Unresolved

Sabbatical means more space to learn and question, and most importantly to indulge persistent questions and thoughts that are… not deep.  Not profound.  Mostly… ridiculous things along the lines of shower thoughts.

  1. FOOD RELATED
    -What is the difference between a spread and a dip?  This is a continuation of the “what’s the difference between jam, chutney, etc.” conversation in the sense that the question is: are they the same thing with different word origins? Or different things?
    -Why don’t we milk pigs? What does pig milk taste like?
  2. MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE
    -How do port-a-potties get to remote locations that may be inaccessible by even an ATV?  Some have said, by helicopter.  However, helicopters seem prohibitively expensive AND I cannot imagine lifting a full port-a-potty and flying somewhere without serious consequences.  Poop rain-type consequences.

    -Why do we have such luscious head-hair?  What evolutionary purpose does it serve?  Yes, hair in other places retains body heat, pheromones, prevents chafing… but our heads? Like, did that evolve after clothing such that we still needed cover there but not on the rest of our bodies?  The internet did not provide satisfactory explanation.

  3. RELIGION
    -Will we eat animal meat in heaven? Somehow I don’t think the Simpsons idea will play out.
  4. ONLINE DATING
    -When men say they are looking for a woman with a great personality, what are they expecting?  Do they expect a woman to say, “I’d better pass on this guy, I’ve got a terrible personality.”  Same for “has manners,” “is polite,” “knows how to take care of herself,” etc. I imagine if you don’t embody those qualities, you are likely unaware of it.  And are these adjectives just euphemisms for things like, “submissive” or “obedient” or “does not contradict” or “does not have an opinion?”
    -Speaking of which, what are the equivalent code-words that women use for what they’re looking for in a man?
    -Under “likes/hobbies:” who doesn’t like trying new restaurants?  Someone else (who cooks better than you do) makes your meal while you sit there doing nothing, and someone else does the dishes. For real.  It’s arguably not a real like/hobby because it’s like breathing: everyone likes it.
    -Men: seriously, write more on your profile.  Women read those.
  5. BRIDAL SHOWERS
    -Are women expected to buy a gift for both the bridal shower and the wedding?  Do men also pay two gift costs (don’t say the bachelor party, as women would pay a comparable cost for the bachelorette party)?  This feels like a “hidden cost” of being a woman. Come to think of it, even though there are co-ed baby showers, I imagine women end up paying for more baby shower gifts, too.
  6. SERIAL KILLERS/THINGS THAT CREEP US OUT
    -What is the draw to dark stories?  My roommate and I watched all the OJ Simpson ESPN series last year (ok. He’s not a serial killer, but go with me here), regularly drop in on Forensic Files, and obsessively watched Mindhunter.  All these shows put us in a wikipedia/internet research spiral from which we’d occasionally come up for air, wondering how we could occupy ourselves for hours reading the lurid details of the BTK killer, or Elisa Lam’s mysterious disappearance.
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The Slow Work of God Part 2

Two months into sabbatical, I’m slower, more appreciative, and more present.  10/10 do recommend.

I’m present enough to rejoice and see the small mercies and small places of growth.  Perhaps the gift of patience is not so small a mercy.  More than a year ago, I began a slow process of soil remediation in the poor soil in front of our apartment building, daily pouring used coffee grinds (nitrogen) and occasionally adding citrus peels (cat deterrent) and eggshells (calcium) into the impoverished soil.  I habitually pick up pieces of plants that have fallen to the ground and often ask for cuttings of plants (I am a plant opportunist if there ever was one).  Their new home became our flower beds, and almost every day I watered, examined, and hoped for progress.  Why do these grow so slowly?!? These tiny bits of life were the pioneers in this rehabilitating soil, eking out a new life in less-than-optimal conditions.

These small,  struggling plants needed me to be vigilant about watering – it does not rain often enough in LA to sustain weak plant cuttings.  But I may have needed them more than they needed me.  Tending them became a place to process, to take deep breaths, to move and to be in my body, physically connecting to something alive and real.  As they were rooting in this hard soil, so was I – trying to find roots in a place I didn’t expect to be, trying to find grounding and sustain life.

In my prayer times, I saw my life as a plot of land burned to the ground, the soil covered with ash.  Everything above ground dead, dry.  It’s some small solace to know that many plants can only grow after a fire, that they need the heat to catalyze a chemical process that allows them to flower or seed or for the seeds to activate.  Even so, my life felt burned to the ground, with the disconnected hopeful feeling that somehow this season would be good for me, devastating as it was.  I have to hope something can grow from this.

In what seemed like an exercise in futility, I expected these plants to grow quickly, to see noticeable changes from one day to the next. Upon returning from traveling, one of the first things I’d do was check my plants, imagining rapid progress in my absence. Surely my tiger-mom helicoptering was the sole cause of their slow growth.

Perhaps it was the unseasonably hot October temperatures, or the year of soil rehab work; or maybe it was that the plant clippings grew large enough to take in more sun and consequently they could grow more rapidly, but suddenly the clippings were different.  They were sturdy plants.  They were sturdy plants with sprouts.  I’d been waiting for this to happen yet it took me completely by surprise.  There are sprouts!  My plants are flowering and reproducing and making something new!

My inner life mirrored the sprouts: in times of silence, God drew my attention to places in my life where He was sprouting new things.  The desolate image from a few months ago was suddenly a plot of land with plenty of little sprouts and new plants popping up.  Something can grow out of destruction..

Plant fragments once spindly and tiny are now robust and hardy.  May it be so with the new work God is doing in me, too.

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The Slow Work of God

Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said: ‘How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.’ A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us.

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, James Finley

Ugh.

During a discerning prayer time for friends of mine, another friend brought up the “slow work of God” – that is, how God’s timetable is often longer than we hope, takes us on unexpected twists and turns, and leads us to surprising places.  My internal response was, “Noooooooooo.” This was one of those moments in which it is instantaneously clear that what has been said is both true and unfortunate.  God, microwaves cook food in 4 minutes.  A 5 second page load takes forever.  A plane can travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours. If friends don’t respond to text messages within a few hours, I get worried that they might not be ok.  God, are you ignoring your notifications?  You’re getting my calls, yeah? So what is taking so long?

Babies take 40 weeks to gestate.  It’s good that the process takes this long to build a living being.  Dividing cells at faster rates is called cancer and it doesn’t turn out well, take it from my personal experience. The best alcohol, cheese, and dough starter is aged and cultured before it is considered any good.  If good things take a while to develop and unfold, why am I in such a rush?

I am the least patient person I know.  After planting seeds, I checked every day for their progress.  After a few weeks, it looked like this:
And the little seeds persisted, pushing through to the surface, drawing life from the mostly bad soil.  Then my landlord weed-whacked the tall, almost-budding flowers.  That is probably a spiritual metaphor but, frankly, I am too sad about that loss to write about it.

Despite my helicopter-mom attentiveness to this small patch of dirt, the seeds continued to grow as they pleased.  A little while later, the patch looked like this:

Despite the weed-whacking setback, these wildflowers decided to keep on keepin’ on. Cornflowers, mystery rose, lupin, icelandic poppies, and flax emerged.  Not much time had passed, but it felt like an eternity to me.  I’d been waiting and watching and waiting and willing the plants to rise from the ground.  It’s so much better to have flowers than a patch of dirt.  But flowers don’t materialize from thin air; they need time.


Pretty for a season, the flowers wilted and died in the heat wave.  Some will return next year, having dropped seeds in preparation for their apocalyptic end.  I have more seeds for the spring, and have bulbs for the winter ahead.  The same renewal and replanting process will happen again: in hope of flowers, I’ll dig up weeds, hack apart damaged soil, add fertilizer, and water.  I hope I am able to submit, someday, to the long process of planting and growing without expectation of an instant result.

What would it take to have a spirituality of seasonality?  What will it take to teach me to be patient, to trust, to submit to the systems and seasons the Lord has in place to grow things on His earth?  When will I submit to His slow work with gratitude, joy, and eager anticipation?

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Desire

When was the last time you felt it-your own longing, that is? Your longing for love, your longing for God, your longing to live your life as it is meant to be lived in God? When was the last time you felt a longing for healing and fundamental change groaning within you? Do not rush past this question; it may be the most important question you ever ask. But this is hard, I know. In religious circles we are much more accustomed to silencing our desire, distancing ourselves from it, because we are suspicious and afraid of its power. Isn’t there something better I should be doing with my time? We ask ourselves. Something thing a little less dangerous and unpredictable? Something more selfless and spiritual?

And besides, desire is such a volatile thing. Are not my desires sires shot through with human deception and sinful urges? What if they overtake me and propel me down a path I ought not travel? Worse yet, what if I touch that place of longing and desire within me and let myself really feel how deep it goes, only to discover that those desires cannot be met? What will I do with myself then? How will I live with desire that is awake and alive rather than asleep and repressed?

Ruth Haley Barton. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Kindle Locations 165-172). Kindle Edition.

Given the last paragraph, I’m 90% sure that RHB is an Enneagram 1. One major characteristic of 1s is suppression of desire: not trusting internal desires as good, or permissible, or useful for direction, or trustworthy.

As I enter another season of discernment, my 1-ness becomes a hindrance.  Trusting my own desires as good and influenced/given by God isn’t natural MO.  When I get asked, “What do you want?” I hesitate.  Is following Jesus really about what I want?  Today what I want is to sit on the porch and to drink a cold beer.  That’s not a great long-term plan.

“What do you want?”

I don’t know.  Do I have to know?  I mean, I have some ideas. But are any of those good ideas?  The “right” idea?  The “right” path? Does whatever-is-next have to be the “right thing?”  What if there are many right things?

30s-discernment feels much more open-ended and complex.

 

 

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I am small.

How can a person be born again? Nicodemus once famously asked.

Try moving to an entirely new context and, as a full-grown adult, learn a new language and new customs.  Enter as a baby.  A college-educated, previously independent… baby.

How you bathe and use the toilet: different.  Food: different.  Weather: different.  How and what is communicated: different.  Worship: different.  Who is worshipped: different.  Transportation: different.  Plants: different.  How time is used: different.  Holidays & celebrations: different.  Me: different??

Most of myself was stripped away during my transition to Thailand.  I was still me, but I was also not me.  In developing a bi-cultural identity, ponderous questions appeared:
1. What is the good news of Jesus?
2. What do I understand of Jesus outside my cultural context?
3. How do I communicate?  How do I understand how others express themselves?  How do I express myself?  Is what I am intending to communicate being communicated?  Is what this other person is communicating what they intend?  Do I understand their intent?
4. Biblical value or American value or Thai value?  Where do they intersect?

Displacement has many, many blessings, but also high costs.  The rebirthing process was destructive down to the foundation.  You’re carrying a lot of cultural values that don’t translate here.  What it means to be a woman, what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be single without children, what it means to be late-20s, what it means to be a non-profit employee, what it means to be a person living in community, what it means to be a foreigner – all those identities have different meanings, values, and expressions here.

My prayer times became inquisitive.  Who are You, God?  Who are You, here?  Who am I, here?  Why is Thai food so good?  Did you divinely inspire Thais in their flavor combinations?

In quiet, God revealed His vastness – beyond culture, beyond time – His steadiness, His gloriousness, His largeness.  It was unending, unyielding, unwavering.  O Lord God Almighty, who is like You? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you… the heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it [Thais and Americans alike].”

And there was deep comfort and safety in my smallness, engulfed by all that He is, and all about Him that was unknown.  Thunderstorms at two AM would easily wake me, and I would stare out the window at the storm, watching lightning in the clouds for hours.  Who is like You, Mighty God?  Who controls the wind, the clouds, the energy coursing through the sky, the beams of light, the water pounding the tin roof?  Who is like You?

Everything was different, I was different, and He remained the same.

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Life Plans

041417_lifeplan

Heart and Brain on theAwkwardYeti.com

I’m a firm believer that a comic can be pithier and deeper than a philosophical quotation or dissertation.

 

 

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Pining

1168640_1661053884153784_1971903738_nJoshua Phillips on Instagram

Oh Holy Night is an Advent song, a traditional hymn proclaiming the goodness and fulfillment of Christ’s coming.  Sing it at Christmas, shelve it for the rest of the year.

It seems oddly appropriate for Lent, too. Long lay the world, in sin and error pining. Waiting for Christ’s redemption that comes through the darkest night, bittersweetly named “Good Friday.”  Lent calls us to fast, to let our desire for God grow – Lent calls us to pine.

Pining is another hunger in us, a longing for the restoration to what we were meant to be.  We pine away for a Creator and His healed world, for true justice, peace, and love to reign again in the personhood of Jesus.  We pine for fully satisfied relationship with Jesus in which we are joyfully united as a bride with the bridegroom.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, we know deep down that the world as it is, is not the world it should be.  Long lay the world, in sin and error pining.

Lent may call for us to fast from food or distraction, but this Lenten season I was hoping I could fast from pining, to distance myself from the deeply felt longing for the world to be made right again.  I feel the sin and error much more acutely; Jesus, don’t leave us in this sorry state!  The longing is killing me, Jesus.  Can’t I just silence the longing with distractions and bury it deep?

Lent calls us to align ourselves with the world’s longing.  Here we are, Lord!  Longing for your redemption! Here we are, Lord, tired!  It’s tiring to wait, Jesus!

When, God, will You appear, that we will know our true selves, the Bride, in the light of the Bridegroom’s glory?  Breathe new life and hope into our weary bodies, let it restore our hope and bring joy to crushed spirits.

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born
O night divine!
O night, o night divine!
And in His Name, all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise his holy name
Christ is the Lord!
Their name forever praise we
Noel, Noel
O night, o night Divine
Noel, Noel
O night, o night Divine
Noel, Noel
O night, o holy Divine
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