beka stays faithful : the aftermath of exclamations

There are quite a few sentiments I could start with today after being fortunate enough to be featured on Tebow’s Eye Black yesterday. Among them:

1. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It kind of takes the whole being the exclamation point thing to a literal level.

2. Posting what I write is harder than posting what I photograph.

This whole exercise was not unlike walking through a haunted house: half terrifying, half exhilarating. I mean, I had no trouble posting what I wrote to the blog because I know everyone who reads the blog and their numbers are not vast. But sending the post out as a submission, then posting it to Twitter and Facebook? Nauseating. The funny thing is that I regularly post to the blog/Facebook/Twitter when I take new pictures, and without a second thought. But I’ve never done it with just a written post before. I found that it’s kind of like standing alone on a big stage with just a microphone as opposed to standing alone on a big stage covered in huge colorful pictures. (I really didn’t have to go too far to muster up that analogy, but there you go.) It’s easier to stand there behind a slew of distractions than it is to stand there and talk about what makes you tick.

3. Posting what I write is infinitely more gratifying than posting what I photograph.

Well…shoot. If I were to confront this fact in earnest we might end up with War and Peace on our hands due to the depth and length of angst it’s bound to cause. Suffice it to say that this was an eye-opening experience and we’ll talk about it more later over lots and lots (and lots) of coffee.

So instead, let’s backtrack a little. Because yesterday I got to cross off one of my Big Projects for 2012 (which I didn’t post in detail, but it was #5: contribute to another blog/website/magazine!) and I’m still a little amazed. So how did this happen?

Here’s what I think may have helped:

1. I started having conversations with God again.

This is not to be confused with, “I started praying again.” God and I were not on the outs prior to yesterday’s post. It’s all good in the hood. But recently I noticed that my prayer life had lost a little of it’s luster, mostly because I was straight up boring. Seriously. I was going through the same old, same old with no emotion or intention. After being convicted about the actual power in the power of prayer, I changed my tune. I’ve recommitted to speaking in earnest – not just having one-sided petition lists that read more like grocery lists – whenever I pray. I’m being bold, praying in faith over specific areas of my life. And shockingly but not shockingly…I’m already starting to see things change. One of the things I’ve been praying is that God would create opportunities, help me to see them, and give me the courage to follow through. He definitely delivered on that one yesterday.

2. I stopped trying to fix the problem.

As I mentioned in the post, I’ve tried to pray away my lack of confidence for the better part of 25 years. But this year I decided that instead of praying it away, I’m going to ask God to use my insecurity for his glory. Without realizing it, I was having a II Corinthians 12 moment:

At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Hello, Paul. Mind if I grab an oar? Because we’re definitely in the same boat.

3. I leapt.

I had the idea for yesterday’s post on Sunday night. I was about to go to bed. But then I decided to stay up a little longer to hash out some of the ideas running through my head. On Monday morning at 7am I reopened the post, thinking I’d wrap it up nicely in 5 minutes or less since I had planned to do about 18 other things before my closing shift at the juice bar later that day. None of those things consisted of me sitting on the couch still in pajamas at 1pm frantically writing and rewriting and publishing and submitting a crazy post about punctuation…but that’s what happened.

Clearly, I support careful planning and preparation…as per the barrage of 2012 posts last week. I believe that dedicated hard work lays the foundation for future success. But I also believe that most of the big opportunities that come along can not be written into a planner, nor do they present themselves during brainstorming sessions. It’s probably how God keeps us humble. More often than not it seems like opportunity arrives in the midst of slogging through daily disciplines and invites us to take a leap of faith into something unexpected. Most of the time I keep my feet firmly planted in familiar territory. But yesterday, I leapt! Being open to following God’s lead – a lead that left me with plans unhinged and workout undone and teeth unbrushed in exchange for something better – was a game-changer. I’m hoping it’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.

So, as my mom would say, that’s that. I think yesterday was an exclamation point kind of day. Here’s to making today one too!

beka stays faithful : being an exclamation point

(Someone call Hallmark. That title sounds like it was born to be a Made For TV movie. That should stop me from continuing this post…but it won’t. Here we go!)

For the life of me, I can’t remember where I found/heard this quote, and every search I’ve tried in an effort to find it again has come up empty. But recently, in an article or interview or something related to having good posture, the interviewee said this,

“You should try to walk like an exclamation point, not a question mark.”

She was referring to not hunching over, as per the curved top of a question mark, but what she said is bound to stick with me for a long time. For me, she was speaking to an issue much deeper than standing up straight. She drove an arrow straight through my Achilles heel.

I do walk like a question mark. Because I think like a question mark.

Sometimes it’s inconsequential. As in,

“Did I just trip? Over air? Again?”

Yes. Yes you did.

But most of the time they’re more pointed questions. As in,

“Am I doing this right?”

“Do they like me?”

“Are my dreams unrealistic?”

“Am I good enough?”

Confidence is definitely not my strong point. There is nothing I’m more confident about than my lack of confidence. I don’t just question certain aspects of my existence, I generally feel as though I am altogether questionable. As a person of steadfast faith in God, with a laundry-list of scriptures that refute having a questionable worth, and a pile of tangible evidence to the contrary…one would assume this should be a non-issue.

And yet (and it’s a big AND YET…) it is. I’ve been plagued by crippling self-doubt for as long as I can remember. I’d give you examples ranging from elementary school to the present day but they all end in me being…wait for it…crippled by self-doubt, so they’re fairly anticlimactic. Suffice it to say: I’ve gone more than a few rounds with insecurity.

And I’ve prayed, OH LORD, I’ve prayed, that it would just be taken away and given a makeover. That in a half-hour TLC special my lack of confidence would be shampooed, blown dry, and transformed into radiant self esteem. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. At the the of the day I’m still completely unsure of myself, no matter how much I try to will or wish it away.

This year, instead of pleading to win the battle, I’ve just given God the daily wars. I’ve started praying that somehow, God would use all of these unfounded doubts for his glory. I still hope that at the end of the journey I’ll emerge with a Christ-centered confidence that cannot be shaken. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to simply be faithful in this era of life. The one in which I trip over my words and flat surfaces on a daily basis.

But I’m also going to make a concerted effort to be an exclamation point, not a question mark. Not just to stand a little taller (which is a bonus regardless for someone who hovers just over 5 feet), but to really LIVE like an exclamation point (!). To turn, “Will this work?” into, “This will work!” To stop thinking, “Can I do this?” and start thinking, “I can do this!”

(Please note that this line of thinking also lends itself to other endeavors. To wit: “Should I have that brownie?” becomes, “I should have that brownie!” I’m already loving this new psyche.)

But seriously, I’m really going to focus on changing my punctuation. Because even if it’s hard to wholeheartedly believe it at first, I’d rather live with enthusiasm than with doubt. Doubt only sees the fear of what might be impossible. Enthusiasm sees the joy of what can be possible. Isn’t that the preferable option?

I don’t think there is a better current example of this theory than Tim Tebow. By the media’s standards, he has no reason to be confident. Even by football standards, his confidence had to waver a bit after homeboy put up a completion percentage and total QBR in the twenties during the Broncos regular season finale. He had to have had some doubts about his abilities.

Didn’t he?

No one gave him even the slightest chance against the Steelers in last night’s wildcard game. It wouldn’t just have been easy, it would have been normal for him to think, “We backed into the playoffs. We’re playing the defending AFC Champions. We’ve been clobbered by three weeks of crucial injuries and crushing defeats. Maybe I can’t do this. What if it’s really impossible?”

He definitely could have gone that route. Been the question mark. And no one would have blamed him for it. But did he?

Well, HECK no! If this isn’t the personification of an exclamation point, then I’m not sure what is:

title

[ photo : denver post ]

What did he have to say after the win?

We just kept believing.

Apparently so. And look at what has happened so far as a result! And who’s to say how much further they can go!

And how different would everything be if there was even the smallest margin left for question marks instead of exclamation points?

We’ve each been given a unique purpose. World famous professional athlete or unknown local blogger  – the status makes no difference. Our job isn’t to doubt or question our purpose, but to get excited about it! I feel like I’ve been given something visual and something verbal. But I’ll never make a difference with those abilities if I continue to ask, “God, can you really use me?” instead of proclaiming, boldly, “God, you can really use me!”

If I ever decide to tattoo a verse to my forehead (and it’d be great if you all wouldn’t let me do that), this would be a good candidate:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

[II Timothy 1:7]

Amen.

Go forth, and be ye excited? excited!

(Update: being an exclamation point pays off. Thanks to the wonderful people at Tebow’s Eye Black, an insightful blog about all things Tim Tebow, you can now read this post on their blog as well. Thanks, Tebow’s Eye Black!)

beka stays faithful : undeserved grace

Honest to goodness truth: When I walked into church on Sunday and saw the communion table set up, I started to panic. Not because I have an aversion to wafers and juice or dislike the special Sundays when we do observe the Lord’s supper. But because my heart was not in the right place for communion. More like 8,000 miles away from the right place. Clear on the other side of the spectrum of places.

So I sang. And I prayed. And I listened. And I actually forgot all about communion until the end of the service. I went to the table and then back to my seat with the grape-soaked bread still in hand. I sighed. I began to list all of the ways in which I’ve failed as a Christian lately: being too busy for reading my Bible, too distracted for heartfelt prayer, too silent when I should be vocal and too vocal when I should be silent, too blinded by my “needs” to see the needs of others. So I sank into prayer. “Lord, I SO do not deserve to accept communion right now.”

Far be it from me to attribute any thought that pops up in my own head as something God himself speaks to me, but the next thought seemed fairly congruent with something he might say:

“Child, when have you ever deserved it? That’s the point of grace: you can’t earn it.”

Well. That made my head spin a bit.

All of my efforts to work harder at being a better Christian so that I can achieve God’s favor? Futile. Because he already did the hard work on the cross. And because I’ve put my trust in him and in his saving grace, nothing that I do – great or terrible – can alter his love for me.

It’s so contrary to popular belief that I can’t understand it. It literally doesn’t make sense to me. But I’m so thankful for undeserved grace, for the unexpected reminder, and for these verses from Romans 8:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

   “For your sake we face death all day long;
   we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

beka stays faithful : reflecting on life post-roadtrip

-post-road-trip-time-line-

november: come home. sleep in bed, not van.

december: jump on treadmill, repeatedly. celebrate christmas, enthusiastically. pretend to be vegan.

january: new year’s surprise. visit hospital. chop firewood.

february: win super bowl (vicariously). return to roberts.

march: launch new blog and website.

april: overhaul wardrobe; just say no to decade-old clothing.

may: freshly pressed.

june/july/august: work, move, work, move, work, implode.

september: launch…new blog (that sounds so familiar…)

october: get busy. in the PG way.

november: get ridiculous. not in the black eyed peas way.

Oh what a year it has been! Honestly, it’s been nothing like I thought a year after a sizable life event would be. I’m not exactly sure what I thought it would be like, but I think I assumed it would be more settled. Which I find to be a logical assumption, seeing as how I had just spent three months covering hundreds of miles each week in a circular trek around the country. I think I also assumed that the mini van would be a magic portal through which all of my problems would be solved. I’d enter in September wondering what to do and where to live and exit in November with answers, experience, and 10 fewer pounds.

I think that’s what we call being young and stupid.

The experience of the roadtrip is something that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I learned plenty of things I expected to learn (how to harvest potatoes and shovel manure), a few things I wasn’t planning on learning (Texas road rules, a raw foods primer), and one thing I never saw coming (nouns, I’m looking at you).  I met so many wonderful people. I saw so many breathtaking sights. I figured out how to survive off of dehydrated foods and hot beverages.

I was able to see a dream become a reality.

That, in and of itself, made the trip worthwhile, not to mention the host of other factors that made it worthwhile. All in all: the roadtrip was a victorious endeavor. Mark it down as a W.

This is the part where I’d like to wrap a bow around the year that followed. I want to say that it was equally ambitious, life-changing, and just plain cool. But the truth is that it was a year. A year that defies tidy summaries. It was a year in which I was granted unbelievable blessings: having my dad’s health restored, watching the Packers win the Super Bowl, growing as a blogger and photographer, forging new relationships in an old place, deciding to stay and wholeheartedly embracing that decision. But it was also a year in which I struggled. Mightily. I tried to figure out what it means to be consistent in the midst of anything but consistency. As unlikely as it seems, I really think there was more change after driving through 30 states in three months then there was during the whirlwind tour of the country. Since last November I’ve lived in four different places. I’ve worked (at least…I’ve honestly lost track) seven different jobs. I’ve started and stopped a thousand new life plans. In short: I’ve floundered.

Life pre-roadtrip looks linear: I had one job. I lived in one place.

Life during-roadtrip looks adventurous: I set out to accomplish something and saw it come to beautiful fruition.

Life after-roadtrip looks…messy. I’m working an ever-increasing number of jobs. I’m living in one place but I’m hardly ever here. I have a million and five goals but no clear-cut career. I’m trying to stay but finding it difficult when there’s so much to DO.

Perhaps this is the problem. The same unbridled determination that carried me around the continental US still lives in me. I still have the intrinsic desire to do big things. But right now, all of that drive feels somewhat aimless. Like revving a parked car. The motor is running, the engine is raring to go, but there’s no forward motion. I’m throwing energy and enthusiasm around like crazy, but it feels directionless. And what’s left is a bunch of overzealous clutter.

Or, more likely, perhaps this is the problem. I’m reading Watch for the Light, a book of advent readings, and this selection from Henri Nouwen’s Waiting for God has me written all over it:

“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere (hello, defining life direction for YEARS). The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. (Hello, this blog.) Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive.”

“We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disapponted and can even slip into despair. That is why we have such a hard time waiting: we want to do the thing that will make the desired events take place. Here we can see how wishes tend to be connected with fears.

But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.

I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping. It was only when I was willing to let go of wishes that something really new, something beyond my own expectations could happen to me.”

Waiting. Patience. Letting go. Gets me every time.

I sometimes feel like I’m the kid on Christmas morning who runs down the stairs to the tree and methodically shakes every box beneath. What’s in the shiny one? What’s in the big one? What’s the BEST one? The kid who is so caught up in figuring out the gifts that await that she misses out on the gifts that are already happening: there’s a feast going on the the dining room, complete with baked french toast and hot chocolate. There are people hugging and laughing and celebrating the joy of being together. There’s a palpable, blessed tension in the air from the profound meaning of the morning.

But she can’t see the forest for the (Christmas) trees: her efforts to guess the gifts are not only futile, they’re foolish. All the while, the gift-giver knows what is in each wrapped box. He knew exactly what she wanted and needed and picked the gifts out accordingly knowing that each would be an individual delight. He has a purposeful plan of which she is to open first and which to save for last. He won’t hold any back or make her earn them by guessing what’s inside. That would be antithetical to his cause; he carefully selected each one and derives joy from giving them freely.

So why can’t I let God give me each gift when he’s ready to give it to me, instead of shaking everything underneath the tree? Why am I trying SO HARD to figure everything out when he already has it all figured out, and perfectly so?

That, my friends, is the mystery of this post-roadtrip journey in a nutshell. If the story of the roadtrip was defining nouns, then the story of the year that followed was learning how to let God write the sentence.

I think it might take longer than a year.

beka stays faithful : loving the sad days

Today, I was sad.

It wasn’t a bad day by any means. Nothing unpleasant happened directly to me. But I was heavy-hearted for a few people I know and love and a lot of people I don’t know but love anyway. Friends who are dealing with very hard things and strangers who are dealing with very profound tragedy. And it just made me sad about how life can be sometimes, especially as it relates to our human nature. How easily and quietly we are deceived and led astray. How loss seems to pop up at the worst times. And it made my heart sink down to my feet and my eyes water with unstoppable tears.

Days like today? They’re blessings. They make sure our hearts are still pliable. But they’re still sad.

So I did a couple of things.

I prayed. A lot. Because Jesus said that in this world we’d have trouble, but to take heart, because he has overcome the world.

I baked cookies. A lot of them. Because there’s something therapeutic about creaming butter and sugar. And cookies just make everything better.

And then, in an attempt to turn things in a more positive direction, I watched this video, which I had been saving in Google Reader for just about forever (and almost deleted several times). I thought it was going to be cheery.

Bawled my eyes out. I went looking for a paddle since I cried a RIVER in my apartment after watching it.

But you know? It wasn’t cheery, but it did turn things around. Because it so beautifully represented just what makes the sad days sad and the happy days happy and the everydays worthwhile; that faith, hope, and love are the three pillars of a life well-lived, but that love is the greatest of them all.

I know I’m one sappy sentiment shy of turning into a Maple tree, but really, if you can, make it a point to go out of your way to love the people you interact with this weekend, whether they’re old friends or complete strangers. It’s probably more important than any of us really know.

beka stays faithful : using the leaves

I have a small kitchen. You’d know that if I’d finally get around to taking pictures and posting them, but for now just visualize very tall white cabinets and very high ceilings and very little counter space. There’s a table in the kitchen that is slender in the middle, but has two leaves that fold out to the side, tripling the amount of space available for use. On most days I keep the leaves down because I don’t need the extra table space so I prefer the extra kitchen space.

What happens, more often that not, is that because I use the leaves so rarely I forget that they’re there. And then when I find myself mixing batter on the floor or using the top of the microwave to roll out cookies, I get frustrated and start to complain. I bemoan having so little work space. I wonder where in the world I’m going to beat the eggs?! When…let’s recall…I actually have ample space on which to mix the batter, roll the dough, beat the eggs. I just forget that it’s there.

Last weekend, with a pile of dishes scattered on any available flat space and irritation increasing by the minute, I remembered the leaves. And, because I’m a freak I can’t help but function in analogies, I wondered how often I make an unnecessary mess – not of strewn baking sheets and flour, but of everyday life problems – by forgetting to rely on the “leaves” the Lord has built into my life: reading his Word, spending time in prayer, turning to the multitude of friends and family he’s blessed me with. How often do I complain that I don’t have what I need when in reality I have exactly what I need, I just forget that it’s there?

As per the use of my table, it happens more often than not.

From James 5:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Here’s to using the leaves: to reading, to praying, to being invested in relationships.

And here’s to making cookies. Delicious and thought-provoking. Win win.

beka stays faithful : thoughts on decisions

Tomorrow I’ll be training someone to take my former job at Anthropologie, so I’ll be working what was a normal day for most of the summer: opening at Anthropologie, closing at Breathe. 7am to 10pm for a total of 15 hours, or 14.5 if you count the half hour it takes to drive from one place of employment to the other. After doing that for the majority of the week I’d also work a wedding on Saturday for my photography job. And then I’d wonder why I couldn’t motivate myself to be the model of productivity on Sundays.

Now, there must have been a point at which I thought working three different jobs (four, if you count the weddings I shot on my own this summer) was a good idea. In fact, I recall being fairly certain that it was a good idea, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. I thought that the challenge would be a positive one, the opportunities would be to my benefit, and the entire experience would result in the kind of personal growth that bestsellers are made of.

But I don’t think it was actually a good idea, because I only have fuzzy memories from the past 2 months of my life, and that’s never good. They consist of pre-sunrise mornings and post-sunset evenings. Lots of driving. Trying my best to talk myself out of being tired. Losing touch with the nouns that make my life happily unique – things like baking and blogging and exercising and football-following and friend-visiting.

Looking back, it seems like the decision to put so many hours on my timecard was not one of my best. It was far from horribly awful or life-changing,  just not one of the decisions I would point to when listing the Top Ten Best Calls I’ve Ever Made. But it wasn’t a choice I made on a whim. It was something that I prayed about, talked to family and friends about, and spent a lot of time considering before moving forward.

Consequently, it’s given me a chance to reflect on how I make decisions. How to tell what my head is saying and what my heart is saying and which to give the microphone to on a given issue. How I pray about decisions and ask for wisdom. How I listen after I ask. Or sometimes forget to listen. And how to adhere to good old fashioned common sense. If something seems like a bad idea, it probably is.

I’m pretty sure that most decisions are not cut and dry (which is probably why I hate them…I need something concrete!). I’m also pretty sure that there are reasons for my brief employment situation that I don’t know about or can’t see from where I’m currently standing. And I’m also pretty sure that wading through the outcomes of all sorts of decisions is an important element in personal and spiritual growth.

ALL of that being said (this was supposed to be a short post! I need to go to bed!), I’d still like to make sure that I’m staying faithful when it comes to decision making: centered in Christ, allowing him to guide me rather than trying to figure out the best plan of attack on my own. And remembering that God is sovereign. He’s not thrown into a tizzy when I chose Plan B instead of Plan A.

In closing, this, from Isaiah 55:

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
            declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
   come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
   without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
   so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
   It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
   and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

and this, from James 1:

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

And since I’m still up…I might as well finish watching the Jets/Cowboys game. I mean, it is one of the things that makes my life happily unique. (I’ll let you know if it ends up being a regrettable decision when my alarm goes off at 5:30am tomorrow morning.)