Monday, January 14, 2013

Faith Like a Wrestling Match

Most days the life of faith feels like a wrestling match. Not the physical sort that Jacob experienced as he wrestled with God in the desert, but an equally exhausting mental-sort. In this match, I step into the ring clothed in my selfish desires masked by noble intentions; armed with my own set of assumptions and ideas about who God is. But I'm not fighting for the blessing so much as for the answers. 

“Come on, God. Make it all clear to me. Make it cut and dried. Make it simple. Take me down quick and easy. Overcome all of my delusions by a mighty display of your power.” This is my prayer, my cry, throughout the match. 

But instead of going straight for the pin, which he could easily do, my opponent dances around the ring. He makes me pursue him. At times he allows me to get a grip on him, to think I'm winning, to believe I have it all under control – only to throw in a surprise move, catching me off-guard and knocking me to my knees. Now would be the obvious time to take me down. Now that my foundation has been rocked.

Now would also be his chance to gloat. To stand over me and say, with relish, “What did you think of that?” But instead, he eases up. He draws me back to my feet. He asks me to fight some more. And though I don't want to, though I still desire the easy take-down, I acquiesce. 

But maybe I'm starting to understand. Maybe a victory has nothing to do with winning or losing and everything to do with staying in the ring and learning how to fight. As maddening as it is, I am afraid that my opponent likes wrestling matches and that this one will not be quickly over.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chapter 2: The Parable of the Blood Brothers

 Let's start at the beginning. Or at least the beginning of me 
starting to figure out who I was. Who I am. Let's start with where my story first collided with His.
I was eight years old. That's when I officially remember choosing to have a relationship with Jesus. Now I'm not one of those people who can remember the exact date, time and place where I turned my life over to Him. Instead, for as long as I can remember, it seems like I knew He was there, and I never doubted it. But eight was the turning point -- when I went from knowing He was there to realizing that I needed him. Desperately. 
It's only looking back now that I realize what a selfish decision it was to start our friendship. I'd moved around year after year, being uprooted from people and places, and I wanted a friend. A friend I could count on. I was sick of being the new kid, either constantly trying to fit in or else forced to elbow my way into already existing friend groups where I wasn't wanted. Yes, I wanted a friend. Painfully. 
I'll never forget first grade when my teacher, Miss Smith, designed a class activity for us to become blood brothers. She gave us each a small piece of red construction paper and instructed us to tie it around our wrist. Then she told us to pick one classmate with whom we wanted to become blood brothers by rubbing our red papers together in front of the class. 
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're wondering what kind of activity this is for a first grader, right? And I wholeheartedly agree with you, but at the time, I was six. What did I know? It sounded like fun, and I couldn't wait to start. Miss Smith gave the go ahead and soon her room was abuzz with first graders running across the room to lock elbows with their future blood sibling in anticipation of the big ritual. 
I made a beeline for Amy; but I was too late. Jennifer had beat me. I took a step back and anxiously surveyed the classroom only to discover that I was the only kid without a partner. I stood there looking at all of my classmates smiling contentedly in their little pairs, each one oblivious to my situation, and I felt like the biggest failure in the world. I was looking for someone to take me in, anyone, but there was no one left. It was a crushing blow to my child psyche. I know this to be true because other than being chased around the playground by my male classmates and taking a Rorschach test, it's the only memory I have of first grade. 
Sensing my desperation at that moment, Miss Smith convinced Amy that it was acceptable to have three people in her group. With forced smiles, she and Jessica took me in. But I knew the truth. I was second best. 
When I rubbed my red paper with Amy's, I didn't experience the same twinge of satisfaction that the other kids did. Instead, I felt a deep loneliness. I was the blood sister that nobody wanted. But even that blood friendship didn't last long. By second grade I was on my way to another school, and then another, to do it all over again.

So at eight years old (after having made my fourth move in three years), when I kept hearing that Jesus was a forever friend who'd always be with me, never leave me or forsake me, and would love me just the way I was, well, it seemed like a no-brainer. Who wouldn't want that? Just say a little prayer, and he'd come into my heart and the friendship would start instantaneously. What wasn't to like?

And so while I'm pretty sure that my eight year old brain believed all the other stuff about Jesus –- that he was the Son of God, had died on the cross for my sins, and had risen again to be my Savior -- it was the fact that I'd have a forever friend that really sold me on him. He was the forever friend who loved me so much that he was willing to do more than rub a piece of red construction paper against my wrist. He was willing to seal our friendship with real blood, his blood. That was a bargain my eight year old brain couldn't pass up. And so my relationship with Jesus began.
* * *
Of course, when you're eight, nobody reads you Luke 14:25-33(NLT):
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”

No! Instead, they tell you about God parting the seas, and Jesus walking on water, and Noah building an ark big enough to cram in two of every kind of animal. They give you fun crafts to make, prizes for the Bible verses you memorize, and a sticker if you have perfect attendance, but somewhere in all of that, they conveniently leave out that as wonderful as your friendship with Christ is, that it's going to cost you something. No, not just something, everything
Maybe that's too much for a child to swallow at such a young age, but even as an adult, I can't think of too many churches I've been to where the pastor has been up front about the whole thing. Where he's gotten down to business and said, more or less, “Okay, you want to be a Christian and join our church? Great! But here's a list of what it might cost you – father, mother, spouse, children, friends, wealth, property, all of your possessions, popularity, worldly success. Am I forgetting anything? If I am, you may have to part with that too. Still interested?” 
It would almost be refreshing to hear someone say that instead of finding ways to explain away what Jesus actually said and call it “interpretation.” But many of us, myself included, have become adept at finding a way to make the Bible say what we want it to so that we can feel good about doing exactly what Jesus told us not to. In other words, so we can live for ourselves.

At any rate, somewhere along the way I blinked and went from being a little girl who selfishly wanted a best friend and was told I could have him for nothing more than a prayer to a young woman who realized that that wasn't the whole truth. That somebody had been holding back on me. Because the more I read and studied the Bible, the more I realized that that little prayer wasn't enough. It was enough to begin the friendship, but it wasn't enough to keep it going. This was a friendship that was going to require more of me than I'd ever realized. Much more than a red piece of construction paper that's for sure.
* * *
    Has an experience of loneliness ever led you to a place of intersection? If so, what did you learn there?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chapter 1: The Parable of the Thirty-Something

 What happens when you're fast approaching your thirtieth birthday and you realize that all of your friends' Facebook statuses are much more interesting than yours? When you feel like your life has all the excitement of an infomercial? When despite what people tell you about how important and meaningful your work is, it still doesn't feel like enough? 
I guess you have a couple of options available to you. You could sell all of your possessions and go trekking around the world, unhindered, free as a bird, in search of the meaning and adventure you crave. Believe me, I've thought of that. And it wouldn't be too hard to do seeing that at the moment all of my earthly possessions are packed neatly into my parent's garage. But I suppose that would be considered “irrational” since my husband and I are days away from closing on our first home. Bummer! (I wonder if he knows that a part of me is secretly hoping it won't go through!)

Then there's option two. Try to make sense of this crazy life and how I made it through these first thirty years and wound up where I am right now – with my uninteresting facebook statuses and enough wanderlust to fill hundreds of garages. Well, the only way I know to even attempt to make sense of anything is by writing it. By taking enough time to put it down on paper so that I can see my life or problem or writing subject as concretely as I can see the words on the page. Writing is how I process things, and I think it's always been that way, even though I didn't figure it out until I was twenty five. 
See, I never woke up one day and said, “I want to be a writer.” Instead, writing found me. In elementary school I wrote love stories with my Golden Retriever and Irish Wolfhound as the protagonists. In high school, I penned poetic verse about faith and friendship. In college, I mostly poured out papers about theatre history and religious thought. However, on more than one occasion a short story came to me, seemingly out of the blue, and it was all I could do to get the words down fast enough. And yet, if you would have asked me if I considered myself a writer, I would have emphatically told you no. 
It wasn't until the excruciatingly hot, exhaustingly long, exceedingly boring days of my summer in Madrid, that I would have told you yes. It was then that I really started trying to make sense of my life. I was twenty-five and living in a foreign land – far from home, far from family, far from my regular summer world of barbecues, swimming pools and Fourth of July parties.
My life up to this point had been a whirlwind of activity. In fact, in the months prior I could barely keep up with my teaching schedule. Hustling around by bus and metro, covering nearly every inch of Madrid as I visited companies, schools and homes, teaching English to children and business execs alike. Between travel, lesson planning, teaching, and mapping out my day, I kept myself busy from early morning until night. Then suddenly, summer arrived, and it all stopped. There was literally nothing to do.
The madrileƱos and anyone else with sense or money or both had packed up and escaped to the seaside. But I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no reason to leave the confines of my roasting apartment to brave the even hotter streets. I was alone with myself. Alone with my thoughts. And if you've never been there, it's a scary place to be.
Every hope, insecurity, dream, frustration, confusion and doubt that I had came to the surface. And for the first time in my young life, I had no activity, no work, no television or internet connection to distract myself. And with nothing to hide behind, I suddenly found myself trying to make meaning out of the last twenty five years of my life. So I pulled out my outdated laptop, and I started to write.

What appeared on the screen were short essay-type pieces and bits of flash fiction that spoke to everything I was learning or trying to figure out about myself and the unfamiliar world in which I lived. I spent hours a day wrestling with the words, giving form to my thoughts. In the process I realized that I had forgotten how much I loved to write. I remembered back to grade school when my two-page creative writing assignments easily turned into twelve or thirteen. (Back then I thought that my teacher's wide-eyed response to my stapled masterpieces reflected her joy at having such a prolific writer in her midst. Now I know it was much more likely a look of dread as she saw her grading time increase exponentially!) At any rate, coming back to writing was like re-discovering a lost friend.
I shared my works with close friends and family members, but that was as far as it got. My writing was more about helping me to process things than it was about getting my ideas out to a large audience. It wasn't until a few years later that I decided I wanted to take my writing to the next level. I was reading a magazine produced by my church when I saw a small advertisement seeking writers. I answered the call, and to my surprise, my first article was accepted. Over the course of that year and the next, I submitted articles by the dozens.
In the process, I learned the styles and niches of the publications I was writing for. I also learned that some of what I wanted to say could never be boiled down to a thousand word limit, much less fit any particular “niche.” But still, I needed to say it. And that's where this book came from.
Let me be clear that I never set out to write a book. Instead, this book started writing me. It began as a bunch of jumbled thoughts arising from past memories, present realizations and preoccupations with the future. There were notes jotted in the margins of church programs. Documents saved on my computer with nothing more than a sentence across the top. But all of it was about experience and identity; love and pain; and how despite our best efforts, we all too often get things messed up.
Yes, this book is about life. Life – which is so vivid, so multidimensional, so meaningful and insightful that I couldn't contain it all. That's what led me to write in the first place, (well, that and my unexciting Facebook statuses), and that's what makes me continue writing.
So what is this that I've written exactly? To be honest, I don't know. Maybe it's not even a book. It's part memoir, part living-breathing journal, part creative brainstorm, part I don't know what. Simply put, it's an adventure – and I hope you'll take it with me. I also hope it will mean something to you. I know it has to me.
You may find what I have to say imperfect, incomplete or incongruous with your experience; in fact, I expect that that will be the case or you'd have written this book instead of me. Please understand that this is merely my best attempt to make some sense of this amazing gift of life that God has given us. If nothing else, I hope this book will be an invitation for you to do the same.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Introduction to "Intersection"

Okay, so here we go! This is the Introduction to my work-in-progress manuscript which is currently titled, Intersection: Where Two Stories Meet.  
   Stay tuned -- more chapters to follow!



   When I first started writing this book three years ago, I titled it, Confessions of a Scatterbrained Christian (who's just trying to make a difference in the world). In many ways, that still describes me. I am still all over the place – and with the rise of such technological advancements as smart phones, Facebook and Twitter, perhaps even more so than I was back then. 


I am also preoccupied with making a difference. Making my life count. As you will see through the course of these pages, that desire has been transformed and shaped over the years. And thankfully, it is still being re-shaped (less of me, more of Him!); however, it's still very much present. My husband can attest to this. He is the one who must deal with my monthly, sometimes weekly, rants as I wonder aloud if I'm doing what I'm supposed to, how I'm supposed to, where I'm supposed to and why I'm supposed to. Or if there's something more for me to do out there that I haven't quite put my finger on. Yet. 
The “confessions” part of the original title conveyed my desire to be as open and honest as I can be, not holding back or sugar-coating things. That includes sharing ideas and thoughts that you may not like. Heck, that I may not even like. Why? Because honesty with ourselves and others is the only path to true relationship. And true transformation. 
I started writing this book at a difficult time in my life, a time of indecision and uncertainty. Much of that stemmed from wondering if the vision I had for my storytelling company would ever come to fruition or if all of my time, energy and passion were wasted. There was so much of myself wrapped up in that endeavor, that to not see it thriving made me feel like a failure as a person. It was a time when I realized how much I relied upon accomplishments to measure my self-worth, even though I knew this defied every tenet of my faith, which teaches that my worth comes from Who loves me, not what I do. It was a time in my life when I had every reason to be happy, but for some reason, couldn't will myself to be so. 
However, shortly after completing the first draft of this book, my life and professional endeavors seemed to find wings and soar. In fact, the rest of that year would read like a laundry-list of major professional accomplishments for me. And the following years just added to it. I didn't have time to think about editing Confessions of a Scatterbrained Christian. I was too busy. 
And then one day recently, I came across the half-forgotten manuscript while searching my computer for another document. Out of curiosity, I clicked on it, and to my surprise, 259 pages popped up to greet me! As I read through them, I could still see myself in the collection of stories and vignettes. But even in the simplest of stories, there was a much more central character. Someone who has been a part of every one of my high and lows, ups and downs, experiences and undertakings, thoughts and feelings. Someone who gets me even when I don't get myself (which is most of the time!) That someone is Jesus Christ. 
Jesus and his story are constantly intersecting my own. Sometimes, this occurs in tiny, seemingly insignificant, ways. Other times it's so monumental that I expect to feel the earth shaking below my feet.
The word 'intersect' is defined as:
  • to cut across or through
  • to cut across or overlap
  • to have one or more points in common

As a storyteller, one of my favorite stories is that of the birth of Jesus. If this does not describe an awesome intersection then I don't know what does! Jesus cut across the division of heaven and earth. In himself, he made the human and divine overlap. He became like his creation, having much in common with them, and in doing so, showed his creation how they could be more like him. 
And I don't believe he's done doing that. I believe that he's still intersecting the world every chance he gets. And if that is true, then my story and God's story are not two distinct tales. Instead, his great epic collides with my simple story and creates an intersection – a place where amazing things can happen, both big and small. 

And so I invite you through the pages of this book and my experiences shared here to reflect upon the thousands of little ways that God's story is intersecting your own on a daily basis. This may require slowing down. It may require keeping a journal. It may mean learning to pay attention or to watch and wait with expectancy. It may mean something entirely different at different seasons of your life. But my prayer is that you won't miss it. Because an intersection is the place of greatest possibility.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Blogging My Book: A New Venture in 2013!

Well, it's been over a year since I posted something to this blog. But my goal is to change that this year and also to try something different in the process. In the latter part of 2012, I happened across the idea of blogging a book. Basically this means posting sections of a book you are working on at regular intervals. The advantage is that you can get feedback right away from readers. This feedback can be used to gauge how best to improve upon the work, and I love the idea.

Recently I came across a manuscript that I wrote a few years ago. It was gathering dust in the recesses of my computer files, and after reading a few pages, I decided that I would like to bring it into the light once again. But I'm not sure that I have it in me right now to do all of the editing necessary to make it a complete manuscript.

My life has taken on a super-busy speed with tons of worthwhile projects competing for my attention, and frankly, the thought of spending lots of hours editing this manuscript never knowing if it will go to print is daunting and overwhelming and not that attractive to me. UNLESS I can share it as I go. UNLESS I can get feedback (both good and bad!) from people willing to take the journey with me. UNLESS I can discover through the process if it's resonating with others. And if it is how. And if it's not, why it isn't.

And so, I invite you on this journey into blogging my book. I need your comments, thoughts and feedback. I need your constructive criticism and your accountability (if I don't post when I'm supposed to, please call me on it!). I need you to share this with others who could join and contribute to the conversation, creating a community of diverse readers whose viewpoints will be invaluable to me.

Okay, so here's the plan:

* I will post at least once per week.
* I will try to eventually find a consistency with posting dates (ie; always posting on Fridays) so you know when to expect new content. But if possible I do encourage you to subscribe so that you'll receive a notification when a new post is added.
* I will do my best to engage as many reader comments as I can, and I encourage readers to engage with other reader's comments as well.

To all of you joining me on the journey, thank you so much! My next post will be the introduction of my work-in-progress which is currently titled Intersection.