Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Lights of Christmas

I have always been afraid of the dark.  Since childhood it has hovered over me as a dark entity, solid and real like some sort of demon just on the edge of my vision.  It left me not with the exhilarating thrill that rushes up through the stomach and into the heart, the kind that makes one vibrate with life, but rather the sort of sick wrongness that reeks of the stench of death.  I tried night lights as a child but they only seemed to manipulate the dark.  It bunched in corners and gathered behind doors, looming, waiting for its dark friend sleep to draw me under and claim me as a victim.  The presence of a brother, a father, a mother, a friend was the only thing that robbed this monster of its solidness, banished it to its true form.  I cowered alone but found strength with others.

This has followed me into adulthood, like a second shadow clinging to my being.  It has brought friends along with it; exhaustion, desperation, depression, guilt.  If I truly trusted the Lord I would not fear.  How can I say I love Him when I let the darkness rob me of my peace.  I am a failure, a fraud, a hypocrite.  This darkness has become my accuser and I have listened to it, allowing its words to drown out all other voices.  Like a corpse crushed at the bottom of the sea, when this darkness comes I feel utterly helpless.

But I am not a corpse, and, as John 1:5 says, "the darkness has not overcome" the Light.  My journey is slow.  It ebbs and flows.  One night I sleep in peace, the next I stare at the ceiling, pumped full of sickening adrenaline, but there is forward progression.  I am seeing the Light of the world pushing back the dark that has always hunted me, and not just brushing it into corners or behind doors but revealing His Lordship over it.  The dark is not an entity on its own, it has no power that was not given it, and it will not overcome.

As I was driving home tonight from babysitting, I took a moment to wind through my neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights.  Because we are not allowed streetlights in Fullbrook, the stars are starkly visible on a clear night, but during the advent season thousands of twinkling strands spread their light together.  They glow with a warmth that is felt even in the Texas heat, with the reminder that the Light of life came into our darkness to slay it and cast it down.

John 1: 1-18 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lessons from a Facebook Status

This past week, a friend of my posted a status on Facebook that caught my attention and started an epically long chain of comments.  In her status she posited a suggestion that once a year we ought to be able to post whatever we are thinking rather than the passive aggressive sorts of things we often share with any and everyone who will listen (or in this case, read).  It struck me as I scrolled through people’s responses (as well as my own) that the majority focused on what drove us bonkers about others.  From text speak to grammatical errors, carpool line cutters, and the excessive use of selfies each person gave vent to their anger and frustration over somewhat trivial issues.  Most of it made me laugh, quite literally, out loud, but a lot of it also convicted me.

As I read through the comments I noticed a two things: I do many of the things that irritate others, and others became defensive of the things they did that irritated me.  For example, I have a personal, fiery, hatred for text speak, and while some agreed with me, others declared proudly that they used it all the time.  On the flip side, one person dumped on adult high-fivers, an action I may or may not participate in on a daily basis. 

It sort of embarrassed me a little.  But I think that’s a good thing.  Seeing other’s irritation at things I did rather cooled the flame of my own annoyance towards personal pet peeves; not that I suddenly became ok with them (good grammar is no laughing matter ;-)) but I discovered a little more grace. 

I think it’s the same way with sin. 

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and [a]by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  Matthew 7:1-2

I can be such a Pharisee sometimes.  Growing up in a Christian home and being born with the insatiable desire to please everyone around me, I have always been a “good” kid who cringed at the thought of challenging authority figures or getting mixed up in the drama my friends always found themselves in.  I’d been taught that I wasn’t righteous, that Christ’s sacrifice alone made me acceptable to God, and I would have told you I believed it, but quite frankly, I don’t think I really did.

Then the mirror got turned around.  God began to shine a spotlight on the ugliness in my heart, the rottenness of my motivations, the untrusting fear that lead me to protect myself in any way possible and drove me from deeper relationships…the stench of death was and is so overwhelming that it often knocks me to my knees.  It sucks.  I don’t like seeing myself for who I really am, twisted and bent by sin.  But as the whitewash is peeled away I find my heart becoming more gracious towards others.  Like the situation with my pet peeves I continue to hate sin; it’s a cancer, it’s not God’s best, it poisons everything around us, but the Pharisee slowly shuts his mouth and my standard of measure is altered significantly.

Do you ever find the fire of your fury cooled when your own sin comes into view?


My prayer is matched with a promise, that “He Who began a good work in [me] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lessons from Potty Accidents

This week was a week of beginnings: first days of kindergarden, new jobs, inservice for teachers, and for me, my first, official class (complete with my second pair of tap shoes).  Nerves abounded.  Unlike some of my friends I was not sending off my little one into the hands of another adult, rather, I was the aforementioned adult (so-called).  Worse still, with the baby classes mothers come to watch, fishbowl style.  What if they on't like the way I teach?  What if I have to keep one from falling in their tap shoes and the parents think I grabbed their kid too hard?  What if I slip on my own tap shoes and fall myself?

What if a kid pees on the floor?

Oh the things you learn on your first day.

"Teacher, look!"  The puddle was already there by the time my attention was caught.  My eyes went immediately to the shelf upon which might be paper towels but I saw none; no trash can either.  Time for plan B.

"Ok, go see mommy, it's ok, just go see mommy.  And let's all stay on this side of the room…"

I spent the rest of the class attempting to keep three year olds from stepping, hopping, and "snow-angeling" (is that a word?) in the puddle.  It's amazing how children migrate towards the things they should be avoiding.  But I guess we don't change all that much, even when we get older.  Whether it's eating food that's not so good for us, wasting time watching twenty hours of Netflix, or pure and simple sin, we chase after (or marinate in) things that are detrimental to us.  Worse still, the more we feed ourselves these things, the more we develop a taste for them.

"Oh honey, let's keep your feet out straight so they don't get wet!"  (Read: don't snow angel your feet into the puddle of urine.)

"What is it?"  (referring to said urine)

"Oh it's nothing, let's bunny hop."

I think we do this sometimes because our attention span is about as short as a three year olds and our vision just as limited.  God tells us something is not His best for us, but all we want to do is stomp around in it.  He's just being unfair, He's just a spoil sport.  We forget that our Creator knows what we truly need, and that when He gives us commands it is because He cares for us.

Thankfully, He is a gracious God Who hears our prayers.

"Ms. Courtney, did she have an accident?"

"Yes, but it's ok.  Sweetie I never mind if you have to go potty, just let me know next time."

"Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.  Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity."  Psalm 141:3-4

I am really excited to work with these little ones, potty accidents or no, and I am looking forward to learning many, many lessons from them in the near future.  Pray that God will use me in their lives as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Diving Back In Amidst the Madness

It has been about two months or so since I last devoted any time to my blog.  I made no decision to stop writing, there was no grand event in my life that drew time or energy from me (unless you count writing my final paper for apologetics and moving out to my parents house)…

 I just.

Sort of.

Stopped.

Every time I tried to write felt like an upward battle, an actual, physical struggle, and rather than doing the wise thing by pushing through the block, I raised a white flag and gave up.  So here I am again, trying to remain faithful to my exercise in writing, hoping to be more consistent even when things get busy at my new job (woohoo!).

In June I was offered a position at a dance studio in Katy.  They are branching out into Fulshear (five minutes from my parents house, which I am taking care of while they are living in Egypt) and I will be teaching little ones ballet, tap, and jazz.  In spite of a few nerves (I haven't taken tap since I was about their age, 3, and I took a very small amount of jazz in high school) I am super excited at the opportunity to help these little ones learn how to dance.  My prayer is that the Lord will use me in their lives and the lives of their parents; that I will be a witness by patience and gentleness and that these things will give me the opportunity to share the reason for the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15).  Thankfully, the Lord can use even His most banged up and broken tools to do great things.

And our world is so broken.  The last few days have been sad, painful.  News of turmoil for the church around the world, the suicide of a beloved comedian, the murder of a close friend of one of the families

at my church…our world is not right; our world is damaged, and sometimes, even as the children of God, things seem hopeless.

In Jeremiah 50:6-7, the Lord says through His prophet,

“My people have become lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray.
They have made them turn aside on the mountains;
They have gone along from mountain to hill
And have forgotten their resting place.
“All who came upon them have devoured them;
And their adversaries have said, ‘We are not guilty,
Inasmuch as they have sinned against the Lord who is the habitation of righteousness,
Even the Lord, the hope of their fathers.’

I think as the church we need to look to this passage and consider Israel's plight, especially in dark times.  God gave His people the land of Canaan as a place of rest.  Why was it their place of rest?  Certainly because the Lord defeated their enemies, of course because they were no longer slaves, and absolutely because He'd made them prosperous, but I think the deeper reason is because that is where He chose to reside in a very special way.  God is "the habitation of righteousness".  This word is often misunderstood, I think.  We view righteousness typically as a set of rules and regulations, or self-righteousness as prideful, holier than thou art living, but when broken down, righteousness means "the quality or state of being just or rightful."

Think about that.    

Injustice permeates our world with the blood of the weak and powerful alike.  Wrongness twists and bends the bones and joints of every aspect of life.  But in God righteousness lives and breathes.  All that is as it should be dwells within our Creator.  There is no shadow in Him.  Therefore, to reside in a land in which God's special presence had been placed meant to reside in a land of rest.  We can't rest when things are wrong, when we feel in our souls that things are bent and out of place.  It is only in the presence of the Righteous One that we are able to give up worry, and hope for the day when He has made straight that which we have made crooked.

It's hard to find space for this sometimes.  Our days are so full, crowded with things both meaningful and ordinary, but even in the chaos our souls can find rest in
prayer, in the remembrance of God's word, in the quiet whisper that so often reminds us that He is there.  I'll be honest, this doesn't always make everything ok right away; traffic is still frustrating, my sin still casts a shadow, and work is still sometimes hard, but it is like a deep gulp of air in the middle of a hard race.  You're halfway through and you just don't think you can keep running, your muscles burn, your joints are aching, and your lungs feel raw from exertion, but you see the crowds cheering you on and you take that deep breath sending oxygen to your blood cells and then, suddenly, you can carry on when you thought you were done.

Take courage, dear friends, and find rest in the Creator of all things, our "habitation of righteousness".

Monday, June 09, 2014

Cherished

I wrote last week about how well my parents pampered me on my birthday; this week, I show how my sweet friends cherished me and helped me celebrate my 29th year...
At Babaloo's, enjoying a very geeky cake

Up close shot of the Tardis cake…if you don't know what the Tardis is, then you are clearly not as geeky as I am…and I am so, so sorry
The girls and some of my favorite waiters around!


Monday, June 02, 2014

The Year 29

So close to thirty, so far from maturity.  Tonight, I leave you not with lamentations of time wasted, hopes deferred, but instead, with times cherished, with a reminder that I am, undeservedly, unabashedly loved...
The best crab cake…ever.

Flowers from my favorite waiter, Gus!

A special birthday cake!



Gus, the man.

He even wrapped my wine for me to take home!

Thanks mom and dad for a great birthday celebration; and thank you Lynn's for treating me like a princess!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Lonely Path of Comparison

“I know I shouldn’t complain, other people have it worse…”

My feet have ached before, but nothing like this.  For seventeen years, point shoes rubbed and tore at heels at toes, blood blossoming out across pink satin, gore tainting elegant beauty.  Miles of pavement left inches of callouses.  A dislike for shoes in general have flattened and spread toes.  Doors have severed toenails violently; salty sea waves removed them gently…but nothing has left my feet as swollen and worn as waiting tables.  Add to it my brilliant decision to take two classes this semester (100 pages of reading a week for apologetics – help me, help me!) and there are days where all I can manage is when I get home is a few minute veg in front of the TV followed by five or so hours of oblivion.

But how can I be tired?  I don’t have a family to care for when I come home?  How do other people keep up with their reading?  How do they stay sane with a full time job, kids, and seminary?  I’m weak, I’m lazy, I’m a failure.  Other people are so much busier, work so much harder, have so much more on their plate and do it with a flippin’ Crest commercial smile.  I have no excuse to be tired, no excuse to be frustrated, no excuse to be behind.

“I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set.”

But at least married people have partners in their work; as a single, I’m doing it all on my own, creating a home, paying bills, making life decisions, worrying my family will end with me because I’m so insanely picky I can’t find the right guy.  My life is hard, it isn’t fair, I’ve always worked so hard, don’t I deserve a break, some kind of reward?

Does anybody else wrestle with these two mindsets?  On the one hand, guilt overload bears down, pulling us into despair and often paralyzing us against productivity and any possibility of deserved rest that might just restore the energy we need to keep going…while on the other hand, pride often rears its ugly head, lifting us up above our fellow workers in this world, destroying camaraderie and frankly pissing everyone off (Oh GP, please put down the mic and walk away slowly…).

Both roads lead to the wilderness, and not just a clearing in the middle of the woods with an awesome little stream nearby and green grass and an awesome view of the night sky.  This wilderness is dry and desolate and, above all, lonely.  When we compare our struggles to the struggles of others, we will always isolate ourselves, always. 

There is only one solution to this struggle, one remedy to this faulty mindset:  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but [b]associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. (Romans 12:15-16). 

We should neither downplay nor exacerbate your struggles or the struggles of others.  The one leads to guilt, the other bitterness.  Instead, I think we need to allow ourselves to mourn the effects of sin, give ourselves the right to be frustrated and stress.  Jesus wept when Lazarus died (John 11); it is not a sin to weep in our struggles.  Using the argument that others have it harder robs you of this.  But when you allow yourself to mourn your own difficulties, an accept that they are, in fact, difficult without comparing them to others, then you are able to mourn with others as well.

Thankfully, despite our propensity to compare ourselves to one another, despite the difficulty of rejoicing with those who are rejoicing when we wish their circumstances were our own, we have a God Who is working for our good, for our holiness.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)


It is only by His power that we can love one another, and flee the lonely paths of comparison.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Night Foodie: Facing an Eight Year Old's Fears

 “No sauerkraut for me, thanks.”

 
She wouldn’t have it; in fact, she demanded it be put on my sandwich, no matter how much I wrinkled my nose.

I remembered the last time I’d tried sauerkraut, hair blonder, curls looser, eyes wider, I trusted the lunch lady without the cynicism that would settle in later years.  One large, unhindered bite was my first step towards the wisdom of the world.  No amount of carton milk could possibly drive the sour (how many days old???) taste from my mouth.  With as much determination as an eight year old can muster, I vowed never to eat the foul substance again.

Yet, I found myself again faced with, what I could only remember as, the smelly giant.  I would try it, but only because she was my best friend’s mom…only because the family was of German heritage. 

It takes hours to make good sauerkraut, hours and good beer and (if I remember correctly) bacon.  Translucent and rather dull looking, the eight year old in me could hardly imagine that it would taste anything other than sour, bitter, and slimy. 
Gluten free bread for me, of course.

The smell of buttered bread, melted Swiss, and turkey made my stomach growl and my mouth water…why ruin it with what is literally translated as “sour cabbage”? 


Still, retreat was not an option.  With a polite face at the ready, I took my first bite. 


Swiss, 'kraut, turkey

The Reuben 


What I discovered that day was that there is a world of difference between cafeteria “sauerkraut” (if it can be so called) and fresh, homemade sauerkraut.  Tart, flavorful, and crisp, this topping made the sandwich instead of ruining it.  Once again, I am surprised by food; expectations trumped, childhood aversions upturned, new memories folded in.  It’s more than a meal; it’s family and friends and fellowship, and I am so very thankful for it.

Thank you, Spitler family, for having me to Oklahoma, and "forcing me" to eat your sauerkraut.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Might of Words

 “An English Major?  Hope you’re ready to ask ‘Do you want fries with that?’.” 

I’m not a violent person, but at this point in the conversation, I felt ripping his face off would be an appropriate and reasonable response.  No court would convict me.  Crime of passion, right?

It wasn’t the first time my major of choice had been belittled, after all, I had not only chosen Creative Writing as my focus but also decided that attending an Agricultural and Mechanical university was just the place to do it.  Year after year Engineers of all types snickered at my passion.  The kind ones held up a smile supported by decency and asked, with the greatest effort at politeness, what my future career plans were; the less tactful laughed outright, suggested I might have nothing more to look forward to than serving up flash frozen fries.

Words.  Words powerful enough to cut like knives. 

I wanted my words to be powerful, too, to speak to individuals, to the masses, concepts, ideas that would bring about change, would rend hearts, would comfort and convict…I wanted to change the world with my voice as a mouthpiece for the Lord, for truth…

But words made me small; shrunk me down until I was tiny, a child looking up at adults, at betters.  My words meant nothing, I meant nothing; my path was that of a fool.  Even the armor of indignation and condescension based on their “inability to communicate intellectualism” stood little chance against the arrows of their words…

It only proved how powerful words can be, how they can mend or break, build or destroy.  The old adage regarding sticks and stones proves to be nothing more than the same armor with which is clothed myself, and poor armor at that. 

“…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  James 3:5-6

I was listening, as I often do, to wrong voices.  I was listening to wrong words. 

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”   Galatians 3:29

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139:14

Words have power.  Listen to the right ones.


True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the C├Žsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —
States can be saved without it! – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
I STILL HATE PICKLES