In Regards to the “Cool People”…

I have a fascination with those my friend and I have defined as the cool people, that is, those who live their lives and present themselves in such a fashion that the rest of us admire. These are the people who know how to wear six different layers all at once without looking frumpy, who master the unmanageable task of wrapping scarfs, and come up with all the creative ideas you wish you had thought of first. Cool people know how to do bizarre things like design pendants out of salt dough and make their own jam. They have organic gardens, their doors are painted red, their kitchens look like magazines, and they are always making things for their cute babies. Cool people keep blogs that total strangers read, own fashionable rain-boots and always seem to be naturals both behind and in-front of the camera.

Their lives are something totally other-than, better-than perfect. They are creative and inspiring. We watch the lives of the cool people because we are amazed by their transforming powers. They transform all of life into story and art. They are confident in expressing themselves and seem impossible to bring down. Even when life is not so picture perfect, they make melody and poetry out of it.

I have decided that what makes these people so cool is not the lace and mason jars and organic vegetables. Cool people are cool because not only do they embrace life, they create with it. They give themselves permission to be who they are against all doubt, and live towards beauty, regardless of the imperfections. Because of this, cool people live with grace, and that grace on a life is what polishes the rough places to a shine. Grace makes beautiful. Grace gives confidence, and the confident bring the beauty of who they are to the world.

Confessions of an ENFP

Good morning beautiful Monday! Today I return to the world of probabilities, rhetoric and packed lunches, and my slightly exaggerated week of alone time finally comes to a close. I have never been so relieved to drive down to the Sacramento airport and fetch a friend back into my life. Missions trip week and spring break scattered my roommates and friends across the globe, leaving me talking to the stray cat we feed, striking up conversations with strangers in the store, and teaching myself how to make coffee, despite the fact that I’m not a coffee drinker (unless the cup is overwhelmed with creamer and sweeteners).

I have been having a fascinating time coming up with ways to amuse myself—mainly ways to stay out of the house. On day one, I managed to eat all three of my meals in different outdoor locations. The ideas are not the problem; convincing myself that they’re worth following through on alone is the problem. Creativity isn’t quite as fun unless it’s shared. But I resolved that I was not going to mope around in my empty house. After a few tears (yes, I cried), I thought to myself, “good grief Amy! You have a life! Please enjoy it, even if it’s all by yourself!” I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this—just me.

Life has an uncanny way of giving us unavoidable situations in which to deal with things we would otherwise sweep into the “uncomfortable” pile. There are some things we only look at squarely when we have to, and the topic of being an individual is one of those issues for me. I am one too easily defined by the people I hold closest. I love adapting and getting to know what brings others joy. But sometimes, I become so caught up in all this that I forget what it looks like just to be myself. Then, when everybody goes away, it’s like I left too. It’s uncomfortable, not just because I sincerely prefer to live life with other people, but because I forget how to live pure and simply as me, without having others around to shape what that looks like.

I read once people with my personality (ENFP) can “get into another person’s shoes and identify with that individual’s thoughts and feelings so readily, they run the risk of virtually losing their own identity.” Awesome. And yes, I run into that problem from time to time! To compensate, I find myself constantly scanning the world I share with those around me, looking for the pieces I bring into it, because those are the pieces that are mine; those pieces are me. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing these pieces on my own. What may seem obvious to others is completely lost to my eyes, and I am definitely guilty of relying on the feedback of others to help me find them. Because of this, I have always been curious as to whether all us ENFPs share a common need for the Words of Affirmation Love Language. It’s like each of those words adds one more dot in a dot-to-dot drawing I am trying to piece together.

Being alone can be a terrifying thing. If you lose all the other people, even for a week, you lose all the little landmarks that help you make sense of what is defined as “your life”. You are forced to be an individual, and in the case of a confessing ENFP, discover how little you know about being one.

Henri Nouwen, an author who challenges the way I think says, “our solitude roots us in our own hearts,” and that “solitude always strengthens community.” I didn’t like him very much when I first read those words. Those words were true, and I disliked him putting me in a spot to accept it.

So much of what I value is coming together, sharing life, and practicing community. But can I truly be me in the context of others, if I cannot be me by myself? It seems counterintuitive that to do this “being together” well, I have to step away and stand alone. I walk a continual journey in discovering that there is no “us” without a “me” and a “you.” There is no community without individuals. Only from a place where I am myself, can I then bring the free gift of who I am to those around me. I get to bring me without the grey of demands. You can only give gifts if you know what you have to give away. In as much as I need the people around me, they need me to be me. And sometimes to do this, I need to walk a mile in my own shoes.

A Place Worth Being

The messages I feel strongest about tend to fall into two categories: one, lessons that are tucked away in some place where I feel like I own them; and two, lessons I know to be true but have a tendency to forget. I have moments with the second kind when I think to myself, “my goodness! If only I could remember all the things I have learned, there would be a lot less to trip over!” This message contains a lesson of the second kind: never disqualify today from your journey. Today always counts. Every time I re-encounter this lesson, I am in a new place that I disapprove of. Today, I am in a place of questions.

Questions are supposed to be liberating possibilities. They are supposed to let us out of our boxes to go exploring all that could be. But it can be exhausting to have so much open space in front of you. At the end of the day, I like to have answers and once I have one, I don’t like to second guess myself. I dislike the sensation of going backwards. To not have the answer is not quite so bad as having had one, and then not having it anymore. You can imagine then how I feel about a place where my current plan is to abandon my previous plans! It sounds exciting and romantic when it’s about a 40 year old woman who is deciding to reinvent her life and discover all that she can be. But as a 24 year old college student, it sounds merely like the a-typical, indecisive predicament of immaturity.

I don’t consider myself to be a planner, just like I don’t consider myself to be logical or organized. But right now I am very much acting like I want my life to be planned, logical, and organized. I want As that lead to Bs and no strange Qs or Rs in between them. I disagree with putting things in boxes, but here I am, stuffing it, pounding it, jumping on it until it gets inside that little box. I don’t want loose pieces. I want to be that person who when I’m faced with questions, I have intelligent answers.

“Don’t ever wish to be anywhere other than where you are,” is something I say. I say that the beauty is in the journey, and we should embrace and appreciate whatever phase of it we are in. But we don’t do well with needing to be somewhere and not being there yet. We don’t live well with the half baked and half built. Sometimes we respond with striving and become frustrated at ourselves for not being further along. Other times we settle for where we are until this is all there is. But today isn’t the fullness. Neither is it disqualified from being a part of it. Today is important. But today is incomplete.

How does one learn to appreciate a place that is uncomfortable instead of merely seeking to escape it? If I can only be at rest in a place that is complete, then I will spend my life anxious and waiting to arrive. So I pause in my rush to find the answers for tomorrow, and I look instead to see why today is a place worth being.

Forget Me Not…

At times I am convinced that the only bad days or moments are ones in which we fail to remember… fail to see today in light of yesterday, and put everything inside the bigger picture. I don’t have to go very far in my remembering to put grace back into today. Somehow looking at the past always seems to readjust my perception of what today truly is. There is no way I could have anticipated the ways that my life has twisted and turned. Even things I have long envisioned with hope, still strike me with awe when they happen. To be here is a dream. Even moments of temporary discomfort are still moments within this dream.

If I hold today’s problems in my hands, I am discouraged and overwhelmed by their complexity. But anytime I look at the road behind me, I begin to see hundreds of tiny handfuls just like these, paying tribute to grace and faithfulness. Thankfulness is the first response to any moment I remember to look back. And when I see yesterday’s problems covered by grace, thankfulness paves the way for hope. I look less at the little problems cupped in my hands, and begin to see promise in tomorrow.

The only way for me to truly remain downcast is if I forget, because looking back always reminds me that in some way, today is a dream in which tomorrow only gets better.

7th Notes of Life

Seven is supposed to be the number of perfection, so they say… “they” being the people who know all about numbers and their meaning. But if you know music, you know that the 7th is an unresolved, tension filled note of dissonance. It’s that “almost last” note in the scale, straining for the tonic. It’s out of accord and it clashes, but it’s oh so beautiful. The 7th note has long been my favorite, and to understand why, you need only to listen to it hanging there. Play a song that’s filled with dissonance, and it will stir longings and melodies that no other note can hope to achieve. It leaves you in tension, longing for resolve and to be taken home to the 1st. It always goes there. It has to. Play a 7th, and you’ll always hear it resolve into the tonic in your head. It’s as if the presence of the 7th reminds you of home. It calls it, evidences it. A note of dissonance always ends in rest and completion. And that note, in all of its discord, is beautiful. Interesting that it should be the number we describe as perfection–that perfection would not be the absence of discord and tension, but rather it would be found in the presence of it. music and in life, there are notes that have an ache to them and leave you in a place of dissonance. Often we despise the 7th moments in life that hold this tension, because we long for immediate resolve. Our hearts want to go back to rest as much as music wants to find its tonic. We are all straining for final resolution. But these moments can last so long that we no longer hear the tonic note resolving in our head, and we forget that this place of tension actually serves to pull us into the resting place we long for. We wish that we could have only the moments of resolve, and nothing we need resolve from. But somehow the tonic is so much less when dissonance is no longer by its side to bring you there. If music carried no 7ths, it would lose too much of its beauty, so too would life. In some manner, the definition of perfection is found in these beautiful, unresolved sounds that call us home.

One of Those Days

There are days when you wake up and have to be out the door before your head realizes your feet aren’t in slippers anymore. Days when the moments before you shut the garage door juggling a Statistics textbook in one hand and a piece of toast in the other are far too short, and the moments it takes before you’re home again are far, far too long. Those are the days when I decide in the morning that lunch is over-rated and nothing in my fridge sounds appealing enough to entice me to pack it, and then later in the afternoon I decide that applesauce was one of God’s greatest creations… pity it’s still in that fridge where I have “nothing to eat.” Those are the days when I hold my breath from the moment the clock strikes 8 till the very last words of Political Science have gone in one ear and out the other. Those are the days when I do the things that are before me, even if I don’t feel gripped with grand purpose in the moment, because I know they’re my choices, and they’re steps that are taking me somewhere. Those days are typically Monday to Friday.

Then there are other days… days when you get to wake up to faces you love, and head over to the donut shop in your PJs, bright red hoodie pulled over your need-to-be-washed hair, feet gladly still in those slippers too quickly discarded other mornings. These are the days when quarters get you the delight of well warn books off people’s front lawns, or mismatched pairs of vintage mugs. Even coffee smells better on these mornings. On these mornings I can sleep in forever, but somehow I always end up getting up earlier than I planned on. I don’t seem to mind because the day just seems to welcome me into it; I want to get up and share those moments, and see what delights lie behind a spontaneous decision. Hole in the wall Chinese shops, crossword puzzles in the Record Searchlight that are impossible to complete with the knowledge in my brain, and red stretches of off-road that don’t go anywhere other than to no-where places you’ve never been before.

These are days when I get to occupy the largest, most red chair in the coffee shop, and give one of those sighs that mean, “I have the best life in the whole world.” There will be more books at my feet than I can possibly read in one day, but that doesn’t matter. My perception that I live in the world’s finest town is probably a little biased and inaccurate, but that doesn’t matter either. Even the large pile of unanswered questions about my life that sit inside my brain like papers on an office desk, even those don’t matter. What matters is that I’m here… here to ask the questions and enjoy all the moments it takes to find the answers… here to get it right and then get it wrong, and then be confused and do it all over again. What matters is that sandwiched between all those days that end before I can get my too-full arms around them, there are these days that are slow enough to hold onto…

Today was was of those days.

Lessons from the Kitchen Shelf

I have sausages in my fridge. Sausages and cheese. Don’t ask me how they got in there (I bought them). I never buy sausages! And I’ve been avoiding cheese for so many grocery shops that I had to go out of my way to find and make the purchase. I can’t quite remember why I decided cheese was important to avoid, but it’s been a well observed principle for some time. I generally verge on the side of conscientious health when grocery shopping and for several months I could applaud myself for not buying anything that had any kind of label. That is why the sudden appearance of two cans of spaghetti on my pantry shelf is scandalous. Sausages, cheese, and spaghetti–all of which have labels and were not found in the produce section!

Something has happened of late where I suddenly get these creative ideas about what I want to be eating–random cravings that simply don’t go away. If I’m wanting chinese food, then the only thing on the planet that is even going to taste good is chinese food!. Basil leaves, falafel, and white cheddar cheezits have all made it onto my craving list lately. My roommate has become accustomed to us driving around town together and suddenly pulling into a drive-through because I get this brilliant realization that it’s been three years since I’ve had a sprite, and there’s no time like the present to fix that. While driving the other day, I suddenly declared that I wanted guava juice. She informed me with a side-glance that that was the strangest craving yet, and queried as to whether I had been thinking too much about Africa. There were no drive-throughs for that one. I still want guava juice.

I’ve never been particular or opinionated about what I wanted to eat. I’ve been one of those annoying guests who when you offer them a drink, politely decline until you insist for the third time. It takes far too long to figure out what I want, if anything at all. Likewise, it’s torture if a group of friends nominates me to decide what we will eat or do, or where we will go. I think too much to be entrusted with such decisions. When somebody asks me where I would like to eat, I have to think about the preferences of everybody else, how to compromise between them, where can we get that, how much it costs, how that fits in everybody’s price range, how far away is it, who’s driving, and whether it’s too far to ask everyone to go. Exhausting. No wonder it takes me so long to answer, and I usually don’t reach an answer at all. “Where do YOU want to go,” you might say as if that somehow eliminates all other questions and makes it quite simple. But no, because what I want is always connected to what I perceive other people want. What I want most is to choose well–to choose something that I think will provide the maximum opportunity for enjoyment and connection. This amiable motive has not always worked so well for me.

It’s hard to figure out what you want in life when you’re thinking too deeply about what might happen if your prayers go answered. If God gave me my heart’s desires, would I suddenly realize what terrible prayers I had been praying all this time? So when He comes asking me what I want, I hear a trick question, and I start trying to figure out what I ought to be wanting instead. “What do you want?” is a question He has been whispering in ears for some time now. People who don’t want, who don’t desire, sit back in life and wait for a controlling cosmic power to make decisions about their lives for them. The only way that we really do things–get up and move forwards–is when we are either propelled away from our current situations by pain or fear, or when we have a desire and we’re after seeing it fulfilled.

I’m convinced that our Father wants children who are active with their lives–children who run with this God-given capacity to desire. But far too often we put our lives on hold, waiting for Gabriel to arrive in our living rooms with a direct assignment we can be assured is flawless. Then we’ll run and act and desire. But to ask us what we want? How are we supposed to figure that out? What does God want? Was this really the place He intended us to be in right now? Do we have the right skill set, or could our human weaknesses compromise the mission? And after all, even if we have found the mission, and we are the person to take it on, how do we know it’s the season? All legitimate, well-intended questions that have a place in our lives. But sometimes we ask these questions until we are dead in our tracks. If we can no longer respond to the prompting, “what do you want?” then we have made ourselves ineffective and powerless soldiers. We are sitting on the pause button, bound by fear.

My father always taught me that “He gives us the desires of our hearts” has two meanings. First, that He puts those desires in there, and second that He brings the fulfillment of them. It’s a flawless plan really. Our hearts get renewed into the nature of Christ, carrying His DNA, and therefore we reflect His nature and dreams. Our desires are an expression of His, and as we live them out, He brings the answers to the very things He planted in our hearts. I am convinced that when we take the journey to discover what we want, we are discovering the nature of God that is reflected in us. I am also convinced that should we make a mistake, He is powerful and gracious enough to correct our prayers, and guide our footsteps. But if you have nothing to desire, nothing to go after, you only have things to shy away from and avoid. You live in response and fear towards that which is wrong, instead of actively living towards that which is good and pure.

Sausages may not be my exact definition of what is good and pure, but they give me a degree of satisfaction sitting there on my shelf. Every time I get up in the morning and know exactly what I want to eat today, I smile, because I’m learning. I’m learning how to know what it is that I want, and how to give myself permission to go after those things. Sometimes these kinds of lessons are just too big to learn out in life, and so He teaches us in daily parables of the little things. So here He meets me every day, teaching me lessons on the kitchen shelf. You can be sure that once I get it, I will stop buying sausages.

Nothing Wasted

A lesson of this season has been that with God, nothing is wasted. Nothing. Not a teardrop. Not a mistake. Not an unanswered question, nor a broken relationship. Not a dying dream, nor a hard fall. Not a futile attempt, not an incorrect perception. Not a careless action, nor a repeated pitfall. Not a costly misjudgment, not an angry reaction, not a painful consequence. Nothing hurtful, nothing ugly, nothing that shames, troubles or discourages.

He wastes not a single piece of our lives. Even the things that seem inconsequential. Nothing is beyond or beneath redemption. Nothing too far for hope or too small for care. He takes the meaningless and makes it meaningful. He ponders what no one else thinks of and collects things discarded on the wayside. Somehow, every single piece of my life will be brought together in significance and good. Every season I thought I failed, or year I feared to have lost.

Life moves on. I take some things with me. Others I leave behind. Some because they’re too painful to carry forwards and I know not how to resolve them. Others because I simply don’t have the space in my life to carry it all. But anything left or forgotten, whether esteemed or shunned, is still held by Him. He leaves nothing out. He finds a place of meaning for it all. If necessary, He brings it round again to redeem it. Nothing is wasted.

So here in this season, I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have to hold on for dear life. He holds on for me. He will let nothing slip. And no matter what the outcome of current scenarios, I know that they will not be wasted, though it may take me years to see.

Beautiful Chaos

My journey in community has largely dominated the past year or more of my life, and it has been the thing for which I have needed the most courage. You would think that my decision to move my home across the world would have been the greater challenge. But no. If you want to test the bravery of your heart, take a journey deep into community.

I am convinced that it is in the context of relationship that God builds our strengths, works on our weaknesses, brings us to face our fears, and heals our hurts. There is this inseparable interaction between your development, and the development of those around you. You cannot separate your own needs and insecurities from another’s brokenness and limited capacity to give. Here where I find my own pain, I also find yours. Here, community can look like a chaotic explosion, where my brokenness reacts to the brokenness of those around me. It is a place where things I perhaps never would have found begin to surface.

I’ve cried more tears than I would want anybody to see, I’ve had more emotional drama than I care to admit, and fears and insecurities continue to arise where I thought I had finally snubbed them out. But it is worth every single ounce of discomfort. I would walk it all again just to be where I am today. Sometimes I get caught up in the quagmire of it all, and the pain of process gives me the temporary sense that I want to go back. It’s not always everything that I want it to be and it involves millions of things I would rather not face. It can be messy until it hurts, and painful till it makes you angry. But walked with the grace of God, it can bring healing. I am slowly realizing that God is quite fond of pairing up these messy, chemical reactions. They are His way of bringing redemption. He will not bring us to wholeness outside of connection to His body. We are all in need of healing, and it’s His plan to have us be a part of that journey for each other. This right here, is the beautiful chaos of community.

Courage that Sees

I find myself in a place in desperate need of courage. A place where the well paved road I have been walking ends, and tomorrow opens up to what appears to be little more than a scratchy dirt path. A few scuffs of unbecoming grassy patches. An uneven spread of gravel that’s uncomfortable to walk on. Nothing well defined or beckoning. When you’ve run for so long, it can feel strange to be walking. What does one do when the old is gone, but the new is not yet? This is a place where the greatest challenge is not necessarily the challenges themselves, but the choice to face them fully alive. The choice of continuing to offer all of who I am, even to that which is unknown.

There are seasons we mark victoriously with our confidence. Days when we mount up unwavering against the challenges. This confidence carries us magnificently, as if in itself it can supersede our actual abilities, enabling us to do whatever we are confident about. But there are days that confidence eludes us, and storms that it cannot ride. We find ourselves in need of something greater – courage.

Courage is the quality we hold to when confidence escapes us. While confidence is based upon total belief that we can, courage remains steady even when we can’t. For it is not a case of whether you can or you can’t; courage is whether you do or you don’t. Courage not only positions us for victory, but enables us to face defeat. It is our ally in failure and success. It can sustain us when confidence evades us.

In the end it is our courage that makes us great, for all of us will at some stage face that which is beyond our ability, and greater than our confidence – storms which we cannot seem to mount. That is the time for courage. Courage is not cockiness that presumes itself to be greater than its opponent. Courage is the rod of iron that is built into a man’s soul, giving him a greater strength than that needed to overcome, and that is the strength needed to fall and not be crushed, struck down but not destroyed. Courage stems from a deeply planted trust that though battles may be lost, the war is won. Courage carries a fearsome hope that looks beyond the temporary. Courage sees.

I find myself in a place in need of this courage that sees. A place where I have lost my sight. A place where discomfort can be temporarily blinding. A place where the seasons change, roads bend, and empty spaces before me intimidate instead of welcome. But courage sees highways where there are but faded paths. Courage lives today with the eyes of tomorrow. And if I can see, then I can walk. And if I can walk, then soon I can run, till one day I find myself on well paved roads again.