Right On Track

I never meant to run track. In fact, I wanted to be a softball player, just like my mom. She’d been a star high school pitcher and even went on to play in college. Although I knew a career in the NCAA was out of my league, I figured that I could at least make the BVHS roster. However, I forgot to factor in a few minor details.

1)      I couldn’t throw overhand. For years I had tried, but to no avail. My arm simply wouldn’t cooperate. And apparently, throwing is an important part of softball.

2)      Batting was a challenge. Although I could zip around the bases with semi-remarkable speed, I had a hard time getting on them. Which is kind of essential.

3)      Try-outs aren’t my forte. Something about performing athletically under pressure—and the watchful eye of a coach—makes me really nervous. As a result, the week of try-outs was disastrous. During the pitching session on Monday morning, I got nailed in the head with a softball. And it was all downhill from there. By the way, the term “softball” is a misnomer; they are definitely not soft.

Needless to say, my high-school softball career was short-lived. And by that I mean that it never even existed. Somehow I made the C-team, (I think the coach felt sorry for me because of the large bruise on my forehead), but even that didn’t last long. After a week of failing miserably at practice, I faced the warm-up music and realized that Kansas 5A softball wasn’t for me.

But I’ve never been one to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs, so I needed something else to do. And that’s when my former volleyball coach suggested I go out for track. At this point, I’d never run more than a couple miles at a time—and even then I thought I might die. Freshman year I started to run a little; volleyball conditioning and PE class had whipped me into better shape. (At the end of the year fitness test, I decided to run the mile with the guys instead of the girls. But at the starting line, I accidentally tripped Matt Sobcyzinski, and he fell on his face. I still feel bad about it). Anyway, I’d always been athletic, but I had never considered myself a runner. So I took her advice and came to practice. And that’s when I fell in love with running.

Scratch that. I fell in love-hate with running.

You see, running is not an easy-to-love sport. Yes, you can love the results of running, or you can love the satisfaction of finishing a race or a difficult route. But with the exception of a few top athletes (or clinically crazy folks), you can’t always love running. Because running is hard; it’s exhausting. Heck, it involves breaking down the bonds between your muscles and depriving them of oxygen for extended periods of time. Yuck. Though rewarding, running isn’t always pleasant. But for some reason, I keep doing it. Why? Great question.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote about running, and his words might hold a few clues. I don’t know if he competed in the first annual Nike sandal 10K, or if he was part of the “run barefoot” movement, but he understood running and my paradoxical relationship with it. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, he urges believers to “run in such a way as to get the prize” and to “rejoice when [they] run into trials and problems, because they develop endurance” (Romans 5:3). But my all-time favorite Paul-ism on running comes from Philippians 3,

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Just like I’m more motivated to run if I’m training for a specific race or goal, Paul encourages us to run with the end in mind. If I sign up for a half-marathon in July (which would be crazy since July is ridiculously hot!), my likelihood of running consistently skyrockets. Having a tangible goal is essential to successful training. Otherwise, I’ll take every chance to eat that bag of potato chips rather than jog around the block. But if I have a race ahead of me, suddenly my workouts take on a whole new meaning and purpose. I’m no longer running aimlessly or just for the heck of it; no, I’m running to win… or at least a finisher’s medal.

In the same way, Paul urges us to run with purpose. Don’t look backward; that’s a great way to face-plant. Instead, look ahead and press on toward Christ. HE is your goal; HE is your prize. Keep your eyes fixed on Him, and run for all you’ve got. No, it won’t always be fun. Yes, you may trip or get a shin splint or two. You will get tired, and you will be frustrated sometimes. But in the end when you cross that heavenly finish line, you’ll hear the saints and your Savior cheering your name.

So in the meantime, “we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message).

I’ll see you on the track. 🙂

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The Five (Million) Second Rule

Life has a lot of rules. Some of them are written down, like the Ten Commandments or the “No Diving” sign at the pool. Others, though, fall into the common knowledge category. Here are some examples:

When in a crowded elevator, look straight forward with gaze slightly above eye-level. Keep your elbows in. And don’t you dare pass gas.

Look both ways before crossing the street. And if you’re vacationing in the UK, look again just to be safe. (Hint: Oncoming traffic will be coming from the right. Winston Churchill made this mistake; you could too.)

If it’s stuck to the bottom of a park bench, don’t eat it. The gum’s pretty color doesn’t change its “ABC” status. In case you missed kindergarten,  that stands for “Already Been Chewed.” Sick nasty.

Finally, there’s the Five-Second Rule. This one really needs no explanation because we all know it and most of us follow it. Although this rule comes with a few possible variations, such as the Three-Second Rule, the Eight-Second Rule, and, in extreme cases, the No-Second Rule. In short, if a piece of food has been on the ground or other unwanted surface for more than __X___ number of seconds, it’s no longer fit for consumption. Or put simply, DO NOT EAT IT. The length of time may vary based on the nature of the food, its level of stickiness, the cleanliness of the environment, the location (i.e., at home or in a public restroom), and other similar factors. But the one underlying principle doesn’t change: Food can become too contaminated for us to eat. Unless maybe you’re from Louisiana….

As the daughter of an anti-pathogen activist (also known as a germaphobe), I observe the Five-Second Rule with strict adherence, oftentimes leaning more toward the No-Second variety. However, occasionally, against my better anti-bacterial judgment, I make an exception. To be eaten by me after contamination, the food must be incredible, irreplaceable, and scrumdidilyumptious. Such an event is noteworthy and rare, like what happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in Norman, Oklahoma (another rare event, especially for an OSU alum). It was early, and I was leaving the home of my dear friend and former co-counselor Lydia. And I was hungry. Fortunately, though, I had anticipated this moment a few days before while in Stillwater, where I purchased an extra cinnamon roll from Spudnuts.  Since most of the world hasn’t been lucky enough to eat a Spudnut, let me enlighten you about these heavenly pastries. Made from a secret recipe from elves from Germany using potato flour, these donuts don’t just melt in your mouth; they melt your mouth. And to top it all off, they are basically gluten free. Which means that I LOVE them. Unfortunately, though, Stillwater is my closest source for Spudnuts and since I don’t make the I-35 trek very often anymore, my Spudnut encounters are few and far between. However, in a moment of brilliant foresight, I bought an extra cinnamon roll to eat in Lydia’s driveway. And that’s when things got a little “Spud-nutty.”

If I had to wager, I’d bet that 99% of the cinnamon-roll-eating population eats them the same way: From the outside in. I’m no exception to this; I like to eat the outer layers before savoring the ooey, gooey, cinnamon-y center. That morning, I followed this usual pattern with my Spudnut,. I was just about to eat the middle when—BAM!—gravity suddenly cut in.

As if in slow motion, the center of the Spudnut slipped off the remaining outer shell and fell from my hand. Desperately, I reached out to save it, but in my frantic state, I only managed to redirect its fall (and get icing on my arm). Heartbroken, I looked down, expecting to see the ooey, gooey object of my longing covered with countless nasty things from the floorboard. But then I found it! Instead of falling to the land of the No-Second Rule, the Spudnut rested in the space between my seat and the door, miraculously not touching anything disgusting. After close examination, I declared it worthy of consumption, and I enjoyed the last bite of my Spudnut cinnamon roll. Mmmm, delicious. Then a thought interrupted my moment of glucose-induced bliss:

God has no Five-Second Rule.

At first glance, that may seem condemning. “Of course,” you might think, “God is judgmental and angry, like a dad I can never please. I’ve messed up so many times; there’s no way He would ever want me.” But that’s not the point at all. No, quite on the contrary. God doesn’t have a Five-Second Rule; He has a Five-MILLION Second Rule!!!

You see, God loves you. Even though you’ve messed up. In fact, the Bible says that God proves His love by sending Christ to die for us while we were sinners. He doesn’t look for people who are perfect; He’s not interested in the trophies in your case or the zeroes at the end of your paycheck; He wants you.  Exactly as you are. No matter what you’ve done. No matter where you’ve been. If you have Jesus Christ as your Savior, nothing, I repeat nothing, can separate you from His love. It’s too unwavering, too unconditional, too unconventional and too unrelenting. You may feel like squished pea on the floor; even if you weren’t stuck to the ground, no one would want you anyway. But that’s not how your Heavenly Father sees you. To Him, you’re the center of the cinnamon roll, the most important thing on His plate, so to speak. He cares about you more than you can even imagine, and He isn’t going to let you go. So quit running away, quit making excuses, and quit buying into the enemy’s lies and run. Run to Him. Cry out to Him. Ask Him to pick you up again.

And when you do, you’ll see something amazing: He’s been holding you all along. 🙂

A Glimpse of Grace

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Grace.

One of those Christian-ese terms that you often hear at church or in worship songs. While most Christians would tell you that they know what grace is, they probably wouldn’t be able to explain it. Why not? Because most of us have a vague idea about grace, but we don’t fully grasp it. After all, articulation is the litmus of comprehension. In other words, if you can’t explain a concept to someone else, you don’t really understand it.

When it comes to grace, I generally fall into the perplexed category. Although I wouldn’t call myself the governor of the “state of confusion,” I definitely have a local address, especially regarding grace. That’s because grace is more than just a far-off theological term or a prayer you say before chowing down. Not only is grace an integral part of the Gospel and, but it also plays an essential role in our lives. And that can make it difficult to grasp. Like a zoomed-in camera lens, we find ourselves too close to see the entire “grace picture.” Sometimes, though, God hoists us on His shoulders, giving us the bird’s-eye-view. In these moments, we catch a glimpse of grace. For me, Wednesday April 18th held one such moment.

For a week and a half, I’d been denying the existence of my combined sinus and ear infection, hoping that it would get bored and leave me alone. But finally after twelve hours of difficulty in swallowing, I broke down and went to my local Walgreen’s Take Care Clinic. Here the kindhearted nurse practitioner Shelley took care of me (no pun intended) and told me that, yes, I did indeed have a sinus and ear infection (Note: When infected, your eardrums look bloodshot. Weird, huh?). After fifteen minutes of friendly conversation and symptom checking, she sent me happily on my way. She even called in the prescription at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, so I could pick it up on my way home. Wonderful.

Looking at my watch, I realized that I was within the 2-4 p.m. Sonic happy hour, so I treated myself to a strawberry Limeade. Then I remembered that I had wedding gifts to purchase. Since Target was conveniently located right behind Sonic, I dropped in. Ten minutes later, I strolled up to the nearest register with an 8-pack of Sterilite mixing bowls and a set of four glasses in hand. My mission was almost complete.

Then my sweet cashier, bless his heart, offered to bag my gifts. No sooner had I said, “Sure,” did I hear the sickening thud and clank of the glasses, in their box, hitting the linoleum floor. More striking, though, than the sound of my purchase colliding with the ground was the expression on my cashier’s face. I could almost feel his heart sink as he quickly picked up the box to survey the damage. That’s when I noticed his “New Team Member” sticker where his name tag should have been. Poor kid. I drop things all the time. What if it were my first day on the job? Dropping a set of four glasses would have been my greatest fear. And that’s exactly what he did. Together we opened the box and checked all the glasses: Not a mark on any of them! Hallelujah! Smiling, I told him not to worry about it, that I would still take the glasses. He sighed with relief.

Thirty minutes later, I walked out of Wal-Mart, antibiotic in hand, and slid into my little red Volvo. As I started to back out of the parking space, I noticed a man in my rearview mirror. He was signaling me that I was clear to go. Normally, I am an incredibly cautious and competent driver. I’d never been in an accident; I’d never hit anyone or anything. But as I watched him motion me backward, I must have gotten distracted because, before I knew it, I heard the sickening sound of impact. My fender had just sideswiped the bumper and wheel of the car next to me. Shoot. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the traffic-director man then said, “That’s my car.” Double shoot. Every time I enter or leave a parking space and the car next to me has people in it, I hold my breath because I’m terrified of hitting them; it’s my greatest parking-lot fear. And that’s exactly what I did. Needless to say, my heart sank.

The next few minutes were a blur. He rushed over to examine his car. I called my mom to ask about insurance. His wife and newborn baby appeared from inside the store. As I was simultaneously trying to explain the situation to my mom and offering profuse apologies to them, the man and his pretty wife looked closer at the damage. The red mark from my Volvo came easily off the hubcap, and only a small paint scratch remained on the vehicle itself. When I asked if they wanted my insurance information, they said that a claim would only raise both our rates, and a paint scratch wasn’t worth the trouble. I gave them my name and number nonetheless and told them to contact me if something changed, but they told me repeatedly that it was fine and I didn’t need to worry. It wasn’t until after I’d backed out successfully and moved into an empty area that the tears began to fall.

Grace. In the span of sixty minutes, I’d given it and received it. And began to better understand it.

If asked, most Christians would probably define grace as “getting something you don’t deserve,” like a gift. And while I think that definition holds true to an extent, it also falls pitifully short. It fails to capture the emotion, the will and the heart behind it. Grace isn’t like purchasing a wedding gift or a birthday present, which is a one-time, semi-obligatory display of kindness. No, it’s a conscious decision, driven by compassion, to tell someone that it’s okay, that they are okay, and that they don’t have to worry because everything is going to be alright. It’s the choice to give a smile instead of a reprimand, a hug instead of a slap. It’s unexpected. It’s unwarranted.  It’s completely contrary to human nature. And that’s exactly why when Jesus calls us to be ambassadors for His Gospel, He wants us to be agents of His grace. Mercy triumphs over judgment, and God’s grace saves us.

Which I guess makes it pretty darn “amazing.” 🙂

Party in the US-eh?

It’s my least favorite time of the year.

Or rather, it’s my least favorite time every four years. That’s right; it’s election time.

Yes, I realize that Election Day isn’t until next November, which is still way off in the distant (but here before we know it) future. Honestly, I don’t mind the actual Election Day. I wouldn’t call it my favorite quadrennial 24-hour period; however, it doesn’t arouse feeling of intense antipathy like the true object of my loathing: Pre-Election season. Maybe “loathe” is too strong a word (I am rather prone to hyperbole), but it does frustrate and aggravate me. Why?

My first reason is simple: conflict and I don’t get along. As you might remember from my family’s great Southwest misadventure, I don’t enjoy conflict. Whereas some people might drink it up like a Route 44 during Sonic’s “Happy Hour,” conflict is not my cup of tea.  (Fun fact: America’s first Sonic Drive-In is located in Stillwater, Oklahoma. There’s also another one less than a mile down the road. Too much of a good thing? I think not. 🙂 ). Hence, the pre-election season of inter- and intra-partisan conflict makes me want to hit the road rather than drink it in.

However, I understand that conflict can be healthy and, because everyone is wired differently, people aren’t going to agree on everything. In a free country, the ability to express our opinions without fear is one of our most precious rights. Peaceful discussion is a positive response to conflict. I’m not suggesting that politicians circle up, hold hands and lead our nation in a round of Kum-ba-yah, but I believe we can be a bit more civilized in our approach to politics. For instance, mud is nice. Mud is harmless. Mud belongs on the ground, where it can help pretty flowers grow. Mud does not need to be slung at other people; it’s all fun and games until someone loses a contact—or their reputation. When political debate degenerates into name-calling and opponent-bashing, its value depreciates, and my confidence in the candidates drops significantly. On the other hand, if candidates present well-reasoned points, seek to emphasize their own strengths, and don’t focus unnecessarily on their opponents’ weaknesses, I can take them more seriously.

Finally, I highly dislike the pre-election pandemonium because, to me, it highlights not our progress but our shortcomings. Please don’t get me wrong; I love my country. I am so blessed and thankful to live in a land of freedom, opportunity, and more blessings than I can even begin to enumerate or appreciate. However, for all our successes, we also fall incredibly, terribly, and decidedly short. Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, you can find flaws in our country’s system. Whether in foreign policy, moral issues, involvement or lack of involvement, the U.S. has disappointed you somehow and to some degree. This makes complete sense. Human beings aren’t perfect; therefore, anything we create or engage in will also be defective. It’s the nature of sin’s beast. In the face of this inevitable failure, it’s easy to become disenchanted and discouraged, resigned to the impossibility of change. I personally fall into this trap often, believing that simply because action is hard, inaction is better. But we aren’t called to give up. No! We need to get up! And do something. But what?

As a history major, I love to study the past and glean lessons from it. And fortunately for me (and by association, for you), this week at the Kanakuk Institute has been centered on exactly that. And conveniently, we have been examining the Kingdom of Israel and its leaders, a topic which relates perfectly this blog. (Gee, it’s almost like that was planned or something. Haha). So what have I learned that could apply to election season? I’m so glad you asked! Here goes…

1. Down is Up. Yes, I am directionally challenged, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean to say is this: Humility matters. If you truly want to be a leader, you must learn to serve. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). The Kingdom Era is full of people who exemplified true servant leadership, from prophet/judge Samuel doing whatever God told Him, to Jonathan passionately supporting his best friend David’s becoming king, even though he himself was the rightful heir. When selecting leaders, we should look for people with genuine humility, those who truly value others as more important than themselves. But more than that, we also should strive to be unselfish servants, whether or not we hold “leadership positions.” After all, Jesus is the King of the Universe (aka a REALLY big deal), and He chose to serve us. If that doesn’t blow your mind, then nothing will. This was His whole purpose, not to “be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). And He wants us to do the same.

2) Think Inside Out. If Abraham Lincoln were to run for president in 2012, would he be elected? Pretend that the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation never happened, so you have no history on which to base your decision. Would he win? And would you vote for him? Honestly, I think “Honest Abe” would lose. Why? Because of his looks—or lack thereof. Tall and gangly, Lincoln had an unimpressive, high-pitched voice; his eyelids drooped; his asymmetrical face sagged. In short, Lincoln was not a handsome, enchanting fellow. Based on that description, do you think he would have made it past the primary? Probably not, and one of our greatest presidents would have been lost to the ages. In a time of unbelievable technological advancement, when we can see anyone’s picture online instantly and—if we don’t like what we see, we can change it through makeup, Photoshop, or surgery—it can be so tempting to focus on appearances. Israel had the same problem; they wanted a king who would look good, be impressive, and compare to those of the surrounding nations. So God gave them Saul who fit their description and, to put it mildly, was an abject failure. In stark contrast, God chose Saul’s successor David based not on his Abercrombie-looks but on his heart. As 1 Samuel 16:7 clearly states, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” If we want leaders of solid character, then we would be wise to follow His example and look to the heart, because that’s what truly counts.

3) God’s Got It. This statement applies to countless facets of life, but here specifically, I mean that He has the whole political process in His hands. (Kind of catchy, eh? Sing with me: “He’s got the whole political process in His hands; He’s got the whole political process in His hands…” haha) I realize that this may seem a bit extreme or bold, so let me explain. God doesn’t necessarily meet voters in the booth and give them a vision, nor does He individually check every chad to ensure that none are left hanging, but His will is ALWAYS done. Because God is sovereign (fancy talk for “supreme” or “absolute”), He works through and cares about everything, including governments and elections. Nothing can happen outside His will, and His plans cannot be thwarted. As Daniel says, “[God] changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” (Daniel 2:21). So even when the result may not match up with your “plan,” remember that God is working out His, and that is infinitely (literally) more important.

As we head into the coming election season, I challenge every voter—including me—to take these lessons to heart. If we choose to elect leaders with character and humility, and if we trust God to take care of it, our country will be forever changed—for the better. And even if I still don’t like the pre-election season, this truth makes my every-four-years frustration a little more worthwhile. 🙂

A “Conflict” of Interest

The history books are wrong. World War III already happened. And I was there.

Okay, so maybe “World War III” is a bit of an exaggeration. But it was at least “World War 2.389”.

How did this confrontation begin? And how did it escalate to such epic proportions? Pull up a chair (or a couch… or an oversized dog), and I’ll tell you.

The setting: A day like any other day. The situation: A road trip like any other road trip. Everything was sunshine, daisies, and small furry animals… And then all heck broke loose.

It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, and my family embarked on a journey of a fortnight (technically, it was only a week, so it was actually a journey of half a fortnight). Usually, our family trips consisted of brief stays in Branson, Missouri, after finishing our term at Kanakuk Kamps. Occasionally, we would sojourn to a small Bed & Breakfast in an itty-bitty town where we’d spend the days taking in local historical sites… and the nights soaking up some cable TV. Although I loved visiting the birthplace of Amelia Earhart and thoroughly enjoyed Harry S Truman’s library collection, I looked forward to our bigger family trips. We took one of them after my freshman year of high school when we spent a week relaxing on the beach at Perdido Key, Florida. Another was our first-ever skiing adventure in Winter Park during my seventh-grade Christmas break. But the most memorable was definitely, without question, beyond all shadow of doubt our famous—or even infamous—great American Southwest adventure.

From the trip’s inception it was fated for disaster. Some would refer to it as “Murphy’s Law,” which states that what can go wrong will go wrong. However, my family, always striving to go above and beyond the call of duty, has developed its own version of this truism: What can go wrong—plus everything that can’t go wrong—will.

Take for example, Exhibit A: our family minivan. After years of faithfully functioning, the air conditioner decided to stop. No advance warning. No two weeks’ notice. Nothing. Just up and quit.  The vents still functioned, but like your boss, they were only full of hot air. The score? Fate: 1 point. My family: 0.

Now for Exhibit B: The seating situation. Normally, our van contained five seats in the back: three in one row and two in the other. On shorter highway excursions, this arrangement worked perfectly; I would get the middle two seats to myself while my twin sisters would split the back. Plenty of elbow room, leg room, and various other appendage room. However, this was no short highway excursion. This was a week-long expedition through the desert… Which meant that our car was FULL of supplies. Which further meant that we had to remove one set of seats. Which ultimately meant that my sisters and I would be stuck sharing the row of three seats for the entire 30+ hour drive. Yikes. One more point for Fate.

And finally, the real kicker. Exhibit C: The timing. We scheduled our road trip to coincide with the end of my term at Kanakuk Colorado. This seemed like an inspired plan. My family would drive from Kansas to Durango where they would pick me up, and we would begin our epic family adventure full of momentary smiles and lifelong memories. Perfect, right? Except for one tiny detail: My term ended in the first week of August. In case you aren’t very familiar with deserts in the Northern hemisphere, let me enlighten you. In general, deserts are hot. But in August, deserts are absolutely unbearable. Which leaves us at a score of Fate: 3 points. My family: Zip.

Here I would like to pause to summarize the situation to this point. And for all you left-brained individuals, I will even make it mathematical:

No Air Conditioning + Small Seating Space + August Heat + 3 Teenage Girls = Disaster.

Apparently, however, my sisters and I have low specific heats because it took us awhile to reach our boiling point. But when we did, the chemical reaction was irreversible—and highly explosive. So what was the catalyst for this cataclysmic occurrence?

Go Fish.

Yes, that’s right; the classic kindergarten card game was the back-breaking straw that left our family’s imaginary camel crying for help.

Up to this point, our trip had been relatively uneventful. My sisters and I had been getting along remarkably well as we read books, listened to Adventures in Odyssey and played “20 Questions” to pass the time. Somewhere in the middle of New Mexico, though, we shifted to card games. And that’s when things got ugly.

Although we’ve talked about it many times since then, none of us can remember how the fight started. Maybe someone said “Go Fish” in a meaner-than-necessary tone of voice. Maybe one of us accidentally glimpsed the other person’s cards. Or maybe nothing actually happened to instigate it. Regardless of the immediate cause, a battle broke out, and before long it escalated to an all-out war.

And here’s where things get interesting.

Instead of being concerned about the conflagration in the backseat, my parents decided to remain entirely neutral. (However, to call them “Switzerland” would be a gross misnomer; the front seat was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too hot to be associated with the Alps.) Instead of interfering, they decided to let us duke it out. In my mom’s words, “They rarely fight, and that’s not healthy. Let them yell and scream and work it out. It’ll be good for them.” And so that’s exactly what we did. With my mom’s expressed blessing, we let out every morsel of pent-up frustration and emotion toward one another. Then, after exhausting ourselves, we laughed so hard we almost cried. And finally, we resumed our game of “Go Fish.” I’m pretty sure I won. 🙂

Although that road trip happened many years ago, it continues to live on in our family’s lore and in my memory.  My mom taught us a valuable lesson that day: Keeping emotions trapped inside you can be harmful. Even though conflict isn’t necessarily fun, working it out is essential. My sisters didn’t enjoy our now-legendary backseat fight, but it made the rest of the road trip a million times better. Because we could be honest with each other, our emotions no longer built up inside us; we could release them in a healthy manner.

God doesn’t want us to be pressure cookers about to explode. No, He desires that we sincerely love one another and live at peace with each other. And sometimes this peace must come through conflict and reconciliation. The Bible clearly tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger; we aren’t supposed to keep our frustration bottled up inside us. No, instead, we are called to work it out quickly. Like any wound, emotional problems fester and get infected if not treated quickly. If you truly care about someone, if you love them at all, then you must reconcile ASAP. Too much is at stake. And to do otherwise could have heartbreaking consequences.

That’s why God calls us work out our conflicts straight away. The sooner we do, the better off—and happier—we’ll be.

Okay, enough about conflict and “Go Fish.” Who’s up for a game of “War”? 😉

The Fairest Fowl

I have a lot of respect for chickens.

Yes, I know that probably sounds strange, but I felt the need to put that out there once and for all. The way I see it, chickens get the raw end of the deal far too often. Whether they’re being imitated mockingly in a ridiculous dance (especially humiliating when performed by elementary school children at roller skating parties) or being referenced when someone is too scared to do something (i.e. “chickens out”), this particular bird is the victim of much unnecessary and undeserved abuse. Do you ever see people making fun of the platypus? No! But even Wikipedia calls the platypus a “bizarre” creature. Seriously, who ever heard of an “egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal”? Now that’s something to laugh about! But who gets all the “fowl” jokes? The chicken.  Pardon me while I flap my wings in contempt.

Fortunately, in my household at least, chickens receive the respect they deserve. For the last several years, my mom has had and acted upon her “chicken fetish.” Our kitchen is outfitted with chicken rugs, decorative chicken plates, and an assortment of porcelain and wooden chickens. We even have a few chicken cutting boards! (Which, yes, is a wee bit ironic). Most of these have been purchased at garage sales… and some of it has since been sold at garage sales. Sometimes I wish my mother would purchase some nicer chicken stuff, but, alas, no nice chicken-decor store exists. (Fortunately, though, if you prefer horses, there’s a down-home, rootin-tootin’ online country store that may tickle your fancy. Check it out here: http://www.countryoutfitter.com/decor) Needless to say, my family has a healthy appreciation for this fine feathered friend.

K-Seven (the Kanakuk Kamp where I work) also has a deep-seated love for chickens. A few years ago, the Kamp’s director Keith Chancey decided that a petting zoo would make the perfect addition to K-Seven. Ever since then, our kamp has become home to ducks, goats (even a fainting goat! But it was defective and only fainted twice. And I missed it both times.), and, of course, chickens. I should also note that our zoo included a rooster the first summer. Which may have been one of the worst ideas EVER. Each morning around 3 a.m., the rooster dreamt that the sun was rising… and began to cockadoodledoo nonstop for the next 4 hours. And if that weren’t bad enough, the petting zoo just happened to be located behind girls’ kamp, specifically behind the youngest two teepees. IT. WAS. AWFUL. Fortunately, though, they soon solved the problem—by sending the rooster to a different kamp. I couldn’t have been happier. If the rooster had stayed, I might have commandeered a bow and arrow from the archery closet…. Enough said.

In the first few years of the zoo, we had silky chickens, which just might be some of the funniest animals ever. First of all, they look ridiculous, kind of like a wet Jack Russel terrier badly in need of a haircut. And then they make the silliest noise, which sounds like a cross between a squawk and a hiccup. As if that weren’t enough, they can’t fly very well, so they resort to an awkward hop-and-flap motion. Basically, they are hilarious. I’ve spent a lot of quality time chasing and catching them. All in a day’s work.

But this summer, unfortunately, we didn’t get any silky chickens. Apparently, they were sold out by the time our reps made it to the store. So we got regular chickens instead. Eight of them. At first, they lived in the zoo, hanging out in the miniature coop that we built for them. But soon they discovered the world beyond their wired walls. And after that, there was no coming back. Even after the guys made the wall five feet higher, there was no stopping the chickens. Yes, they would occasionally roost there at night (usually perched atop ten-foot wall), but during the day they did as they pleased, roaming through the girls’ bathroom, wandering into the showers, getting stuck in the toilets (My little sister Rascal fished one out), pouncing on grasshoppers, wreaking havoc in the flower beds… These chickens were the epitome of “free range.” By the end of the summer, we didn’t even bother taking them back to their pen. Instead, I would greet them with a “Good morning, chicken” or a “Good evening, chicken” and go along my way. The only exception was on the Fourth of July when I kidnapped a chicken for the parade. Much to the delight of the spectators (and to the chagrin of my right bicep), I carried that chicken for the entire hour-long parade. Francesca, as I named her, was incredibly well behaved, only squawking occasionally and smiling for the photos. She even let me paint her nails a lovely shade of pink, so I could identify her later. But other than that, my relationship with the chickens was one of a coexistent, mutual respect.

So back to my original statement. Why do I hold chickens in such high regard? Well, the answer is simple: You can always count on them. That’s right; chickens are among the most dependable critters I know. Want to hear more? Well, cross to the other side of the road, and I’ll tell you about it.

You see, chickens lay their eggs every single day. Rain or shine. Snow or sweat. They always come through. They are consistent and predictable. Nothing fazes them, and nothing—not even another chicken claiming their nest—will get in their way.

I’m about to say something odd, so before you run around as if your head was cut off, hear me out: I think we should try to be more like chickens.

Here’s what I mean. How often do you spend time with Jesus? If you’re anything like me, your answer is probably “not as often as I’d like to.” In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to lose sight of the only One who matters. We get distracted with meetings, interviews, homework, appointments—the list goes on and on. Every day, Jesus waits for us with open arms, but all too often, busyness grabs us by the wrist and yanks us away. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If we can change our habits, if we can refocus our eyes on Jesus, this can change. And that’s where chickens can help.

Daily. That’s the trick. Chickens lay their eggs daily. We need to spend time with Jesus daily. It may seem tricky; it may be challenging at first. But it’s completely worth it.

So what are you waiting for? Crack open your Bible and see for yourself. You may even figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. 😉

Make Like a Tree and “Leave”

Autumn is—hands down, without a doubt, no question—my favorite time of the year.

Now that I would make such a judgment is rather significant in itself. For some reason, I have never been willing to “choose favorites” about this sort of thing. All my life, I’ve somehow felt bad about saying that I prefer one thing over another. For instance, it’s taken me years to decide that country music is my favorite genre. I’ll proudly tell you that the sunset is my favorite time of day. Now I will finally state that my favorite color is green, especially of the lime variety. It wasn’t until recently that I decided that “O Holy Night” is my favorite Christmas song. As a child, I think I convinced myself that it would be unkind to leave something out. However, rather than an irrational fear of hurting the feelings of inanimate objects or concepts, the real source of my non-favoriting (yes, I did just invent a new word. Call me “Shakespeare.” Haha) was actually indecision. Bizarre, but true.

Okay, so back to autumn. Note that I called it “autumn” rather than “fall.” I was chatting with my friend Fraser in Scotland awhile back, and he politely reprimanded me for saying “fall.” So, Fraser, it’s out of respect for you and your kinsmen across the pond that I say “autumn.” (But I still refuse to spell “realize” with an “s”. haha) 🙂

Okay, so why do I love autumn? Well, I’m so glad you asked! I have many reasons. Where to begin?

One wonderful reason to love autumn is the wardrobe change. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Nike shorts (aka “norts”) and t-shirts, and I enjoy wearing a sundress now and then, but I get very excited about my autumn clothes. When the weather becomes brisk enough that I need a cardigan or jacket, I could do a dance of joy (don’t worry, I will spare you the viewing dis-pleasure and refrain from doing one now). Call me simple, but I love donning a fresh, crisp pair of jeans and warm, cozy sweatshirt. Mmm, heavenly.

For all you sports fanatics out there, football is another fantastic reason to root for fall’s arrival. Autumn wouldn’t be complete without those Friday night lights or those “Boys of Fall,” as Kenny Chesney so poignantly sings. Whether you played this all-American sport or cheered from the stands, football likely holds a very special place in your heart. Whenever I watch a high-school football game, I can’t help but smile as I remember standing for the entire game, holding up my fingers to signal the arrival of the fourth quarter (and our impending victory), and waking up hoarse the next morning from yelling… except during my stint as mascot. Big fuzzy tigers don’t yell. Haha.

Although the majority of my readers probably won’t agree with this next reason for loving fall, I’m going to share it anyway: School begins. While the rest of the world mourns the end of summer, I always get a little giddy. Each school year is a fresh start, full of new things to learn and new experiences to have. As an unashamed nerd, I find autumn exciting and exhilarating, like inhaling the brisk October air.

But without a doubt, my favorite of all favorite parts about my favorite season (yes, I did just use “favorite” three times in one sentence—wait, now four times) is absolutely, positively, resolutely, undeniably, indefinitely, ecumenically, metaphysically, and presynaptically…

The leaves. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, the sunset is my favorite time of day. For half an hour each evening, pinks and oranges and yellows swirl together to create a masterpiece on the sky’s canvas. As often as possible, I enjoy this ever-changing, ephemeral magnum opus, soaking it in one color at a time until it fades into the shadows of twilight. Unfortunately, sunsets are very transient, lasting only a few minutes. But autumn’s leaves last much longer, like a month of constant sunsets to brighten up my day.

However, like each sunset, autumn must come to an end. One by one, the beautiful leaves fade to brown and fall to the ground, soon to be raked into a pile and taken away. And here in this pile of wilted leaves—or rather, above this pile—is where we find our lesson: the tree.

Not long ago, the tree was beautiful, the center of attention. The tree had fulfillment, security, and joy in its leaves. The leaves completed the tree, and as a result, the tree was happy.

But then the time came for the tree to lose its leaves. So the tree obeyed, slowly surrendering its precious, once-vibrant but now brown leaves one by one to the expectant ground below. Soon, the tree was alone again, bare and leafless. But not without hope.

You see, the tree knows something vital: Spring will come. Even though the leaves are missed. Even though the winter will be cold and long. The spring will come, and new leaves along with it. And so, the tree lets go of the old, dying leaves in faith, knowing that the new, living leaves are coming, just around the seasonal corner.

I would be a terrible tree. Instead of letting go, I hold onto things with a white-knuckled grip for as long as I possibly can. Desperately, I cling to the past because I understand it; it seems safe. I know the past; it’s predictable and it isn’t going to change. I don’t want to let go of it; I’d rather hold onto it, even the painful parts because at least it’s something. I’m an oak tree, stubbornly gripping my ugly, crusty leaves for as long as I possibly can.

But that’s not how God wants me—or you—to live. On the contrary, He comes to give us life, and life abundantly. So often, though, we choose our brokenness and heartache instead because it’s familiar; it feels safe. But when we do that, we miss out on the joy He longs to give us. We miss the hope He died to bring. We miss the life and plan He has for us. And most importantly, we miss Him, our Savior.

But when we let go, when we finally surrender those bits of our pasts, those parts of ourselves, those things that are so afraid to give up, that’s when we find freedom and hope. That’s when the healing begins. And that is when our life really starts.

…Which I guess makes spring my second-favorite season. 😉