Monday, December 28, 2009


Going to visit friends or relatives can be a really fun experience. Sometimes we're returning to places we love and sometimes we're experiencing new places we've never seen before. We get to spend time with people whose company we enjoy, and we're able to leave our ordinary life behind for a while. Still, visits come with a price. When I go on visits, I don't get to sleep in my own bed or use my own bathroom. I don't necessarily get a lot of privacy. I have to spend long hours traveling to reach my destination, and I have to make arrangements for my home (especially my cats) to be taken care of while I'm gone. I like visits, but I only want to be away from home for a week or two.

It blows my mind to think of the people in the Bible who were visitors all the time. Jesus and his disciples traveled all around Israel and the surrounding country. They were always staying with other people—sometimes even people they didn't know that well. They put in a lot of miles, many of them walking. The apostle Paul traveled even more widely, staying away from Israel for years at a time. Ever since then, there have been all kinds of missionaries and aid workers who have traveled far away from their homes to help others and to share good news with them.

All of these traveling evangelists have learned something that I sometimes have trouble understanding: our true home is with God. It's true that at my house I have a comfy bed and personal space set up to my liking, but that house still isn't my true home. I will not find a true home anywhere on Earth because my soul knows it belongs with God in Heaven. I sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land when I travel, but the truth is that I am always a stranger in a strange land because my time on Earth is one long visit. I will never be entirely comfortable here, but I will find peace when I embrace God's presence in my life. God goes with me wherever I travel, so I will always be able to have a small home in my own heart. God sends others to interact with us and love us to help bolster that feeling of home no matter where were are. The old saying "Home is where the heart is," should be true for Christians. Whenever we can feel the love of God and our fellow Christians in our hearts, we are home.

So where does this leave me? I still enjoy the house that is my Earthly refuge. I know, however, that if I have to leave that home I will still be OK because God will be with me. I like my house, but it isn't everything to me. If God calls me to leave my house behind, then I should be able to do it without despair. My house is my home because I feel comfortable there, but God and my loved ones can help me feel comfortable anywhere. So as I sit here on a couch that doesn't belong to me and think wistfully of my own couch, miles away, I remember that although I am not physically at home, I can be spiritually at home. With God all things are possible, so even though my life is like one long visit, I am also always at home through the love of my Savior.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

God Is With Me

God is with me every moment of my life. Whether I succeed or fail, whether I am joyful or hurt, God is there. As a Christian I believe this to be true, but I don't always realize the implications in my daily life. When I feel scared or lonely, God calms me. When I feel strong and independent, God is my help. When I am happy, God shares in my happiness. Consciously recognizing this fact changes the way I experience my life. The joyful moments become more joyful and the difficult times become a bit easier.

As I look back over yesterday, I can see that God was with me when I said goodbye to my mother and drove out of town. I was ready to head back home but sad to say goodbye. I don't know when I'll see my family again, and it's hard being away from them all the time. I was satisfied with the way the visit turned out, but I still feel a pang every time I leave my childhood home and my loved ones. God was with me as the miles went by and a bittersweet sensation filled my heart. He was soothing the sadness and empathizing with my love for the things I was leaving behind. I know that God was also with my loved ones, making it easier for them to say goodbye to me and reminding us all that we will be together again.

God was with me and my husband throughout our 13-hour car trip as we drove through mountains, across states, and eventually through snow. God strengthened us as we concentrated for long hours and dealt with the inevitable reckless drivers. There were plenty of people cutting others off and speeding (even through construction zones and wintry conditions) but God was there helping us to be at our best as we dealt with the hazards on the road. Even if we had been involved in some sort of accident, God still would have been with us, helping us through whatever happened.

God is with me as I return to the Midwest, feeling a bit like a fish out of water. As I realize that I am caught somewhere between the cultures of my childhood home and my current one, I know that God is with me even when I feel like I don't belong. No matter how out of place I feel with people, I am always comfortable with God and He with me. When I feel awkward, I still have a friend and ally with me whose love is constant. When I rejoice with my friends and feel most like myself, God is there encouraging me. God is with me no matter what. After a long and tiring trip, I find that fact to be especially comforting.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


A couple of days ago I was visiting with some friends who have young children. The two cousins, a 17-month-old girl and a 15-month-old boy, were playing together on the living room floor. When the little girl was on the little rocking horse and the little boy decided it was his turn, he latched onto the rocking horse with one hand and grabbed a handful of his cousin's hair with the other. We came quickly to the rescue, but we needed to be there to facilitate the children taking turns with the toy because they weren't old enough to do it themselves.

Sharing is really difficult for small children. Their self-concept and their own needs are all they know or understand. The little boy will learn not to pull his cousin's hair when he thinks it's his turn to play on the rocking horse because his mommy won't let him have a turn at all if he does. Later, as he gets older, he'll begin to understand that other people have feelings and he'll start to grapple with the morality of the situation, but that won't necessarily make sharing all that much easier for him.

Even as adults we have trouble sharing. In America the trend seems to be to buy enough objects to go around so that sharing is no longer an issue. There are TVs in every room in the house so that each person can watch whatever program he or she wants at the same without worrying about the viewing preferences of other family members. In many households there is a car for each person with a driver's license so no one will have to modify his or her schedule to facilitate sharing a vehicle.

Of course, it's not always possible to just buy duplicate items for every person who might want to use something. There isn't usually a screwdriver or a can opener for every person. Most people have to share things like bathrooms, microwaves, kitchen tables, and even household bandwidth. Still, we aren't necessarily happy about the necessity of sharing. I remember back to childhood Christmases gone by when my sister and I would enter into complicated negotiations about when and how we could play with each other's new toys. Sometimes I wonder if things have really changed that much as our generation grew to adulthood.

The Bible shows us a lot of examples of sharing. People in the Bible shared food and clothing with others. Sometimes they even shared their homes with other people by providing hospitality to poor people and travelers. Some people sold everything they had—including prized possessions—and gave the proceeds to the poor when they went to follow Jesus. Things are just things, according to Jesus, and people are much more important.

As Christians we should try to move beyond our selfish tendencies to better appreciate how the things we have can bring joy to more people than just ourselves. After all, When we share our possessions with others, the gift of their happiness can be even more special than the satisfaction we feel when we enjoy those things alone. Watching TV is nice, but it's often nicer to watch TV with other people. Eating a tasty meal is satisfying, but it's even more satisfying when you share it with other people. Having a lovely home is enjoyable, but it's even more enjoyable when you open it up to others through hospitality. Playing with your toys and gadgets is fun, but it can be even more fun to watch someone else enjoying our prized possessions. As I recall, Christmas was a lot more fun when my sister and I played together with all of our new toys than if we just sat alone with our own half of the presents.

Now that Christmas is past and we don't feel that old pressure to be on our best behavior anymore, let's not forget the benefits of sharing. When we share, everyone gets to smile, and no one gets their hair pulled. From a Christian perspective, that's a pretty good deal. Smiles are, after all, contagious. So let's all challenge ourselves to share our Christmas presents today and to share as many of our possessions as possible throughout the year.

Friday, December 25, 2009


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life; and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

"There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
(John 1:1–14)

What a powerful passage. Jesus has always been with us because we were created through him, but he loved us so much that he chose to come down and literally live among us as a human so that we might know him more fully. I believe that all souls recognize Jesus in some way because we were made through him, but so often we choose to listen to what our minds have been taught instead of what our souls intuit. All of the people who met Jesus knew him at some level because they were made through him, but many of them did not listen to that tiny voice inside. They refused to be taken in by such childish beliefs, and they refused to recognize him. Yet everyone who listened to their soul, who began to realize who and what Jesus was, was given the ability to grow even closer to their creator. Those who were drawn to Jesus because they wanted to be closer to God were granted a place in God's own family.

John's passage illustrates a beautifully simple reality that we struggle to accept. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it. Each of us has the darkness of sin staining us, and that darkness holds us back from understanding this amazing story of love, creation, and redemption. God made us through light, but we polluted ourselves with darkness. Still to any who seek the light is given the power to cast off all darkness and live fully in the light. This is an incredible opportunity for us if we can truly believe in the simplicity of the story.

We are ordinary mortals, but Jesus is the alpha and the omega. It's tempting for us to try to smash Jesus into our limited human perspective, to make him nothing more than a wise man who was blessed by God. That seems easier for us to accept than the idea that eternal God almighty would come and live among us so that we could have a better relationship with him and thereby be transformed into new creations. We think it's easier to make Jesus less than to imagine ourselves becoming more. But the beautiful thing here is that the truth is better than our imagination. The simplicity in John's story is more true than the logical loopholes we invent. Today we celebrate that God was born among us, and I pray that we might read these words from John and truly believe it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Still Small Voice

Elijah was in a tough spot. Because he had proclaimed God's word, he was extremely unpopular with the powerful people in Israel. In fact, he was hiding out in a cave because a lot of people were trying to kill him. God knew that Elijah was feeling kind of down because it seemed like he was the only one left who really cared about God. God decided to give Elijah a very special experience—He told Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain because He Himself was going to pass by. "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave." (1 Kings 19:11–12)

Elijah was accustomed to seeing God work through powerful miracles. Elijah had been fed by animals and angels. He had proclaimed a famine that came to pass. He had seen the miracle of the widow's oil and meal that were never exhausted and had raised the woman's son from the dead. He had stood on a mountain in front of all the people when the fire of God consumed their sacrifice as proof that the Lord was still among them. Elijah was probably expecting a powerful wind, an earthquake, or a fire because he knew God was capable of all these things. Yet we do not always connect best with God through flashy miracles and big events. Sometimes the gentle whisper, the still small voice, is what touches us most, and that was the gift that God gave Elijah in his time of need.

Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. No matter where I am on Christmas Eve, I always attend some sort of late service that starts around 10:30 or so and ends around midnight. Towards the end of these "midnight mass" services, the people sing "Silent Night". Usually the lights are dimmed, and sometimes we light candles amongst the congregation. There, as I sing quietly in the dark, the sense of a still small voice comes upon me and I feel that God is truly among us. It is that moment when I most fully realize that Jesus is a very real, intimate, and beautiful part of my life, and I feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude because of that. At the end of the service we will stand and sing "Joy to the World" and my joy will be all the more powerful because it has been bolstered by the still small voice. The service could have been designed with nothing but loud and joyful songs as we rejoice in the savior's birth, but it's just as powerful to be still for a moment and really appreciate the love that we are celebrating.

There many passages in the psalms that advise us to shout to the Lord, to sing and dance, to play the trumpets, and to rejoice loudly. Still, there is a time for us to stop and be quiet and just realize the importance of God in our lives. Every once in a while, we need to clear out all of our fears and distractions and even our loud hymns of praise so that we can just be still and let God pass by our hearts. "Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10) God will be exalted, and there's plenty of time for praise. But sometimes we just need to take a moment to be still and listen for the still small voice that tells us that God is here and He loves us.

Tonight at about 11:45 or so, I will be still and know that Jesus my savior has truly come to rescue me from darkness. I will hear the still small voice of God in my heart whispering his love for me. I will feel tears well up in the corner of my eyes, and I will feel peace as strong as any peace I have felt all year. In that one moment, I will know that no matter what happens around me, things will be right deep within my soul because God is there. And then I will be ready to stand and sing "Joy to the World" with all my heart.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Only Jesus They See

I heard a song recently that called Christians to live their faith more openly and to be kinder to those around them. This song argued that it was essential to treat others as we believe Jesus would treat them, because we may be "the only Jesus they see". I think this is an important message, and I don't think it's just about reaching out to non-believers. All of us struggle with our faith sometimes, and it can be difficult to feel a strong connection to Jesus. Sometimes seeing God's love in the face of another person can make a huge difference, even for those of us who already know Jesus loves us.

I think that Christians (myself included) tend to be a lot better at talking and thinking about love and justice than actively living it out. So often we are like the people James decries in his epistle who see people in need and say, "God bless you," but do nothing to help them. Sometimes I choose not to see the need of those around me, or I choose not to make their struggles my problem. All too often my compassion is passive instead of active. I like to try to be nice to people in general and to give money to charity, but what will I do when someone in need appears right in front of me? Will I help them?

I understand why so many of us well-intentioned people turn away. We don't want to stick our noses in other people's business. We're afraid to commit ourselves to someone else's cause because we aren't sure how much time and resources we have to commit. We have a regularly scheduled day, and we don't know if we should deviate from our planned activities to spend time helping someone else. We worry that if we get in too close, especially if the person is stranger, we might get victimized ourselves. We fear that we might not be able to help the person anyway, and we don't want to be yet another disappointment to him or her. We have all kinds of logical reasons why we choose not to try to help, and they don't sound all that selfish or cold-hearted in our minds.

All around us we see bumper stickers that say 'WWJD.' We've gotten so used to seeing them that we usually just dismiss them without bothering to wonder what Jesus would do. It's a hard question for us to consider. Jesus dedicated his entire life to others during his ministry, but we have careers and families. We have other good and loving obligations that keep us from spending all of our time in service to the poor and sick. How do we decide how to use our time best?

Each time we see people around us who need some help or kindness, we need to ask ourselves whether we can help and really challenge ourselves to take action whenever possible. Sometimes there really is nothing we can personally do, but perhaps we can bring the problem to the attention to someone who can help. We can take time out of our day to pray for those people that we cannot help, and even if we don't have the power to fix all their problems, we can contribute whatever kindness we can. A suffering person will not begrudge an act of kindness just because it isn't a cure. Every act of kindness is appreciated, and we need to be sure that we're sharing God's love by showing people that they are worth our time and kindness. We have to remember that we may be the only Jesus those people see and act accordingly.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This year I made Christmas tree ornaments for all of my local friends. It was a fun project, and I enjoyed coming up with ideas for ornaments that would be personally meaningful to each individual on my list. As I made each ornament, I amused myself by imagining the happy look on the recipient's face when he or she opened up the package. When I had my Christmas party, I got to see lots of those reactions in real life. The present opening was one of the happiest parts of my evening. When I do nice things for people, I love seeing the positive impact it makes on their lives, even if it's only something small like giving a friend a cute present. When I see happiness, laughter, or joy in others, then those buoyant feelings become mine also, and that's a really nice sensation.

I love seeing the payoff when I do something nice, but I know that's not always possible. Not all of my friends made it to my party. In a couple of cases, I didn't get to speak to the people at all when I left their presents for them. I won't be there when they open them, and I may never really get to find out how they felt when they saw what I made for them. The same is true in other areas of my life. For example, a few days ago I was shoveling my driveway after a light snow. When I finished with my driveway, I decided to shovel my neighbor's. I figured that she was at work and would appreciate not having to do it herself when she got home. Still, I haven't seen my neighbor since then, and there's no way for her to know that I was the one who shoveled her driveway. I won't ever really know whether or not I made her day by doing that chore.

I love sharing in people's joy when I do something that benefits them, but I don't just do good things for that payoff. I should enjoy doing nice things whether I'm around to see the reaction or not. Being kind isn't just about getting thanks or credit or feeling like a great person. It's about trying to make a difference for the other person, whether you get to be a part of the resulting joy or not. We may never know the full impact of our acts of kindness, but we can still feel good about doing them. Just because I don't see others' reactions to my work doesn't mean they weren't affected by it. If a good deed is done (in the forest) and no one is around to see it, it's still a good deed. That matters.

I felt happy just thinking of my friends as I made their presents, before they even knew that they were going to receive presents from me at all. I can imagine the happy faces of the people I won't get to see as they open their presents, and that's pretty rewarding all on its own. Sometimes it can be a beautiful thing to do something sweet and then walk away without any recognition, just knowing that I probably started a chain reaction that would cause someone else to smile. Imagining that smile can be just as nice as actually seeing it. I know the payoff is there, whether I see it or not, and that makes my efforts seem worthwhile.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Still Time

Last week at a Bible Study I regularly attend, one of the participants mentioned that the winter solstice was coming up. He suggested that we could recognize this day by taking a look at our mental lists of the things we wanted to accomplish in 2009 and challenging ourselves to do whatever has been left undone on that list before the end of the year. He thought it could be a good idea to see how many of our unmet goals we can fulfill in the handful of days that are left. Most of us laughed kind of ruefully at this suggestion. What could we really get done in a few days? And didn't we all give up on our New Year's resolutions before February?

I don't really know if I ever had a list of things I wanted to get done this year. The only things I can think of are finishing my book, which I did in September, and losing a certain amount of weight, of which I've lost about half and have no chance of dropping the rest in a week and a half. So there really isn't much of a list for me to evaluate today. Nevertheless, I still like the attitude that this idea promotes: There's still time, so take action!

So often we tell ourselves that it's "too late" to do something, but that judgment is based on artificial time lines that we've created. New Year's resolutions don't have to just be about the year in which they are made. Some projects take longer than a year to complete, and sometimes our progress is slower than we would like it to be. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that we're out of time. The dates on the calendar and the time on the clock are not necessarily as rigid as we treat them. I might tell you that it's too late for me to reach my goal weight before an event I'm attending in the spring where I will be wearing my first strapless dress. And that could potentially be a true statement. But that event isn't the only reason I'm trying to lose weight. It's still worth doing, even if I miss my "deadline". Likewise, I sometimes feel that it's "too late" to repair a relationship after years of hurt or silence, but I know that may not be the case. It's never too late for me to get educated, pursue goals, or try to make a difference in someone's life. I don't have to give up just because I have failed my original expectations.

Maybe I haven't accomplished everything that I wanted to in 2009, but there's still a few days left. And when those days are spent, I have all of 2010 to keep trying!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Are We There Yet?

I'm going to spend most of today in a car. My husband and I are making a 12-hour, 700-mile trip across several states as we travel to my hometown. I've made this trip many times before, and I know how interminable it can seem as I'm rolling through the seemingly endless expanses of Indiana. Sometimes I wonder if I'll be stuck in the car forever. Just like a little kid, I hear myself thinking, "Are we there yet?" The answer to that question will be 'no' for a long time before it finally becomes 'yes'. Twelve hours is, after all, a pretty long time.

I've been on many different kinds of journeys in my lifetime. I've taken plane rides and bus ride and car rides to distant and not-so-distant places. I've been on journeys of self-discovery and maturation. I've traveled the path of education and spend four years navigating the winding streets of intellectual and social growth in college. I've been on small and sometimes inconsequential voyages that lasted a single day, struggling to complete myriad tasks and collapsing into bed in relief when I reached the destination of day's end. In so many of these cases, I've noticed that my goal can seem like a mirage on the horizon, tantalizingly visible but seemingly impossible to reach. Goals seem like they will never be achieved, and the journey itself feels endless.

I've developed some strategies to help keep myself from feeling so impatient along the way. I've realized that obsessing about my destination and how far away it seems just makes the trip seem longer. I need other things to think about, other tasks to do along the way so I don't feel like I'm just sitting and waiting for the minutes to tick by. Waiting is an uncomfortable necessity in life, but it doesn't seem so bad if I'm doing something else too. On trips I like to listen to music or have interesting conversations with my traveling companions. When I'm working on long projects in life, I like to throw in some smaller tasks along the way so that I can feel like I'm getting something accomplished even if the main project takes a long time to complete. As I move through stages of my life, I like to try to focus on the small everyday things that I'm doing instead of thinking about how long it's taking my life to change into what I want it to become. There's more to life than waiting.

Today doesn't have to just be about suffering through a 12-hour car ride. First of all, I have the really nice opportunity to be with my husband for 12 hours. It's been a busy semester for him, and we haven't actually had all that much time to spend together the last couple of months. This doesn't just have to be a long, boring car trip—it can be a chance for me to catch up with my husband and talk about interesting things. It can also be a chance for us to kick back and sing along with our favorite Christmas songs. I can enjoy this time with my husband instead of resenting the time stuck in the car. When I find myself thinking, "Are we there yet?" I can challenge myself to find something more productive or fun to do instead. I could pray. I could brainstorm blog topics. I could even daydream. I could put in that album I love that I haven't listened to in a long time. I could call old friends and say hello. I could look out the window and try to discover new things about the world around me.

The same is true for the rest of my life. Whenever I find myself getting impatient, I should try to deflect my thoughts to something else. I have to realize that I'm never just waiting for something to happen. My life is many threads all woven together, and if one line in my life is stalled, there are many others with which I can occupy myself. That dreadfully slow journey from the back of the line to the front at the Post Office or the grocery store could be a chance to check in with God, to organize my thoughts, or to think of something nice that I could do for someone. That long interval between the beginning of my husband's graduate program and his graduation is a chance for us to learn things about ourselves, to grow and develop as adults, and to prepare for the future. When it gets down to it, my whole life is a journey from birth to eternity, and there's certainly plenty left for me to do between now and the day I meet Jesus in heaven. Some of the trips in my life are long, but if I have an open mind and heart, I will always find things to do along the way until I reach my destination.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Choose This Day

Joshua once declared before the people of Israel, "If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." This bold proclamation is very admirable from a Christian standpoint.

Modern Christians don't usually fret about being led astray by a pagan pantheon as some of Joshua's contemporaries were. We often assume that idolatry is no longer a problem for us. Yet the idols of our ancestors and our neighbors still tempt us, but today those idols are things like money, power, or pride. It's easy to forget that we don't have to call something a god in order to worship it and that anything we worship instead of God is an idol. Whenever I betray my Christian beliefs in pursuit of something, then that thing—whatever it is—becomes an idol to me. For as long as I choose to put other pursuits ahead of following God, I am an idolater (even if it's only for a few seconds).

I love God very much, but if I am honest with myself, I am forced to admit that I cheat on God several times a day. Sometimes I selfishly put myself first, as though I were my own god. Sometimes I devote energy and resources to worldly goals instead of heavenly ones. In some moments I am more concerned with wealth and prestige than I am about righteousness and salvation. I'm serious about following Jesus, but I recognize that I am not perfect, and my judgment is not always sound. Sometimes I choose to serve the wrong person or thing.

Every day I have hundreds of chances to decide whom I will serve. Will I follow God or will I allow myself to be led astray? So often I blind myself to the reality of these choices and declare that I am following God when my actions show otherwise. It's easy to say that I choose to serve God, but it's harder to live out that choice. It is not enough to declare my faith if I do not live it. Because I serve a merciful savior, He gives me chance after chance to choose rightly and to follow obediently. I must choose each moment whom I will serve. Every decision I make can bolster my commitment to Christ or challenge it. I ask God to help me choose wisely throughout the day so that I can be a more consistent Christian.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Lessons: Good News

The Gospel of Luke paints a very vivid picture of John the Baptist's preaching. Luke portrays John as a bit of a firebrand, calling the people a "brood of vipers" who were in dire need of repentance. All in all, it's a pretty serious and heavy message, and John doesn't pull any punches. He tells the crowd that Jesus is coming to gather the wheat into the barn, but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. After relating this dire warning, Luke writes, "And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them." On the surface, John's message may not look like very good news. He's basically telling everyone that if they don't shape up, they're going to be in big trouble. Jesus is coming to clean house, so they'd better make sure they're on the right side or else. To the casual listener, that probably sounds more like a threat than gospel.

The truth is that God's message of love is inside John's preaching, but we have to pay attention in order to see it. Inside all that doom and gloom are several bits of good news:
  • God is going to clean up the mess. He's going to gather in the wheat and burn the chaff. He's going to get rid of that which does not bear fruit. Paul's letters address the idea of a purifying fire that will cleanse us of all unrighteousness. As Christians, John's words are not so much a threat of damnation as they are a notice that God is going to clean out all the bad stuff in our lives. The more we repent, the easier we will make the refining process on ourselves. If we corrupt ourselves until nothing but evil is left, we could be utterly consumed. But when we repent, we are forgiven through Jesus and we are purged of all the sins that plague us, leaving righteousness and unfettered joy behind. If we are willing to submit to Jesus, we can be made wheat instead of chaff, and this is a very good thing.
  • Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John is telling us we need to repent, but we don't have to do it alone. God is providing the tools and the strength we need to become better people. We are incapable of adequate repentance when we're on our own, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can be reformed. Jesus is not just a judge—He is also a redeemer who enables us to receive salvation.
  • Being children of Abraham won't win us salvation. That's especially welcome news to people who aren't descendants of Abraham. John is introducing the radical idea that being right with God is about more than performing rituals or being born into the right family. We are justified through our redemptive relationship with Jesus, and that relationship is available to everyone. We don't have to be in the right place at the right time or pass a complicated test, but that also means that we can't rely on such arbitrary things to save us. We have to have a real and meaningful relationship with God, and that will take some effort and commitment on our parts. Still, God wants to have that relationship with us, and that's incredibly good news.
  • We need to start treating each other better. John tells the people to share more and to stop cheating each other. We don't get to be so selfish, but that means that maybe we won't be victimized as often either. John is not only encouraging us to be nice to people—he's also encouraging other people to be nice to us. If preparing for Jesus means embracing justice and generosity, then Jesus' world is certainly going to be a happier place for everyone. 
Sometimes we are like a brood of vipers, but the point is that Jesus is going to make us better. We might be terrible sinners sometimes, but it's good news that God cares enough to send someone to tell us to repent. Jesus is offering us salvation, so it's fantastic that John came to tell us about him, even if he had to use really strong language to get our attention. Luke quotes Isaiah's prophecy about John and Jesus, saying, "All mankind will see God's salvation." Honestly, that's the best news that any Christian can hope for.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Lessons: John the Baptist

John was a man with a purpose. His entire life was centered around a single mission: to prepare the world for Jesus. John went out into the wilderness and attracted all kinds of people with his eccentric ways. He told the people that they should get ready for someone unlike any prophet in their history, someone who could baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In essence, John spent his entire career as a prophet capturing people's attention and then diverting them to Jesus. John's extremely effective introduction probably saved Jesus a lot of initial legwork. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, John already had a lot of people thinking about his message. There were also a lot of people hanging around John who saw the spectacle when Jesus came to be baptized. There's no question that John was a very dedicated and successful forerunner to Jesus.

Still, I can't help but notice that outside of working for Jesus, John didn't really have a life. John knew that being "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" was more than just a day job. Everything about John's life down to where he slept, what he wore, and what he ate was part of his mission to promote Jesus. As far as we know, John never married or had children. He didn't have a trade or even a roof over his head. Preaching on behalf of Jesus was his entire life. Eventually John's zeal for God even resulted in his death because he dared to cross Herod and Herodias. John knew that it was essential for him to prepare people for Jesus, but he also knew that Jesus' ministry—not his own—was the main event. He told the crowd that he was unworthy even to untie Jesus' sandals.

At first glance it kind of seems like John got a raw deal. He got stuck in the desert wearing camel's hair and eating locusts. He had to preach day in and day out and was denied the comforts of a traditional family life. Eventually he lost most of his followers to Jesus, and he faded from the spotlight until he was eventually murdered by King Herod. When John knew his death was coming soon, all he wanted to know was that Jesus was the one for whom he had waited and that his work of preparation was indeed complete. John's life was dedicated to Jesus, and he asked nothing for himself. That kind of single minded selflessness is difficult to fathom. How many of us would want to give up our homes and comforts to devote ourselves completely and utterly to proclaiming the gospel? How many of us could reshape our entire lives to force ourselves to focus on God 24/7? John's life can seem a bit miserable to a modern Christian.

And yet, John said that he was happy. When one of John's disciples complained that followers were defecting to Jesus, John told him that was good news. "The bride belongs to the bridegroom," John said. "The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less." John thought of himself as a devoted friend to Jesus, and nothing could bring him more joy than to do a good service for his friend. He didn't want the honor and acclaim that belonged to Jesus—instead John rejoiced when he saw the people paying attention to Jesus, even though that meant they were paying less attention to him. John discovered that selfless service for a beloved master and friend is one of the greatest imaginable sources of peace and joy. He truly understood the blessing that Jesus was bringing into the world, and he felt blessed to be able to be a part of that process.

John teaches us that true happiness doesn't come from living a comfortable lifestyle or achieving big things. Instead, joy comes from being a member of God's team by contributing to something incredibly important and worthwhile, whether we get personal recognition or not. John knew that he couldn't save the people himself, so he was more than happy to direct them to the redeemer who could. John was not the most important character in his own story, but his task was still essential. Every job God assigns to to us is both important and fulfilling, even if it doesn't seem very glamorous on the surface. We may not gain any material rewards for doing God's work, but we will be blessed with joy. John lived in the wilderness and ate bugs, and yet his joy was complete. That's a powerful lesson for all of us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Lessons: Isaiah

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:2,6–7)

This is one of the most popular prophecies cited during Advent. Isaiah tells the people of Israel that God will send a Messiah to them to set them free from their enemies and to make them a good and prosperous nation once more. They will rejoice, Isaiah says, as people rejoice when they bring in a plentiful harvest. Many Christians find this passage to be one of the most beautiful and inspiring messages in the entire Bible.

Yet, when Jesus was born, not everyone reacted with joy. Herod sent soldiers to kill all the young boys because he thought Jesus might threaten his rule. Jesus made many powerful enemies during his ministry, and those enemies eventually brought about his crucifixion. There was no joy on the day that the chief priests handed Jesus over to Pilate. These leaders saw nothing of Isaiah's promise in Jesus, perhaps because they didn't truly understand what Isaiah's words meant.

In essence, Isaiah promised that God would give the people a wise, mighty, merciful, and eternal king. He would provide someone who would rule over the people justly, someone who would take care of them and give them a bountiful future. That's not necessarily the promise that Jesus' enemies wanted, however. Humans have always been a "stiff-necked people" who frequently would rather do things recklessly our own way than follow someone else—even God—obediently. Do we really need advice from a wonderful counselor? Do we truly want the mighty God among us taking control of our lives or an everlasting father to tell us what to do? Do we want a prince to bring us peace, or would we rather keep fueling our endless bickering and continue to jockey for power and position amongst ourselves?

God's promise through Isaiah is extremely noble, and we are not always mature enough to appreciate it. We worry that submitting to a king, even a perfect king like Jesus, would inhibit our freedom to do whatever we want, and the promises of a peaceful and fruitful existence aren't always enough to take that sour taste out of our mouths. In many ways, we are just like Adam and Eve, unimpressed with the blessed reality of Eden when the tantalizing possibility of absolute autonomy lies before us. What do we need with a generous and merciful God if we have already convinced ourselves that we should be able to do just as well on our own? All too often we resent God's interference instead of reacting with the joy that Isaiah proclaims. Jesus is not a president and does not reign at our consent. He is the everlasting king of all the Earth whether we like it or not, and that can be difficult for us to swallow in our misled pride.

Every day we each have the chance to deal with this passage from Isaiah. Jesus is with us even now, ruling over our lives and giving us good advice that will lead us down the path to righteousness. The question we constantly face is whether to welcome Jesus' dominion in our lives or to resent and reject it. Do we want a good king, or do we want to be bad kings ourselves? On the days when I see the truth of God's mercy for the incredible gift it is, I do feel the joy that Isaiah promised. I follow Jesus with jubilation and truly feel like someone who has emerged from darkness to see a great light. The fact that I have a Lord, redeemer, and friend in Jesus can seem wonderfully overwhelming. Those are the days when I am closest to God and when my soul is the healthiest. Those are the days when I feel most blessed. I want to have more of those days and to commit myself totally to Isaiah's promise.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Lessons: Mary

Mary was engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. She was a young woman, and so far her life was probably proceeding much as she had always imagined it would. She would be married to a good man, together they would raise a family, enjoying a modest but hopefully happy life. Then an angel came to visit her, changing everything and nothing all at once. The angel told her that God wanted her to bear His own son. She was going to be made pregnant by the Holy Spirit now, while she was still a virgin. She was still supposed to marry Joseph and have the family she always wanted, but it would be a different kind of family. This pregnancy would mean that her reputation could be tainted because she was not yet married. She would have to raise a son who would be God incarnate, perhaps the most challenging task anyone had ever faced. She didn't know it yet, but she would even have to flee with her family and live in exile because her son would have powerful enemies before he was even born.

When the angel delivered this startling news to Mary, she probably couldn't even begin to imagine the implications. Still, she must have understood that she was being asked to give up control of her life. The angel did not ask for her consent. He simply explained God's plan for her life and what would happen. Yet, Mary knew it was important for her to accept the future that God had shaped for her. "I am the Lord's servant," she said to Gabriel. "May it be to me as you have said." She went to visit her cousin Elizabeth to find support in this emotionally challenging time in her life. Together the two women encouraged each other and celebrated the plans that God had for them.

Perhaps God chose Mary precisely because He knew that she would meekly accept His rather extreme interference in her life. He knew that she would love His son, not resent the upheaval in her life that Jesus would represent. She could accept the enormity of bearing God's son and could endure the miracle that would appear to be scandal to everyone else. She would love Jesus and would be a devoted mother to him, no matter how many changes and challenges he brought to her life.

Faced with the prospect of being chosen to bear God's son, Mary did not lament that she had lost control of her own destiny. Instead, she proclaimed, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name." I like to think that even in the dark times when she was on the run from Herod's soldiers and even when she saw Jesus led off to be crucified, she remembered these words. Somehow, because this was God's plan, everything would be worth it. Despite the hardships, she wouldn't have wished that God had chosen someone else instead of her. She was God's servant, and she truly wanted to do whatever He asked of her.

Not many of us are such willing servants. We prize our autonomy and our independence so dearly. Which of us would want an unplanned pregnancy at all, much less a baby fathered by God? Which of us would be willing to completely turn over our lives to God? Would we be more like Moses, trying to talk God out of His crazy plan, or would we accept meekly as Mary did? God chose many obstinate people to be his servants, and he somehow managed to talk even the skeptics like Moses and Jonah into doing what He had chosen them to do. Yet he chose a woman who didn't argue at all to do the most important job of all—to bear and raise His only son. God has had many servants through the generations, but Mary was one of a kind. She was willing to trust her God completely, even when He chose her to do something that should have been impossible. Many would call Mary naive and overly passive because of this, but I find her to be admirable.

Would the life Mary had planned for herself have been better than the life God chose for her? I think if Mary were here today, she would tell us that nothing could ever have been better than carrying the son of God under her heart and loving him passionately all 33 years of his life on Earth. She could never regret being a part of something so incredible, and that's exactly what God chose her. Perhaps I too may be chosen for wonderful things if I can truly be a willing servant. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Lessons: Zechariah

God sent the angel Gabriel to tell the priest Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. This was an amazing promise considering that Elizabeth was barren and past her childbearing years. Zechariah asked the angel for proof that his promise was real. Gabriel seemed a bit affronted that Zechariah had questioned him. "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news," he replied. If Zechariah wanted proof, then Gabriel would give him proof—he told Zechariah that he would not be able to speak until his son, John the Baptist was born.

This story teaches me that when God tells me that something amazing is about to happen, it's generally not the best idea to reply, "Yeah, right."

Of course, in Zechariah's defense, he was alone in the temple lighting incense when Gabriel appeared before him. It would have been really easy for Zechariah to wonder if he was hallucinating as he breathed in the fragrant fumes. What if the angel was a figment of his imagination? How could such an incredible thing really be happening? And so Zechariah asked Gabriel to prove that he and his message were real. You and I would probably do the same. Zechariah believed in God, but he wasn't expecting such an incredible miracle. That's the whole point of miracles—they defy all of our expectations. Often when we are faced with the wonder of God's power we become skeptical. We think it's more likely that our brains are malfunctioning than that God would do something so extraordinary in our lives.

I think I understand how Zechariah felt when he beheld Gabriel with disbelief. I sometimes feel that way myself. How can I tell the difference between God's guiding hand in my life and my own imagination? How can I be sure that the messages I get from God are authentic? Sometimes, like Zechariah, I find myself wanting a sign. However, I've learned to be careful what I ask for. I may not get the sign I want.

Still, Zechariah's muteness was a gift from God. He asked for a sign, and Gabriel gave him a sign that was unmistakable. Zechariah could no longer doubt this miraculous encounter. His muteness was a forceful reminder that Gabriel and his message were real. God was not vindictive and did not leave Zechariah mute forever—his voice was restored when Gabriel's promise was fulfilled in the birth of John. In the end, Zechariah was blessed with a son, something he had longed for but given up as an impossibility. Zechariah had to learn the hard way to trust God, but then again, the lesson wasn't so hard after all. After nine months of muteness he was blessed with a son, and that miracle is what he carried in his heart for the rest of his life.

We can doubt God, but sooner or later He will get our attention. He is capable of all things, even proving to skeptics like us that He has the power to work wondrous miracles in our lives. When I doubt, it's OK for me to ask for a sign. That might not turn out exactly the way I had hoped, but somehow God will give me what I need in the end. God's miracles are real, so I can allow myself to believe in them. Zechariah certainly learned to believe, and he found joy in doing so.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Keep Trying

Sometimes when the going gets tough, I simply want to give up. It's tempting to think that my struggles don't matter anymore or that my efforts don't really make any difference anyway. I want to quit, resign, forfeit. Still, I've discovered over time that although there are many times when I want to give up, there are only a few cases when I really should.

The mean old Hawks coach in the movie The Mighty Ducks (1992) told his little hockey players, "It ain't worth playin' if you can't win!" Even from a sports perspective this is completely ridiculous. Losses can be very informative, teaching teams lessons that will help them win the harder games later in the season. Losing forces us to develop character, to work on our game, to try harder and do our best. Losing is just a part of the game. Still, it's so tempting to get stuck in the "winning is everything" mindset. What is the point in doing our best if our best isn't good enough? Wouldn't we maintain more dignity if we just quit instead of facing ridicule as we try and fail to reach big goals?

From a Christian standpoint, I know that it's often important to toil on when things get tough. Love is hard and relationships are difficult. Being a contributing and peaceful member of the Body of Christ is not always a picnic. Do I consider a divorce every time my husband and I have a fight? No. Do I leave as soon as my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are dealing with difficult issues? No. Do I abandon my calling if I face obstacles along the way? I certainly hope not. Sometimes sticking with the things I really care about may feel like beating my head against a brick wall. All the time I spend working for the things I care about may feel like wasted time, and the strides I make towards my cherished goals may seem feeble and insignificant. My failures may loom large and give me great pain and embarrassment. Still, defeat is only the end of the journey if I give in.

God is my ally, and He's famous for turning defeats into victories. How many times did God lead the underdog Israelites to military success? How many times did He choose unlikely champions to change the world? Moses was an outcast murderer with a speech impediment when he encountered the burning bush, and God turned him into a heroic leader. David was a shepherd who attracted the homicidal jealousy of the king, and God made him a beloved monarch. Moses' story didn't end with Pharaoh's first rebuff, and David's tale wasn't over when he fled Saul's palace. More was coming. Every Christian has been promised a victory through Jesus Christ. All of our efforts to follow God and make a difference in the lives of those around us, even if they seem feeble now, will be strengthened by the very power of God. Everything may seem really difficult today, but eventually we will have victory.

God is with me in everything I do, even now, but there is a caveat. God can't really add any strength to my efforts if I don't make any. God supports me, but I must choose to act. If I give up, how can God turn me into a victor? If I choose to walk away from an important endeavor, I will be slamming the door in God's face, essentially telling Him that I don't trust Him enough to keep trying. I will be saying that I believe defeat to be inevitable and writing off the chance of a miracle. Sometimes I do have to cut my losses, I know, but not on the really important stuff. If I believe that God is calling me to do something, then I believe that He will provide a way for me to do it. It might be messy, but in the end it will work out. My faith is based on the conviction that even when my faith itself fails, God will not. Reminding myself of this restores my faith when I feel weak.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How to Deal

Right now I am struggling with a few issues. A couple of my relationships are not as strong as I would like them be. I'm not sure whether my life is going the direction it should, and I sometimes feel lost and confused. I find myself unable to change many of the problems I see in the world around me and in the lives of the people I love. Sometimes these issues can pile up in my heart and my mind until they become difficult to handle. Occasionally I feel depressed or hopeless when I think of the problems I face and the hardships that plague those around me. I have some coping strategies in place for when the hard times come, and now seems like an excellent time to review them.
  • Don't bottle it up. If I try to keep my negative feelings inside, I can never really get rid of them. I have to allow myself to be sad and to be angry so that I can get those feelings out of my system. I need to find a safe environment where I'm allowed to cry, and I need to be able to go off by myself and yell if I need to. If I don't want these feelings to leak out all over my everyday life, I need to be sure that I'm providing myself with opportunities to vent.
  • Calm down before deciding what to do. I need to let my feelings out and then allow myself to recover before I can make a calm and rational decision about how to deal with my problems. Sometimes I need to sleep on it. Sometimes I need to distract myself by doing something else for a while so that I can approach the issue from a fresh perspective. Sometimes I need to go immerse myself in a part of my life that's going well so that I feel strong and calm enough to deal with my problems afterward. If I'm still sunk in anger or despair, I won't be able to make a very level-headed decision.
  • Remember what to do when lost. Being emotionally lost can sometimes be like being lost in the woods. I don't want to just start running around making blind choices, because then I might get even more lost. Panic won't help me, and just doing something might make things worse. Instead, I need to try to find a point of reference. In the woods I would look for landmarks, and in my spiritual life I look at the Bible. I try to see if Scripture can teach me anything about what I should do. Then I need to listen for searchers and respond to them. That means I need to listen for God and try to discern what the Holy Spirit wants me to do. I need to pay attention to the wise people in my life and see if they have lessons to teach me that apply to my current struggles. Rescuing oneself from the woods is a long shot, and I know that I will also probably need God to come and find me when I get myself emotionally lost.
  • Don't judge feelings. When I get down, I often feel even more depressed because it seems wrong for me to be sad. I feel ungrateful for ever feeling disappointed or stressed when I have so many blessings in my life. Why should I feel so hurt about a couple of strained relationships when I have so many good ones? Why should I worry about problems when there is so much right in my life right now? Still, I understand that negative feelings are a part of life, so I shouldn't punish myself for them. Being sad about things that are wrong doesn't negate the joy I feel for the things that are right. It would be wrong for me to let sadness or anger consume me, but feeling them in moderate amounts is a normal part of life. Having negative feelings helps me to identify the problems I need to address, so it's not completely wrong for me to feel this way.
  • Remember the good while dealing with the bad. I know that it's OK to feel sad or frustrated about my problems, but I don't want to get completely sucked in. Just because a few things are going wrong doesn't mean my entire life is a disaster. There are plenty of things going right for me too, and I shouldn't forget those while I deal with the things that aren't so great. Problems are a part of life, but they aren't my whole life. I shouldn't despair because there is good along with the bad.
  • Nothing can separate me from the love of God. No matter how bad things get, it's never hopeless. I may be lost, but not to God. I may feel useless, but God still loves me. I may find myself in a desperate situation, but God will be with me. In the end, God will save me and carry me home to Heaven, and nothing that goes wrong in my life has the power to change that.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Trust Me

Aladdin and Jasmine are running away from the scary palace guards. They head for the edge of the roof. "Do you trust me?" Aladdin asks breathlessly. "W-what?" Jasmine stammers. "Do you trust me?" he repeats, reaching for her hand. "Yes...," she says a bit uncertainly, placing her hand in his. "Then jump!" Aladdin cries as the guards close in, and he pulls Jasmine off the roof with him. (Aladdin, 1992)

Ben, Riley, Abigail, and Patrick are close to the treasure, but they've been taken hostage by the ruthless Ian. As they make their way down into the mysterious pit where they believe the treasure may be waiting for them, the centuries-old infrastructure begins to crumble. As everyone scrambles for safety, Abigail is left dangling from a damaged lift, swinging precariously over the abyss. "Do you trust me?" Ben asks her urgently. "Yes!" she replies. "Then let go!" says Ben. Abigail doesn't hesitate. She lets go and lands safely on a strong piece of scaffolding below. (National Treasure, 2004)

Trust can be really scary. I don't know if I'd be willing to jump just because someone told me to—especially if I'd only met that person a few hours before. Still, Aladdin knew that jumping was the only way to escape, and Ben could see that Abigail would fall to safety if she let go at the right time. If Jasmine and Abigail hadn't been so trusting, they might have ended up in a lot more trouble. Of course, I could also have cited movie scenes where a character convinced someone to trust him or her and then everything went to shambles. Trusting other people is sometimes essential, but it's also risky because we can't guarantee the outcome. We don't know for sure that others are trustworthy or that their ideas will work.

A certain amount of trust is necessary in any loving relationship, but it's absolutely essential when it comes to God. Our loved ones will come through for us sometimes, but God is the only one we can trust 100% of the time. It's a good thing God has such a good track record, because He asks us to do some pretty crazy things sometimes. God can lead us to places we never imagined, and sometimes He may even ask us to completely uproot our lives. As Christians, though, we understand that it's actually much riskier to ignore God than it is to trust Him when He asks us to do something that seems insane. Frankly, it's safer to go with God on a wild adventure than to stay home by myself. I am reminded of the necessity of trusting God when I consider some poignant examples from the Bible.

Moses is standing before the burning bush. The voice of God is telling him to go free the Israelites from Pharaoh, but Moses is freaked out. How could he do such a thing? He tries to explain his concerns about this plan to God, but God insists that He will make sure everything turns out all right. "I will be with you," God tells Moses. "Just trust me."

Jesus is going around Galilee calling his disciples. He is asking them to leave everything—their jobs, their families, and their homes—to follow him. If they go with Jesus, who will provide for their needs? Will they become destitute? Jesus doesn't address these unspoken concerns. All he says is, "Come follow me." In their minds they hear him saying, "Trust me," and they do.

God comes to Ananias in a vision and tells him to go find Saul and put his hands on him so that Saul can regain his sight. Ananias tells God that he has heard that this Saul is a pretty dangerous fellow who has a reputation for persecuting Christians such as himself. He wonders if it's safe for him to approach Saul, and he worries that he might be abetting Saul in persecuting other Christians if he helps him. God convinces Ananias that He has a plan and that everything's under control. "Trust me."

Consider the enormity of what God is asking these people to do. Confront a powerful ruler and command him to give up his labor force. Leave everything you know and devote yourself to someone you've just met. Go help the guy who's been arresting and beating up your friends for no good reason. It all sounds pretty crazy, doesn't it? If a loved one asked us to do these things, who knows if we would actually do them? Luckily for Moses, the disciples, and Ananias, it was God asking. They knew that they could trust God not to let them down. Even the people we love will fail us sometimes, but God never does.

I hope that I am wise enough to recognize what is at stake when my trust in God is challenged. Every once in a while, I feel like Indiana Jones staring out into the gulf in disbelief as he realizes that the 'leap from the lion's head' is a true leap of faith. Still, Indy knows what's at stake. His father is dying and the grail, if it exists, is the only thing that can save him now. So he closes his eyes and takes that step—out onto a perfectly camouflaged bridge he couldn't see before. (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989) Indy knew that trust was essential, and because of that his story ended happily, as all such Hollywood adventures should. And yet I have something even better than a screenwriter in which to place my trust—I have an all-powerful God who will make certain that my story ends well.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Being Satisfied

Always wanting more seems to be an inescapable part of the human condition. No matter how much we have, how happy we are, or how many blessings are showered upon us, we always want more. Selfishness creeps stealthily inside our hearts until we're more focused on getting more than we are on loving one another. Our savings account becomes more important than our gifts to charity and and the time we guard for our own personal use is more precious to us than the time we devote to others. We think more about what we lack than what we have, and we become ambitious and calculating. We structure our lives around how to get what we want instead of how to serve others. Each of us has a little glutton inside of us tempting us to overindulge and to do whatever it takes to gratify our desires.

This selfish tendency to betray love in order to get more for ourselves is the most primal of sins. In fact, it is the original sin. Imagine the scene in Eden. Adam and Eve are together in the garden. They have lots of tasty food to eat, and they don't have to labor to produce it. They spend their days exploring the garden and enjoying its delights. God Himself is their best friend and spends time with them every day. They have a charmed life under the watch of a caring Creator who provides for their needs. They have no idea what new wonders God might have in store for them, but they decide to take matters into their own hands in order to ensure they're getting everything they can get. Sure, hanging out with God is pretty nice, but wouldn't it be better to be God's equal? God has given Adam and Eve His love and attention, a beautiful home, and even their very lives, but they are still willing to betray Him in order to get more. They're about to learn the hard way that love is worth much more than the power and wisdom they seek.

Only two weeks ago we celebrated Thanksgiving and remembered all of the good gifts in our lives. Yet those feelings of gratitude can fade so quickly into the background. Perhaps we haven't turned into greedy Scrooges yet, but some part of each of us is looking longingly at shiny items in store windows and wishing we had more money to spend on treats and gadgets this holiday season. Perhaps we're wishing that we weren't stuck in dead-end jobs or that we lived in nicer houses. Maybe we're feeling grumpy about having to waste so much of our time, energy, and money on other people and wishing we had more for ourselves. When we get carried away with these feelings we may even start thinking about what (or who) we'd be willing to sacrifice to get what we want. We forget the wonderful acts of love that others have done for us as our thoughts focus on how those others stand between us and what we want. Like Adam and Eve we criticize God for not making us like Him instead of being satisfied with all the good gifts He has given us.

One of the opening scenes of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone features Harry's cousin Dudley inspecting his birthday presents. Dudley throws a fit because there are only 36 presents, and last year he had 37. J.K. Rowling paints this scene as an absurdity, making the ridiculous Dudley a foil to Harry's more practical and good-hearted nature. Yet we are not always so different from little Dudley Dursley, screaming about a present we thought we deserved instead of bubbling with delight over the 36 presents heaped before us. Even those of us who live comfortable lives frequently spend a lot of time complaining. Why hasn't God done more for us? Why don't we have more? We suspect that God is holding out of us, and we forget how amazing His love for us is. Like Adam, Eve, and Dudley, we find ourselves dismissing what we have in the face of what we don't have.

My prayer for myself and for the people in my life today is that we can learn to be satisfied. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but His love is constant. Having more or less is inconsequential compared to the absoluteness of God's love for me and my love for Him. As Solomon wrote, "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." (Proverbs 15:17) By trying to get more, Adam and Eve risked the most precious thing they had—their relationship with God. The gain they sought turned out to be an illusion. Our quest for more separates us from the one thing we really need, so I pray that we can learn to be satisfied so that we do not stray from the one who gives us our very lives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wasted Effort?

Recently I attended a professional development seminar about college and university alumni magazines. The presenters quoted the editor of an award-winning magazine as saying, "If people aren't reading your magazine, then every dollar you spend is wasted." This editor was making a point about the importance of good content and an attractive layout to pull in readers. The whole point of an alumni magazine is to generate interest in the school and help the alumni feel connected, and all the effort put into the magazine would be for nothing if it couldn't achieve those goals.

We value many of our efforts based on their results. At an early age many of us learned that the grades on our report cards were often considered more important than how hard we tried, and the results of the athletic and extracurricular contests in which we participated began to seem much more important than what we had learned through those experiences. As we grew up, we learned the importance of things like transcripts and GPAs and honor societies. Our resumés were only as good as the jobs they could get us. Our work was valued by its ability to provide us with job security and pay raises. Even our efforts for the good of others are often valued by their results. It only seems to be worth doing something nice for someone if we can see the impact it made on their lives. We don't want to work to better the world unless we can see the results of our efforts.

Still, I've come to realize that not everything is about concrete results. Sometimes it's important to do the right thing even if it doesn't seem to make a difference. If our efforts to live with righteousness and love don't produce the results we hope for, these efforts are still good for us. When we stand up for what is right, we bring ourselves closer to God and reaffirm the importance of love in our lives, and even if that doesn't change anyone or anything else, it will still keep us spiritually strong and healthy. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Garth Brooks recorded a song called "The Change" that addresses the criticisms of those who think that small acts of kindness are pointless because they cannot make a substantial difference in the world. He sings, "I hear them saying, 'You'll never change things, and no matter what you do it's still the same thing.' But it's not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me."

Our love, faith, integrity, and dedication are the most precious things we have. Using them is never a waste, no matter what the results may be. If I am kind to an ungrateful person, my kindness still wasn't a waste. If I dedicate myself to a worthy cause but am unable to make the impact that I wanted to make, that doesn't mean I've wasted my time. Even now as I write this blog, I have no idea whether more than a couple of people will ever read this post, but I believe that it is worth it to write it even if no one reads it. Because I invested in this post and put a little bit of my heart into it, it has value for me no matter what. Every time I try to live as a Christian and make efforts to spread love in the world, I get an internal boost that exists independently of the results of my actions. I am constantly recharging myself just by being true to God and to myself.

No effort to live as Jesus taught us to live is ever wasted, no matter what anyone else might think.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In the Meantime

It's easy to fixate on countdowns. How many days until Christmas? How long until that exciting vacation? How many weeks until that event I can't wait to attend? I am the kind of person who can get really excited about the things I'm looking forward to. Sometimes the days in between me and the next special thing on my calendar can seem like annoying waiting that must simply be endured. Those days become less important to me than the day I'm looking forward to, and I feel like I'm just killing time until I reach a particular point in time. It can be hard to make myself realize that my life is about more than the high points I have planned. I've realized that when I rush through each day in a hurry to get to the next, I miss all kinds of small opportunities to make the most of my life. Today may be just an ordinary day, but I have a chance to enjoy it and to make it productive. To me, patience is about more than just waiting for things that I want to happen—it also means living life to the fullest in the meantime. 

Right now I'm really looking forward to seeing my family again. I get to travel down to Tennessee this Christmas to visit with my mom, my sister, and my extended family. My dad lives abroad and will be coming to visit me in February, and I am hoping that I will get to go visit him sometime in the next year or two. In the meantime, though, I can still connect with my family in a meaningful way. I need to make sure I'm communicating with them regularly and that I'm involved in their lives to the greatest extent possible. It's always best when we're in the same place, but we can still have a special relationship even when we're not. I need to make sure I'm investing in my family now even while I'm waiting for the time when we'll be together again.

On a more long-term note, I'm impatient for the day when my husband finishes his grad school program and gets a regular job. That has to happen before we can do things like traveling, having children, or aggressively paying down our debt. I can't really switch jobs or focus on my own career until he gets established in his, so sometimes it feels like my life is in a holding pattern right now. In the meantime, I need to focus on the things I can do today instead of the things I have to wait for. Right now I can challenge myself to improve my marriage, develop new professional skills, work on personal projects, and learn new life lessons. I can concentrate on becoming a more disciplined Christian and a stronger, more mature person. Maybe I can't make a very big dent in my mortgage, but I can work on paying off my car early. Perhaps I can't travel the world, but I can discover new and exciting places and experiences in my own neighborhood.

I've realized that the future is most tantalizing when I'm dissatisfied with the present. Waiting for that special event or milestone isn't so terrible when I have enjoyable and fulfilling things to do in the meantime. I like having exciting things to look forward to in my life, but I also enjoy the everyday parts of my life too. It's really easy to daydream about the future (and I think it's OK to do that now and then), but it's much more productive to brainstorm about the present. What can I do to make today a day worth being excited about? There are a lot of wonderful things in my future, but there's also a lot to learn, experience, and enjoy in the meantime.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Administrative Note

I wanted to let you all know that because this blog has received a lot of spam comments lately, I'm going to have to start moderating the comments. There might be a delay between when your comment is submitted and when it appears, but I will try to approve them as quickly as possible. I assure you that I will not censor any legitimate comments. Thank you for understanding.

Smile, Smile, Smile

Life is better when I smile. Here are a few reasons why:
  • When I smile at other people, they smile back at me. I get the good feeling of knowing that my smile impacted them in some way, and I also get the positive energy of seeing someone else smile at me. Smiling is contagious, and it spreads positivity.
  • Sometimes my smile is kind of fake at the beginning, but then I start thinking of the reasons I have to really smile, and my mood slowly lifts until the smile is genuine. Making an effort to smile actually gives me the power to improve my mood. In fact, some studies suggest that smiling releases endorphins and actually chemically stimulates us to feel happier.
  • Smiling encourages others to respond more positively to me. When people see me smile, they assume that I am a happy, confident, and successful person. My interactions with others become easier when I smile at them. In fact, others are more likely to approach me or to engage in a conversation with me if I'm smiling.
  • Research shows that smiling may actually carry health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and boosting the immune system.
  • Often when I smile, I start thinking about God. That little surge of happiness I feel when I smile reminds me of how near God is and how His blessings are a constant part of my life. In a hectic day, a smile can remind me not to forget about God and His love.
  • Smiling makes me feel more beautiful. I know that people are looking at my smiling face and not scrutinizing my body for imperfections, and I feel that others can see my true self better when I am allowing it to shine through my smile. (I don't have to worry about this at my age, but someday I will care that smiling makes us look younger.)
  • When I smile at someone, I get a chance to communicate something to that person. Through my smile, I can encourage others to relax and let go of whatever pressures are causing them stress. I can tell them that it's a lovely day, that I'm happy to see them, that I wish their day will be blessed. I can affirm our common humanity and remind them that they are someone special, someone worth acknowledging. And I can do all of that in just a second or two, even if we can't stop and chat.
There are so many reasons for me to smile throughout the day. Sometimes I can get caught up in the stress and list of tasks I have to deal with and my face starts to droop, but I try to remember to perk myself up with a smile as often as possible. Smiling makes nearly everything I do easier and more enjoyable. So this is my little reminder to smile today!

    Sunday, December 6, 2009

    Becoming Spectacular

    I'm a reasonably good person. I try to make good decisions, and I usually manage to get through each day without doing anything heinous. I'm generally polite and frequently cheerful. I look OK and have decent clothes and acceptable hygiene. I'm a pretty intelligent person, and I have a variety of talents and skills that help me accomplish tasks and contribute positively to my community. I'm kind of like a really serviceable used car—one that's not too flashy but is dependable and gets good gas mileage. I'm not a clunker, but I'm no Porsche either.

    Most of the time I'm fine with being a more or less ordinary person who makes a modest impact in the lives of those around me. I don't waste a lot of time yearning to be a superstar or a genius. I have reasonable expectations of who I can be and what I can accomplish, and I'm generally at peace with that. Still, there is a part of me that dreams about bigger and better things and squirms with glee at the thought of the person I could become. I realize that I'm going to be an average person for quite a while, but I also know that eventually I'm going to become something spectacular, and that's pretty exciting. Through the saving grace of Jesus, I am going to become a new creation. God is already working in my life, and when He's finished I will be perfected. I will, in essence, become the best possible version of myself.

    I know that this transition is going to take a long time. I don't expect to reach my full potential until I join God in heaven. That's (probably) a long time away, but it's still an exciting promise. Whenever I feel frustrated by my limitations and imperfections, I can remember that I won't always have those problems. Someday God will completely erase the stain of sin from my life and will infuse me with holiness so that I can be what He always meant for me to be. I'm just the prototype right now, the working model. Improvements are coming.

    As I go through my daily life, I work to better myself. I learn new skills and try to train myself to be a better Christian. I exercise and watch my diet and get nice haircuts and the occasional pedicure. Still, I can only work with what I've got. I can try to make my body look its best, but I can't give myself an entirely different body. I can develop my singing talent, but I can't just give myself a natural aptitude for mathematics. I make little adjustments and take small steps to make myself the best little economy model that I can be, but God has the power to rebuild me from the ground up and turn me into something different. God can make sweeping changes in my life and give me power and attributes that I never had before. He can make me glorious where once I was plain and wise where once I was foolish. In my ordinary life, I can make myself pretty good, but God has the power to make me spectacular.

    What's amazing is that God actually wants to make me spectacular. He doesn't look at me and see a dinged-up little Christian—He sees a saint in the making. God is constantly aware of all of the incredible potential that he instilled in my soul when I was born. As I go through life putting dents in the beautiful creation God made in me, He does more than just beat out those dents—He cheerfully goes about making improvements and upgrades, shaping me to be something so incredible that only He can imagine it. God loves me as both the imperfect person that I am now and the gorgeous creation that I will someday become. As I go through life dealing with my struggles and weaknesses, I can find peace in the knowledge that I will someday be made perfect by the hand of my loving Creator.

    Right now, I'm normal. But someday, I will be spectacular.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Not an Island

    I grew up in a very independent culture where Christians (especially men) were encouraged to have a strong moral compass and to do whatever they felt was right no matter what anyone else thought. Stubbornness was often called conviction, and being swayed by others was decried as being wishy-washy. Everyone was supposed to have the answer to all of life's difficult questions and to proclaim that answer boldly and unswervingly as if absolutely certain it was correct. Engaging in conversation with others was frequently about firmly stating one's own position while not really listening to the other person's point of view. Asking for advice was often considered a weakness, and it seemed admirable to be strong and self-assured enough to make decisions unilaterally and without compromise.

    I don't really want to subject myself to that system because I'm smart enough to realize that I don't have all the answers. My moral compass is very important to me, but I realize that it might not always point true north. Sometimes I need help recalibrating it. That's why I benefit from actively listening to what other people believe in. Even if I end up disagreeing with someone, hearing that person's point of view can help me refine my own opinion.

    I have friends and family members who believe that belonging to the body of Christ isn't really all that important. Their one-on-one connection to God is what they care about, and they feel perfectly capable of navigating their faith journey with no one but Jesus for company. They think it's a good idea for them to set a good example by behaving morally, but they don't seem to be looking at anyone else's choices for guidance. Perhaps these people are less corruptible than I am, but I don't have enough confidence in my my ability to effectively listen to the Holy Spirit, wisely interpret Scripture, and make consistently sound judgments to think that going it alone is the best course for me. I do feel that I am relatively attuned to God's voice and reasonably gifted at applying the lessons in the Bible to my life, but I know that there will still be times when someone else will have a better idea of what God is saying about a particular issue than I do. When those times come, I need to listen to the thoughts of those who know things that I don't so that I can refine my beliefs and my opinions in order to better follow God.

    I think it's important to note that God spoke directly to the prophets, but then He used the prophets to communicate with the wider population. Today, God still speaks to us directly through the Holy Spirit, but He also speaks to us through other people. If we aren't listening to our neighbors with an expectation that they might have something valuable to say to us, then we might miss those messages. God does not deliver complete and thorough wisdom to all people. Instead he blesses each of us with unique insights and then bids us to go out and share that knowledge with each other. We can only make use of the insights that others provide if we admit we haven't got everything figured out yet. We need to be open to new information and willing to adjust our beliefs as new evidence arises.

    I'm not suggesting that Christians should blindly follow the crowd. Like Joshua, I am ready to declare before all people that no matter whom they choose to serve, my household and I will serve the Lord. Still, I am ready to admit that I don't have a comprehensive understanding of what serving the Lord entails for me. Making myself an active member of a larger body of believers does not mean that I am not giving away my ability to choose my own moral values. Rather it means that I am choosing to take the knowledge and beliefs of others into account when I choose which way I will go. No one can persuade me to abandon my loyalty from God, but others can help me understand how best to live out that allegiance.

    I am capable of being a good Christian on my own, but I am an even better Christian when I am an active part of a Christian community. I may have a strong moral compass, but it isn't infallible, and when I go astray others may be able to help me see the adjustments I should make. I will not try to be an island because I think I'm stronger when I place more value on others' ability to help me make good choices.

    Friday, December 4, 2009


    Tonight I am hosting a Christmas party for my friends. I've been eagerly preparing for this party all week, and I've been looking forward to it for months. I love a good celebration, and it will be wonderful to have so many loved ones together to share in my joy. My party tonight is the first of several parties I'll be attending in the next few weeks, and I'm looking forward to all of these events.

    It seems to me that there's always been an undercurrent in Christian thought implying that Christians should be serious and hardworking and that we should focus on being good servants of God, not on having a good time. While it's true that we shouldn't be partying all the time, I think the Bible clearly shows that God is in favor of a little healthy celebration from time to time. God appointed several feasts for the Jewish people, and Jesus even told parables in which God is illustrated as hosting His own parties whenever lost souls return to Him. Like the woman who found her coin, the shepherd who recovered his sheep, and the father of the prodigal son, God knows when it's time to throw a good party.

    God celebrates when sinners repent because His joy is too great to be kept inside. According to Jesus, even the angels join in the party because they share in God's joy. The people in Jesus' parables were just so excited that they needed loved ones to come celebrate with them. We feel that way at different points in our lives, and it's good and right for us to throw parties at those times so we can rejoice over the blessings we have received. We don't need something as momentous as a marriage or a new home to have an excuse to celebrate. Sometimes, like tonight, it's appropriate just to celebrate having valuable relationships and living in a world where we are blessed and redeemed by God. 

    It's important to note that Christian parties aren't about thrills, debauchery, or flaunting our affluence to our neighbors. Sure, there might be fun activities and good food, but the main attraction is the people with whom we celebrate. I'm throwing this party because I want to rejoice in the blessings I've received this year, and I want my loved ones to be a part of that joy. This celebration will bolster my soul for the work ahead and it will also provide positive energy for my guests. If I just wanted to have a good time on my own, I could book a lavish getaway for one, but I want to share the good time with other people. My joy is too great to be limited only to me. Sometimes I celebrate just with my husband or with a small intimate group, and tonight I'm throwing a party. There's a time and place for all kinds of celebration, but I find that it's the people that make these occasions special.

    Celebration is an important part of Christian life because it helps foster the joy that fuels us as we do our work. I don't think that celebration is something 'extra' that we do—I think it's essential to our lives as Christians. It's true that we can't party all the time because then we'd never get any work done, but we can't work all the time and forgo celebrations either. A little healthy fun is good for the soul. So I'm looking forward to feeding my soul with the joy that my friends and I will share at my party tonight.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    The Most Important Thing I Do Today

    I have a lot of things to do today. I've got to go to work, keep appointments, prepare (and consume) meals, and attend a rehearsal. In fact, I probably want to do more things today than I will actually be able to get done, so I need to mentally prioritize my list. Perhaps I can run some of my errands tomorrow or put off a couple of tasks until later. I have to decide which things on my to-do list are the most important so that I can prioritize them.

    As I sort through my mental list, I'm stopping now to ask myself a question. What is the most important thing I need to do today? I realize that at any given moment, I might give a different answer to that question. If I'm thinking of the tasks listed in my daily planner, I might pick the most pressing or time-consuming thing on the list and call it the most important. If I'm looking forward to doing something fun later today, I might choose that. If I'm thinking of the people I love, I might prioritize interactions with them. Or perhaps I will think of the quiet time at the end of the day when I say my nightly prayers. Writing this post could even be the most important thing I do today.

    We're all inundated with a lot of different ideas about what's most important in our lives. Some people urge us to put God first and some prioritize families or friends. Others promote careers and vocations or power and wealth. Society urges us to think about what makes us feel safest, happiest, and most comfortable and to make that the most important thing in our lives. So our priorities change to match whatever we need most at the moment. When we need help or direction, we focus on God. When we need love and support, we focus on relationships and community. When we need fulfillment or financial stability, we commit ourselves to careers or other tasks. We change our minds frequently about what's most important.

    Still, as a Christian, I know that the most important thing I have to do today never actually changes. I need to love God and love my neighbors. Everything else is secondary. Of course, love isn't a task that I can just get done and check off my list. If I truly want to make love my priority, then I need to support that goal through hundreds of choices I make throughout the day. Each act of love is the most important thing I can do in that moment. Maybe when I get up one morning I will think that completing a really big project at work is the most important thing I have to do that day, but at the end of the day I might realize that the words of encouragement to a coworker, letting someone go ahead of me in the shopping line, and the dinner I shared with my husband were all actually more important.

    I need to be willing to change my preconceptions and to alter my plans to make room for the most important moments in my day when they appear. Perhaps I'm in the middle of running an errand and I need to get to another store before it closes, but I'm stopped by an acquaintance who starts talking about a sick relative. Is it more important that I finish my shopping or that I graciously listen to this person's concerns? That answer may not be the same every time—maybe the shopping itself is an act of love that needs to get done promptly. Still, I need to be willing to pause and ask myself these questions as choices arise throughout the day. I shouldn't blindly stick to the priorities I set when I get up in the morning, because something more important may come up. Sometimes the most important things I do seem mundane or inconsequential on the surface, so I need to be able to pay attention so that I don't miss them. The rest of the world might not think it matters much whether I take time to chat with someone or to give a quick compliment or word of support, but as a Christian I recognize how important these things can be.

    Every moment I spend focusing on God and acting in love will be the most important moment of my day. I may have hundreds of "most important" moments each day, and I don't want to miss any of them. Even though these choices may not look very important to the casual observer, I have learned to see them for what they are—chances to reflect the beauty and goodness of God into ordinary life. When it comes down to it, receiving God's love and sharing it with others is the most important thing I do, and I get to do it every day.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009


    It often seems that I almost instinctively compartmentalize my relationships. I have my high school friends, my college friends, my church friends, my work friends, my family, and my in-laws, and these groups very rarely interact with each other. I recently started thinking about what can happen when these groups intersect each other as I was planning the Christmas party that my husband and I will throw on Friday. Last year's party involved some light intersections. There were some college friends who didn't know each other all that well and a few "townies" thrown into the mix. Still, everyone there was pretty much the same age, and it was a big group of young people who are mostly interested in all the same things hanging out together. This year, though, I have some new friends that I want to include who will introduce more variety into the group. I want to invite some church friends, and I've invited a couple of people who are quite a bit older and a couple who are a bit younger than most of the group. I wondered at first if these intersections of different groups of people who aren't usually together might make the guests a little uncomfortable, but then I remembered the unexpected benefits that have come from such intersections in the past.

    How many stories are there of friends and even spouses being introduced to each other by a mutual friend? When I mix loved ones from different places in my life together, there's always a chance that special connections can happen among them. I met my husband because he was introduced to me by a mutual friend. My sophomore year college roommate and I wanted to live in a triple our junior year, so I pulled in a friend my roommate had never met before. That turned out so well that the two of them lived together senior year when I had to live off campus. I have friends from Northfield that I never would have met had it not been for my college friends who also grew up here and introduced me to these people. I've made new friends by joining groups where I hardly knew anyone, and I've been really glad that some of my friends have introduced me to their other friends.

    Some of the happiness produced by these intersections has been more fleeting, but it's still worthwhile. I remember the toast my dad made at my wedding where he thanked my friends for making the day so special. I also remember what a great time some of my friends had when an older couple who are friends with my parents hosted them for my wedding. The couple loved having young people in their house, and my friends loved how nice they were and the fantastic breakfasts they made. I recall how two of my friends who don't know each other well had a lot of fun talking babies together at my Christmas party last year because one was a new mother and the other was expecting. I fully expect to hear more engaging conversations at this year's party as people who are different ages and have different professions and different lifestyles intersect and discover the things they have in common. These people seem very different to me because I interact with them in different environments and contexts, but when they all come together, they will inevitably find ways to relate to one another, and unexpected joy and engagement could be discovered.

    It's true that intersections can be a little strange for the person in the middle. I act differently with my college friends than I do with my church friends, and I talk about different things with my colleagues than I do with my family members. When I get people from these different groups together, they'll all see me behaving in new ways as I interact with people they're not used to seeing me with. Still, I think that can be good too. These intersections give all of my loved ones a chance to learn something new about me, to see how I behave in other relationships. It gives me a chance to be more honest about who I am and the different things I care about. I'm actually really looking forward to mixing all these different people together at my upcoming party because I love them all so much. I am confident that we will all have a fantastic time together.
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