Saturday, June 11, 2016

Simple Truth: Life is Messy.

"Life's messy, love it." …I'm more of the, "life's messy, clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box." – BrenĂ© Brown, The Power of Vulnerability, TEDx Houston

As a chronic control freak, the idea of Life being “messy” has always kind of seemed like one of those things I say without actually believing.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve used the line, “Life just gets messy sometimes” as a means of comforting other people or to make an excuse for myself.  But here’s the catch… I still convince myself that I can control the mess out of life. 

I’ve gone days, maybe even weeks, honestly believing that if I make it just this much further, or accomplish these few things, that I might actually beat the odds and perfect the neat and clean life that I spend so much time convincing others that I live. But when it boils down to it, no one expects me to live that way; no one is putting pressure on me to excel, or to preform well, or to have it all together… In my pride, I convince myself that I should be the one that meets every standard ever set.  I can get perfect grades, the glamorous social reputation, and the purple badge of honor all before I go home to make an instagram worthy meal, clean the house, take a bath, and still have time get 8 hours of sleep (or, maybe I told myself I was immune to sleep for an entire semester). I hold myself to these unrealistically high standards; no one is telling me that I have to be that person, I’ve just bought in to the lie that my identity should be based on my accomplishments.

 But here’s the thing; when your value is based on the things you hope to accomplish and not on the life you actually live, imperfection translates as a feeling of total and complete worthlessness.  For a time, you may be able to keep up with the act… On a good day, it may be nothing more than exhausting; but the reality is that more often than not, it’s just plain disappointing, and if one thing is certain, it is never satisfying.  And yet what does that disappointment lead me to? Surrender?  I wish.  It just results in me trying harder.

 I have allowed my accomplishments to determine my worth.

What if, instead, I embraced the idea that life IS messy, and I valued that mess rather than trying to conceal it entirely? I’ve got a feeling that instead of that exhausting and disappointing feeling of worthlessness, I could learn to engage in the world from a place of worthiness. 

I’ve been really into an author named BrenĂ© Brown lately; she has spent the last 10+ years researching shame and vulnerability and has developed some theories about shame resilience, and what she has termed “Wholehearted Living.”  I quoted her at the beginning of my post, and I’m going to quote her again because she’s just that good.  “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

My desire to control my life and hide the messiness therein is nothing more than my own “hustle for worthiness.”  Its exhausting at best, but mostly its just disappointing. 

The simple truth is this:  Life is messy; and there’s no reasonable way to clean it up.  Even as the craziest of control freaks, I want to live in the truth that life is best lived when its completely and entirely messy, but full of content that is true, and meaningful, and full of joy, rather than the mandated structure and obligation of the neat and clean world I’ve trapped myself in for so long.  

When I was a teenager, my mom would tell me to clean up my room, and I would always tell her that I preferred it messy, because even in the mess, I knew where everything was.  One summer I went to camp for a month and when I came home, my mother had totally deep cleaned and reorganized my room.  I couldn't find any of my socks for weeks.  All of a sudden, I didn't know my own space; I couldn't find any of my things... Sure, it looked better, but it didn't feel good. Maybe that's exactly how Life is supposed to be; who cares if it looks good from the outside if I can't find myself amidst the neat and tidy, well organized space I've tried to recreate from the mess I once knew?  Neat and tidy may look a lot better, but it doesn't feel like home; it doesn't feel like my life.  I think I might prefer the life that may seem unconventional, but at least makes sense to me. 

Life's messy, Love it. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Simple Truths.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited the blog scene, but this summer, I want to use it to reflect on the simple truths of life that I tend to brush off all too quickly.  With graduation approaching in December, I’ve found myself feeling more anxious and stressed lately than I ever have before, so I’m finding myself longing to rest in the truths I hear all the time but spend such little time actually thinking about.

In the week between summer classes and finals week, I got to go home and hang out with my family for a few days, which was awesome.  While I was home, I was annoying my mother one day by playing through some of my old piano pieces while she was on the phone.  As I riffled through the sheet music filed away in our piano bench, I came across a piece my mother and I played as a duet at a recital when I was about 10 years old.  The piece, “Simple Gifts” is an old Shaker Hymn that has become a timeless classic.  If you don’t know what song I’m talking about, look it up on youtube real quick... you’ll recognize it right away.

I played through the tune once and for the next 10 days it was stuck in my head; “Tis a gift to be simple tis a gift to be free…” on repeat.  I couldn’t… shake it… get it? Shakers? (sorry… had to) But as I mulled over the words time and time again, I started to see the beauty in them.

Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right

Now, I don’t know much about Shaker theology, and I’m sure its pretty out there, seeing as there aren’t many Shaker churches around today, but I can’t help but see the truth in these words.  In a culture of overly-connected, overly-committed, and overly-planned people of whom I am the worst, there is value in stopping to dwell on the simple things in life. 

Over winter break, I got to go on a trip to Thailand with some incredible friends from a ministry I’m a part of in Fayetteville called Lightbearers.  While we were there, we got to spend 3 days in a village in the mountains of Northern Thailand.  It was easily my favorite part of the trip.  Miles away from the nearest grocery store or gas station, nestled in the jungle of trees was this itty bitty village with one road in and one road out.  The villagers live in stilted homes with tin roofs and wooden walls. You could see the dirt not far beneath the slotted wooden floors.  They grow or raise everything they eat, and they’ve had electricity in their homes for a whopping 5 years. 

My first instinct upon meeting the villagers was to pity them… I saw their circumstances and their apparent state of affairs and thought, “they must be so impoverished.”  As it turns out, this itty bitty village in Northern Thailand is in the middle of a natural coffee farm; trees surround the village on all sides that grow the cherries in which our beloved java beans are grown. Each day, every single one of those villagers goes out and picks 30 kilos of coffee beans (that’s like 66 pounds).  And what, pray tell, do they do with all of those coffee beans?  They sell them to Starbucks.  And there is no injustice there - they are treated well and paid fairly for them. Come to find out, this village is far from in need.  The village leader began to tell us that they have a huge sum of money saved in a village account that they use to send all of their children to school in Chiang Mai.  The equivalent of 10s of thousands of U.S. dollars sitting in an account because they value the quality of education their children receive so highly.  They could afford to live way above their current means, but why would they? They have no problem living the way they do…they are perfectly content living simply. 

After that experience, I learned that we are the ones to be pitied; we live in a world of never enough… Never successful enough, never pretty enough, never well-dressed enough, never satisfied; and where does it leave us? Constantly longing for more.   

“Tis a gift to be simple tis a gift to be free…”

In a world of never enough, very rarely do I sit and contemplate the simplest of truths… they’re never profound enough, never effective enough, never good enough.  And where does it leave me?  Contemplating every value I’ve ever held, and every decision I’ve ever made or have planned to make, which has proven to be an altogether crippling feeling.  Now, I’m deciding where to go to grad school and what type of degree to pursue and I want so desperately not to look for the one that will “make me enough” but the one that will simply put, lead me to the valley of love and delight.  My prayer is that a summer of simplicity will transition my heart to the place it ought to be – a valley of love and delight.  Join me on a journey of simple truths. 

Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

why celebrate st. patricks day?

Congratulations, America, we’ve done it again- taken a holiday with significant religious meaning and commercialized it to a point where we don’t recognize God in it at all.  Just as Christmas has become about Santa and presents, and how Halloween covers over Reformation day, St. Patrick’s day has become a day to drink green beer and talk about Leprechauns, rather than remembering the man himself, St. Patrick. 

Very few Americans know the true story of St. Patrick, yet we decorate our classrooms with clovers and leprechauns, pots of gold and Irish flags.  We arrogantly use this day as an excuse to drink green beer, “like the Irish,” assuming that to be the only purpose of St. Patrick’s Day.  But when you take even just a second to really think about the significance of this holiday, the idea of green beer and leprechauns seem completely irrational. 

St. Patrick was kidnapped as a young boy and taken as a slave to the Druid Island of Ireland.   Druids were pagan worshippers- and I don’t just mean that they bowed down to false idols… Druids were brutal and mystic, with traditions of human and animal sacrifice preformed to keep the spirits of the “otherworld” from seeking revenge on the living.  Druids were ruthless, violent, and barbaric.  Young Patrick was taken from his wealthy family in Scotland by Irish Pirates and sold as a slave to a druid farmer.  During his 6 years in captivity, Patrick was nearly isolated, interacting only with the flock of sheep he shepherded on the side of Mt. Slemish in Northern Ireland.  His isolation caused him to call out to the one person who might hear him – God. In his autobiography, St. Patrick’s Confession, he wrote that his time in captivity was crucial to his spiritual development – it was in this time that the lord showed him mercy and opened his eyes to his need for a savior.  His time as a shepherd strengthened his relationship with God through prayer, eventually leading to his conversion to Christianity. 

After 6 years of captivity, and crying out to the lord for help, The Lord answered his prayers.  One night, Patrick had a dream that he was running to the sea, and a boat was waiting to set sail to Scotland.  In the morning, when he woke up, Patrick knew exactly where he needed to go.  He ran towards the Irish Sea, and saw a boat identical to the one he saw in his dream.  He approached the captain, and offered himself as a free crew hand in exchange for transportation to Scotland.  The captain turned him down.  Confused, Patrick walked away, unsure of where to go next.  Moments later, the Captain changed his mind and by the grace of God allowed Patrick onto the ship.  Finally, Patrick would be reunited with his family. 

Upon returning to Scotland, Patrick continued to study more and more about Christianity.  He was grateful to be home, but it wasn’t long before the comfort of home would be ripped from him once more.  Several years after returning to Scotland, Patrick had another dream.  In this dream, he received a letter from the people of Ireland, begging Patrick, a holy servant, to come and walk among them.  Patrick knew what he had to do. 

In an act of selfless obedience to the lord, Patrick left the comfort of his home and family and returned to the place of Druid worshipers, where he had been held captive in isolation for six years and devoted himself to showing them the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Though he was not initially accepted, St. Patrick persevered and eventually, the word of the gospel was spread across the entire island of Ireland because of his obedience to the call of the Lord. 

Today, Patrick is known as the Patron Saint of Ireland. In both the Catholic and Protestant churches of Ireland, St. Patrick is revered as the first Bishop of the church, and accredited as the man through whom God spread his word to the nation of Ireland. 

All throughout Ireland, St. Patrick is remembered and honored regularly.  Many national symbols relate back to Patrick’s influence on Celtic Culture.  For instance, the Celtic Cross, displayed at nearly every traditional church in Ireland, was a tool that St. Patrick used to help the Druids understand that the cross brings life just as the sun brings life.  As they had worshipped the sun before, the cross was an even greater facet for their affection.  The shamrock, or a “three-leaf-clover” is the national flower of Ireland.  St. Patrick took a small, and common field flower and made it significant by incorporating it into his teachings on the trinity – Just as the flower has three pedals that create one flower, so too God has three parts which create one holistic God; three in one. 

St. Patrick’s day has much more significance than we Americans often let on to.  It’s not just a day to wear green and drink beer; it’s a day to commemorate the life of St. Patrick – a day to celebrate spiritual renewal and to pray for missionaries worldwide. 

The story of St. Patrick is an example to us of what the Lord is capable of doing in and through our lives if only we are obedient to follow the voice of the lord, and to follow where he leads us – despite our own fear or personal desire.  Patrick returned to a place of torture, but through him, an entire nation came to know the lord.  Imagine what the lord is capable of doing through you if only you listened to him. 

The prayer of St. Patrick:

"I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and a-near,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation."

The site of the first Christian church in Ireland at Saul

Saul Church and the Celtic Cross- a reminder that the Cross outshines the sun and brings forth eternal life. 

St. Patrick's Grave at Downpatrick Cathedral - March 17th is the date of his death.