Saturday, December 26, 2009

surely he taught us to love one another

Love. Is something I seem to be learning a lot about lately, and also am learning how little I know how to practice.

As Christians, we are told to love. To love God, to love others, to love our family, to love our neighbors, to love the church, to love our enemies, not to love the world, not to love money. We know that we are to love, that's a no-brainer. But to love the people we are commanded to love, I'm learning that this is a more difficult task that I ever realized.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" 1 John 3:16

Love is laying down our lives for others. But what does that look like? Sacrificing all at the expense of our own spirits? Doing everything that a person asks? Giving another person everything they want? That doesn't seem like love. It seems more like spoiling a child. It's hard when someone says, "This is how you should love me," and when you don't do, they don't feel loved. But are we really responsible for making others feel loved? This is hard for me to accept, but I do believe that we can love others without them feeling love.

A friend and I recently had a great conversation about loving others. About how loving someone means trying to meet their needs, not their wants. Meeting someone's wants provides instant happiness and the other person may say that they feel loved, but truly loving someone, truly meeting their needs should provide for their eternal well-being, truly loving someone doesn't always produce those warm fuzzies that I'm likely somewhat addicted to. It's easy to know what someone wants to feel loved, but it's a more difficult task, requiring prayer, patience, and understanding, to discern what another person that I'm trying to love truly needs.

Sometimes, people need the truth spoken to them, even if it doesn't seem loving on the surface. As an only child who loves to preserve harmony around me, this is something that doesn't come naturally to met at all. It seems that I'm learning these skills simultaneously as a therapist to my clients and as a daughter, friend, sister to others in my life. My supervisor this past semester, in encouraging me to confront a client about unhealthy behavior, told me, "You can say almost anything if it's coming from a place of love and compassion." I have a feeling that this statement will stuck with more than anything else a supervisor can tell me. It's true, if my motives are love, concern for the longterm well-being of another person, then I can say something hard to hear, but it can still be loving, and hopefully will be received well. But if I'm saying it out of fear or selfishness or anger or bitterness, then it probably won't be received well, and it's not loving at all. But this isn't my temptation. My temptation is to say too little, to preserve the peace. Maybe it's not even the path of true peace.

So, I'm learning to be better lover. It's a long journey, and I recognize that it's the whole point why I'm a Christian. There are a lot of things that seem good about me naturally. I'm good at being kind, at being considerate, at being thoughtful, and at times, being loving. But I'm also good at trying to protect myself, at fearing the loss of relationships, at being prideful, at being jealous, and all of these things hinder my true expressions of love. And this is where I need God to continue his work in me, to continue to bring situations and individuals who strip away the areas of fear and who encourage me to love more truly. I need His grace to make me a better lover.

Monday, December 14, 2009

everybody's coming to get me, just say you never met me

So, I have my moments of paranoia that at time lead me to take unnecessary and sometimes dramatic precautions. In high school, I once arrived home to an empty house to discover the phone lines weren't working. Because sometimes in movies the bad guy cuts the phone lines so the victim cannot call for help, I grabbed a big kitchen knife and dramatically kicked open every door in the house. I'll admit, I took such dramatic actions half for the fun of it, the fun of pretending that I was in a spy movie or something. Sometimes I'll worry that a car is following mine when a car behind me begins making the same turns at me. I'll begin making unusual turns, until the car takes another route. Recently, some of my friends were followed home from a club, so this isn't something that's bad to be paranoid about! About a month ago, I arrived home late at night to find my cat acting strange, avoiding my bed, and I worried that some critter was in my room, under the bed. While 80% convinced that there were no strange animals in my room, I still slept on the living room couch that night. One of my roommates thought I was being ridiculous, but the other one told me that she sometimes thinks this house is haunted, and related some unusual experiences to me, that only increased my paranoia about what could be lurking in my room.

This afternoon, I found a strange package sitting on my kitchen counter. It was a bulging Hungry Jack pancake box wrapped in plastic packing tape, sent from a name I didn't recognize in North Carolina. If it had been sent in a normal parcel box, I probably would have just gone ahead and opened it, even though I didn't know what it was or who it was from. Somehow, the strange packaging just seemed shady to me. I squeezed it, and felt something hard and indistinguishable inside. I couldn't remember ordering anything recently, and it seemed logical that this was some online seller's address. Maybe someone I knew had sent me an early Christmas present. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was fishy about this package.

I looked up the name on the package online, but found nothing substantial. Nothing that said, "Oh, I sent a package to Texas" or "I'm an online salesperson." I thought about calling the post office, "I received a suspicious package," but decided that was likely too dramatic. I imagined the possibility of a bomb inside. Though I assured myself that no one hated me enough nor was I important enough to be the target of an assassination plot, I couldn't get rid of the feeling that this package could be dangerous.

So I did the most logical thing I could think of in handing a potentially dangerous, mysterious package. I donned my bike helmet, grabbed a sharp kitchen knife, cracked open the door to the back porch, and began opening the package, with the door in between my body and head and the package, my hands, and knife. If there was an explosion, I would only lose my hands. The imagined explosion could blow the door down, but I was wearing a helmet and hopefully would not sustain a fatal injury. (Somebody who knows more about bombs than I do please tell me that this is not a ridiculous notion). Probably the most dangerous think about this scenario was the fact that I was using a knife while not looking at what I was doing!

I successfully opened the outer package, revealing another smaller package, wrapped equally tight in clear packing tape. This too seemed suspicious, so I quickly removed it, and dropped it on the other side of the door. At this point, I began imagining that this package held illegal drugs instead of explosives. There was something written on the package, that at first glance I thought had my name on it. I turned the package around, reading the sharpied text, "Kitty Ring Holder." Then I remember two weeks ago buying an antique silver cat-shaped ring holder on a whim from an etsy shop. I don't even wear rings, but I thought the thing would make a fun decoration. I removed my bike helmet, brought the package back into the kitchen, and quickly opened it to enjoy my purchase.

This is probably the type of story that I should just keep to myself to save my reputation, but I like laughing at myself and I don't mind friends laughing with me. For my friends reading this who run etsy shops, please label your packages as an etsy purchase. You never know what dramatic, paranoid young woman with an over-active imagination is going to be ordering from you!

I think I'll name him Billie Joe.

Monday, December 07, 2009


How can something so ugly be so natural to us humans? It's as if him saying, "Thou shalt not covet . . . " he was saying, "Thou shalt not feel hunger." Is jealousy an action? A choice? Or is it a feeling? A state of being that overcomes me and entangles me in ways that are often difficult to shake loose? I don't feel like I choose to be jealous like I might choose to tell a lie, but I certainly entertain jealous thoughts, I feed them when they come, giving them enough light and water to stay alive until I distract myself with something else.

So how do I kill it? How do I be not jealous? Ideally, I should rejoice for my friends when I feel jealous of them, celebrate the things and opportunities that they have, even when I selfishly desire them for myself. But sadly, it's easier to focus on the good that I have or bad that they have to get rid of the thought that I want what they have. "Well, I may not have that, but I do have this, and this is really great," of, "Well, they have that which I want for myself, but they also have that which I don't want, so I should be glad that I'm me and not them." It's great to focus on what I'm thankful for, to rejoice in my blessings, but that kind of comparison, of measuring myself up against you seems just like the thing that is at the root of this jealousy in the first place.

Am I even capable of killing it? Maybe I just need to confess and repent and ask for forgiveness and healing, and remember that I'm not the One who killed it, I'm not the One who nailed it to some wood where it died. But the very word "repent" implies action, it implies a turn, a new direction. So where do I turn when I feel jealous? Towards gratitude, contentment, trust, love for others, towards things that often seem so much less natural to me. Again, I must turn to the One who not only killed it, but who opened the path for those things that I truly desire, the things so much more foreign to me than jealousy and pride and selfishness. He must have experienced it too. He must have been tempted by it also.

I hope that one day, I can really truly learn to rejoice with you and to want the best for you more than I want it for me. Until then, I'll keep fighting this thing I hate, and rejoice on the days when rejoicing for you feels easier than worrying about what I don't have. Even reading this feels dirty and ugly, and I'm tempted to delete it, and forget that I ever confessed these things. But I need to see the dirt before it can be washed, and I know that you experience it too. And again, it's not as if I'm confessing a secret felony I commit, it's more like I'm saying, "I breathe."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

anticipation of weeks ahead

As I discussed today with a friend, Thanksgiving just felt like an appetizer, a taste of a little bit of time with friends and family who don't live near me, but it left me wanting more, hungry for the main course that's just around the corner, almost three weeks of time with those loved ones. Time for more time with family, spending more time with those dear ones, not just a quick pop in and out weekend trip, and catching up with many of those I haven't seen but maybe once in the past year. Friends and family I haven't seen since that friend's wedding back in the spring, or that random weekend in the winter when we were both in town together.

I also look forward to the last few weeks here, this place that now often feels more like home to me than that other home that I moved away from almost two and a half years ago. It really feels like things are winding down, as I turned in that paper today, just a couple of simple presentations to give, a report or two to write, paperwork to finish up, and things will all be wrapped up. I'm excited, and part of me is looking forward to this festive time of year before all us students leave, attending Christmas parties, ring dunks, concerts, soaking up as much time with my family and friends here before I leave them for a few weeks.

But tonight I was reminded of some really peaceful weekends that I spent in this house when I first moved in, before my roommates moved in a month later. I'm such an extrovert, I used to never really enjoy time by myself as much as time spent with others, but that's starting to change. I found myself loving spending the days at my house, fixing breakfast, reading, journaling, cooking, cleaning, in my bright kitchen, nowhere to rush off to until I pleased, in a place that felt so alive and already so comfortable. I hope I have some more times like that in the coming weeks, some more beautiful times of peace and solitude. It's almost strange for me to write this, as I never guessed that I would enjoy that kind of solitude.

A big part of my comfort in this home comes from the fact that it's the first living arrangement since I moved down here that truly feels like it's my home just as much as my roommates. The first year, I lived with a girl who's family owned the home, so it really was her home, I was just renting the space. My second year, I rented a house with three delightful roommates, but they all knew each other much better than I knew them, and frequently had their mutual friends over, so once again, it felt like I was living in their house. But this feels like my house and it feels like our house.

Though I loved this house in the summer, the winter makes it feel so cozy and brings out a new facet of its personality. Our backyard is decorated with lights, we have a tree up in one of the living rooms, and as soon as we can get our landlady to clean our chimney, we'll start building fires! My cave of a room has no heating on its own, so I'm using two space heaters and multiple blankets to stay warm, as I listen to the rain rythmically pelt the tin roof above me and every now and then hear a critter scurry above my ceiling. This chilly room that I have to heat on my own reminds me of another place and time, like a room in a Northern European apartment, or a frontier farmhouse. Mmm, how I'd love to heat up some coals to place under my bed to keep me warm at night! For now, I'll just be thankful for my Home Depot space heater.