Dear Adventures in Odyssey: I Love You, But It’s Complicated

“Did you know that Lizzie used to work for Focus on the Family?” he said, she said, with a gleam in their eyes.

It’s not a secret, my internship from last decade, but it doesn’t come up often. When it does, though, it’s a conversation starter, a newsworthy item for my friends to pass along. I don’t fit their picture of someone who once worked there, you see.

Even at the time, I didn’t really think of myself as working for Focus on the Family (FOTF). I was there for Adventures in Odyssey; nothing else at the organization held much appeal.

With the Odyssey crew
With the Odyssey crew at the end of my internship (2009).

Adventures in Odyssey (AIO or Odyssey for short), Focus on the Family’s seminal children’s radio drama, turns 30 this year – today, in fact. On this day in 1987, a 25-minute episode aired about a boy named Davey who feels like a failure until kindly shop owner John Avery Whittaker (“Whit”) helps him realize his worth as they invent something that goes wrong before it goes right. The story, set in the small, Midwestern town of Odyssey, is bookended by a skit with the show’s host, Chris, who tells a story about Abraham Lincoln to reinforce the theme. “Whit’s Flop,” that very first episode, aired one year and four days before I was born, and all my life the show and I have been moving in tandem toward our own milestones.

Can I say I like Odyssey but not Focus on the Family, as I would say I like Jesus but not Christianity?

No, I didn’t think so.

It’s a poor comparison anyway. Odyssey was birthed from Focus on the Family and, like it or not, is a product of its parent organization. Jesus, however, wasn’t always entangled in Christianity, especially not Christianity as we know it today. But that’s another topic for another time.

I do know that I’m not the only one who has been able to partition the two, approving the one and rejecting or ignoring the other. A college roommate was vocal about her dislike for Focus on the Family, but made an exception for AIO.

Even when I was jumping at the chance to be an intern for my beloved radio drama, back in the day when I believed what everyone I knew growing up believed, I was still taken aback by the interview question asking “what my opinions were on the five major issues most important to Focus on the Family.” I bumbled through the answers I knew they expected of me, without much thought as to whether they were really my answers.

Lately, it’s gotten harder to separate the AIO from the FOTF. But once upon a time, it was just Odyssey tapes, Odyssey at 4:30 on the radio, Odyssey before bed and on car rides, and, later, Odyssey on message boards and at events. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From its earliest days, Adventures in Odyssey has employed some of the best and most versatile voice actors in the business. This is not hyperbole. The show’s main actors include (or have included) Hal Smith from the Andy Griffith Show, who also lent his voice to Beauty and the Beast and An American Tale; Alan Young, best known as Wilbur in Mister Ed and as Disney’s Scrooge McDuck; Will Ryan, featured on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin; Katie Leigh of Totally Spies; Chris Anthony, the former voice of Barbie; and Jess Harnell with his hundreds of film credits, including Wakko Warner in Animaniacs. These actors and many others have or had extensive careers, spanning decades, and it still chokes me up how many of these people have passed away since I first “visited” Odyssey. I have met many of the actors as an adult, but I was too late for some of them.

Me and Will Ryan
Meeting Will Ryan, voice of Eugene Meltsner (and writer Paul McCusker, in the background), at the 20th anniversary live show (2008).
Me and Katie Leigh
Spending time with Katie Leigh, voice of Connie Kendall, when she came to speak at my college (2011). Photo by Cara Strickland.

I once joined a Facebook group that probably doesn’t exist anymore, about how “Adventures in Odyssey was the soundtrack of my childhood.” I didn’t grow up with Saturday morning cartoons or Boy Meets World or whatever else my peers were watching in the ‘90s. Odyssey was a cozy backdrop to my life, but it was just a backdrop in many ways, piping from the tape deck on the dining room windowsill while I would color and make lists and watch fat squirrels eat birdseed from the feeder in the backyard, filling my long-term memory and stealing my heart.

Later, I would discover Odyssey’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, I would get up early on Saturdays to catch the new shows, I would pull out my old cassettes with stronger feelings, I would catch the pop culture references that had once eluded me. Still later, on the verge of college and the verge of leaving Odyssey behind me, I found a fan message board, and everything dormant and untapped in me found its home and sprang to life.

AIO live show
At the 20th anniversary live show (2008). Pictured from left to right (on the stage): Chuck Bolte, Will Ryan, Katie Leigh, Dave Madden, and Jess Harnell.

In 2008, my first visit to Colorado for the 20th anniversary live show became one of the best weekends of my life. I met the actors, the writers, and fellow fans, many of whom I’m still in touch with. In 2009, I spent my summer interning for Odyssey and administrating the above-mentioned message board, and then returned to college and promptly started a club for fellow fans. We made video reenactments and went on a road trip to Colorado and even brought one of the main actors to our Indiana campus to speak in chapel.

This was the zenith of my love for the show, and my nostalgia for that time of my life is matched only by my nostalgia for the show itself.

I was never on fire for Jesus, not really, but I was on fire for Adventures in Odyssey.

Life seems a simpler place when you know what you love and you have ways of expressing that love.

I wouldn’t go by “Lizzie” now if it weren’t for the show, and I might not be living in Colorado. I might not have changed my major to media communication or worked in radio or spent three months in China or done a whole host of other things. Adventures in Odyssey helped me keep my head above water in times of deep depression. It brought about friendships that never would’ve formed otherwise, leadership roles I never would’ve accepted. Directly and indirectly, I have Odyssey to thank for so much joy in my young adult life. I will never forget this. To me, Adventures in Odyssey is much more than the sum of its dialogue.

Adventures in Odyssey Club party
The Adventures in Odyssey Club at our first Christmas party (2009).
Club with AIO showrunners
The AIO Club meeting showrunners Dave Arnold and Paul McCusker (2011).

And it was a dream come true to meet the people behind the voices and the people who wrote and directed and made magic with sound, to work with them in some cases, to go behind the scenes, to know and be known. They are lovely people, thoughtful and professional and funny.

As for the episodes themselves, the writing quality ebbs and flows, as it does in any long-running production, but I’ve found a lot to appreciate: How to craft a story arc, how to tell a story with sound, how to move forward when the actor who plays the main character dies suddenly.

I haven’t listened to any new episodes for a few years. This is partly because the aura of nostalgia is missing with the newer shows. Every semi-reboot has sawed off more of the glue binding my fate to the fate of the show, which I suppose is only natural when the child grows up but the show does not. I am also skeptical about any program’s ability to carry on indefinitely and still remain a high-quality production. The longer I listen, the more déjà vu I experience.

When I was younger, I hoped Odyssey would still be producing new episodes if and when I had kids. Now, if I ever have kids, I would want them to listen to some episodes but not others.

You see, I am not only out of the target age range, I am also out of the target ideology range. The segment of Christianity that AIO is a spokesperson for is one I am no longer a spokesperson for. I used to think Odyssey was good at avoiding denominational squabbles and sticking to the basics of the faith. However, because this show and its parent organization focus on conservative evangelicals and conservative evangelicals focus on them, it’s a narrow list of squabbles that are avoided, a narrow list of “basics” that are adhered to. Christianity has many different expressions, interpretations, and practices, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to the show.

In this make-believe world, the conservative Christian worldview and its applications have no baggage, no side effects, and no viable alternatives. All the characters are so nice and well-meaning, their faith clean and tidy and straightforward. There are some episodes that show a cognizance of the things we do not know and that hold certainty loosely, but the farther I get from my “on fire” days, the fewer stories I see, past or present, that do a good job managing that tension. More often than not, it’s oversimplifications and assumptions, and even though I find it’s usually lines here and there that trouble me rather than whole storylines or episodes, those lines add up.

This is not an “open letter” or a rant. I am not going line by line through episodes to point out everything that makes me cringe now. I know everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. Odyssey has gotten better over the years at portraying more diverse characters, more diverse families, but I still see room for improvement.

I have deeper problems with Focus on the Family as a whole, of the choices they make politically and the ways they choose to engage culture and the world. Their pictures of the ideal world or family or culture are not my pictures. When I listen to AIO now, I notice things I didn’t notice before.

Sometimes, though, I am noticing good things. I recognize how a three-part mystery from the mid-90s is all about championing differently-abled people. I am moved by unflinching stories about the Underground Railroad and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. I appreciate the nuanced handling of subjects such as forgiveness, doubt, and grief. I go on everyday adventures with the characters as they take vacations and learn how to drive and fall in love. I go on extraordinary adventures with them as they solve decades-old mysteries and foil the bad guys who want to take over the world. And the best of the Bible story adaptations capture a glimmer of why Jesus is so appealing to so many people.

I can’t help it. I will always love Adventures in Odyssey, even when I have trouble liking it. Whit and Connie and Eugene, Tom and Bernard, Jack and Jason, Jimmy and Donna and George and Mary, they all feel like real people, real friends and family members, even when they fight, or maybe especially when they fight. I’ve seen the same warmth and camaraderie in the recording studios as I see in what comes out of those studios, that sense of connection that we all long for, and this is perhaps the epicenter of my nostalgia.

I would like to think that if these characters became living and breathing people, they would not fall prey to the us-versus-them polarization rampant in our country today. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with Whit or Jack, that, despite our differences, we could sit down over milkshakes for a heart-to-heart, and they would really listen, and by understanding more of the Other with our heads and our hearts, we could change the world a little at a time.

Happy birthday, Adventures in Odyssey.

 

All my Odyssey possessions
Posing with all of my Adventures in Odyssey gear for a contest (2008).

Day 20: Keep running toward love (A Sunday blessing)

1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Even when you don’t think your love is strong enough, or pure enough, or agape enough, may you keep loving anyway. Even when you struggle and you’re weak and your humanity keeps tripping you up and proving its limitations, may you keep running toward the giving and receiving of love as it’s meant to be given and received. It’s not always easy or risk-free or uncomplicated. It won’t always feel as natural as you want it to. But it’s the only thing that brings life. May you never give up on love.

9 Things I Learned in September

For the third time, I’m linking up with fellow blogger Emily Freeman and others to share with you a few of the things I learned this month. I do always look forward to these blog posts (though I can’t believe September is almost over!). Anyway, this is a collection of some of the things I’ve learned, on a head level, a heart level, an experiential level, and a wow-I-never-knew-that-before! level.

1. I can walk in high heels and not look completely unnatural (not to mention not fall over). This may not sound very impressive, until I tell you that I have never owned a pair of heels before, and that these heels were monstrosities! They were the required footwear for a wedding I was bridesmaiding in, and even the hardened high-heel wearers of the group found these heels especially uncomfortable. Looks like all my hours of practice paid off!

me and high heels

2. It feels good to step out of your comfort zone. None of the other bridesmaids were going to give a toast, so I offered to give one. What have I done? I thought for a split second as the bride-to-be made the call to add me to the schedule. And then it passed. I was a little nervous before the DJ handed me the microphone, but in the moment and afterward, I marveled at how natural it all felt, and how glad I was to be able to encourage my friend in this way. Doing hard things is always worth it.

3. You can mute Spotify while it’s playing an ad and not just pause the ad in the process. (I know, I was excited too!). You simply pause the ad, then mute your computer, then press play. Unmute when the music starts again.

4. I am learning how Twitter works. I’ve had an account for a while, but hadn’t really tweeted much until very recently (you can follow me at @lizziegoldsmith if you want). Until a couple days ago, I didn’t know about the “Connect” button and that it lets you see all your interactions with others. Twitter makes so much more sense now.

5. Speaking of Twitter, I’m discovering a tension between social networking to promote myself and my blog, and social networking to connect with others. I don’t want to be a brand and all focused on appearances, but it can be very easy to forget that life is not about me (and neither is the Internet) — to quote my recent blog on the subject. Anyway, I can’t forget that social networking is indeed a helpful tool, but I don’t want to make it all about me and the pursuit of what I want. I want to be real online and seek to understand as well as to be understood. I know this will be something I’ll have to keep coming back to to check and re-check my motives, but it’s worth it.

6. Love is more important than the right words. This is one of the more important blog posts I wrote this month. I was thinking about how to say things in ways people will receive, and then I realized that love is more important than all those strategies. That’s the way to get through to people, and that’s the way to live life to the fullest yourself. “And if you feel like the love is lacking, pray for more love. And if you feel like the love is strong, pray for more love. We always need more love.”

7. I found out what Bluetooth is. In a word: wireless.

8. I’m not where I want to be spiritually, but the longing is there. With the help of my journals over the last few years, I recently took a long, hard look at my spiritual life. I’m not where I want to be. I’m not where I was a year ago when I had just returned home from my Discipleship Training School with YWAM. I doubt. I wonder if I’ve ever really tasted and seen. “I don’t know how I feel about God right now, or where we’re at, or what it will take to get back to a place of intimacy and trust. But I want that.” I can’t go back, but I can go forward!

9. I can blog consistently for a month (and counting)! I had hoped I would be able to say this at the end of this month, and now that it’s here I’m happy to report that I have been blogging consistently twice a week since August. It has been so fulfilling to write more, especially now that the habit is there and the accountability is there.

What did you learn this month? Feel free to share in the comments section!

(speak the truth) IN LOVE

a gift in hand
photo by asenat29 on creative commons (flickr)

I want you to receive this. I’m holding a truth, an oh-so-delicate, important truth, and it’s for you. I know you need it, but you don’t see it, and we’re so different, and I know instinctively that the way I give it to you matters.

Once I let go of it, there’s nothing more I can do. If I do it right, you’ll be looking at the truth in your hands, and it will look to you the same way it looks to me, and you will understand, and you will set it somewhere, somewhere in your mind. And it may only change things one-tenth of a degree, but when you mix in time and life and that one truth and other truths you accumulate, that one-tenth-of-a-degree might blossom into something beautiful neither of us expected. Or maybe it won’t. But that part’s not up to me. All I can do is share with you what I see, and share it in a way you can receive.

Stop.

Stop right there.

Those two paragraphs up there, they were what I originally wanted to arrange this entire blog post around. A day and a half ago, that was my plan, and it seemed so right, and I couldn’t wait to share with you what I’d learned about being pastoral, and learning to speak someone else’s language, and words and messages and truth and receiving.

It wasn’t a bad idea, and I value what I’ve learned on the subject, which is why I left those two paragraphs in.

But sometime last night, I was praying, and there was a shift.

Please, God, help me love this person more. And even in my exhaustion, I sensed the shift, the light bulb: What enables me to speak words of life isn’t strategies and plans and good delivery; it’s love. (And how can I write about strategies and how-to’s when I can write about love?)

Oh, maybe my advice will be long-winded, and I’ll have to search long and hard for the right words, and I won’t even find the best ones. But even if this happens every time, it won’t matter because I love you and you’ll see that I love you and all the strategies in the world can’t hold a candle to that.

Yes, yes, speak the truth in love. But start with love. Always, always, start with love, and then think about the how. 1 Corinthians 13:1 says it best: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Go ahead and reread the rest of that chapter, even if you’ve read it many times before.

When I want to help, the best thing I can do is love. Maybe words will come out of that love, or maybe it will be a silent mouth and busy hands instead, or simply an I’m-with-you smile.

Let love replace worry, let love replace the fix-it tendencies, let love replace the desire to control. I can’t change anyone; I can only love.

And if you feel like the love is lacking, pray for more love. And if you feel like the love is strong, pray for more love. We always need more love.

Life is not about me (and neither is the Internet)

One month ago today, I pressed “publish” and started being a serious blogger. And by “serious blogger,” I don’t mean I started writing about serious things (though my blogs do tend to be about the deeper sides of life), but that I started taking blogging seriously by posting consistently.

Having my own little corner of the Internet has been wonderful and illuminating, and reminds me that writing is what I’m meant to do. And yet I do feel the tension between writing as an overflow of who I am and writing to be read.

a roomThe truth is that I want people to come into my room of words here. The truth is that there are steps I can take, ways I can open the door a little wider and spread the word a bit further, so more people can hear the music and see the lights and smell the aromas of the little party going on here.

And therein lies the problem. Or at least, the tension.

How can we truly care about each other when we all have our own blogs we want people to read? How can we take the common-sense steps to get our blogs out to more people without making it all about our blogs and our readerships? How can we get involved in like-minded online communities without ulterior motives tugging at us?

I think this tug-of-war of seemingly conflicting motives applies to other areas of life too, other vocations. The missionary who sends out newsletters and updates to let people know about his ministry, but also hopes those mailings will bring in more financial support. The aspiring actor or filmmaker or musician trying to get noticed. Everyone struggling with the tension of doing what you love … and then having to promote yourself.

My goal is not to see the others as competition or as a means to an end. I don’t want to compare, I don’t want to maneuver, I don’t want to feel like I have to shout the loudest so people hear me. That makes art ugly. Even the word “networking” puts a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s tempting and romantic to want to close the doors to my little room and keep my eyes fixed on what’s going on here, on making pure art from the fullness and brokenness of who I am. If someone stumbles upon my little nook, great, but that’s not where my attention lies.

But the fact is, creatives (and others) who want to make a living doing what they love usually can’t completely close their eyes to marketing and networking. So how do we put ourselves out there without becoming arrogant and self-focused and losing the purity of the art?

I’m reminded of this quote by Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

It doesn’t stop at my gladness. I want to help you through what I write, not just help myself. I don’t want things to degenerate into “you do this for me and I’ll do this for you.”

I don’t want to follow God as a means to an end. I don’t want to write or spend time with people or do ministry as means to ends. Maybe that logic works for the small things, the little tasks (or maybe it doesn’t). But when it comes to people and purposes, I don’t want to treat them as a means to an end. They are too sacred for that.

Friend, I want to love you and love your calling independent of me and my calling. You were not put on this earth, or in the blogosphere, or in my circle of friends, to prop up my ego, or make me famous, or give meaning to me and my calling.

Life is not about me, and neither is the Internet. It’s not about controlling or conforming to be seen, appreciated, loved.

This is something I know I’ll have to remind myself of again and again as I fight to be authentic and love more. But those things are worth fighting for.

Dear Alli

my sister and I
Alli (left) and I celebrating her last birthday

Dear Alli,

After living in the same house for most of our lives, I know a lot about you.

I know you have a good memory and that you love to laugh. I know that story and character are important to you. I know you are a loyal and sensitive person. I know you are artsy and crafty and all kinds of out-of-the-box creative. And I know that you hide behind a mask so much less than you used to.

But there’s still a lot I’m learning, and I think there’s a lot you’re learning too, about who you are.

I want to spend more time with you. Not tell you what to do, not tsk, tsk at your decisions, not judge or compare or criticize. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, I get all Older Sister Knows Best and that strains things. I’m broken in so many ways, and sometimes my brokenness has spilled over and knocked you down. I’m so sorry for all the ways I’ve hurt you over the years, and for the ways I still frustrate. I know we will never be carbon copies of each other, with the exact same interests and temperaments and goals. We are different. We are similar. We are sisters.

As you celebrate your 23rd birthday on Friday and then, two days later, move your bedroom 30 miles west of here and start anew at college, these are the words of encouragement I want to leave with you:

  • You’re not set in stone. Don’t look at your age or your experiences and feel worried that you haven’t arrived or that all the pieces that should be in place aren’t. There is no should be. We all have different personalities, dreams, journeys. And life is always in flux. As long as you live, you will be moving and shifting and growing. Sometimes that’s a relief, and sometimes you’ll wonder, Am I there yet?! But the truth is, you’ll never be there, where it completely levels out for the rest of your life and it’s all flat and sloping downward and easy. Not in this life. As someone wise once said, “Don’t despise the journey.”
  • The world isn’t as scary as it looks. I know that protective bubble you keep with you is meant to keep out the bad, but it also keeps out some of the good. You don’t have to force yourself out into the world just for the sake of doing so, or to keep up appearances. I understand; I’m an introvert too. There are more of us out there than it seems. Be yourself. Take life one day at a time. But when there’s something you want to do, or a person you think could become a good friend, or a new something that intrigues, but is just outside of your comfort zone, don’t drown it out or run from it. Consider the idea longer than you normally would. Pray about it. Those are the first action steps you can take, and they count.
  • Don’t view yourself as a failure. Remember when I said that you’re only stuck when you lose hope that you can get out? I know it sounds like one of those pithy statements that’s easier said than done — and maybe it is — but it reminds me of the power of hope, even in dark days. Let hope win, even when it’s speaking to you  in a still, small Voice. Listen to that Voice, and not the one that’s pulling you down. Remember that you’re not alone, even when the loud, wrong voice says you are. The wrong voice can’t win when you listen to the right Voice of hope and truth, because that Voice is based on what is solid and true and God.

There’s more I could say, but I think I’ll let Emily Freeman say it for me. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, and a couple weeks ago she wrote a sending prayer for college freshmen. I know you’re not a freshman, but you’re off to a new place with a new major and new people. Her words are gentle, and I think they’ll encourage you. (They encouraged me, and I’m not even in school.)

Happy birthday, Kid! Here’s to more years getting to know God, ourselves, and each other better. We’re pretty close now, but I know we’re on the path to growing even closer. I love you.

Love,

Lizzie

my sister and I on the lake

What Do I Want?

English roseI want to wander along the side of the highway between my home and the city, a route I’ve driven thousands of times, with my camera in hand. Slowly, leisurely, I want to capture the splendor of our short-lived spring, to stand and breathe and gaze rather than glance from my car window as one image dissolves into the next.

I want to really listen to my new music, to read the lyrics, to be steeped in all its beauty. I don’t want it to just be background noise as I hurtle along, rushing from doing the things I don’t really want to do to the things others expect me to do.

I want to read and write and cook and spend time with people and God with freedom, not pressure. Pressure to perform, pressure to turn everything into tasks to be completed, pressure to be everyone’s buoy – including my own.

I want to do what I’m passionate about and to live each day to the fullest. Because each day matters. But it’s easy to lose the joy in the rush or to lose myself in the wrong kind of rest … to go too fast or to stop altogether. I’ve realized that I don’t give myself time to mentally and emotionally and spiritually breathe between all the doings. When that happens, it’s easy to lose sight of why the important things really are important.

It’s not all about the doing.

There’s a fine line between being a people-pleaser and doing out of obligation, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone and doing out of love. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which side of the line I’m walking on.

What do I want? I want to chase my passions rather than be dragged along by them. I want to breathe in Life in the quiet so I can breathe out Life in the noise.

What do you want?

Habits of the Heart

very good - checkmarkI read an article today on the subject of cultivating virtuous habits. The main arguments were interesting, but what stood out to me the most was this claim made almost in passing:

“Virtue is not the absence of desire for sin — it is the absence of sin despite the desire to sin!”

Maybe when he wrote “desire for/to sin,” the author meant “temptation.” In that case, I would agree with him, because it isn’t a sin to be tempted.

But even so, how are we defining “sin”? If “sin” were just a wrong action, this would be a true statement. However, sin isn’t just an action that can be seen. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

There are sins of the heart, sins that nobody sees, sins that don’t seem to affect anyone else. But they can devastate just as much as the visible sins, and have the unpleasant side effect of often leading to visible sin.

And these “virtuous habits” that the author recommends we thrust our willpower and self-control into developing? They can’t just be outward “virtuous habits” either. Avoiding unkind words in our conversations is a worthy goal, but what does it matter, how can it last, when our thoughts are harsh and self-serving? Being discerning about what and how much media we consume is wise, but what about what we let our minds fixate on? Going to church is a good habit to get into, but does it mean anything if we aren’t serious about our relationship with God?

They say that what you do when no one is watching shows who you really are. I say that it’s more than that. I say that it’s not just what we do in the quiet of our homes; it’s what we do in the quiet of our hearts.

But our hearts aren’t naturally good, and our feelings aren’t trustworthy, and we can’t change this through sheer willpower and self-control. At least, we can’t start the change that way. Knowing God starts it. Letting Him in starts in. Believing and receiving and living on and in the purest, most sacrificial and most amazing love that ever was … that is the beginning.

Self-control is continuing to walk in that love when the feelings fade and the routine sets in and the vision gets fuzzy. Self-control is letting the truth set you free rather than being enslaved to self and sin. Self-control is choosing what brings life, not what brings death.

That’s why I don’t want to expend all my energy on pursuing self-control in ways that regulate the patterns of my body without regulating the patterns of my heart.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

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?”