Friday, December 24, 2010

The Price Tag of Love

I don't have a lot of money for Christmas gifts this year. As much as I wish I could shower my friends and family with special things to unwrap, it's just not possible.

But, as we all know, things are not what Christmas is really about. It's about love - a Heavenly Father who loved us so much that He gave Himself to us.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the price of real love - not monetarily, but emotionally, spiritually, sacrificially. How much is enough? How much is too much? Is there too much? At what point do you say "that's it, that's all, I'm finished?" What's the time limit on loving someone? How many chances do you give? Where's the finish line on giving someone the benefit of the doubt? Of forgiveness? Of exposing your heart completely unprotected, even though you know for sure and certain that you're going to get hurt?

I became a Gleek roundabout this past May, at the influence of my best friend, and promptly fell in love with Kurt and Rachel's version of "Defying Gravity." At the time, a few lines in particular really stood out to me:

Too long I've been afraid of
Losing love I guess I've lost
Well if that's love
It comes at much too high a cost

I downloaded the song on iTunes and spent weeks singing along with it in the car, especially when I felt wrung out, worn out, hurt, and frustrated by people I loved and trusted most. It was as if it were giving me validation for feeling like I could stop giving, stop loving, stop being sacrificial, because the price tag was just too high.

Thankfully, as He always does, God intervened.

The lyrics began to not sit well with me, and haven't for months now. Whenever I heard them, I felt a spiritual itching, a prodding, like a thorn poking me repeatedly saying no, that's not right. There is no "too high a cost" when it comes to love.

And then He reminded me of what Jesus had to say about it:

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." -John 15:13

Now, as Christians, we're supposed to be loving and sacrificial. That's easy to do with people we don't know. It's even almost easy to do it with people we don't really like personally, because even though we may not see eye to eye, by gosh, we "love them with the love of Jesus" and we get a feeling of self-righteousness when we do. But where it gets really hard is when it's someone close, someone we trust, someone we hold dear.

I think Jesus knew. He knew. Look at what He said. He didn't say, "Greater love has no one than he who lays down his life for a bunch of people he doesn't know." He didn't say "Greater love has no one who lays down his life to prove how loving he is." Nope. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Laying down your life. That's the highest price tag there is.

And that's the answer. That's the limit. That's the finish line. Not when I want to stop. Not the first or second or tenth or twentieth time someone makes me cry. Not when it feels too hard, too painful, like it's too high a cost. Jesus set the example: laying down your life. That's it.

Until I get there, I'm not done yet.

This summer, just as God started giving me the spiritual itch about "Defying Gravity," He gave me another song to replace it. Here are some of the lyrics:

I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

My Daddy and Lord likes that song much better. He pours out the Holy Spirit on me when I listen to it in the car. Even when it hurts. Even when I don't really want to. Even when just listening to it makes me cry.

He says, "That's more like it."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Different is OK.

I have never, ever done anything the "traditional" way.

I mean, isn't that, y'know, boring?

I'm a Christian woman. I love Jesus. I try my best to be sweet and giving, and I'm gleeful when God gives me the words to be funny. I'm passionate and enthusiastic and don't like hearing no. I'm often told to calm down. My emotions run deep. It's hard for me to be still and not lift my hands during praise songs. I'm also tiny, and I like to jump around when I get excited. If I can't reach something in the grocery store, I often climb up the shelves. This Sunday, I had to get up to the front to sing, but there was a cord blocking my path from where I was sitting in the pew. It was too high for me to step over, so I dropped to my knees and crawled under it. In my Sunday best. On Homecoming Sunday. Several times. In front of the whole church.

I do that.

When I was 14, I adapted and directed a group of my classmates in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The local newspaper wrote a story on me. Emblazoned across the front page of the Sunday paper were the words DIFFERENT IS OK, with my braces-clad adolescent face smiling awkwardly underneath. I've been living up to that label from the time I decided I was done with being in the womb six weeks early to this very moment as I sit here typing.

I've always, perhaps naively, been happy to be different. I thought it made me unique. Noticeable. Maybe even special. (Like a 4'10" hyperactive girl with a head of bright red curls isn't noticeable enough.)

But the grown-up world full of much quieter churchgoing women who never seem to need to be told to calm down and who seem to lead wonderfully peaceful lives with husbands and children and houses and white picket fences...I'm not so sure. Being normal, being traditional, even, seems to be working out pretty well for them.

They seem like, much less trouble than I am. And I have to wonder...are they? Am I really just too much?

God has taught me so much in the past several years. How to react with forgiveness and love. How to give others the benefit of the doubt. How to reign myself in when all I want to do is lash out. How to go to Him for the love and peace that my fiery, sometimes turbulent spirit so desperately needs. He's taught me so much, and even more so, He's taught me that I'll never stop needing to learn how to be more like Him.

And yet, I'm still different.

I don't think I will ever be called benign. I might be shy sometimes, but I'm not quiet - at least, not for long. I'm sweet, but I'm not sure about docile. I'm never going to really learn how to calm down - at least not for any length of time. I don't think, much as I try, I will ever be a "traditional" woman.

But I will give everything I have in me to give. I will be gracious, and peaceful, and forgiving, and I will pour myself out for my God and my family and my church. I will not rest until I turn a frown into a smile, and then a smile into a laugh. I will never not be open, not be vulnerable, not be sincere. I will never withhold my love.

I just have to pray that that's enough...and that different is still OK.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Permanently Heart-Shaped Sleeve, Take 2

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." -Jeremiah 1:5

(The previous edition of this post is here. Oh, and there's more here, too.)

I am a person who loves deeply. When I invest in someone, I do so with everything I have within me. When you get to know me and I become invested in you, well, sorry about your luck, but you're stuck with me for life. I love people. I try to seek out where people are coming from and give them the benefit of the doubt over and over. I see the potential in people and pray and believe for them to reach it. A childhood friend of mine recently said, "One of the best things about you is that you care about people like crazy. You don't give up on them even when they've given up on themselves." What an amazing compliment! I only hope to live up to that.

It's against my nature to do otherwise. I can't. Now, mind you, it's all God. It's the work He has done in me that has made me this way, and try as I sometimes do to fight it, I just can't seem to do anything else.

But it isn't always easy. Sometimes it's really, really hard.

This summer has been very long and difficult for me. To be honest, I'll be glad to see it end and move into a new season. There's a lot of change happening in my life right now - I'm starting a new job tomorrow, and I'll be moving in a few weeks, and everything will, again, be different.

The last time this happened (which, incidentally, was two months ago), I was terrified. I didn't want things to change. I was afraid of the change because I was afraid of losing the closeness that I have with several people whom I love and have invested in deeply. I think, somehow, I knew it would happen. And it did.

To be honest, this summer has been one of the loneliest of my life. I've felt unwanted, replaced, forgotten. Not good enough. Not worth the effort. I've gone weeks without seeing my very close friends, and when I do, it's not the same as it was two months ago.

And I've felt empty, like I have absolutely nothing left in me to give. It's an unnatural, uncomfortable state for me. It's been miserable. I'm a giver. I delight in giving of myself, my time, my energy, and my emotions to build others up within deep, close relationships. But all I've felt this summer is empty.

Not surprisingly, I've felt far from God for weeks. I know He's working, but I haven't yet seen the results of what He's up to. I'm just supposed to trust. I do trust. If I've learned anything over the last six months or so, it's that God can do whatever He wants and all I have to do is trust Him.

But it's still been a long, terribly lonely summer.

Then, this afternoon, as I was driving down Capital Boulevard in Raleigh on my way home to my temporary apartment, I was sitting at a stoplight and noticed that one of the cars in front of me had a bumper sticker that read, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." -God

And I burst into tears.

He knew me. He knew what I would be like when He created me. He knew every single fault I would have and He made me anyway. He loves me, and He loves me despite my faults.

He doesn't hold back His affection because He thinks I'm too emotional or too needy or because sometimes I get really upset and frustrated and act in ways I know I shouldn't. When I come to Him for love and peace, He doesn't throw my mistakes in my face. He knows my worries and my fears and every thought that goes through my head. He knows - dare I say it? - my sins, and the things I stupidly put between Himself and me, and He is always working to break through them and get to me on a higher, closer, deeper level. He knows we can work on the problems I have together, and He can change me and get me to overcome them by His grace. He doesn't tell me not to believe for impossible things - in fact, He made me to believe Him for them.

He knew there would be moments when I would cry out to Him and ask Him why He made me? Why He kept me alive? Why He doesn't love me? Why I have to go through the things He's putting me through? He knew I would be tempted to turn my back on Him during the trials. He knew I would sit in despair and wonder where He was, when He was right there all along.

He knew me. He made me. And He loves me.

I cried the rest of the way home.

Is it scary to get emotionally invested in people? Absolutely. I'm terrified, even now. Because I know that when I do, I'm bound to get hurt along the way. There's really no question that it's going to happen. The people we're closest to are the people who will hurt us the most.

But living otherwise - withholding myself and keeping myself closed off and fenced in - would be disrespectful to my Daddy who will heal any wound with His unconditional love. He made me this way - to love deeply and richly and to believe in Him and in the people He puts in my life. He made me to be an encourager, a giver - someone who won't give up.

He knew me. He knew what He was doing. So I just have to trust Him and know that whenever I need to, I can crawl up into His arms and He'll say, just as He did in the car on the way home, "I love you so much, my precious little girl."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Coulda, Woulda, Didn't

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

A few months ago, someone I loved and trusted did something to me that was really, really thoughtless and cruel.

I would have been totally justified in absolutely freaking out, telling this person off, and slamming the door shut on our relationship.

But I didn't.

I could have.

My friends told me they would have, if they'd been me. They were shocked that I didn't.

But I didn't.

I actually had something similar happen to me years before, and since then, I swore to myself that I'd never let it happen to me again. Not me, no way. Never again.

And yet. I didn't.

God spoke to me right when I needed to hear Him. He told me what was going on. He gave me peace. He let me in on what was happening in this person's head. He told me, not only to not freak out, but that I didn't even need to worry about it at all. It wasn't a problem. Everything would be fine. He was going to take care of it. "Chill out, sweetie, it's fine."

I'd love to say that I believed God with all of my being...but I didn't.

He was very clear, very obvious, very convincing, and also very comforting. Very. Perhaps more clear and more comforting than I've ever felt Him before in my life.

I mostly believed Him.

Even so, there was still a little part of me that wanted to freak out. I wanted to cry and scream and tell this person exactly how wronged I felt and how hurt I was. I'd been through this before and I swore it wasn't going to happen to me again!

But I couldn't. I knew I wasn't supposed to. I knew it would have been against God's will. Somehow, even thinking about doing it felt terribly wrong, and I knew that God would be angry with me if I did. I knew it would have made a big purple pig's ear of everything, and it just wasn't necessary. God kept saying, over and over, "Shhh. It's okay. Don't worry about it. It doesn't matter. I'm going to take care of it."

He wouldn't let me do it.

So I didn't.

And He did take care of it. Everything was fine. It didn't matter. At all.

Just like He said He would.

A few months later, I learned a little bit more about how much, according to worldly standards, I would have been justified in reacting in anger. But now, it just seems silly. That would have been so stupid, and would have hurled a wrecking ball through God's will and the amazing things that He has done since then.

I'm so glad I didn't. Not just because I kept someone close to me who I care about, but, even more so, because of what it means between God and myself. It means that in the last few years of working in me, quite without my even realizing it, He's grown me up from a defensive, self-righteous girl who reacts with "never again" to - is it possible? - a patient, gentle woman who reacts with "I forgive you."

For that reason alone, I'm so glad I didn't.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In Spite of MYself

I swear, I totally saw this couple in Subway today. We were the only ones in the restaurant. I couldn't believe it.

It's to the point, now, where if I go a day without having at least one big cosmic meringue confection lobbed at my head...I miss it.

And I was reminded, again, just when I needed to be reminded, to keep on hoping.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

If I'm being honest, I don't post as often as I should, or, for that matter, as often as I'd like. One of my (many) goals for the upcoming weeks is to post more often and actually act like the writer I claim to be. So, to open up a bit and let the two people other than my mother who read this blog into the inner workings of my mind a bit more - because emotional unavailability gets you nowhere! - I'm taking a cue from Andy, and...drumroll are 50 things about me:

1. I realized in the shower this morning that directing comedy is what God put me on this earth to do and when I'm not actively doing it, something is tangibly missing.

2. I'm going to rectify that situation very soon.

3. I've been working in customer service doing phone technical support for a year. It's forced me to have more patience than I knew I was capable of, and even though I don't like it a lot of the time, I can see God all over it.

4. My name is pronounced "Eeleesse" and not "Ahleesse." Most people get it wrong.

5. It doesn’t really bother me that much. Only people who are really close to me get it right, so it’s like a sign of emotional intimacy.

6. The idea that if you expect nothing, you won't be disappointed is perhaps the most depressing thing I've ever heard.

7. Unlike most other girls, I never hated being a redhead.

8. In fact, I love it. It gives me an excuse to be fiery.

9. I can pretty much tell within a few minutes - hours, at most - of meeting a man if he has the personality to handle me. Most men don't. I'm a lot to handle.

10. That being said, I'm very, very giving.

11. I am alternately frustrated and amused by politics and how upset people get over them. If we all just lived like Jesus and loved each other, we wouldn't have these problems.

12. My mom always told me to be proud of my scar from my open heart surgery, and I always have been.

13. I cherish my parents more and more every day.

14. I also admire my father as a strong man in Christ more and more every day, and will feel blessed to find a husband who is like him.

15. I often wonder, if my sister and I were closer in age and not related, if we'd be friends. I secretly think she's much cooler than I am, and I'm glad we're sisters so she doesn't have a choice.

16. The best compliment you can pay me is to call me "hilarious." Obviously.

17. I remember clearly every single time I've gotten that compliment.

18. The sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me wasn’t that, but it was similar. And wonderful.

19. In February of 2008, God told me that my future life would look "nothing like I could ever imagine." I believe it.

20. Cooking is one of my favorite things to do...but only if I get to cook for other people.

21. I love my dog very much, but feel guilty about the fact that sometimes I think my life would be easier if I didn't have her.

22. Then again, I would be terribly lonely without her.

23. Quite literally, I just glanced to the right, deep in thought, my eyes focused on something entirely random, and God used it as a sign. Wow.

24. I love it when that happens.

25. My favorite food is cheese.

26. I have a strong distaste for vulgar humor but at the same time regularly think of innuendo-laced one-liners that would shock most people.

27. They're not vulgar, they're clever.

28. I can't wait to have just one person to share them with - just between us.

29. When I was able to choose whatever food I wanted as my first solid food after my open heart surgery, I chose watermelon. In November.

30. That should have been a sign to my parents. It probably was.

31. My dad makes the best pies in the whole world.

32. I talk to myself. A lot.

33. Correction - I talk to other people. They're just not actually there at the time.

34. I'm really not crazy.

35. Mom says we'd know by now if I was.

36. I sleep with a pillow lying vertically beside me because I like to hug it.

37. The two years I spent in England grew me up in ways I never knew I needed to grow. It was incredible.

38. They were also the hardest and loneliest years I’ve ever spent. I'll never travel abroad alone again.

39. I got my Master's in screenwriting, but what I really want to do is direct.

40. And be in ministry.

41. I'm learning to look at every situation as an opportunity for ministry, even if it's temporary or not blatantly obvious. That includes every single call I get during a day at work.

42. I've talked to customers about God. And didn't lose my job because of it. Praise God.

43. I have this problem (gift?) where I see the potential in people and believe God can get them there rather than just accept where they actually are.

44. I’m not a very physically affectionate person in general. If I’m physically affectionate with you, you know you’re special to me.

45. When I was 14, the local newspaper did a story about me directing Shakespeare with the headline “DIFFERENT IS OK.”

46. My favorite movie is “America’s Sweethearts.”

47. I’ve been what I thought was “in love” twice. Hopefully the third time will be the charm.

48. My favorite song is “Something Beautiful” by Robbie Williams.

49. Roses are my weakness. Among other things.

50. My brain never, ever shuts off.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why yes, that was intentional.

One afternoon in mid-March, sitting on the couch in my apartment with my dog, I suddenly, starkly realized that I was completely dissatisfied with my life.

A few weeks prior, I'd been given the news at that I would be losing my entry-level, part-time customer service job. Two days before that, my landlady had informed me that she had to make some changes to her living arrangements and asked me to move out within two months. I was broke, confused, and lost, not to mention as single as the dollar sitting in my bank account.

Something wasn't working. Wasn't happening. Wasn't right. When I moved to Raleigh three years ago under God's direction...this wasn't how it was supposed to turn out.

In that moment of clarity, He made me realize that part of that something was me.

Sure, there are some things that I can't control. The economy is bad. Everyone is struggling. Many people are getting laid off. Many people my age have to live with their parents. Many people haven't found their chance, found their way, found their spouse. But as a person of faith, I can trust that God will take care of me, that He'll provide - the right opportunity, the right circumstance, the right person. That's God's part.

But then, there's also my part.

For about six months now, God has been teaching me that He wants me to do more than just sit and wait for Him to perform miracles. He will, of course - He already has, in my life. Often. A lot. So much so that I'm in awe. But for me to just sit and wait for more is at best passive and at worst disrespectful. Passive and disrespectful to the God who has given me so very much.

I trust the Bible. I trust what God has spoken in my heart about my life. And now, He is telling me that He wants me to take what He has given me and approach everything - ministry, relationships, jobs - with intention.

Basically, that means that He wants me to give as much of myself as possible in every situation. He wants me to be intentional about the job He gives me, the relationships He blesses me with, and the ministry He's called me into - no matter how mundane the task, how challenging the person, or how scary the next step. He is asking for all of me. In a nutshell, He's saying "If you're going to do something, do it right. Don't squander what I am giving you."

I've been thinking about this whole thing kind of like being in a swimming pool. God threw me into one end of the pool and promises He won't let me drown. He pushes me forward with waves of guidance and teaching and spiritual revival, and He's told me what He wants me to do and what He has for me along the way. But He also gave me arms and legs, and it's up to me to use them. Otherwise, I'll just be treading water. Not drowning, not sinking...but not getting anywhere.

There's God's part, and then there's my part.

I intend to do God's will. I intend to give everything He gives me my all - because I believe what He's told me, and it's time I started acting like it.

No more treading water.

Present Laughter

I've always fancied smart, charismatic, witty men who are a bit to the left side of normal and aren't afraid to be themselves. Let's face it, if a man is going to be able to handle me, it's kind of a necessity.

It's no surprise, then, that when I adapted and directed "Twelfth Night" in eighth grade, my favorite character was Feste, the jester, who, as is the norm for Shakespeare's jesters, was really the wise, truth-telling seer just playing the silly, wise-cracking fool.

The reason I'm bringing this all up? Well, it occurred to me, when my favorite line of his - perhaps my favorite line in all of Shakespeare - ran through my head yesterday morning as I was waking up, that I've never explained where the URL name for this blog came from:

What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

I've loved that line for years, but the older I get, the more I like it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I'm a small-town girl. I mean, a really-small-town girl. The town in Pennsylvania where I grew up is composed mostly of fields, surrounded by mountains, and I'm pretty sure it boasts more cows than people. We had a day off of school on the first day of hunting season...both doe and buck. I can remember standing in the kitchen with my sister watching a black bear lumber nonchalantly through our yard.

I could go on, but I think you get it.

Now, though, I live in the grand metropolis that is Raleigh. I love so much about it, I really do. There are two malls within a twenty-minute driving distance, stores and restaurants I'd never even heard of, and oh my goodness, can you believe I lived the first 24 years of my life without ever eating Coldstone ice cream? I know - it's an almost unspeakable travesty.

But as I said, at heart, I'm a small-town girl. The one part of living in the city that I'm still getting used to is the driving. And the one particular aspect of driving here that I hate the most is parking decks.

Now, to make a long story short, I have to use an inhaler every day, and right now I drive down to the (very large and well-known) hospital in Raleigh to pick it up. This means that every month or so, I have to inch my precious little blue Focus through the ginormous parking deck at the hospital, find a place to park, run in, grab my life-giving medicine, and then, even more carefully, inch the Focus back out of whatever space I found, avoiding the much more, ahem, confident drivers who careen around the tight corners of the parking deck levels without seeming to care that that the little redheaded girl in the blue car is white-knuckled and hyperventilating trying to back up as they fly by.

It just so happened that I had to go pick up my inhaler today.

I was nearly finished. I'd braved both of the huge, multi-lane highways necessary to get to the hospital. I'd parked the car without scraping the front bumper on a wall in the parking deck. (Victory!) And now I was sitting with my inhaler nestled comfortably on the front seat, promising me two more months of, well, life. The car was on and in reverse. My neck was craned on the back windshield, prepared.

But other cars kept coming. I couldn't back up. Every time I started, another one whizzed past and I'd gasp, thankful for the five inches that kept them from hitting me.

I waited about five minutes, but there was no reprieve. They just kept coming.

And so, I froze.

I waited.

I refused to move the car.

It was too risky.

I can’t afford an accident.

Finally I realized…if I didn’t put my foot on the gas pedal and pull out of that parking space, I was going to sit there until Jesus came to take me home.

Side note: I love the tv show “Friends.” There’s an episode in season three when Joey is in a play with a rather eccentric director who, when he gets a phone call on his cell phone, pauses their action while he answers and wails,

"...when I continue, I hope that there will appear onstage this magical thing that in the theater we call COMMITTING to the MOMENT!"

As I sat with my car in reverse, my neck aching from craning it backwards looking for an opportunity to pull out, that line suddenly ran through my head.

I had to do it. I had to commit to the moment.

I took a deep breath. I listened for other cars. I couldn’t hear any.

So I put my foot on the gas and backed up, then, as quickly as I could, I put the car in drive and left the parking garage.

I was fine. No one hit me. No one was even behind me. Twenty minutes later I was home and snuggling with my dog.

I had to take the risk. It was that, or live in that parking garage.

Now, I’ve directed plays since I was a teenager. I still do it at my church, and I admit, I can get like Joey’s director sometimes. I whine, and flail, and cajole, and plead, and jump around, and wave my arms, and practically roll around on the floor to get my actors to give me more. I need more emotion!! More energy!! LOUDER!! I don’t believe it!! Give me MORE!!

Really, what I’m asking is for them to commit to the moment!! (Ask them. They’ll tell you how I am.)

Because if you’re not going to really do it…why do it at all? You’re just going to sit in the parking garage with your car in reverse, forever. And where does that get you?

When you could be on the highway, on your way home.

When you could be really doing something worthwhile.

When you could be really living. Feeling. Loving. Stepping into God’s will for your life.

I’m not saying not to be careful. I’m not saying to blindly jump. I’m saying that there comes a time when you have to take a deep breath and put your foot on the gas pedal and just leap. Because…what’s the alternative?

Commit to the moment.

Otherwise, you could be stuck in a parking garage. Forever.

And what's the point of that?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cosmically Cream-Pied, Boy Edition

One Saturday evening a few weeks ago, I spritzed my favorite perfume in my painstakingly curled hair, swished the perfect shade of pink lip gloss on my lips, pulled the corduroy blazer he'd previously complimented me on over my cute floral tank top, and bid my toy poodle goodbye as I walked out the door to meet a lovely young man for dinner.

Don't everyone faint at once, now. My supply of smelling salts is limited.

We were meeting at the restaurant where my best friend is a manager. We'd known each other for more than a month, introduced by my best friend and her husband, but this would be the first time we'd really spent any time just the two of us (and, y'know, everyone else in the restaurant). I was nervous, and excited, and anticipatory, and happy, and, because I'm me...kind of freaking out.

Why, you ask? What, it's not blatantly obvious? Oh. Well, because...because we'd have to do the Awkward Check Dance.

Holy crap.

Now, of course I'd want to pay for myself. No question. I'm an empowered modern woman (whatever that means) and would never expect a man to pay for me. If he wanted to, that'd be incredibly sweet, but it'd be rude to assume it. In fact, I'm more than happy to be as generous with my money as I possibly can. The tip? The dessert I talked him into sharing? It'd be on me. I'd even love to be able to cover the whole thing if I could. I'm just sweet and nice and lovely like that. Ahem.

But I didn't know what he was thinking. I didn't want to offend him. He's a gentleman. (Really.) But I would still offer. But...but...but...ahhh! Lord, help me! No matter what, I knew there would be a moment when It Would Happen. The Awkward Check Dance. Even if it was just one step and not a full waltz. It was inevitable. And I was freaking out.

I started praying almost as soon as I turned the ignition on in the car. Lord. Lord! Help me! Help me help me help me!! Occasionally Matchbox Twenty lyrics would distract me, but soon enough, I'd remember and start again.

And it wasn't even a very long drive.

My prayers (read: cries of desperation) got more frantic the closer I got to the restaurant. Lord! Make it not awkward! Please! You have to make it not be awkward! LORD, HELP ME!!!

When I was five minutes away, muttering like a broken record, God suddenly spoke:

"You don't trust Me at ALL!"

Woah. Um. Oops.

I (pathetically) tried to defend myself. "Yes I do, Lord! Yes I do!"

"No, you DON'T!"

That shut me up in a hurry.

What He said next wasn't as, ahem, audible, but it was still clear: "Wasn't I the one who made this all happen? Trust that I'm going to take care of the details. Just enjoy it."

Well. It was hard to argue with that. He was totally right. (Don't everyone faint at once, now.)

We had an absolutely wonderful evening. When the check came, we were too wrapped up in conversation to even really notice it. And then, as my best friend was walking by our table on her way through the dining room, she grabbed it and brought it back...paid.

I don't think I've ever felt God raising an eyebrow and smirking at me more pointedly than in that moment.

"See...I told you!"

It's a good thing cosmic cream pie is invisible. It would've totally messed up my lip gloss.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cheer Up, Sleepy Jean

I first started an outline of this particular post in the earlier days of February, but it's taken more than two months of stewing in my head and drafting to get it to where I feel it's ready. This is one of the most precious things that I hold close to my heart, and I wanted to be sure to express it the best way I can. I hope I've succeeded.

I just want to feel real love fill the home that I live in
Cause I've got too much love
Running through my veins
Going to waste

I am a chronic daydreamer. I always have been. For as long as I can remember, I've had an extremely vivid - and active - imagination, which I admittedly have pretty much always indulged.

I used to have entire, in-depth conversations in my head with storybook characters on the bus home from elementary school. (Sara Stanley from the Avonlea series was my closest confidant in fifth grade.) I made up a whole other world called "Woodland Girls" where we lived off the land like Sam Gribley in My Side of the Mountain and made my sister and my cousin enter that world along with me. (I'm pretty sure those hours we spent in a nook in my parents' backyard amounted to a whole lot of peer pressure and them doing what I wanted to keep me happy, but, to be fair, they seemed to have fun climbing trees and eating berries.) I would stay up late at night as a teenager and imagine rapid-fire dialog between myself and my celebrity crush from television. (Anyone remember Jonathan Taylor Thomas?)

And for about a decade now, I've been dreaming about the man whom I will one day be proud to stand beside and be delighted to sleep next to every night. Unlike the fictional characters I lost myself in as a child, hopefully this is a more realistic dream.

I imagine our connection. What we'll talk about. How well he'll know me - and I him - and it'll be a closeness and intimacy with another person that's like nothing I've yet experienced.

I know that as hard as I try, I can't really know what it'll be like. I can have glimpses, and I can dream, but until it actually happens, I can't know for sure. In fact, God spoke to me a couple of years ago and said "It will be completely different than anything you could ever imagine."

And the experiences He has given me in the last two years have given me just a taste of what an incredible, wonderful surprise it will be.

You once thought of me as a white knight on his steed
Now you know how happy I can be

I was a braces-wearing, frizzy-haired, painfully awkward 17-year-old the first time I realized that there were actually other people in the world who think like I do.

While most girls my age were making out with their boyfriends in the back of a car, I was reading Stephen King's book On Writing and daydreaming my - at that moment, vastly disappointing - life away. The following ten years wouldn't see a huge amount of change in those activities, little did I know.

At this point, I honestly don't remember what most of the book is about, but there's this moment when Stephen King is talking about the Ideal Reader - the one person you write for above anyone else. For him, that person is his wife, Tabby. He thinks about her when he's writing - if she'll find something funny that he wants to be funny. He describes her laughter and how much he loves it. He calls it the jackpot when he gets her to laugh out of control, and that when he gets ahold of something with that potential, he twists it as hard as he can.

Oh yes.

I couldn't even tell you how many times I've read that one paragraph. It changed me. It made me feel like maybe I wasn't a complete freak show. (Okay, well, maybe I am and Stephen King is, too...that's also a possibility. But whatever, at least it's not just me!)

I have longed for the jackpot ever since then. Stephen King wrote that passage to instruct his readers about one of the many technicalities of writing. He had no idea that a misfit teenager in a tiny town in Pennsylvania would dog-ear that one page and would still be reading, writing, and thinking about it ten years later. For him, it was about writing. For me (perhaps because I'm a sappy girl), it was about love.

It all made such perfect sense. And since then, I've spent days' worth of hours dreaming about it.

I don't want to be a faded memory
I don't want to be the ghost that you can't shake
I want to be the real thing

More often than not, my daydreams are much better than reality - at least, they have been so far. Don't get me wrong, I've had a few of those movie-esque moments, those snippets in time where you wish you could bottle the feeling of pure glee and open it up whenever you liked, those moments (or hours) that you can still vividly remember and smile about years later. One was my 21st birthday. A couple were sprinkled throughout last year. And there were a few that happened even in the last several weeks. But, sadly, for me, they're often fleeting and far between. Also, I know that what I'm really dreaming about is more than just a moment (or even a few hours) anyway - it's about something secure, strong, and lasting - a deep friendship that blossoms into precious intimacy and God-led, unconditional love, just like Christ's love for us.

Several times in the last few years, I've thought about cutting myself off from daydreaming. Going cold turkey. Making myself climb out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off or trying to focus entirely on whatever task I have at hand, rather than drifting off into my own little fairyland as I normally do pretty much all the time. I've even tried it, forced myself to JUST STOP, because it's time for me to grow up and face reality...right?

Ultimately, as you've probably guessed, it didn't work. All I did was sporadically make myself utterly miserable until I realized there was no point in torturing myself that way. Unfortunately, they don't make patches for daydreams. And as hard as I try, I just keep losing myself in my imagination.

Because someday...oh, yes.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33

I try as best I can, every day, to do just that.

And I wait in glorious anticipation for God's perfect timing...and for the jackpot.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Tales from the Land of Boost

As a general rule, I don't blog about my job (for fear of being dooced, really), but last month, Boost Mobile, the prepaid cell phone company for which I had been taking customer service calls, decided to end their home-based agent program and we were all laid off. As much as working from home was a pretty sweet gig, it did free me up to be able to finally write a post about one of the most, ah, unique experiences I've ever had in any of my many customer-service-focused places of employment.

I wrote the following little snippet in an email and sent it out to just a few close friends. In retrospect, I wish I would've documented more of my calls this way. As challenging as they could be at times, some of them were well and truly comedy gold.

Written on October 30th, 2009.

It's 7:15am this very morning. I'm about half conscious, sitting in my desk chair, wrapped up in a fleece blanket with Lottie asleep on my lap, my nearly-full mug of Awake tea whispering sweet nothings to me as I finish up the process of changing a woman's price plan. Excited that this might be a short call, I nearly tumble over my words as I say:

Me: So have I resolved all of your issues today?
Her: Yes -
From the background, a young male voice starts yelling "WAIT WAIT!! Don't hang up!" There's some rustling as he grabs the phone from her hands. Oh crap, I think. My tea and I share a longing glance at each other.
Him: Hey - are you there?
Me: I'm here!
Him: OK good! So, Imma' sing for a couplea minutes, and then you tell me what you think, ok?
Me: Ok...
He proceeds to warble out a few lines from some cheesy pop song with not very much talent but with immeasurable sincerity, then waits expectantly for my response.
Me: That was great!! (I mean, what would YOU say?)
Him: Aw, you're the most AWESOME Boost rep ever!

Moral of the story: if you need validation, call a customer service rep. Also, clearly, I would totally be the sympathetic, Paula Abdul-esque judge on American Idol.

I hope you enjoyed this Tale from the Land of Boost!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

How do you like your eggs?

As I've written about here before, I am, and have always been, pretty open and unguarded. I emotionally invest very deeply in the people I care about. And, as is probably predictable, it hasn't always gone well.

Maybe there is a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya

When I was a teenager and in my early 20's, I had some very disheartening experiences with people who were supposed to be my closest friends. I was lied to. I was betrayed. My love and affection were treated cheaply. My heart was snatched away from me, ripped to pieces, and hurled back in my face with a sneer - multiple times. One of my favorite quotes from Friends was Rachel's quip to Monica: "Oh, I'm sorry, did my back hurt your knife?"

It was a maddening, frustrating pattern which eventually led me into a season of hardness, bitterness, and angst. I got tough. You didn't mess with me. I was angry and volatile and if you broke my trust once, well, that was it - we were done. You only got one chance. I lived up to the "redheaded temper" stereotype and was proud to do it. Looking back, I can see how much grace God, and people like my best friend who knew me at the time and still love me now, gave me during that time.

Eventually, I let go of the bitterness as God mended my heart. I let Him break down the walls I put up within myself - not at all consciously, but it happened. Praise God.

Even so, I looked forward to the days when we'd all be older - grown up, even - and the people I trusted wouldn't do this to me anymore. I thought surely that by the ripe old age of, say, 25, I would no longer have to deal with this kind of selfishness and emotional immaturity from the people to whom I opened up my heart.

Well, I'm two years and two months past that Age of Enlightenment, and in those two months I've had the exact same thing happen to me again - and not once, but twice.


Don't feel nothing, just old scars
Toughening up around my heart

I can feel my old defenses coming back to the surface. I can feel myself getting proud, self-righteous, self-protective. I'm building those emotional walls right back up again. For weeks now, I've just given in and let myself be angry. I've walked around with anger and resentment and bitterness bubbling right beneath the surface, keeping me disappointed and disheartened and afraid of letting anyone in. I don't like it. I don't like myself this way. I feel outside of myself, like I'm wearing armor that I don't want to be wearing and that's bulky and uncomfortable but for some ridiculously stupid reason that I can't believe still exists, is necessary. For protection. From people who are supposed to be Christian adults and also, oh yeah, my friends.

Clearly, it's working out well for me so far.

My very supportive friends and family have been wonderful. They've assured me that it's not your issue, it's theirs and you did nothing wrong and many other encouraging words that logically, I recognize are absolutely true. That's helpful and reassuring, sure, but honestly, it doesn't make it hurt any less. It doesn't change the fact that the affection and openness and love that I freely gave was handed back to me as if it were all worthless. As if it - and therefore I - don't matter at all.

She said, 'I don't know if I've ever been good enough
I'm a little bit rusty and I think my head is caving in
And I don't know if I've ever been really loved by a hand that's touched me
And I feel like something's gonna give
And I'm a little bit angry'

It's a gray, dreary, cloudy, cold day in Raleigh today. As I was on my daily walk earlier this afternoon, I was in full-on emotional indulgence mode and thinking about how stupid and how much of a shame this all is for the hundred thousandth time. I noticed buzzards slowly circling overhead, first one, then two, then five of them all at once. Obviously they were focused on something dead in the woods beside me, but it felt like it was me they were eying up as they winged closer and closer to the ground. I thought with grim amusement how ironic it would be if one of them pooped and it landed on me. That would just top everything off quite nicely.

And then I started thinking about Jesus.

Jesus knew better than anyone what it felt like to be betrayed, to be lied to, to have His affection thrown back at Him and His trust broken. To have His heart broken by the people He cared about most.

I thought about Jesus and Thomas - after Jesus rose from the dead, Thomas didn't believe it was really Him and demanded proof. Did Jesus retort back, "Thomas! You lying sack of crap! You followed me around for three years and saw me do all those miracles and now you want proof? What's wrong with you?"? I mean, He would've been totally justified in saying that. But He didn't. He loved Thomas despite his distrust, and He forgave his unbelief. Like nothing ever happened.

Then there's Peter. Peter, who was supposed to be Jesus' best friend, who denied Him three times to save his own skin. Peter, who vehemently protested when Jesus told him he was going to do exactly that. When Peter ran up to Jesus on the beach and hugged Him, did Jesus push him away? Did He say, "Get away from me, you arrogant jerk! You had your chance, and you blew it. I can't trust you anymore! I never want to talk to you again! YOU RUINED OUR FRIENDSHIP!"? He would have been totally justified in saying that. But He didn't. Instead, He hugged him right back, and then He made him breakfast. Like nothing ever happened.

And then I thought about Judas. Now, there's a guy who's beyond any hope of forgiveness, right? He betrayed Jesus in the worst way. He's Judas. He's the guy who sold Jesus out and then felt so guilty about it that he hanged himself. Talk about a jerk, and a coward, and someone with some serious emotional issues. But then I thought - wait a minute. Judas hanged himself, yes, but suicide is not an unforgivable sin. He was obviously convicted if he felt that guilty. He obviously knew Jesus was at least innocent - if not the Son of God. That means that it's possible that Judas repented and recognized Jesus as the Son of God before he died. For all we know, Judas could be in Heaven.

That made me stop in my tracks.

For all we know, Judas could be in Heaven.

Holy crap. (In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to tell you that that is exactly the phrase that echoed in my brain at that thought.)

If Judas is in Heaven, I have to imagine what Jesus would've said to him when He got back there and saw him. Would He say, "Wait...what? JUDAS? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? Are you SERIOUS? Are you KIDDING ME WITH THIS? Who do you think you are? GET. OUT. NOW!"

He would be totally justified in saying that. But He wouldn't. He would probably hug Judas and cry with happiness that he had realized who He was in time to save his soul. Like nothing ever happened.

After thinking about all this, I suddenly started to feel very small and silly and like I've been wasting a whole lot of energy with my anger and resentment and emotional walls when I should be trying to be more like Jesus.

Cause maybe someday we'll figure all this out
Try to put an end to all our doubt
Try to find a way to just feel better now
And maybe someday we'll live our lives out loud
We'll be better off somehow

We all have choices. Friendship is a choice. Forgiveness is a choice. Love is a choice. The people who tried to push me out of their lives made the choice to do so. And now I have choices to make in response. It's not going to be easy or come naturally to me (obviously). It doesn't make what they did right or acceptable. It doesn't negate the heartbreak I feel. But now, it's my choice as to whether I let their actions turn me back into someone who's defensive and self-protective and that hard version of myself, or if I will, instead, let the Lord who lives in me teach me to act as He would in this situation.

I think about Jesus hugging Peter. I'm sure they both cried - Peter out of sorrow and apology, Jesus out of relief and happiness that He had his best friend back. It was Jesus' choice in that moment how to respond, and He forgave Peter. And then He made him breakfast, and they were best friends again.

That reminds me, I need to go to the grocery store. I'm nearly out of eggs. And I suddenly feel the need to keep plenty of them around. Just in case.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holding Out for a Hero

"You're supposed to be the heroine of your own life!" -Kate Winslet, "The Holiday"

A hero is a man who is afraid to run away. -English proverb

I read Jane Austen's Emma for the first time when I was 14 and promptly fell head-over-heels in love with Regency-era and Victorian literature. In fact, it was the genre I studied almost exclusively as a long-skirt-and-sweater-coat-wearing English major in college. I love the stories, and not just the romance part - because everyone knows, they only get together right at the very end! - but even more so, the story of growth and maturity and self-realization that the heroine ultimately has to go through in order to get to her happily-ever-after ending. (My I-Sound-Smart moment of the day: this type of story is called a bildungsroman in literary theory. Look at me making good use of that tuition money, Mom & Dad!)

There are many female characters in Jane Austen's books, but only one is the heroine (with the arguable exception of Sense & Sensibility). What is it that makes her different from the others? Is she the most beautiful? The most graceful? The richest? The most talented?

Nope. In fact, never.

What makes her different is that she changes. All the other female characters pretty much stay the same throughout the story. None of them are perfect, but for that matter, neither is the heroine - not by a long shot. But it's her story, and to get to the end of it, she has to grow up. Jane Austen spends hundreds of pages pounding on Elizabeth and Emma and Elinor (and Marianne) until they become women of substance - the women they need to be to step into their futures.

She humbles them. She smacks them around. She pulls the rug out from under them multiple times. She keeps on hurling things at the general vicinity of their heads until they learn to react in ways that they wouldn't have in the beginning of the book: with grace, and humility, and forgiveness, and gratefulness. Until they learn. Until they become heroines.

When I think about , oh, the last five years or so of my own life, I have to admit, that sounds pretty familiar. And I'm sure God's not done with me yet. Living like a heroine is often a minute-by-minute process at which it's so easy to fail in any one of those minutes...and in which I do fail, quite frequently. Praise God, with Him, it's the effort that counts, because otherwise, I'd be sunk.

Here's something I just recently realized, though - in Jane Austen's novels, it's not just the heroine's story - it's the hero's, too.

None of the heroes in Jane Austen's novels were perfect, either. They weren't knights in shining armor who galloped onto the scene and swept the heroine off of her feet once she was worthy of his attentions - heavens, no! In fact, all of them were downright non-heroic in the beginning. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon were both passive and gutless. Mr. Knightley was a condescending lecturer. Darcy was perhaps the worst - pompous and emotionally unavailable. And these men were the heroes of their love stories.

There's always a moment in Jane Austen's novels when we're not quite sure who the hero is actually going to be. We think we know, but we keep reading because we're not positive. It's up in the air because the title of hero is not absolutely nailed down from the beginning of the story - it's up for grabs by the man who is willing to swallow his pride, to be vulnerable to the heroine, and to admit his faults and grow up. And there's a moment in each of the books when it could be either of the men in the heroine's life, because the hero is simply going to be the man who steps up when the other runs away.

Wickham could have easily been the hero of Pride and Prejudice. He had the wit and charisma that women love in men, but he was also selfish and immature and only out for what he could get - ultimately, validation. Now, honestly, those are not uncommon nor insurmountable flaws. The reason he's not the hero is because he stayed that way. Darcy could easily have been the villain, lost in his own pride and trapped behind his (also quite common, and, ahem, maddening) emotional walls. Frankly, he wasn't very likable throughout the whole book - who could forget his scathing line of, "She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me."? Ouch. That's practically unforgivable (and part of Elizabeth's lessons in becoming a heroine was to learn how to forgive him). But he did change. He made a choice - he chose to sacrifice that pride and be the hero.

Stepping into the role of hero can't be easy. Neither Elizabeth nor Emma nor Marianne were quiet, demure, shrinking wallflowers. They weren't Jane Bennets or Harriet Smiths. It would have certainly been a more peaceful existence for Darcy if he had married his boring cousin, or easier for Knightley if he'd just stayed a brother-like figure to Emma. They could have kept their distance and not gotten involved in the depth and the mess that is the heroine. But for them, that mess was worth it. Stepping up was worth it. Sacrificing their pride was worth it. All of it was worth it, in the end, because now they would get to spend the rest of their lives with the heroine, and because she's the heroine, she's worth the effort.

At the beginning of the books, it wouldn't have been worth it and they wouldn't have done it. She wasn't ready and neither was he. But then they were molded and shaped and pounded on by the author of their story, and by the end, they both had to make the choice. Without that choice, she wouldn't have been the heroine and he wouldn't have been the hero. But because they did, they are.

You're supposed to be the heroine of your own life. I won't scruple to say that I'm still learning, every day, what that really means. And because I believe in the Author of my own story, I have faith that He is teaching both me and the future hero of my life, too, how to fulfill the destiny that He has written for us together.

I can promise one thing - he'll never be bored!