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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Heading for Higher Things

Sitting in orientation class and thinking about how this is costing me over $1,800 and we're playing word association games. I know it will be worth it, after all this is what I've been saving up for over the past 7.5 years. I'm excited to realize there is an end in sight. So many times I would count up my pennies and think about how I would probably be 40 before I even started at the rate I was going. I was careful with my money as my education was a priority for me. I didn't have an iPhone or cable TV, I lived at home and I drove a 15-year old car. I did spend money on eating out with friends and buying fun clothes, though!

Then one day the doors began to open. Some I had to nudge, others I had to push rather hard, but each one opened clearly and remained open. As it happened, I began to realize that this was really happening. I was no longer dreaming; I was living the dream. It wasn't going to be easy, I knew that, but it was now possible.

It doesn't end there, though. I learned that graduate credits on a master's level can apply towards the doctoral degree as well. I have now set my sights past the master's degree to about 10 years down the road: to a PhD. I know it sounds rather presumptuous and wanting to only follow God's plan for my life means He could lead me down another road which may not include that. However I am learning that while God directs, He does want us to have goals to work towards. After all, He has instructed us to set our sights on the prize before us.

It's pretty amazing to see how God places longings in our hearts, equips us in those areas, and then fulfills those longings while giving us new dreams to dream so we are always living and growing. God only wants good things for us. This is one of those good things.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Take a Look at Me Now

Okay, I'll admit it, I love Phil Collins' music. I found a 45-minute clip of his ballads on YouTube and I'm in seventh heaven! I have a Pandora station and anytime I feel like being melancholy (which ironically can be quite often for a sanguine) I switch from my Disney station to Phil Collins and lose myself in soul music. I just Googled online to see if he still tours but it appears he doesn't. How sad!

I've gone through quite a number of phases with my music. Growing up, my parents wouldn't let us have walkmans with radios so they could monitor to a degree what we listened to. A good friend of ours lent us a contraband tape (yes, the kind with ribbon!) and we kept it well hidden in a drawer of clothes. Or so we thought, until our mother discovered it and made us return it. We were allowed to listen only to Heritage Singers, Maranatha Singers, Carpenters, Nana Mouskouri, and classical music.

Once we reached our teen years we were allowed to get radios on our walkmans. By then, though, I was already quite familiar with secular music, having listened to it on the tape player I took to my dad's office to practice typing lessons or on my friend's tapes they'd recorded from the radio. Our cousin had sent us a tape of country songs, "Don't it make my brown eyes blue" and "Talking in your sleep" by Crystal Gayle. I loved Ace of Base, All 4 One, Boyz II Men, and other R&B groups.

It was around this time that I started listening to Radio Delilah. Delilah was a Christian DJ and her radio station was dedicated to soft rock and songs that spoke to the heart. People would call in to dedicate a song to someone close to them and I marveled at how she was able to always pick the perfect song. I thought about calling in one night, but never got the courage to.

My boyfriend at the time was really into Babyface, I discovered Trey Lorenz, and continued listening to the soul music I had grown up with. Then I went through another phase. This one involved gaining acceptance by my peers, so out went all the music that had comforted my soul through the years to be replaced by Dollar Store "Best of Vivaldi" CDs and such. I couldn't bring myself to throw out my Steve Green tapes that I'd carefully hoarded my piasters to buy at the Christian bookstore, unaware they were pirated copies (though that was all that was available anyhow). So those stayed.

Music has always been an important part of my life, perhaps because I feel things deeply and sometimes I am unable to express how I'm feeling, so I turn to music that can better convey my emotion at the time. Music expresses the melancholy moment, frees me to sing with joy, brings a toe-tapping beat, or simply keeps me company on long road trips.

After I went through my "sacred" phase, I returned once again to the familiar. This time I added country, ballads, kept the R&B and soul music, the soft rock. I was happy. I loved driving down the road singing along with Shania Twain at the top of my lungs, dancing about in my seat. I was learning to let go of the thought that any music other than religious was of the devil. When I thought about the music I was listening to, I realized it was just like poetry, or conversation. People sharing their hearts, their struggles, their joys, in words set to music.

Now when I listen to music I listen for the experience, the moment, the emotion. I immerse myself in the sound and absorb the words, allowing the music to speak for me when I cannot. Music is a language of the heart and though we may speak it inadequately, we can still thrill in the connection it provides. I no longer attempt to adapt to a culture, a peer group, or my parents' expectations for me. Instead I simply listen and as I listen I search for me in the song. I always find a snapshot.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sing of the Lord's Great Love

I was reading Psalm 88 today. It's a rather discouraging psalm, actually. Heman the Ezrahite wrote it, I think, and the whole psalm talks about how he feels abandoned by God. Some of the descriptive words he uses:
  • Cry out
  • Soul is full of trouble
  • Like a man without strength
  • Set apart with the dead
  • Put in the lowest pit
  • In the darkest depth
  • Overwhelmed
  • Repulsive to his closest friends
  • Confined
  • Eyes dim with grief
  • Rejected
  • Afflicted
  • Suffered God's terrors
  • Darkness is his closest friend
Have you ever felt like Heman described above? Perhaps in times of deep despair, when you lost someone close to you, when life suddenly became overwhelming? I know I have. As I read, I wondered if the psalm would resolve itself at the end, as some of the others so nicely do. It didn't, though. Then I carried on reading into Psalm 89.

Psalm 88 describes a person in despondency, someone who feels rejected by God and his closest friends and family. This person doesn't see why he should keep living and when he cries out to God for help it seems like God is hiding His face from him. Psalm 89, however, paints a completely different picture.
  • Great love
  • Faithfulness
  • Establish his line forever
  • Make his throne firm
  • Mighty
  • Rule over the surging sea
  • Strong arm
  • Founded the world
  • Strong exalted right hand
  • Righteous and just
  • Love
  • Glory and strength
  • Crush his foes
  • Appoint him as firstborn
In the times when we feel most alone, we can choose to sing about God's love, to speak about His faithfulness, to remember how He has created good in our lives in the past, and to claim His promises of love and strength.

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in Your name all day long; they exult in Your righteousness. For You are their glory and strength, and by Your favor You exalt our horn. ~Psalm 89:15-17

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Experience of Pain

I am learning that sometimes God allows us to go through painful experiences not because He finds pleasure in our suffering but because there are lessons He can only teach us in the center of the flames.

I find I am closer to my Father when I am hurting. I know instinctively that even though I cannot run to Him and feel His arms around me, I can pour out my heart to Him through tears, unheard words, even angry questionings, and He is a safe place for me. Psalm 62:8. To be closer to my Father is something I constantly search for, and while I do not relish the experiences of sorrow and pain and grief, I recognize that He uses those to turn them into the beauty of a closer companionship than before.

I know that God doesn't promise He will grant our wishes once we've endured through the hardship. It's at times a difficult lesson to learn. I tend to be someone who is looking for the reward after the testing. I can wait, I can manage to make it through, as long as I know I'll receive what I wanted after it's all over. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Or perhaps, fortunately. God knows our hearts and there are times when our desires are lined up with His plans for us, but then there are times when it is better for us to learn to live in a place of emptiness for a time until we are ready to accept the far more beautiful gift God has waiting for us. It can be just about impossible for us to walk by faith, believing that God wants the very best for us, and not to run ahead and try to create our own destiny based on our feeble attempts to understand ourselves.

When I find myself facing pain, my instinctive reaction is to push it away until it has subsided. I am learning that we should push through the pain, accepting it, holding it close instead of hiding from it. As we experience pain to its deepest, it softens our hearts to the pain of others. A mother who has lost her child, a young woman who has lost her husband, a grandmother who has lost her spouse of 50 years. Or perhaps it isn't death of a family member. Perhaps the pain comes from loss of a beloved pet, a culture, an identity, a significant job, a dream, a home, a love. Each of these losses create pain that is unique in its experience, and while we can empathize with someone who has felt loss, we cannot truly walk with them emotionally unless we too have received the pain to the degree that they have.

A mother lost her daughter not so long ago. I put my arms around her, said I was sorry, expressed words of regret and comfort. I have suffered my own losses to death, some of people very dear to me. Yet I knew I could not feel one iota of the anguish this mother felt every time she imagined living without her daughter, every time she tried to understand how she could have prevented it from happening, every time she reached out to connect and realized her daughter was no longer there. The pain she felt, only another mother who had lost their child could identify with.

I do not believe that pain is a gift in itself. I do believe that God turns the pain into a gift when we can use our understanding born through suffering to comfort another person in their despair. I am learning that my own experiences, while I as yet have not had the need to empathize with another person in a similar situation, are preparing me for something I do not yet know. I am learning that pain turns my quick ability to judge into sympathy and concern. For everyone carries sorrow in their lives and they are searching for understanding and comfort in the midst of pain.

I am learning that on the other side of pain there is joy, peace, strength, and healing. As I look back over my life and the different times I found myself struggling with pain, fighting with it, or living fully in it, I see that each time I found myself a stronger person after the experience. It may not have been perceptible but each time my heart was glued back together with time, understanding, and comfort, it was just a little bit stronger. It was not easy, and I'm not saying we should seek out pain so we can find ourselves stronger afterwards. What I am saying is that we can either fall apart completely or we can determine to start again.

Jesus experienced the worst kind of pain imaginable when He went to the cross. The physical pain was immense, but humans had already been exposed to that kind of torture before so He would have been able to endure it. The pain that tore at His heart was the pain of complete separation from the One He loved the most. His Father had to remove His presence, His beams of light one by one, in order to fulfill the demands of the law that He had instated at the beginning of the world. Jesus was the victor over sin, and He now identifies with us in our sorrows in a way that we can understand because He has experienced our pain to an even greater degree than we ever will.

Pain is an experience foreign to our original natures. We were created for joy, peace, and wholeness. We were created to be in close communion with God and with each other. Pain steals those beautiful experiences and replaces them with brokenness. Yet what amazing grace of a Father Who foresaw the hurt we would have to go through and offered us His dearest One so that we could have the hope of one day seeing pain be forever eradicated. God has promised to wipe every tear from our eyes. I believe that as He wipes away each tear, He will wipe away the memories of the pain, replacing them with unutterable love. For we will no longer need the experience of pain.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Place To Be

Learning about moral psychology and all the intricacies of the mind it covers. It's a rather fascinating field of study and for a fleeting moment I thought I would pursue doctoral studies in that area. I'm far from doctoral studies, of course, as I have yet to start graduate studies this summer. I'm excited, though, because a dream of mine is finally being realized. It has slightly changed, I planned to go to a different university, to study psychology and become a marriage and family therapist. Now I find myself about to enter a realm that I have dipped my inquisitive mind into just slightly and I am somewhat apprehensive. Will I manage to make it through? There are some pretty high expectations being placed on me already just based on where I did my undergraduate studies and my personal statement (that I can't for the life of me remember what I wrote!). I'm not a very motivated person when it comes to studies and this particular program requires a lot more independent self-accountability than a campus-based one would. Will I be able to keep myself on task and get things done in a timely manner? How much will I have to invest in the program? Will I still have time for the things that really matter to me: eating supper at the kitchen table & chatting with family, meals out with friends, hikes, adventures, traveling, experiencing life? I don't want to be sub-par in my studies but relationships take priority for me.

As I talked with a friend the other day, we talked about how we're looking for a purpose, a meaning in life. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what mine is. At times I feel frustrated that I'm not more actively involved in ministry. I mean, I do work for a ministry, but my work consists of answering phone calls, filing papers, creating schedules, and other seemingly mundane tasks. I'm not giving hydrotherapy treatments to cancer patients, teaching searching minds to think, building industries in third-world countries to provide people with a livelihood, taking care of orphans in Africa, or running a homeless shelter in San Francisco. When I compare myself with others, I worry that I will never find a true purpose in life. And yet, when I am at work I feel fulfilled and content that I am doing what God has prepared me to do.

I like to think God has created us with desires to do what He has blessed us with talents to be able to do. I'm still thinking about exactly how to bring practical ministry into my career, but perhaps undertaking the tasks He gives me can be one way of finding purpose in life. Perhaps life is not about measuring up to the Joneses even in mission work, but in listening and following God's direction for my own life. After all, He created me and He knows best where I will be happiest.