Abraham heeded the Lord’s calling and his willingness to do so is credited to him as righteousness; this despite his tragic rebellions along the way. Sometimes, Abraham obeys quickly and willingly and at other times he fails hard. Throughout it all, though, God continues to call and Abraham continues to respond. He lives his life following the Lord, even when it is not clear why or for what purpose.
I sometimes find myself identifying with Abraham because I think he must have been exhausted at times. Like Abraham, I often feel like I don't understand what God is doing in my life. I want to see the big picture so badly, but God rarely seems to share that particular concern. I wonder how Abraham could have responded so quickly to God’s call to leave all that he knew behind. God required him to leave everything familiar and become a sojourner, thereby losing his very identity. As I read his story, I feel the frustration and confusion of following the Lord when the promises seem so real, but the immediate reality so unclear.
Hebrews 11:8-16 tells us:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land… For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God… Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking about that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
The writer of Hebrews helps us understand why Abraham could quickly give up what he already had to follow the Lord’s call. For Abraham, the promises of God were more real than everything he had already attained. How could he not follow?
There is a lot of uncertainty in my life. I've worked in ministry and lived off of support raising for most of my adult life. I have moved ten times across multiple cities, regions, countries, and continents. I want to return to school uncertain of how to fund it. I am a woman in what is still very much a man’s world. I want to have children and I want them to love the Lord. Each and every one of these things brings great uncertainty into my life.
I often find myself trying to grasp ahold of these things to make certain of them; but the more I try to do so, the more dissatisfied and anxious my heart becomes. The more I try to force God’s promises, the more I find the results to be my personal Ishmaels. What brings me peace, joy, and rest is believing that the promises of God are more real to me now, even in all of their hazy unclarity, than what I can produce myself. The city with sure foundations already belongs to me through the blood of Christ and when I keep my eyes focused on it, all of the sojourning through this world quickly passes by.
In an act of historical imagining, I think the words of Augustine could have brought great comfort to Abraham. At least, they have brought much comfort to me in my own attempts to obey God’s calling, focusing my eyes on the sure foundation and heavenly city throughout my wanderings. Augustine writes in his Confessions 1.5.5,
“Who shall give me the gift of resting in you? Who will grant me this, that you come into my heart and make it drunk, so that I forget my evil deeds (Jer. 44.9) and embrace you, my only Good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, and let me speak. What, for that matter, am I to you? Why do you command me to love you? And if I do not, why are you moved to anger and threaten me with utter misery? But is my misery any less, if I fail to love you? Have pity, O Lord! For your own mercies’ sake, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me! Tell my soul: I am your salvation (Ps. 35.3[Ps. 34.3]). Speak, and let me hear your voice. Bend down to my soul’s ear, O Lord; open it, and tell my soul: I am your salvation. I shall run after your voice, and catch you (Phil 3.12). Do not hide your face from me. Let me die to see it; for if I do not see it, I shall die.”
It is still amazing to me that Abraham so quickly heeded the Lord’s call and remained faithful to it throughout his life despite so many doubts and disasters along the way. But I think he would have understood well the heart of Augustine’s words above. Following God often feels like a crazy leap into uncertainty, yet we know it is the most certain thing we do. Abraham’s life demonstrates to me that in the pursuit of God’s face, I must “die to see it; for if I do not see it, I shall die.”
Two interesting articles gathered from the interwebs. Both really interesting. Happy reading!
The Problem With Bright Girls - "Bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result. Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice."
Shut Up and Eat - A Foodie Repents - "Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go—about who we want to be, how we choose to live. Food has always been expressive of identity, but today those identities are more flexible and fluid; they change over time, and respond to different pressures... The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep: our ability to choose who we want to be."
"We sometimes hear the expression 'the accident of sex,' as though one's being a man or a woman were a triviality. It is very far from being a triviality. It is our nature. It is the modality under which we live all our lives; it is what you and I are called to be - called by God, this God who is in charge. It is our destiny, planned, ordained, fulfilled by an all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving Lord."
Unless you're living under a rock, you know that gender is a big issue in today's world. A really big issue. I'm not convinced this is an entirely new phenomenon - history is full of humanity's attempts to clarify, assert, and remember what it means to be a man or a woman. But we are entering a time that is new for our collective consciousness, a time in which definitions and parameters are being directly challenged in ways unparalleled for the modern Western world.
There are many ways Christians can respond to these changes, but two of the most common ways I observe among the community of faith are fear and accommodation. We all have friends and family members who are either rampaging about what the world is coming to or lamenting that the church remains so culturally outdated and judgmental. One side argues that nothing should change regarding our ideas of manhood and womanhood. The other side doesn't care if the popular culture dictates gender to be a sliding scale. Maybe you belong in one of these camps yourself.
Instead of fear or accommodation, the most encouraging responses I've seen and the response I wish more people would take, is a celebration of the human being's design. Today America's younger generations love design. Good design is obsessed over and glorified. I've heard some of my most hip friends give good design an almost salfivic role in the world. Young America is in love with the idea of a curated life - a life which displays the careful consideration and design of a person making conscious decisions. We celebrate our own ability to carefully arrange the things around us, but somehow we don't have an appreciation of that which is above us in the design and curation of this world.
The world has always been plagued by the divorce of the human being's wholeness. For millennia, humanity has held in one way or another to the sharp divide between our material and immaterial selves. In some ways, it's understandable. We feel a disjointedness between our bodies which every day underwhelm and disappoint us and the inner life that can be so rich and promising. But this is a false division, a feeling which is only that, and which betrays the brokenness of humanity.
"No one can define the boundaries of mind, body, and spirit. Yet we are asked to assume nowadays that sexuality, most potent and undeniable of all human characteristics, is a purely physical matter with no metaphysical significance whatever.
Some early heresies which plagued the Church urged Christians to bypass matter. Some said it was in and of itself only evil. Some denied even its reality. Some appealed to the spiritual nature of man as alone worthy of attention - the body was to be ignored altogether. But this is a dangerous business, this departmentalizing. The Bible tells us to bring all - body, mind, spirit - under obedience."
Our materiality matters and it matters in our modern understanding of gender. We must let it speak to us, especially if we believe that there is a God who designs and curates the universe in which we live. Maybe my hipster friends are on to something - there is a lot of learn from their appreciation of and respect for design. They work to bring both the material and immaterial world into unity and submission to their plans. There are no "accidents," but rather chaos brought into beautiful harmony. Love is poured into their work, and labor, and they know even the smallest details of the worlds which they build. Everything has its role and purpose. And they celebrate it.
As women, we need to celebrate the way we have been designed. This doesn't mean there is no debate or discussion about how to understand or interpret our design. For example, we no longer believe women shouldn't participate in athletic activity for fear our uteruses will fall out. This misunderstanding of the design caused centuries of discrimination and was rightly challenged and changed. But that doesn't mean there isn't a design. We can and should continue to anticipate that the material world which not only surrounds us, which indeed is us, has something to say about who we are. As Elizabeth Eliot finally asks us,
"Yours is the body of a woman. What does it signify? Is there invisible meaning in its visible signs - the softness, the smoothness, the lighter bone and muscle structure, the breasts, the womb? Are they utterly unrelated to what you yourself are? Isn't your identity intimately bound up with the material forms? ...How can we bypass matter in our search for understanding the personality?"
The lyrics to a great song go, "There was so much work left to do, but so much you'd already done." There are times in life when I wake up and it seems as if my entire identity has become one long to-do list. The only desire in me is to take a pen to the list, marking off the reminders of what I have yet to tackle. But then when I think about all of the things I've already marked off and all of things that get added every day, it seems like an endless cycle. A constant adding and erasing of tasks.
At this very moment, I am thankful for the Starbucks in Beverly. I'm actually really not a big fan of Starbucks and wouldn't usually feel deep thankfulness for it, but right now I'm marooned while I wait for an eye appointment. The wireless is being wonky and so I'm forced to sit here, with my to-do list in limbo and no other work along with me. I'm being forced to just sit while the precious minutes of the day slip past.
There are a lot of things about modern life that get a bad rap, and deservedly so. The busyness, the commercialism, the consumerism, the anonymity. In a lot of ways, Starbucks epitomizes it all - a massive corporate conglomeration of mediocre coffee.
But for entirely subjective reasons, right now I'm finding everything about this Starbucks wonderful and life-giving. The busyness of it is creating the most soothing sounds as coffee grinds and milk steams. The commercialism of our culture ensures the perfect level of soothing, indie music is playing. And the anonymity is only mine. Most people in here are sitting and chatting with friends. The table behind me is full of people who haven't seen each other for a long time. Their smiles, hugs, and laughter whenever a new member of the group walks through the door is infectious.
So I find it ironic that this symbol of modern America is challenging my stress today. It might represent an attempt to accommodate people like me with our long to-do lists, but somehow at this exact moment, rather than accommodating me, it's helping me kick back and loosen my shoulders.
This was my day. Hosting a Thanksgiving meal for 70 Chinese and Americans to come together in fellowship.
And this is why I'm not writing a full-blown post tonight. Instead, I'm spending my evening eating sushi on the couch and zoning out while the candles flicker. Later I'll go see Katniss kick butt in Mockingjay.
To understand why today was so important, though, check out something I wrote on last week for another blog that I edit - A Matter of the Heart: Reflections on How America Celebrates Thanksgiving.
Happy early Thanksgiving!
Sometimes I feel like there is fault line that runs between single and married women. It can often feel like women on both sides of the divide are gazing across at each other, wondering what is going on over there, on the other side, without ever attempting to cross the divide created by one adorned little finger.
When I was single, I remember trying to interact with the married women I knew. I remember feeling like they didn't really listen to what I had to say. It seemed like they were always so quick to give me advice that always summed up as "Just wait and it will all work out." Then they would launch into their own personal experience finding a husband as if it somehow was the golden ticket for finding a man. To be honest, though, I didn't really listen back. I found their advice irritating, if not sometimes silly, and quickly chalked them up as not relatable.
Now that I'm married, I still feel the gulf. My single friends like to do things more spontaneously and later at night. They are always with other singles. They somehow both want and are offended by my relationship advice in the exact same way I was some years ago. I'm on the other side of the divide now.
What I often find myself wanting to tell my single friends is that marriage isn't a piece of cake. I remember so many married women saying this exact thing to me and reacting to it really negatively. Of course, I thought, but at least you have what the rest of us want. Honestly, it felt like a queen complaining about the weight of her crown to a peasant looking for food. To my mind, marriage was hard, yes, but it seemed like winning the game we were all playing and with that win certain doors to life and status opened up.
But now, I do know it's not a piece of cake. Any person in a healthy marriage will tell you marriage is beautiful wreckage. It involves the total collision of two people traveling at high speed in pursuit of their own wills, and nothing but a major accident brings them together. It is an incredibly beautiful thing. But marriage is also an incredibly painful thing.
I believe that the pain of life is what can and ought to bridge the chasm between the single and the married. After all, the honest truth is that this side of heaven, we all live our lives in grief. Grief is the pain that exists in us from knowing things are not as they should be. We all have a myriad of things which cause us grief throughout our lives and being able to enter into another person's grief together with them is one of the most humble and humane expressions of love a person can offer.
Being single was painful. There was a persistent grief to it that I hated. My body was frequently grieved by the denial of sexual desire and I remember shedding tears many times over the frustration it produced. Grief was present when everyone else had someone to love and look at, someone to take pictures with, someone to cherish. It was painful to wonder if my singleness was a sign of my immaturity, my lack of beauty, or my inability to interest a man. Every birthday was another reminder that I had yet to enter into the "inner-circle" of married life and standing on the outside looking in caused me to grieve deeply over my unfathomable loneliness.
Being married is painful. Many of the specific griefs of singleness are gone, but none of them entirely. Instead they have simply morphed into new married versions of themselves. My sexual desires can now be fulfilled, but because sex is not about one-sided individualized fulfillment, it can become a disappointing or twisted thing if not guarded carefully. I do have someone to love and look at, but I have not known any pain worse than when that love is out of joint. Singleness brought the dull pain of absence, but marriage ushers in the sharp stabbing pain of a knife. There is simply no pain like being wounded by your best friend and no remorse like being the one who plunged in the knife.
No one lives a life without brokenness. If we want to foster better relationships between single and married women, if we want to go deeper in each other's lives, if we want to jump over the chasm, this is what we must understand. No one is carefree, no one is satisfied. Married women need to take seriously the pain of their single friends without rushing in to offer advice. Single women need to understand just how difficult it can be for married women to be open and honest about the grief they experience in their marriages and stop idolizing something they don't understand. If we took time in our communities to be truly honest with each other and to listen to each other's stories, we would see that we have more in common with each other than not.
After all, God's daughters know that this side of heaven is a world that is still awaiting its full redemption. But that redemption is coming and it is real. In the meantime, whatever story our lives tell, there will be beauty amidst the grief. Singleness is not just loneliness, but it is also freedom, and whimsey, and exploration, and openness, and community. Marriage is not just a collision, but is also the refiner's fire, and surrender, and passion. All of these things are good. All of these things are to be desired and celebrated in their time. Let us support and encourage each other as sisters, weaving our stories together across the fault line.
Well, I'm thirty years old and I have finally succumbed to a love for Taylor Swift. I've tried desperately to avoid such an admission for years, but alas, I can dodge it no longer. I'm a Swifty.
The long descent started two years ago. I was visiting Pittsburgh and Ruthie had just purchased Red. She insisted on blasting its best tracks and singing along with my youngest brother Josh. I threw out repeated snide remarks, but my sister was insistent - Taylor Swift was good and if I didn't agree, the problem was with me and my inability to enjoy the simple things in life.
I don't quite remember why or how, but at some point over the next year, I cautiosly opened Red on Spotify. I think one of its tracks had been stuck in my head and as is my common strategy in my life, I tried to confront the despised music head on. I was set on finding all of Taylor's musical flaws. I had been deriding her Hollywood persona for years, so now it was time to really take a listen to how bad her music must be.
I listened to it and while she really can't sing, and it was sappy in many places, and it was definitely much more girly than I considered worthy of my attention, I found myself humming the songs over and over again. Slowly I kept reopening Red for a listen. I never went older than Red. Those glittering ball gowns were just too much. But eventually, more quickly than I liked to admit, Red became a solid fixture in my music stream. It didn't take long for me to choose my favorite tracks and learn them by heart. My husband was shocked to come home and frequently find me singing along while cooking dinner.
For a long time after that, I considered Taylor Swift my secret love Mr. Darcy style. Whenever she came up in conversation I still rolled my eyes and laughed. What a joke. Even though I loved her music, I still couldn't get past her personality in the media. When I was bored, I found myself watching her music videos, clips of performances, and interviews. It was so painful. I just couldn't reconcile the awkward, annoying, studied personality on the screen with the warm and delightful music she created. I kept thinking I would find that one video or clip in which I would think, ah, I do love Taylor, but it never came. I was a schizophrenic fan. Listening to her music, I thought she was the best thing ever, but as soon as anything involving the woman herself appeared, I want to cringe and hide my face.
Around this same time, Jennifer Lawrence bursted into our awareness and everyone commenced on a frenzied obsession with the woman. Everyone wanted Jlaw as their BFF and that included my sister and I. We loved the Hunger Games, we loved Jlaw's falls on the red carpet, we loved her interviews, we loved just about everything this new wonder-woman did. She was just so... fun.
In the midst of all this buzz, I happened across a red carpet interview of Taylor Swift. (Don't ask me how or why I follow all of this stuff so closely. It's terrible.) I say it was a Taylor Swift interview, but really that's what it was supposed to be. What it turned into was a Jennifer Lawrence interview. Basically what happens is that Taylor Swift is being total Miss Tay Tay - big beautiful dress, over the top speeches about the most ridiculous things, super poised, breathtakingly beautiful, in short, everything Taylor Swift ever is. And all of the sudden Jennifer Lawrence sneaks up behind her, surprises her, and then proceeds to take over the interview, outshining and making fun of Taylor in every way possible without Taylor even really knowing what was going on. Typical Jlaw. Typical Tay Tay.
The first time I watched it, I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. In my mind, Taylor Swift had got her up and comings. It proved that she can't be the center of attention all of the time, that there are better and smarter women in the glitterati. I hadn't been able to find a video in which I actually liked Taylor, so at least I found one that made a total fool of her.
And then somehow, on the third or fourth viewing, I realized something. I realized in the grand scheme of things, I really actually identified with Taylor Swift far more than Jennifer Lawrence. I've never been that cool girl, a la Jlaw style. I've never been the girl who can effortlessly be the center of attention, radiating beauty and confidence while everyone looks on and blesses me with laughter. If anything, I'm a whole lot more like Taylor Swift, needing to study and premeditate how to act and what to do when eyes are upon me. If I were in their shoes, I would totally be the Taylor Swift, having to try very hard to be poised and delightful for all of America. I'd probably even be prone to live in an illusionary daydream the way she does.
And that's when I started to realize that despite all of her true ridiculousness, make-believedness, and glitz, Taylor Swift is one of my favorite women in show business. She is studied. She is awkward. She is fru-fru. And yet who can blame her? She has a phenomenal product to sell - her music - and she is smart enough to do what needs to be done to sell it.
And that gets back to her music, the first true crack in my dam of resistance to all things Swifty. All of this soul searching I've done about Taylor Swift herself is pretty superficial, but the peace I've made with her music is anything but. And this is where things get personal and very subjective. The primary gift Taylor Swift's music has given me is the ability to take myself less seriously. Just as much as Taylor herself has to take herself all too seriously in order to survive show business, her music blesses me with the reverse. It's just so girly. That was the primary thing I hated about it for so long. When music is a badge we wear to signify to others who we are, Taylor Swift didn't really seem like a great choice.
I first realized that my music choices could make people think well of me when I was in high school. I started listening to a lot of stuff, exploring different genres, and cultivating the musical image I wanted. My music somehow represented me and I wanted to people to think highly of my taste. I wanted to believe I listened to the things I chose solely because I liked them, but really the careful cultivation of an idea of my own serious taste was never far behind. None of it was girly. Of course there were quite a lot of female artists in the mix. But they were serious artists, people who communicated my own seriousness.
The older I've grown, the more I've realized just how little I have indulged my girly side. Somewhere along the way, girly things became associated with weak things, with "unserious" things. And since I wanted to be great, those weak and unserious and girly things had to be done away with. The music that replaced them were either serious or sexualized versions of femininity. Taylor Swift realigns those categories altogether. Somehow she is girly, but she is by no means weak. Her music is full of sentimentality and wishful thinking, but I'm no longer convinced those contradict the serious things in life. The older I grow, the more I embrace the girlish bumble gum daydreams of life. As a woman, I find increasing relief in these things compared to the other images presented me. In a world where women are increasingly represented by either pantsuits or Beyonce, I prefer the image of woman who tries just a little too hard to create beautiful things in order to celebrate girliness.
I'm just gonna leave this little gem here. It's simply too good to be true. I mean what in the world was going on in 1989? For realz.
According to the Huffington Post:
"Some force in the universe wanted these two things to sync up with near perfection.YouTuber Thomas Jung found a classic aerobic dance video from 1989 and, in a moment of what we can all assume was epiphanous Eureka, decided to pair it up with Swift's "Shake It Off."
I used to tell people that autumn was my favorite season, but I've come to realize in the last couple of years that really isn't true. There's a certain romance to the season that I can't escape. But it's also always a dark time for me. As I've come to realize that I'm very much impacted by the season and lower light, I've also learned to cling more strongly to God's promises when my spirits are low.
My brother wrote a song last year and the first time I listened to it, I cried and cried. It perfectly captures my feelings in seasons like this one. The words are Tennyson's and the melody all Daniel. Siblings are a mysterious thing - they are so oddly similar to you. The good thing about it is that when my brother expresses his soul though music, a medium I'm not gifted in, it sometimes feels like he is sharing my heart as well.
So on a dark, autumnal day, I hope you enjoy these words and this music as much as I do. I find a certain refuge in them and I hope they bring you solace, as well.
"Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being, slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is Life, a Fury slinging flame.
But what of that? My darken'd ways
Shall ring with music all the same;
To breathe my loss is more than fame,
To utter love more sweet than praise.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last―far off―at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be."