Sunday, February 28, 2016

He Chooses Me - Anyway

The goal here is to be open.  Not too open, of course, because this is the internet and nothing goes away and we both know that oversharing is a thing, but maybe a little more open than I'd usually like to be, because that terrifies me so it's probably a good thing to do.

Confession: I just logged into my Webkinz account again and I'm not proud of how long I've spent with my white terrier named Snowflake.  That's not even a joke, I'm actually not proud of it at all.  But I'm pretty close to beating my high score in Goober's Atomic Adventure, and then I'll stop.

Confession:  My roommate made Oreo cheesecake and told me "It's good! You should try some!" so I ate like 3/4 of the pan. But it had Greek yogurt in it so it was healthy. And it was over a span of days, and Oreo cheesecake can definitely be a part of a balanced diet. Get off my back.

Confession: I was craving chocolate yesterday and the only chocolate I had in my room was all cute in a mason jar because it was supposed to be my friend's Christmas present two months ago ... I ate it.   I plan to replace it, but still. #classy #donttellbecky

Okay, it's about to get real. Better writers than me would transition smoothly into the more serious portion of the post so that you wouldn't even notice the shift in tone until it had happened, but I'm struggling so I'll just tell you: we are now moving to the more serious portion of this post. Thanks for your cooperation. Here it is:

Confession:  Jealousy is so real, you guys, and I know firsthand that it's real in my heart.  I'm pretty sure that the root of jealousy is in fear, and I know for a fact that fear isn't from God.  So, as a person who's striving to become more like Christ and to rid my heart of everything that isn't Him in favor of knowing Him better, that's a problem.

Since I was little, writing has been my thing to some extent.  I dictated stories (and elaborate pictures) to my mom before I could handle a pen myself.  As soon as I could write, I started my first novel, which went on to span three pages in a thick red notebook.  I even remember my dad telling my middle-school self that what I wrote was easily better than what some college students produced - so, yeah, I'm kind of a big deal.  I started a blog in high school and enrolled in writing classes in college, and words have always come to me pretty easily - I see it as a skill that God's given me to work with.

Let's not assume that the fact that I just told you that my talent is God-given means that I'm always mindful of that.  I'm just not that good - or good at all - and I don't give him credit.  I forget really easily that I can't claim any skill that I have, because it was God who knit me together in this way.  I've definitely used my writing ability to wait until the night before to begin essays for school, to write cover letters that make me sound better than I am, and to produce clever Instagram captions - meeting self-serving, ultimately meaningless ends. The biggest investment of my talent has been the hours poured into a blog that I secretly kind of hoped would make me famous. (It hasn't, if you were wondering.)  Because I know that writing is something that's naturally pretty easy for me, it's always been a matter of self-centered pride that I do it well. 

Recently, a bunch of other people who do writing well have been brought to my attention, via the Odyssey, via Facebook.  If you're not familiar, The Odyssey is an amalgamation of various average college-ish age people who are either hired to write or submit pieces to the website.  It's  a collective blog.  And apparently, everyone I know has a friend who has had something published.  At least daily, I see a shared post from someone's friend paired with a line or two about how talented and wonderful the writer is.  A lot of them are posts about Jesus, and the praise often includes a bit about the author's pursuit of God and how He is working through them.  And I didn't realize it at first, but every time I'd see one of those posts, there'd be a twinge in my heart. I'm a talented writer too, right? Why isn't it my name at the end of the page with a headshot and a byline? The similarities between them and me - a love for words and for Jesus - make it way too easy for me to draw comparisons; the one glaring difference - level of worldly recognition - makes it way too easy for me to see myself as coming out behind.

All of this heart build-up (that sounds like a commercial for cholesterol medication - maybe that's why I'm not famous yet? I try to write about spiritual turmoil and end up eliciting images of little molecules sticking in an artery.) culminated in one final post from The Odyssey - I don't know what it was, but eventually the jealousy that I didn't know I had got to me. I saw another post written by a passionately Jesus- loving person, and I lost it.  And you can stop picturing a technically-adult girl throwing a temper tantrum because I promise my distress wasn't visible.  But my heart ached; my chest is tightening as I write this.  I read all of the comments, things like "Beautiful words!" "You're so talented!" "You have such a heart for Jesus!" - things that should have made me, as a friend and follower of Jesus, full of joy.  My sinful heart couldn't stop asking, "What about me? This is supposed to be my gift.  I should be the one being praised for my work and used by God. Why is she the one who gets all of that?" 

There is so much pride and insecurity tied up in my questioning, and both of those are rooted in fear.  My fear of being seen for what I am - not good enough - makes me insecure.  My insecurity leads to puffed up, selfish pride in what inconsequential things I can do on my own - because I feel that I need something that I can control to hold up and say "I'm good!  I'm making it!"  Fear is the root of that whole mess, and it's been made clear to me that fear is literally a lie from the devil, always.  Fear is a lie because Christ's victory over everything that I'd ever need to be afraid of is reality - fear cannot exist in the presence of that which has defeated everything truly scary. 

I've seen a pattern develop in my life - the enemy loves to make me afraid so that I'm paralyzed.  He's stronger than me, and brilliant, and so he can use even the beautiful way that my friends serve God to wound my fragile pride, revealing incompetency and insecurity, and keep me from moving into what God wills me to do.  When I see my friends living for Jesus, the enemy loves to whisper lies of "You'll never be like that - why bother?"  and "What you have to offer is already being done - you're not needed" and "Your heart is not devoted to God fully enough - he can't use you." It makes sense that he'd do that.  If I were him, I'd do anything I could to keep the church from being encouraged by God being glorified.  I'd do my best to breed resent and insecurity and negativity among those who, when united, could be used powerfully for God's kingdom.  That's exactly what he does.  And sometimes I'm like, "Hey, you're right.  What I do probably doesn't matter.  So I'll just sit here and play some Webkinz and not try to do anything that could have a lasting impact."

Maybe we can dig into the evils / addictive nature of Webkinz another day.

Let's be aware of the existence of those lies and of the very fact that they. are. lies.  I believe that God can use me incredibly, not because I'm good, but because he's good enough to use even someone like me.  He doesn't need me to be perfect - but He does need me, even in my imperfection, to move.  I need to do something, no matter how much I seem to suck at it, but even the task of doing something badly feels daunting in the face of paralyzing fear.  Why bother. You're not needed.  God can't use someone like you. I don't even want to try, because the devil's lies get so loud that I'm distanced from the fact of how big and strong and good my God is.  All I see is me - incapable, with a divided heart and feeble will, standing afraid as I'm faced with the truth of my weakness.

I can't do things perfectly on my own.  I can't even do things imperfectly on my own, because I'm afraid to.  Praise God that the words of 1 John 4 are true: "God is love. . . . There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear."  The presence of God drives out my fear.  When the enemy tells me:

You'll never be like that - why bother?
What you have to offer is being done - you're not needed.
Your heart is not devoted to God fully enough - he can't use you.

my loving God says:

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 

When he tells me that, I believe him.  Unlike my dad telling his eleven-year-old daughter that her writing is as good as a college student's, God has no bias.  He is holy and all-knowing and just, so he's very aware of all the ways in which I fall short. He's the almighty creator of the whole entire universe, so I don't think he has to be nice to me.  My strength compared to his is so small - he doesn't need me. 

In his great love, he chooses me anyway. 

With a God whose love is powerful enough to override every way in which I don't measure up, what can I possibly be afraid of?  What insecurity is so big that God's "I love you anyway" isn't enough to put it to rest?  I don't ever have to be afraid that God can't use me, and I definitely don't have to compare myself to any other person.  My God calls me his, so what does anyone else matter?

Praise God for all of that, am I right? Wow.

May I remember that I'm not good enough, but that my not-good-enough is covered in His more-than-enough, always. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

GR - Where to Go

I’m kind of a city person, for a number of reasons. ( I used the term "city person" pretty lightly.  I'm not street smart. I haven't been to that many big cities.  I'd probably get lost, stolen from, stepped on, and otherwise abused on a subway. I have no sense of direction. I just like cities.)  1. I like food.  I mean, I really like it.  This Sunday, I ate some chocolate – covered – pretzel stuffed pancakes with caramel sauce on top and, as of 10 AM on Wednesday, that first bite moment is still the highlight of my week.  2.  I like to look at things.  Cities are stuffed blue in the face with novelties – old skyscrapers, street art, cobblestone roads.  When I walk around, I do a lot of almost running into things because I'm so busy trying to take it all in.  3.  I like to walk.  I appreciate the fact a lot of big cities are set up in a way that lets me walk wherever I want to go, or walk just for the sake of walking and stumble across food or novel things in the meantime. 

The city of Grand Rapids satisfies all of those desires nicely.  I’ve eaten cookie dough cheesecake and turkey quinoa salad and sweet potato sushi and barbecue quesadillas and feta cheese bread and a jalapeno popper omelet and banana bread French toast; I’ve had espresso in various forms at The Lantern, The Bitter End, Madcap, Local Mocha, Go Java, and the local Starbucks and Biggby franchises.  I’ve seen a 10-foot-tall blue giraffe and walked through an elevated tunnel that crosses several blocks and wandered through what used to be the grand early 20th century Pantlind Hotel and tried to act cooler than I am at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and geeked out at the marble-columned public library and pretended to have a deep understanding of hockey at a Griffins game and walked the river and taken photos on the lit-up blue people bridge at night and by the Pearl Street Bridge mural of the fish jumping out of the water.  I’ve probably walked at least fifty miles.  I don’t know.  That’s a very rough estimate, based on no actual data. 

I like all of those things about cities, and that list of experiences should make it hard to choose just one location to recommend. Except it’s not.  I like food and novelties and walking, but I absolutely love people watching.  And the best people-watching I’ve found so far has been on a bench in Rosa Parks circle. 

Some tips, if you’re looking to have the same results that I did:  

1.       | Go alone.  Chances are that if you bring a friend or two to people watch with you, a) your well-meaning friend will distract you from your task or b) someone will tell a joke or trip on a sidewalk crack the two of you will become a spectacle, thus becoming the watched rather than the watchers.  When people watching, it’s of utmost important that you remain unobserved, a meticulously camouflaged stock character reading the newspaper or drinking a coffee.

2.      |That being said, be safe.  Don’t go people watching by yourself and follow voices into an abandoned building.  Don’t go people watching by yourself in an unfamiliar area late at night.  Don’t go people watching by yourself in a stranger’s car.  As interesting as all of those experiences would almost definitely be, I can’t recommend any of them in good conscious.

3.      | That being said, keep an open mind.  Strangers aren’t inherently dangerous.  Not every person dressed in old clothes is going to approach you and ask for money.  And not everyone who asks for money is going to use it to buy drugs. (And even if they do – I can’t help but wonder – so what?) Assume the best – be smart – but assume the best.

If you find the right park bench in Rosa Parks Circle, you can sit comfortably with enough room for your backpack on one side and another person on the other.  (Another reason to go alone: your backpack needs somewhere to sit.  The other person needs somewhere to sit. Rosa Parks Circle benches are 3-person benches, so it works.) 

If you’re around on a cloudless, almost - fall day, you chance a meeting with the peacekeeper of Rosa Parks Circle.  He’s not the police, but he says they’re tight.  When I met him, he was monochromatic in black boots, jeans, and band t-shirt.  His face is blurry now – I know that he definitely had a constellation of facial piercings and his hair was longish.  I vaguely recall tattoos, but that could very well be my mind completing a stereotype to make him fit into my understanding of the world better. He was fresh from his most recent peace-keeping mission – he’d broken up a fight the night before, held things under control until the police showed up. 

“People know not to mess with me.”

Which easily could have been seen as a threat, but I continued eating my turkey sub and let him continue talking.  He had plans to go pick up his wages from his employer later that day, and I told him about how I was killing time waiting for the bus to Holland.  He likes movies – he listed off a dozen that day that I’ve still never heard of other than from him. If you meet him, he’s good for a recommendation about anything that’s showing at the time. 

As we talke, conversation stalled a couple times - I didn't feel obligated to turn it over again, but chewed through the pauses.  His boss is a good guy, he told me.  They eat dinner together sometimes - they were planning to later that night.  I wish I could remember more of the conversation.

I stood up to go catch my bus – and I admit, I left earlier than I needed to because I was sick of how uncomfortable the encounter made me.  He told me that I was beautiful, and I said “thanks” and “have a good day.”  I walked towards Monroe; he didn’t follow, although the paranoid part of my brain wouldn’t have been surprised. 
I’d recommend the bench in Rosa Parks circle. Some tips, if you’re looking to have better results than I did:

1.     | Introduce yourself like they teach you to in interviews when you meet someone for the first time.  Look him or her in the eye, give your name and ask for theirs, shake hands.  Treat whoever asks to sit down like they matter without looking first, because they do and looking isn’t the most useful way of gathering information, anyway. 

2.      | Offer your extra apple – not like you would to someone who you’re sorry for, but like you would to a friend.  Just casual, ya know? 

3.    |  Stay until the bus comes.  Ask for more stories, and then nod and listen. Make eye contact – again, even if you keep getting distracted by the piercings or you’d rather just not. Glean as much vicarious human experience as you can and pour out dignified personal interaction.  

It’d probably be helpful if I could remember the exact bench – your best bet is to keep trying them until you find one that works.  I’m sure it depends on the day and the season and other factors like that. Also, I wouldn’t be mad if you updated me on how it goes.

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