Reflecting on my 2012

Lyme Park
At Lyme Park (in England) this summer

Today, I’ve been reading this year’s journals and reflecting more on the past year than perhaps I’ve ever done before on a New Year’s Eve. And I have a few things to share…

12 Changes of 2012

I wrote something similar in the eleventh hour of 2010, two years ago now. Now, after such a landmark year, I think this is an idea whose time has come again.

  1. My three weeks overseas prior to this year has turned into more than seven months this year. I’ve lived in the UK, I’ve lived in China, I’ve tasted and seen and heard the good and the bad music of culture with eyes wide open.
  2. I was used to having friends all over the country, but now I have friends all over the world! It’s been wonderful connecting with people from (sometimes vastly) different cultures and backgrounds.
  3. My outlook on life, myself, and, well, everything has been radically transformed this year. I know myself more, and I am more real with others. It’s all thanks to God, who used my experiences this year to grow me and help me find true freedom in Him. I have more hope and joy than I’ve ever had before.
  4. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. At university, I got discouraged and set that dream aside. This year, I’ve dusted off the dream of writing and picked it up again, daring to believe, decrying the fear, dancing in hope. I’m discovering the kind of writing I love to do, and I’ve been doing it in journals, blogs, and devotionals.
  5. In the six months I’ve spent with my parents and sister this year, I’ve realized with great joy that my attitude toward my family has changed, and, thus, that we’re connecting and relating to each other better than ever before. This has been one of the greatest blessings of the last six months.
  6. Through my improved relationship with my family, as well as my improved perspective on life, I’ve been able to “redeem my time” here at home. Incredibly, amazingly, thankfully, I’ve enjoyed living at home for the first time since I left for college six years ago.
  7. “You enjoy meeting new people” reads one of the statements on many job application assessments. Before this year, I wouldn’t have been able to honestly respond with “Strongly agree.” But now I can. I’ve become more outward-focused and more willing to step out of my comfort zone with greater confidence and into new things.
  8. Speaking of stepping out, I’ve found a niche for speaking to and teaching groups, both seen (Sunday School and youth groups) and unseen (radio audiences).
  9. I’m learning how to enjoy and fully live in the present, rather than living off of memories of the past or expectations for the future. There is joy in today.
  10. Head-knowledge has become heart-knowledge in a number of areas. I’ve learned so much more about relationships and communication, what it means to truly love, how to deal with doubt and unbelief, and so much more.
  11. I’m learning how to be more intentional in relationships, and my fears and sense of self-worth are no longer at that all-time low they remained at for so long, freeing me to love and care about others more.
  12. My personal devotional time has exploded! I’ve written through almost three complete journals this year and read a good portion of the Bible. But I can’t stop there. It comes back to relationship: my relationship with God. That is the change I’m really celebrating, and I’m grateful for the means He’s used to bring it about. I’m learning how to seek God with all of me.

And on that note of seeking God, I want to share something I wrote this summer that I rediscovered today. I’ll call it The Greatest Commandment, and it is my prayer for 2013:

To love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, that is more than burnt offerings. Not just to seek You and serve You with all of me, but to love You.

I want to love You with all my heart – to turn my depth of feeling toward You; to trust You with my heart in all its frailty; to give You the outpourings of my heart, and to give them to You first; to experience true joy in You; and to let You awaken my heart.

I want to love you with all my soul – to pray to You; to listen for Your voice and be ready to act when You speak; to lift my soul to You and no other; and to keep coming after You.

I want to love You with all my mind – to use my intelligence for Your glory; to battle through any doubts I have about Your character or Your actions; to think for You, not just feel for You; to come to You with any and all questions; to commit my mental energies to the purpose of knowing you more; and to listen when You speak to me through the logic, the reasoning, the processes of my mind.

I want to love You with all my strength – to run to You with all the speed I can muster; to stand up again each time I fall, even when it feels like the weight of the world is pressing upon me; to do everything for Your glory; to not give up, or believe the lies that I am not strong enough and never will be; to live the truth that I can do all things through You who strengthen me; and to step out to You and for You, even when it seems like all the odds are against me.

The Great Romance

wedding rings 2

Once I’ve chosen my diamond, the other diamonds show themselves to be the cheap, ugly fakes they are, validating my choice in the strongest way … right?

Men in suits and women in dresses flank the happiest man and the most radiant woman on their wedding day. The bride and groom have eyes only for each other, but not because they are perfect and all other eligible men and women are deficient in values, or compatibility, or something.

Love isn’t uncovering something wrong with every other person, something that makes him a terrible match for you, something that would keep her from ever making you happy. If that were true, love would just be winning by default, wouldn’t it?

No, love is saying, “I choose you, no matter what, no matter who, no matter why. There is no competition, because you’re the one I’ve chosen. You’re the one I love. Will you have me?”

If a diamond is surrounded by worthless rocks, one will obviously choose the diamond. But what if the diamond is surrounded by other diamonds, some of which seem even more luminous than the first? How much more of an honor to be chosen then!

“God,” I say, “I am so weak!”

His reply is simple: “I choose you.”

“But why?” I ask, feeling like a lowly rock surrounded by diamonds. “There are so many others who are smarter, and more passionate, and more industrious, and… need I go on? Why would you choose me?”

He smiles. “I choose you because I love you. Will you have Me?”

Living the Joy

_DSC0150Today is a day of joy.

But it’s not Christmas yet.

No, it isn’t. Neither is it any sort of long-awaited day circled on my calendar. There are days I’m looking forward to in the weeks and months and years to come, some of which are attached to definite dates, while others are still fluttering in dreamland.

But I’m not there yet, and I don’t want to live my life in a constant state of assuming that the greatest joys in life are in some future, far-off place. As I get to know people more, as I get to know God more, our relationships won’t be the same. They will get better. In that sense, the best is yet to come. But I don’t want to just bide my time until the conditions are perfect, because the conditions will never be perfect. Not in this life.

I don’t want to lose sight of this journey, this beauty, in a rush to get to a destination. Because the only destination that bears the resounding finality of crossing the finish line in a race is death, and even that is debatable. All the other “destinations,” all the events, the milestones, the turning points, expand the original journey, they don’t complete it.

And yet there is beauty in expectation. There is beauty in waiting. There is beauty in Advent.

In this waiting time, this “now and not yet,” I can find real joy in that just-as-real “now” even as I wait for what is “not yet.”

I don’t think I will ever stop reminding myself how important it is to seek God not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. Not as a means to having a more fulfilling Christmas, or being a better person, or finding out my purpose. The noblest of ulterior motives is still an ulterior motive, and it doesn’t compare with the pure joy of knowing and loving just to know and love.

It’s not just about five days from now, or 55 days from now, or five years from now. It’s today.

We are Witnesses

silhouette

We are all witnesses.

We must take this responsibility seriously, even when the distance threatens to numb and slow and stifle.

Witnesses testify to the truth. The truth is never nice, because “nice” is a nothing word. For better or for worse, the truth opens your eyes, sets you free, gives you purpose.

I am a witness.

From my perch, I seek to capture truths of the human experience so you can understand with your heart, not just know with your mind.

But I’m limited.

I can capture bits of joy, love, faith, and even sadness, deep insecurity, and doubt. But I don’t know how to capture pain. Not really. Not the kind of pain that cuts to the bone.

Pain is everywhere. Sometimes it slaps you in the face like yesterday’s school shooting did. Sometimes it tugs at your leg like the faces you see on the news of starving, impoverished people on the other side of the world. And sometimes it passes you by on the street and you don’t even recognize it.

Pain is always there. Because this world is broken and we’re broken.

Pain is real, but love is real too.

The greatest thing God does for us is love us. Out of His love, we are saved from ourselves, saved from the permanence of pain. Because He loves, we can love. And so the greatest thing we can do is love God and love others. And loving others means rubbing shoulders with their pain.

Get close enough to see the path the tears take down her face, to hear his screams that stop the birdsongs, to feel the cold that isn’t just on the outside. Get close enough to feel.

And then testify to the truth of the pain and the truth of the love, with your words and with your life.

We are all witnesses.

The Gift of Waiting

There are many things I’m waiting for right now.

And I’m learning to dance in the hallway in front of the closed door, to smile in quiet hope, to sing my half of the song even when you aren’t here to complete the duet.

Calmly holding gifts that I can’t unwrap yet … that is my gift.

Love grown through wisdom learned through patience gained … that is my gift.

The reassurance of a Savior carrying plans that He knows but I do not … that is my gift.

The waiting … that is my gift.

Love for the Road

crowd silhouetteAs fellow humans, we all experience the same basic emotions. We all grieve at what is lost and rejoice at what is found. We all bury our faces in disappointment and let them beam with joy. We all laugh and cry, think and feel, dream and plan.

I know this, but I can only experience humanity “on the inside” through one person: a certain brown-haired, blue-eyed American I call “me.”

Sometimes I curse the air she breathes, sometimes she seems like the only dark cloud in a fluffy white sky. But usually I like her because I understand her.

I see her thoughts and feelings in vivid detail. I know her intentions, even if they get lost and buried. I know her heart, even if her actions are clumsy and inconsistent. And I know all 24 years of her journey, no matter what it looks like right now.

But you?

I don’t know any of that. Not unless I put in the effort.

I see God in my failures … but what about your failures?

Sometimes, all I see is a person who keeps making the same mistakes and never learns, whose background or personality or values are too different from mine, whose externals must bear all the weight of my judgment. I don’t understand you, and the sad part is, I don’t see that there’s anything to understand.

You’d think that my failures would make me empathetic, that my tears would help me understand yours even if we’re crying for different reasons. And they should.

I may not know how to help you, I may not understand why you do the things you do, I may not see the tears behind that blank face, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to see, to know, to understand the real you.

But before I can do that, I have to love you. That’s the most important thing: to love you simply because you’re a person, simply because God created you in His image and loves and values you every bit as much as He loves and values me.

Swallowed in Love

after the stormSometimes, the real world and the world of make-believe crisscross in some pretty powerful ways. The redemption story, the metaphors of faith, the vivid pictures of a cold world felt by millions.

But other times, I swallow entertainment like a sedative. In times like these, times when I’m so weak and tired and desperate that I jump into the nothing rather than climb into the everything, I need Love the most.

Because in the moment, the jump seems like it will never end. Crawling back up seems impossible. It’s gridlock, gridlock, gridlock in my mind.

The night ticks mercilessly into morning, my back is bent, my eyes are red.

It’s not too late to crawl to my bed and pray, to lay on my back in the sweetest surrender.

I see God in the joy and the songs and the laughter.

I see Him even more in the failures.

Because the failures didn’t always end the way they do now, with my head on the pillow and God as the victor over my feelings. My feelings used to win, used to drag me down with them and wake me up in the morning with the same heaviness and apathy.

Now I see my weakness swallowed up in victory before I close my eyes. Swallowed up in hours, not days or weeks. Swallowed up in Love.

To Fully Love

spending timeIf we look at our relationships with the people we love the most, we will learn so much more about what it means to love God.

When you love someone, you aren’t counting the time you’re spending with them in order to meet a certain quota. You’re simply radiant in being with them, and the time goes by faster than you want it to, and if you’re counting anything, you’re counting the time until you see them again.

God isn’t measuring your devotion to Him by how many chapters of the Bible you read each day or how many minutes you spend in prayer.

Relationship is the most important thing of all, which, at its most fundamental level, is love.

Advent is waiting for Jesus to arrive, and wanting that arrival more than anything else, and welcoming Him with both arms around His neck when He comes. That full, unreserved embrace is what it means to fully love, what it means to give Him your all.