Sunday, November 24, 2013

Life as a Masterpiece

A little over two months ago, I wrote about some changes happening in our lives after less than two months of marriage. At that time I had realized that in my life, it almost always took something perceived as bad to get me to someplace good, or at least to a place I needed to be. And so I resolved to tackle this change head-on, knowing that something better was ahead.

Sometimes I don't always remember the things I learn, even two months after I learn them. Because just this past week I was presented with another change, another situation initially perceived as bad, and my initial response was to wallow in feelings of sadness and failure. How easy it is to forget the truth when one little thing goes wrong.

So there I was this morning, sitting in church pouting to myself and feeling dissatisfied. I briefly thought I should snap out of it, but then decided I didn't want to. Why should I? I just wanted to soak in my unhappiness.

Then, once the sermon got underway, I had one of those moments where you feel like the sermon was written just for you, even though it's a series, so you know it wasn't. Or was it? Maybe God has a way of working through tiny things like that to speak to us where we are at, back of the church and all.

So the pastor starts teaching from Ephesians 2:1-10 and he has a catchy intro about Extreme Makeover shows and how this sermon is about Extreme Makeover: Spirit Edition and I think it's catchy but I'm not totally sold. Then toward the end he starts talking about how believers are God's masterpieces (which is what workmanship means), even when bad things happen.

He uses this illustration about a piano, how there are black and white keys and how the black keys have a sad, minor sound and for this illustration, represent the bad things that happen in our lives. Like if our lives were a song played out on the keys. But, he says, the black keys help fill out the song and give it depth and dimension and make it beautiful. He tells about how he was wondering if you could even play a whole song using just the white keys, and a pianist told him, yes, you could play "Chopsticks." And then he asks, "But who wants their life to be 'Chopsticks' for Jesus? Thank God for the black keys. Give thanks for all things, especially the hardships. That's what God uses to make our lives into something magnificent."

In that moment I knew there was a reason I dragged my moping self to church this morning, a reason why I needed to be there. I can either waste time looking backward at my life in the rear-view mirror, feeling sorry for myself and wishing things were different, or I can remember that a masterpiece includes the black keys, dark streaks of paint, pieces of clay cut off and cast away. I decided it was time to embrace the masterpiece that God is making, painful parts and all, and press forward. I don't know what he has planned next, but I'm so excited to find out.

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:10

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Best Thanksgiving

The best Thanksgiving I've ever been apart of happened during the '90s, in a little house that had been converted into classroom and nursery space for our church in Texas. It was named after a couple of saints, not the famous kind, just the real life kind.

Someone from our church had the idea of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for refugees living in Dallas. Of course my first thought was something like, "What, no Thanksgiving at home with family and football?" But, thank goodness, I got roped in.

We had at least five different kinds of meat because some had to be slaughtered in a specific way in order to be edible for some of the guests. There was so much food, piled on rows of folding tables, I really had no idea where it all came from.

Then the people began arriving. Most spoke little to no English, so interaction was limited, especially for me. I just smiled and helped and hoped everyone was having a good time. At that point in my life, I couldn't really understand what it was like being in a foreign place away from loved ones on any day, let alone a holiday. But it felt good to be doing something different for once, to be helping strangers and making the day about more than just me.

I got a little glimpse of Thanksgiving away from home over a decade later when I was living out in Colorado. And while I could speak the language, I wasn't spending the day with my family. In fact, I didn't have anyone to spend the day with at all. But some saintly folks made sure I wasn't alone and invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them, up in a little rented cabin in Estes Park.

I wasn't totally sure I should go, it always feels a little strange dropping in on other people's family time, but I knew I didn't want to spend the day alone. So I went, and it was the best decision I made. I was welcomed in, ushered to the front of the line, and made to feel more like a guest of honor than a tag-along. We talked about what we were thankful for, and on that day, I couldn't be more thankful for a welcoming group of near strangers.

Sometimes, that's all we need--a person or group of people to remember us on a day that is typically about family time and traditions. Sometimes, we need to be the ones to look for the lonely outcasts or those who are easily forgotten. It may be a group of refugees, or just a single person down the street who can't afford to travel home for every holiday. So before you map out your turkey day, is there someone like that, someone you can include in your celebration? It could possibly be the best Thanksgiving you've ever had.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Decade of Blogging: Who I Was to Everyone Else

Yesterday I went on a hunt to dig up my old blogs. I have this weird thing where I like to go back and read what I used to write about. It reminds me of who I was, where I've been and how much I've changed. In doing so, I realized I have now been blogging for 10 years. I really can't believe this has been going on for so long.

I basically grew up on blogs. They were a magical place where I could post a jumbled mix of emotions and thoughts and sometimes people would respond and sometimes they wouldn't.

My first blog was set up on LiveJournal in 2003 by my best friend at the time. And actually, all its embarrassing content is still floating out there in cyberspace. I used it mostly through 2004 before making the switch to Xanga, the blog everyone was using. It was sort of like a precursor to Facebook in some ways and a perfect place for me to log my college era angst. That blog is no longer living, as I found Xanga 2.0 is on its way. But thanks to the technology wizards, I was able to download all of my old posts and begin importing them into WordPress. (And yes, I am doing that. I couldn't bear to lose a little piece of my life. So now I have WordPress.) Then, sometime in 2006 I decided I needed a new LiveJournal blog, why I don't know, but it became even more angsty than Xanga. It was home to a lot of relationship drama-related rants, and still lives today. Last, I started this blog late in 2008. I think it started as an attempt at writing a column- and current events-style blog and morphed into the catch-all that it is today. I can safely say I am not planning on starting a new blog any time soon. :)

Looking back, I always liked the way blogs enabled me to connect with people on a different level. I'm sure some would say it's an impersonal way to connect, but I'd argue it can be very personal. At times my friends and I were writing our deepest, darkest thoughts, things we could only admit while safely tucked behind our computer screens. It gave just enough anonymity to provide boldness, but enough identity for people to know who we really were. And I think that's what we wanted, to be known as our truest selves.

I was the honest, sensitive learner. I was always trying to understand the things that were happening in my life, wrestle with those things I couldn't understand or control, and admit exactly where I was in life. It was my voice when I couldn't speak a word. Sometimes blogging was about celebrating life and sometimes it was about the fight to keep my head above water. Sometimes it was lighthearted and filled with random quotes. Sometimes it was bleak, lonely and filled with questions. But no matter what it was, it always managed to do one thing: bring me together with people who said they felt the same, and that was the best part about blogging.

I'll never forget how it feels to finish a post and have someone tell me that I put words to their feelings, or that they're going through the same thing or that they understand where I'm at. It's the sort of connection you don't always find in everyday life. It's the kind of connection that happens in the moments when you have to be still, quiet, and think. You can't finish someone else's sentences, you can't interrupt the moment. You can only write and read.

After being a journaler since I was seven, there's definitely something different and sometimes better about blogging. When I go back and read a journal, I see who I was to myself. When I go back and read a blog, I see who I was to everyone else. I see a part of me that sought to be known and understood, that sought to wrestle through life with friends by my side. And I see the responses. Sometimes simple comments, sometimes emotional reflections, each special in their own way. And then I'm glad I was a blogger. I'm glad I can go back and re-read those moments where I grew up.
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