies with their words have brought tears to my eyes more than once.  Right now, I'm particularly enamored of their song "Emphasis" from "November":

‎"Life is a gorgeous, broken gift/ six billion pieces waiting to be fixed/ love letters that were never signed, sent to where we live;
The sweetest thing I've ever heard/ is that I don't have to have the answers/ just a little light to call my own;
Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows/ a speck of light... can reignite the sun/ and swallow darkness whole."

That's just the tip of the iceberg.  They have so many beautiful songs.  On their previous album, "Storyboards," they used film as an ongoing metaphor for life.  One of my favorite songs from it is "All This to Say":

"Before we were born
God gently told us the truth,
but understanding is something that stops
as our bodies bruise...

Layer by layer, the framework was formed
on an epic of paper:
we breathe to explore.
and fast-forward motion
will gracefully show
the flickering story
that all of our sketches unfold."
There are several really great songs from that album.  Though I haven't heard all of the songs from the previous album, "Keep No Score," the aforementioned "Umbrellas" took my breath away (and helped me flesh out a scene near the climactic end of one of my novels!); "Needle and Thread" is beautiful in every way and is something I can imagine singing as a lullaby:

“'You were a million years of work,'
Said God and His angels, with needle and thread.
They kissed your head and said,
'You’re a good kid and you make us proud.
So just give your best and the rest will come,
And we’ll see you soon.'

All the blood and all the sweat

That we invested to be loved
Follows us into our end,
Where we begin to understand

That maybe Hollywood was right:

When the credits have rolled and the tears have dried,
The answers that we have been dying to find
Are all pieced together and, somehow,
Made perfectly mine.

We are made of love,

And all the beauty stemming from it.
We are made of love,
And every fracture caused by the lack of love."

On my darker days, when all I see are obstacles and enemies, it does my heart immeasurable good to hear the gentle insistence of these two musicians who beautifully but firmly remind me that there is a God, and He is Love, and that is the truest thing in all the universe.  Suck a speck of light can reignite me, and if I can be reignited, so can others.  And together, maybe we can swallow the darkness whole.


Eye of the Beholder

So, I may be something of a TV addict, but the fact is, I have to watch most of my shows through the internet.  I have a television, but I don't get any channels on it, not even basic networks.  I'm not up on the latest commercials (boohoo) or news tidbits.

So when I remembered hearing about a show featuring Melissa McCarthy, who I love from her Samantha Who? and "Gilmore Girl" roles, I decided to look it up.  "Mike and Molly," I thought it was called.  I typed in the name and presto!  I got a bunch of hits.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that several of the links that came up revolved around a critical blog of the show.

"Mike and Molly" is about two people who meet and an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, and fall for each other.  Sounds sort of sweet, right?  Not to some people, apparently.  There was a whole post written by a Marie Clare blogger about how seeing fat people try to be romantic grossed her out.  She's been bashed and punished enough for her words (I hope, so that it sinks in) so this is not about her reaction. 

In the days that followed, she received a lot of backlash for her words.  Several other people took the opportunity blog about it themselves.  I read a few of them, just to see what people were saying.  Surprisingly, a lot of people were quite angry with Marie Clare and blogger Maura Kelly for their "size-ist" attitude. She admitted that she has struggled with anorexia in the past and that it may have affected her response.

Well, we all have lenses we look through and experiences that have shaped us.  Here's mine: I've struggled with my weight and body image issues since I hit puberty.  For at least twenty years of my life I have been hearing and receiving a message that how you look determines your worth.  It's been culturally and socially acceptable to mock and deride people for being overweight for decades.  We also encourage and support each other for valuing beauty over character.  We have beauty pageants and rank contestants.  We teach young men that it's okay to only want the prettiest girl, that somehow makes him more manly if he has the hottest woman, but that only women are capable of looking past the surface and understanding that how people look is not who they are

As one blogger's response put it, "Fat people are people, too."  Part of the backlash against Marie Clare was an acknowledgment that there is something wrong with the way the media portrays people.  There's this unspoken reality created that only beautiful people can have romance and adventures.  There's a subtle but dangerous implication that if you are overweight, it's some kind of character flaw, like you're less of a human because you can't get your body into an acceptable size.  Or worse still, that you're actually a bad person, because your excess weight means you are lazy/stupid/unhygienic/a loser, because smart/healthy/capable/important people take better care of themselves, and therefore, are automatically superior human beings.  This of course, does not reflect the reality that some people work really really hard at being healthy with minimal visible results, and for others it comes naturally--or they are blessed with bodies and metabolisms that can handle things that others can't.  Or, in their crazy diets, they do damage to their bodies just as much if not more than people who eat junk food, but because the outcome is visually acceptable, they're rewarded.   This flawed conception is often reflected in the media.  Overweight and less attractive people play the best friends, the comic relief, even the villains, but they're rarely portrayed as the hero or love interest.  Fortunately, with so much backlash aimed against one little post, I think it shows times are changing.

There has been a slight resurgence lately of sorts, of people saying, "Hey, I don't fit in your box."  Or in Christina Hendricks' case, "Sorry, I don't fit in your dress."  There was the short-lived (but well played!) abc family show "Huge," about teens attending a fat camp, and "Drop Dead Diva," which I have not yet seen finally begun to watch and really enjoy.  The second ep, "The F Word," is about this very misconception that plagues our society (the "F" is for "fat," btw).  On Brooke Elliott and Melissa McCarthy's IMDb pages, interestingly enough, I found that there were several comments posted about the "hotness" of these women.  These sincere and serious (if occasionally inappropriate) comments run counter-intuitive to the conventional wisdom that thinness equals love and acceptance.  These are signs that things could be beginning to change, which is welcome news to those of us who have been living daily with the lie that how you look determines your value.

And let's face it: it IS a lie.  NO ONE should be told his or her value comes mostly from how they look.  We can't all be Brads and Angelinas, but that doesn't mean we have less to offer.  As I said, I've wrestled with this message for years.  I thought it was The Reason why I am still single, that no guy could ever find me attractive if there was a skinny girl to compare me to, that guys were only attracted to the outside, and that the only way I'd ever find love was if I lost a lot of weight.  I thought I had to apologize for it, hide it as best I could, and feel duly penitent and ashamed of my weight.

The truth is, from a health standpoint, I know I need to take care of my body.  And over the last few years, I've made a LOT of changes to my diet.  I eat really good most of the time.  Do I need to exercise more?  Yes.  I am, by nature, a very sedentary person.  I like activities that involve a lot of sitting and thinking (like watching TV, reading, and writing, for example).  I know I need to be more active, and it's one of those things I keep trying to stay motivated about.  But there is this part of me that resists--that has always resisted.  I can't even fully explain that, though I know I can't let it have the final word. 

But you know what else I can't do?  I can't keep letting Hollywood and the rest of society decide that I need to look a certain way in order to be beautiful.  I feel like some of us women have to go to rehab or boot camp or something to remember what it's like to feel pretty and confident in our own skin.  We need to have the opposite message drilled into our heads--this is why I love Superchick.  In addition to writing empowering songs like "One and Lonely" and "So Beautiful," they have started this thing called "Operation Beautiful" and you should check it out. 

I don't know what it's like to be a man, or if they struggle with their looks as much as women do (though a recent ep of "Glee" touched on it briefly...no pun intended).  I would imagine that the sword is beginning to cut both ways; I remember in college there were some camp counselors I worked with who were concerned about having too much chest hair--you know, because models and actors are usually (and unrealistically) well waxed.  But I DO know what it's like to be a woman and to feel hopelessly depressed after seeing some hot young actress kick ass and then make out with the male lead.  And I gotta tell you something: I'm tired of that feeling.  I'm tired of feeling like I will never measure up.  I'm tired of feeling like I'll never be attractive enough.  I'm 31 years old, and I'm ready to be okay with who I am.  Yeah, maybe I have to shop in the plus sizes.  And yeah, I still have to take care of myself.  But I'm not going to let my numbers keep defining me.  I'm not going to keep letting that voice in my head have the final word--the one that negates every compliment with the idea that I might be pretty, but only if I lost some weight.

I'm also not going to stand by and let future generations face the same torments without offering any help.  This isn't just about me.  This is about the women in my life who are reading this and have felt the same way.  You know who you are.  And you know what?  You are beautiful.  I don't value you because of how you look, but you need to know this: You are beautiful.  And the people (like me) who really know you, they see it.  The people who see your smile and your kind heart, they see it.  The people who hear you laugh and sing and see your creativity, they see it.  Hollywood and popular culture doesn't get to have the last word on this.  You're beautifulWe are beautiful.  And we're going to change the world.


Of Movies & Miracles

As I write this, I am in between my two jobs for the day and on my twelfth straight day of working.  Thankfully, I have the whole weekend off, but if I am loopy & have bad grammar in this post, at least you'll know why.  I just wanted to bring some extra attention to this really cool story that in the midst of all my other craziness I was able to be a part of.  

            A few years back, when I first moved to Pittsburgh, I was feeling a bit like I do now in Austin—out of place, not quite at home, really uncertain of my future.  I was living at home, and I was far, far away from the community I'd developed in college in Missouri.  I didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh besides my family, and while I kind of liked the church they attended, it wasn't the friendliest.  Somehow all my angst catalyzed me into doing some soul searching.  I began to really wrestle with my faith, which I alluded to in my previous post, & it was a time when seeds of change sown in earlier years began to sprout.  I started reading and thinking differently about my faith and church.  I didn't doubt God's existence as much as I wondered what He was really up to.  I had seen people get burned out, turned away, and screwed over by the church (and other Christian organizations).  And just as I was wrestling with how to deal with all this building frustration and discontent, I discovered I was not the only one feeling this way.

            There were several books I read at this time that impacted me and kept me from giving up on the church altogether, and one of them was a little paperback called "Blue Like Jazz."  I don't even remember exactly who recommended it to me, or how I came across it.  (Maybe my journals tell the story, but they're in a storage unit in Branson!  If you remember, leave a comment!)  All I remember is that I was reading it while I worked at an independent coffeeshop and when I finished, I felt so grateful to the author, Don Miller, for his gut-wrenching honesty, that I sat on my stool and wrote him a letter.  (I never sent it.  It's still in my journal.  In Missouri.)

            While some circles consider the book controversial, I know a lot of people have responded to the authenticity and frustration that Miller conveys in its pages.  One of the more moving and profound stories he tells centers around a local college where they have a festival that gets so wild, they shut down the campus and bring in medical units to deal with the drug abuse.  Don & his friends decide that would be a good weekend to spread the word that the campus also has a few Christians who attend.  He jokes with them about setting up a confessional, but his friends surprise him by taking it seriously:
            “Okay, you guys.” Tony gathered everybody’s attention.  “Here’s the catch…We are not actually going to accept confessions.”  We all looked at him in confusion.  He continued, “We are going to confess to them.  We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are very sorry.   We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and lonely, we will ask them to forgive us….We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”
            All of us sat there in silence because it was obvious that something beautiful and true had hit the table with a thud.

            That scene inspired director and musician Steve Taylor to make a movie based on “Blue Like Jazz.”  I found out about the project at the beginning of this year, when I read Miller’s latest book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” (in which he tells a bit of the story-editing process.  It was an EXCELLENT book.).  I got all excited because I love Steve Taylor’s movie work, and I love Don Miller’s writing, and it seemed like such a great way to reach a broader audience with a message of honesty and hope.
            But a couple years after the script was done, funding for the project fell through, and a couple months ago Donald Miller announced on his blog that the movie was dead.  Even though I follow Don on Twitter, somehow I missed this news until I started seeing a mysterious hashtag: #savebluelikejazz.  Two guys who are fans of the book apparently felt as disheartened as I did that the movie wasn’t getting made, but they decided to do something about it.  They started a Kickstarter page to raise money, with a very “meager” (for a movie budget) of $125,000 in 20 days. 

            Word of mouth spread through social media and people began pledging $10, $25, $100, $300 to the project.  Within a week they had well over half their goal met.  Suddenly hope was sparked anew in Taylor and Miller.  They had all but given up in the movie, but thousands of people came together to help this movie get made.  If you know me, you know I’m pretty much broke, but I pledged to this, because I am very passionate about it.  There were some disparaging remarks made about couch potato Christians who only give to movies and ignore Africa (or something to that effect), but the truth is, I think it’s past time that stories like this get told theatrically.  I don’t think “Christian Movies” should become some sort of weird sub-genre that includes movies like “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.”  I think people like Taylor and Miller need to pave the way for Christians to tell good stories cinematically, with characters who genuinely wrestle with faith and aren’t crazy.

            I share this whole thing because I think it’s an amazing story about people coming together to support something really cool.  I feel like I’m a part of it, and not just because I’m getting a phone call any day now from Taylor or Miller.  I also share it because it’s encouraging to me on many levels.  Like I said, I hope projects like this pave the way for more stories to be told—stories that don’t have to fit neatly in the “Christian” genre.  (Like the stories my friends & I write…)  It also encourages me because I have to do some support raising over the next few months for Ireland, and my number isn’t *quite* as big as theirs was, but it is very high—more than I’ve probably made in my whole life.  It’s a scary number, but watching their goal get met (and surpassed!) so quickly reminded me that if God wants us to do something, we just have to ask and let Him work. 

Because we all have a story to tell...and an audience to tell it to.


Glee, Sorrow, and Searching

Or, Further Thoughts on Grace & Love

This week's episode of Glee centered around religion and spirituality, which  naturally caught my attention even more than a typical episode.  My heartstrings got tugged in a lot of conflicting directions as the characters wrestled with faith and their differing beliefs.  Glee didn't go out of its way to answer any big theological questions or to raise one path over another, but it did display some beautiful, heartwrenching themes.

There were two main plot lines: one about Kurt, a boy whose father ended up in a coma, who maintained that he did not believe in God, and Finn, another boy who saw the face of Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich and began to pray.  While at first these seemed like overdone caricatures, this turned out to be a very complex episode.  Kurt, the boy whose father was near death, pushed away his friends when they offered prayer and hope.  But I think the most beautiful thing about it was that his friends didn't give up on him. 

I've been a believer in God for so long that sometimes it is easy for me to forget that there are people who honestly struggle with the idea.  I used to argue with such people, and try to reason with them.  Though backed with solid theological apologetics, I'm not sure I ever persuaded anyone to follow Jesus through arguments.  Likewise, no one in Glee talked anyone else into seeing spirituality their way.  But they did try to be respectful and honest.

As is the case in every Glee episode, the cast sang: this week, they sang songs that reflected their feelings about faith.  Finn, after finding out that God does not speak through grilled cheese sandwiches (according to the well-meaning guidance counselor) sang REM's "Losing My Religion."  His girlfriend Rachel, a Jewish girl, sang "Papa Can You Hear Me" from Yentil to express her conflicted feelings.  Mercedes and her church choir sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to Kurt to let him know he was not alone.  But perhaps the most moving song for me was when all the kids sang "One of Us," Joan Osborne's once-ubiquitous 90's song about God.  This came after the Glee club had been warned not to sing religious songs of any kind during school (a side topic that stirred up old indignation from my fiery days as an outspoken Christian in a liberal California high school).

I used to hate that song: "What if God was one of us?"  It didn't make sense to me, because I believed God had become one of us, in the person of Jesus, and the person she describes in the song was not how I pictured Him.  But today when I heard it, in one of those moments that God keeps shining a light on to show how I've changed since those aforementioned high school days, I realized I kind of liked it.  I remember being so indignant about it, and how the Christian magazines I read were also ripping on it.  But now I think, it's kind of an amazing question.

"What if God was one of us?"  To an atheist or agnostic, it's kind of an interesting idea.  Perhaps because of all the cartoony representations of Jesus we get in the world, they've never stopped to think about what it would mean for God to actually be like one of us.  I don't know.  But the whole song is full of interesting questions.

What really got me were the lines "What if God was one of us?/ Just a slob like one of us/ Just a stranger on the bus/ Trying to make his way home/ Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone."  For the first time, I heard them as kind of a challenge.  After all, didn't Jesus say that whatever we do to the least of these, we have done to Him?  What if we stopped looking at those around us as faceless, and remembered that they are people, made in the image of God, searching and lost and messed up and broken, just like us? 

This doesn't make our life any easier.  We will meet people, like Kurt, who have been through so much in life that the idea of God doesn't make sense.  They may want our friendship but not our God, and like Mercedes, we won't win them over with a perfect argument, or a heartfelt song.  (But what is the alternative?  Giving up and burning that bridge?)

THIS, my friends, is why Grace (or vitamin G, as I like to call it) is so important.  We will face moments like the ones depicted in this episode of Glee.  And we will have to choose how to respond to hurting friends and family.  It's not a magic potion that will make everything better.  But Jesus also said that Christians would be known and identified as such by their love.  Tell me: when was the last time you saw THAT in a movie or a TV show?  When was the last time you saw that in real life?  Most of the time, Christians are known for their arrogance, hypocrisy, and tendency to judge.  Oh, and for being crazy.

We have gotten so caught up in being "right" and seeming righteous that we've neglected things of deeper importance.  Like...go on, say it with me...grace.  And love.  And wouldn't it be cool if we actually were known for our love?  Our deep, profound, crazy, inexplicable, supernatural love?  Because if I were to stake my life on something that actually would change even the hardest hearts, I'd bet on Love.


Vitamin "G" Deficiency

This morning, I was all set to write a really angry post.  I mean, I had my soapbox all dusted and ready.  I was working on a title, and I even had a subtitle ready. (Something scathing, too, like "Silence, Ye Brood of Vipers.")

I mean, it's been one of those weeks.  Just by reading articles and posting links, I have gotten into some interesting discussions/arguments.  And if anything, it has reinforced that I have indeed changed many of my views over the past few years.  And that change, is a good thing.  A "real good thing."

See, in my younger days, I was quite the conservative evangelist.  I had a list in my head of things that were spiritual, and things that were not.  There were things I was allowed to and supposed to do as a Christian, and things I was not.  It was a simple kind of faith in which formulas and checklists were the path to righteousness.  A + B = C.  Simple as that.  And if you didn't adhere to such guidelines and believe the same things as me, you were probably, sadly, not going to make it into heaven.

But around ten years ago, perhaps a little more, God really began to change my heart.  It's a long story, and a good one, but, I won't go into it here & now.  The point is, it was a winding path to help me rediscover a pretty vital characteristic of God.  Let's call it "Vitamin G:" Grace. 

Grace is the reason I'm not ranting and raving in this post.  Because of grace, I can take a deep breath, even when I'm frustrated and remember that I need it as much as anyone.  See, sometimes I get frustrated with people who have a vitamin G deficiency.  I've noticed a decrease in this essential supplement lately.  Have you?

Symptoms of a lack of G include:  pride, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and the certainty that your opinions and beliefs are superior to everyone else's.  Also, a lack of vitamin G can actually be contagious.  As I learned for myself this week.

I find that when I am confronted with people who exhibit a lack of G, I get...itchy.  Squirmy.  Indignant.  And then...angry.  For about ten minutes, it's possible that it's a holy, righteously indignant anger, on par with the spitfire vehemence Jesus reserved for the Pharisees.  After that, it all goes downhill.  So to people who I may have hurt with my venomous reaction, I apologize.

But the real point of all of this is that we ALL need more G in our lives.  We need grace for ourselves, and we need grace for each other.  What is the point of the church, if not to display one of God's deepest, truest characteristics to the world?  We live in a world that is desperately in need of grace, and we have a responsibility to dispense it.  If there is anything I've learned over the past decade of my life, anything God has revealed to me about himself, it is that His very nature is Love.

We do a great injustice to the broken and marginalized of the world when we neglect to offer them grace & love because they do not meet our standards or prerequisites.  Indeed, that is one of the very things Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for.  Yes, there is a need for structure and rules at some level, for accountability and an understand of God's precepts set forth in the scriptures.  But at some point we need to realize we've been going about this evangelism thing slightly backwards; whereas Jesus went out to the sinners and marginalized of his day and hung out with them, we expect those around us to clean themselves up first and then meet us at church.

Let me be clear: I need grace as much as anyone.  One of the ways God ingrained that in me was by helping me be aware of my own failings, and then revealing his breathtaking, unimaginable grace and love for me.  Despite my failings.  So I must remember to show that to others.  That includes, as hard as it is for me to remember, those people who themselves are grace-deficient.  How can they learn grace, if I don't strive to exhibit it?

And if a lack of grace is contagious, how do we combat it?  What is the remedy?  I'm sure there are many, including a deeper understanding of God cultivated by reading more scripture with an open heart, allowing the Spirit to tug at your heart with examples of God's lavish, scandalous, extravagant grace.  The next best thing is to be in the company of those who practice grace.  I said at the beginning that I started this morning with an intention to write an angry, grace-less post, on the same topic.  Thankfully, I went to church first.

I am deeply and profoundly grateful for Gateway Church in Austin.  It's brought a lot of much needed healing into my life and is one of the things that keeps me from becoming a total cynic and giving up on the church altogether (not God, mind you, just the church).  Knowing that there are honest Christians out there like me, wrestling with faith and trying to live it out authentically--it keeps me going.   And that's why I write, too, to encourage others like me to keep going.  We have to keep going.  We have to keep up vitamin G, and work together to help God's kingdom come & will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.


The Wood Between the Worlds

In C. S. Lewis' book "The Magician's Nephew" he describes how Narnia first came to be, and who the first people from our world were to see it.  But before the main characters Diggory and Polly get there, they travel to an in-between place, which Lewis called 'The Wood Between the Worlds.'  In that place, both children find themselves drowsy and forgetful.  They lose all sense of who they are, where they came from, and what they were doing.  They can't even recall where they were going, and have trouble figuring out how to get there.

I can relate.  How about you?

One of the things I love so much about those books is how little scenes like the one I described help me make sense of my own life.  Recently, my women's small group has been looking at The Chronicles of Narnia and finding how they tie into and reflect stories and truths found in scripture.*  Naturally, I've been enjoying it.

It's always been surprisingly easy for me to find a story to illustrate and explain things in my own life, though I don't always make use of it.  Tonight, however, I was realizing how I've been stuck in the WBW.

I don't know what it is, but I find myself falling into old habits that get me nowhere, when I have things to do that will get me to Ireland.  I can't exactly blame my job, because it's a small part of my day.  I can't even blame TV or my cycle of staying up too late and sleeping in, because those are symptoms, not the cause.  I feel like I'm in a drowsy, lazy fog like the one Diggory and Polly encountered.  And it's been keeping me from remembering my urgent task of preparing to go to Ireland.

To be fair, I do want to balance out working toward the future with living in the moment, but that's not really what I've been doing.  I've been stalling.  Dragging my feet.  And I'm not even entirely sure why.  Maybe I'm a little scared and daunted by the tasks ahead, like the large amount of support I need to raise.  Maybe it seems too far away (it's not).  Maybe I've just let myself get distracted.

But now that I've remembered who I am, where I'm going, and what I need to be doing, maybe I'll find my way out of the WBW quickly.  I could really use prayer to help me work faithfully at the tasks I've been given....One of the other Narnian tidbits that's given me a visual image came from our study: In "The Horse and His Boy," Shasta meets Aslan at the end and discovers that He was the same lion who had been chasing/helping him and his companions throughout their journey.  Being chased by a lion gave the four friends quite a fright, but it also motivated them to RUN and get to their destination just when they were growing weary.  Aslan called it "strength through fear" and I suppose I'd rather have it that way than "weakness from fear," which is more like what I've been experiencing.

So there you have it: Ireland is like my Narnia (interesting, because Lewis was born in Ireland) and I have obstacles to overcome with "Aslan's" help.  And yours!--Thanks for reading, and for your prayers.

*--By this I don't mean that I believe that everything Lewis wrote in CoN was an allegorical representation of someone or something in scripture.  The fact that the books reflect some of those truths and stories is just good story telling.  All great stories borrow their power from the One True Story.


Third Culture Kid

By now many of my few but faithful readers will likely have heard the news that I have been accepted as a missionary to Ireland with World Harvest Mission.  This was the result of not only a long application process and years of interest, but a recent trip to Philadelphia for a conference at WHM headquarters called "A&O" week.

A&O stands for "Assessment and Orientation."  The first half of the week. we were interviewed, and after we were accepted, the rest of the week was spent in orientation.  The whole process was really good in many ways; I feel like I've found a really good organization.  There is a lot that i could talk about (and probably will eventually), but there was one session in particular that struck me.

Though we went through five interviews, including one which covered the results of our psych and personality profile tests, most of what I talked about in those times were things I already knew about myself.  In one interview, however, after recounting all the places I'd lived in chronological order, someone remarked, "You're really kind of a Third Culture Kid, aren't you?" I had no idea what he meant; I'd never heard the term before that I could recall.

So when we had a session on Third Culture Kids (or TCKs) our last day, I was totally caught off guard.  Though the term TCK has come to replace MKs in many circles, and generally refers to kids who have grown up in another country, it's really about cultures.  Psychology Wiki lists the definition as follows: Third Culture Kids (abbreviated TCKs or 3CKs or Global Nomad) "refers to someone who [as a child] has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."

Okay, you're saying to yourself, interesting, but what does that even mean?

Since I grew up in the many different cultures that make up the US, moving every few years and never really settling down, there are a lot of ways in which I myself am an adult TCK (ATCK).  I just didn't know it until now.  I knew that moving around all that time had shaped me in a lot of ways, but I didn't know there was this whole group of people out there who feel into the same category and had the same struggles.  When our facilitator listed the strengths and weaknesses that many TCKs have, I felt a little like I'd just discovered I had a medical syndrome I didn't know existed.

One site I went to looking for links and info today suggested that I'm actually either a "Domestic" TCK or a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK).  Either way, the point is, my many uprooting and cultural experiences had an effect on me.  It shaped me into who I am today: a woman who cares about many cultures and places, but can't decide where to say she is "from." Here are some other characteristics:

  • Make great culture bridges. They have multiple frames of reference.

  • Excellent observers of other people. They can be very observant and sensitive.

  • Establish relationships quickly. They cut through many of the initial levels of diffidence when forming relationships.

  • Open-minded and less prejudiced.

  • Adapt quickly to unfamiliar countries and people, culturally astute, cross-culturally enriched.

  • More welcoming of newcomers into a community.

  • Educational achievers - a high percentage will attend university and obtain advanced degrees.

  • Live more in the present and for the moment. (Pollock, 1999)
And here are some challenges:

  1. Belonging everywhere and nowhere. The elusive concept of "Where is home?"

  2. Difficulty with commitment to people, places, schools, or school systems as these constantly change.

  3. Uncertain cultural identity.

  4. Problems with decision-making.

  5. Loss of relationships, community, school is a loss of their world.

  6. Feeling different from others, difficult in forming peer relationships; occurs more often at university level or when returning to "passport" country, where they are misunderstood by their peers.

  7. Rootlessness and restlessness. The frequent need to change countries and homes.

  8. Feeling "Out of Control" and Powerless. A feeling that they have no control over events and that these are often taken out of their hands anyway by the inevitability of the move.

  9. A crisis of identity - "Who am I?"

So, there are upsides and downsides to this kind of life, but in the end, I guess it's just one more thing that helped shape me into the kind of person who pursues overseas missions!  I may not be able to say where I'm from, or be any good a long range planning to know where I'll end up, but I know where I'll be by the end of next year: Ireland.

And that's enough for me right now.


...And it Vexes Me So....

Okay.  So.  I realize I touched on this topic on my blog a few weeks back (and I've written on it before), but I think I need to revisit the subject.  I hate to beat a dead horse, but sometimes I get going on a topic and I just can't quit.  Apparently, according to an inventory I took tonight, it's partly because of my secondary spiritual gift of exhortation.

So, here is what I would like to exhort tonight: Singleness.

I have nothing against marriage.  I believe it's a sacred institution, created and blessed by God.  I am a total hopeless romantic.  I'm a sap.  I believe we were all created to live in relationship and community with each other, and marriage is a vital part of that.

However, I am getting frustrated with certain attitudes in the church about marriage.  Maybe it's because I'm a bit more of a cynic than I was in my teens and twenties.  Or maybe I'm just more realistic.  Whatever the case, I'm a little fed up with pastors and authors trying to push the idea of marriage on me as though I'm somehow lacking and deficient without it.  

Did you know, for example, that there are whole books that have been written on the subject of how to land a guy, within the context of the church?  Since when did we start taking our cues from Cosmo and Glamour, anyway?  Call me old-fashioned, but while I'm not exactly sitting around waiting for Prince Charming to ride up on his horse, I'm not really interested in going out and trying to lasso him, either. 

I don't think there's anything wrong with affriming the blessings of marriage and acknowledging that most of us (especially women?) want it.  But there's also nothing unbiblical about realizing practically, that all of us may not get it (at least, not as soon as we would like to), and learning how to cope with that.  Even rejoice in it!  There's this weird notion that's been floating around the last half-decade or so that to be single indicates a lack of spiritual development, that it's somehow laziness on our parts.  While certainly examples could be made, I don't think it's fair to say that's the standard.

And quite frankly, I think there's enough pressure on women outside the church--all the negative messages surrounding beauty and self-worth...why must we in the church add to it, when we all know (at least in theory) that we are supposed to find our fulfillment and worth in God?  All the emphasis seems to be unbalanced and a trifle unbiblical, too, since we are given examples of both singles and couples equally being vital to the Kingdom!

I know I touched on this issue recently when I talked about my biological clock.  Let me be clear and honest: Yes, I'd like to be married someday.  No, I'm not sitting around feeling sorry for myself in the meantime.  Please don't feel sorry for me or give me advice on how to wait.  I know how to wait.  I'm learning to live with the reality that I might never be married.  If I do, it will certainly be much later in life than I ever expected--but that's part of the problem, isn't it?  We sort of expect these things to just happen, and when they don't, we wonder what we did wrong. 

I'm not going to apologize for being single, or outspoken, or female.  I come from a generation of women who grew up with Princess Leia and Wonder Woman as their icons & role models.  My idea about femininity may have been shaped in part by such cultural icons, but it was also informed by the church.  And recently, I've begun to rethink some of my earlier-held assumptions about Godly Femininity.  That's a topic for another post another time, but the issues are related.  I'm not a man-hater or anything like that.  I'm just tired of feeling guilty for (and limited by) being a single woman. 

I made the choice a long time ago to trust God with my future, whatever it entailed.  Sometimes I feel a little adrift and have no idea where my life is headed.  Actually, that happens a lot.  But guess what?  Despite our cultural standards suggesting otherwise, that's pretty typical for a life of faith.  I'm not perfect, and I have to work at being okay with not knowing what's coming next.  I have to work at patience and trust and contentment.  So I get pretty pissed when I read stuff that undermines my hard work and makes me doubt myself and my path.

If you have a single friend or relative, do them a favor and be kind.  Don't give them advice on how to find a spouse or point out their flaws as an explanation of why they're single.  Instead, encourage them to seek God first, and His kingdom.  Because single or married, all the other stuff that comes along with life can really get in the way of that. 

PS: There are other books that actually offer good advice & encouragement in this area.  One is "Now and Not Yet" by Jennifer Marshall.  I did see a couple others on Amazon that sounded promising, but I haven't read so I can't vouch for them.  As Brianne pointed out, there's always Lauren Winner's "Real Sex," too.  Know of any other good resources?  Feel free to share!


Mourning Little Deaths

In my life, in my thirty one years, I’ve seen a lot of change.  Perhaps not as much as someone who lived thirty years before me, but enough all the same.

I’m not just talking about changes in technology and society, either.  God knows there have been many of those—the changes to computers alone in my lifetime have been drastic and unpredictable.  There have been changes in music and literature, in movies and politics, in marriages and religion.  Pondering those changes would keep a room full of sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists and theologians occupied for years.

But I have my own changes to think of, as well.  And as my own life isn’t likely to be studied by anyone other than myself, I must do the job.  As my birthday draws close, it makes me introspective again.  How have I changed in the last thirty years?  What makes me different from the person I was as a child or as a teenager?  How am I different even from four years ago?

As I said, I’ve seen a lot of change.  I’ve lived a lot of places.  I was recently filling out an application for missions in Ireland, and several questions caused me to reflect on the many varied experiences I’ve had.  Sometimes I need to stop and put things in perspective and remind myself that the life I’ve lived isn’t what most people would consider “normal.’ I’ve wrestled with that for years—what is normal, anyway?  Is it good to be normal, or is it bad?  I have to remind myself that experience alone does not make me a more developed or enlightened person.  We all have a slightly different path to walk, but it is what we learn from the journey that is important.

I’ve always been a rather sensitive soul; adaptable, yes, by necessity, but also very aware of change.  I’ve developed an awareness of similarities and differences—of patterns and themes.  This is part of what draws me to Story.  As I look at my own story like a tapestry, I see many colors: each shift to a new hue representing a time of transition in reality.  A new house.  A new town.  A new state.

I’ve seen a lot of change.  Every change, in a way, is like death.  Like a small dying of something that used to be and is no longer—at least, not for me.  The house may still stand, the town exists, but I am no longer there.  And even when I go back to visit, it will be different.  Time alone will have caused decay; often other forces have been at work as well.

And change happens in people, too.  I’ve had to leave behind a lot of friends in my life.  When the time for parting comes, assurances are made: I will keep in touch, we will still be friends.  I will see you again.  But often communication is infrequent, and in everyone I’ve left, even the ones I do remain closest to, change occurs.  People I knew as children grow up.  They graduate high school and college; they get married.  They have children of their own.  I see it all as snippets from the outside, watching and feeling frozen, though time affects me, too.

Every change, every goodbye is like a little death.  I don’t think I ever realized it before.  I never allowed myself to properly mourn all the tiny deaths I’ve experienced in life.  I haven’t lost a lot of people close to me to the grave, so I thought somehow I was exempt from mourning.  But I am not.  These days, whenever I read or hear or see a breaking of a fellowship, I find myself grieving.  It may be nothing more than a television show where the characters must part for a time.  It may be a song about friendship or goodbyes.  My eyes fill with tears, and I find myself mourning all the friends I’ve had to say goodbye to.  And I’ve had to say goodbye a lot.  Sometimes it has been much harder than others, and I think it was because I knew deep down that it was a death, it was the end of something which would never be again. At least, not until the end, the day when God restores everything.

Change in life is as inevitable as death.  You cannot escape it.  Time alone changes us, entropy breaks us down little by little.  You cannot stop it; the sands of the hourglass will slip through your fingers even as you clench your fist.

If that sounds discouraging, perhaps it is because I am grieving a little today, mourning for the many changes in my life.  All those little deaths which I foolishly overlooked.  The breaking of many fellowships. 

There is, of course, another side to all this.  Without change, without death, there cannot be new life.  Growth.  Change may mean the death of one thing, yes, but the thing that replaces it may be stronger and better.  Or, just entirely different.

The end of one thing means the beginning of another.  This does not negate our mourning, but gives us hope when the tears have dried.  Speaking of his own death, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)  Jesus, better than anyone, knew that change was inevitable.  He knew he would have to leave his earthly life and all of his very good friends.  He knew intense suffering was hours away.  But he also knew that something more glorious awaited him on the other side of it.  He knew one day there would be a reunion with his dear friends and disciples.

In the same way, we can have hope that the beautiful things of this world will one day be renewed and restored, on the day when God remakes the heavens and the earth.  And we, too, will be remade.  Paul talked about this in his letter to the Corinthians:

35-38Some skeptic is sure to ask, "Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this 'resurrection body' look like?" If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a "dead" seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don't look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.
 42-44This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we're raised, we're raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that's planted is no beauty, but when it's raised, it's glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-49, The Message)

It is right and natural for us to mourn the little deaths and changes that alter our lives.  But we must remember that death is not the end.  Life wins; Life triumphs over death.
I just finished reading a nonfiction book by Madeleine L’Engle called “The Rock that is higher: Story as Truth” and the last chapter was all about resurrection.  Mrs. L’Engle was writing in the later years of her life, looking back on everything, including an automobile accident which battered her body.  Toward the end of the book, she recounts a story she heard about the people of Russia, back when it was the USSR, an atheistic nation:

“The people of Moscow were called to a gathering in Red Square.  There they were addressed by one of the new leaders, who spent well over half an hour proving to the populace that there is no God.  His factual arguments about the nonexistence of God were incontrovertible, and the mob of people standing in Red Square was silent and subdued.
“Then a priest who was standing with the people asked permission to say three words.  Permission was granted, and he stood in front of the packed square, raised his arms, and cried out:
                ‘CHRIST IS RISEN!’
“And the entire mob responded joyfully, ‘He is risen indeed!’”

The truth of that resurrection is one that sustains us through all of life‘s changes and little deaths.  It means death is not the end.  Change, entropy, evolution—they don’t get to be the final words in the course of our lives.

All of our little reunions here in this life, so fleeting and bittersweet, are just a preview of what it will be like when everything is restored.  And I need this hope.  I need it because sometimes it feels like change is permanent.  Like goodbyes are forever.  Like death is the end.  It is not true, no matter how I feel.

And I press on, not wanting to get lost in the “new” nor stuck in the “old.”  I may mourn, but underneath my mourning is hope:

 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"  (Revelation 21: 1, 3-5)

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Tick, Tick, Tick

Remember the movie "My Cousin Vinny"?
My family and I love that movie; it's got some bad language, but it's hilarious.
One scene in particular cracks me up: Marisa Tomei's character rants about her "ticking biological clock."

It's funny, right?

Until it happens to YOU.

Now, I knew biological changes happen to all of us throughout life.  But the idea of a biological clock inside women that goes off to tell them it's time to have babies...well, I always thought that was a humorous prop used by TV & movie writers.  Wasn't it just a myth?

I don't have a definitive answer (wikipedia, anyone? Web MD?) but now that I'm gettting...ahem...older, I am starting to understand what Marissa Tomei was talking about.  A little.

Because I have worked with children in some format almost non-stop the past decade, I think of myself as generally immune to kiddie cravings.  I have an outlet for my love for kids, and the bonus is I get to send them home at the end of the day.  And babies have never really been my age group.  They're too young to talk, they have diapers that need to be changed, and what do you do with them when they won't stop crying??  In fact, the other day i was thinking that if I ever do get around to having kids, maybe I'll just adopt.  After all, there are a lot of kids who need a home.  And I've heard that older kids have a harder time getting adopted, because most people prefer babies.  Not me,  thought to myself.  I'd like to skip that stage!  Nine months of discomfort, painful labor, sleepless nights, constant attentiveness...no thanks.

Then Sunday happened.  This past Sunday was mother's day.  I woke up that morning with a dream drifting out of memory--but the one thing I recalled is that in my dream, I had been pregnant.  And, I'd been HAPPY about it.  Then I went to church, which was all about Motherhood, of course.  And there were all thes baby pictures on the screen, and real babies in their mommy's arms in the congregation, and it happened.

I had a baby craving.

It kind of freaked me out.

I don't want to turn into a Tina Fey caricature of a woman who suddenly sees nothing but babies and can't seem to think about anything else!  But maybe that was my biological clock, ticking!  Letting me know time is running out!!!

I'm kidding, mostly, though that really did happen to me.  I'm not freaking out about it, though.  Not anymore.  I realize that we are biologically wired a certain way--and most women at some point have a biological desire to have children.  Heck, even Brennan on Bones softened up and realized she might want a kid someday!

I had my first "I'm pregnant"/"I have a baby" dream in high school, I think.  I looked up the meaning in a dream symbols dictionary, and it said that babies & being pregnant can also symbolize having an idea--like a creative, artistic idea.  So, of course, I though it was about my stories.  I mean, I always have ideas for stories.  But I don't always dream about having babies.

JuniorImage by J. M. Richards via Flickr

I sort of feel a little like Joe Pesci in that scene above, kind of like, I have plenty of other things to be worrying about right now instead of babies.  And for ten years, I just sort of thought that  eventually, the timing would be right.  There would be a Guy.  There would be a Wedding.  And after a while, THEN there would be babies.  Cravings or not, I need to realize things might not go down that way at all.  If not, would I be willing to go the route of Tina Fey's character in "Baby Mama" or something?  Who knows!

Right now I'm living in my brother's dining room, so it's not like I'm exactly in the right place to be a mother.  Right now, I am a mommy/teacher/counselor/big sister to around fifty kids every day after school.  Right now, that's still enough for me.  My mental and emotional clocks are not ticking quite so loud.

I just wish they'd tell that to my biological clock. 

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Where is Phoebe?

Um, so, the other night I had a dream about someone reading and reviewing my first book, "Found Phoebe."  This person liked it immensely, which left me with a warm fuzzy long after the dream ended.  But when I got up, It got me thinking, whatever happened to Phoebe?  I haven't looked at her story in ages.  I've been so preoccupied with other projects, and oh, yeah, life issues, like moving and looking for jobs....

But I haven't given up on her story, not entirely.  I have a first draft of the second book nearly finished (though I haven't looked at it in several months!).  It's been so long since I invested in her story that I'm curious whether anyone else is still thinking of her.  Back when it first came out, I got a lot of questions about a sequel.  Lately I've been working so hard on my Dark Lightning books that I had to put Phoebe on the back burner, so to speak.

You guys are the readers, what do you think?  Should I keep working on Phoebe's stories?  Is there still interest in sequels?   Should I work to get "Found Phoebe" picked up by a publishing company, or try to market the version I have a bit more?

I'm open to any & all (constructive) thoughts.


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A Tale of Two Blogs

SO, I got sucked into this tumblr thing...but now I feel sort of disloyal to blogger, where I got my blogging start.

Eventually, I will have to find a way to divide the content.  Perhaps this one will be more about my writing, and tumblr will be about life & thoughts in general.  I haven't decided yet.  We'll see!

Any thoughts, suggestions, etc?

Does anyone actually still read this?


Avatar: Environmentalist Manifesto, or Retelling of the Gospel?

So, I realize I'm a bit late to be getting on the Avatar train, and as such, probably someone else has addressed this and potentially done a far better job than I will. Still, Story is kind of my life; and though I've been immersed in a great number of stories over the last two months, I feel that Avatar provides a unique opportunity to engage in some story analyzation. Which, if you know me, is one of my most favorite activities in the world.

I went to see Avatar yesterday with my parents, who came into to Austin from San Antonio to hang with me, since all three of us are STILL looking for jobs in Texas. (Curse you, economy!!)
Anyway, we debated on a few options, but went with Avatar, and I have to say, I really didn't know what I was in for. I knew that there were blue people, and the premise of humans using Avatars to communicate with the Na'vi. (Btw, let me insert this sidebar here, before I get too immersed: Navi is actually the Hebrew word for prophet [and one of about ten words I remember from my semester of intro to Biblical Hebrew courtesy of Dr. Bolger.]) But I wasn't quite prepared to have it invoke such strong reactions in me, even knowing that I tend to be a little more sensitive to stories than some people.

Afterward, I scrambled to make sense of why I got so drawn into the movie. Was it because it was visually stunning? Was it because it appealed to the greenie in me? Or was it something even a little deeper?

Eleven years ago this April, I attended a convocation at my college where the speaker used another James Cameron epic as an illustration that would change my life. He used the movie "Titanic" to explain the gospel, and the Gospel to make sense of the success of "Titanic." I had never heard anyone do anything like that before, and it shaped the way I forever looked at stories. Now I'm going to do the same thing for Avatar. (**Incidentally, if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the story spoiled, you should probably stop reading right here.**)

According to that speaker (John Eldredge), the gospel can be broken down as a four act play. I've heard of others using five and six acts, but I'm going to stick to JE's four for now:
Act One, Eternal love. Act Two, The Entrance of Evil. Act Three, The Battle for the Heart. Act Four, The Kingdom Restored.

Act One isn't just about Eden. It's about a world that was created out of the love and community of the Trinity. So for Avatar, it's not just about how Pandora echoes Eden. It's about the Na'vi and their connectedness. I don't want to overchiristianize a story that was probably never intended to be understood as a Christian story. But I think here are spiritual truths to be gleaned, as well as some amazing spiritual imagery.
On Pandora, the Na'vi care about each other, they care about the other creatures, and they care for their world. There's something about the way they live which hearkens back to the charge given Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Act Two was what really got me agitated. There's always a villain in our epic stories, because there's a villain woven into our own Story as well. Just as Satan tempted Eve and brought about the destruction of paradise, Pandora has it's villains also. And oh, how I hated them. Parker Selfridge was the calculating company man after the bottom line, and Colonel Miles Quaritch was the militant head of security bent on crushing any opposition. They both profess to be willing to try diplomacy first, but their tactics and habit of depersonalizing the Na'vi as "savages" and "blue monkeys" illustraated their true motives.
I really, truly hated Quartich in a way I've not hated a villain in a long time. Often bad guys are complex, manipulative, selfish, and even crazy; Quartich was simply evil. He was single-minded in his purpose and committed to his worldview that taking the mineral "unobtanium" was his job, his right, and took delight in destrying anything that got in his way. As such, he embodied a description of our Enemy as given to us by Jesus: "The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy." Yep, those were pretty much Quartich's objectives, and he enjoyed it.

Act Three is the battle. It's also the part of the story we're all in right now in our larger Story. In Avatar, it took Jake Sully sacrificing his place with the humans to rally the Na'vi. It was a people united to fight together. The battle was fierce and brutal. And perhaps you noticed as I did that like many epics, there was a tipping point. There's always a moment where everything looks lost for the good guys--heroes are dying or on the brink, and it looks like good will be defeated. It is only then, when everything is darkest, does the tide turn.

Act Four is the Kingdom Restored. In other words, the good guys win. Things go back to being good again. This is really a crucial point of any epic. Perhaps not all heroes live to see the kingdom restored. But their deaths were not in vain; much good comes of the battles they fought and the lives they gave. In Avatar, the mercenaries are sent packing and Pandora once again belongs to the Na'vi. And Jake, the hero, dies in his human form and is reborn as one of them.

I feel like I could draw so many more spiritual parallels from Avatar than environmental ones. I mean, yes, the message could be boiled down to "you can't take whatever you want, just because you want it," which is something every two year old ought to be taught. Though the religion of Pandora was denounced by the Vatican recently and certainly isn't Christianity, there were some interesting symbols. There was the Tree of Souls, of course--a holy tree to that people; and the way Jake's avatar was covered in the "seeds of Eywa" was akin to a baptism.

Let me end by saying this: "Avatar" is by no means a Christian film. That said, if you or someone you know enjoyed it, you can certainly draw spiritual parallels and truths from it. As Arthur holms said, "All truth is God's truth." If you have friends who need to hear (or be reminded of) the gospel and who like Avatar, don't be afraid to use the story to point to Christ, and our place in the larger Epic we're all in.


Twenty Ten, So Far

It’s a new year. We are less than two weeks in, and since it’s been a good long while since I blogged, I thought now was a good time to catch up. December was a crazy and stressful month for me, so I didn’t get around to blogging any of my thoughts then.

But my schedule’s pretty wide open at the moment, so here I go.

So far in 2010, I have:
• Moved to a new state
• Read five books
• Watched season 2 of Chuck (and almost all of season 2 of Psych)
• Been homesick for Pittsburgh
• Slept on a couch all but two nights
• Lost the job I was supposed to have when I got out here

Yeah, that last one sucks. It’s a long story, and apparently there’s no one to point a finger at, but the transfer I thought I was getting didn’t happen. So now I’m here in Branson, MO, living on my bff’s couch and trying to figure out Plan B. What a way to start a new year: homeless and unemployed.

People keep telling me that I’m here for a reason…and either I believe what I say I do, or I’m faithless. I’m having a hard time with this whole thing, because I miss my friends, family, apartment, and the job I used to have—the one with awesome coworkers and medical benefits.

Anyway, so in between working on not being bitter and pissed off, and trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life, I have actually been having fun. It would almost be like vacation, except my cat is here, and all my stuff is in storage. As previously mentioned, Brianne (my bff) and I have been watching lots of TV. Specifically Chuck. (We seriously love us some Chuck.)

So then, we got all excited, because season three just premiered. And like, last year, we were all freaking out because it looked like it might not even get a third season, and we were buying subway sandwiches and writing letters and talking our friends into watching season one on DVD. But now it’s back, and it’s AMAZING.

This is the part where I pretend I’m the kind of blogger who writes reviews that people actually read. I just feel compelled to gush about Chuck for a moment. During the first three hours of this season, we have laughed hysterically. And swooned. And gasped at unforeseen deaths. The music is top-notch as always; Buy More shenanigans fill out the spy drama and angsty romance. And the hair. Oh, the hair. After watching all of season 2 this week, I have a newfound appreciation for what they are doing to Zachary Levi’s hair this season. It finally suits him. I don’t know why it took so long, but thank God. Oh—also, Chuck now has super powers (via the 2.0 intersect) that enable him to do pretty much anything. Sometimes.

Partway through the two hour premiere, I realized that Chuck has the same problem that Peter Parker does in Spider-Man 2. (I know, I’m a huge geek. I’ve come to terms with it.) SM2 is not just one of my favorite superhero movies, it’s in my top 10 list of favorite movies of all time. (It also served as an impetus for me to write down the angsty superhero love story that I’d been thinking about for years, also known as “The Jagged Edge of Lightning.”)

In SM2, Peter Parker finds himself in quite a predicament: he can’t hold down a job, he can’t have the girl, and he can’t always catch the bad guy. Because his powers begin to fail. Inexplicably. In Chuck s3, Chuck finds himself out of two jobs, without his girl, and unable to catch the bad guy, because his intersect powers aren’t working. General Beckman tells him it’s because he’s too emotional (allow me to indulge in an eye roll, because I’m not a fan of Beckman. She’s too emotion-less!). Well, Pete had a similar problem: his powers begin to misfire in part because he’s so in love with MJ, and yet he can’t tell her, because she’s engaged, and he’s afraid to let her know about his whole alter-spider-ego. But when he stops trying to suppress all those pent-up emotions—voila! He gets back to his old Spidey self.

Something tells me that Chuck’s going through a similar transition. Everyone keeps telling him not to let his emotions get in the way, but that’s one of the things that makes him Chuck, and not your average superspy. (That and his geeky humor, aversion to violence, and ubiquitous Chuck hi-tops.) He’s just got to find the right balance, and in the meantime, it will be fun to watch the mishaps.

But those days he spent in his bathrobe, eating cheese balls, watching TV, and growing a beard? A similar fate may await me (minus the beard) if I don’t find a job soon. Chuck had an existential crisis, and I am too—for the third time in two years. This is about having more than a job, a five year plan, or some shiny new resolutions.

I am waiting for my path to be illuminated, but right now the road’s pretty dark. If I am here for a reason—not just here in Missouri, but jobless and homeless—I’d like to know what that reason is. I’m not a big believer in coincidence or accidents. Maybe I made a mistake. Or maybe, like Chuck and Spidey and pretty much all my favorite heroes, I just can’t see the whole story yet.
What I wouldn’t give for a glance at my next few chapters.…