When Defeat Meets Gratitude

It seems I dropped off the map again this month. After moving to a new city I rotated through days like playing cards during the game of War. Each day was slapped down in hopes for a high card, a winner. Although they say there is an equal amount of every number card in the deck, it is easy to forget facts and feel as if every day was a 2 or 3 draw instead of an Ace. The low card days involved endless job applications, rejection letters, and a lot of Netflix.

Most post-grads and twenty-somethings can relate to this feeling because we have all lingered in the limbo zone between college and real life. We watch our friends get jobs and secretly resent them, we wonder what we are doing wrong, and we like to blame anything else while still feeling as if it is entirely our fault that life doesn’t come together perfectly. It reminds me of riding Autotopia at Disneyland – technically the track is guiding my car but I still have to steer and it ends up as a bumpy, lurching ride where I leave feeling like a bad driver (and forget that this ride was created fifty years ago).

If I am honest with myself this last month included just as many high card days. I explored beautiful parks full of leafy pathways and ocean views. I met new people with interesting stories. Now at the end of the month, I technically have three jobs: two are seasonal retail positions I picked up to get me through until I could find something more permanent, but as of last week my third offer is a real-life adult position with normal hours and salary pay.

But even as I rounded the bend of a more positive outlook, the skies darkened with bad news from the world outside. I sat in my empty apartment Monday evening refreshing the news pages until finally the result came out: not indicted. This was lower than a low card, it was like throwing a joker on the deck. The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised.  Another defeat, another night of violence, and the war rumbles on.

There has been a lot of conversation regarding this issue, and in a moment like this I do believe that God gave us the feeling of anger to allow the pangs of injustice to seep into our hearts. It is more than ok to grieve and be angry – it is necessary.

But what we do with that anger is another story. I think the distinction comes from gratitude – because there is ungrateful anger, that disrespects other people’s safety and property in rage, and there is grateful anger, that understands grace enough to remember the ways we have been forgiven and use the pain to make a positive change.

Isaiah 53: 3-6 reminds me of several important points in moments of grief and suffering:

     He was despised and rejected by men,

          a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.

     Like one from whom men hide their faces

          he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

     Surely he took up our infirmities

          and carried out our sorrows,

          yet we considered him stricken by God,

          smitten by him, and afflicted.

     But he was pierced for our transgressions,

          he was crushed for our inequities;

          the punishment that brought us peace was

               upon him,

          and by his wounds we are healed.

     We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

          each of us has turned to his own way;

          and the Lord has laid on him

          the iniquity of us all.”

What a comfort to know that Jesus has felt every degree of injustice, he knows personally the experiences of those who are ostracized, and that through his sorrows he gave us the gift of undeserved peace. This is the message I need to remind myself of when it feels like the world might never be fair, when I wonder what has happened to the noble cause of equality for all people, when it feels like history is repeating itself in the bleeding lashes of racial misunderstanding.

Although it may seem impossible to be grateful during a time like this, it is actually more fitting that we should celebrate Thanksgiving in the midst of pain so that we can remember the core of what we really have to be thankful for. Even if I didn’t have a job yet, or if our justice system continues to be faulted, there are fundamental parts of life to be thankful for that I tend to forget.

More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving should be the one to remind us about other moments of injustice and racism that occurred in our history, as well as how we can transform that pain (without forgetting it) into a beautiful thing. Despite the inaccurate and misrepresented history behind the day itself, what it represents now is what makes it great. Even our holidays deserve forgiveness for their past mistakes–as Christians we can acknowledge that the history behind Thanksgiving was actually horrible, but Jesus calls us to move beyond bad history into a future of redemption. The pilgrims slaughtered the Indians, and Paul persecuted Christians. One went on to write a portion of the Bible and found the church, so maybe the others can move past their history as well. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving the same way we live as Christians, not dwelling on the sins of our past but on a future of reconciliation and hope. We can grieve and learn from our mistakes to change systems of injustice into opportunities for redemption.

On every side of the story in Ferguson there is pain. Beyond Ferguson there is also pain, despite every rejection letter or the months without jobs or any moment of defeat, there are still things to be thankful for. We all have our own grievances, our own guilt, and our own low-card days that we must work hard to recover from. But the good news of Jesus comes with gratitude–no matter how heavy the injustice or the pain we should remember “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” Jesus knows that pain, and he will sit with us in our grief. But he can also provide us with a peace that passes all understanding, and being thankful for every moment is what allows us to move forward into a world that does amazing things in spite of pain.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Apathetic Attitudes: Mine, Yours, and Ours

Hello everyone, once again I’m sorry it’s been awhile. But I will get to my excuses later…

Thanks to the current election season, there has been a lot of talk concerning the apathetic attitudes of young voters, and even the majority population. Sadly it’s not hard to believe, because it is easy to see that we are more concerned with who wins The Voice, or the World Series, than with who wins the presidency. Although some might say the media has tried to turn campaigns into reality dramas themselves, there is no beating the fact that people just aren’t as interested in politics as they used to be.

I don’t blame them though, I’m pretty apathetic about politics most of the time too.

But where does this come from?
No doubt part of it is because I’ve been handed a lot of great things in life, like the right to vote, which means I don’t appreciate them as much as I should. Lately though, I’ve felt as if this apathy doesn’t just apply to my attitude towards politics, but to a lot of life in general.

Relevant Magazine even made our apathetic attitude the focus of its October Issue. But sadly, the question “Why Bother?” doesn’t only represent my attitude towards politics lately, but my attitude towards everything lately

Being in my third year of college, I’m honestly kind of over it. The enthusiasm of the first two years has died down, the classes have only gotten harder, and the real world decisions approaching are weighing me down. Doing well in class? It doesn’t matter since I can still scrape by. Fighting against injustice? I can’t really make a difference, I shouldn’t bother. Keeping up with this blog (which I have clearly been neglecting)? Well I just don’t have the time, and it isn’t impacting anything.

Even when it comes to my faith – am I boldly telling people about Christ? Well… I don’t want to offend anybody or have someone judge me.

When I read over all those excuses though, I know they are wrong. I know that doubting those things, and doubting my ability to do them, means that I am really doubting God’s ability to do them.

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Be Still and Believe

You might have noticed that it’s been a good long while since I last posted. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’m going to halt my incessant need to apologize and be honest: I needed this break, and I’m not going to be sorry about taking it. Truthfully I’m probably speaking to myself right now more than you, because you are probably much more forgiving of my not blogging than I am of myself.

 

Either way it has been a good month for me – one filled with lots of reflection and purposefully less doing.

I read this article today on Relevant Magazine’s website titled “The Question We Should Never Let Make or Break Us,” and it spurred me back to a courage I had temporarily lost, or maybe never even had. The article centers on the issue of how we let our jobs or what we do define who we are. This is incredibly common in our culture, and it is contrary to the radical idea of letting who we are simply be a definition in itself.

The writer, Rachel Dymski, said this:
         “I find myself fighting the battle, with others and within myself, to be something. We all do. But I’m learning that the way to this being is not by constant, distracted doing. And so, one by one, I let go of these trophies of doing, and find my heart is lighter than it was when I gripped to them so tightly.  My worth, it seems, was completely independent of these trophies all along.”
 

 
My whole life has been filled with this kind of identity, where my trophies of doing defined who I was. First, I was a dancer, because for thirteen years that’s what I did day in and day out. Next, I was a leader in our student government, doing all I could to be someone who made a difference. Then, I was a college student, who was thus defined by what I did in terms of study: English and Communications major. Now, I have faced all of these things, and have still found my identity incomplete. Why?

What’s Your Story?

Last night I watched the sun set, and it was a beautiful thing, but I was tired and needed rest.

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Then this morning, by pure coincidence, I had to get up early, meaning I got to watch the sun rise. It was also beautiful, but this one was filled with much more hope.

Darkness is a funny thing. It can be deceivingly light, like a dawn that seems to makes sense, but is only a fog trapping you in. It entices me too often and leaves me feeling lost. It is only by the grace of God that the sun always rises again to remind me that the night was only meant for a time of restful sleep, a necessary moment to bring us through to a new dawn.

I want to say thank you to those people who encouraged me after my last melancholy post; that’s what I get for thinking no one would read it anyways ha. But I should’ve known that I have much better friends than that, and I am truly greatful to be told I’m wrong.

———————

The other day a friend of mine told me about how he was reading the latest Donald Miller book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He told me he had just finished chapter 9, and it was one of the best stories he had ever heard. So I picked up the book and read chapter 9.

Don’t worry, I plan to finish the whole book from the start later, but for now chapter 9 was just the thing I needed. Donald Miller knows a lot about stories, and he knows about how those stories show up in our lives. I won’t spoil what was in chapter 9 for you (go get a copy and read it, it will be worth it), but I will tell you the main premise – if we are making poor choices in life it is probably just because we are living a bad story.

I read this and knew that after a childhood of reading fairy tales, histories, and other stories of make-believe I had learned his myself – I just didn’t realize it. I wanted to live a good story, one worthy of retelling, one that would make a difference in one world or another. Somewhere in middle or high school I lost the essence of what made for a good story because I was busy wanting to live a romantic comedy movie. Ironically, it was probably love itself that toppled that dream, exposing its superficial setting and shallow characters. Love itself showed me God’s story again and told me I needed to be in a whole different genre of life, one that centered on Jesus.

I think we all want to live a good story, we want to have something to share with the world and our children. The encouraging part is that almost every hero must rise out of darkness, so we all have a chance as long as we start living like the hero. Even better is that we have an archetype in Jesus – after all he is the ultimate hero in all of our stories.

So I’ve been feeling this yearning to live a good story, now I just need to climb out of the darkness and know that all stories take time to develop, but by letting God be my editor I will get there eventually.

The other good news is that I get to spend today at Disneyland, and that always brings me out of any kind of darkness :)

Thanks for reading, hope you all have a wonderful weekend – think about the question “What’s Your story about?”

Defined by Age, or Age Defined by Life?

Early Saturday morning I awoke to the dim morning light of grayness before the sun arrives. The birds were still hushed as every other campsite around relished in deep slumber beneath the whispering trees. Slowly I began to collect the pieces of my trip scattered around my bag to squeeze them together tighter than before. It was still too cold to bear leaving my pajamas so I put a change of clothes in my pack for later. My mom had already dismantled the rest of our campsite so we quickly began the process of puzzling together everything into the back of her Prius.

We each went to the bathroom one last time before beginning our long journey ahead. Flustered, my mom came out of her stall right when I had entered the bathroom. She sighed and said to me, “Happy Birthday.”

Then my Dad, Mom, and I squished in, like a tightly packed berry in the bright red car, to begin the ride home. As the window views disappeared the sun peeked over the tower of granite behind me.

view of the Yosemite Valley view as you drive in and out

An estimated 8 hour drive is long enough, but with traffic and lunch breaks I had a grueling 11 hours before we made it from Yosemite (in Northern California) back down home to San Diego (right at the bottom.) This left me almost more time than I needed to peer out at the landscape and peer deeper into my thoughts.
It certainly wasn’t the “amazing day” all the people on Facebook wished for me, but it wasn’t a terrible day. It was simply ordinary. Complacency towards this day has become common for me anyways since a summer birthday usually means an afterthought. Plus I never liked celebrating myself that much. Yet as we shot past California farm country, and swerved through rolling hills or rocky mountains high, I began to wonder about the paradoxes of people’s views on birthdays.

My brother called me half way through our drive and had to remind me “Turning 20 is a big deal, you aren’t a teenager anymore, this is like the prime decade of your life. You should at least try to do something exciting tonight.”

I responded, “Ha ya I suppose, I just don’t feel that different.” I didn’t want to say how my inner oldie just wanted to watch the Olympics all night and go to bed by 10.

Now I know 20 seems really young to a lot of people, and it is. I can’t even legally drink yet, though I don’t care much about that either. But I remember in high school if I met someone who was 20 I felt like they were lightyears ahead of me, a star far away living the glamorous, fun life I wanted. Then I thought about my parents, who prefer not to celebrate becoming a year older anymore, and the way aging turns from a desirable thing to a dreaded event.

I am still very young in the eyes of many, and surprisingly old to many more, yet I have been wondering about wisdom lately and how it can inhabit every age and form. There are days when I feel dry of any thoughts worthy to say, and then there are moments where I swell with a passion for the truth that can only come from God. Either way I ebb and flow like every human, and aging means little to me anymore. Whether that is wise or not I don’t know.

My brother was right when he said that my twenty-something years will be some of the greatest of my life, but somehow I don’t want to be the only reason I live them to the fullest. Because if I view them as the end-all be-all, what happens when I turn 30? This decade may be an age of miracles, a time of living life to the fullest, but I don’t want to define my life by my age – I would rather define my age by the way I live my life. I don’t believe we are ever too old or too young for anything, starting new, fighting for a dream, finding love, or speaking the truth.

One of the people who comes with us to Yosemite each year, someone my mom has been friends with since birth, is a beautiful 59-year old woman. But last week she climbed Half Dome, twice, in three days. I can barely do that at 20, so who is really older? Another great woman who denies her age is my mom; she hiked up 3000 feet in just over 3 miles to the top of Nevada falls, all with a bad knee, but with every stone step up and every switchback down she refused to give up. I’ve heard both these women refer to themselves as “old,” but I laugh every time because I just don’t see it, I only see the youth of their life that keeps pushing the boundaries.

View (from left to right) of the back of Half Dome, North Dome, and Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail

So I turned 20 on Saturday. Woop-di-doo. I’m all for celebrating the gift of life God gives us, but I don’t want to be defined by my age anymore. I want to have the joy of two-year old, the humor of a six-year old, the daring of a sixteen-year old, the spirit of a twenty-something, the intelligence of a thirty-five year old, the love of someone at fifty, and the wisdom of an eight-five year old. Pack all those things tight, puzzle the pieces together, and somehow I think it might look a little like Jesus, and like the person I want to be.
How do you feel about your age?
Is there a best age of our lives you think?

Call Me CRAZY

I’ve been listening to this classic a lot lately – Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Although it brings up nostalgic memories of high school for me, that’s not why I brought it back out of the closet. Nope this time its because I want to remind myself to live a little crazy.

Does that make me crazy?

Possibly.

Has anyone every called you crazy because of something you were doing for God?

Of all the things I have done in my life, there have only been a few where I was 100% confident it was a God thing, and that’s because for everyone one of them someone told me I was crazy.

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America (in)dependence – Where Freedom Falls Short

Happy fourth everyone! This holiday is always funny to me, I like the irony of celebrating the treason committed by 56 men signing a remarkably well-written document in the heat of summer. Plus the fireworks are good too.

It is clear though that this treason is no longer what we truly celebrate on the fourth of July each year, instead we celebrate the bigger notion of our country, and the even bigger dream of freedom it represents.

What does that freedom really include though? And what does it cost us?

Monday night I caved in and went to see the movie Magic Mike with two friends. I had pretty low expectations, which were unfortunately proved true, but it was a good experience to help me see where our culture is at. I will probably write another post on it soon so stay tuned.

There was a scene that stuck out to me in relation to today being the Fourth of July though. One of the many dance scenes in the movie included a special tribute for the very occasion of Independence Day. The boys marched out in camouflage uniforms, did their thing, then lowered their ranks till they were down to nothing but some very small red white and blue thongs. As they struck their final pose, their audience hooted and hollered for the grand finale of a large American flag to be lowered behind them.

is this what makes our country great?

My response – a strongly sarcastic “God Bless America” under my breath. My two friends I was with still say that was the best joke I ever made (not hard to believe) and the funniest part of the night.

Let’s be honest though – I wasn’t trying to be funny when I said it. Admittedly, I tend to use that phrase more often in times of frustration or despair than as an exclamation of pride. That was it’s initial usage anyways, to say a small prayer that God may bless this country, that He would save it from evil and help it to live up to its noble intentions.

On this Independence day, I would say we need that prayer now more than ever. We are supposed to be celebrating freedom, but is freedom really free? What cost have we paid for these things, or who else is paying the cost for us?

Don’t get me wrong I think the ideal of freedom is a great one, and it is part of why I can support our country, but we must admit that we fall short of true freedom in many places. Some people would bring up immigration, our prison system, or various human rights violations around the world. After seeing a movie like Magic Mike – the first thing I think of is our bondage to sex and the importance it has gained in our culture.

The way that Hollywood portrays sex, in movies like Magic Mike, makes it seem carefree and fun. Maybe it is in the moment, but they don’t emphasize the way that it imprisons people in loneliness, traps them into unhealthy relationships, or forces them to view love as defined by sex. Sex can be a good thing, the way God intended it, but the way that our culture has championed it as an independent choice free from consequence is a lie that only breeds further dependence.

Women in real strip clubs or prostitution houses, ones who are stuck in a system we allow, they are not free. Those traded into human trafficking who are herded like cattle for these industries, they are not free. The girl on the news, who was raped and abused, she is not free. Even the men, who are locked into the unrealistic expectations generated by Magic Mike of Fifty Shades of Grey, they are not free.

As a Christian, I hesitate to say that I am ever truly independent, or that I want to be. On one hand I completely support the tolerance freedom allows, and I support the belief that we all have our right to choose what we believe in. Yet I must remind myself that when I committed myself to following Christ, I gave up all independence to surrender myself to God’s will – and in all honesty, I am much happier without that freedom. When I trust his commands for my life instead of what culture demands of me, I am happier. That includes taking God’s word on sex instead of Hollywood’s.

It is difficult when everything about our American culture denounces rules and regulations, things that hold us back and restrict the dream of freedom. I think that’s why a lot of times people turn away from the church, because they don’t like to be told what to do. But we must remember that we are broken people, we all sin, and when given independence we often trade that for other forms of slavery because we don’t know how to use it correctly.

Celebrating freedom today is a good thing, it is good to remember what the founders of our country fought so hard for. It is also good for us to remember that we need to keep fighting for it. Freedom does have a cost, and personally I would much rather be a servant of Christ than a slave to sex or drugs or money. Believe it or not, true freedom is found when we submit to God first, then we can really hope for God to bless America.

What holds you back from true freedom?

 
How could we improve as a country to actually give freedom to everyone?