Lead Me Not

I first learned about the wisdom of working out but not over working your self control in Social Entrepreneurship 101.  We were discussing how to facilitate change in a community and the professor referenced a study conducted by Dikla Shmueli and Judith J. Prochaska where smokers were asked to actively resist eating a treat in front of them for 15 minutes.  Every 15 seconds, they had to pick up the plate, smell the treat, and then put it back down without eating it.  For some, that treat came in the form of freshly baked brownies while the other group of smokers had radishes.

After the 15 minutes, the participants were given a 10 minute break.  The results?  Participants who resisted sweets were more likely to smoke during the break (53.2%) than those who resisted vegetables (34.0%).1

So if you’ve got some bad habits to kick, experts recommend that you beat them one at a time.  Giving up sugar, Netflix, and taking up running all in the same week might just pull your self-control muscle, making it too sore to even get you up with your alarm the next morning.

Instead, focus on one goal at a time and eliminate the everyday temptations. Pick a different route to work if yours sends you right by the donut shop.  Put fruit instead of sweets out on the counter.

In 1 Corinthians 10: 13b, we are encouraged by the fact that, “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  We can trust Him to give us the strength we need to resist the temptations we inevitably will face.  But when possible, it is wise try to avoid temptations rather than continually facing and fighting them.  Some sins, like pride and anger–are hard to avoid entirely.  When Jesus instructed his disciples (and us) on how to pray in Matthew 6, He didn’t say “help us to resist temptation” but rather “lead us not into temptation.”

But if we’re constantly slapping our own wrists as we reach for the forbidden chocolate that’s hiding in plain sight in the pantry, we’ve destroyed our own defenses.  It’s far easier to snap back at our spouses, respond in anger to our bosses, or lose our patience with the kids when our self-control has been worn down by resisting small temptations all day long.

Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting desires. Plus, self-control is used for other things as well, such as controlling thoughts and emotions, regulating task performance and making decisions. So most people use their willpower many times a day, all day.

The good news?  Like our biceps, there are ways to strengthen our self-control and increase endurance for when life hands us marathons of temptation.  Eliminating the temptations and daily annoyances we can avoid is the first step as it reserves our willpower for the things that really matter. After that, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, suggests,  “practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and exerting deliberate control over your actions. Over time, that practice improves self-control.”

Trying to supercharge your self-control workout by making dramatic lifestyle changes in a short period of time will have the same result as starting weight-lifting by benching 200 pounds. You’ll probably hurt yourself and give up entirely. The key here is consistency, not intensity.  That could be as simple as using your left hand to brush your teeth or saving an extra $5 a week!

As we strive to become more like Christ, eliminating the small temptations throughout our days and working out our self-control muscle can help us grow in the virtues of patience, kindness, and selflessness–character traits that could surely use some toning up in my life.

  1. Study cited: Shmueli, D. & Prochaska, J.J. (2009). Resisting tempting foods and smoking behavior: Implications from a self-control theory perspective. Health Psychology, 28(3), 300-306.

Of The World, But Not In It

When my husband and I first moved to Southern California from rural Pennsylvania, we suffered from culture shock.  You couldn’t escape the smell of tacos and citrus trees seem to sprout of sidewalk cracks like weeds.  I also noticed the same bumper sticker on most of the cars parked on the street in the neighborhood and in grocery store parking lots.  

2760795Did we just move into a gang neighborhood?  The bumper sticker contained the acronym “N-T-W” and triggered some kind of childhood flashback I just couldn’t put my finger on.

It finally hit me.  I had a sweatshirt with that symbol on it once, back when it was the cool 7th grade thing to do to wear obscure Christian slogans on your hoodie. N-T-W = Not of This World.  I had no idea the company mass producing those sweatshirts and bumper stickers was still around, let alone infiltrating the the rear view windows of suburban San Diego SUVs.

As Christians, is this the best we can do to engage with our culture in a meaningful manner?  And yes, I mean our culture.  The one we live in.  Not the ambiguous secular culture we love to hate or the Christian culture we pretend to like.  But the culture created by where we live and the people we work with and the neighbors next door.  Are they really going to look at that cryptic bumper sticker and think: “Now that’s someone living with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!”

Probably not.  The message is a good one–paraphrased poorly from John 18:36: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’”  But the delivery via bumper sticker falls short.

In his book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, cultural apologist Ken Myers argues that rather than being in the world but not of it, Christians are far more likely to be of the world but not in it.

It has not been uncommon for evangelical Christians to give up trying to come to terms with “secular” popular culture, and to boycott it altogether.  But often they have simultaneously endorsed the creation of an extensive parallel popular culture, complete with Christian rock bands and nightclubs, Christian soap operas and talk shows, Christian spy and romance novels, and Christian exercise videos.  They have thus succeeded in being of the world, but not in the world.  The “Christian” popular culture takes all its cues from its secular counterpart, but sanitizes and customizes it with “Jesus language.”

Traditionally, critics of popular culture have focused on it’s content.  You turn on today’s latest hits for 60 seconds and you’ll hear filthy language, objectification of women, questionable sexual morals, and violence. But is the solution to replace crass bumper stickers with our “Christian” ones?  Perhaps the problem is not only the content of popular culture but the way we’re sending and receiving messages with one another in general?

Back in those hoodie wearing days of 7th grade, I was invited to an older girl’s 13 birthday party.  This was a big deal, because I was only 12.  The popular catch phrase of the day was a sarcastic “whatever,” usually accompanied with an eye roll.

This birthday girl’s well-meaning parents picked up on their daughter’s favorite retort and decided to slap some Jesus on it for her birthday present.  They gave her a t-shirt with “whatever” screen printed on it in size 72 font and the remainder of Philippians 4:8 in tiny letters: “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” They took a popular culture form of t-shirts with sassy sayings on them and attempted to “Christianize” it.  The result?  The Word of God placed on the same level as “I ❤ New York”

It’s the same reason why those cheesy Christian movies always leave a bad taste in our mouths.  And why when my high school youth group leader encouraged us to cut out all non-Christian music from our lives, another mentor suggested that we start listening to country songs to help us make the transition from secular to Christian music.

Later in his book, Ken Myers goes on to ask, “Are there natural virtues of sympathy, of love, of justice, of mercy, of wisdom that can be encouraged by aesthetic experience?  According to Lewis, learning to ‘receive’ a work of art does encourage habits of the heart that have effects in other areas of life.  And now, to put popular culture on the spot, does it have the same capacities?  No, and few people, even its most ardent fans, would claim that it does,” (Myers 97).

This is why being a critic of form and not just content matters.  Intaking messages that are delivered through media that does pass the Philippians 4:8 test makes us more like Christ.  It’s tempting to make rules like: “No music with 5 or more “yeahs” inserted randomly into the lyrics” or “Only read books that are at least 200 pages long,” but that just teaches us how to check things off a list, not how to value and hunger after the truly beautiful things in this world, explicitly Christian or otherwise.

C.S. Lewis provides a useful guideline for form criticism in his book, An Experiment in Criticism by suggesting we do some self-examination about the way we intake everything (movies, paintings, music, writing, etc..) and ask: Am I receiving this or just using it?  He distinguishes between the two this way:

A work of (whatever) art can be either ‘received’ or ‘used’.  When we ‘receive’ it we exert our senses and imaginations and various other powers according to a pattern invented by the artist.  When we ‘use’ it we treat it as assistance for our own activities….’Using’ is inferior to ‘reception’ because art, if used rather than received, merely facilitates, brightens, relives or palliates our life, and does not add to it.   

Most of the forms chosen by pop and Christian culture leave little room for receiving the message.   As Lewis says, we become “so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little chance to work on us.  Thus increasingly we meet only ourselves.”

Lewis’ distinction helps us find forms that encourage us to receive and interact with the message instead of just using it.  Not only will you find yourself a better reader, appreciator of art, and listener, you will also be developing those “natural virtues of sympathy, of love, of justice, of mercy of wisdom.” Using these same forms to glorify our God and share His Gospel encourages active and thoughtful reception of the best message of all time.  I’d say that beats a bumper sticker or t-shirt any day of the week.

401K vs. Faith

I’m writing this in my favorite corner of our love seat as I will myself to stay awake. I’m exhausted in the worse way, when sleep that brings dreams seems more tiring than simply sitting here staring into space.

It’s in these quiet mental moments that the thoughts from the back of my head finally get to percolate. So now I’m staring into a full mug of brain coffee and I’m trying to see if it’s any good. Here goes!

One of my passions in life is financial literacy. Right after God, my husband, and breakfast baked goods. I’ve been balancing my accounts since age 11 and budgeting since age 5. As I’ve learned more about economics and stewarding money well (and I have a loooong way to go), I’ve also run into a few roadblocks.

From friends, to articles, to the incredible auto-biography of George Muller, I’m constantly reminded of the importance of trusting God with one’s finances. We’ve all heard the stories of the mysterious checks that appear in people’s mailboxes just in the nick of time. These stories humble us and remind us of our ultimate dependence on God. And I believe all of this is very good.

But I also believe God has called us to be wise with our talents and treasure and that means saving for hard times, investing for the future, and living within one’s means.

Friends, I need your help. Have you ever felt like you had to choose between a 401(k) and your faith?What helped you balance complete dependence on God with wise planning?

Goodnight,
Chloe

P.S. Exciting new blog & business updates coming soon! Stay tuned.

Evangelic-who?

Do you remember that point in 11th grade when your English teacher told your class enough already with quoting the dictionary to start every. single. paper! That’s a good principle to follow.

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Oops. Do you forgive me for breaking the cardinal rule of grown-up writing? I hope so, because there really was no other way to start this post. This is the definition Google gave me of the word “evangelical.”

Throughout all my life, when I heard the word “evangelical” I associated it with the word “evangelize” and assumed that this adjective form of the verb must mean “something/someone that evangelizes.” Google seems to agree with me, but every other Christian community I’ve encounter doesn’t.

9870264.jpgAs far as I can deduct, the word “evangelical” in the Christian subculture of colleges, churches, and seminaries means “any type of Christianity that’s not exactly like the Christianity I associate with” For example, here’s a quote from the excellent book, Ordinary: “Whenever a new generation announces its radical and totally unprecedented culture shift, there is an evangelical movement that pressures churches to get on board if they wan to adapt and survive the next wave.” (Horton, 25).

I think “evangelical” has become the catch-all for Christians that are more liberal, more modern, more “relevant”, and more likely to sing Chris Tomlin songs. Yet all these are comparative statements. More liberal than what? What’s the baseline?

Can the evangelical Christian be defined with a certain set of denominations, the year their church was founded, the kind of music their worship includes, or even better, a uniting doctrine or lack thereof? For as much as I hear the word “evangelical” tossed around, I have yet to hear someone concretely set the parameters for who are evangelicals and who are not.**

This blog post is full of question marks because I still have no idea. I’m genuinely curious and inclined to continue to believe evangelical is the adjective form of to evangelize, unless I can be pointed to a robust and generally agreed upon definition. So, my dear readers, comment away! What do you think of when you hear “evangelical”?

As confused as ever,
Chloe

**Disclaimer: I realize that every professor, author, and preacher can’t spend 10 minutes defining all the words they use in their lectures, books, and sermons. However, since the word “evangelical” can both mean “according to the teaching of the gospel” and “Christian churches/movements we don’t agree with” I think it’s worth a footnote.

T of Death (3/3)

Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press out of thin air. According to Where Good Ideas Come From, he recycled some of the technology involved in a wine press to invent the printing press. In its most simplified version, that’s the Adjacent Possible. Most new great ideas or inventions are only possible because there are adjacent to something that already exists. It’s like getting to a room on the 2nd floor by walking up the stairs and through a hallway. You can’t teleport there, but with the right combination of steps, you’ll get to that 2nd floor room.

The Adjacent Possible is a fascinating idea that’s great at explaining how we got from pressing grapes to printing books, but terrible when applied to one’s life path.

I like doing things. I was an Overly Involved High School Student who became an Overly Involved College Student. Like I’ve written in other posts, being overly vague in one’s skills or overly specialized can be paralyzing. So can walking aimlessly through open doors just because they’re open. Being an Overly Involved Person meant that I had a lot of different opportunities.

And being a believer in the Adjacent Possible meant I took 99% of them.

I thought I liked doing things, so it didn’t matter what work I did, as long as I was working. Turns out, it does matter what kind of work I’m doing. Evidently, just walking through the next open door might land you in a room that isn’t where you should be.

I’m just now learning that it’s okay to walk out. Climb through a window if you need to. Re-orient yourself, buy a map, chart a course, change those plans, make 3 year goals, 5 year goals, and adjust them all tomorrow. But if you know you’re in the wrong room, staying there longer won’t get you where you need to go. Keep moving and keep dreaming.

In other words, I quit my job last week.

Adios Adjacent Possible. I’d rather be known for who I was than having the longest resume around.

Until next time,
Chloe

Game Point

Confessions of a Newlywed: I kept score.2541312.jpg

You’re not supposed to. According to the marriage books and the Bible, love keeps no accounts of who did the dishes last and who most ordinarily plans the meals and who has the longer commute. Yet I continually struggled through the first few months of marriage to not mentally keeping track of these things and feel personally offended when chores weren’t done EVEN THOUGH I WAS CLEARLY AHEAD IN THE IMAGINARY GAME AND HAD MORE POINTS.

And then I got sick. Evidently, camping in 20 degree weather after you’ve been nursing an ear ache and low fever for a month is not a recipe for health. I lay helpless on the couch, coughing, hot and cold, feverish and peevish. And Luke, being more wise and better at listening to marriage books, the Bible, and marriage vows, took care of me and the house, made the food and deep cleaned the kitchen.

All of a sudden, I didn’t want to keep score anymore. I realized I not only wasn’t in the lead but I was losing points rapidly. Keeping score is only fun when you think you’re ahead.

As merciful and kind as Luke was in my hour of need, God is immeasurably more so in our lifetime of inadequacy. Yet I ask Him why He hasn’t delivered on certain things I believe I deserve. I am confused when I don’t see things in my life unfolding the way I imagined, the way I planned for, the way I worked to achieve. Why do I feel this way? I’m keeping score because I think I’m ahead and God owes me something.

The only thing I’ve earned from God is a cup of wrath and suffering. Yet He dumped out that cup on my behalf to save me from myself and my sin. That would be enough. But God continues to amaze me as He takes that cup, now empty of wrath, and fills it with blessings beyond belief. A husband who doesn’t keep score, an apartment, family, good food, friends, a fairy garden, Costco ice cream, warm bread, sunny walks.

So I’ve put away my scorecard for good. In that game, winning is losing.

Divine Prank Calls

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    Back in the archaic days of landline phones, we used to get a lot of solicitors at my house.  Unlike most people trying to eat their dinner in peace, I found great joy after spotting company’s name on the caller id.  “Wallside Windows” it read. “Hello, this is Wallside Windows, how may I help you?” I chirped into the phone.  The confused salesman would mutter something about an extension problem and then hang up on me.  Reverse prank calling was my favorite.

    Going to a Christian college, the word “vocation” was thrown around like candy at a small-town parade.  You don’t need a job, you need a calling.  A divine purpose.  Which is great and definitely makes the job search process just as painful.  4 months out of college, and I’ve started to wonder.  Did God just prank call me?

    It’s the only logical answer to our little carefully laid plans starting to crumble.  The 5 year-plan just became the plan for only 5 days and the dreams might be clearer but the steps to achieving them just disappeared.

    But I just can’t believe that.  I don’t think God calls us to one place or job just as a joke.  I don’t think that we know our final “vocation” or “calling” at 21 or 22.  It doesn’t mean that the stints before figuring that out (shout out to my non-peers: do you ever figure that out?) are any less valuable, purposeful, or ordained by God.

    The next time we’re tempted to slam down the phone when it feels like “calling” just slid through our fingers again, think again.  God has us here (or in your case, there) for a reason which we may or may not figure out and our God does not want to know if your refrigerator is running.


Hi there.

The very first word that I spoke as a 9-month-old wasn’t so much a word as it was a phrase:

“Hi there.”

Evidently, I skipped over the basics of “Mom” “Dad” “Sis” and “ball” and went straight to informal greetings.  And I’ve been  introducing myself every since.

I met my wonderful and  recently wedded friend by randomly introducing myself at a Swing Club because she vaguely looked like a girl from  high school that I didn’t even know that well but the “soul rejoices in the familiar.”

I met my recently wedded husband by introducing myself in line for a freshman informational meeting because, hey, he was cute, in my Old Testament class, and clearly interested in leadership.  Can you say spiritual leader spouse material?

Don’t worry, I just thought he was cute at the time.

A few weekends ago, I headed back east to see that dear friend get married.  Waves of nostalgia 8202592and longing rushed over me as I gazed over neat fields of Lancaster corn and farms.  Was it really last summer that I lived and loved here? Why did we move to California?

I was caught between two Lands of Lonely.  In Pennsylvania, I was with friends and families and humidity and all things home reminiscent.  Yet I was separated from my forever love.  At the same time, I dreaded returning to So Cal with all work and very little play and no friends.  I started regretting all our decisions–except the marriage one.

But as I re-crossed the country for the 3rd time in two months, I realized that I’ve been looking for the wrong things.  I’m searching for my childhood and college friends amidst strangers.

I’m going to stop searching for my past in the present.

Loving Better

Since May 15th at 7:00 pm, when I triumphantly handed in my last final of my Junior year, I’ve slept in 8 different beds with 2 more to go before I return to my bright raspberry creamsicle room.

I never expected to stay in (multiple) strangers homes, co-author and self-publish a childrens’ book, go to Boston, or take up kickboxing during this past 3 months span.

Through a series of  conversations, packing up and moving out, getting caught in the rain (always), making friends at the Y, learning how to write (again), learning about what makes a family, Skyping Siberia, and waiting tables at barn weddings, I finally picked up on God’s creative ways of teaching me to love better by:

Loving Myself Less
I’ve always had a surplus of confidence, allowing me to walk into almost any situation with the assumption that I will not only learn quickly the necessary skills to thrive, but that I would come up with a better way of doing things.  Being an intern for HOPE International, an excellently run organization with competent leadership and a vision way beyond my overly confident self, was incredibly humbling and refreshing.  I was valued for my skills but expected to stretch myself and learn from those around me.  Not hard to do, when surrounded by some of the most intelligent and faithful servants of God I have ever had the pleasure of working alongside.
Loving Change More
Even though I’m leaving the summer with more to-do lists than I came in with, I’ve learned that plans not only can change on a dime–they will.  It’s part of life and being able to embrace the unpredictability of not having the world under my control (who knew?) has released me from the impossible burden of always arranging everything just so.
[This book helped immensely.]
Loving Others Better
 
It’s only because I am a mere 4 days from seeing my fiance again that I can say that this summer has been a wonderfully growing experience in learning how to one day (soon!) be a godly wife and in the meantime, love and serve to the best of my ability.  Of course, a month ago, I would have just whined about time zones and distance.  Thank you to all who have showed me examples of Christ-centered marriages and shared their candid advice.   More on this to come.
Loving Life Fully
 
Its a crazy adventure, but it’s worth living.

Following the Pact

When I was young and foolish, I could not get my mind around traffic jams.  Why were we just sitting there?  Why don’t the first cars just move already?

Nowadays, I still don’t understand all the dynamics of a highway, other than a slight decrease in mph
creates disproportionately high increases in road rage.  But I realize it isn’t as simple as a large block of cars, moving at the same speed.  There are entrances and exits, merging highways, adverse weather, the occasional deer.

Not to mention drivers’ personalities and motives.  While some are perfectly content to putt along, 10 mph under the speed limit, others seem to see driving on the highway as a real-life version of Frogger and get sick thrills from merging at dangerously fast rates, for no apparent reason.  Some are rushing to an important meeting, others are dragging their feet in getting into the office.  One has a sick spouse at home that they can’t wait to get back to, others have a sick spouse at home that they are trying to avoid for as long as possible.

I’m none of those.  I’m a copy cat driver.  I slow down when others do, speed when everyone else is, take the detour that the majority of cars are taking.  This works decently well on the highway.

But I have a tendency to do so in real life too.  We’ve been talking a lot about abiding in Christ lately at my internship.  One of my key take-aways was the foolishness of comparing ourselves to other branches (believers) instead of the vine (Christ).  I don’t know where they are going.   I don’t know there personality, motive, experiences.  I definitely don’t know what God has planned for them.  So why do I spend more time trying to mimic the growth or avoid the pitfalls I see in others rather than nourishing myself?

Driving like that would end me up in Houston instead of Lancaster.  Living like that means I miss out on my own journey and end up exhausting myself just spinning my wheels.