Saturday, November 28, 2009


An acquaintance recently saw me working on a Christmas present I'm making for a friend. The piece in question was a little labor-intensive, and as he watched me working on it, the acquaintance said he was impressed that I was investing so much effort and creativity into this small project. I explained that putting in the effort was the only way to get the result I wanted.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that I'm lazy sometimes. I've been known to cut corners or do sloppy work on occasion. I may choose to take the easy way out by buying things instead of making them or paying someone else to do tasks I don't want to bother with. There are plenty of things that I do because I have to, but if I don't really care about them, I'm not motivated to put in my best effort. When I am motivated, however, I'm willing to devote a lot of time and attention to getting all the details of a project just right, and I've discovered that love is the strongest motivator in my life. I'll bother with all kinds of picky details and elaborate projects for a chance to touch a loved one's life. When I'm focused on the love I feel for the beneficiary, it's not even a bother anymore. I'm happy to devote hours to these projects, because the whole time I am filled with joy at the happiness my efforts could bring to the people I love.

I don't do everything the hard way, but I like to pull out the stops now and then so that my loved ones can see that I care about them. When you get down to it, Christian love is about bothering to do things that you don't really have to do. I could choose to keep my time, talents, and energy for myself, but when I share it with others I get a chance to be a blessing by sharing God's love. I could go through life doing the minimum required to get by, but when I bother to go above and beyond, I find joy. It's no trouble to put in extra effort when I get a reward in return through the emotional and spiritual boost I feel. Frankly, considering how good it feels to go that extra mile for the benefit of others, I really ought to "bother" more often.

When my loved ones enjoy the things that I invested effort in doing for them, I hope that they understand how happy it makes me feel to do that. It's true that I have sacrificed time, effort, or sometimes even money that I might have used for other pursuits, but I did that because I thought it was worth it. Guilt and obligation are not strong enough motivators to get me to do something special, so if I bothered to go the extra mile, it's because I care. Even if I don't get to enjoy someone's reaction to whatever I have done for them, I always get to enjoy the wonderful feeling inside me as I do the work to prepare the gift. Bothering to give others something special gives me joy, and that's why I do it.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Today, millions of Americans will open up their refrigerators and come face to face with leftovers from yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner. Some of those people will dive into the leftovers with enthusiasm, some will reluctantly pull them out with a sense of resigned obligation, and some will ignore them and eventually just throw them away. Some people love leftovers and intentionally make or order big meals so that they can spare themselves the effort of cooking over the next couple of days or so they can enjoy their favorite dishes more than once. Other people hate leftovers and will never eat them.

The idea of leftovers got me thinking about some of our larger cultural values. There is an undercurrent of traditional frugality and practicality in our society that tells us we should get every ounce of enjoyment possible out of the things we buy and that we should avoid waste at all cost. Yet, there's also a competing message coming from advertisers telling us that old things are no good and that we constantly need something new. One voice says, "Eat every last scrap of that turkey and be glad you don't have to cook today!" and the other says, "You had that meal yesterday. Today you need something different, something fresh." These voices are weighing in on more than our decisions about food. We hear them every time we think about the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, or even the jobs we have. The idea of getting the total possible value out of what we already have competes with the excitement of having something new and different.

Questions about whether to choose old or new even come into play in our interpersonal relationships and our religious practices. Does it feel like we're having the same experiences and connections over and over again? If so, is that a happy and comfortable feeling, or are we bored? When I ask myself these questions, I realize that I tend to want a balance of old and new in my life. I really like having leftovers sometimes, but I don't necessarily want to eat the same meal for a week. Likewise, I love having familiar routines and steady relationships in my life, but I also like to spice things up now and then. I want to try to get the best of both worlds—to enjoy the things I already have as much as I can while regularly adding new things into the mix. I don't need to experience something new and different every day, but I also want my life to be more than a constant series of leftovers. I want to be practical yet adventuresome, to have variety while still being economical.

When it comes down to it, I guess I'm not universally for or against leftovers. I don't need to always stick with something until I can get nothing else out of it, and I don't have a constant desire to get new things. I like to balance my life out by having leftovers sometimes. As for today, though, I think I'll be pro-leftovers. It is the day after Thanksgiving, after all, and the leftovers are pretty good!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Today is Thanksgiving, and I think it's great that I have this chance to reflect on all the good things that have happened in my life this year. I am so blessed, and today I remember the incredible gifts of love that have changed my life for the better. My list of gratitude will be incomplete, but I think it's important for me to gather at least a partial collection of my blessings here so that I can remember some of the reasons I have to be thankful today.

Today I am thankful for:
  • My relationship with God. I've felt God's hand in my life very strongly this year, and it's been a very comforting sensation. When I've felt discouraged, God has given me strength, energy, and good cheer. He's helped me see the beauty in the world all around me and even the beauty inside myself. He's clearly answered some of my most heartfelt prayers and given me straight paths to follow.
  • My husband. I am married to a man who tells me he loves me every single day, and he says the words with a deep conviction and sincerity. He is the only person I know (apart from my parents) who is constantly overflowing with affection for me and who always believes that I am beautiful and worthwhile. Living with this kind of consistent morale-booster makes a phenomenal difference in my life, and I am so happy that I have begun to fully understand and appreciate this year the gifts that my husband gives me every day.
  • My family members. My parents may actually be my biggest fans. I have had special conversations with them this year that I might not have believed possible a year ago. They are such wonderful emotional and spiritual resources to me. I also really appreciate how special it is to have a sister who is also my friend. The more I reconnect with my family, both close and extended, the more I realize what a valuable resource they are. I am happy that technology like phones, e-mail, and Facebook allows me to have contact with my relatives who live far away from me. 
  • My friends. I'm not exactly a social butterfly, but I really do have a lot of friends. I reaffirmed some relationships this year and celebrated the birth of some new ones. I have so many people in my life who care about me, spend time with me, and connect with me on a personal level. I can't even convey how much that means to me. I am the sort of person who fears being alone, but I so rarely feel isolated anymore because I have so many wonderful people in my life. Each one of you is a special gift from God, and I love you so much.
  • My church. I have never felt so connected to the Body of Christ as I do today. I have often struggled to fit into faith communities, but I finally feel like I belong. I go to church with so many wonderful, welcoming, spiritual people, and I love being among them. This year I really started to appreciate what it means to be part of such a loving and supportive faith community, and I'm thankful for that. 
  • Financial security. My husband and I don't have much in the way of savings, and we've got a mortgage and student loan debt to pay. Still, we don't have any credit card debt, we both have stable jobs, and we haven't missed any payments or had to do without any essentials this year. I feel so blessed to be able to provide for my needs and downright privileged to be in a position to increase our charitable contributions for 2010. I have a comfortable home, nutritious and tasty food, a reliable vehicle, and attractive clothes, and I feel really lucky to have all of that.
  • My health. I am young and healthy, and after losing more than 50 pounds this year, I'm in the best shape of my life! I feel wonderful, and I really enjoy being able to do physical activities that used to be much more difficult for me. I am so grateful for the doctors, dieticians, and personal trainer who helped me get in shape. It's such a relief to know that I am at a low risk for most potential medical problems.
  • Special experiences. This year I did a lot of fun things. I watched one of my favorite films of the year in a beautiful theater where they served food during the movie. I sang karaoke for the first time in five years. I ate chocolate chip pancakes once. I sang and played beautiful music throughout the year. I passed the Adult Basic 1 ice skating test. I learned to contra dance. I went to a dog park for the first time. I hosted a Back to the Future marathon with my friends. I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I saw Harry Potter: The Exhibition. I participated in a musical. I attended a beautiful and intimate St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert. I discovered how fun it can be to shop in consignment stores. I hiked down to a waterfall with my mom and sister and drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I discovered new books, movies, and music. I laughed and cried with people I love.
  • Lessons learned. I've learned a lot about love, faith, and relationships this year. I'm grateful to have this blog as a space to document some of those lessons. I've also picked up new practical and professional skills and completed a variety of projects. I'm grateful for all the opportunities I've had to grow this year.
All in all it's been a really great year, and I have a lot to be thankful for. I hope I get a chance to share my joy with those around me today and in the days to come.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Trading My Sorrow

    My college had a praise band called Mustard Seed. This band had worship performances every Monday night. We could all sing along, pray, or even dance as we were moved to do so. I loved going to these weekly meetings because they were such excellent stress relief. I was under a lot of pressure, both academic and emotional, in college, and sometimes I just needed to get all of my fears and doubts out of my system and to revel in the feeling of being close to a God who could make everything in my life better.

    Mustard Seed had original songs written by its members, and they also did popular contemporary Christian music. They introduced me to this song, that has been performed by several different Christian music acts. It's one of my favorites when I'm feeling defeated, harried, or sad, so I'd like to share the lyrics here. (I believe that this song was written and debuted by Darrell Evans, but I found many different versions of it on iTunes. I highly recommend any version of this song for any Christian who's looking for a pick-me up.)

    Trading My Sorrows

    I'm trading my sorrow
    I'm trading my shame
    I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

    I'm trading my sickness
    I'm trading my pain
    I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

    And we say yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord
    Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord
    Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord, Amen!

    I'm pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned
    Struck down but not destroyed
    I'm blessed beyond the curse, for His promise will endure
    And His joy's gonna be my strength

    Though the sorrow may last for the night
    His joy comes with the morning

    I'm trading my sorrow
    I'm trading my shame
    I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

    I'm trading my sickness
    I'm trading my pain
    I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord

    And we say yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord
    Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord
    Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord, Amen!

    I know that there will be times when I will feel pressed, struck down, or cursed. I will sometimes be sad or ashamed. But God gives me the chance to trade in my sorrows for His joy. What an incredible gift! Recently I've felt frustrated because I feel like I'm not accomplishing a lot in my life right now. I want to make a difference and to change the world as a loving servant of Christ, but I feel so helpless and impotent. Yet, when I take these frustrations before God, He renews my spirit and brings me peace again. I might be in a difficult place in my life where it feels like I'm spinning my wheels, but God has good things in store for me. Though sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes with the morning. Yes, Lord, I will trade my sorrow for your joy! Amen!

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009


    Sometimes I'm really glad that we humans don't know everything. It can be really frustrating to be in the dark sometimes, it's true, but it's also really exhilarating to discover something we didn't know before. There is so much in this universe that I have never experienced or imagined. When I consider that, I could feel small and insignificant, and sometimes I do. But more often I think with excitement of all that's out there for me to discover, of the infinite possibilities that will ensure that my life never becomes completely boring or predictable.

    Sometimes just the dream of discovery gives me joy. I think about what it would be like to ride a camel through Petra or to sleep in a cave in the Amazon. I imagine what it would feel like to stand on the Great Wall of China or to ride a horse along a pristine Caribbean beach. I may never actually get to visit all of these places, but the idea that they're out there still gives me joy. Even if I become a prolific world traveler, I will never get to see everything in the world, and that's amazing! That means that no matter where I go and what I do, there will always be something new to see, mysteries still to uncover, adventures still to have. I will never have to feel like I've "finished" life, like there's nothing left to do or see. When I consider the wondrous multitude of life and geography that God put in this world for us to discover, I feel giddy at the idea of such a fantastic gift.

    Even my everyday life offers multitudes of little adventures. I recently made gingerbread cookies for the first time, and this Thanksgiving I'm baking my first pumpkin pie. I've also been discovering how to make fun new things in my quest to craft Christmas presents for my friends. Those creative endeavors led me to discover the little craft store in my town, and along with it several other businesses that were on a street I'd never visited before. I've joined a book group and am discovering new ideas and thoughts through the books we discuss. I learn new things through the conversations I have with friends and colleagues every day. All of these things give me little bursts of joy. I gleefully tell others about the fascinating new things I'm learning, I sing happily as I try new recipes, and I proudly show off each new creation to my husband. Even if I never travel to exotic locales, my everyday life will keep providing plenty of new discoveries to keep me excited.

    I love sharing my discoveries with other people. Trying out a new recipe is fun, but it's even more fun to cook with a friend and to share the outcome with others. Travel is wonderful, but I want to have someone with me when I discover new places so we can excitedly grab each other and point at something neat and say, "Look at that!" I love learning something new and then getting the chance to tell someone who will also find it interesting all about it. I love seeing a mirror of my own joy on the faces of others when they revel in their own discoveries. It's a special treat when people seek me out to share their excitement with me and to show me the new things they're learning and experiencing. I'll bet Adam enjoyed discovering new things in Eden much more when he had Eve to share them with. God has also given us the gift of community, so we'll always have someone with whom to share our discoveries and our adventures.

    God has blessed us with curiosity and creativity, and He's given us an inexhaustible supply of mysteries and wonders to fuel those traits. In doing so, I think God has even given Himself a chance to enjoy Himself. Having made creation, God is intimately familiar with all of it, so there aren't any discoveries for Him to make. Still, when I consider my own joy at sharing in the discoveries of others, I suspect that perhaps God is also joyful as he watches us frolicking through His creation like children on an Easter egg hunt. "What wonderful new thing will we discover next?" we ask each other gleefully, and our radiant Father watches to see which part of His magnificent gift to us we will discover and enjoy next.

    Monday, November 23, 2009


    This summer I bought the debut album of an Irish rock group called The Script. My favorite song on the album is titled "Breakeven." It's an angsty song about a man who's taking a recent breakup a lot harder than his ex-girlfriend. She's happy, but he's still hurting. He laments, "When a heart breaks, it don't break even." Perhaps this song resonates particularly strongly with me because I've come to realize that love isn't fair. Sometimes relationships hurt us, and we may suffer while the other person is just fine. We may never be able to heal the scars or to "break even" by coming back to the place we were before we got hurt. Love isn't about what we deserve or what's fair.

    I have received a handful of emotional injuries from which I may never fully recover in my lifetime. Most of these scars did not originate from any malicious intent but were simply by-products of imperfect people engaged in imperfect relationships. Within a loving Christian life, there is no way for me to demand retribution for the pain inflicted on me (both knowingly and unknowingly) by others. I have no power to break the hearts of those who have broken my heart. I can't get even. We can try to comfort ourselves with the idea that 'what goes around comes around,' but justice won't heal our broken hearts. Only love can do that.

    I may not be able to break even, but through love I can move forward. When I hear a painful criticism or judgment from someone I loved replaying inside my head, I can remember the God, family members, and friends who love me in spite of my imperfections. When I recall the friend who turned on me unexpectedly, I can console myself by engaging even more joyfully in the many fruitful and rewarding relationships I have today. If I should find myself dwelling on the painful rejections that I have received in my life, I can turn instead to the Savior who loved me enough to lay down his life for me, the husband whose love is a remarkable constant in my life, and the people all around me who appreciate the contributions that I make to their lives. I cannot undo or eradicate the emotional injuries I have received, but the more love I give and receive, the less I notice the pain from those old wounds.

    It can be hard not to want vindication when I get hurt. Sometimes I just want to stand up to the people who have hurt me and say, "See? I'm a beautiful and successful person! You should have valued me more!" I want to prove to them what a big mistake they made, as if they could admit they were wrong and the injury would just disappear. I've realized, however, that I cannot waste my life trying to disprove anyone who's ever hurt me. Instead of trying to demonstrate that I'm worth loving, I want to just get out into the world and love people. Maybe I would enjoy feeling vindicated, but I'd rather live so passionately that I largely forget that these injuries ever happened. I'd like to drown my sorrows in love and chase my insecurities away with an active and fruitful Christian life. I can't break even, but no heartbreak can stop me from continuing to grow in love.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Make New Friends, but Keep the Old

    The Girl Scouts taught me something very important: "Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold." We used to sing this little song as a round when I was in the Brownies in first grade. I don't think that I actually realized at the time what the song was really about, but I've come to learn the truth in these words over the years.

    There was a time in my life when I was part of a very tightly-knit group of friends. We were all going through some emotional issues, and sometimes being a part of that group was difficult for me. Some people who cared about me advised me that it might be a good idea for me to get some new friends since I was under a lot of pressure from my current circle of friends. They were right—I needed to introduce some fresh perspectives into my life and to spend time with people who were different from the people who were emotionally draining me. I think that those who advised me to get new friends were suggesting that these new friends should replace my old friends, but that's not what I decided to do. I did need a little relief, so I started spending more time with new friends and a little less with my old ones, but this was simply an act of balance. Eventually the pressures in my relationships with my old friends eased, and we grew closer again. I needed to make new friends, but my old friends were far too valuable to me to be replaced.

    I've realized that relationships change over time. There is an ebb and a flow to friendship that is dictated in part by things like geography and age. When friendships change, however, that doesn't mean we should ditch them in favor of a new and fresh relationship. I enjoy the excitement of making new friends and meeting people who are at the same places in life that I am. Still, there's something incomparably comforting about having old friends who know me inside and out even if we've grown apart a bit in recent years. I've realized that balance is very important and that's why I need both old and new friends. I need all different kinds of friends who can help make me a well-rounded individual. I have friends I can call when I need to hang out and do something fun. I have friends I can call when I need advice. I have friends I can call when I need to hear a familiar voice or to immerse myself in someone else's life for a while.

    Whether old or new, a friend is something precious that I must not take for granted. When a new friend calls me and asks me to lunch, I should realize what a great opportunity that is and seize it joyfully. When I sit next to an old friend and we have a long conversation by saying very little, I should be struck with wonder at what years of love can do. Today I have a strong network of friends both old and new, and they are even more precious to me than silver and gold. My most valued possessions may someday tarnish, break, or disappear, but the love my friends give me will always be in my heart, even long after they are gone. I thank God every day for my friends. They make such an incredible difference in my life.
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