I've started a photography project. I'm going to take one picture everyday for the next year. I know, it's been done. I started on Monday, my birthday, and I'm going to document my 27th year of life (or is it really the 28th?) here.  We'll see how this goes...

...as much as I love Henry
 I don't think I've ever been able to grasp that "God loves me". I think I've believed it theoretically, but in reality I've more often viewed God as a disapproving Father figure. When people speak of God's unconditional love or of His overwhelming, all-encompassing love, I must admit, I haven't really known what they were talking about (except in theory, and mostly in how it related to the overall gospel story). My experience with God has been more of one where I always try to please Him, but somehow I always come up short. Way short. Especially in light of salvation. It's like I have an enormous debt to God and I can never live up to His expectations. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and discouraging. 

Brennan Manning is constantly talking about how much God loves us, about how God just absolutely delights in us. A couple of days ago I was reading something along those lines and I just started praying, telling God that I didn't know what that looked like. Wishing that I could see that in human form - that I could see a father who dearly and tenderly and expressively loved his children - so that I could understand what God's love is like. I'm a person who very much likes metaphors and I was longing for a metaphor for God's love for His children. 

A few minutes after this reading and prayer I got up to go do something and in the process I stopped to love on my dog, Henry. 

That's when it hit me: God loves me (and you), as much as I love Henry. 

This may be hard for non-dog-lovers to understand, but I'll try to explain. I love Henry. He brings joy to my life. He makes my bad days good. My heart feels happy when I see him. I think he's absolutely beautiful. I know he has faults, but they pale in comparison to how much I love him. Sometimes I get frustrated with him, but it never lasts long because I love him so much. I don't want to be mad at him. I discipline him because I love him and because I want us to have a harmonious relationship. I discipline him for his own health and well-being. I absolutely love spending time with him. He doesn't have to do anything to impress me. I love him just because he's him. Even when he does something he knows he's not supposed to, I love him. The overwhelming feeling of love that I have for Henry never goes away. When I look at him I feel such tenderness in my heart. He is precious to me and I would do almost anything for him. When he does something for me (like bring me one of his slobbery, ripped up toys), it thrills me that he wants to please me. Sometimes I have to clean up after his messes, and it can be a little gross and dirty, but it doesn't change my love for him. I like everything about him - even the things that I don't like about him, I like, because it's him. I like it when he's happy. It makes me sad when he's sad. I understand that he is a just a dog, he doesn't think like a human does, he doesn't understand the things that I understand, and so I am gentle with him, I want to teach him, and I want to take care of him. If he ran away from home, I would not be angry with him, I would just desperately want him to come back. I would search high and low for him, until I found him, and when I did, I would be overwhelmed with joy and relief. I could go on. 

I know this may sound crazy, to say all this stuff about a dog. But you have to understand what hit me - for the first time I think I could feel maybe a shred of what God feels for me. If  I feel that passionately about a silly little dog, what does the God of the universe feel about His created children? I was humbled with gratitude that God would give me a picture of His love in a way that I could understand so easily. I don't have any children, but I would imagine it's the way parents' feel about their children (but even more so than a dog :).

I spent the rest of the day grinning because God loving me as much as I love Henry is almost too good to be true. Who am I to be loved that much? Love like that is life-changing. It took Henry from an abandoned-state, living in a cardboard box with several other puppies, to a nice warm home, with tons of people who love him, daily walks, and a food bowl that's never empty. What does realizing the love of God do for one of God's children? How will really knowing and believing God loves me change my life? I can already say that I'm enjoying life much more. And that I pray to grow more and more in knowledge and belief in God's love for us. 

(Let me just clarify to say that I believe that true knowledge of God's love and salvation are only made possible through Jesus Christ.)

Listen, my brother and sisters, Jesus Christ came to tell us that it is more likely that [a mother] would forget her baby than that God could ever forget you! If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who ever lived (think about that for a moment) - all the goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength, and love - and united all those virtues in one person, that person would only be a faint shadow of the love and the mercy in the heart of God for you and me. - Brennan Manning

The great spiritual battle begins - and never ends - with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God's loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time - our brief chronological existence - but by the One who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity. - Henri Nouwen

Isaiah 49:15-16; Luke 15:11-33

New Blog
 I will also be blogging here now.

Take This Bread

I love lazy Saturdays, where I can go to Panera and spend hours drinking coffee and playing around on the Internet to my little heart’s content.

I recently read a book (an amazing book) titled Take This Bread and that that phrase keeps coming back to me over and over again.

I’ve realized that most of my contentment or discontentment in life comes from my projection of the future. Instead of living in the moment I tend to want to predict what the future will be…based on the moment. So, if I things are going well (i.e. how I want them to) I predict that they will continue to and that my whole life will be rosy. On the other hand, if things are not going well (i.e. not how I want them to) I predict that this is my lot in life and the whole thing is a wash.

The Bible says not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34), not to be anxious (Philippians 4:5-7), not to boast about the plans you’ve made for your life (James 4:13-17). Yet that is what I spend most of my time doing.

As He often does, God has used a myriad of books, movies, music, events, and people in the past several months to teach me one very important thing: Live today. Take This Bread, Take This Bread, Take This Bread. I keep imagining a piece of bread. Like those chunks of bread you sometimes get when you do the Lord’s Supper at church. A magnified, square piece of wheat bread, with a little crust on two sides. And I keep hearing God say in my heart this is your piece of bread, today – touch it, taste it, smell it, feel it, absorb it, be nourished by it, consume it, love it, this is it. Today. Just like the Israelites had to wait each day for Me (God) to give them more manna from heaven, you will have to live each day. One at a time. Fully.

So I have been. And anytime I start to get ahead of myself and fret about the future or feel discouraged by the moment I hear the Spirit say Take This Bread. This is your bread. And you know what? It fills me with such joy and peace. I think I’m finally starting to understand what Jesus meant when He said to be like a child (Luke 18:15-17). Children rarely worry about the future or wish the days away. Very young children often don’t even have a true concept of time – they’re so absorbed in the moments of everyday life. That’s what I want to be like.

I also think I’m realizing the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit and why it is so valuable to God (1 Peter 3:4). I use to think a gentle and quiet spirit meant a gentle and quiet outer demeanor. Now I know it is most definitely a condition of the heart and it is a glorious condition of the heart.

Sometimes it feels like my heart cannot physically contain how wonderful He is. 

Life without the Internet
I really enjoy not having Internet. I know that's weird to say as I write in my online journal, but it's true. I had to come to Panera to be able to write in this journal and I am increasingly happy about that.

This is how I came to know the beauty of living without the Internet...

A few weeks ago (almost a month now) AJ and I were supposed to move from seminary housing to a new apartment in Fort Worth. At the very last moment - at 10 pm the night before we were supposed to move, when I had already picked up the keys and unloaded one load of stuff into the new apartment, when we were in the process of loading our cars with another load of stuff - we decided that we really, really didn't want to move. We were sentimental because we have both only lived in one place the whole time we've been in Fort Worth and we'll be  moving for good this December anyway. We also actually thought we would miss the seminary community(!) Plus, even though we had asked to see the new apartment several times before we signed the least, we were never able to, so we didn't actually see it until after we had signed the lease. NOT a good idea. Our actual apartment was not near as nice as the model we had seen (of course) and it smelled like old, stale cigarette smoke - like we were going to live in an old Motel 6 room. It was disgusting. And the rent was going to be more expensive. Clearly, we were crazy, so we scrapped that idea and decided to stay right where we were. Well...it wasn't as easy as that. We had to beg seminary housing to let us stay in our current place and we had to bravely go into our apartment's leasing office and break our lease. The Lord was with us through it all though because things went sooo smoothly. We lost a little money in breaking our lease, but it could have been A LOT worse. Texas is definitely on the side of the landlord when it comes to lease laws. We were so blessed and so thrilled to be staying where we are. We have a new found love and appreciation for our little seminary home!

Late that night when we were still discussing the ramifications of not moving, a few of our neighbors came over to tell us bye and give us a (half eaten :) cake. So, we got  to share the news that we weren't moving and it kind of turned into a celebration that made us even happier that we weren't moving!

One of the consequences of deciding not to move the night before moving day is that ALLLLL of our stuff in our ENTIRE house was already packed up in boxes and we had switched services on ALL our utilities and our mail. As soon as we decided not to move I started calling utility companies to notify them not to turn off our service or switch it to the new address. Some utility companies have 24 hours help lines and some I had to call first thing the next morning. Most of the utility companies were understanding and it was no problem, but Reliant and AT&T gave us some trouble. I had a showdown with Reliant where they threatened to leave us without electricity for 3 days. They told me that it was not within their power to cancel a termination of service order, but that they would try and that I would know if it worked by whether or not my lights came on at the end of the day! I was really not happy about that and I let them know. And then I guess it was within their power to cancel the termination order...because our lights never went off :)

Now to get to the Internet part: AJ talked to AT&T several times and every time they said they would reconnect our Internet right away. They never did. So we went about 4-5 days without Internet. Finally after hours on the phone with out-sourced employees (accents!) we got it back, but then our router wasn't working and that was going to require even more hours on the phone. So, we decided to try life without the Internet.

What I learned in those 4-5 days without Internet is that it is great! I have a tendency to waste time on the Internet - reading blogs, etc or being OCD about checking my email. Now, when I'm at home and I have free time (which is a lot more this summer), the Internet is not an option. I love it! I only check my email at work (3x a week) or if I go somewhere like Panera. I find it very freeing. The Internet can consume your life if you let it and I really like not being so dependent on it. I think constant access to the Internet makes me impatient as well. It really isn't necessary to "google" something the minute you think of it. It can wait. Go read a book.

Life Update

I was on-call 4 times this past weekend. Friday night I didn't get any calls...and I was glad because I was super tired and needed a night of rest. AJ and I had planned to have a get together, but it wasn't really a good date for very many people, so we postponed it. Instead, we played cards (I like Rummy - I have no idea if that's how you spell it, but I don't like many card games and I really like this one!), ate turkey hot dogs, planted new plants for our front porch, watched 24, and read good books. 

Saturday morning at 8 am I awoke to a signal call at the county hospital. Technically, I'm still in training, so when I get a call, another, more seasoned volunteer is supposed to get a call as well and meet me at the hosptial. Well, she never showed up! It was only my second time to respond to a signal and the first time was a really simple situation. This one was not. I was at the hosptial for 2 and half hours and I'll spare you the details because to tell you wouldn't be ethical and...I don't think you'd want to know. Suffice to say, the world can be a cruel place and I couldn't stop thinking about this woman for the rest of the day. It's easy to forget what kind of world we live in when you're at Panera sipping coffee, listening to classical music, and reading a good book (which is what I did after I got home from the hospital), but I couldn't forget, not Saturday at least - it just kept playing over and over in my mind. 

Saturday night AJ and I went to The Village (I'm reading a book that is going to make me stop referring to The Village Church as "church" or "going to church" because, well, I now think it's wrong. Anyway...) and I started crying during some of the worship music. I just couldn't stop thinking about the girl at the hospital - it impacted me much more than I initially thought it had. The worship leader was talking about how we are all sinners and need forgiveness - and I think that's true, but I thought about it from the perspective of the woman I had met that morning and I thought - that's not what she needs to hear. She needs to hear that there is a Savior, that He loves her, and that He comes to redeem the world - it will not always be like this, she will not always have to live in a world where others will inflict such brutal pain on her. I realize how much "my church" is geared towards upper-middle class, white, suburbanites. And rightly so...

Home group after church was good. I shared my testimony with group....my whole testimony. Not that it's a horribly, shady testimony, but as I told the group - you make up part of the less than 20 people in the world who know everything. Maybe I'm just a private person, I don't know. People thanked me for sharing and said that I was "vulnerable", "encouraging" and "articulate". I've never been called articulate before, so that was nice. 

Sunday I seriously didn't leave the house. I was on-call for 2 different shifts, but thankfully, didn't get any signal calls. All I did was read (I read a ton), watch TV, and cook. At the end of the day AJ asked me if I had even left the couch all day. haha. I had! I did get one crisis call from a woman with learning disabilities - so I was somewhat productive. 

All in all from the weekend I got 3 hours of client contact, which is good considering the fact that I still don't have any clients. My internship is not turning out the way I had hoped it would. I found this very encouraging (the entry from yesterday) and I like this quote: 

If we cannot believe God when circumstances appear against us, we do not believe Him at all. -Charles Spurgeon

Tonight I'm trying to get back on the weight loss band-wagon and I'm going to see the Sex and the City movie. Don't judge me. The Lord and I are at peace. =)

Deliver Me
I feel like the only person in the country working on Memorial Day. I'm for sure the only person working in this office building today. This morning I thought I knew the code for the alarm...but I didn't and the alarm sounded for a good 5 minutes or more. I called my boss for the right code and so far no police or Brinks security men have showed up, so I think I'm good. It's actually a blessing to be at work today, I missed 2 days of work last week and today I'll make over $130 - a big part of my income. 

What I'm about to tell you makes me nervous. I guess because I know what people, especially secular and conservative Christian people, think about "spiritual" issues.

I praise Him for the knowledge He has given me, His hard-to-believe faithfulness to me, that He is and always has been working in my life, and for my ever-growing realization of the extent of His love for me. 

you can love BOTH Oprah AND her money
If you want to see something disturbing, tune into one of Oprah's "favorite things" episodes. Usually she does this around Christmas time and it's where she shares her favorite luxury items for the season and everyone in the audience gets one of all the items she shows. The first time she did this it was sensational because no one had ever really done that before. And now if you'll notice, other shows have followed suit - they give away books, CD's, etc. But nobody gives away like the self proclaimed generous Ms. Winfrey - and now it's a tradition.

Well, today she's doing her favorite things for summer. When she announced this to her studio audience they went insane. It's pretty much incomparable in our culture today. These women (and a couple of men) screamed, danced, cried, fainted, jumped up and down and probably acted more excited than they do about anything else in their lives. And for what? For some free candles or stationary or maybe an ipod that Oprah thinks is neat...this season.

I could do a rant about materialism in our culture now, but I think this speaks for itself. I wish I could post a clip of it on here.

I kind of can't believe that I'm moving. I've only lived in one place the whole time I've lived in Fort Worth. It's going to be so weird. Kind of a preview of what leaving Fort Worth all together after graduation will be - really exciting, but also a little sad. Bittersweet. I'm so silly and nostalgic like that. I can hate something, but tell me that's it about to be gone forever and I'll romanticize it and mourn over it. 

I've got A LOT of packing and throwing away to do in the next couple of days. Hopefully this rainy week will end by Saturday, moving day. 

Life is full right now. 

Maybe I will post pictures of my new apartment sometime next week!

when to say when
I am so glad that God continues to deal with me in His infinite love. I am so glad that He continues to push me and not let me settle. There have been so many times that I have felt ready to say, "ok, stop. freeze. this is good enough. just give me this and I'll be happy." Like when someone is pouring you a cup of coffee and when they've poured enough they ask you to "say when". So many times I've said "when" to God, and I'm realizing more and more, that thankfully, He has disagreed with me.

He continues to push me to places I would not have dreamed of going and mold me into a person I would not have imagined for myself. It is both exhilarating and scary - as I think freedom oftentimes is. As I'm approaching graduation from grad school and my mid-twenties I no longer have an outline in mind for my life. I no longer see things in steps or on a progressive time line. At least I've learned that much :)

Now I see things as much more fluid and un-graspable, as something I can't control and shouldn't anyway. I'm much more ready to be surprised, to be shocked, to be content, to deal with disappointment. I'm expecting great things and seeing more things as great.

I see His constancy in my life, even before I was a believer, I see His faithfulness and His patience. Oh His patience. I found a translation of a verse from either 1 or 2 Thessalonians 3 ( I can't remember which) in The Message Bible that says "may you be as loving as God and as patient as Christ". This is something I am terribly weak at: I am not a very patient person. When I consider Christ's patience with me, it thoroughly humbles me and puts me in awe of Him.

I have no idea what my life will be like in 5 years, 10 years, or beyond....but I think it will not be what I imagine even now. I think what I imagine or hope will matter less and less anyway as I hopefully live with more and more of an open heart and with open hands to the tiny part He wants me to play in His infinitely more important Kingdom.

In any event, now it's time to watch The Office.  :)


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