Friday, December 24, 2010

Many have tried to write an account of the things that have happened among us...

Just as they were handed down to us by those who were first eyewitnesses and services of the world. -Luke 1:1-2

We all know the Christmas story. You know, Mary (a virgin!) and Joseph couldn't find a place to stay, and Mary was in labor. Baby Jesus ends up being born in a stable (a lowly way for the Savior of mankind to come into the world) where the 3 wise men come to visit him, bearing gifts- and the news that he and his family cannot return to their homeland, or else their safety will be in jeopardy. The new little family lives their early years under the radar, and eventually Jesus grows up to school the religious scholars, give the Pharisees a taste of their own medicine, and yes, save all mankind.

Please don't take the smidge of sarcasm that that paragraph was written with as disrespect or anything of the sort. The story of the birth of the Messiah is awesome, and I love that at least this bit of Biblical knowledge is wide spread in our society. But the thing is, Christians ignore the rest of the story- we make it all cutesy, and we forget about how all this really went down- especially for Mary.

See, according to the times, Mary was probably about 14. She was betrothed, but imagine being 14, having just "become a woman" (a weird enough time in a girl's life), and getting ready to marry a man that you hardly know. Not a fabulous place to be, even if it is "normal" for girls your age.

So, you're stressed and uncertain. You finally get to sleep one night- a sleep that is probably fitful and not very restful- and you're woken up by this angel who is telling you, "Hey, God thinks you're awesome." The Bible says that Mary was "greatly troubled" at his words (Luke 1:29). The angel tells her that she's going to have a baby, what to name him, and that he's going to inherit the throne of David.

Quick examination of what this means for Mary: She's going to have a baby. But wait- she's a virgin. Even if Mary knows she's going to be made pregnant by the Lord God, the rest of the world doesn't know that. So, here's this 14 year old girl, engaged to be married, and she's pregnant. According to the law, she should have been stoned, and her family would have been shamed.  So, on top of all the worries of being a teenage girl who is wondering what all is going to go down on her wedding night, which is steadily approaching, she now has to worry about what her family and fiance will think, what the town will think of them, and of her impending doom.

Let's say she accepts the challenge. She gets to have this baby- not really her choice, by the way... I mean, she didn't ASK to carry the son of God in her womb!- and doesn't even get to pick his name. "He will be called Jesus." Ok, thanks, creepy angel. You can leave my bedroom now.

Oh, and, by the way, he's going to take over the throne of David. Which means that people probably won't be a huge fan of him, including the king. Your son, the love of your life, flesh of your flesh, will be hated by his world.

Back to the story. Mary tells the angel, "I am the Lord's servant." I.e., "I will do this, because God is asking me to. It doesn't mean I'm not shaking in my boots, but I trust God on this one."

Cut to Joseph. He thinks he's engaged to a nice virgin girl who will stay with him through old age and give birth to many sons. Now, I'm not a theologian, so I have no idea how Mary would have gone about informing Joseph about the pregnancy- all I know is that he finds out. Now, Joseph is a good guy- he doesn't want to marry Mary anymore, but he's not going to be mean about it and cut off the engagement publicly, with everyone knowing. He's going to do it between them, which means Mary's family won't be as ashamed by the community, and Mary probably won't be murdered. How nice of him! Except for the fact that it means he's not trusting Mary, but I mean... How many of us would?

But then the angel appears to Joseph. He tells him to not worry about taking Mary as his wife, that this was a God thing. Joseph wakes up from this dream, and I can only imagine what's running through his brain- "Did I eat too much pizza last night?"

Either way, Joseph decides to take Mary as his wife, but doesn't consummate the marriage until after the birth of Jesus. That's a little rough! I think the conversation between the two of them probably went something like this:

Joseph: Hey, Mary, we're going to get married. Apparently God did do this thing... I'm sorry for not trusting you.
Mary: Well, thanks for believing me now, Joe.
Joseph: You're welcome. By the way, we're not going to have sex until after this baby is born. (muttered under his breath:) ...Which is the suckiest part of this whole ordeal...

Soon afterwards, everyone has to go into their hometown for the census. Mary is pretty far along in her pregnancy, but she has to travel with her husband. So she's pregnant, the wedding night is still to come, and she's about to give birth. She's also away from all of her friends and her mom. Oh, and Joe forgot to make the reservations, and all the inns are full, so they can't find anywhere to stay.

Joe finally finds a place to settle- a barn, where all the animals can look on while Mary gives birth. She delivers this baby, by herself, in a strange town, in front of a man who has never seen her nakedness or had sex with her before- his first glance at her body is as she's giving birth. Awesome. Great way to start out that aspect of their relationship!

She wraps Jesus in cloths, places him in the feed bin, and then all these strange, smelly men- shepherds, wise men, and bears, oh my!- parade past her newborn.

Ok. That's all I've got. I think the rest of the story is depicted pretty well from everyone's point of view in the Bible.

Remember- the reason for the season IS Jesus. But also remember that the Christmas season is about sacrifice- Mary and Joseph both sacrificed immensely for the birth of our Savior.

As I think about beautiful babies, presents, trees, snow, and everything else that "comes" with Christmas, there'll be one thought in the back of my mind- would I have the obedience and dedication to follow through with what God asks me to do in the way Mary did?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Combining those two things is like mixing ice cream with manure...

It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream. Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President

I wrote this back in September, but I feel like it fits the "thankfulness for everything God has been doing" deal. So, here 'tis.

So there's been a lot of questions about how I ended up here, why I'm here, and what's been going on since I got here. I'd like to clear that up for myself, and for all of you. So.

Way back in February, my roommate at YWAM, hannaHRose (who is kind of a hippie and rocked my entire world to its core), jokingly said I could come live with her after DTS. At the time I was horrified at the idea and said something along the lines of "Dear God no."
In May, when I got home, all my big plans for my life started falling apart. I couldn't go to my dream school because it cost too much money... My back up cost too much money. My back up to my back up wasn't accepting into the program anymore. I started thinking about North Carolina. Was this something that could really happen? Something that, maybe, would be good for me? I looked into the college here. They didn't have an OT program, but could I take a couple Gen Eds to get out of the way? They weren't accepting anymore freshmen. But then the counselor wanted to work with me and get me into their school. So I was going to take one course. But wait- that cost too much money (if the government wants me to go to college so bad, why does it cost so much darn money??). But I had already saved all this money to pay rent and buy groceries... So it was decided that I would move down anyway. 2 days before their registration deadline, I signed up for a class at RACC. I packed up my things, sucked up the fact that life wasn't going the way I wanted it to, and came down to NC with my tail between my legs. Thrilled to see hannaHRose and be living in the same state as her again, looking forward to the adventure and being on my own, loving the idea of being out of Lancaster again... But terrified of what was going to happen.
Yeah, I had prayed about this- a LOT. And yes, I felt like it was God. But I had talked myself into things before. What if this was one of those things? What if this was me wanting this to be where God was putting me? But on the other hand, this was the only door that had stayed open. This was the only place I had to go, other than sitting at home and being dormant for 5 months. This was, it seemed, my only choice.
I got here and, almost instantly, all the memories came rushing back. The good ones, mostly- the ones that came out in stories that hannaHRose and I managed to get out between bits of laughter. The ones that, for our first 24 hours back together, came non-stop, no matter how much we tried to stop talking about YWAM. But behind those memories were all the harder ones. The ones of what God had done through me during DTS, the ones of what God had done FOR me during DTS. The ones that I had thrown away.
You see, while I was at home this summer, I forgot. I forgot what God had spoken to me, I forgot what I had learned, I forgot what it was like to be in a personal relationship with the one true living God. I threw away all the hard work, all the time and effort, all the blood, sweat, and tears, for a summer of emptiness. A summer of "Well, maybe this is how I'm supposed to live. Maybe I'm not supposed to be relevant. Maybe, I'm supposed to be the kind of Christian who goes to church on Sunday and Wednesday and doesn't think about it for the rest of the week. The kind who gets married and has 2 children, a girl and a boy, and volunteers in the nursery and bakes cookies for youth group." But then I got here.
Here, LIFE is church. You walk in this house and the Holy Spirit is like, WHAM. You forget that you're supposed to say you're a Christian because you're too busy being a follower of Jesus. Everything that was my life for those 5 months at YWAM was preperation for my life here... For self-reflection (which I do a lot of). For ministering into other people's lives (God has me in a place where a friend comes to me at 1 AM and says, this is what I'm dealing with. And it's exactly what I'm dealing with. It's weird, but it's awesome). For having my life ministered into. For being free, released, to have friends, to be friends, to make friends. To open myself up to someone within an hour of meeting them, to hug everyone who walks through our front door, to share whatever it is we have- sweet tea, pie, a movie. To realize that this is where I'm supposed to be, right now, for this time in my life. Maybe for longer.
As I said before, I've had a lot of time for self-reflection. For going back to my hurts and why they're still hurts and not history. Which, for me, means reading. (I'm blessed to be living in a house with people who love books as much as I do and always have a reccommendation.) I read "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller at hannaHRose's request... At first, it was to humor her. And then it became this obsessive thing... This guy came from where I was with God a year ago ("My life had become something to hide; there were secrets in it. My thoughts were private thoughts, my lies were barriers that protected my thoughts, my sharp tonge a weapon to protect the ugly me.") to having all of this book left, which meant God HAD to get better... And, while I'm not to this point yet, I rejoiced when Don says, "To be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously." I rejoiced in knowing that, apparently, God does get better! It's not the end of the story! God knows what He's doing! And, even more than that, I rejoiced in knowing that someone else had been through the same desert I was in! I was not alone!
Then, 3 days ago, hannaHRose handed me "Angry Conversations with God". I almost picked it up a few days ago, but I didn't want to be disappointed by her only being angry with God for the first 5 pages and then getting over it. I couldn't handle it.
I got hooked. And the more hooked I got, the more I couldn't make myself read it. This was way too much like my life. This was this woman saying to her counselor, "Either God isn't personal and I've wasted my time, or He is personal and He hates me." And her counselor telling her, just like so many people have tried to tell me, that there is another option. "God loves you, but crappy things still happen." Yeah whatever. I was halfway through the book. God doesn't get better in this one. But then I got to page 145. And on page 145, I discovered something. I discovered that God speaks into my life even when I want to shove Him off a cliff or slam the door in His face (this was one of those lessons I learned in DTS, but rejected). Susan E. Isaacs says, on her moving across the country, "Perhaps God tricked me into moving here. Maybe he lured me out here with a shiny object and then pulled a bait and switch. But maybe I needed a shiny object to get here, because the real gift might not be so shiny. And maybe I just need to be patient and discover what the real gift is. Besides, Jesus has never let me down..."

I realized... It's true. Jesus has never let me down. And if someone had told me I was coming here so God could get me to look inward and upward, I would have run as fast as I've ever run. The thing is... All the things I have seen in the last 3 weeks, all the things I wake up every morning clinging to and spend my last moments at night rehashing with God, are foundational truths that I would rather not know so that I could keep living my life (which I wasn't really living, anyway.... I was wasting it). This place- Cullowhee, NC- has become the place where I came out of the desert. The place where I found (again), and finally settled into, the arms of God.

To be continued, with where I am at now...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You're never satisfied.

If you get all A's, you wonder where are the pluses. You start out just running away, and you end up wanting to know everything. Wanting to be Joan of Arc, Clara Barton, and Florence Nightingown all in one. E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

When I was writing about thankfulness yesterday, I forgot something. It's one thing to endure your situation and be thankful for it... To thank God for the lessons learned, even though it sucks. It's a whole other animal to be in your circumstance, be thanking God, and enjoying it. I know, enjoy it? My life sucks- that's why I'm in this whole thankfulness rut anyway. But here's the thing- someday, you'll turn around and laugh. So you might as well laugh now, and enjoy it while it's happening. Even if you're enjoying the revelation that life sucks, and there's nothing you can do about it, you can still laugh at the irony and move on, knowing that better days are coming.

I'm flying to my parents house this morning, to be home for Christmas. However, since the airport is a ways away from my house, I'm hanging out with an old friend from YWAM. I had heard that my favorite chocolate, Milka, was sold at Target. Since our closest Target is near Joel's house, and Milka is kind of a YWAM memory, I suggested we go to get some. We had a swell time, even talking to another friend from YWAM who happened to call while we were on this immensely important errand. However, as we started driving back home to settle in, watch a movie, and enjoy our expensive European chocolate, Joel's truck started doing a funny thing. Joel called it "chugging", which amuses me, because I always equated that with drinking a large amount of liquid way too fast. And the more stressed Joel got, the more amused I became. Yeah, I knew the truck was a big deal, but I'm in this spot where whatever happens is totally a God thing and He's handling everything- so I was willing to just move on.

Joel pulled the truck over, at which point I said, "Joel, are you out of gas?" "No, no no... I just filled up." I said "Ok..." right as the truck died.

We sat by the road for about 15 minutes waiting for Joel's brother-in-law to bring us some gas. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience- teasing Joel for not knowing how to fill up his gas tank and just having a grand old time in general.

(An aside: Joel is one of the friends I can rag on and not have any drama, as it goes both ways. The poor kid was stressed, but we both realized it was a dumb mistake. One that now, he'll never live down :D)

Eventually, the gas came and we drove away, no worse for wear and giggling- me at Joel's expense, and Joel out of sheer joy that there wasn't any big issue with his piece of crap truck.

And I realized- In walking in thankfulness, in all things, I've come to enjoy the things that aren't such a huge deal for what they are- small things that show me, on a daily basis, that God is taking care of me.

In a few hours, I'll get on a plane- hopefully after not having any issues with security or with the size of my bag as a carry-on. I might get stuck next to a creepy businessman who snores, or a woman with a mustache who likes to talk too much. But, at the end of it, I'll be in Pennsylvania, with my family, for the holidays.

It will be so totally worth any issues that arise- and I'll enjoy them, and try to take them thankfully, in stride, as they come.