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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Different Kind of Tired

This past week was a totally different kind of tired than the kind I wrote about last week. It's been a wake-up-early and party-all-night, hang with friends and eat too much food kind of week. And yes, it was totally worth it. 

It did make returning to work a little bit harder than usually after the weekend I had. I spent a few days with friends visiting from California and spent the rest of the time prepping for this week. Oh, haven't I mentioned? 

My sister and her husband are visiting!! They are finally back in the States after being away for a whole year and I cannot wait to spend time with them. 

And hey, while I'm at it, I'll get to spend some time with my older sister and her family which has grown by one this last month. My nephew was born July 3 and is officially three weeks today! (I tried to call him "three weeks old" early this week and my sister said, "No he isn't!! Not yet! Slow down, man.") 

Even though things have been pretty quiet over the last week, it's probably going to stay pretty quiet this week too. I have a couple of new posts over on my book blog and am working on a few more. Of course, I might have a totally slow day and write about how my green smoothie exploded all over my white sweater on my way to work the other day. That was ... exciting. 

That's about it for me. Off to finish the coffee and cleaning! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Exhaustion and John Green

This morning I was feeling tired. Not like that is an uncommon thing in my life. I tend to wake up thinking, "Just ten more minutes, mom!" and then realize that I am the Boss of the snooze button. Life is happy for another ten minutes, but then I should probably get up. I mean maybe, right? 

Today was one of those days. The biggest struggle of the day was getting up to make the coffee, and that even felt like a massive chore. I rewarded myself by sitting on the couch to drink the coffee when it was ready. I also watched the newest Vlogbrothers video and it kind of changed my day. 

I was introduced to Vlogbrothers…um, a long time ago. I don't really remember. In 2007, two brothers decided to communicate through video blogs and phone calls only. No texts. No instant messenger (cause you know GChat wasn't a thing then…), just video blogs back and forth every day.  Anyway, I haven't finished them all yet, but I really got into them after Lizzie Bennet Diaries ended and I needed something to fill the void. They do silly and ridiculous things. They are unapologetic about what they believe in and support charities around the world. They have a ton of fans/followers that call themselves Nerdfighters. Long story short, they are pretty good guys. 

All of this brings me to the video I watched this morning. Go ahead and watch it. I'll wait. 
John talks about that exhaustion with/in life that drains you of energy, even to do the things you love. 
And as I listened to John talk about what drives him and what makes him tired, I wanted to reach through the screen or call him up in that horrible airport in Birmingham and say, "Me too, John! Me too." 

I know the cycle that he talks about. You get so tired of doing things (because let's face it: being an adult is not always fun and sometimes it is hard) and so you slow down. You give yourself permission to slack off on little things. And slowly, those little things you build up. Before you know it, as John says, "I didn't just stop doing the things that drained me. I also stopped doing everything else. I stopped functioning completely."  

So why does a video from John Green equal a blog post from me? 
John said it best: This is the thing that, instead of draining me, fills me up.

Blogging is the thing that fills me up and it one of the first things I drop when life starts to be too much. I let the stress of life overwhelm my love of writing. I worry about the reception of blog posts. Maybe I'm not funny enough, maybe I'm too irreverent. I worry about so many others things, and that worry strips me of the joy of creating. 
It will probably be slow going at first, but I hope to get back to a semi-regular posting schedule. And if you start seeing too many posts from me in your newsfeed, call John Green and yell at him. 

(And while you are at it, could you get me an autograph? Thanks.) 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What's in a name?

"How would you like to sign your checks with that name: No Love. No Mercy?"

My pastor's hypothetical question was met with a smattering of laughs Sunday morning, but mine did not join the others. We were reading from Hosea when God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer, a known prostitute. Hosea does what he is asked and chapter 1 records three births to the family; the language suggests that one of them did not belong to Hosea. Ignoring that fact for just a second, the names that God gives to Hosea for his children are terrible: Jezreel (a city known for punishment and destruction), Lo-ruhamah (no compassion, no mercy; also, not loved), and Lo-ammi (not mine). I know, pretty weird names, right? But names held a little more importance in ancient times than they do today. They could speak about the condition or reaction to your birth (or conception, in Isaac's case) or the family to which you belong. Sometimes family names were passed down to first born sons (remember how John the Baptist was almost called Zechariah?). Other names of course, like Jesus, came from divine revelation.

The Lord gave Hosea specific instructions on what to name his children. It was like he said, "Give them names to show my people how far they have turned from me. I want to make this so clear to them that they can't miss what I'm doing." The whole book of Hosea is a parable fleshed out to show the Israelites that they had turned from God, that things would be hard because of their sin but that God would pursue them for the sake of love and redemption and that He would never give up on them.

Amidst the laughter around me, my heart broke a little. I understand, at least in part, what God was getting at in the story. By chapter three, we see promise of redemption, not only of Gomer but also of her children. God promises to reclaim his people: instead of a land of destruction and harshness, the land will be plentiful; instead of a people who have not been able to find love or compassion, He will show compassion and love toward them; instead of being called "not mine," He will claim them as His people. But it still hurts to have your God given name be "not loved."

Which brings us back to the question my pastor posed to us that morning: how would you like to sign your name "no love"?

I couldn't laugh at his joke because we do this to ourselves.  We name ourselves "not loved" and insist on living life with that weight, even though redemption has been offered to us. We focus on our (perceived) deficiencies and short comings, keeping a running tally of our failures next to our coffee pot so we are sure to see them every day. We add addendum to our new name: not loved because I'm fat, not loved because I'm skinny, not loved because I'm depressed, not loved because I'm stupid.
I think it's interesting that Lo-ruhamah had no qualifiers. There wasn't anything she did to deserve the name. So when her redemption comes, she is called "loved" with no qualifications. Not because of anything she has done or left undone, she is called "loved" by God because that was His goal all along. 

One of the last points Pastor Tim made on Sunday was that God does not love us because of who we are or what we do; he loves us because of who He is and in spite of what we do. From the very beginning, even as early as Genesis 3, redemption has been His game. We get hints and promises of a Messiah almost before the fruit has a chance to turn brown. Even with the stories in the Old Testament of the Israelites turning away from God, there is still promise of redemption. Isaiah 42 has prophecy about the coming Messiah with astonishing detail. Every time I see it, I am amazed. This isn't just a way to fix a plot hole or a temporary story arc. This is THE PLAN from the beginning.

I suffer from self-naming the same way that you do. I pull my failures out of the past, dust them off and give them a place of prominence in my present. I see my deficiencies in the mirror every day and examine them closely before leaving the house, keeping them in the forefront of my mind as I go about my day.

And you know what?

It's exhausting.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about Lo-ruhamah and her redemption. I've gone back to Hosea and read the passage again, looking for a key to understanding God's love, redemption, and plan in the story. Maybe it's there if I look hard enough. Maybe looking is part of understanding. Maybe just believing that we are worth more than our names, more than our actions, worth something just because is the first step to really understanding.

Try it on, just for today. Call yourself "loved" and remind yourself that you are more than your imperfections. Not because you are perfect or better than anyone else, but because God says you are loved and because He made you for more.