Thursday, March 28, 2013

God is in the Air

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”
Mother Teresa

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
Mother Teresa

“Nature is too thin a screen; the glory of God bursts through everywhere.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of my favorite professors from St. Olaf would regularly say in class (often to sooth a heated philosophical debate) “Love is in the air!” Or “Love is all around!” When you take this statement outside the cliché context of a star-struck lover on Valentine’s day, it is a great saying to have on the tip of your tongue and in the foreground of your thoughts. When you watch for it, love shows up in the most ordinary yet unexpected interactions of affection. Stealing from the movie “love actually”, one of my favorite places to witness interactions filled with affection and love is the airport baggage claim. Kids, parents, boyfriends rush in with a hug and a smile to welcome back their compatriot from abroad. Another great place to watch for love-filled interactions is while in a popular walking/running destination or park; Kids loving on parents, friends hanging out or working out together, dogs smiling up at their masters. My personal favorite place to do this is around Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.
When love is in the air, so is God. And lately I have been on the periphery of watching him suddenly appear in others’ lives. In my life- I know I write people off for their beliefs- in the sense that when I learn they believe X, I assume they will always believe that the rest of their lives. In other words, if I know someone is an atheist, and they tell me their reasons and beliefs, I think something along the lines of “Ok, that is the way they are.” And I never consider that they may change their minds! This is lazy thinking on my part, and I have been recently surprised and humbled by people I know not being constrained by their original patterns of thinking. I should know better- goodness knows how much my faith has morphed over the last handful of years.
In the last couple weeks I have learned of atheist friends joining churches, people interacting with pastors after holding a lifelong vendetta against the church. I have friends who have been in doubting periods of their life recently come to new convictions around faith. I know people in my life beginning to go to church again regularly after not attending for the last several years. I talked to someone last night who said the best part of his last two weeks was reconnecting with God. Wow right?
How extraordinary that God gives up on no one. How marvelous there is always the next moment awaiting us and others to connect with him further. And who am I to judge, evaluate or write off anyone given the champion God is for each of us?
Over the next week I am going to practice being open to others, and loving them in a way that is open to them to morphing and changing. I also am going to practice being open to others pleasantly surprising me.
When I say God is in the air, I also am noticing him working in my life- meaning I have this sensation of the things occurring in my life are happening in a pattern, a dance of sorts. I feel like I have suddenly happened upon the script of my life. Over the last year, God has really morphed and shaped me- the experiences I have had over the last year have taught me how to better prioritize God over money, self-worth, personal relationships, love of food or desire for success.
And today, I am noticing through what I am doing and in my interactions with others, how close to God I feel- as in how present the forces of love, authenticity, beauty and order are around me. And I also have this odd experience of being open to major parts in my life working out on their own. My job, where I live, my money situation and all the other little things I worry about day to day- those things will work themselves out. And me planning too much will only get in the way of what God is slowly revealing to me.
I am approaching the hinge of my life, a precipice of sorts. I cannot see much after July- after my time in the Middle East. I do not yet know where or with whom I will live, I do not know where I will be working, I do not yet fully understand what my time will be filled with. And instead of being fearful I am anticipating this new chapter. Kind of like how I felt skiing this past weekend. I have spent so much of my life becoming a good skier, but I have always had a fear of making it down the hill. Something in me kept me cautious, tentative. This past weekend in Colorado, my experience was different. Instead of being scared of the slope, I felt as if I was flying down the hill. I felt as if a switch had turned on with me, circuiting me with confidence and ease. Skiing became joy-filled instead of a preoccupied trepidation.
In the midst of continuing to complete things in life, in continuing to crowd out my self-interest and make room for God- I notice moment by moment the world around me is becoming brighter- as if the sun is rising. I am becoming increasingly aware of the ability to fly through life rather than worry about the decent.
Here is a section of Romans chapter 8 that I find especially reflective of how lately I have been feeling as I continuously notice God more and more in my life:
  26In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;27and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    28And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.29For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

    31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36Just as it is written,

37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God is in the air. God is in my life and the lives of others. I do not know of what is to come or how, but I am optimistic.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Faith Beyond Feelings

I don’t know if it is my personality, my human weakness, or the fact that I am female or the fact that I am American, but more often than not- what I do and why is dictated by how I feel about something, or how I believe something will make me feel. In what I reassure myself is a sophisticated way, I do a very good job of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. For those who are into Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFJ, with a strong E and a strong F. In other words, I very much use my emotions and feelings to navigate my way through life! And although this provides me with many advantages (being attuned to others, having strong intuitions etc.) I also recognize it sometimes causes me to be lazy, avoidant and some other not-so-noble things.
So it is easy to see how this applies to things like personal health, exercise, weight, what to work on day to day. It is so easy for me to focus on the “fun and quick” items on my to-do list versus the more time intensive and laborious items.
My dad said something recently I found insightful- often times people do not advance in life because they are too focused on their immediate gratification versus the long term dreams/results/ambitions. They (we as humans) have very little ability to motivate and work towards the big picture.  
I have adopted a new satisfying policy for myself over the last two weeks that although is not always fun-has made a huge difference in my daily effectiveness. I call it the “do it anyway” philosophy. I don’t want to/feel like cleaning the house – Do it Anyway. I don’t feel like sending that email, completing that draft, submitting that form- do it anyway. This morning I woke up, I looked outside with all the snow and traffic and I REALLY did not feel like going to work. Guess what? Do it anyway. "I don't or do" feel like X could be voiced to yourself in a variety of ways: "I am too tired, I don't want to, I think that's stupid" to name a few of my guises.
Over the last two weeks I have really noticed how much my feelings permeate my excuses and reasons in life. I feel like eating that, I don’t feel like hurrying to be on time, I don’t feel like reaching out to that person, I feel like relaxing instead of exercising. Every day, day in and day out. It is slightly sickening to realize the extent of it.
For me, the radical shift in perspective here around my personal discipline has been to cease using my feelings and emotions as a valid excuse to do or not do something. Rather, life has a lot more to do with following through on what I said I would do- not as much how much I feel about it. I have these moments during the day where I catch myself “I don’t feel like…” aha! Do it anyway! This is a very simple idea in writing and surprisingly profound one in practice.
I was amazed at church this Sunday about how well this new theme tied in with the sermon. The pastor talked about anxiety, and said something to the effect of:
“Anxiety is the smoke leading to a fire within your soul. It is the implosion of a false idol, and the recognition of love misplaced.”
What a neat reflection! Anxiety I know historically has been one of my go-to emotions. And really, in the context of this sermon, the pastor suggests it points to what you are worshipping in your life above God. For example, I am anxious about what my job upcoming job transition is going to look like. Really, what this signifies is me in my mind hinging my self-worth, well-being and confidence on whether I have a good job or not (classic mistake btw right?!). Rather, I need to remember to trust God in providing what is next for me career wise on his terms. And ultimately, if I end up with no job- I will still have him and that is what is most important.
Additionally, do you know the most common command in the bible is “do not fear/do not be afraid?” I believe fear is the most common emotion to take us away from our faith.
This made me think, how often do our feelings get in the way of our relationship with God? Our fears, desires, laziness- keep us from rigorously seeking him in our daily lives. I know there have been times I have been scared to pray for what I might uncover. There have been times I just haven’t wanted to, or done something that goes against God’s will for me because it feels good. And it is these little shadows of thought, fleeting and then disappearing, that too often dictate my relationship with God and the rigor with which I bring to my day to day life. Starting now, I do not want to overstep such hindering feelings anymore.
And I don’t think there is anything wrong with feelings- believe me I am a feeling queen! I love feeling close to God- as a tangible experience versus a dull discipline. I just am recognizing where sometimes my feeling humanity gets in the way of me really living my life effectively for the divine. And lately I am recognizing how often postponing the immediate gratification leads to something deeply more fulfilling. Like my drive to work today, after muscling my way onto 94W amidst ice and snow, I became newly awash with the beauty surrounding me, the satisfaction of preserving through the weather to make it to work, the sense of adventure and accomplishment that I don’t usually benefit from on my drive to work. The “do it anyway” mentality really paves the way for a lifestyle beyond the typical.
The question underlying this entire blog post I believe is- what drives you? What drives you to do what you do each day? Is it the God-given fuel of your soul and true self? Your innermost and most genuine essence? Or is it your shrouding humanity- hindering feelings, thoughts, confusions. And the follow up question then is, beyond morality and science and society and all the forces in this world, what power do you want to dictate your day to day experience and how you live your life?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Positive Impact- Are you Actively Loving Others?

Given my last blog post, there has been a flurry of acitivity in my life. Stay tuned for how everything rolls out. I will say it has been unbelievable some of the things God has placed in my life over the last couple of weeks, if you want more immediate detail give me a call!

This post is dedicated to a simple concept: Measuring the difference you are making in other peoples lives. I know I sometimes think I make little to know difference in others lives, and I know many others who often discredit themselves or do not realize the difference that they make. And God tasks us very simply to love others- and given how broad that request is and can be, I want to parse out some of the ways I believe to tangibly succeed at this.

Therefore I am recreating some content from a "Gallup Group" survey- Let it be known they get full credit for generating the original content of these questions on their "Positive Impact" Quiz. See link below:

I hope in this context they are read in order to affirm you in all that you are doing for others as well as inspire you in some new ways in which you could do more. Here are the questions up for consideration:

In life, have you lately:
  1. Helped someone in the last 24 hours?
  2. Been expectionally courteous to someone?
  3. Maintained a positive outlook and encouraged others to be positive?
  4. Praised someone in the last 24 hours?
  5. Developed a knack for making other people feel good?
  6. Told someone in the last 24 hours you care about them?
  7. Made a point to be acquinted with new people I have met?
  8. When I am recognized, Do I allow it to fuel me to recognize someone else?
  9. Have I listened to someone talk through his goals/ambitions?
  10. Have I made unhappy people laugh?
  11. I notice and celebrate when people in my life do things at a level of excellence?
  12. Have I forgiven someone recently?
  13. I Always smile at people I meet?
  14. I feel good about giving genuine praise for good work?
What are other questions you think should be added to this list? Were you surprised by some of your answers to this list? Who in your life do you think is good at practicing the actions on this list? For me, I think of my mother, sister and grandmother especially- though there are many others in my life who also embody these questions.

Friday, March 1, 2013

An Unlikely Story

This past weekend was surprisingly pivitol for me, my faith and my life direction. I feel the only way to accurately capture the impact is to just go ahead and tell the story. I will prequel this post by saying that I experienced in full what it is like to feel as if the stars aligning in your life.

My father and I signed up together for a Communication Seminar together hosted by Landmark Education. The program is called the Team Management and Leadership Program. The course started this past weekend at a nation-wide conference in Seattle- attended by a fellow 12 minnesotans and 650 other national participants. The weekend in Seattle consisted of intentional conversations about effective Communication and Leadership skills- in a variety of small and large group settings.

Side Note: My faith is the context I live my life through and is my number once priority. Furthermore, there are several things I have found within and outside the church that enhance my faith. One of the most important contributions for holding me accountable to authentically living out my faith has been some of the seminars I have taken at Landmark Education. Landmark is a for-profit business that provides secular, rigorous classes to their customers designed to empower people to live lives that make a difference in the world and live lives that they love. Although many of the values Landmark teaches are inherently Christian- what I believe makes Landmark especially useful is how the business provides a structure in which participants are encouraged to sincerely practice and live out these values. Therefore, some of my most poignant experiences of practicing humility, generosity, having integrity, forgiveness, true listening and loving others has been at the proding of Landmark within the context of a course. Here is the link to their business for those who are curious:

I went into the weekend knowing I had too much going on in my life and realizing I needed to give up one of my commitments in order to do the others well (an act that is very difficult for me). What was on the chopping block in my mind was (among some other things) a non-profit I have been involved with called Ultimate Peace. I have been volunteering for them casually for some time- and they offer Ultimate Frisbee summer camps over in Israel to youth- with the intention of fostering comraderie, conflict-resolution and community. I started volunteering with them under the hope I would eventually make it over to Israel someday and help facilitate their camps in person. Here is the link to the organization/non-profit:

One of the requirements of the weekend TMLP course is to create a "Game in the world" -aka a large stretch goal you are working towards achieving for the next three months (deadline for achieving this goal is June 1st). It was amazing to me some of the games others in the course had achieved in the past- including providing dentures for 20,000 homeless children, building hundreds of roofs out of recycled tires, reinventing a large company to be employee owned and oriented... etc. etc. The stories went on and on. a news source that tracks the projects that others generate out of the cirriculum:

So there I am in the course, listening to others share their big, inspiring games. I initially wanted to design my game around completing the LSAT, and using the structure of the course to help me fulfill on study obligations (games in the world include weekly action plans, accountability calls and other structures to help participants succeed). I thought- if I can get the LSAT completed and out of my life- THEN i will be able to work on what matters and the things I want.

The course leader was facilitating a session on creating these 'games'- and he said "Your game objective needs to contribute to others. To light you up. The result needs to be bigger than just yourself." I slowly admitted my game being about getting a high score on the LSAT was none of those. Through this activity, for the first time in awhile I was able to be really honest with myself. First of all, I knew and had not admitted to others that I actually do not need the LSAT to get into my number one choice program at Northwestern. Really I was taking it again because I was stubborn, I wanted to conquer it after failing it once. Furthermore, I was taking it to impress others with my score. And, I wanted it as a back-up plan due to my lack of confidence regarding my ability to get into NorthWestern. Really me taking the LSAT again summed up to being an ego trip and a safe-guard all wrapped into one. This made me pretty uncomfortable.

I shared this with the other paticipants from MN at the conference over dinner. They were unbelievably generous listeners, and really helped me discover it was time for me to let go of this test and create room in my life for something else. And in the freedom of deciding to quit the LSAT- what immediately came to mind was revamping my involvement with Ultimate Peace and spending time THIS SUMMER coaching at one of their camps (!!!). Not only does this light me up and is a contribution in an area I really care about- it is a real opportunity to go to Israel! So now, my 'game in the world' or project in the course is about me coaching Ultimate Frisbee in Israel with the intention of fostering community. I created the goal of raising $10,000 dollars to fund my trip and give back to the organization.

And the bonus of all this? Right when the course ended- one of my best friends in the world Erin Curme spontaniously texted me to say she was going to go coach at the camp this summer too over the same week I was considering.

The night of this perspective shift (to that which is genuinely important to me)- One of the members of my group shared an analogy about vocation and life- He said: Life is a series of Dots- and one dot can lead you to a variety of other dots- and the journey of life has something to do with jumping from dot to dot- without quite knowing what is ahead and jumping anyway- trusting there are many more dots to follow. My uncle Glenn shared a similar analogy with me recently: he said his revelation with vocation was that vocation is not about having your whole life planned and figured out- it is really focusing instead on what the next five years has in store.

What I took these lessons to mean is: your life provides you with your next step, an immediate opportunity to be uncomfortable and stretch for the next hold. The trick sometimes is to continue to seize the opportunity to actually make to leap- to move your predictable/comfortable/likely journey into the unknown.

God Operates in the Unknown.

So here I am- actually embracing the opportunity to spend some time in Israel by the end of June. By freeing myself of the LSAT, I am more clear then ever that life has been pushing me to go to Israel for the last year. That is my next stretch point. My pastor Chad suggested a long time ago I do this- move to my life around to just take a trip over to Israel. I resisted this advice hard- seemed scary, non-sensicle. I couldn't see (and still can't) what it would lead to. But now- at least I am willing to accept this opportunity as the next step in my journey, as the hand God has offered me.

And the LSAT, along with my fears and identity and selfishness wrapped up in it, really was getting in my way. I wanted to force my life to go a natural, predictable route. But here I am saying there is something else more important at hand. And I will go to Grad school, but first I am going to do this- I am going to stop putting it off and just take it on. And I don't know if I can pull it off and I am scared because nothing is figured out yet- but that is unsettlingly ok with me.

So watch out world, because these next three months I am allowing for my compass to point north. My focus has shifted to one of terrifying clarity. And finally, I feel like what I am focusing on in my life is in line with what God wants.