Monday, July 11, 2016

Joy in snap-shot moments

Howdy ya'll. 

It's been a while, I know. These last six months have been rough. Some of it's the winter. Some of it is just life. I'm not going on grand adventures any more. (Well, not as much, any way.) Things have kind of settled into a bit of a routine and it is hard to see the new and wonderful things that happen when so many of my days feel exactly the same. 

But this weekend, I had a few of those really clear moments. You know what I mean? Those moments you want to take snap shots of and remember forever. And then I remembered. Those snap shot moments are the things that make life good. The moments you want to remember are sometimes just the every day things and they are just as good as those big adventure moments. 

Things like: 

Rocking my one year old nephew to sleep. He plays with the little tuft of hair above his ear as he falls asleep and it's just the most precious thing I've ever seen. 

Receiving knock-you-over hugs from my niece. She's decided we can be friends again (after a few weeks of not wanting to talk to me) and I absolutely love it. She also likes to try on my pink 4.5 inch heels and "walk" around the living room. Lord, give me strength. 

Standing outside under the stars watching fireworks. It's a simple pleasure, watching fireworks, but it always feels like magic to me. My heart always wants to call out, "More fireworks, Gandalf!" 
(Bonus: listening to those songs that make you proud of your country while watching fireworks makes me a puddle of emotions and tears. Just me?)

Getting giant hugs from kids that adopted me as aunt and that moment they don't get up and fall asleep on my lap. I am "Lulu" to a hand full of kids (young and older) and it is my absolute pleasure to hear them yell my name. 

Noticing that orange-pink color thing that seems to only happen in a sunset. Have you ever noticed this? The sky will do this amazing kaleidoscope of colors, the perfect shades of pink and purple and orange. It almost seems like a waste, to have such a perfect sunset one moment and POOF! gone the next. But I wonder if it isn't God's way of telling us, "Yes, today was good. Picture perfect almost. But now it's time for another day. Watch out-- you won't believe what's coming!"

I get so hung up on getting things perfect. Do you? It's a hard habit to break. But watching the sunset last night...I don't know. It reminded me that at the end of the day, the sky is wiped blank. All that beauty is there for a moment and it is gone. But if we are allowed to see a new day, who knows what wondrous things await us?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

'Tis the Season

Even though the world as a whole tends to take a collective breath around Thanksgiving and Christmas, what with days off and such, my life tends to get a little busier than usual. Once I hit Thanksgiving I know finals are just around the corner. My schedule changes at school, so that throws me off; things at the store start getting crazy right after Halloween and continue to be crazy until mid-January. 
Needless to say, by the time Christmas comes around I'm ready to beg, borrow or steal just to get some time off to rest. Oh, but then there is shopping. And cleaning. And wrapping presents. And did you remember to do office gifts? Are you out of coffee? For like a week? Do you remember the last time you did laundry?
I've written about it before and I'm sure I will do it again next year. I feel totally out of spirits and almost like I need to turn my Christian card in, but Christmas is hard for me as an adult. 
Growing up, I LOVED Christmas. So much. I would start listening to Christmas music in July. JULY, people. I mean I see it now, that's a little crazy. But I couldn't get enough of Christmas carols and the warm memories that Christmas would bring for me. Twinkle lights and candy canes, sugar cookies and Christmas trees-- these were things I loved. I don't know if it the stress of finals and end of term papers and grades that I suffer vicariously through my students or the whole retail mess (that I promise I am still thankful for) but somewhere in there, I get so downtrodden. Could I please just have a break?!
I had my annual "Christmas is overwhelming me and I know it shouldn't be!" meltdown on Friday (sorry Jen) and after some hugs and love from mom (thanks Mom), I think I started to calm down. 

 Saturday saw another busy day at the store, which is par for the course, especially as it was the last Saturday before Christmas. But since it was Saturday, it also meant that I could cross one more thing off my to-do list: stop at Jo-Ann's for the needles I needed to finish a Christmas present. They had exactly what I needed and I think I found myself skipping back to the break room for the second half of my break. I got a lot of odd looks from my co-workers and one even commented, "Wow. You are really REALLY happy." And then I realized. I was happy. I was excited about SOMETHING. And I liked it. 

So even though I really was half-asleep this morning getting ready for church (I guess that is what happens when you spent 1.5 hours finishing a knitting project and feeling so pleased that you just.can't.fall.asleep...) I was excited to get to church. And even though I didn't drink enough coffee and got there a tad late, I was glad to be there. And even though I had to leave to go to work (to sit in a very QUIET library), I got to sing some Christmas carols with my people. And like the giant nerd that I am, found myself crying. THIS is where my heart longed to be. Not at work or running around getting stressed out, but with my church family, with my actual family. Making time to sit and sing and learn. And maybe that's the key: MAKING time. I kind of expect Christmas spirit and joy to just happen. In the crazy traffic and cranky customers, I just expect joy to be sprinkled on my like fairy dust. 

But that can't be right, can it? In today's sermon, Pastor Tim made a very interesting point. We hear it every year: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world...and everyone went to their own town to register. We read and think, "Yes, okay. This needed to happen because of prophecy and we know that God keeps his word. Of course this makes sense." But stop for a moment and consider: taking a census takes TIME. It wasn't a whim. Caesar didn't just wake up one day and decide, "Census! Great idea!" God gave him the idea IN ENOUGH TIME for him to think it was his own idea (probably. God is sneaky like that sometimes.), talk to his advisers, and get the word out. And then enough time for word to go out to the entire Roman world. And enough time for everyone to hear it. Enough time, now that people know, to pack and make arrangements to go home. AND, of course, it all has to coincide with Mary's pregnancy so that Jesus will be born in the right place at the right time. This isn't magic, ya'll. This is a carefully planned historical event. If you want to have a good party, let God plan it. 
Anyway. I digress. The thing is, if the first Christmas took planning and lots of preparing, what makes us think that every other Christmas won't require the same amount of planning? 

So with that in mind, I'm going to prayerfully and mindfully prepare for Christmas. Not just by putting up the tree and lighting my Jack Frost candle (plus, I've already done that), but by choosing joy and choosing to make time to focus on the sacrifice that Jesus made by leaving Heaven to come to earth.
And right now, choosing joy looks like making a cup of tea to warm my fingers and my heart. Nothing speaks comfort like a cup of tea! 
I hope you remember to choose joy this week! 

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause GREAT JOY for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."
Luke 2:10-11

Friday, October 30, 2015

What does it mean to be brave?

I've been reading Annie Downs' book "Let's All Be Brave" these days. It is taking me a while to get through it (I've been at it since March), because at the end of each chapter I have to wipe away my tears and work on believing the truth Annie lays down. It's exhausting, but I love it. 

I've talked to a lot of people recently about being brave, people who have a lot more experience at being brave than I do. I wanted to hear that things got easier. That as they learned to trust God more, it didn't seem so scary or hard. But everyone I talked to, without exception, told me that it is always hard and even trusting God doesn't stop it from being a leap of faith. If it were easy, making the step wouldn't be brave; it would be the easy next step. 

There's a lot of talk in the media these days about what it means to be a brave. Sometimes, they call it "being a hero." We attribute things like courage and strength to this title; usually, there is so much more that goes in to making a hero. 

I was talking to my dad the other day about life and things, and of course, the shooting in Oregon came up in our conversation. We took turns talking, willing to admit when the conversation was out of our depths. In the face of such tragedy, sometimes the only thing we can agree on is that it was horrible and how much the families who lost loved ones must be hurting. 

Some reports of the shooting say that the gunman was targeting Christians. It's hard when Christians overseas are meeting their death out of love for Christ; it is a completely different experience when it is happening in my country, a land that sings the song of religious freedom for all. 

It's been almost a month since the shooting, but I still think about it. I work at a university. We've had police on campus after a bomb threat (that turned out to be a false alarm, thank God) so the thought of a school shooting tends to be on my mind more than it was before. More than I want it to be. I think about what I would do in an active shooter situation. It scares me to have to think that way, but I know I would have to be brave for my students even if I wanted to curl in a ball under my desk and not engage. 

One thing that my dad said in our conversation has been on a loop in my brain for the last month. 
"You know the bravest person in all of this? The second person who was shot. They knew what was coming when they answered how they believed. And they said it anyway. That's bravery." 

Being brave is hard. It never stops being hard. Making brave choices can change your life. 

This is another day, O Lord. 
I know not what it will bring forth, 
But make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
Make these words more than words, 
and give me the Spirit of Jesus. 
Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Dusty Travel Journal

You know how some dates are just seared in you memory? You can't forget them no matter what. The weeks leading up to the date are full of expectation. You know something big has happened in your history, just because of the way your brain treats the date. 

Today is one of those days for me. 

Today is the 7th anniversary of this blog.

So...big deal, you say. What's that got to do with anything? 

Seven years ago, I got on a plane by myself for the first time. I'd traveled with groups before, sure. Never by myself. Never across the ocean. But now, I can't say that any more.

As the years pass, the memories start to fade. Some things I will never forget, like stepping foot in C. S. Lewis' church, seeing his home & his grave. Sitting in the warm rooms of The Bird & The Baby on a cold and rainy night.  Seeing London from the top of St. Paul's, the city stretching out as far as I could see in all directions. Attending a show at the Globe, in the freezing cold fall weather. (Honestly, I don't remember the cold; I just know it was. I remember that night and know that it was a supremely happy memory.) Feeling the breeze from the rushing train approaching the Tube platform; feeling thankful that the train had finally arrived and praying that you might actually make it to class on time. Seeing and falling in love with Scotland in a single moment. Praying desperately to God when I felt lost in the city and watching him answer in a big way. Sunday lunches with the Diamond's and friends from St. Giles. Bible study and Christmas party with the student group at KCBC.

Seven years ago, I started this small blog to keep my family and friends up to date on my life while I was in England. It's become so much more than a simple travel blog to me. Thank you for sticking around during the months I don't write and the ones that I do, for putting up with silly posts about fall weather & coffee and literature & theologically deep ones where I try to process different thoughts in my head. 

This blogging thing continues to be an adventure for me, so thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for the encouragement to keep writing and exploring things, even if it is simple every day things. Because really, the big stuff is great and memory making. But it's the every day stuff that makes life full and rich and worth getting up for in the morning. 

So here's to more coffee dates with friends, knitting projects accomplished, and half miles run with my niece. Here's to learning what it means to be content in the life you've been given but not sit back and watch it pass you by. Here's to staying out with friends and sleeping late. 

Here's to more adventures!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Starting to look like Fall...

Last week, we had a cold snap that I thought would surely put us into fall a few weeks early. For good or for ill, that was just not the case. The sun is still hot for my mid-morning jogs. We did get cooler evenings out of the deal, though. I am loving sleeping with my hand-knit jumbo blanket I made last year. Almost so much that I'm considering another blanket...clearly, I've forgotten the headache that was knitting with size 50 needles and three balls of yarn at a time. And even though the mornings would be enhanced by a hot cup of coffee...'tis the season for allergy issues. I have been coffee free for about two weeks, minus two days. It is the strangest feeling to go about my day without coffee but also a little refreshing.

Speaking of knitting (even though I don't think I've mentioned this on my blog), I've started knitting hats this year! I guess it was about two years ago that I got back into knitting. It required an online refresher course and a lot of patience with myself. I did mostly simple scarves the first year, then graduated to cable knits and complicated stitches. I did a few mug cozies last year too. I'm not a huge fan of using them but they are super cute and super easy to knit up. 
I've just finished my second hat this morning. I'm still kind of in awe that it "worked" meaning I took a ball of yarn and made A THING that is wearable. I love the excitement I get from a finished project. It's so much better than the thing I feel after my run...which is usually just pain.
My next project is a simple scarf pattern (a huge relief after the lace patterned hat) that I'm knitting as a gift. I'm hoping to be able to focus on it a bit more now that I've finished my hat.

Classes are back in session and we are almost done with week four. The students are in a bit of a fog as colds make the rounds and assignments start coming due. Our slightly archaic printers still make my life interesting. It's anyone's guess if they will all be working at any given time and if simply clearing the jam will work or if it will require a full on exorcism to get things back up and running.

I know you noticed it and no, I'm not gonna talk about it. What I DO want to talk about is that my niece (who is now THREE whole years old! Where did the time go?) ran half a mile with me last week. It was the highlight of my week (and still would have been even if I didn't get sick for three days). She was cranky, the way almost-three-year-olds get, and so I decided it was time for a run. I changed and when she saw me putting on my sneakers, she also wanted to put sneakers on. 

"Okay," I said, "Let's go get the jogging stroller." 
"Nooooo! I munna do running feet!" 

Um...okay. We hit the sidewalk and she didn't stop running. Even after we did the loop around the development. 
"Hey, we are back at the house! Are you ready to be done running?" 

She didn't answer me so much as she just kept running. Before the end of the second lap though, she was ready to be done. We took breaks and jumped some hopscotch. We raced each other to stop signs. Then she was done with everything and she became Sonora Webster and I was Redlips, her amazing diving horse. We galloped into the front yard a sweaty laughing mess. 
At dinner later that night, I thanked her for doing running feet with me and told her that I had fun being with her. She looked at me seriously and said, "Thanks, Aunt Lawa, for doing running feet and meeting our goals."

For all the cranky, she really is the most precious girl I've ever met.Every time I talk with her I can hardly believe that she was once a tiny helpless baby who loved to snuggle. Getting her to sit still eating dinner is a chore; good luck getting her to hold still long enough for a good bye hug. Even so, if you don't get a hug or a kiss, you can usually get a dragon roar from her. I'll take one of those any day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Not My Lesson to Learn

The other week was good. It was full of family and catching up and coffee. Always coffee. (I started drinking Cafe Bustello coffee about maybe two weeks ago and I absolutely LOVE it! I even got my picky papa to try it. Anyone else??)

I got to hold my nephew (who, when he starts stretching in his swaddle blanket right before he really starts crying, looks like a turtle). I got to go on a walk with my niece (who has the biggest heart I've ever seen on an almost three year old and a memory that is slightly better than mine). I got to hang out with my sister and her husband, who thankfully got/had the day off. I love when that happens. And then of course, my baby sister and her husband were there. At one point, we were all basically around the same table and I just looked out at my crazy family and thought, "You know, even with our flaws and struggles, I'm so glad these people are my people."

And because life happens, there was some not so great stuff mixed in there, too. We had some of the hottest days of the summer that week. Not such a terrible thing if you are indoors with the air conditioner on high...except we didn't have an air conditioner. And mowing grass in that heat? Forget about it! It took me twice as long to finish because I was always stopping for water and sunscreen.

But while I was baking under the sun and dying for a breeze, I was thinking about the things that go wrong in our lives. Very "up" thoughts to be having on a beautiful sunny day, right? I thought about how we learn through life that whatever happens is a consequence of our actions, for good or bad. I mean look at Newton's third law of motion; he sees it too. I think I spent most of my life thinking that some good things that happened to me were miracles and I could only attribute them to God working in my life. Some other good things (good grades, as one example) happened because of the work I put into them. And of course, bad things were because I messed something up or was being punished for something.

I think I've been accident prone all my life, but the last few weeks I've had a few more accidents than I care to admit. Some of them were my fault, some of them were not. My gut reaction to the things that weren't my fault? WHY GOD?! I mean really, what did I do to deserve this?!?

Um..? Maybe nothing? Life happens.

In the "why me?" scenario, everything that happens is about me. I am the center of that universe. But guess what? We interact with so many people throughout the day, and I forget that maybe some of the things that happen to me are part of other people's lives and lessons to learn. We might not understand the reason behind them, but like Aslan says in The Horse and His Boy, "Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own."

Maybe, sometimes, the things that happen to us are just things.

It might not be something we need to work through in order to learn something about ourselves or to see where we are lacking. Maybe it isn't because we were rude to the cashier 6 weeks ago (but you know, please be nice to your cashiers. They have long days on their feet and really underneath it all, they are people too.) or we forgot to have quiet time with Jesus today.

I think how we deal with whatever happens, of course, is important. It says a lot about the times the lesson was for us and what we've learned from those times. And sometimes, maybe the experience isn't ever for us. Maybe it is for someone in the future who comes to us distraught because they don't know what to do. We can share our experiences and the lessons we've learned. And isn't that what community is all about?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Fully Human, Fully God...But How??

This quarter, my pastor is teaching a Sunday school class called Veiled in Flesh. It's an intro class about Christology, that is, understanding who the Bible says that Jesus is. We talked for weeks about the Virgin birth, what it is and what it isn't, arguments for and against, the logic of it, and its doctrinal importance.
All in a Sunday school class?
 How does that work? Well, my pastor loves teaching (in his "spare time" he teaches at a local seminary) so it's all kind of like cat nip to him. He encourages questions and loves discussing things that aren't on the 15-page hand out. Because of this, sometimes we end up on very interesting scholarly bunny trails. The one that is on my mind still today is this: did Jesus ever get sick?

Through the discussion of the Virgin birth, we had to grapple with the concept of Jesus being fully God and fully man. Of course, that is a loaded thought. People have been discussing and dissecting this concept for years. How does it all work? Can it work? What are the implications?

We started yesterday's class looking at the outcome of The Chalcedonian Confession from 451. In it, they discuss their understanding of what Jesus being both human and divine means for faith and understanding of the scripture. One of the things that really stood out (maybe because it was also the point my pastor was trying to make) was that they didn't define the nature of Jesus as what it was, but rather, what it was not: "One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means take away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved..."

How else do you really explain something you can't fully understand? Never mind for a moment the actual theological ramifications of this technique, on a political level, this very smart. The way I see it, if you come out and say "Jesus was both divine and human and was like THIS..." you are tiptoeing (if not crossing completely) into heresy. I think if you take time to observe Jesus and his nature as a whole, you might being noting that to be "confusing" and "changing" is against his nature; therefore, to be both God and man he would necessarily have to be so without confusion, change, division, or separation.

With that knowledge swimming around in our brains, we then started to discuss that troublesome question: did Jesus ever get sick? My pastor opened up the floor for perspectives from the class, prefacing the discussion with the comment that there are scholarly arguments for both sides of the question.
One response was that according to scripture, Jesus was hungry and thirsty, so his divinity didn't keep him from suffering those human issues. Why would he also be kept from a sinus infection or cold?
A few brought up that Jesus' body might have been like Adam's was before the fall: perfect. If this is true, and if we view disease and sickness as part of the fall, wouldn't he necessarily be exempted from those effects from sin?
Others brought up his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. Those are the sufferings of a human being: broken bones, bloody body, sweat drops like blood. Divine yes, but, as the class title references, with human skin on.

I loved the debate, the back and forth from the different minds represented in the room. You could tell everyone was thinking about the question and the ramifications of the answer, even if they didn't have a seminary degree (which, most of us did not).  I think the bottom line came down to this: if Jesus was human and got sick, he wasn't very divine, was he? Only a weak god gets the sniffles. However, if Jesus was divine and didn't get sick, how can he be the savior who understands our human struggles, hurts, and suffering? He doesn't understand the human condition.

As the arguments, each with merit, continued to be discussed around the room, I realized we weren't actually going to agree on a verdict as a class. Honestly, it felt a little like philosophy class from my college days. "Yes, but is Descartes right in his way of thinking, in his way of understanding what is real?" My philosophy professor would never say!! It drove the whole class nuts, and prompted me to change my minor to philosophy. A minor where there was no right or wrong answer? Sign me up!

I started to wonder why such a simple question couldn't be answered. I think maybe the reason we couldn't agree is because we were approaching the question with our own version of humanity and deity. I think we look at the situation and say, "If I were Jesus, my humanity would look close enough to the worlds to be accepted, but just shy of actually suffering." Or, of course, on the flip side, "If I were Jesus, my divinity would allow me to live a super hero type existence, where the heat, cold, hunger and thirst wouldn't bother me." I'm not saying the question was wrong; I'm thinking that in our human existence, without full understanding of what it means to be both divine and human, we will continue to ascribe our version of humanity and our version of deity on Jesus that pales in comparison to the actual truth.

My thoughts? Did Jesus ever get sick? Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't.
I know he was concerned for us in our fallen state. He prays for us. He struggled with hard decisions and prayed, that if it was possible, for things to be different. He suffered personal loss of family and friends. He suffered spiritual and physical temptation. He suffered spiritual and physical torment.

And really, sickness comes and goes. Even in those first few days, when you feel terrible, you know that it won't last forever. Loss of a loved one, however, kind of sticks with you. Anniversaries and memories hit you, and you realize that however much time passes, the hurt never really goes away. Emotional pain has the tendency to stick with you for a long while and can affect how you process and understand your world. I am comforted in the fact that the pain of loss is something Jesus understood fully.

No, it doesn't clear up the whole, "How can he be divine and human at the SAME TIME?!?" question for me. But it helps me understand a little bit more of his nature and character and I think that is the most important thing.