Agnostic of opinions, hopeful in faith

For those of us out there that have a hard time accepting compliments, can you tell me what you think of this thought in the comments?

I know that at times, I find it difficult to accept praise. For whatever reason, when people identify good in me, or see a trait they want to classify as good, I only partially appreciate it. It’s not that I’m trying to be ungrateful, but I try to be agnostic of other’s opinions. When the tide changes and when what you once called good is suddenly what’s bad in me, my identity will not be shaken.

As individuals, we all have a mismatched assortment of traits. People’s greatest flaws are often their greatest kindness, in and out of balance. When a person is angry at you and in order to bother you, interprets a trait that can really go either way as a bad thing, how exactly do you deal with that? When they take a trait that can be a bad thing as good, should it move mountains in your heart when their perspective is really all that’s changed?

I appreciate it when others are willing to see good in me. I do. I appreciate that they took time to tell me something nice, and had the desire to make me feel special. To be honest, the specific assortment of personality traits in me doesn’t change. What does change is how people desire to view it, and what attitude we invite into our hearts.

If you desire to see good in people, you will see it. If you desire to see the negative aspects of their traits, you will focus more on those. May the Lord judge correctly, and may we be free to be agnostic of all other opinions. I believe that Christ is the only true judge of this world, and it’s better to not create a sense of identity explicitly tied to the world, when nearly everything is passing away to begin with. It’s enough that someone wants to be kind to me and see good things in me. It’s like when you are a kid, and you have to articulate for the first time what sets you apart from other people. “I know that I’m good at math/writing/the monkey bars, but I don’t know what makes me _____ kind of person.” We all teach our children to declare a sense of identity when even though as children, it means more that people want to play with us and be kind to us than what exactly we or they are. We concoct all these different terms for identity when all everybody wants is to be loved. To a certain extent, our differences are obvious. In skin color, in income, in personality, in decisions, the differences between people are lived out very clearly. How we feel about those differences is really what matters, and whether or not we’re willing to see the good in people. Each person is able, but few are willing.

I believe that God loves all people. The people who are able to accept Jesus his son and actually experience that love and live in it are few. The people who are willing to make peace and be seen as peacemakers are few. The people who are willing to sacrifice for the things they care about are few. Unless we all decide to do better starting with the places we each influence, the world wont change. And if it does change, it will mostly stay the same, but we as individuals will see it completely differently.

Perspective and faith are more important that differences and identity. It means so much more to have the desire to be kind than to have to tie your kindness to anything.

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Sacrifice is good

In our world, it  can be easy to coast in work, school, or your personal life and never really have to learn to sacrifice.

When a person first becomes a Christian, and has to surrender habits, or belief in only oneself, or accept things that don’t make linear sense, we are often called to sacrifice. For the record, sacrificing ego, or the illusion of interpersonal security, or comfort, or the lies about our identities really sucks. As Christ sacrificed for us, we are put into this whirlwind of dying to our own selfishness and leaving selfishness nailed to the cross.

It doesn’t feel good. It’s growing and stretching and conflict that is like stretching out new skin. If you’ve ever seen the process of tanning an animal hide, the growing, bending, stretching, and learning to grow in the right direction is similarly uncomfortable.

It can be easy during this time to wonder if God really looks after our best interests. Like, is the growing worth it? What if I need all those things you are asking me to give up? What if I am not really a full person without those things? What if I don’t know who I am anymore?

Those worries are real, and to a certain extent, legitimate. But God really is good. He really does look after us. He really does call us away from things that would hurt us for a reason. And it is absolutely for the best that he’s in charge.

More often than not, God doesn’t call us to abandon the parts of our character we have wrapped up in a certain sin, but he transforms our character to no longer need them. Whether or not it’s relational satisfaction that we can’t get without him, or peace that wouldn’t otherwise be available to us, or just a family where we can belong, God gives us the deepest unspoken wishes of our hearts so that we can live in a way that means something. God doesn’t drag us away from good things, but keeps us at a distance from the things we blindly followed before so that we actually have to acknowledge that they don’t bring us happiness. Eventually, you can see that it’s for the best. But in the meantime? We are still called to sacrifice.

If you walk in faith, you are rewarded through faith. It’s a lot harder for God to bless you when you follow false paths that distract you from him. God knows that we are only ever satisfied when our source and our freedom is in him. When we focus on earthly crap and invent all sorts of idols to worship, we become less and less satisfied. It’s difficult to give us the best of what he has when we intentionally pursue the worst.

If you keep moving, you get to this point where even if the sacrifice was confusing, you have peace over what you surrendered. Even if it still doesn’t make sense, you no longer need it to. Eventually, I’ve seen that sense of understanding come, but I’ll level with you: it doesn’t always. Still, after following God for a while, you are much better able to understand the intentions behind his love, and to appreciate and not resent them.

I believe that sacrifice is a necessary firstfruits of our faith. Giving patience, allowing the Lord to stretch you, being completely honest as you face your sin, and cultivating a prayerful relationship so that you’re actually communicating with God makes the process easier. It helps to be in community, and have others who can teach you about the Lord and encourage you about his strength to overcome your sin, without making it seem like it’s up to you to overcome it. The Lord will help you overcome if you have the desire to conquer. All things are possible in Christ.

Sacrifice absolutely does not feel good, but it definitely solidifies our sense of commitment. To be honest, within the United States, there needs to be a people fully aware of what it means to surrender and keep commitments. This knowledge will pass away if people don’t rise up to defend the truth in Christ. If we aren’t willing to allow some discomfort, we don’t testify accurately about a Savior who gave himself up for us. The sacrifices on this path don’t stop, but God gives us strength and endurance. As we go deeper and pursue the things of God, this sense of commitment grows, and we desire to know more about God. It’s a circle that feeds itself, and for God’s glory. How can we testify in love if we stay lukewarm? If you aren’t willing to sacrifice for God and the better life he wants for you, it’s going to be difficult to really follow the Lord.

Amazed by the kindness of God

I just spent a lovely evening with a friend and her family, and I’m so amazed by the beauty of God’s people.

My friend is a student from Saudia Arabia who has come with her husband, 6-month old baby, and 4 year old daughter to the US. I met her while we were both working (her as a volunteer) to greet new International Students to my campus. Immediately, she has been someone who has been kind to me and very open to receive even botched translations. As we’ve spent time together, I have really enjoyed taking turns holding her baby, interacting with her daughter and asking her about daycare, and talking about the differences between our cultures. She is from the city of Hajj, Saudia Arabia, and they have an enormous mosque there. We spent a lot of time tonight talking about the differences between our faiths (her as a Muslim and me as a Christian), what it means to be modest, what it’s like to go to school and raise a family, and other things.

I just really appreciate her ability to laugh with me about silly cultural details. She is one of few students who understands more of what I say without as many explanations. It is as though she understands what I mean without the specific words. The time I have spent with her, her husband, and their little children has been a blessing. Like many other Muslims from my college, elementary school, and past experiences, not only was she warm and hospitable, but easy to be around. She cooked for me. As we ate rice with meat and potatoes, grapes, soda, Saudia Arabian ginger coffee, cookies, and Mint tea, I really felt free to enjoy her hospitality.

I know that she doesn’t view the world just like me, but I trust God to judge fairly. The more time I spend with people who have different experiences than I do, the more I am amazed by God. I often crave to go back to Chile and China, and I want to see so much of the world. Even if I had bittersweet experiences at different parts of my trips, I miss the people, the food, and the culture. I feel so blessed to be free to love people far from home. The ability to make the best of things and just eat what’s in front of me makes me feel equipped to grow God’s kingdom and be willing to go wherever he calls me. The way he is softening my heart is just awesome.

I spent so much time today receiving love. In kindergarten, I am getting better at discerning what kids need (as in, what they don’t ask for). Being able to spend a lot of quality time with the kids and follow them throughout the day is awesome, because then I learn the art of gentle correction. May God make it even easier for me to care for them. Today, I received a lot of little hugs.

When I spend time in kindergarten, I understand the times I have felt different from my peers. Tutoring at the same elementary school where I was raised, as I try to help them with their work, I remember how I felt doing similar equations. I realize only as an adult (with an external perspective) why I got into trouble, that I probably was fairly smart (to get bored so easily), and BEST OF ALL, how to minister to the kids who are too much like me. I know that often, the arrogance children put on is only a cry for attention. “Bossiness” is basically the desire to do something meaningful. Crying easily over spilled milk and picking fights is like wanting someone to validate how much they care for you (“Do you really see that I’m in pain?”). Being cold and somewhat self-centered is the desire not to be the same (and to not get hurt). If you can recognize it in children, it’s a lot easier to have compassion on adults.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about what I will and will not settle for in marriage, what it means to have a ministry that most elevates children, and the kindness of God. I believe that if we honor children above a lot of our older members, we can fix nearly everything else. These days, I see a lot of my confidence in God resurrecting. The past two weeks, I have felt so vindicated at church. As I hear a living, breathing Pastor say things that I have thought for years and thought I would die before hearing discussed in daylight, I feel risen. I have more compassion on the people who I still think are wrong. The longer I’ve been alive, the more I’ve held to my convictions. Even before Christ was rooted in my heart strongly, I wanted to know God. I always used to assume that if I let go of who I was (but couldn’t be), life would get easier. Funny thing: the more I hold fast to who God made me and the woman he wants me to become, the more he sets me in a place where others will conform to my example, instead of me having to sacrifice parts of myself. I’m not sorry. This is the depth and the width and the height and length of the love of God. He didn’t make me for no reason, but he made me to live out my purpose. For me, that means living passionately, with boldness, and without much fear. I know that God can purify just about anything, even the things that the Devil tells us are too shameful to make holy. In giving thanks to God, I can make most earthly desires reconciled and sanctified to him, provided he brings fruition about.

Realizing how much people long for love but don’t have it, I have a lot of hope for my ministry. My friend Angela thinks that if she and I end up marrying husbands someday, it will be to show the world how good God is, and to demonstrate his redemption through our own immediate families. I think she’s right. I don’t need to get married, but it would be one helluva testimony of God. As I sit in my Intimate Relationships Psychology course, I am so aware of how many people long for the answers about love and don’t have them. I want to live out a compassionate response that can actually demonstrate why people need Jesus, and how much better my life is because of him. I’m not going to crucify people based on relationship sins because if people sin, they probably don’t know what it feels like to be satisfied. I’m not going to be that person who misrepresents the truth by bringing a spirit of constant judgment. If the Holy spirit convicts, he also corrects, encourages, testifies on behalf of God and intercedes for the rest of us sinners. Why can’t everyday Christians be more like that? I’m going to demonstrate what that means and if the Lord wants it, maybe that will be good for all of us. I’m not going to be afraid of this.

It’s a lukewarm truth if it’s not coming out of love. I really do believe that Jesus has power unlike anything else, and I’m going to live my life as a fulfillment of that love. To love people is to fulfill God’s expectations for my life because how else should I testify? Without love, I am a poor steward. My actions will not invalidate the truth.

 

Brief sketch of my family

My mom’s older sister has come to visit on their way to another destination, along with my cousin, my cousin’s husband, and their daughter. Watching their old Irish Catholic style of banter resurface is weird in a way that is worth describing. I’m using this as an opportunity to define the differences between my mom’s side (Irish Catholic) and my Dad’s (German).

My mom’s side:

  • We had corned beef and cabbage, chocolate cake, and veggie tray for dinner. My mom was drinking a Guinness. There is literally nothing left.
  • My mom feels the need to automatically insult the food (“the cake is dry”), and make similar comments while still not being able to take a compliment
  • My mother’s name is Katie (Kathleen). Her mother was Mary Kate. My second cousin who is my age is also Kate (Katie). The naming traditions are so repetitious.
  • Talking crap on the family members who aren’t present, while still using a bunch of euphemisms being ambivalent about raising hell. Being benevolently and malevolently mischief minded.
  • Statements that are ambiguously offensive and truly offensive caricatures of ethnic minorities. And just think, it’s not even a holiday!
  • Talking about car maintenance (my Grandpa worked his whole career at Goodyear and her three brothers were all at some point into working on cars). DIY home maintenance and fixing things.
  • High cheekbones, feathered hair, sensible yet muted color palette for clothing, home of the mom jeans.
  • “The little guy takes the kick in the pants for these oil robber barons” is literally something that I heard come out of my mom’s mouse. So much focus on working class values. Somebody talking about how the people who were rich and “cared about the community” left. Not really sure what town they were talking about, but for the most part, the comments are interchangeable.

My Dad’s side:

  • Much more vain philosophy, cynicism, and nihilism
  • More idealistic beliefs and the telling of fantastical tall tales
  • Dreaming/Imaginative quality blends into substance abuse
  • Glorified self-narrative in the style of bildungsroman (in which a young man finds himself), focus on personal fulfillment and proving oneself through glory/financial success. Look up the Wikipedia summary of Faust by Goethe and we’re nearly there.
  • More favoritism of male children
  • More schadenfreude (laughing at the suffering on your enemies/inventing enemies to laugh at), authoritarian values, and bullying
  • So much Iowa and farming and pork products and corn. Mix in cornbread and watermelon and we’ve almost got a potluck. Yay Midwest!
  • Bickering and debating at the dinner table. Whipping your opponent into submission. Tears/emotional expression as a sign of weakness. Caustic masculinity.
  • Weird fantasies of self-sufficiency.
  • More fascination with nature.
  • More intentional cheapness and acceptance of being poor/love of bargains

To be honest, I am a lot more like my mom and identify with the values on my mom’s side a lot more than my Dad’s, based partially on his various bad choices. I know that there are redeeming bits and pieces here and there, but so be it. My mom has always been very invested in our community, and I really resonate with her sense of mischief and the belief that authority figures hold social responsibility. My mom is very blunt, and very passionate, and she stands up for her beliefs (especially when she feels good about her self-esteem). I like how my both my parents but even more so my Dad raised me to eat what was set in front of me, and to not enjoy getting a bargain at Goodwill. I like how me and my Dad spent a lot of time enjoying silence observing nature on road trips and taking walks out by Kansas’ various man-made lakes. My Dad is a lot more striving, and he doesn’t believe in God. For the most part, I don’t like how a lot of the German literature I’ve read seems completely idealistic and nonsensical. It just reminds me of his broken promises and inflated self image.

I love my parents, but we are all broken people. I think that’s okay. If there’s anything I want to be able to pass on to my children, it would be competency with emotion-based skills, the ability to respect others while you disagree, and an intense love of honesty. I used to love debating with my Dad, but he rarely fought fair. My mom usually thought that talking philosophy was me arguing with her, and she never engaged with a lot of my desire to question and explore. They are both getting better. My mom is making more of an effort now that she feels less overwhelmed (and my sister and I have aged), and my Dad has become more sensitive and mellow now that he has less to boast about. I think they’ll be good grandparents to my kids, but on a personal level, I want to be a better parent to my own children. Childhood is so special. I guess it is what it is.

Enjoy every season

A little over a year ago in a women’s small group, there was a moment where the pessimism and insecurity of some of our groups members drove me to tears. As women of all ages, we met together periodically, and on this special occasion, several women who were somewhere in the ballpark of 50-60 years old absolutely would not stop belittling themselves and their bodies. When I tried to change the tone of that conversation based on the respect I hold for women of all ages, they absolutely ripped me apart, insinuating that bitterness and regret related to one’s physical appearance was some natural thing, and that I’d be the same way once I became their age. I went to the bathroom and wept.

At no point in my life will I allow that kind of ugliness to cloud my judgment. Despite what some regret-filled older people often insinuate, young people do not have perfect bodies, and it is hard to be young also. So many of my peers (and in many things, I myself) have not worked through a lot of the battles that will give us the wisdom we will have, God willing we reach that age. We haven’t had kids, we haven’t had to let them go, we haven’t done quite a few many things that are ridiculous and just not here yet. We shouldn’t be pressured to idealize the present for fear of the future. When the time is ready, the good Lord will take us through the ringer and we’ll get our turn.

But I refuse to believe that I have to enjoy the coming seasons of my life less than I do the present, or even the better parts of the past. Life presents us new challenges continually, and I have a very present help in the form of Christ. He and I will keep moving through the obstacle course, and then I’ll die, and I’ll be with Jesus. Why in God’s name are we trying to hold onto the earth? There are beautiful times and hard times throughout every season, and how would you age into the nuance of a different form of beauty if you didn’t dare to keep going and keep that joy of being alive? Being young isn’t that great. Fun fact: at no point are people’s bodies, minds, or hearts perfectly structurally secure, from birth to finish, as evidenced by the fact that we all die, we all make mistakes, and we all remain oblivious.

As long as I am physically able to move around, as long as I am still lucid, as long as I still have Jesus, I am going to enjoy it for what it’s worth and choose to keep living. At no point will I age into bitterness. At this point, I’ve left the bitterness behind me.

 

Worth fighting for

  • No matter what I do, as a woman Pastor, there is always going to be some element of me needing to be a mother-figure to people. The church (and other authority symbol institutions) is really about family, and I will need to be prepared to address people’s pain in a way that corresponds to my place in God’s family.
  • People have such high stakes grief/joy in the relationship between mother and child. There is a lot there.
  • I am grateful that I will be teaching before I pastor. If I really want a humility check, teaching will give me tons of (helpful, unhelpful) criticism. To be in a counselor role (as Pastor), that should be a good thing.
  • I’m realizing that God really does want the best for his children. He wants better for us than even our earthly parents. For me, it’s hard to believe that he’d want as much for me as supportive earthly parents want for their kids, but Christ died so that we all could inherit even more than that. It’s awesome and weird that God never gives up on us. Mostly awesome.
  • When I work with my kindergarteners, I learn so much about love. I didn’t expect to enjoy working with kids this much, and I never really thought I was that type of woman. But kids are silly. They like telling weird stories, and telling the full truth, and being themselves, when you let them. They like playing games, and a lot of kids naturally include people, and are kind and curious. Taking care of children is a responsibility, a call to stewardship, and a blessing. Taking care of children is hard, and teaching children is harder. Both are jobs that deserve respect, because if they are stewarded well, they can make a world of difference. Children’s perspectives are so intrinsically valuable, and teachers are oftentimes some of the first representatives kids meet outside of the home of society at large. Apart from medical care, teaching is one of the most critical needs of a healthy society.
  • In my Intimate Relationships class, I learn vividly how much Christ has overcome on my behalf because the pain I once felt in relation to my family and my future no longer defines me.
  • This is a season of trust.
  • How can God continue teaching us things even as we remain confused? It’s fantastic.
  • You can’t provide insight into someone’s situation if you don’t learn to listen. You will be talking and completely miss the needs of anyone but yourself. Whether it’s in the role of a sister, a mother, granddaughter, aunt, etc. (in relationship to my conversational partner’s age), I can do what is appropriate to listen and answer with discretion. More often than not, that is all that is required of me.
  • When I chose to forgive as I felt like dying so long ago, I learned things about the cross that I would never have been able to recognize without suffering. I am not afraid of death. I know that Christ removed the cup of staggering from our hands, and some of the most terrible things I have felt in this life have helped me understand what it means to be under his purpose. Experiencing betrayal, pain, death, loss, fear, punishment, etc. teaches you more about Jesus than coasting through life thinking that you don’t need grace. Jesus gives meaning to our brokenness. He intimately understands. In a way, I almost need someone to experience worse than what I have sometimes, in order to feel like I have a solution. Jesus is my way out. His pain was ultimately greater. He gives my life direction.
  • If I can believe in my family more and more as I go, I know for sure that Jesus must be alive to help me believe. I am going to trust Jesus and defend my hope for my family, instead of cowing down to fear and believing that our brokenness is too much for him. My God is greater.
  • I am getting to know a couple at my church who have taken me on for discipleship, and I respect their family so much. I can see the hand of God so vividly over their family, and in how their children act. They have been abundantly blessed by following the Holy Spirit and obeying God. I am strengthened by the fact that neither really dated before getting married, having attended a close-knit church, being friends for years, and slowly being led by the Holy Spirit to get married. They knew from before they began dating that the Holy Spirit was lighting coals of conviction for them to be with one another long term. That just seems like the right way to do it. I’m not the type to want to shop around. I’d rather be picky about the important stuff, like a guy’s relationship with Jesus, his ability to step outside his comfort zone, his honesty, or his willingness to actively lead than trivial differences. I want my spouse to be convicted of what he believes and still know how to be respectful. Those things are most important to me.
  • The Lord God is good. It says more about my faith to love the people who don’t appreciate my point of view or understand me than to aim for low-hanging fruit and rely on self-righteousness to make up the difference. Let the Lord make up the difference. He commands me to care for them (and gives me that ability by grace) whether or not I call it fair. He alone is judge.

Articulating the dark

I’m at this weird spot where God is showing me how he works by absolutely suspending my ability to articulate it. I’m watching him weave through a bunch of different people’s lives, and when it comes to my life, we are just at the beginning of exploring wounds I didn’t even know I had. This is gonna be great. (lol)

It’s like staring at the bottom 98% of an iceberg you really thought was only gonna be an icicle, but it’s here now, and you have to deal with it. Have fun stumbling through that dank and dark cave. You better get used to feeling your way around in there, because so help you, you wont be able to see.

Which honestly is awesome. That’s exactly what I needed to follow a season of gathering confidence to use words in a way that directly makes sense to me. My sense of bravery and the ability to cope was just cut off from me. Ironically, there went my courage.

So it’s weird metaphor soup and verbal surgery, trying to explain the work of the Holy Spirit. But I can see it. I can try to explain it. Still, my words won’t get at that sense of permanence that you get when the spirit really moves. It can’t demonstrate what you see when you are watching chains fall off. I am not God. My words will not do.

To be honest, this is a season that comes after a brief but seemingly lengthy season of people legitimately appreciating my gifts. So I now know that what the Holy Spirit is legit, but whatever I’m supposed to do with them is still a running joke that operates smoothly due to my blindness and God’s omnipotence alone. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. The things I say and do; I swear it feels like doing the hokey pokey blindfolded. I don’t think I could embarrass myself at this point, because I’m not even sure what standard I’m supposed to be meeting. I can definitely be afraid, and most of the time, I definitely am. Lord only knows why. Cue the underside of the iceberg.

I am curious as to how God wants to unravel the icey block of my cowardice. Feeling the weight of failed opportunities to grow closer. My sense of security is going to have to die. Good thing I can only make sense of other’s understanding and how they are being woven into God’s story, right? Now I know that when the good stuff comes, I can’t make it up. I have no idea what logically follows after this. One day, maybe it’ll make sense strung together, but I doubt I will be the one to make sense of my own words. I guess I’m going to have to get used to speaking things I don’t even understand as truth, and go with the flow of whatever the hell they mean. For the record, that feels really uncomfortable.

Speaking something that somehow blesses someone but having no idea what did it (other than just God at the maximum level of vagueness) is really uncomfortable. Do I smile and nod or just keep listening? Like, cool? If I could understand what I’m doing then I could see what I’m doing and I could make up my own gospel, but that is no longer a reality. It feels like that tunnel in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. All images, some scary stuff, some weirdly graphic insect pictures, and an indecipherable stream of consciousness. Ironically, I think that part of the story was meant to symbolize what it’s meant to grow up.

I know that my weakness is probably a clever scheme by which God will (hopefully) be glorified, but in the meantime, I’m just a tad bit confused. Stay tuned to stumble with me, and figure out where exactly that sense of clarity comes from.