Sunday, February 26, 2017

That Friend That Makes You Do Crazy Things

I have this friend that I have known for about 6 years ago. Even though we only hung out together for about two years before she moved away, she has had a big role in getting me started in a lot of the things that I never saw myself doing before. Can you say rock climbing? She even got me started on spin class... A year after she moved an ocean away!

She's been in town visiting for a couple of days, and it's been wonderful. Like we haven't been separated all this time, only richer for some of the things that we've experienced in the last few years. She's been in town less than a week and- somehow- I now have plane tickets to go to Europe and ride my bike across the Alps this summer with her and another friend of ours. What the crap?! How does she do this so quickly?!

I'm joking. Not about the trip. That's real. The tickets are real (and purchased! and blessedly cheap!- okay, not cheap at all, but a lot less expensive than they could have been, so therefore possible). The indignation is fake. The slight feeling of confusion and surprise, even though I was the one making the decision, is also real. I am very excited. I mean, I get to eat my way from Munich to Venice!* I'm trying to focus on that part and not the part that this trip requires ~40-45 miles of biking per day with all my luggage on the bike over mountain passes. Apparently we're climbing 3,000-4,000 feet per day. But, I think you know that I relish that challenge as well. I started training on Friday, since I decided that I was going on Thursday. I only have a few months to prepare! This is going to be nuts! Granted, that first bit of training was simply going to spin class a few minutes early. I couldn't even work that hard because I've been fighting asthma this last week. But you can only do what you can do. I'll take whatever few extra minutes I can get!

Haha! Maybe it's a good thing she moved away... Who knows what all trouble we'd get into without the ocean in our way! Oh my goodness! I can't wait!!

*Sidenote, for some reason in my head I keep saying "Vienna", which is another place I would love to visit, but even though I will be passing through Austria, Vienna is another trip. Venice, the one with the canals, is where I will be.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Miraculous Story of God's Love

I have dreamed of the day when I would have the miracle story to share. When everything in my life finally came together, made sense, had a purpose. I have dreamed of the many ways it could come together, whether spectacular or commonplace, it didn't matter. As long as it happened, as long as I finally found someone to share my life, it didn't matter which way it happened or which novena finally brought it about.

That is the miracle story that we all want. The infertility finally being healed. The adoption going through. The struggling marriage being restored, and back better than ever. The cancer being wiped out forever. The vocation finally being fulfilled. The long years of suffering finally culminating into something amazing that never could have been without the suffering. The senseless finally making sense. Right triumphing over wrong.

We love those stories. We live for those stories, for ourselves and for our families and friends. We are even happy when strangers are able to share these stories. And you know what? We should be happy, we should rejoice in them, and we should praise the goodness of God in the midst of them.

In case you couldn't tell, today's not that kind of story. It is nonetheless the sort of story that should be cause for joy (not necessarily happiness), a cause to recognize the great work of God in our midst.

Mine is the story of the unanswered prayer, when the prayer is "God, it is not good for us to be alone, please send someone to share this life." He is silent, but He is present.

Mine is the story of learning to live a life that is far different than I had ever imagined or dreamed. I do not know that you can really say that this is "good" or "bad". It simply is. And He is.

My story is of days of not knowing how to go on, but getting out of bed anyway. That miracle doesn't feel triumphant or beautiful, but it is a miracle. Every single day, it is a new miracle.

My story doesn't make sense. Pieces of it are nice. Other parts are really not fun, but there is no overarching point to it. That's not to say that there will never be a point, but there is not one right now. He's still there.

Not too long ago, I felt the bitterness closing in and killing off anything that was good, twisting what was left. At this moment, that is not really the case. That is a miracle, let me tell you!

There have been so many times that God has felt far away. Actually, He felt lost, like I could no longer find His presence. And yet He was there. Right there.

I got to the point where I didn't want to go to church. There were times where instead of being a comfort, it made everything hurt worse. I admit that I haven't always been good about paying attention, and I have developed a terrible habit of running out before the last hymn is over, but the fact that I was there at all is a miracle. It wasn't a miracle that felt good or nice, but it was a miracle all the same.

How's this for a miracle: No matter how bitter and cynical I have been, no matter how much I have dreaded church, no matter how little attention I have paid, no matter how far away from God I've felt, He was always waiting there for me. He was waiting and desperately desired my presence. How's that for a miracle? Again, He was there every time, but most times, it didn't feel like it. The truth is still the same. He is there. Always.

I think that life is such that there are days where the stories of the miracles of our lives are dramatic and lovely and happy, yet I sometimes wonder if the other miracles are not just as big of a deal, if not bigger. The miracles that don't feel good at all; in fact, the miracles that we don't even feel at all, because the pain overrides. There are the miracles in the midst of the very thing that we wanted the least, whatever is making life so difficult right now. Sometimes I resent those miracles for not being the miracles I want, but hopefully I eventually come to accept them as the gift that they are.

I still believe the other story could happen, the story that feels like a miracle, the one that I've longed and waited for for so many years. If that happens, I want to rejoice as such miracles deserve, but I don't want it to be the only miracle in my life that I acknowledge. It's also possible that it may never happen. I've met people for whom that is the case. I've seen the pain in their eyes, felt it, and tried to keep the fear at bay that it may also be what happens to me.  Whichever of these happens in the future, I can only live in the now. These are my miracles right now, and this is my miraculous story of God's love for me today.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Proof of God's Love

I read a story the other day about a miraculous healing of a baby, and the author was rejoicing how this healing was further proof of God's love for us all... I wish I could remember exactly how it was worded, or be able to find it again, but I do remember thinking what a dangerous thought it was. Don't get me wrong, we should all rejoice in the miracle of life and praise God, the Healer, for healing. But if healing one child is proof of God's love, then does it prove His lack of love, lack of trustworthiness when another dies?

I have grown up in and around this mentality. When you love God enough and trust Him in all things, He will work out all things for good. Do you see the problem in what I just said? It's a doozy.

Think about it for a minute. There was a time in my life where I would have wholeheartedly agreed with this statement, though now when I hear it, alarm bells are going off all over the place.

Okay, either you thought about it for a second or you're skipping straight to this to see if I'm ever going to make a point.

"When you love and trust God enough". It's conditional. It implies that those who love and trust well will have it all work out for them. The inverse implication lies beneath. Maybe if your life is not working out as well as it should, it was because you didn't do enough, or you didn't do it right, or you weren't enough.

God is not conditional. His love is not conditional, His answers are not conditional. If everything works out, it doesn't mean you did it all right; and if it doesn't all work out the way you wanted, it doesn't mean you did something wrong. If it fell into boxes like that, it might be easier. Life is messy, and sometimes in the short term it looks like it didn't work out, though maybe in the long term it will look completely different. Or the long term may also look like crap. I don't have answers here for you. All I can tell you is that God loves us unconditionally. In turn, we are asked to love Him unconditionally, even when all of the bad things that should never happen, happen.

The second very dangerous thing about this idea is our fairy tale mentality. We have this insane idea that yes, there will be trials and tribulations, but once we work our way through it, that will be it. It will all finally work out in the end the way that you wanted it to, and of course you will all live happily ever after. You know what's behind that mountain of a trial that you're climbing right now? More mountains. There are always more mountains. Sometimes it all works out. Sometimes it works out just how we wanted, other times it's not at all what we wanted, but we see how good it is in the way that it works out, sometimes it's beyond what we could have possibly imagined. But sometimes none of it "works out".

Does it make sense now why I shuddered to see that sort of an explanation? If this good thing happening is proof of God's love, then what are all the inevitable bad things saying? About us, and about this God, whom we call good.

Perhaps I am so sensitive because I believed that statement. Maybe not worded in exactly that way, but the concept. For a time, it helped me push through hard things, because I could handle it. God would work it out in the end. Then as trials dragged on, unchanging and becoming more permanent, it made me wonder who I was and what was wrong with me or what I was doing, and why I was not worthy, or worth it. Finally, it made me wonder about God, and what His goodness really meant.

I shudder at how many versions of this we believe and propagate, and the people that we hurt with this thought process.

Whatever you are going through, it is true that God will bring healing and redemption out of it. I can't tell you when, and I can't tell you if it will look anything like you would like it to look. I can't tell you if you will see that in this life or the next. I can tell you that this healing and redemption is unconditional, and will be offered to each of us, no matter what we have done right or wrong... But we will have to receive it. If we reject Him and his gifts, it is possible to miss out. However, it is a product of whether we are willing to receive his gifts unconditionally, or not. I know I want to put conditions on it. I want to stipulate what I want the gifts to look like, what I want healing and redemption to mean in my life. My life may never be the way I would orchestrate it, but it is a beautiful life if I only accept it as it is.

Every single mountain you climb will be difficult. Some will merely be uncomfortable, and you'll think you've done something. Then you'll do the ones that take all that you have, then asks for more. Those will hurt you, change you, break you. Keep heading up anyway. I don't know if there will be relief and comfort at the top of the mountain. I don't know if the next mountain will be comparatively easier, or if it might in fact be even harder. Maybe you'll get to a spot that you thought was the end, only to realize that it was a false summit, and there's more. I don't know what is waiting for you on the mountain, but I do know that you will meet God on every single mountain, in every trial. His presence in every part of that trial is the real proof of His love for us. His presence will redeem all of it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sick Day

I'm wrapping up (hopefully!) a couple of sick days. Sick enough to stay home, but well enough to be really, really bored. In other words, lots and lots of time to think.

One of the things that I think about is how crazy it is that I used to feel guilty for staying home sick, or trying to figure out if I was "sick enough". Because if you're not too sick, you should be at work, right? This is especially ludicrous thinking when you work in healthcare around potentially immunocompromised people, but I have done it in the past, and know plenty of people (including healthcare workers) that do this. I do not feel one bit guilty any more. Yesterday I didn't move much off the couch, and even though I didn't feel too terrible, I did feel like I was where I needed to be. Today, I've been better, but still spent most of the day resting, and the few things I did (like shower and get a couple of things at the grocery store), I could definitely tell how nice it felt to lie down for a few minutes afterwards. Why have I ever felt the need to push myself through a full day of work while feeling like that? I feel a lot more normal this evening, so I'm sure it will be back to business as usual tomorrow, even though I'm still a little stuffy.

I hate calling in to work, but I would have been useless except to spread germs, so why do we feel such a cultural need to push through that? Europeans are right to think that we're crazy for trying it.

At least this small obstacle of being a little sick and missing a couple of days of work provided a perfect opportunity to work on some of what I've learned in "The Obstacle Is the Way." Such a great book, by the way. At least it resonated with me. Some of it is accepting what we can't change, and dealing with it as it is, rather than as we wish it could be. For example, I started thinking about the things that I wanted to do rather than be sick, but I can't change getting sick. I can accept it and allow my body the recovery time that it needs, however. I can recognize that the places where it puts me behind are not going to matter in a few weeks. I was also able to use today to really work on some of my reading, catching up on a couple of podcasts and do a little writing. Tonight is also a great time to do some gentle stretching. Things that I don't always get around to in my normal busy days.

But. I really hope I'm over this little bug, whatever it is, because I'm going stir crazy!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Thinking Out Loud

(Please note that I am about to abuse the internet by trying to add my opinion to the glut of noise that is already out there. For those of you that are fatigued with all of the back and forth, please click away now! I sometimes just have to write to help me sort though my thoughts. You certainly need not read.)

I don't know what to think right now, but I know I'm overwhelmed by everything that's going on. I can't speak in more than general terms because I don't know anything more than generally speaking. I hear things that could be wildly out of place. I'm very concerned by what I hear and the reactions that are being reported. It is not "you" that is doing something inconceivable and out of proportion. Neither is it "them". It is us. Every single one of us.

As much as I sort of choose a bit of purposeful ignorance (not saying it's right, it's just been my preference to avoid the negativity and constant accusations getting hurled around), I can't do that anymore. There is too much going on and it is too important. I'm not sure how to find real information in a world that is flooded with information, but also with misinformation and leading information, but I'm going to have to start to make the attempt. It would be easy if all I wanted was to jump in one of the echo chambers. There are several to choose from, and I could start swimming around in all of the places linking back to one another and all agreeing together, but all presenting only one perspective: That "we" are clearly right, and "they" are clearly wrong. "We" see the truth, and "they" are blind, have terrible intentions, weren't raised right as a child, and likely smell funky.

I admit, I'm a little dizzy from some of the articles I read yesterday. I haven't even really started to figure out where to go for information, these were just linked articles that I read. I don't even know how to describe it. Each one talks with such conviction about how right "we" are and how blatantly wrong "they" are, but each one is saying so much the same thing that I can't tell which "side" anyone is on! Eventually someone will say something that tells me what they are trying to argue for, but they don't seem to realize how much they sound like the other side. Most people seem to think that it is obvious where the differences are, but I can't tell sometimes. Not anymore. It used to be easy, but it's different now.

Is this just me? Am I the only one who has read an article decrying those terrible protestors that are marching, and what are they whining about, and besides, if they really had something important to say, then maybe they wouldn't be so rude and crass and just generally awful people? Then I have to read further to see if they are talking about the women's marches or the pro-life march. Because one person will say all that about the women's marches, then go to the pro-life march. Or vice versa.

It is not "them", y'all. It is us.

To use the marches as an example, let's take the women's marches. I certainly don't agree with everything they were marching for, and some of what was being defended (abortion) was something that I am very much against. Nor do I condone some of the more crass methods that were used to spread the message. (You know what I'm talking about.) However, I think that there was something very important going on there, and I am grateful to those that went, those that voiced their concern in a tangible way, and I am especially grateful to those that went as pro-lifers, the ones that spoke out for me when I was too afraid or too confused or too busy to go myself. To go does not mean that everything that everyone is doing is right, but that it is still important.

Now, let's take the pro-life march. I admit that I have never been, but I am so grateful for those that go. Those that know that there may not be much coverage of it, but who stand up anyway. There are those that go that defend life in ways that I find abhorrent and not useful to the cause. (Graphic pictures, I'm looking at you.) Some are going to shame and blame the women that have committed abortion. How is that going to help anyone? But that doesn't mean that the marchers are all wrong. Sometimes people stand up for the right thing in wrong ways, ways that may make them culpable, but still cannot take away from the rightness of their cause, even if they make it harder to see.

I know that many people agree strongly with one march and strongly disagree with the other. That doesn't really bother me. I can see how that would be. I object to those that think that one march should not exist and that the other is a good and noble thing. It seems to me that if marching is a way to stand up for what we think, then we should not be bothered if others also stand up for what they think, whether we agree or not.

You know what bothers me the most right now? How much I let myself get caught up in reactions.  I am the problem. More than us, it is me. I don't fully know what's going on, but I get carried away by things that are said that fit snugly into my own thought processes and patterns. While, like everyone else, I am horrified by some of the things that are going on all over the place, I am also fascinated. Maybe that's wrong of me, but I can't quite help it. It is crazy to me to realize people that I used to never agree with that I agree with more and more, and people that I always agreed with that I agree with less and less. Sometimes it is more who I agree with on one level, but are completely at odds with how the problem needs to be solved. Again, it is at least fascinating.