All is Calm

This has been the calmest December of my life.  No holiday parties, parades, or paraphernalia.  No white elephant, secret Santa, or cookie exchanges. This Christmas, all is calm.

But all is not bright.  We’re edging nearer and nearer to the winter solstice and the sun only feebly attempts to show its for a mere six hours a day.  All is calm, but all is dark.

The absence of a frenzy of festivities combined with long shadows make for a very different Christmas experience this year.  These dusky days are teaching me the importance of light and hope, a lesson that’s easy to forget in sunny San Diego.  My advent reading included this prophecy from Isaiah chapter nine – a beautiful reminder that it is in the darkness that the hope of Christ’s coming shines all the brighter.

Isaiah 9:2-4

2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

I showed the original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon to one of my ESL classes yesterday.  It’s one of my favorites although I failed to anticipate the difficulty in explaining words like “bizilbigs” and “fliffer bloofs”  While most Christmas cartoons today center around a mad rush to save Christmas, this classic reminds us that a celebration of Christmas is not a collection of things but an expression of gratitude, love and hope.

Like the Whos, there will be no whoboohoo bricks or pankunas on Christmas morning this year for Luke and me.  We’ll be celebrating alone on the 25th, amidst a culture that doesn’t celebrate the holidays until New Year’s Eve.  Like much of our experience here in Russia, everything seems so different than what we are used to and yet the important things are still the same.

God’s love has not changed.  His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is still ours.  Our hope still rests in Him alone who has the power to create worlds and recreate our lives.  I’ll take that over roast beast any day of the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Wishing you a day filled with true gladness of heart for the life God has given us, now and eternally.

P.S.  You are welcome for not titling this one “The Reason for the Season”.  So tempting.

Beady Eyes

Every since my first encounter with Office Depot, I’ve been in love with all things organization. Now that I’m a bit older and have something of an aesthetic sense (I still wear mismatched socks, so don’t be too impressed), my passion for post-its has grown to include pretty key holders and paper stackers and things called “Catch-Alls” which is the 7258472prettiest way of saying “Junk Drawer.”

Our apartment came furnished. This meant my husband and I were able to move across the country for under $300 (including gas) and walk into a lovely little studio apartment with more lamps and bookshelves than we could ever need. And stuffed pheasants. And silky curtains. And doilies and some kind of branchy bathroom decor and fake plants and mismatched floral prints and did I mentioned the stuffed pheasants? These aren’t complaints, because this apartment is quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to us, but I’m not winning any decor awards anytime soon.

And that’s okay. Because this is where our best and worst moments live; often simultaneously.

I hear our landlords’ TV and dogs through our thin connecting wall. I can choose to hear the disruptive sounds of yet another made-for-TV movie or I can hear the hospitality of a generous couple that shares their life with us.

I see the gross sticky remains of spilled hot chocolate in my Tupperware drawer. Or I can see mercy personified in my husband as he patiently cleaned up my spill and then offered me his own warm cocoa.

I groan about dirty dishes that will always exist forever or I can remember that these are ghosts of meals prepared with laughter and dinners eaten in good company.

I see dead stuffed pheasants watching me with their beady black eyes as they perch atop my closet or I can see dead stuffed pheasants. No romanticizing my way out of that one.

So much of life is perspective. And it doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect to be beautiful.

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.

I Didn’t Know

I have officially written as many drafts here as I have actual blog posts.  The fact that this blog has has over 10,000 views also seems remarkable.  Yet what really caught me off guard when looking back through this blog’s history, was that I started scribbling thoughts here 5 years ago.

I don’t feel like I am old enough to have been doing something for 5 years.  I’m sure some hobbies can claim that longevity, but in my mind, I started blogging when I thought I had something worthwhile to say which is  when I thought I had achieved some standard level of maturity and adulthood.

5 years ago, I was a freshman in high school.  I knew nothing.  But I also knew that I knew nothing, which helped a lot.  I knew that I was the product of society and my school system and The Town and my family.  I didn’t do much about it, yet I knew it.

But there were a lot of things I had no idea about.

I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to be an engineer.  I didn’t know that I was much weaker in some ways than I thought.  I didn’t know how many people that I would see die.  I didn’t know how much brokenness there was in this world and how little I could do about it.

But I also didn’t know how much of a help I could be if I looked beyond myself.  I didn’t know about the sleepless nights and tired days.  I didn’t know how writing would simultaneously save me and destroy me.  I didn’t know that God was truly my only Savior.  I didn’t know that I would go to a Christian college, or even that I would still be a Christian at this point. I didn’t know about the incredible friends and memories I would find here.  I couldn’t have anticipated the amount of mental strain I would have to learn to overcome. I didn’t know that I would see lives fall apart and God piece me together.

While I’ve never put much stock in who I am, I have an inexhaustible source of confidence of what can I can do.  Even so, alone, I am nothing.  With God, I am still nothing but I am with God.  Being able to say that is more astounding than 5, 10, or 15 years of life-changing experiences.

Things Don’t Make Sense

To my rationalist mind, the worst judgement that I could pass on anything or anyone is: “That doesn’t make sense.”  I’ve caught myself saying that a lot lately.  For something to be good, it must be logical.  Unfortunately, this rules out a lot of the best things in life.

Like love, for instance.  Love doesn’t make sense.  It is irrational to put someone else’s needs in front of your own.  Likewise, emotions don’t make sense.  They are messy and pointless, but they are what make people real.

War doesn’t make sense.  Fighting with swords instead of words doesn’t make sense.  Unfounded hatred doesn’t make sense.  I don’t make sense.

I contradict myself daily, whether in word or in deed.  I have unrealistically high expectations for myself and circumstances beyond my control and expect the world to fall into my preset categories and calendars and it never does.  Some days I want to smile for no reason at all, and other nights I feel like crying into my pasta salad.  And that doesn’t make sense at all, because according to my calculations, happiness is supposed to be circumstantial and pasta salad doesn’t need anymore salt and it really isn’t sad at all.

The world doesn’t make sense.  It never has, and the stubborn desire of one 19 year-old girl won’t change that.  The world is broken, which doesn’t help this confusion, but so am I.  We must learn to live in this broken, senseless world regardless.  Stomping my feet and scowling at the surrounding nonsense doesn’t help anything.

You know what also doesn’t make sense?  Friends that love you when you are unlovable.   Loyalty that lasts through the test of time and trials.  A perfect God that loves an imperfect people.  Beautiful sunsets that fall every night on a world that doesn’t deserve them.

Things I Believe

Usually, I would write a wordy rambling on each one of these.  My new goal for writing: be concise.  Here’s one of my first attempts to consolidate my thoughts.

Things I Believe

I am who I am, no matter who I’m with or where I am.

My peace is not grounded in knowing everything will work out in the end, but knowing that even if it doesn’t, God is still perfect in love and faithful to the end.

I am shaped by my past but not defined by it.

Compared to eternity, this life is very insignificant.

This life is insignificant when it comes to the things that don’t affect eternity.  Sharing God’s love and salvation and living out His will affect eternity and more than deserve my attention and effort.

I will often be wrong. It’s better to admit when you are wrong than try to defend a lost cause.

I am responsible to the people in my life, but not for them.

To live in blissful denial: don’t count the hours of sleep you get, cups of coffee you drink, or amount of time spent studying.

Being quiet and listening is as satisfying as getting to express yourself.

Thinking can both save and destroy you: use your thoughts wisely.

Being busy isn’t a sign of productivity, achievement, or success. Nor does God use it to determine our worth.

Balance is beautiful.

People are worth it, every time.  Love is always worth the pain of caring.

If I won’t give up on the people in my life, I won’t give up on myself either.

Basing your self-perception off of how you interact with others is only half of who you are, a little introspection goes a long way.