Saturday, April 30, 2011

Duane leaves for Fiji tonight--and I will miss him!

This morning I woke up at 5:30.  Normally I would go ahead and get out of bed and start my day, but this morning I rolled over and snuggled up to Duane.  He leaves for Fiji this evening, and I will miss him.

I know he'll only be gone a week, and I know that military wives (and husbands) go through long, frequent separations.  So I'm not complaining, only stating the truth.  And I'm really glad he gets to go to Fiji to install low-tech water filters with Give Clean Water.  Still, I will miss him.

I met Duane two months after I turned 16.  And now I'm 51.  You do the math.  I have known Duane longer than I haven't known him.  This July we will be married 33 years.  That's a long time.

Duane is my life.  Or to be more precise, our lives link inextricably so that he is a part of me, and I am a part of him.  When he is gone, a part of me goes with him.

It hasn't always been like that.  We started out as friends.  And then we fell in love.  And then we committed to spend life together.  And then we started living, and life gets hard sometimes.  But over the years, through good times and not so good times, as we've walked through all kinds of things--injuries, finances, children, job losses, miscarriages, and so on, we've grown together.  Duane isn't just my husband; he is my best friend, the one person I trust more than any other person.   Together, we have shared all of life's major milestones.  More than anyone else, he knows me.  And I know him.  And yet still we constantly learn new things about each other.

He wants what's best for me.  He believes in me.  He wants me to step out and do things I've never done, things I've been too afraid to do.  He's behind me when I succeed, and in case I don't do as well as I would like.

And I'm behind him.  I want what he wants.  Even when, sometimes, it isn't what I want.  But I know he'll never push me into something I really don't want.

I think this is what my relationship with God should be like.

It starts out fairly superficially and, over time, as I learn to know him, I fall in love with him and trust him increasingly.  I  want to please him.  I want to spend time with him, to snuggle up to him, if you will, just to be close to him.  I know he will strengthen me as I venture out into new adventures.  I know he's with me when I succeed, and in case I don't do as well as I would have liked.  I want what he wants.

As much as I trust Duane and know he loves me, I know--at least cognitively--that God loves me more than Duane does and is much more trustworthy.

I say at least cognitively because sometimes Duane's love for me is more real to me than God's.  I will also say that our relationship reveals things to me about the potential for my relationship with God.  I think that's why the Bible is so filled with analogies revealing the Israelites as God's beloved or the Church as the bride of Christ.

The love relationship we have with our spouse--or the one we wish we had--shows us what's possible with God.

Sometimes I think I put Duane ahead of God in my day-to-day life.  It's easy to do.  I can see Duane, touch him, hear his voice.  We live together--eating, sleeping, walking, talking every day.

Certainly nothing should ever come ahead of God.  But if we're honest, really honest, I think most of us find that other things frequently come ahead of God, whether it's ministry, our kids, our spouses, school, music . . .  And over time, as set out hearts on things above, as Paul instructs us to do in Colossians 3, God becomes increasingly important.  We begin to put him first.

It's part of that falling in love process.  That growing together.

Just as Duane has become a part of me, just as this has become increasingly true over the years we have spent together, God is a part of me, and this becomes increasingly true as times passes, as I learn to depend on him, as I learn to lean into him, to love and to trust him.

I will pray for Duane while he is in Fiji.  And while we are apart, I will take the time to grow closer to my other love, the one who loves me even more than Duane does.

Incidentally, the best part of this, is that Duane loves God just as I do.  We share this journey of learning to put God first.  We challenge each other to know God, depend on him, love him, and trust him.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Once upon a time . . .

Today Prince William married Kate Middleton, and she became a princess.

Honestly I don't really care.  There are a lot more important things going on.  A few wars.  Tornadoes and loss of life.  Home foreclosures.  And the price of gas is going through the roof.

Closer to home, I have friends with cancer.  And one is having her mastectomy today.  Who cares about a royal wedding?

And then I watched the news this morning and saw Kate, standing at the altar of the cathedral in her ivory lace gown, with her glittering tiara and an enchanting smile.  I saw Prince William in his royal scarlet uniform and epaulets, with the gold sash, gazing with adoration on his bride.  This is a moment.

And then I remembered.  When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess.  I wanted to leave my mundane, ordinary existence, and I wanted a fairy tale life.  Maybe not every little girl wants this, but I think I'm not the only one.

Beauty. Romance. Ceremony.

Cinderella.  Snow White.  Sleeping Beauty.
Happily ever after.

And I wonder why I wanted this.  Or maybe I still want this.  Certainly, a life of wealth and no worries sounds good, but I think there's more than that.  (And yes, I know that real princesses who live outside of fairy tales don't live a perfect happily-ever-after life.  But I like fairy tales.)

A princess doesn't have to DO anything.  She lives an extraordinary life because she is extraordinary.  At her core.  Even when she lives in the ordinary world, something about her shines through.  Her evil stepsisters fear her because they know.  The birds sing around her.  Rabbits and deer and dwarves adore her.  They'll do anything for her.  And when she rides through the streets on her horse or in her Bentley, she waves graciously and the crowds cheer.

Because she is a princess.  And they love her.  She doesn't have to prove anything.  Her goodness flows out of who she is.  And she is good.  And she does good things.

And so I'm not sure what it is, but I must confess that part of me still wants to be a princess.  And it's not that I don't want to do anything.  I can't imagine a life like that.

But sometimes I think I want to be rescued from my very ordinary existence and I want to live an extraordinary life.  Just because I am extraordinary.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter - The Day Everything Changes

Very early Sunday morning, the women--Mary Magdalene, Joanna, James' mother, and a few others, went to the tomb with some spices they had prepared for Jesus' burial.  Jesus is dead, and they want to honor his body.  This is what you do when someone dies.

As I sit here, I wonder what's going through their minds.  Do they walk silently and mourn?  Do they speak quietly to each other, sharing memories of Jesus.  Are they still crying?  

I don't know. 

The previous week had its highs and lows.  Only seven days before, Jesus rode in a donkey to cries of "Hosanna, Blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!"  Last Sunday the people thought he was the Messiah.  By Thursday, they called out, "Crucify him!"  How could it have gone so wrong?  

The finality of death weighed heavily on the women.  In a culture that treated women like property, Jesus treated them with respect, as if they mattered.  As a woman, I think that's huge. 

And then they came to the tomb.  The stone, which some estimate might have weighed up to two tons, had been rolled away from the opening, and the guards, which Pilate had ordered to watch the tomb, were gone.  

The women walked inside the cave-like tomb, but when they went inside, they couldn't find Jesus body.  And while the women try to figure out what's going on, two men in clothes that gleam like lightening appear beside them.  The women fall to the ground--the standard reaction when people see angels. 

And these men ask, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!"  

And then the angels remind the women, "Remember his words?  He said, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, will be crucified, and on the third day he will rise again.'" (Luke 24:7).  

When he spoke those words, they didn't make any sense at all.  Dead is dead.  Perhaps there's a resurrection at the end of the age, but people don't wake up after they die.  

Right now, in the empty tube, the words take new shape for the women.  Hope fills their hearts.  And they run out of the tomb to tell Peter and the other disciples.  You can't keep this kind of news to yourself!  

In dying, Jesus defeats the law of death.  Everything changes with this one act.  The death and resurrection of Jesus are game changers.  Nothing is the same.  

The resurrection of Jesus restores hope. 
The impossible is possible.

Swallowed into earth's dark womb 
Death has triumphed 
That's what they say 
But try to hold him in the tomb   
The Son of Life rose on the third day
Just lookThe gates of hell, They're fallingCrumbling from the inside outHe's bursting throughThe walls with laughter Listen to the Angels shout 
It is finishedHe has done itLife conquered deathJesus Christ has won it 
His plan of battle
He fooled them allThey led Him off to prison to dieBut as He entered Hades HallHe broke those hellish chains with a cry 
Just listen to those demons screamingSee Him bruise the serpent's headThe prisoners of HellHe's redeeming All the power of death is dead 
It is finishedHe has done itLife conquered deathJesus ChristHas won it

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Reflections - Death is hopeless.

Yesterday we commemorated the death of Jesus.

Think of the horror of the disciples, not just the twelve, but the many who hoped or believed that Jesus was the One who would rescue them from the oppression of the Romans, who would restore the greatness of Jerusalem, who would lead them into a glorious, fulfilling life.

Their hopes dwindled as they saw Jesus arrested.  But surely he can save himself.  Or perhaps this is the moment when he will seize the kingdom?  Their hopes began to face as they saw him nailed to the cross.  And when he took his last breaths, those hopes evaporated.  Jesus wasn't going to save anyone.  He was dead.  Death is final, and as those brilliant Lost philosophers so poignantly put it, "Dead is dead."

This morning I woke up and wondered what the Saturday after the crucifixion was like for these disciples.
I imagine it's a little like when someone we love dies.

My dad died suddenly in November 2007.  One minute I was planning paint colors for my living room and going out to breakfast up in Oceanside.  Life was good.  And then I got a phone call from my brother saying my dad had died suddenly.  At work.  During chapel.

My eyes teared up when I spoke with my mom over the phone an hour later, but then numbness took over as I prepared to fly back to Colorado Springs the next day.

I didn't sleep well.  Whenever I woke, reality jarred my thoughts.  Daddy's dead.

I set goals to keep my mind off the loss.  At such and such a time, I thought, I'll get on a plan.  I'll comfort my mom.  I'll help plan the funeral.  I'll help Duane make driving plans with the kids.  I'll stay busy.

Everything changed.  And nothing changed.  
The sun rose and set.  People went about their lives.  My dad was gone.  I would not talk to him again.  I would never share books with him.  We would never reminisce about the past or dream about the future.  He would never hold my children's children.  

I think it was like that for the people of Jesus' time.  Obviously, some were glad that Jesus died.  These are the people who yelled, "Crucifixion."  Some didn't care.  They didn't concern themselves with political or religious matters.  Others mourned bitterly.

Everything changed.  And nothing changed.  

Nobody suspected what would happen on Sunday.  We know the whole story and so we miss the importance of Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter.  

In Jesus Manifesto, Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola remind us that every crisis we face "is a God-given opportunity to rediscover Christ in a bold new way" (151).  The crisis of Saturday led to the discovery of Easter.  Dead led to life.  

We face new crises, sort of mini-deaths, if you will, throughout our lifetime.  We struggle when we do.  We wonder, "Has God forgotten us?"  Why does he allow this?  

When Paul was suffering, Jesus told him, "My grace is sufficient for you."  And we nod with this Scripture, in theory.  When we experience those horrible crises, those mini- or not-so-mini deaths, we struggle.  

Sweet and Viola remind us that we should "be prepared to meet a God who seems to have the disturbing habit of leaving the scene when [we] most need Him.  This includes times when [we] are courting death and [our] life is hanging in the balance" (151).  Sometimes it feels like he has abandoned us.  That he doesn't care.  

And during those times, especially when we start to panic because those mini- and no-so-mini deaths threaten our safety, our stability, our lives or the lives of people we love, we must remember that Jesus is the resurrection and He is the life, and "if [we] endure, outwaiting [our] impatience for His timing, Christ will roll the stone away and raise [us] from the dead" (151).  

Jesus' death led to the resurrection, to redemption, to forgiveness of sins, to our adoption as children of God. Jesus death led to abundant life, to eternal life.  

But on Saturday the Saturday after Jesus died, nobody knew any of that.  Easter changed everything.  Easter defeated the finality of death and restored hope.  

Is today your Saturday? Easter is coming.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: Dying for Life

Sometime this morning, very early this morning when most people should still be sleeping, I woke up with a profound thought: Today we celebrate the death of Jesus.  Today we gather together to remember Jesus' suffering and death, two things we are prone to forget.

All week long I've been aware this is Passion Week, but until that moment this morning, I didn't think about the ramifications of this fact.  Early this morning, the awareness overwhelmed me.

I pictured Jesus on the cross, bleeding, in pain, the skin shredded on his body from beatings, his face in anguish, his chest rising and falling as he struggled to breathe.  And I knew.  He died for me.

And I mourned that I frequently, mostly, take this so lightly.

Most of the time, I think about Jesus' life, not his death.  I marvel at the way he interacted with the despised people his day, lepers, tax collectors, women.  I read his stories.  I meditate on his words.  I thank God that Jesus shows us the character of God.

I receive his love.  But I don't think about his death.  The thing is, without his death, we don't receive the promise of God, the promise of life.

This morning though, in the middle of the night, I thought about Jesus on the cross, and my heart filled with sorrow, and at the same time, thanksgiving.  And then I went back to sleep.

I remembered these emotions when I woke up again several hours later.  And I thought of some verses I memorized a long, long time ago:  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners [not righteous OR good], Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:7-8)

He loved us that much.

I looked up the passage, so that I could type it correctly, and then I read it in context.  I'm going to paraphrase it here.  Sometimes, when we read Scripture, we get caught up in the formal sentences and we fail to think about what God's word is actual saying.  Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I take time to rewrite passages in my own words.

Romans 5:1-11 (ERV - Erin's Revised Version)
When we put your faith completely in Jesus, when that faith begins to define our lives, God sees us as if our lives are completely without sin.  He sees Christ's righteousness--his goodness--in you, even though we're still pretty messy.  And that means that we can enter into God's presence, his holy, magnificent, awesome, glorious presence.  Our faith in Christ, our belief in his deity and his power and his love, brings us into this place that we totally don't deserve.  It's an incredible, totally unearned privilege, and it is a privilege to occupy this place, confidently, joyfully, expectantly looking forward to sharing God's glory. .  What an amazing thing!  And it's all because of what Jesus did on the cross. 
As we begin living in God's presence, we can find joy when we run into problems and difficulties, whether death, illness, financial struggles, job losses, relationship problems--all of these help us develop the ability to endure all kinds of things.  And that endurance develops strength of character.  I know I need that--I don't like living without patience, angry, short-tempered, anxious.  And strong character strengthens our confident hope in the promises of God.  And hope never disappoints.  In other words, strong character increases my faith in God.  And because God is Truth, my faith--or hope, if you will--leads to reality.  I know this type of thinking seems like wishful thinking, but it's not wishful thinking if it's true.   
One thing I know, I can't live life on my own.  I can't control the circumstances around me.  And neither can you.  We absolutely cannot fix or control anything in our lives.  And when we're done trying, we realize we need God.  The problem?  God's holiness separates him from sin, and we are all sinners, and the punishment for sin is death.  The good news?  Jesus took the punishment for our sin.  He died for us.   
I don't really understand why.  I mean, most people don't die for other people, even if those people are "nice" or "good."  I will note that soldiers, police officers, firemen, etc. do actually risk their lives for us, and many actually end up dying, but death isn't usually the goal.  They fully intend to stay alive.  Jesus, on the other hand, died on purpose.  No one survives crucifixion.
In that act, God showed the enormity of his love for us.  He sent Jesus to die.  This was the plan all along.  And he created this plan while we still rebelled against him.  We were basically enemies of God and his plans, and that's hard to imagine.  But God desired restoration with us. He loved us that much.   
We are made right in the sight of God because of the blood of Jesus.  And no, this doesn't make sense to me either.  I want to ask God, "Isn't there another way, a less messy way?"  But there are a lot of things I don't understand.  Like how do airplanes stay up in the sky.  And how does electricity work.  And Internet.  Ultimately, I stop thinking about the things I don't understand and I accept them.  Embrace them.  Welcome them. 
This is like that.  The blood of Jesus frees me from God's condemnation, the condemnation I deserve because of my sin.  
Jesus' death restores my friendship with God.  I don't earn friendship with God.  God gives it to me because of Jesus.  And so we rejoice in this our new relationship with God.  We treasure it.  We honor it.  We give our lives in thanksgiving.  We thank God for the death of Jesus.  And we worship the one who gave his life for us.  
We live because Jesus died.

Writing = Breathing

I haven't been writing much lately.  Not in my blog.  Not on my thesis.  For a while I was writing in my journal, but I haven't written much in that either over the last week.

My time set aside for writing fills up with coffee dates, student conferences, conversations with Duane or with Caitlin, and flipping the channel on the TV because I am too tired to think.

The less I write, the less I want to write.
And the more anxiety fills my psyche.

For me, writing is like breathing.  It fills my soul with oxygen that releases energy and enables me to think and speak and connect ideas.  When I don't write, I gasp for air.  My mind flits from idea to idea and I can't stop and sort through any of them.

I should know this.

I can hardly pay attention in class or in meetings or in church unless I take notes, adding my own ideas to the ideas I hear.

When I had my first miscarriage, I kept a journal for the first time.  That journal enabled me to sort through my ideas and face the day.  Eventually I worked through my pain and now look back on that time with thanksgiving.

When I got serious about knowing God, I copied passages from Scripture, along with questions and paraphrased versions, written by me.  I transcribed my prayers.  They seemed more substantive that way.  I poured out my questions to God, and he heard me.

For a while, I tried to pay attention without writing.  I'm an intelligent woman, I reasoned.  I should be able to process information the way other people process information.  Very few people take as many notes as I do. Sometimes note taking prevents me from participating in discussions.

I tried coping with sadness without writing.  I grew more depressed.  I tried praying without writing, and I stopped praying.

Lately, I'm anxious.  I struggle to focus on ideas, projects, anything.  It feels like a losing battle.  I must write.

I know not everyone writes, but I am not everyone.

I must write.  For me, writing is like breathing.  And we all must breathe.
I must make time to breathe.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Behold I stand at the door and knock: Reflections of Christian misunderstandings.

I totally remember this picture.  It’s basically a Sunday School standard.  If you’re not familiar with this image, this is Jesus, standing at the door of your heart, asking you to open the door and left him in. 

This is the picture Sunday School teachers show when they teach Revelation 3:20:  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in, and we will eat together.”

This is the picture Sunday School teachers show when they want to urge little children to ask Jesus into their hearts. 

Some years later, when I began thinking about Christian language and how we use it, how we form idioms that make very little sense to people who aren’t raised in a Christian tradition, and I began wondering about this phrase. 

I imagine “asking Jesus into your heart” requires a little explanation.  Essentially, it signals that you want God—in the form of Jesus—to be a part of your life, that you believe he is God, that he died for your sin, and you want him to know live in you. 

I grew up speaking “Christianese,” the language of evangelical Christian churches.  It sounds so much like English that I don’t always recognize when I switch into this native dialect with its unique idioms.  At any rate, this idiom is pretty standard in evangelical circles.   

Unfortunately, our idioms frequently replace Scripture and often establish their own theologies, based on language instead of on Scripture.  Based on this phrase, we thinking of Jesus coming into our lives, living in us, walking with us where we walk, and strengthening us as we go about our daily tasks.  He's in us.  He's on our side.  How cool is that?  

But that's only half the story.  Jesus is in us, but we are also in Christ.  And we are to live through Christ, going where he goes, following where he leads.  He strengthens us as we follow him.  He is in us, and we are in him, and we are on his side.  

Basically, instead of having him follow us around as we live our lives, we follow him around and live the life he has planned for us.  

It's not the same thing.  Sometimes it looks the same, but it's not really the same.  Remember, Jesus tells his disciples, that we need to lose our lives.  (Luke 9:23-25)

I memorized those verses too, but the Sunday School teachers never had any cool graphics to explain that passage.

I remember the first time I came across this idea, of living in Christ instead of him merely living in us.  Pastor Mike led a Bible study in our home, and we were studying 1 John.  These were the days when our church was quite small, and Pastor Mike always led a home group.  He lost his host home, and we had a big living room so he asked if he could move the study to our house.  I didn't realize it when I said yes, but this opportunity probably changed the direction of my spiritual life.

So anyway, Pastor Mike went through the book of 1 John verse by verse, asking the group to think about the meaning and application of the words, challenging us to think about the ideas intended by the writer.  1 John only has five chapters, and those chapters are pretty short but it took us a couple of months to get through them.  I studied on my own too, keeping a journal of my ideas.  

And I came across a verse that challenged my way of thinking, this Jesus in your heart type of thing.  In 1 John 4:12-16, John writes, "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.  We know what we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. . . .  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. . . . God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him."

Okay.  Here's both parts of the story.  God lives in us.  We live in him.  I don't think I had ever heard that we live in him, and the idea stunned me.  

It also gave me a new way to view my life.  If I am IN God, I am never alone.  If I am IN God, I do not live independently.  If I am IN God, and the other Christians around me are IN God, then none of us operate independently, but we should work together for the same goals, for the same purposes.  We are all IN God.  

I felt like I had just come up with some new theology, some new way of seeing and understanding God, and that scared me just a little bit.  I'd been in church my entire life, and I'd never heard this idea.  Could I be wrong?  And yet the language was clear.  

In The Call to Conversion, Jim Wallis discusses the same dilemma that I discovered as I read 1 John.  He wrote, "Modern conversion brings Jesus into our lives rather than bringing us into his.  We are told that Jesus is here to help us do better what we are already doing.  Jesus doesn't change our lives, he improves them."  
In other worse, we can be better, do better, live better WITH Jesus than without him.  There's nothing about losing our lives in this type of thinking.  

Still, we can't base an entire way of thinking on one passage.  In Acts 17:28, Paul says, "It is in Christ that we live and move and have our being."  Our life is best lived IN Christ.  

This idea of IN God or IN Christ is sprinkled throughout the New Testament, and Brennan Manning tells us that Paul speaks 164 times about life in Christ.  That's a lot.  It is enough to begin reexamining the way we view God, the way we view Christianity, the way we view what it means to follow Christ.  It is enough to begin to examine the way we live as Christians, to see if the way we live reflects Scripture or simply what we've heard.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Checked out of the Blogosphere.

Not that anyone cares but me, but I'm back.  And honestly, I don't care that much, but something happened last week that I totally want to remember.

For spring break, I thought Duane and I could go to the tail end of spring training.  Or we could go to Napa.  Or San Luis Obispo.  And then I had a genius idea that instead of spending money on a hotel, we could make our room look like a hotel.  Or at least not like it looked.  (Our bed's been sitting on the floor since we moved in.  Long story.)

So Duane took a few days off.

Unfortunately, although I wasn't teaching, I still had plenty to do.  On Monday, I had to finish reviewing chapters from a textbook.  I had planned on doing it over the weekend, but forgot I would be gone to the women's retreat.  We did take some time off to go look at furniture and bedclothes.  Finding the right things is pretty stressful.  Especially when the budget is quite small, but you want your room to look kind of rich.  As a result, I didn't finish the review project until Tuesday.

At that point, we went to Lowes to find paint color.  We painted and moved furniture all day long.  Except when I was reading a chapter from New Threats to Freedom and trying to figure out how to respond to it and doing some preliminary research.

Back up.  On the Thursday before the women's retreat, I came across a scholarship.  Read an essay.  Respond to it in 2,000 to 3,000 words.  Doesn't sound too hard.  Deadline is March 31.  First prize is $5,000.  No problem.  Lots of time.  Except that I'm redecorating a room and trying to spend time with my husband.

We got the room painted on Tuesday.  Except that the color was a little off.  (Turns out we painted the room essentially the same color it used to be.)  We got bed lifts to raise our bed up off the ground, and it turns out we raised it too high.  And we bought two drape panels.  One was 84" in length and the other was 95".  Ooops.

Wednesday we started fixing things.  That requires running to the store to return and replace them.  All along, I'm reading research for the essay I'm supposed to write.  And I'm thinking.  And taking notes.

On Thursday morning, I realized writing this thing was totally a long shot.  What was I thinking?  If I had three days, I could do a good job, but I've got less than a day.  I felt like I should at least try.  And by "I felt," I mean that I really felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to do this.  Don't know why.  But I did.

So I asked Duane if he would mind, and said if he wanted me to spend the way with him instead of writing, I would be happy to do so.  It's not like the odds of winning--or even finishing--were very good.

Plus, an acquaintance let me know of some community college positions that would be opening up and suggested I get my application in right away.  I really needed to get on that.

Duane said I should do whatever I thought I should do.  Incidentally I didn't tell him about the Holy Spirit piece.

So I wrote a diversity statement and a cover letter and filled out an application.  That took all morning. We got lunch, and I decided to see if I could get an introduction written.  It was worth a shot.  And if I couldn't get it done while Duane was off at a meeting, then I would give it up.

Remarkably, I did get the introduction done.  I wanted to quit lots of times.  I kept looking at the word count. I checked Facebook and email every 15 minutes.  I craved pizza.  I prayed.

And at 8:54, six minutes before the essay was due, I emailed it to the New Threats to Freedom people.  I was pretty happy with it at the moment, but the next day I started thinking of things that I needed to add.

It didn't matter.  I had set out to do something, and I did it.  I didn't quit.  I accomplished a goal.  Multiple goals, really.

Now, this story would seem really significant if I won the scholarship.  Incidentally, second and third prizes aren't too shabby either.

But to me, this story has significance even without the money.  (Not that winning wouldn't be absolutely lovely.)  Too often I set out to do things and give up when they get hard.  Or I analyze the odds of success and when they seem stacked against me, I back off from the challenge.

I didn't do that this time.

All that writing and reading made it so I didn't blog all week long.  I haven't wanted to write anything since then either.  I have just wanted to bask in the glory of completion while we take a few minutes to choose a new paint color.  And while I get the strength to return to writing and finishing my thesis.

The Quest: Whatever.

My friend Nancy makes me laugh.  I don't know what it is about her, but her unique perspective on the quirkiness of life causes me to smile and want to stay close to her.  We go back and forth on Facebook nearly every day.  She suggested that I go duck hunting, but I don't remember why.  She tells the funniest stories about her very cute and very clever five-year-old son, Caleb.  Incidentally, I'm really grateful for Facebook friends who are also friends in real life because right now, as I'm finishing up school, I don't get out too much.  So I FEEL like I see Nancy every day even though I really only run into her once or twice a week.  It's not the same, but it helps.  

A few days ago we were going back and forth about something.  And I used the phrase "whatever."  She said it was her favorite word.  And I know she meant it in an ironic sort of way, but it kind of tells the story of her life.  I mean, her life is filled with "whatever."  And not the good kind of whatever.  Hard stuff.  

Her authentic faith response strengthens my faith.  By authentic, I mean that she doesn't pretend like everything's okay.  She trusts God, but she wrestles with that trust.  And I like that too because she helps me feel okay about wrestling with God.  

On Saturday, Nancy's oldest sister and best friend in the world died suddenly.  Whatever.  
All afternoon, I prayed for her and for her family.  

On Sunday morning at church, I continued to pray for her.  And as I looked around, I saw more people suffering.  Some dear friends of ours are going through a divorce, and we love both of them and we love their kids.  And the dad, who is stationed out of state, visited the kids this weekend and came to church with his two little people.  His daughter's arms were wrapped around his neck, like she couldn't bear to let go, and I wanted to cry.  Whatever.  

And another friend has just been diagnosed with some kind of tumor.  And she doesn't know what this means yet.  Whatever.

And yet another friend has breast cancer, and they thought they got it all, but they didn't, and now she faces more surgeries.  Whatever.  

And I could go on and on.  Whatever.  

Sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes it's harder than other times, but it kind of makes you wonder.  What's the point?  

Difficult times drive us into the arms of Jesus.  At least they can.  When we can't fix or control the "whatevers" that life throws at us, we choose how to respond.  We can get angry and lash out at God.  We can drink too much or use other substances to check out.  We can yell and scream and hurt people.  

Or we can surrender the "whatevers" to God, allow a new relationship with him to be birthed in our lives, and watch what he does through these same "whatevers."  

I've been reading Jesus Manifesto, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola lately.  The book argues for the supremacy of Christ, that idea that in Christ, we live and move and have our being, but all too frequently we get distracted by theologies and philosophies and behavior and causes and programs and on and on.  Not that those things might not be necessary, but they should never take our focus off of Jesus.  

Anyway, I came across this section which I'll share with you in a moment.  They speak specifically of the incarnation of Jesus, not just being a one-time event in Mary, but an ongoing process of allowing Jesus to live through us.  

They begin by talking about the birth of Jesus, a story which they say we like to make "cute."  Cute baby Jesus.  Away in a manger.  The cattle lowing.  Round yon virgin.  At any rate, Sweet and Viola speak of the incarnation, saying, 
Christ wants to be conceived anew in your heart, in your hopes, in your family, in your community--but not as a cutesy little baby who's still in the manger.  Jesus Christ is the author and perfector of our faith, not a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.  So for Him to be conceived a new in you, you must enter into a faith-filled, dynamic, life-giving relationship with Him through the Spirit of God so that He radiates from you in all you do.
But what kind of journey might the "Radiance of God's glory" put you on?  It could be  hard one; not all journeys are easy.  When Mary affirmed, "Let it be with me according to Your word," she could  not foresee all that the little word it would bring to her life.  "It" was definitely not easy--or cute.  
"It" would mean a pregnancy out of wedlock.
"It" would include giving birth far from her home. 
"It would be a death sentence on her child's life, and a night flight into Egypt.   
"It" would be long years of a simple, ordinary life in a non-name village. 
"It" would be three years of trying to understand the transformation of her son into the Son of God and . . .  
"It" would be the horror of the cross, and a mother's heartbreak at the tomb. 
But "it" was worth it all when it became, finally, the story of the bright Morning Star.  
"It" might mean "whatever."

Mary's declaration, "Let it be according to your word," means we die to what we think life should be and surrender to "whatever" God brings into our life.

Sweet and Viola put it this way, "Christ wants to be born in you and to live in and through you" (74).  In order for that to happen, we have to die to ourselves, our plans, our hopes, our dreams, and embrace "whatever."

This is all so metaphorical, and three times now I've been tempted to delete this entire post.  I make these claims right now, as my life is actually going pretty good.  Right now my whatevers are pretty sweet, and the last time life got really tough, I totally crumbled.  Do I really even understand what it means to die to myself?

In Galatians, Paul says, "My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in my.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."

In Philippians, Paul says, "I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or the other, I will experience the resurrection from the dead!"

These are hard words to accept.

I just keep thinking of Nancy, who is stuck in the middle of whatever.  I want to ask her what she thinks all this means, and I will.  Soon.