Friday the (February) 13th

Aren't they adorable? (Photo by David Guenther, http://tinyurl.com/l2wtq62. CC-A-NC-SA)
Aren’t they adorable?
(Photo by David Guenther, http://tinyurl.com/l2wtq62. CC-A-NC-SA)

As you may have noticed, today is Friday the 13th. Which in any other month would be associated with nightmares of ghouls, haunted houses, and other “normal” paranormal happenings. But this Friday the 13th elicits a wholly different—and, for many of us, far more frightening—set of fears: the fear of being single forever. Because this Friday the 13th happens to be the day before Valentine’s Day.

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. A favorite holiday of greeting card companies, chocolate retailers, and the people who make those cheesy magnetic “kissing” teddy bears. And for those lucky folks with a special someone, it’s the perfect day for a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant (provided you remembered to make a reservation) and giving each other greeting cards, chocolate, and matching magnetic teddy bears. But if you’re not among the “fortunate few” in a relationship, you don’t have to be alone in your loneliness. Netflix is ready with a  weekend’s  lifetime’s supply of sappy chick flicks, you can still buy yourself chocolate, and if your misery loves company, you can even curl up on the couch with your trusty old non-magnetic teddy bear.

Yes, I realize that this probably sounds rather cynical. And lately that’s exactly what I’ve been whenever I think about relationships, love, and dating. For instance, I normally love country music; now I change stations if Blake Shelton, Thompson Square, or some pre-pop Taylor Swift comes on. My go-to movies are usually chick flicks; now I can’t stand them. And when I walk through the grocery store and see a cute little kissing teddy bear, I can bearly (pun and spelling error intended) resist the urge to stick it to a metal door in the frozen-food section.

But while I am exaggerating (and I would never harm an innocent teddy bear), my cynicism toward dating is real. And last week after I’d angrily switched off the country radio station yet again, I found myself wondering where this cynicism was coming from. I’m not normally a cynical person, which meant there had to be a reason why. So I went on a quest (ie, a run on an indoor track) to find out. Boy, was I surprised by what I found.

For the first few laps, my mind drifted to all my friends whose smiling faces and “save the dates” cover my refrigerator door. Am I jealous of them? I wondered to myself as I rounded another lap. No, I concluded, I didn’t begrudge them their happiness; I really couldn’t be more excited for them. Having thought about my close friends, I then moved outward to my wider circle of acquaintances, sorority sisters, and Facebook friends whose engagement and wedding photos daily fill up my news feed. Okay, am I jealous of them? I wondered again. No, that wasn’t it either. As with my close friends, I’m happy for them too. So if the green-eyed monster wasn’t the source of my cynicism, then what was to blame?

I rounded yet another lap (this is a frequent occurrence on indoor tracks; they are so small!) and asked myself, Am I mad at God? After all, my undiagnosed frustration with the Almighty has caused many of my issues over the years. But after another 1/8-mile loop, I concluded that this wasn’t the case. My singleness isn’t God’s “fault”, and I wasn’t attributing to Him any blame. Okay, I thought, if I’m not jealous of my friends or mad at God, then where is this cynicism coming from?

For the next twenty minutes or so, this question played over and over again in my mind, as my feet synced up with the beats of Relient K and Superchick. Loop after loop went by, but an answer remained elusive. What was wrong? And then as I was rounding yet another itty-bitty lap, I found the answer I’d been looking for:

Somewhere along the way, I had lost hope.

It didn’t happen overnight or all of a sudden, like a balloon being popped. It was more of a slow and gradual wearing-down, like when a helium balloon loses air and inches closer to the ground over a long period of time—the cumulative effect of many years (and Valentine’s Days) spent single as more of my peers joined the “married club” without me. Doubts that began as occasional whispers became louder and more persistent, telling me that a love story wasn’t in the cards for me. I should just accept that reality and continue on with my life. Through these years of gradual attrition, I had not only quit believing that God had someone out there for me, but as a result, I had ceased to pray, to dream, to hope that this kind of future was possible for me.

Yes, I realize that this may sound a bit melodramatic, and I know that relationships aren’t the be-all-end-all-of-all. Even if I am single forever, I will still have all I need in Christ. But while I can ultimately live without a relationship, I cannot live without hope. Because hope, my friends, is a vitally important thing—arguably as essential to life as air, water, and food. Hope provides us with a reason for continuing on, even when times get hard. To paraphrase Nietzsche, hope provides the “why” so we can weather the “how”. When we lose hope, we soon after lose sight of our purpose and our meaning. And it becomes dangerously easy to fall into despair.

As I was rounding those last few laps, God pointed out to me the crack in my heart where my hope had leaked out, and despair—disguised in the toxic cloak of cynicism—had crept in. But even as He showed me my lack of hope, He offered me a renewal of it: because He gave me the desire to share life with someone, then it stands to reason that there must be someone out there with whom I can share this life. And even more importantly, I can trust that He is good and that He has my best interests in mind. For if imperfect earthly parents would never “give their kids a stone when they ask for bread”, then our perfect heavenly Father—who loves us more than we can possible fathom—must know how to give good gifts to us His children. Our job is keep hoping, believing, and asking.

Yes, I will still be single on Valentine’s Day tomorrow. And who knows? I may be single for many more Valentine’s Days after that. But if my heavenly Father loves me the way He says He does and if He indeed knows me better than I know myself, then I need keep hoping and believing that He will fulfill His plans for me—even in the relationship category

Whew, that’s enough deep thoughts for one day. I think I’m going to curl up on the couch,eat some chocolate, and watch a chick flick. Now if only I had a teddy bear… 😉

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The “Grandest” of Them All :)

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Dear blogosphere, I have a very important announcement to make:

I have the best grandmother in the entire world. And today is her birthday. 🙂

And because it’s her birthday—and because I’m not in Kansas to be able to give her a HUGE hug—I’ve decided to do the next best thing: dedicate this blog post to her. This one is for you, Omi.

Since I’ve already established that my Omi is the best grandmother in the entire world, I should start by telling you why.

Reason #1: My Omi has seen me at my worst and loves me anyway.

And unfortunately, the “worst” has been going on for quite a long time. Starting with the doctor’s visit as an infant when I projectile pooped up my mom’s coat sleeve (yes, that really happened) to when I figured out how to cheat at “Chutes and Ladders” at age 2 ½, my Omi has a knack for witnessing my less-than-stellar moments. And yet despite experiencing the selfish, bratty, and even poopy side of me, she still loves me unconditionally anyway—and not just me, but each of her 11 grandkids. Thanks, Omi.

Reason #2: My Omi makes the BEST food. Seriously.

Yes, I know that all of you think your grandmothers are the best cooks in the world. And while I’m sure they are great, my Omi beats all of them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these photos:

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<— Christmas Dinner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… And dessert! ———–>

Seeing is believing. And trust me; tasting takes away any doubt! Her food is the best! 🙂

Reason #3: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

There is no #3.

But not because I can’t think of a third reason. On the contrary, I can’t think of a way to fit everything it all into a single statement. Because the truth is, what makes my Omi so incredible can’t be boiled down to a simple blog post. She’s one of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever known. She has a huge servant’s heart and would literally do anything for anyone at any time. She loves to work behind the scenes and is so humble that she would never accept praise or recognition. She gives generously without expecting anything in return. She loves everyone she meets–and everyone who meets her loves her. She has a knack for reaching those who are often forgotten or ignored. She has the gift of hospitality, and you can’t help but feel welcome and at home in her house. She is patient, gentle, loving, kind and so much more. I thank God every day for the blessing of calling her my Omi. And I pray that one day I will be even a fraction of how wonderful she is.

I love you so very much, Omi! Thanks for being the best–or “grandest”–grandma out there. Happy birthday! 😀

027

(No More) Valen-pining

My mom the "Trophy Girl" ;) Aren't my parents adorable?!
My mom the “Trophy Girl” 😉
Aren’t my parents adorable?!

If it hadn’t been for a snow day, I wouldn’t be here.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Lawrence, Kansas, had a sizable snow storm. Enough snow fell that the university (KU) decided to cancel classes. But did that snow prevent my dad’s fraternity from throwing a party? Heck no, techno! Although my mom was hardly a “partier,” she joined a few sorority sisters and ventured out to the snow day party. My dad first spotted my mom when she was in the main living room of his fraternity house, standing by the window and wearing a red sweater. The rest, as they say, is history. My parents got married in July after their graduation—two days after my dad’s birthday, so they would both be 22. Adorable, right? A few years later, they moved to Germany and I was born. The best just kept getting better, haha. 🙂

Over the years, I’ve heard and told this story countless times. My sisters and I have grilled both of them for details, and we’ve mined through photo album after photo album looking for pictures of them together. During Christmas break, we even stopped by my dad’s fraternity house and got an impromptu tour. At my sisters’ and my request, our parents showed us that legendary spot where they had met and, surprise, told us the story again.

I’m not the kind of person who often plans my future. I tend to stay in the moment and focus on doing the next thing. But while growing up, I always assumed that my story would turn out like my parents’. I’d go to college, join a sorority and meet an amazing guy sometime along the way. We’d get married after graduation (once we were the same age, of course) and the rest would be history, so to speak.

But that didn’t happen. Yes, I went to college and joined a sorority (and even had a few snow days here and there), but when graduation rolled around, my left hand was still as empty as could be. While I certainly wasn’t the “ring by spring” type and I didn’t attend OSU to get my “MRS Degree,” I always half expected to meet someone there, like my parents had. But the path toward the stage in Gallagher-Iba Arena was the only aisle I’d be walking down that summer.

Some time has passed and so much has happened since then. I “lifed it” (ie, worked the whole summer) at Kamp, attended the Kanakuk Institute, moved to Georgia and started graduate school, and even spent 2.5 months learning Polish. During that time, I’ve met a lot of incredible people and have even been on a few dates. But for one reason or another, nothing has panned out for me in the relationship category. And so here I am, on yet another Valentine’s Day (or as I like to say “Singles’ Awareness Day”) alone again. While God has brought me to a point where I am truly thankful for my singleness, I still can’t help but wonder when my day will come. When someone will look across the crowded room and notice me, and that chapter of my story will begin.

I love to journal. Since I’m a historian, I have a compulsive urge to keep records of my life and the things that happen to me. But over the years, I’ve developed a special love for what some people call “prayer journaling,” which is Christian-ese for exactly what it sounds like: writing out my prayers in a journal. As a writer, I find that this is the best way for me to untangle and make sense of my often convoluted thoughts. And because I invite God into this process, sometimes He even gives me a moment of insight or clarity along the way. So here is a glimpse into my prayer journal a few weeks ago:

“What does faithful singleness look like? What does it mean to wait and watch and have hope? How would it look to be expectantly content? Do I really believe You will write this story? Am I willing to quit planning, to give up my orchestrating, and actually lay down the pen? …

Do I really trust You with this area of my life?

Like a song stuck on repeat, that last question came up in my mind over and over again. Do I really trust God with my singleness? And do I really believe He is guiding and will continue to guide my life? The Sunday School answer is a simple “yes,” but the real-life, rest-of-the-week answer is so much more tricky than that. Faith seems easy until you actually need to have it.

And so I returned to that broken-record question, “Do I really trust God with this area of my life?” If I’m honest with myself, the answer is ‘no’ or at least ‘not always.’ But by His grace, I’m trying.

You see, when life doesn’t go the way we’ve planned—relationally or otherwise—we have a few options. We can sit down and mope (or as I like to say, “Valen-pine”), we can do everything in our power to “fix it,” or we can wait patiently on the Lord to see what He has in store. And for me at this point in my (*cough, cough*) very single life, I think that waiting is exactly what He wants from me. Because in the waiting, I am learning to trust and have faith that He cares for me, that He knows me better than I know myself, and that He will fulfill His purpose for me in His own time and way. If that includes an amazing fella, awesome! But if not, then He will be enough for me—and I trust He will make that true. So in the meantime, do I trust Him? And am I living in such a way that shows that I trust Him? Lord, let it be so.

That being said, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m not sure what to wear. How about a red sweater? 😉

red sweater crop

22 :)

It’s that time of year again. No, it’s not Christmas; that was a month ago. No, it’s not election season, although that’s certainly coming up. The birds aren’t yet chirping, and the dormant flowers, trees and black bears have yet to waken from their long winter’s naps. No, to the rest of the world (or at least to 364/365ths of it) this date has little to no significance. But to me, well, it’s kind of a big deal.

That’s right. It’s my birthday.

Birthdays are funny little critters, aren’t they? It seems a bit odd that we celebrate the day that our mothers experienced the 2nd greatest pain known to humankind (2nd only to being burned alive. Yikes). Instead of making this day all about us, we actually should spend it in humble service and lavish gratitude to our mothers. But I guess that’s why we have Mother’s Day.

Side Note: Here I would like to take a moment to specifically thank my mother. She gave birth to me a) 4 weeks early, b) in a foreign country with no close relatives except my dad there (why? See reason “a”) and c) at an Army hospital without an epidural or any sort of pain medication—despite being told that she would be medicated. Apparently, the Army couldn’t administer it because the doctor was on call—not for the hospital but for World War III, in case it happened to begin. Eek. Anyway, thanks, Mama! I love you!

Okay, back to birthdays.

Whether or not it makes cultural, biological or metaphysical sense, birthdays are something we like to celebrate. And I suppose we do so with good reason. After all, the arrival of a birthday means a lot: We’ve survived another year. Yay! Yippee! Woohoo! Woot woot! Not only are we 365 days older, but (hopefully) we’re also a tad bit wiser…. Or at least better at pretending to be. Haha 🙂

Speaking of wisdom, I’m not exactly the wisest owl in the parliament (that’s the technical name for a group of owls. Cool, huh?) However, since it is my birthday and because you are apparently a captive audience, I would like to take a moment to share some tidbits I’ve gleaned from this most recent year of my life.

Conveniently, there happen to be 23 of them. (Coincidence? I think not.) So here they are, in a somewhat particular order.

1. Always set at least two alarms to wake up in the morning, especially if you’re only getting 6 hours of sleep. If your body needs the rest, it will make every effort to steal it, regardless of your schedule.

2. (See #1) Needing caffeine is not a sign of weakness, just of knowing your own limitations. Especially if you have Mexican History class from 3:15-4:45 in the afternoon. Me cansa.

3. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but a lack of showering does not necessarily signify a spiritual deficiency.

4. Frisbees and foreheads don’t mix well, particularly if the latter is careening through the air at breakneck speeds. (Note: the use of the adjective “breakneck” is figurative. I don’t think Frisbees could actually break one’s neck. At least, I hope not.)

5. Dog poo and pants don’t mix.

6. Words are powerful. So use them wisely.

7. God does some of His most beautiful work after the ugliest tragedies. Generally in the world and specifically in our lives.

8. Don’t sleep with your contacts in. Especially if you only wear one. (i.e. a single bloodshot eye looks really awkward.)

9. Real life isn’t found by the wall but on the dance floor. So get out there!

10. It’s okay to cry. So don’t be afraid to.

11. When praying for God to give you a sense of humor, choose an opportune moment. i.e. NOT directly before plunging a toilet.

12. Sometimes the greatest gifts come in the smallest packages… or envelopes.

13. Being busy is never an excuse for not being loving.

14. If there’s a zombie-dino apocalypse and you’re on a boat, you’re dead. (#nerdwisdom. Miss you, Trey!)

15. Forgiveness feels amazing.

16. Always wear two pairs of plastic gloves when scrubbing commercial kitchen drains. And don’t scrub the one under the industrial-strength dishwasher when it is on.

17. The best cure for feeling down is to build someone else up.

18. The GRE is like a Metallica concert. Best only experienced once. And with earplugs.

19. Life is fragile and precious. Treasure it; cherish it. Love it.

20. If you’re gluten intolerant, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Unless it’s your grandmother’s chocolate cake (thank you, Omi!). Or Giordano’s pizza.

21. Friends are a blessing straight from God. They see your soul and love you—not just anyway, but because of it.

22. You can’t control your life. So quit trying. Instead let God do His job. He’s a pro.

23. I love Jesus.

Although the first 22 lessons are all important and true, this last one is by far the most important and truest. I really, really, really love Jesus. I can’t say it enough, and I can’t make it any clearer. But for the sake of this post, I am going to give it the ol’ post-college try.

I was incredibly blessed to grow up in a Christian home. My parents love the Lord, and they taught me from a very young age about Jesus. As a child, I trusted Him as my Savior, and I’ve had a relationship with Him ever since. However, it wasn’t until this last year—year 23—that I truly fell in love with Jesus. So this recap would be incomplete if I didn’t tell you how much He means to me.

You see, all my life I’ve known about Him. I’ve known that He loves me. And I’ve known that I love Him. But at some point in the last year, that love became undeniably and unexpectedly and overwhelmingly real to me. And not only have I started to understand His love, but I have also began to love Him back in a way I would have never thought possible.

So now, here on my 23rd birthday and embarking on my next year of life, I want to say this: I love Jesus. He is my Everything. I love Him more than this post and my words could ever say. He’s the reason I get up in the morning. He’s the joy behind my smile. He’s the hope behind my tears. He’s the beat to which I dance. He’s the song I sing. He’s the love I give to others. He’s my life and my breath and the blood flowing through my veins. He’s the Sun my life revolves around, and without Him, my life would mean nothing. Even if I were to lose everything tomorrow, and if all I hold dear were taken from me, this truth would still remain: I love Him, I love Him, I love Him.

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, and I can’t predict the future. 23 may be the best year yet or the hardest I’ve ever experienced. But that’s okay, and I’ll be fine either way. Because I love Jesus. And not only do I love Him, but I want to live for Him. In everything I do. May Your name be lifted high, and may You be glorified.

And so for the rest of my days—be they many or few—here I am, Jesus. I am living for you. I thank You; I praise You; I trust You. And above all else, Jesus, I love You.

To You be all the glory and honor and praise.

Amen.

That Magic Moment

Remember that moment….

When you got that grade you never thought would be possible? You worked so hard all semester long, hoping and praying to just pass the class. And then, miracle of miracles, you earned a B! You’re excited, elated, ecstatic; all your hard work actually paid off, and you can’t help doing a dance for joy—even though everyone in the library is watching.

When you open your locker to find it filled with balloons, a teddy bear, and an obnoxiously large handwritten note from your long-term crush asking you—yes, you!—to the prom? You let out a delighted squeal and bowl over two freshmen (oops!)  as you rush to tell your best friend! She’s not going to believe it! Or (for you guys out there) when that beautiful girl in your physics class, the girl you’ve liked since she moved to town in sixth grade, says she’d love to go to the Homecoming dance with you? You want to do a cartwheel down the hallway, but instead play it off and simply ask, “Pick you up at 6?”

When it’s Christmas morning and you’ve been up since 4 a.m. counting down the minutes until your parents wake up. You rush to the tree and—lo, and behold!—the gift you’ve been wanting since the day after last Christmas, the one you’ve thought about every day since then, is sitting there with your name on it. You dash across the room, snatch it up, and jump around in circles, unable to contain your excitement. Oh, and your family definitely got it all on video.

Remember that moment. Even if you’ve never experienced one of the moments I just described, my guess is that you’ve had at least one of “those moments.” Those moments when the world suddenly looks different, all the colors become brighter, and your joy literally flows out of you. No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep your excitement inside, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t want to keep it bottled up. No, you want the whole world—or at least everyone in your five-foot radius—to know about it. Because it’s that amazing.

Those moments are both incredible and incredibly rare. Their rarity makes us appreciate them even more; however, it also leaves us longing. If only we could bottle up that feeling and save it for a rainy day. If only it would last just a little longer. If only, if only. But alas, that’s impossible. Or so I thought.

Pause for a subject change. But don’t worry; we’ll come back.

This week at the Kanakuk Institute, we learned about evangelism. In case you don’t speak “Christianese,” let me translate for you. Evangelism simply means telling others about Jesus and sharing the Gospel (to be explained later.) In multiple places in the New Testament, Christians are commanded to go and share the Gospel. It’s not optional; rather, it’s arguably the most important thing we are each called to do as believers. Having said that, I should be great at evangelizing. I should love to share my faith with others. I should be chomping at the figurative bit for opportunities, right?

Wrong… At least until last Thursday.

You see, I never wanted to share my faith because, well, I wasn’t enjoying it. Yes, I knew on a cerebral level that God is good and faithful; I’d even experienced it several times. Yes, I knew I would spend eternity with Him and that this would be awesome. I understood theoretically that Christianity was the answer to all of my—and the world’s—problems, but my reality didn’t seem to line up. Although I knew Jesus and had Him as my Savior, I still felt lost, like I was missing something, but I had no idea how to find it… or even what it was. And if I, as a Christian, wasn’t experiencing freedom, wasn’t full of joy and peace and contentment, if I wasn’t “feeling it,” so to speak, why would anyone else want to become a Christian? And why would I want to share my faith? It’d be like trying to sell a product that I had never used or with which I wasn’t fully satisfied. Simply put, it would have felt like a lie. So instead, I kept my faith to myself, trying desperately to get my life on track in the vain hope that one day, if I tried long enough, if I worked hard enough, if I was good enough, I would find what I was looking for. And maybe I wouldn’t feel so empty anymore. Hopefully.

So now we’re going back to where we left off with “those moments.” When I was in 8th grade, I had the most important “that moment” of my life. I understood the truth of the Gospel—that Jesus loves me, He died for me, and His grace saves me—and it was incredible, like passing a test, getting asked out, and Christmas morning all rolled into one and then times infinity! I felt joy, peace, excitement, contentment; all of a sudden I was alive. And it was AWESOME! I loved Jesus and wanted everyone to know about Him.

But then something changed. I started to grow in my faith, but as I did, I began to believe that my faith was dependent on things I did rather than what Christ did for me. I needed to “make God happy” by how I lived my life rather than by simply giving Him my life. I got sucked into the trap of religion and, as a result, misplaced the relationship. As Revelation 2:4 says, I had forgotten my “first love” and, what’s worse, I didn’t know what to do about it.

Cut to last Thursday night. When I rediscovered the Gospel.

You’re a mess. You can’t fix yourself. But even though you’re a mess, Jesus loves you. Jesus died to save you. Only He can fix you. His grace alone can save you.

Wow.

So what does this have to do with evangelism? And why does this matter? Well, it has everything to do with evangelism. And it’s the only thing that matters.

You see, God created us for a relationship with Him. His greatest desire is that we would desire Him. But we are sinners and not capable of a relationship with God on our own. So God sent Jesus who brought the Gospel. Jesus loves us, He died for us, and we are saved and brought into a right relationship with God though His grace alone. That’s not just the “Good News;” it’s the best news ever. And because it’s the best news, and because God desires a relationship with everyone, we shouldn’t just keep it to ourselves. On the contrary, we need to tell everyone all the time!

Now we return once more to “that moment.” If you’ve never experienced “that moment” with Jesus, if you’ve never taken hold of the Gospel and received this grace Jesus offers, then I encourage you—nay, implore you with all I am—don’t miss this! Ask Him to be your Savior and give your life to Him. It will be the BEST decision you ever make. Guaranteed.

And if you have experienced “that moment” but, like me, have lost sight of it, then run to Him; run back to His Gospel. Ask Him to make it new to you again. And then (I know this sounds crazy, but believe me that it’s awesome), go share it with someone.

You can’t fix yourself. But Jesus loves you. And Jesus died for you. You are saved by His grace alone. Not just for “that moment” or “this moment,” but for every single moment of every day for eternity. And in case you were wondering, that’s a lot of moments. 😉