An Honest Look at God

Appleton Farms 1


That’s the first word I write down. I am surprised and not surprised when I see it flow out of my pen. This is why I’ve waited so long, anyway. Because I knew I wasn’t going to like what I found.

I read in a quick stolen moment this blogpost. I’d never heard of this woman before, but her words seemed familiar; in writing her story, she’d unknowingly written echoes of my own. She wrote of when she was young and how she strived for perfection, reaching exhaustively for righteousness. She wrote of the moment she realized that God doesn’t bless work like this, that He isn’t a “balancing-act” God.

And then she sat down and wrote out all the things she believed about God. Not what she was “supposed” to believe. Not what she’d been told to believe.

What she actually believed in her core.

As soon as I read this, I groaned a little inside. I knew it was coming. Things hadn’t been quite right.

I kept reading, trying to ignore it. I didn’t want to put pen to paper and face the facts.

I still don’t know who God is.

“I see it as a time for intentional and careful reflection.” That’s what I wrote about Lent almost two weeks ago. And I meant it. I still do mean it. But now I’m staring down the fact that “intentional and careful reflection” means being willing to engage with what you find there. What I found in writing that list is that I have a lot to learn.

Am I saying that God isn’t scary? No. He most definitely is scary. He is the Creator of the Universe, after all, and power like that isn’t something you mess with. What I am saying, though, is that most of the words I used to describe the God I claim to follow are negative. Fearful. Unsure. I didn’t know how to interact with this, because there’s often a huge difference between what you KNOW to be true (God is good) and what you BELIEVE and act on (God is scarier than He is good).

[powerful. sovereign. tricky.]

Do I really think God is tricky? No. But I act like I do. I often live my life as though he were the infinite trickster, just waiting to pull one over on me. Ha! You thought I would protect you! I’ve got you right where I want you.

That isn’t God talking. That’s the part of me that still hasn’t fully grasped what it means to surrender. To give it all to Him and admit that I am finite and broken and that I don’t have all the answers.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this list, with all its biggness and negativity, and only a few beautiful qualities strewn in.

[merciful. loving (but not always in the ways I would think). protective.]

So I decided to remind myself of who God says He is.

I made another list with better words, straight from the Word of the Lord.





Lover of your soul.



~     ~     ~

Apparently, reflecting is not always fun. What is in the depths of my soul? Who am I really? And how do I answer these questions without answering: Who is God?

I explain grammatical concepts to my students every day. That’s an infinitive – it has no number or person. It’s like the most neutral form of the verb. I explain things over and over, and they seem to understand. When I ask them, “What’s an infinitive?”, they can spit out the answer. But do they understand? Could they use one in a sentence? Could they explain what is happening? Not always.

There’s a huge gap between knowing what is right and understanding. I may be able to spit out that list of words from the Bible about who God is, but that doesn’t mean I understand them. It certainly doesn’t mean my view of myself or my view of God has changed fully. How do I change the words in my head and the feelings in my soul? I am constantly in a state of flux – growth is painful. I can feel the pains of embarrassment, anger at being reprimanded, and my human desire to just live my life and have fun. Because who doesn’t want to have fun?

There’s a hope in growing, too. It means we aren’t stagnant. If we’re constantly growing, it means we haven’t yet arrived.

Lenten Growth

We didn’t observe Lent growing up. I guess it’s something most Baptists don’t do… I remember when I was nine or ten, one of my Catholic friends looked at my piece of chocolate sometime in March and said, “I can’t. I gave up chocolate for Lent.”

I’d never heard of Lent (I was well-educated, I swear!), so I asked her what she was talking about. She said you choose something bad for you to give up until Easter, “but I hardly ever eat chocolate, so it isn’t that hard.”

And that was that, because we were nine and had better things to do than discuss Church history or the spiritual significance of sacrifice.

IMG_1242[I guess I’m taking a pretty big risk, hanging a horseshoe upside down…]

In college, I was surrounded by so many different expressions of Christianity that it sometimes felt like a free-for-all. I could pick and choose my favorite parts of each (I still don’t know what’s wrong with this approach, as long as the tenets are there). I watched friends give up coffee, chocolate, and Facebook in pursuit of a closer walk with the Lord. In my cynical mind, I failed to understand the beauty of this tradition. It felt more like a cheapening of Christ’s sacrifice than a spiritual discipline: so giving up ice cream is your personal equivalent to Christ giving up his life? That doesn’t fly.

Last year, my Lenten season was a peculiar one. I was working three part-time jobs, so my hours were all over the place. I found long stretches of time when I could read my Bible, surf the web for interesting reading, and try to reconcile the fact that I believed in God’s power and Truth, but that I had serious fear of dying. For the first time, I felt compelled to observe Lent, and by “observe” I mean mostly “be aware.” Instead of giving something up, I would add.

Every night, I prayed to the Lord. I do this most nights, but usually in the comfort of my warm bed. For Lent, I decided to pray on my knees.

It wasn’t revolutionary; kneeling happens in every liturgical service. But for me, it was rare. As I feared a potential (huge) surgery, I needed to be reminded of my perfect posture in life: kneeling before the Creator, so that I could stand with his strength.

I had a hard time remembering at first. There were a few nights when I’d roll out of bed, groaning, to get on my knees and offer a few sentences to God. I don’t remember a word of what I prayed, but it’s the feeling of my knees on the rough rug that’s stayed in my mind.

~     ~     ~

This Lenten season, I have a lot of ideas brimming. I want to check my email and Facebook less (although work makes this a little difficult). I want to read a daily prayer or meditation, and not forget it throughout the day, like I normally do. I want to learn how to offer up every relationship – friends, parents, siblings, everyone – to be shaped by Someone other than myself.

I don’t see Lent as a time of deprivation. Instead, I see it as a time for intentional and careful reflection. And by giving up something material or adding on something meaningful, I’m hoping that the external will allow the internal to more fully connect with what it means to share in Christ’s suffering and resurrection.


[We found this cross off the beaten path as we climbed Mount Untersberg in Austria.]

[Weekend Thoughts]

How do you know when you’ve read a book that’s changed your life?

You want to give a copy to all of your friends.

Unfortunately, that isn’t financially feasible for me at the moment, but here’s a shameless plug for a book that’s probably out of print (and therefore deliciously difficult to find among wobbly stacks at little used bookstores):

“Decision Making by the Book” by Haddon Robinson.

Ignore, if you can, the horrendous title and the equally ugly book jacket, because let me tell you, IT’S WORTH IT. The whole time I was reading, I thought of moments in my life when I wish I’d already had this sucker in my back pocket.

What if “What’s God’s will in this situation?” isn’t even the right question to ask?

What if “How can I glorify God?’ is a much better one?

I wish I could force my friends to read it, but my powers are only so strong.

~     ~     ~

Went to a museum Saturday with my city-friend. We got lost on the way (Surprise! I stink at directions!), but we didn’t panic, which is a vast improvement and I think shows that we’re maturing. They asked if I were a student, and for a second I thought, Yes, and then I realized, No, and had to pay the entrance fee. No photography was allowed, but we furtively snapped some photos of the cool bathroom. So retro.


photo copy

~     ~     ~

This afternoon, I went to a coffee shop to get work done, found a too-tiny table without a plug nearby, and plunked down, hoping to get at least some of it finished. Sent some emails about the musical (Alice in Wonderland, Jr., by the way!), and was able to just start writing my midterm exam for Latin I when WHAM! my computer died. So sad. But I thought I’d truck on, using good old pen and paper, when a girl’s tiny voice rose above the din and said, “Just so you all know, we will be closing at 3:00.” She paused. “That’s in two minutes.”

Oh well.

Headed home, made some Genmaicha tea, sat down to finish writing the midterm…and started writing this blogpost instead.

So now, according to the bizarre countdown on, I have roughly 3 hours and 31 minutes until “Downton Abbey” starts. Can I finish the test?!?! We shall see.

Christmas Joy at 6:28am

I woke up far too early for a Sunday morning. I was mad.

My alarm was set for 8:00 – the perfect amount of time to shower and get ready for a 9:30 church service. But the clock said 6:28, and there was no hope of falling back to sleep.

So I spent the first moments of Sunday, December 9th, realizing that I am entirely and completely not ready for Christmas.

Yes, our tree is up. Yes, I went to the Christmas concert at my Alma Mater this weekend, and yes, it was “aesthetically pleasing in every way.”

Yes, I went to the first Christmas party of the season last night. Yes, I have already eaten too many cookies.

But did I decorate the tree? No, I was at work.

Did I sing in the concert? Yes, but it annoyed everyone around me. (Just kidding. I contained myself.)

Did I bake the cookies? No, I just consumed them.

Today will be the day I regain some holiday spirit.


First step: coffee. I am not addicted. It’s half-caff.

Church. I am not really in the mood. But I will say, every time I have dragged myself there, every time I have prayed that God would open my eyes, it has been worth it. (It doesn’t seem worth it now, in my cozy pajamas with the candles burning and the tree lit…)

String popcorn and cranberries. Unnecessary, you say? I think not.

FIGURE OUT WHAT I’M GIVING TO PEOPLE. Oh. my. gosh. I have no idea what I’m gonna do. My little brother is leagues better than I am at gifts – he’s been done for weeks. So annoying. The only gift I have is a sweater I made my other brother (that thing counts as so many gifts, I’m set for years.)

Lesson planning. NOOOOOO!!! But I’m thinking of working mostly on Christmas songs in Latin. The grammar school kids have been begging me, and I have a sneaky idea of making my high schoolers carol around the school. (What’s the point of power if you don’t use it?!)

Music. I’ve had enough of this everyday music junk I’ve been listening to. Bring on Messiah.

Prayer. Scripture. How can I be surprised things feel so harried and “un-Christmas-y” if I haven’t taken the time to soak up the moments?

And, last but not least, family. Working six days a week is okay when you like your job, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t suffer. I can’t wait to sit on the couch with my family and watch a Christmas movie. Maybe a little Bananagrams, if they think they’re up for the challenge.

Is it hard for everyone to take a breather and enjoy this time of year? People have told me for years that it “goes so fast,” they can’t believe it’s Christmas, etc. etc. I just hope I can grab a little bit of the calm and joy.


Reading the Future

My whole life, I have tried to make sense of things too early. Even before I have time to step away, close my eyes, experience what just happened, I am trying to understand. When I was little, I strived for answers, for connection. I remember when I was around seven or eight. We were learning about Gideon in Sunday School, how he trusted the Lord, but even in that trusting, he laid out things to prove his questioning.

Gideon’s fleece.

And I thought, Maybe I’ll do something like that.

When I was younger, my communication with God was like breathing; I don’t know where my thoughts ended and my prayers began. I said (or prayed or thought): Lord, if You’re there, take this note.

I took a yellow post-it note and wrote carefully in my best second-grade cursive: “I love you, Jesus.” I stuck this note of trust to the wall right by my bed, and all night I felt half awake, wondering if God had come. If God my Friend had reached down and scooped up my love-post-it.

The next morning, I turned over, afraid to open my eyes. When I did, my wall was bare, and I remember jumping out of my bed, ecstatic. I remember running down the stairs to tell my mother what had happened.

God is real!

God loves me!

And now He knows I love Him too!

I don’t remember my mother’s response, or anything else about that day, really.

~     ~      ~

A few months later, when I was cleaning my room, I pulled my bed away from the wall to vacuum.

There, crumpled in the dusty corner, was my post-it.

I picked it up, stared at it. I felt betrayed. My first reaction was: Wow.

~     ~     ~

I didn’t stop believing in God, but I did start questioning myself.

Am I too quick to read into things? Do I try too hard to see things where they aren’t?

It wasn’t until more recently, when I started thinking about that childhood moment, that I thought: Maybe God was showing me something after all.

He didn’t take my post-it, whisk it up to heaven and stick it to some sort of heavenly bulletin board of love-notes. But He didn’t just leave it on my wall, either. He let it drift off the cranberry-colored wall and under my bed. He gave me a moment of ecstasy. He showed me He was listening.

God wasn’t proving Himself, because He doesn’t have to.

He was loving me.

That’s the sense I’m making of most things these days. I may never know why some things happen. I might always be confused by the connections I feel, by the people I’m drawn to, by the many relationships that held so much potential, but that for some reason didn’t play out the way I imagined them. I am learning to let go of people I loved, friendships I cherished. I am letting go and learning not to regret the closeness we once shared.

Sometimes, I have to admit I may never know what drew me to that man on the train. That woman standing in line behind me at the post office. That little boy with the big, sad eyes.

But I’m starting to think it’s not all a loss. Maybe it’s just God loving us.

Blessings and Friendships

This past year (and really, the past year and a half) has been filled with such a mix of things. I wouldn’t call myself a planner — it’s not that I need every step in between before I do anything- but there is a huge part of me that anticipates. I imagine each phase of life, each moment, and when it doesn’t go exactly as planned, it takes me a long time to adjust to reality.

There are times when I feel so overwhelmed by God’s goodness and His gifts that I look at my life and think wow. But then — and sometimes even on the same day — I am equally overwhelmed by the things that are less than perfect. By the hurt I’ve experienced. By the disappointments I’ve faced and/or brought upon myself.

What does it mean when things don’t work out?

What does God want me to learn from all this?

Is it really a scale? Because sometimes, when a good thing happens, I think shoot, what bad thing is just around the corner?

This is not the way we are called to live.

~    ~     ~

I was reading through my journal from last year. It was a hard journal and a hard year. It was filled with confusion, anger, sadness. It’s not fun when someone you thought you knew ends up being a different color after all, a different person from the one you trust. Graduation loomed, and despite all the freedom and newness and excitement that could bring, I was scared.

In the midst of all this, I made a list. It’s what I do.

I listed all the blessings God had given me over the year. It was long. It was diverse.

But what struck me most was the amount of people.

Family. My mother who never tells me she’s too busy. My father who, in his quiet and roundabout way, lets me know that he understands my pain. My brothers and sister who have seen each twist and turn I’ve made as I’ve tried to grow into the woman I was created to be.

Friends. Almost my whole life, I have felt a lack of kindred spirits. There were a few growing up, definitely. Good, fun friends who shaped me. But that didn’t change the fact that I always felt different. It wasn’t until the past few years that I finally feel a kinship with young women like me.

This week I called K. I was driving in my car, and I felt so overwhelmed. Deadlines were coming so fast and I HATE missing deadlines. I was scared about my hospital appointment and I was scared that I wasn’t doing the right thing. So I asked her to pray for me.

She was driving too, but she prayed right there. Over the phone.

I cried while I drove, sadness and joy mixed in.

Because sometimes that is how life is.

Praise God for friends like that.

Kinship with Strangers

I am already past the halfway-point of my TEFL course, and I can’t believe it.

Mostly because that means the time of decisions is feeling terribly close.

I was hashing it out with someone (my mother? myself? i can’t remember), and I realized that I don’t like this making of decisions. It’s not that I’m indecisive – that is far from any trait I possess – it’s that I hate the idea of being boxed in a year down the road by a choice I make now.

What if something better comes along?
Or if not better, at least different?

What if I choose something and its permanence becomes a chain on my ankle?

I read this article today on, and despite the differences in our circumstances, the woman sounds scarily like myself at times. She’s scared of making decisions, too, and actually has put off long-term decisions for 22 years.

It seems even people nearly twice my age have the same thoughts.

Different Adventures

It’s been a slow letting-go of my ideas for the next phase. Slow, but amazingly blessed. I was shocked to hear myself say to God, “Okay, fine. If You really don’t want me to do this, to go there, to change in this way, bless me in other ways. Give me more, here, so I know.”

The audacity.

I did feel audacious and I did feel far outside the bounds of prayer and worship. But now I’m wondering if there really is such a thing.

I may not be going far away, but now I have a box filled with chicks in my bedroom (yes, my bedroom!). I fall asleep to their cheeping, and I hold their small, soft bodies in my hands and marvel that in a few weeks they will be completely different. Smell, look, sound, almost nothing will be recognizable as these tiny chicks I now hold.

I may not be working with inner-city high school students, but last night I presented a new music program for local children. Name after name on the sheet until it was full. My throat hoarse from explaining my vision, my goal, my ideas. So many different ages, I’ll have to split it into at least two classes, and I say to the Lord, Thank you.

I may not be moving half-way across the country, getting my own place (who decided that was the mark of adulthood, anyway?), but I am getting certified to teach English as a foreign language in a month. Four glorious weeks where I get to be the instructed instead of the instructor. Train rides and strolling my old haunts, Berkeley and Boylston, Newbury and Arlington. Maybe even a beautiful evening picnic at the Gardens, during which time I will people watch to my heart’s content.

It’s rare for me to be able to move on from things quickly. I hold on to people and things and ideas far too tightly. Maybe it’s out of fear. I’d like to think it’s out of love. Passion. Excitement. And I am not going to say that none of these things matter, because they do. Yes, we are to get fulfillment in Christ. But He enjoyed friendship, good wine, and a vocation that filled Him. We should enjoy these things too.

It’s realizing that they are only good in the Lord. We enjoy them because of Him. Can you imagine creating such beauty and it not being enjoyed? Maybe that is part of our purpose after all.