Thursday, December 31, 2009

Imitating Others

Recently, I read a quote in the book Eat, Pray, Love that perfectly expressed something I have been realizing lately. "It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection."

So many times, I have tried to imitate other people. I have been guilty of elevating the things I admire about others to an ideal to strive for, then I get discouraged when I fail to live it out perfectly. A couple posts back, I mentioned that Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, changed my life. And this is true- but for a while I told myself that in order to do things "right" and to follow God the way I was supposed to, I should live as much like Shane as possible. The way he lives is very different from the American mainstream; for example, he moved into the inner city and lives in community with a bunch of other people, drives around a vehicle powered by vegetable oil, sews his own clothes, and has gone to places like Iraq and Calcutta. You can visit The Simple Way for more details, or even better, read his book. Anyway, because I couldn't necessarily do all those things, I thought I couldn't possibly be following Jesus the way I should.

Lately I have started to realize that instead of trying to imitate the lives of people I admire, I need to work within my own reality using the ideas and strengths and passions God gave me. My path will be unique, and that is just how it should be.

Upon thinking about it further, I realized that while I do admire certain aspects of other people's lives (like Shane Claiborne), what I am attracted to more than anything is their heart. It is a beautiful thing when a person's love for God, love for people, and passion for a particular issue intersect. The force that drives them- love- is one that we are all called to live out in our own lives. The specifics of how we live out love will look different for us all because we have all been given different talents, interests, and circumstances.

So now, instead of striving to imitate other people, I strive to live a life of love and to utilize my strengths and passions in the process. I am still trying to figure out what, exactly, my unique path will be, but it is becoming clearer. I know I may not always do things perfectly, but that is okay; living out my own destiny imperfectly is better than imitating someone else perfectly.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Can't Do It All

In my last post, I mentioned that I encountered a couple of roadblocks once I realized how important it is to love others and to make a difference in the world. Today, I want to talk about the first one.

I became overwhelmed. Everywhere I looked, I saw pain and suffering and brokenness. Relationships, families, parenting, birth, poverty, racism, the food we eat, how our clothes are made, what we purchase, the love of things and money, the church itself, and so many more. I began to feel as though I was drowning under the weight of it all, and I began to retreat from the overwhelming noise of all the brokenness. "It's too much," I thought. "I can't do it all. I can't change it all. I can't even begin to process it all. It's just too much."

And it is. No one can do it all. But if we all do our part, if we all identify that thing that we are passionate about, and we devote ourselves to making a change in that area, imagine what could happen! It is not wrong to pick one area and go after it with all your heart; that is much better than spreading yourself thin trying to change everything. And God created us all differently, with different passions and talents and abilities.

It's always really neat to come across something in a book that reaffirms things I have already been thinking about and realizing, and as it turns out, Shane Claiborne actually mentions this in his newest book, Follow Me to Freedom, co-authored with John Perkins:

Our God is an artist. The kingdom of God is a place where every person is unique, just like our fingerprints... There are certain things we can say are clear gospel mandates- like caring for the poor and sharing the salvific love of Jesus with others. But Jesus doesn't tell everyone the same thing when He invites them to follow. To one person He says, "Be born again." To another He tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor. There is an unmistakable call in Scripture to "not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). But just because we are called to be radical nonconformists does not mean that we all end up doing the same thing...

It is awesome to see how everyone finds his or her own gifts and passions come to life and how different people take the pilot seat on their little piece. No one has to do everything, but everybody has to do something.

So lately I have been asking myself a couple of questions. What are my passions and talents, and how can I use them to help change things in some specific area of brokenness? What is my path? What did God create me to do? God didn't make me exactly like anyone else... but more on that in my next post. ;-)

What are your passions and talents? How can you use them to make a difference in the world?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


About three years ago, I read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne for the first time. (I say "the first time" because I have read it a couple more times since then.) I tell people this book changed my life, and I know that sounds cheesy, but it's absolutely true. The author's experiences, passions, insights, and the way he chooses to live changed my worldview. I became acutely aware of human suffering, injustice, and broken systems. I realized how well-off I am compared to the rest of the world, and I realized that Jesus never intended for us to be apathetic to suffering, poverty, and injustice. God used this book to transform my heart so that I began to understand what is meant by loving my neighbor as myself, and how differently we will live if we truly love God and have been transformed by him.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." -Matthew 22: 37-40

"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth." -1 John 3: 17-18

But as I realized these things in my heart, I encountered a couple of roadblocks. To prevent this post from getting too lengthy, I will write about these separately over the next couple of days. For now, go check out The Simple Way. There's some good stuff there.

My Goal

Like pretty much everyone else (whether they want to admit it or not), and despite my desire to resist what everyone else does, I still make resolutions as each new year begins. Of course, I call them “goals” so at least I don’t sound TOO much like everyone else. ;-)

And while this year is no different as far as having goals, I am actually approaching my goals quite differently. I’ve come to the place where I realize that I can’t “make” myself change- not real, lasting change, anyway. In all aspects of my life, there are things that need to change. Health, finances, friendships, family, community involvement, my relationship with God. And certainly there are actions that I must take to make these changes. While there is no doubt that I should put forth an effort, I realize that I cannot rely solely on my efforts or my own strength and determination.

I’ve realized that anytime I try to do things on my own, with sheer willpower and determination, I fail quickly. Why? Because these things fade over time, and I get burned out. Outward efforts simply do not create inward changes, and inward changes are the ones that will last. So how do I change myself on the inside? Well, honestly, I’m not convinced that I can. I can readily identify ways that I need to change on the inside, but making it happen is an entirely different matter. How often I’ve fallen into the trap of believing that if I just work hard enough to do all the right things, that will eventually change my heart. It won’t. Only God can do that. I mentioned a few posts back that real change starts on the inside and is then reflected in outward actions.

Of course, I am not suggesting that all I need to do is say a few prayers and then sit back and wait for God to change me. I certainly need to take responsibility for my actions and work toward change. But without seeking God for inner change, my actions will amount to very little in the end. I truly believe that as I seek God and have a closer relationship with him, I will be changed on the inside, and this will result in outward changes.

So really, that is my goal for the year, and for every day- to seek God, to draw closer to him, and to allow my relationship with him to shape me and change me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another Year Over

If you want to know the truth, 2009 has been a difficult year for me- especially in comparison with 2008. At the beginning of 2008, I was pursuing some interests by applying for graduate school and getting involved with Habitat for Humanity, and I was enjoying time with wonderful friends. Then I was pregnant with Isaac (I love pregnancy), and to finish out the year, I had an amazing homebirth.

But as 2009 began, I came down from my natural birth high (this is a very real phenomenon, by the way, not something I’m making up), and I plummeted into what turned out to be a months-long battle with postpartum depression. It didn’t help that I also felt quite lonely and isolated this year; for various reasons, many people who I used to spend a lot of time with have not been around as much. That is no one’s fault; it is just how life is sometimes, but it has been hard.

Isaac turned a year old about a month ago, and I think I have I finally begun to come out of the fog. And that’s exactly what it felt like; the combination of depression and loneliness is like a fog. I feel like I lost myself for a while, and I am finally beginning to see clearly again. As 2009 ends, I am thinking ahead to the future and trying to decide what comes next. Once again, I am pursuing some things I’m interested in; I’ve applied for a part-time job at Habitat for Humanity, but I don’t yet know if I’ve gotten the job. If not, I will be making some decisions about whether to apply for graduate school again (I was accepted before, but chose to put school off so I could focus on Isaac- and that was a very good decision!) or whether to start pursuing certification as a childbirth educator and doula.

Hopefully 2010 will be a wonderful year full of growth, learning, community, and love. I’m looking forward to it!

What are you planning for your year?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Claus God

This holiday season I have heard the infamous song "Santa Baby" a few more times than necessary. When you hear this song, you can almost see a provocatively dressed woman putting on her best innocent act and batting her eyes at Santa, shamelessly flirting to try to get what she wants. And the things she desires are numerous: a convertible, a yacht, a duplex, jewelry, money- and more! And, of course, she takes care to mention just how good she's been, as if to remind him that she really deserves all these things. How could Santa resist?

I realized that a lot of times Christians approach God in the same way and with the same expectations. We make ourselves look as good as we can, smile and act innocent and "flirt" with him, to try to get what we want. And just in case that isn't enough, we remind him how good we've been and how deserving we are of material and financial blessings. Nice cars, nice houses, nice clothes, expensive electronics, money- and more! "How could he resist?" we think.

Think of all the fun I've missed, think of all the fellows that I haven't kissed. Next year I could be just as good, if you check off my Christmas list...

This attitude of deserving and even demanding things from God is, sadly, becoming all too common among mainstream Christianity. Watch the Christian television networks or read up on the prosperity gospel and see for yourself. So many people truly believe that if they look and act in just the right ways, and if they're good enough, and if they flirt with God just right, he will have no choice but to give them material and financial blessings.

I really do believe in you; let's see if you believe in me...

What's sadder, though, is that this attitude cheapens the gift God has given us- the gift of grace. Grace is unmerited favor, given to those who have done nothing to deserve it and can never do enough to deserve it.

As we know, humans are all kinds of screwed up; we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the concepts of unconditional love, grace, and the power of those things to then transform our lives. All too often we approach God the wrong way, believing that we first have to change our behavior and then we will be rewarded with his favor. On top of that, many of us have been raised to expect that our good or bad behavior will result in certain rewards or punishments. It's no wonder,then, that people so easily buy into the idea that we deserve certain material rewards from God for our good behavior, and that we can do things to gain or lose his love.

I wonder, then, if this idea of a God who loves unconditionally, who gives us the gift of unmerited favor, who sends blessings to the "just and unjust," frightens and confuses many people. It doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit with the way we've always approached life, and so we repackage God and the gift he gave us- Jesus- in a way that we do easily understand. We live our lives trying to do all the right things in order to avoid punishment and obtain rewards, all the while missing the real heart of the gospel, the real reason God humbled himself and was born as a tiny baby and lived and died- so we can have a relationship with him. That we can have a relationship with a God who loves us so much is a far more precious gift than any car or house or amount of money ever could be.

My hope is that we can stop treating Jesus like a big Santa Claus in the sky, as a God that can be flirted with and manipulated, and instead see him for who he really is. Grace and love are not easy gifts to understand, but they are so very precious.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Worshiping at the Altar of Materialism

I don't enjoy what Christmas has become: the materialism, the sales ads, the crowded stores, the stress and pressure people experience (I have to buy gifts for this person and that person, oh, and her too! We have seven Christmas parties and dinners to attend! When am I going to wrap the gifts? We need to decorate the house and the tree! I need to bake!). I go along with the American Christmas tradition reluctantly, discovering more and more each year the joy of making gifts for people, buying a few things they will really enjoy, and simplifying my holiday schedule.

Every year there are those who get upset about people saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas," as though the words we use have the power to remove or include Christ in Christmas. If we do not keep Christ in the forefront of our minds during the Christmas season, trying to cover that fact by using the right words will not work. And if we do keep Christ at the center of our Christmas season, it will not matter what words people use; Jesus is about the heart beneath the words.

But never mind what other people do, anyway. I cannot change other people, but I can change myself. And to tell you the truth, I realize more each year that I do a poor job of keeping Christ at the center of my everyday life. If I do not celebrate Jesus every day and live as though his birth, life, and death really matter, what difference does it make if I give him a cursory nod during the Christmas season?

So I ask myself a few questions:

What would it look like to keep Jesus at the center of my life every day?

What would that then look like during the Christmas season?

And can I truly keep Jesus at the center of my life if I am worshiping at the altar of materialism with the rest of America?

Every year I think about what I would really love to do: escape the materialistic mindset for good. And I move in that direction a little more each year, but I am not yet there. While I am tempted to make rules for myself in order to move away from materialism, I know very well that following rules will not change my heart; only a closer relationship with God can do that. It is futile to follow rules to change the way I look on the outside in hopes that it will then change the way I am on the inside. Change starts on the inside and is then reflected in outward actions and words.

And so I arrive at a familiar answer, the answer I always find when I am trying to figure out how to change myself: stop striving to change, stop creating and following a bunch of rules, stop seeking my idea of perfection, and instead seek God.

These beautiful lyrics are my prayer, during the Christmas season and throughout the rest of the year:

Oh Christ, be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes
Be the center of our lives

We lift our eyes to heaven
And we wrap our lives around your life
We lift our eyes to heaven, to you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wise Words About Parenting

A few years ago, a good friend of mine (hi, Ashley!) wrote a couple of posts on her blog that were instrumental in changing my approach to parenting and discipline. Elijah was four years old at the time, and although I knew I didn't like the spanking/punitive approach, I didn't know what else to do. I feared that my only other option was to be totally permissive, which obviously I did not want, plus I had been hearing all my life from other Christians that spanking was THE God-endorsed way to discipline. Ashley's posts (and our friendship in general) started me on my journey to gentle, grace-based parenting (which, for the record, is nothing like permissive parenting in the least, and is very much in line with biblical, Godly values). I want to share the links to her posts here, and I encourage others to take a few minutes to read them. There is a lot of wisdom in her words.