Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gift Giving

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.1 Timothy 6:18-19

As the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor. Esther 9:22

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh- Matthew 2:11

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” 
 Mother Teresa

Why does gift giving still remain an omnipresent part of the Christmas season? I personally have always loved the gift part of Christmas. I love the creativity of coming up with gifts for others, coming up with unexpected things people want or wouldn’t buy for themselves, spending the time laughing over a funny gift or smiling over a thoughtful one. Gift giving was always a part of my family’s holiday celebration- and I have learned for some it is more a source of joy than for others. Cynics would say gift giving is just American materialism and consumerism taking over the holiday. Many complain the focus on gifts detracts from the holiday and makes for an uncomfortable obligation of buying gifts for others. Maybe part of that is true- I can see how rushing around worrying about gifts can tear us away from the love and joy of the Christmas celebration.

But I think that is too simple to write off the tradition of gift giving as a part of Christmas. After all, gift giving was a part of the Christmas story from the very start as the wise men brought the nicest of trade goods to Jesus Christ in the manger (see Matthew 2:11). So why give gifts? And how do gifts relate to God and the spirit of Christmas?
Gift Giving

In my opinion, gift giving has historically been a symbol for recognition and appreciation. Gifts in many cultures have functioned as a symbolic exchange between people- groups large and small. Gifts foster unity between people- and represent things such as hospitality, peace, sacrifice and love. Here are some interesting tidbits about global gift giving and traditions surrounding it:

So what do gifts really symbolize? I believe they get at the essence of generosity. See definition below:

generosity [ˌdʒɛˈrɒsɪtɪ]
1. willingness and liberality in giving away one's money, time, etc.; magnanimity
2. freedom from pettiness in character and mind
3. a giving act. 

Of course we can give gifts and not be being that generous. Is giving because you feel obligated to generous? I read a wall street journal article recently about how gift giving often insights more joy in the giver than the receiver. Does this mean gift giving is sometimes selfish? This article I know humbled me- because I know I have given gifts out of the hopes of being recognized or appreciated by others.

Even though this may be the case, I still do believe that gift giving can unlock the spirit of Christmas rather than detract from it. But I think it is not the gifts themselves, but rather the generosity behind them that makes the difference. I think the question is not- what gift should I/could I give this person? But rather- how can I be generous with this person? Gifts can be no doubt one way to do this- by spending a little extra on someone or giving them something that really makes a difference in their lives or brings them joy. Yet I believe there are multiple ways to accomplish sharing generosity at this time of year- maybe by calling a family member or friend you usually wouldn’t, or generously listening to someone rather than talking a lot at them, or maybe by doing most of the Christmas eve dishes. I think generosity is about giving to people in a way that makes a difference for them- not necessarily just in a way that makes us feel good. And this requires the rigor of putting our own egos aside and really being in-tune to those around us. I know this takes effort and is an unfortunately rare mindset for me to be consumed by- what does person x really want/need and how can I provide that for them?

Overall, I think the beauty of Christmas is it is a season of generosity. By being generous with one another- whether through our companionship, acts, words or physical gifts, we are creating a living metaphor for God’s most generous gift to mankind- his son. Jesus was a tangible, real gift- delivered in Bethlehem and wrapped in swaddling clothes. And within Jesus and in so many other ways- God fills our lives with the miraculous- with blessings uncountable and with an outpouring of generosity we could never hope to repay. And our chance to live in these blessings is to a) appreciate God and experience gratitude and b) be generous with others. So during the holiday- we give each other worldly things with love as God gives us divine gifts every day with love. Gifts are the birth and kindling to love, affinity, healing and many other good things, just as Jesus’ life was the birth of new love and affinity between God and mankind.

So my challenge is this- if you are inspired, maybe be generous with someone over the next couple days in a way you usually wouldn’t be. In a way that really makes a difference for someone else, even if it makes you uncomfortable or isn’t your usual way of doing things. I think this may unlock the spirit of Christmas in a new way for you.

And to all my friends and family members and anyone else who may happen to read this message- I hope you have a truly happy and wonderful Christmas- special and memorable in its own right to you and yours. I am grateful for you, the unique difference you make in the lives of others, and the many ways in which the world is lucky to have you in its midst. Thank you for being generous with me by reading this blog. I look forward to future sharing, affinity and conversation with you.

I will close with a link of something that inspires the Christmas spirit in me:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Addiction in Surprising Forms

Addiction [ah-dik´shun]

1. the state of being given up to some habit or compulsion.
2. strong physiological and psychological dependence on a drug or other agent; see alcoholism and drug dependence.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Addiction (dik´shn),
n the state of being addicted. Although there is no universally accepted definition, addiction is generally considered a condition involving two factors: (1) a compulsive behavior pattern, and (2) an altered physiologic state that requires continued use of the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Mosby's Dental Dictionary, 2nd edition. © 2008 Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:1-3)

This week my blood work came back from an extensive allergy assessment I had done last month. I talked to my doctor on the phone, and besides still being moderately or highly allergic to 18 different outside sources (molds, horses, dust and pollens to name a few) it also turns out I have a high Candida count and have some sort of allergy to wheat, rye and yeast (aka gluten). The doctor promptly told me that if I want to make a significant difference in my health, I need to at least temporarily forgo all sugar and gluten. The best source to understand what my doctor thinks I have is this:

I don’t think I quite realized how extensively these foods were a part of my diet until I stopped eating them. Almost EVERYTHING I love to eat and indulge in contains gluten or sugar! I had a distinct reaction of: how am I going to live without these? And the problem is- I can go on to eat them all without serious reaction… but it is the build-up of eating gluten and sugar countless times a day that is the issue. For my overall health, for now, I need to cut them out.

Addiction has been a hot topic in my life recently- and I have had multiple conversations with people about either themselves or others in their lives dealing with serious addictions- typical and atypical. My uncle Glenn sent me a profound speech he wrote regarding Jonathan’s addiction and his experience around watching his son ultimately are consumed by it. I hope to post an online link to this article here in the future. One of my favorite quotes from Glenn’s article is this:

“We are all vulnerable to addiction. All of us are born with a tendency
towards an addiction to self. It is the desire to put ourselves first, to please
ourselves, even at the expense of others and even at the expense of hurting
our relationship with God. The bible calls this addiction to self, sin. These
addictions take different forms. Some are alcohol or drug addictions. Others
are addictions to money or sex or food or fame. I have this addiction. You
have this addiction. We are all vulnerable and all in need of healing.”

In my opinion, the inherent and biggest problem with addiction to something is the addict puts that thing in front of all others in their life. They try to balance their addiction with people, jobs, other priorities- but when push comes to shove that need comes first. And in the worst cases, the need for this thing (whether sex, food, drugs, alcohol or a whole other variety of items people get addicted to) overtakes their relationships, integrity, their relationship with God and ultimately their very self-value. This is why addiction kills- because a person can go so far as to put their craving above their own survival. And It is one of the bitterest of evils, because someones addiction renders those people in that person’s life powerless. How do you save someone from themselves… not to mention watch someone destroy their own lives when you love them and find their life worth saving?

 I was in a conversation with a friend who knew something about having a candida imbalance, she said “A good sign of having this is if you regularly crave sugar and grain products”. My reaction to this was- that seems so counterintuitive- Why would the body crave something that is causing it harm? I guess this is the nature of addiction isn’t it? To crave and yearn for something ultimately causing us harm.

What are you addicted to? What are the things you do not want to or do not think you can go without? Are some people addicted to complaining? Feeling sorry for themselves? What about being busy? I believe addiction can come in all sorts of forms we don’t expect. The tricky thing is- there is not something inherently wrong with the things we are addicted to (except arguably drugs). It is just when something like sex or money or whatever else becomes more important to us than other things.

Addiction has given me a new appreciation for the practice of Lent in the Lutheran Tradition. We were encouraged growing up to ‘give up’ something for the 40 days of lent. In college, I remember friends giving up chocolate, facebook and caffeine among other things. The idea as I understand it is to give up that thing in your life for a time to make room for God.

I believe God is the only answer for addiction. You look at statistics on treatment centers for drugs, alcohol and other recoveries and the success rate is so low. If you are to beat the odds of a self-fueled disease, you need something bigger than yourself to be living for and guiding you. And the practical application of putting God first is putting the people in your life first- choosing your relationships over your addiction. It makes sense to me why the 12 step program is the most successful treatment program for alcoholics to date. God is essential for us to be saved from ourselves.

Over the last weeks my experience has not only been colored by other’s experiences of addiction, but has have a taste of my own withdrawal. I do not (or at least hope) I am not heavily addicted to these food items. And maybe one day I will be able to eat sugar and gluten again without it harming my health. And maybe if my doctor by chance is wrong- at least I will have experienced for myself the disappointment of withdrawal from something and be able to relate to others better for it.

And to all of you out there who are dealing with addiction yourself or are supporting someone who is; I know to a small degree the darkness you face. And I wish for you to get to experience new life and freedom. And I pray no matter where you are on your faith journey- consider looking to God. He is your hope for a healthy life on this earth.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Art of Saying No

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
Titus 2:11-12

Some people are very good at saying no to things. They approach offers skeptically, and are able to quickly not commit to multitudes of things. I am on the opposite side of the spectrum of these individuals. I struggle to say no, and more often (unless in highly unusual cases) say Yes. To practically every opportunity, event and chance that comes my way. I also am notorious for saying yes when people ask me to donate money. Partially because I get excited about so many things, that I can see positive opportunity and a window to contribute in so many things! And for my enthusiasm, I do live a very exciting and dynamic life. I love all the things I am involved in, I love excelling and trying new things and making a difference.

And there is some virtue sometimes to being active, busy and involved. Activity can breed courage, a sense of purpose, an ability to do more than what one thought previously possible. It is healthy to be up to things in life, to challenge yourself to move ahead with rigor.

In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive. –Lee Iacocca


Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. –Dale Carnegie


Lately however I have discovered saying yes to everything is leading me astray. By saying yes to so much, I lead myself to be overcommitted, overworked, overwhelmed and overall less effective. By saying yes I cram my schedule with so many things I hardly leave myself a chance to breathe, much less sleep, eat healthy and rest. The quote below unfortunately speaks to my condition:

A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools. –Spanish Proverb

I sometimes find myself praying- God let it all slow down, let me get through this- when my crazy schedule is not only fully my fault, but also when I do get a chance to breathe, I fill up my time with more things! I am my own worst enemy on this front.

I think my pace in life stems in some ways from a fear of missing out. Fear of failure. Fear of not making a difference in the world. John had the courage to tell me last night (while I was stressed working on something until midnight) that these fears are all fairly self-serving and self-centered. And he is right- as much as I am genuinely excited about giving to others and living my life for God- the way I am living my life and prioritizing my motivations right now is not reflective of this at all. And I don’t always take things on for selfless reasons.
“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life” -Socrates

My stereotypical way of dealing with this problem is to commit to more. To say Yes to other things to try to solve the problem, or to just charge through it and get as much done out of what I have committed to as I can. Really, what I need to start practicing is to say no. To say no to things- and to stop feeding into the fear I would be missing out. The truth is, I will need to learn to say no if I want to lead a great life, to make a genuine difference, to give my life up to God. And I need to realize that part of living my life for God is practicing saying no every day. And in some ways, by saying no to other things I am saying yes to him. To allow myself the space to be filled with things I would not necessarily expect.

In this conversation, I pray for discernment, wisdom, and the courage to live my life differently than how I have been.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Love Letters

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it's not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.” 

I commandeered my mother’s book club book on the ride down to Chicago for thanksgiving. I was rewarded with one of the more inspiring stories I have read in a long time. Recently released in October, “Proof of Heaven” is the articulate recount of an Atheist Neurosurgeon who became a firm believer in the divine through an unprecedented Near Death experience. One of the many take a ways from the book for me was this quote:

“How do we get closer to (our) genuine, spiritual self? By manifesting love and compassion. Why? Because love and compassion are far more than the abstractions many of us believe them to be. They are real. They are concrete. And they make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.” –Even Alexander

The above statement makes so much intuitive sense to me. The author is articulating something I believe all humans at their core recognize as truth. Love is what connects us; it is what allows us to conquer what was previously impossible. By expressing love, we are speaking God’s language. We are vibrating at a higher level. Love releases us from the chains and clouds of the ordinary.

Manifesting love and compassion- what does that mean? To me, it means habitually practicing showing affection and care to others- for their sake. It means looking past your ego to the outside world and tending to it and its needs.
This quote plays into a video my sister sent me a couple weeks ago on Gratitude and being a blessing to others. I have attached the link below.

 The line at the end of the video is my favorite- about being a blessing to others through your eyes, your smile and your touch. What simple yet conscious effort we could make during the day. Instead of being wrapped in our own thoughts- looking up and smiling into a strangers eyes.  

Loving others occurs to me as a puzzle or game. There are so many ways to contribute to others! Folding laundry, giving hugs, paying someone a genuine compliment, fixing something for someone, making someone a meal, calling someone you wouldn’t talk to every day. Sometimes, the biggest contribution to someone else is letting them contribute to you (I know that one is difficult for me). One of the ways I tangibly love contributing to others is by writing letters. Inspired letters sharing your thoughts and inquiring where the other party is in life. Or thank you notes- writing down by hand that you really appreciate someone in your life. I am lucky to know several people in my life who are fantastic letter writers- a letter from them in the mail is such a day-maker.

I believe one of the purest and beautiful expressions of writing is the creation of Love Letters. Telling someone they are beautiful, appreciated and loved by you- that communication allows for some of the richest and most inspiring prose. Writing a love letter is doing one’s best to articulate something purely good that is beyond words. The content of love letters includes themes of hope, joy, wonder, gratitude, humility, devotion… many of the more important themes of the human experience. Also, consider love letters in the context of this bible verse: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” –Corinthians 13:1. This verse makes me think that love letters are essential because they may be where truth is really captured.
Old love letter — Stock Photo #5903918
The bible in some ways is a collection of Love Letters to God. Literally many different writers sat down to write about loving him through contemplating him, examining him, sharing him and expressing their gratitude for him. Love is undoubtedly the guiding motif of the bible, the message to take home: Love God. Love others.

Stereotypically now a days Love letters are written at either the beginning of a relationship to inspire passion or to communicate during a long distance relationship. People I think forget how much more a love letter can be. An apology note can turn into a love letter, we can write love letters to someone even if we see them every day and have been with them for years. Also, we are not limited to writing love letters to the beloved- what about to children, sisters, friends and even strangers? I found this moving video about writing love letters to complete strangers. See below:

What if, every time someone struggled with addiction, they wrote a love letter instead? What if every time someone was angry, sad or lonely, they turned to write a letter to someone else? I remember writing so many letters back and forth with my cousin Jonathan when he was going through addiction. It is hard to know if they made a difference, but I was able to articulate to him that I loved him, that I wanted him for who he was beyond what he was struggling with. They for me are a residual spark of tenderness, symbolizing a robust relationship with my twin cousin.

So maybe today go out and write and/or read a love letter. Sweep up the joy and passion into a fresh articulation, and then share it with someone. Let the letter change you, and through that change become a gift to others. Let your letter be today the fuel for tangible joy and truth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Handling Anger

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians Chapter 4: 25-32
      “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
      “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”
-Buddha quotes

I have a new appreciation for what it is to be angry. Last week I went to a marvelous dinner in downtown Minneapolis. I parked in a rush and decided to figure out payment for my car when I got back so as to not be later for my dinner. This rush decision resulted in Blue Belle getting towed to a sketchy wrecker lot- costing me some hassle and worry but mostly a lot of money. Thank goodness my cousin Maggie was willing to come pick me up and help me deal with the hassle of retrieving my car!
First I was stunned by the situation, and then I became very angry. Angry at the expense, angry at the person who decided to tow my car, angry at myself for not paying the 8 dollars right away… I really do not experience anger very often in my life. During the evening I was more angry than I can remember being in a long time- just boiling over in frustration and indignation. The anger spread to other situations in my life, anger at situations, God and just about anything I looked at.
My anger carried through the next day and I decided before I had to deal with it powerfully as it was affecting my happiness and productivity. For me (I think this is a Minnesota tendency) I was dancing between either calling the lot and blowing up at them or just masking my upset and not saying anything about it at all. I googled “how to deal with anger” and discovered a lot of results on ‘don’t act rashly’ and ‘breathe deeply’ and count to 100. These helped to focus me a bit, but ultimately they did not make my anger disappear.
Then I read this article which really helped my process a lot of what I was feeling: Not so ironically the message is written through a Christian lens:
There are several important parts in this article worth highlighting. One phrase I had heard reiterated earlier in the week jumped out at me: “Don’t get Bitter, Get Better.” Bitterness is dangerous, because it poisons everything once you assume it. Focusing on moving past anger to something else- and using the anger energy to improve yourself is a much better outlet.
Also note- the article does not list anger as an evil or bad thing. Rather a natural emotion that arises in tough situations in our lives. Even God is expressed as being angry in the bible. I remember being told by a psychologist once that: “Anger is an important part of healing. Anger symbolizes a certain amount of self-respect and worth. Also, when handled properly anger can lead to freedom from bad situations.”
This article also notes the importance of A) exercising self-control but also B) not just masking your anger and pretending it is not there. Rather, it is essential to actually dealing with the root of your anger.
When I hear dealing with the root of anger, I think of a lesson I learned from Landmark earlier in the week about how to effectively deal with being upset. The claim was that if you wanted to get over something you are upset about, you just needed to A) recognize that you are upset and then B) name and deal with the following three components around what you are upset about:
Thwarted Intention and/or
Unfulfilled Expectation and/or
Undelivered Communication

So to mirror this formula to the above situation, this is how it would shake out.
Step One: I am indignant and angry that the parking lot people towed my car!
Step Two:
Thwarted Intention: Driving home after dinner
 Unfulfilled Expectation: My car being in the lot when I returned. Not paying more than 8 dollars for parking.
Undelivered Communication: The lot manager was inconsiderate when towing my car
I think then there is a third step after all of this for true healing- highlighted in the article above. Here is the quote in mind:
“Overcome evil and anger by praying for those who hurt and abuse you. Forgive them and be a blessing to them. It may not be easy at first, but when you make the decision and stick with it, God will take care of the rest.”
I Believe this prayer part is super important- because it A- first acknowledges rather than ignores the party you are upset with and then B- channels your energy into a constructive response to the other party and C- involves and ultimately turns the entire situation over to God.  So to apply this to my situation:
Final Step: I pray for the parking lot people- that they are filled with compassion for others and are able to provide secure reliable parking spaces for Minneapolis cars in the future.
This whole exercise turned out to be an important one for me- because later in the day after I completed processing my anger- I spilled tomato soup all over my white dress shirt and dress pants at work. If I had any residual anger from the events previous, I think that would have been a breaking point for me (probably would have resulted in something ridiculous like me yelling at the soup can). Luckily, although not thrilled with my new shirt color I was able to peacefully laugh it off, and discount it as a small daily misfortune.
The sun will not go down on my anger today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Patience in the Face of Uncertainty

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self."   -Aristotle

"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” –Marcel Paghol

There are two forces I am very present to this week. Patience and Uncertainty.
On Patience: I am really developing a whole new muscle of patience right now. I am humbled by how impatient I seem to be about everything! The urgency I have to figure out my life and how it aligns with the rest of the world. My typical response to change in my life is this: “Be Proactive and DO SOMETHING! Otherwise, everything is going to turn out all wrong.” This incites a certain panic within me day to day that motivates but also exhausts me. I have discovered true patience however cannot live under that panicked assumption- so I am learning to embrace a new level of accepting the unknown.
Patience is absolutely a skill and a way of thinking. It is a confidence that life will work out for the best if you are not in control of all the moving parts. Patience is the inclusion of a higher power, bigger forces than you at work. Patience opens a person to new discovery. My favorite quote on patience that I discovered on an English professors door at Olaf several years ago follows:
“...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
–Rainer Maria Wilke
So this encapsulates the act of being patient. But there is another half- what am I waiting on? What should I be looking for?  I am left to ask myself what I am being patient for. Herein enters uncertainty.

On Uncertainty: Uncertainty is not knowing or fathoming what is in store for you. It is realizing a week, month, year from now life could look totally different. It is acknowledging the people, situations, hobbies, career, daily habits all could change and are in flux. The people who are dearest to you might disappear. Those who love you might change. You may lose or gain fortunes. You may have failed or succeeded more. You will think differently, notice different things, and maybe even live in a different place.
I think the easiest and maybe the worst thing to do in this situation is to look backwards. To turn around and say: “That is my past and it was good and comfortable. I should put my hope in that reoccuring.” This I have found just sets me up for totally missing the point. I lose my openness to a plan that is not mine, and become disappointed as the present and future hardly ever match up with my fantasies of the past.
When I discover myself doing this- hoping for things to be where they were, I really need to shake myself. To remember I am committed to following God and the future he has in store for me. To be ok and willing to sit in the face of uncertainty. To Admit to myself: “I currently do not know where the future is leading me.” I can pray for and dream of certain outcomes and futures: such as wanting to have a flourishing career, the opportunity to make the difference in the lives of others, an unwavering romance. I can set goals such as prepping to go to grad school and continue to work hard at the things I am committed to now such as World Bridge. But I start to lose myself as soon as I say: “God, I want the future and I want it this specific way.” And ultimately I have to let go of the certainty that just because I dream and plan does not mean I am in control or have any sense of security in the outcome. And in fact I need to be open to my plan shifting, being affected by forces bigger than myself. I can really only trust and have security in the fact that there is a brighter future ahead of me. Here is a quote I have written in the front of my small journal I carry with me everywhere which speaks to the above:
 “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –Joseph Campbell
So here I am left with the questions of how long am I patient and waiting? How do I balance being proactive and receptive to something new? First is admitting I do not have the answers. Then maybe the appropriate response is that of Active Listening and Open-minded searching. My new approach to patience and uncertainty is something akin to the yoga practice I have partaken in recently. In yoga, as I flow from one posture to the other, the instructor shared that it is not about how someone preforms the final stance, but rather how gracefully they transition from one to the next. Therefore, my new mindset is to ‘flow’ through life in partnership with God. Pausing when necessary, transitioning as gracefully as possible- minimizing the struggle and panic.
Another Yoga lesson unlocks how to approach life with flow, faith and patience. The lesson distinguishes the difference between reacting and responding to life and general circumstances.
Reacting involves a mind-heavy and emotional approach. It is an automatic, volatile and ultimately draining way of approaching events. Reacting is impulsive and often defensive. Reactions are dictated and controlled by what you are reacting to.
Responding involves a confident and centered approach to events. It comes from the deeper self in tune with the world. It is meditative, conscientious and ultimately energy giving. Responding is an independent choice of how to powerfully handle a specific set of circumstances.
So in my commitment of patience and gracefully living into the unknown future, I strive to respond rather than react. I strive to breathe and pray rather than panic. I strive to be open to pleasant surprises, turns in the road and strive to assume as little as possible. I strive to be curious. And most importantly, I strive to keep God close through the process. I will close with a enchanting poem from Rainer which captures for me a richness of the human experience in relation to the inexplicable and unknown.

Fear of the Inexplicable

But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished
the existence of the individual; the relationship between
one human being and another has also been cramped by it,
as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of
endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the
bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone
that is responsible for human relationships repeating
themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and
unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable
experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.

But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes
nothing, not even the most enigmatical, will live the relation
to another as something alive and will himself draw exhaustively
from his own existence. For if we think of this existence of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident
that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a
place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and
down. Thus they have a certain security. And yet that dangerous
insecurity is so much more human which drives the prisoners in
Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their abode.

We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abuses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Despair and Revelation

"The lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." -Psalm 34:18

"Trust in the lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make streight you paths." -Proverbs 3:5-6

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." -Romans 12:2

In my journal a couple days ago this is what I wrote:

“Breaking up with someone you love deeply is like being severely punished as a child, or being thrown in jail for a crime you didn’t commit, or like being kicked out of your own home with nowhere to go. It feels like an anvil was dropped in your lap, or a sledgehammer taken to your chest. It feels like being stuck in a desert with no water, or in a room in which you just cannot get warm. Hope is pointless, anger is pointless, eating is pointless. I do not yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. I now know afresh what agony and despair are.”

-This one of a couple of dark reflections I conjured over the roller coaster of emotions I have experienced over the last couple days. After breaking up with John, I have found myself in a constant wrestling match with my thoughts.

Thank God for family and friends. While going through this- I have found it most helpful when people are proactive with me. They drag me out to do something or directly initiate some sort of support without me having to ask. So much better than “Let me know if there is anything you need.” At this point in time I don’t know what I need; much less have the motivation to ask. Even though I have been here before, I forgot how tragic a breakup can feel. It truly is similar to experiencing a death. Writing helps, praying helps, talking helps, music helps. Here is one of the many songs that has really resonated with me. Sara Groves-Mystery
The last week feels like an eternity. I have talked with many, thought millions of thoughts, and learned a lot. I really have gone through the ringer, and for awhile I felt like I was in the darkest of holes. This has been and continues to be a real trial- a real test. I often have found myself asking where is God in all of this? Sometimes I have felt very intimately close to him- other times more distant than ever.

As the amount and intensity of Sadness over the last couple days has been great, so has the presence of revelations. I have had three major turning points in this journey so far and they can be summed up in the following:

1-      God is first not other people/your relationships

2-      God comforts you through people/others

3-      I am worthwhile and God loves me

These are all very simple statements- that might not strike any reader as that extraordinary. But their true realization for me has been very miraculous. To learn something as a feeling, beyond words, and then have it become a part of who you are. Or recognize it was a part of who you have been all along. That what it was like to absorb these new truths.

The first one I received when praying with my sister at the St. Olaf Chapel. Really an affirmation of what I wrote about in my last blog post. This was a necessary perspective shift for me, a necessary hard lesson on priorities.

The second one I received through listening to the below sermon sent to me by my good friend Lydia. One of those messages that came at the perfect time- here is the link to the sermon and I think a really important lesson on despair: Sermon: God and Despair

From this I understood that God is working in my life through other people, and I understood how lucky I am to be so supported and loved from several angles. We say often we are grateful for those in our lives- but we learn a new intensity of gratefulness when these people come and help us through times of trial.

The third one I received just yesterday. I think we Christians hear almost every day that God loves us. But to grasp at what that means is a whole different story.  I realized through a conversation with my dad for a long time I have assumed I am not a worthwhile individual- and not enough. Because of this, I walked around assuming this to be true and constantly trying to earn the approval and value of others. Today for the first time I considered myself as truly loved by God and actually a worthwhile human being. What an amazing relief and change. Seeing myself as worthwhile took away much of my sadness, and some of my lack of motivation.

Today I still feel the weight of the world. I still don’t know what the future looks like. But I have survived a true bought of despair, and now am starting to discover the glimmer of light ahead. And most importantly God is with me, now closer than ever. I pray for patience, reassurance, love and truth in the days ahead.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Faith in the Raw

Sometimes faith becomes more than the intellectual. Sometimes it becomes necessary, real and raw. The last several days have turned into that for me.

There is a lot I could say about this experience and what it has been like to be reeling in faith over the last couple of days. I am amazed how easy it is for me to focus on fighting for control in my life- muscling for things to go my way. My current exercise is to just keep handing over my struggle, situation and fears to God. It is hard- I have to do it over and over and over again.

I cannot remember the verse, but I recently heard a verse at a confirmation service for John's niece about remembering not to look for the approval of others, but rather for the approval of God first (galatians maybe?). I realized at the time how much of my fear around faith comes from this. I want so bad to be in community with others, I sometimes put too much at stake- try too hard to be accepted by other Christians and people in my life. Partnering and giving to others is important, but I realized I sometimes go too far- and plague myself with worry about how to solve disagreements with myself and others. It causes me to lack conviction in my faith.

Given a week of upheaval and reshaping, now I am going to take this lesson to a new level. On a long walk today with my dad, he mentioned I sometimes try to give so much, that I actually make a false god out of my relationships. This brought me back to the bible verse above, and reminded me that I cannot put the opinions of others and the love and acceptance of others first. My relationship with God must always come first- then the rest will follow. I need to let God guide me in my relationships- rather than using them as a measure of my self worth.

I feel this will help all sorts of things fall into place. Being open to and prioritizing the love of God leads to acceptance of self. Acceptance and love for self leads to true giving to others (not pretend in which you are always looking for something in return). Reminds me of this quote below:

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

I do love others so much. But I realize as soon as that becomes my only window to the world, I lose the ability to truly give to them. Something bigger and higher must fulfill me. This is why it is important Jesus was God's son. He was man- but because he was God and had God channeling through him so powerfully- he was able to give at a level that no man or woman on their own can achieve. Makes me realize how much is impossible without God, and possible with him.

I will continue to meditate on this new conviction. Otherwise, I ask for prayers of peace, healing, wisdom. love and wholeness.

Friday, October 26, 2012



noun |1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. 2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire. 3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship's hull.

     I Like this quote I dislike this quoteFreedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves

A brief but important idea for this week-
I need to have more integrity in my life in order to become more intuned with God. In other words, if I am out of integrity or not responsible for certain parts of my life, I will start to let those things control/consume me and therefore do a worse job on focusing on God and the big picture. My three areas I am going to focus on are:

Budgeting Time
Personal Health

So what do I mean by stay in integrity and be responsible for? In my case, I mean managing these three areas of my life effectively so that they do not manage me. An example of how I do not effectively manage one of these follows:

Many people in my life tell me I budget too many things into my schedule. I often ignore them and get a thrill out of maintaining a fast pace in life. I like to push the limit and see how much I can do in a week. However, I end up committing to too many things and running myself very thin some weeks. I put myself in a situation where I struggle to say no to anything. By being so busy, I end up straining relationships, worrying others about my well being, not following through on everything I said I would do. I also end up worrying myself, and not taking the time to focus on myself- which in turn affects my ability to relate to the world, God, others.

Make Sense? I believe that if I get these things in order, it will allow them to be background parts of my lifestyle rather than logistics blurring my vision. This will open up the space for me to better percieve the world, relate to others and listen to God and paths he might point me down I would have not noticed before in my current flurry and preoccupation.

What are things in your life that have control over you? What are the things that cause you to focus inward instead of outward and on your faith? Might be certain subconscious fears, certain assumptions or cynicisms you have. Or it could be as simple as you might be putting something else first. The ones we always hear about are Sex, Alcohol and Money. But what about just the simple little things? The habits and patterns. Ask yourself it in this way- what are the things you believe you need in life? Maybe that will provide some answers about what gets in the way.

Also, just think, what if we all did a good job of taking care of ourselves? If we were integrity with ourselves? We would be making a difference in the world just by taking care of our own mess! Like this quote below:
Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Here are ways I am going to tackle my three areas in the next week/month in order to clear up my personal integrity in these three areas:

1) For the month Save 20% and give 10% of my net income
2) Say no to at least 1 thing a day. Budget a couple free time hours each week
3) Average 8 hours of sleep per night. Eat a serving of veggies with 2 meals a day

maybe those things will open up new doors to being responsible for these areas as well. We shall see. I hope to see a new window in this clearing to becoming closer to God.