How Long is the Night?

Some mornings I wake up and need some extra strength.  I get out of bed and start my normal routine, but my head and heart are heavy.  I feel as if the troubles that have been worrying me for the past week, month, year have come to a head.  I am at a standstill, and feel that I can only plead with God to make this easier, to bring understanding, to work in my heart and the hearts of others, to help me continue the process of letting go and trusting that everything will be OK.

I had one of these mornings recently on a Sunday, so I went to church.  I sat down just in time for “All Creatures of Our God and King.”  The service went on, and I realized a guest pastor was preaching.  As he began the message, it was obvious he was a talented writer and speaker.  He described his wife’s awesome ability to pack a road trip box to entertain their children when they were young, using descriptors that recalled memories of my own family road trips which brought a smile to my face almost immediately.  Despite the magical box of toys, snacks, and games that his wife thoughtfully crafted, his children all too soon would begin to ask the dreaded question, “Are we there yet?”

****

The preacher read the text, Psalm 30:1-12, in which the Psalmist praises God for lifting from the depths, sparing from the pit, and turning wailing into dancing.  The passage includes the verse which reads: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

****

Children ride in the car, anxiously awaiting the moment they will arrive at their destination.  Mere minutes after buckling their seat belts, they become tired of the journey, demanding reprieve from the upright seats, their sibling’s pestering legs, the crayons that have slipped underneath their bottoms, causing an ache.  After the discomfort of the trip, children want only to land in the soft arms of their grandmother which promise ease, comfort, and unconditional acceptance.

Especially on those mornings when I need extra strength, I am like a child.  When life gets tough and uncomfortable, our tendency is to want to hurry things, get through them, move on ASAP so that our existence becomes easier.  We demand to God, to friends, to loved ones– Are we there yet?  Is this rough patch about to end?  Will I be accepted now?  Do my trials end here?  Haven’t I paid my dues?  It only makes sense that someone experiencing hurt would want it to end swiftly; that is natural.  When we are deep into the night and there is no sunlight to be seen, the challenge is to remember that “joy comes with the morning.”

****

I listened to the preacher intently, distracted only by my desire to find a pen in my huge new purse– of course when I need one the most, I realize I have removed them all in an effort to lighten things up.  The man preaches on, maintaining that our question should not be one that begs the answer to “When will finally be awakened by the morning sunlight?”  but “How long is the night?”  I understood this to mean that while we are struggling in the dark, our focus should be not on the destination, the finish, but on the duration of the night and what God can do in the midst of it.

The night– our trials, our greatest fears, our endurance through disapproval, our struggle through the loss of a loved one or a dream– the night provides us with some of the most teachable moments that we may ever encounter.  It may be a cliche, but there is truth in the statement, “If God brings you to it, God will bring you through it,” and will teach you patience, honesty, acceptance, and perseverance all the while.  The trick to asking the question “How long is the night?” instead of “Are we there yet?” is remembering that God is in control.  Whether the night lasts twelve hours or twelve years, God is in control.  We will eventually resurface and the light will shine upon our faces.  Accepting this is, I think, a lifelong challenge.

****

The message ends with the preacher detailing his favorite beach activity: waking up before the sun and rushing down to the beach in time to watch the sunrise with his wife.  It is this, he tells us, that reminds him that “the same God that opens the curtain on the morning also closes it on the night,” all in God’s time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Genuine Hospitality

After I moved about a year ago, I halfheartedly started the process of church shopping. Following a few awkward Sunday mornings, we began to semi-regularly attend a Baptist church not far down the street from my house.  As a lifelong United Methodist, I honestly felt a little like a traitor.  I’d gone to Baptist church every time our family would visit Nanny and Papa, and while I do believe that the main tenets of Christianity (should) typically remain the same regardless of denomination, we all know that a Baptist church differs from a United Methodist church differs from an Episcopalian church, etc., etc.

I am a Methodist PK (preacher’s kid for those unaware of the acronym) and believed that what the United Methodists say they believe was also what I believe.  After all, their slogan is “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.”  But, last week, after a little meet-and-greet for visitors and new people hosted by a church member, I tallied that this Baptist church was racking up points for their hospitality.  In addition to plentiful food and conversation at the social, each time I’ve gone to church on Sunday, at least one person has spoken to me.  This doesn’t sound like much to write home about, but you may or may not be surprised to hear that I’ve been to plenty a church where not a single soul went out of their way to greet me.  Other than their mastery of southern hospitality, my new church (it even feels a little strange to write that– my new Baptist church!) also excels at genuine hospitality.  (Some of us may be aware that these two types are not always synonymous.)

What I mean by genuine hospitality is that the church doesn’t just say “all are welcome,”  they actually mean that all are welcome “regardless of race, class, origin, sexual orientation, or any other distinction.”  And, when you sit down on the pew and look around, or talk with your neighbors, you realize that all really are welcome because those distinguished people are actually there to prove it.  And, not only are we all welcome to worship, the church is actually willing to meet the diverse needs of those who desire to strengthen their relationship with God and become part of a community of fellow followers of Christ.  This may mean fostering an AIDS Care Team, a prison ministry, an environmental group, or “Out and About”– an LGBTQ social group.  It means a lot of things, but mostly it means inviting people into the community to be who they are, not to change them.  It involves actively being the loving, accepting church and not just saying it.

I am no expert on anything and am far from perfect, but I have experienced many churches (people, too) in my short lifetime that choose to talk the talk, but not walk the walk.  This is not meant to be a direct criticism on any one group, but because this slogan already exists, I’ll just say that “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” means nothing unless it is actually put into diligent, genuine practice.

I am thankful to have found a church home, whether it is one whose origins stem from John Wesley or somebody else I haven’t even heard of because I know nothing about Baptist heritage.  Thankfully, as I’ve realized, the point is not about names or relatives or history; the point is that people should be loved regardless of any distinctions we may bear, and should be accepted into the Body of Christ that is not perfect, but strives to live as the one perfect human, Jesus, did.  I will gladly be a part of any group which chooses to love God and love people in reality and not just because it looks or sounds good in theory– even if it means no more trying to “beat the Baptists to lunch.”

Posted in Jesus, Love | 6 Comments

The “Real World”

I just realized I have only written five posts in 2012.  I thought I was busy in college, but as it turns out, the “real world” hits hard and you find yourself strangely tired from sitting at your desk all day; tired mentally, at least.  Some days I drive the thirty minutes to work, spend eight hours there, drive home on ridiculous 15-501 (most afternoons I am certain this “superstreet” is covered with brand new drivers who just left the DMV with their permits), and then wonder, “Wait, what did I actually do today?”  I’m sure we all have those days where we feel almost utterly unaccomplished.  Sometimes I am able to brush it off (“there’s always tomorrow”), but other days it really bothers me.

Due to a recent streak of “those” kind of days, I have been doing a lot of thinking about my job and the challenge of not losing sight of your passions if/when the job you are doing at any point in time does not easily match up with that which really floats your boat.  Does anyone else have this issue?

Just to clarify, my job is a good job.  Fortunately, I have a lot of flexibility and am able to direct my work in many different ways because we are in a transition phase– moving up to bigger and better things, surely.  However, I often find myself wishing I felt more fulfilled on a regular basis in my work and reminiscing about past jobs that spoke more clearly to who I am and what I’ve always wanted to do.  For me, if my work situation doesn’t allow me to direct a lot of attention to my dreams and passions, after a few months, the things and people I am really passionate about become a little muddled and I find myself feeling uncertain about what I want to be doing and how I really want to make a difference.  When this happens, I know it’s time to have a long conversation with myself, make some lists, or recollect all those little parts of a future dream job I’ve scribbled down on tiny scraps of paper and used as bookmarks since I was fifteen.  And, maybe most importantly, remember that our reactions can make or break anything– just because I don’t have my “dream job” now doesn’t mean I can’t live like I do.

Not every job is going to feel like a perfect fit (Dad assured me of this plenty in the past year), but God gives us experiences and we choose what to do with them.  It’s sometimes easier said than done, but definitely worth more to seek the good rather than accentuate the bad.  I am blessed to have a job at all, especially one that affords me much flexibility and opportunity to take things by the reigns and make them my own.  Although I may never have pictured myself in my current work environment, I have come to the conclusion that I should find a way to fit my passions into my current job so that I am better able to be the person  I was created to be.

I truly believe that “every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (Romans 8:28, The Message), so as long as I seek to love God and others in all that I do, I will be able to clearly see the blessings that already exist in abundance around me.

 

Posted in Growing Up, Uncategorized, Work | 2 Comments

Goats

My favorite animals (in no particular order) include:  dogs, giraffes, cows, and goats.  Having been separated from our family pups for the past five years and, admittedly, not ever really having much of a relationship with any giraffes or cows, my fondness for goats has skyrocketed in the past six months.  Recently, I went back to the farm (the one I worked at for a season) to visit my goat friends, including the brand new babies, the older kids, and their mamas.

Reunited with the older babies.

Since leaving the farm, many people have asked, “Do you miss it?”  My usual response is that I miss being on my feet and outside, and wearing my overalls, but mostly I just miss the goats.  Over the four months I was at the farm, I learned every name of the fifty two female goats we milked each morning and night.  I learned their personalities, their physical characteristics, and some of their family trees.  I try not to have favorites in my life (striving to find the good in everyone/thing), but I will admit that some goats stole my heart a little more quickly than others.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to make  it back to the farm a couple weeks ago for a visit with all the goats.  I felt like I was seeing old friends again, and promised to return much sooner next time.  And, the fact that they remembered me left me feeling so proud and like our friendship was affirmed.

Cami

McKenzie and a new kid.

If anyone is here in my neck of the woods, let me know and we will take a trip to visit my goat friends.  They are so loveable, I guarantee you’ll want to stay for hours.

Checking up on Cecilia, one of my special buds.

Posted in Farm, Friends, Nature | Leave a comment

Magic

I think there is some magic that occurs within that hour between when the sun begins to set and the stars light up the sky in the evening.  Birds sing the last notes of their daily melodies and light flickers through the windows, casting shimmery shadows on the walls.  I’ve always loved this time of day– dusk– when twilight closes the chapter of the day and leads to night, signaling the time to surrender what was lost in the hectic past hours; the time for rest.

I love this magic.  The quiet light and natural signs of the day’s winding down urges me to take some time for myself to reflect on and appreciate all things– struggles, joy, love, work, play.  Many days pass where I pay no attention to these natural reminders, but when I do, they are strong and serve me well.

Posted in Nature | Leave a comment

Happy Place

When I was in the tenth grade, I took geometry with this sort of kooky woman named Ms. Hassall.  If you know me, you are aware of my brain’s dysfunction when it comes to any sort of mathematics other than basic arithmetic (I can figure a tip easily. . . most of the time).  Geometry did not challenge my previous experiences in math class, although Ms. Hassall along with my classmates, whose detailed discussions of their dating lives, which for the record, could not be avoided from my seat, at least made the proofs and triangles and whatever else they [try to] teach you in geometry slightly more entertaining.

What also made the class more bearable was Ms. Hassall’s weekly tendency to order us to go to our “happy places.”  We’d all created our own place at the beginning of the year so that when the class got more out of control than it usually was, we were supposed to recall our happy place and become calm and collected and ready for math learning.  I don’t really remember how effective this strategy actually was, but I do remember that my happy place consisted of me walking on streets of a large city, such as New York, passing all different sorts of people; always smiling with the sun shining through the buildings down onto my face.

As a teenager, I think I envisioned freedom as being independent– roaming a huge city by myself, finding happiness in the busyness of everything around me.  If I were to go back to Ms. Hassall’s geometry class now, my “happy place” would be much different.

I spent the past few days at the Outer Banks (or do you say “on the Outer Banks”?  I always switch it up ’cause I don’t know), and it reminded me of the importance of having a “happy place”– an actual geographic location or physical space, a mindset, or a combination.  My physical place at this point in my life is definitely the beach, which I think helps me access my mental space a little more easily.  Walking on the beach with the sun on my face and the wind blowing through my hair makes me feel more connected to God than any other place.  In  that place, I feel vulnerable and accessible in a way that I don’t otherwise.  I can talk to God so openly, and I love that.  In my day-to-day life, being vulnerable and making and taking time to ask and listen feels difficult.  It feels scary.  But in my happy place–the beach– everything opens up.

I want and  need to access my “happy place” every day, at night or right when I wake up, sitting at my work desk or while  I’m on the treadmill.  I recently saw a tweet by Joseph Simmons AKA Rev. Run (@RevRunWisdom) that said “Someone asked, ‘Can you teach me how to pray?’ I replied, ‘Prayer is learned by praying.'”  This really doesn’t seem  too difficult to comprehend and follows the well-known saying, “Practice makes perfect.”  However, I often find myself thinking I’m not great at praying, or connecting with God, or making time for myself, and not really doing anything about it, so this really hit home for me.  It makes me want to say “Duhh” (is that cool at all anymore?) because of course if you don’t make a habit out of doing something, you probably shouldn’t expect to become a regular at whatever it is.

My “happy place” brings me reminders to carve out time for God and for myself, and to address the urge, which sometimes feels more like a nag, to be open in a way that leaves me feeling vulnerable in the best possible way.  I am thankful for these reminders and for the always existent possibility of growth that practice and perseverance bring.

Posted in Growing Up, Jesus, Nature, Trips, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inspiration

What does it mean for me when I go two months without writing?  And I don’t mean just on this public blog for the world to read.  I mean without even sheltering ideas and thoughts in my head before turning them into phrases in my journal or even in conversation.  I think it means that some inspiration is lacking.  Maybe not lacking– I know it’s there (the world is full of inspiring people, places, and things) but I’m probably overlooking it, or worse, ignoring it.

Inspiration.  What does that even mean?  The online dictionary defines it as “an inspiring or animating action or influence,” but I’m not sure using “inspiring” to define “inspiration” is allowed.  Other definitions of inspire include “to produce or arouse (a feeling, thought, etc.),”  “to influence or impel” and “to fill or affect with a specified feeling, thought.”

For me, inspiration to write (and “to do” in general) typically comes in the form of a human interaction– clutching my sister tight for ten minutes straight at Thanksgiving, trying to regain the previous 6 months we spent apart; a feeling– the wind blowing through my hair or sun shining on my face; a role– playing Maid of Honor to my lifelong school bus buddy-drumline partner-never give up on or stop loving me- friend; a reflection– realizing the abundance of blessings in my life; a recollection; a trial; a special trip; an expression.

To say these means of inspiration have not existed for me in the past months would be untruthful.  I don’t really know why I sometimes get in ruts where I tend to ignore the quiet urge to do something with (write, think, talk about) the inspiring moments that occur daily.  It’s probably something to do with getting wrapped up in myself– forgetting that to live wholly and really experience life I must broaden my view.  I need to remember that one of the most important parts of life is reflecting on the inspiration that fills each day and recognizing the blessings that God has put into my life.

No matter how big (getting a new job) or small (the sunshine that invites you onto the porch in February), each inspired moment– courtesy of a person, a place, a feeling, a thought, a memory (no need to be limited here)– holds the potential for greatness in how we respond to it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment