Sunlight

Weather has an uncanny way of reflecting on the outside feelings we have on the inside.

We can describe depression so well as a rainy, gray day . . nostalgia by autumn leaves . . a troubled spirit by a blizzard. There are all kinds of feelings weather evokes, but my favorite, my very favorite is sunlight.

Sunlight is like the start of an adventure.

Country road in the mountains

When the hobbits set out for Rivendale in The Fellowship of the Ring movie, it was sunny. And that is exactly how I think of adventures. Sunny. Full of promise. Bold.

I wouldn’t much want to go on an adventure where it was raining and lightning, and I sure wouldn’t go if it was hailing and ten below zero. But on a perfect sunny day, ahh . . adventure awaits.

Jesus did the opposite of what I would do.

Jesus went out for His adventure on a day when hail was pummeling the earth, ice and snow were blowing in faster than dandelion petals on a spring day, a sharp wind cut through the air, and there wasn’t a ray of sunshine in the sky.

No, I don’t mean it was storming the night He came to Earth as a baby. It could have been, but that isn’t the point. The point is, Jesus left Heaven-a place without a drop of cloud or a breath of chill-to come to Earth. That was how He came by His adventure.

He came backwards how we want to go. He came from Heaven to Earth, not from earth to Heaven. And Scripture tells us He even tasted Death. So He went from Heaven to Earth to Death-not the order we want for our adventures.

Can you imagine going from somewhere without sin, without death, without suffering to come to a place with all those things?

I can’t.

One thing Jesus did have in common with the Hobbits, the “there and back again” part.

Jesus has been to the depths of sin and pain, grief and anguish, guilt and terror, and He has come back. And He did it so that you and I could travel in the opposite direction He did, away from sin and towards the Son.

Now that’s the kind of God I want to serve.

. . let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:1b-3, NLT)

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Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Quest

The life of a believer is full of adventure.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (from Romans 8:15, the Message Paraphrase)

On the Romance and the romance

0072009 was probably the second worst year of my life.

The first worst year was when I was 7.  I had felt as though there was nothing I could do to win God’s favor, and I would lay in bed in terror at night thinking about what could possibly please God.

Second to that was 2009.  My life fell apart in 2009.  Bad family news, terrifying panic attacks, a new problem sleeping due to anxiety, the meaninglessness of my life, and an acute awareness that I felt on the other side of a boundary line from God made this year worse for me even than the two years my father has ALS and we lost him.

For one thing, I had been on anti-depression medicine when my father had been ill and died, medicine that numbed me and basically made me feel like nothing in life mattered much at all.  I had for years found hope in Yankees baseball games, saving up for items for my Neopets, reality TV, the Twilight series, Lord of the Rings, Pokemon, whatever Mario game was coming out next, and so on.

But the year of 2009, all those things seemed to fade away.  Lose their flavor.  In a way I had never experienced before, they weren’t satisfying.  I’d always known they were never enough and I continually had to have more make-believe, more entertainment . . but I’d never before felt they didn’t satisfy.  I wasn’t on the strong anti-depressant I had been on, and my life looked more meaningless, wasteful, and unfixable than ever.

Bad family news hit only a few weeks after a personal blow that already had me reeling.  My alliance, Gus the white dog, was broken when Gus died suddenly in his sleep at 2-years-of-age.  Dogs had been a god for me for nearly all the years of my life.  I loved dogs more than I loved just about anything in the whole world, including, usually, people.  At that time, for a hermit-like girl filled with anxiety, I could hardly imagine what to do next.  I got a sunlamp that was supposed to help me feel less depressed, and when I woke up at 3 o’clock one morning sobbing for Gus, I sat in front of the light.  It helped a little, but it felt like everything else did that helped–just a trick to keep me from remembering how hopeless I really was.

Golfing

This photograph (summer of 2010) was taken about a year after I came to Christ. This was a fun picture to take because I knew my knight in shining armor might not come for me. I was, after all, far older than I’d ever imagined being without marriage (and without even a boyfriend). I was okay with it, because my Knight in Shining Armor had already come and saved me.

I believed God had taken Gus away from me because dogs had been gods to me.  Since childhood, dogs and video games had been my last stand in the world of sanity.  Earlier in 2009, I had stopped playing video games cold turkey (after several failed attempts) with the vague conviction that I had been wasting my time and probably not pleasing God.

I’d always thought I could function as long as I had a dog.  I’d always thought I could be a little bit happy as long as I had a dog.

Dogs and video games.  I had needed them so desperately for years and years.  Now I had neither.

The bright spot in my day was calling a friend on the way to work.  He was one of my last stops before insanity.  I knew he was praying for me and that he cared about the throttling waves of anxiety I was having.

A combustion of things began to happen in my life.  I could go through it all, but I’d really rather give you the simple tale: through a life of bondage to sin, I had sold myself to Satan’s auction, to be carted away by the highest bidder, and no puppy or Nintendo game could get me away from that.  There was a war for my soul, and every demon in Satan’s camp was bidding on me, but then God stepped up to bid.  He paid for me with the blood of His Son; He carried me off; and I fell in love.

To be truthful, I did not know at the time that this was what it was.  It was simply that for the first time in my life, I realized God loved me and I loved Him back.  It wasn’t until years later, when I fell in love with Ben (but I’m getting ahead of myself) that I realized, Oh!  That’s what happened to me with God!  I fell in love!

Teej Play

After a drama at church, 2011.

Sometimes very slowly, and sometimes very quickly, everything in my life was flipped upside-down.  Much of what I’d valued dimmed until it was mere garbage.  And much of what I’d scorned brightened until it was gems ablaze.

I walked out of make-believe–it still tries to grab me by the ankles and drag me back in now and again–and I gave up my obsession with dogs to sponsor children who live in high-poverty countries.  For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to feel loved by God.

The next few years were kindled with change.  Sometimes, I’d backtrack.  Sometimes, it’d seem like I’d hit a dead end and there was nowhere to go but backwards.  Sometimes, I fell in holes.  But GOD loved me and always found me, wherever I was, and always gave me hope He still loved me, even after all my sin.  He kept reminding me that the blood of His Son had bought me.  So I kept following.

“Unsociable me” joined a drama team at the church that became my church home.  I made close new friends for the first time in a long time.  We had Bible study on Wednesday nights before rehearsals, and I discovered that my friends had insights about God I didn’t, shared struggles I had, listened to my testimony and what God was drawing my attention to in Scripture, and prayed for me.

Sunday school became another place to make friends.  As I’d never been very good at making friends my age, I ended up joining a class of mostly 50+ believers.  Many of them immediately–instantaneously, even–adopted me as an honoree grandchild and I thrived in their love.

Me and Petting Zoo

Makin’ friends at the Creation Museum in Cincinnati Kentucky. My mom and I went up for an Apologetics Conference with Answers in Genesis, 2011.

Later, on the second round of an invite, I agreed to try a Bible study that met on Thursday nights.  It was for only single, young women and I found that scary.  I had a self-designated stigma from people my own age, especially women.

That was a spring session.  That summer, I was on my knees in my house praying for the Bible study that was supposed to take place at my house in about 5 minutes.  I’d invited, oh, probably 50+ friends, and didn’t have a clue who would really come or how many.  I had one friend show up.  We talked, prayed, and almost at the end of the time, a second friend showed up.  We ended up as a pod of 4 in God’s garden that summer, and it was one of the sweetest times of my life.

That was July, I believe, and about one year later, I let the four women coming to the study at my house know that we wouldn’t be meeting on the 23.  I was going on a very short mission trip to Guatemala.  I was scared to be off by myself with a group of people who might chew me up and spit me out.  I still had fears about sociality.  But I wanted to meet Helen, an 8-year-old girl I sponsor in Guatemala.  So, I decided to go, but not make friends with anybody on the trip unless, of course, they liked me.

I was guarded, but I found people no longer perceived me the way I’d felt they did when I was a teenager.  I felt really frightened the night before we flew out of Miami, and very anxious our first night in Guatemala. What I didn’t know was that one of the women from my Bible study back home–all sneaky-like–was praying for me to find my husband on the trip.

Helen & Teej

Meeting my sponsored child in Guatemala on a Compassion International trip.  Helen shares my birthday.

It all started with us piling toys up on a table.  Our first night on the trip, my roommate Sarah and some friend she had named Ben sat at the table with me.  Afterwards, we were supposed to pool any supplies we had to give the children.  I brought my suitcase of goodies from Oriental Trading Company, the $1 jewelry store, and toys I had on stock.  I was piling them on the table when Sarah’s friend Ben started helping me.  Somebody said to him something like, “Wow, that’s a lot!” And he immediately said something like, “This is all Teej’s stuff.”

I was really surprised he gave me credit, I guess because of the way that he gave me credit.  He was humble–like he really wanted me to be acknowledged–and I found that startling.  I didn’t say anything about it, though.

teej ben arbor funny

One of our first dates together. It is very likely we were disagreeing about something.  Look at my sweet conniving expression and his ‘nuh-uh’.

Throughout the few days we were there, Sarah kept inviting Ben to sit with us.  I didn’t know why she kept on doing that.  One time I avoided going back to our hotel room because I knew they were out on the porch.  But, they saw me, and invited me down.  Ben seemed especially eager about it, for some crazy reason or other.

The day before last on the trip, someone astonished me by unabashedly trying to set me up with Ben.  You might remember that I came from the world of make-believe, where I controlled everything.  In video games, there really aren’t any variables you don’t know about once you’ve played the game a few times.  You can always hit the restart button or go back to where you last saved and start over.  Getting into a real, unrepeatable, unknown relationship was too scary for me.  I wasn’t ready.

Well.  I thought I wasn’t ready.  God apparently thought otherwise, because Ben and I wound up sitting together the last evening of the trip.  I began, very slightly, to fall in love.

Ben Teej roses

I didn’t remember why I had this sneaky expression on my face, but Ben did.  He reminded me that I was blocking his face with the roses as somebody was trying to get a picture of us.  😉

The next few weeks after the trip were a whirlwind–and not of romance.  Ben and I were tripping all over ourselves and each other, praying to God for help, and trying to figure out if this was a relationship He wanted.

Ben wasn’t easy for me to cope with.  He wasn’t like a puppy that didn’t talk back and fit comfortably in my arms and whose day was made by the sounds of a squeaky toy squeaking.  Ben was a lot more trouble than that!  For one thing, he didn’t always agree with me!  For another, he wanted to protect and lead me, not me lead and protect him!  And even more shocking, it was a lot harder to know what to do with him without a squeaky toy for props!

I began to see that real romance with a man is dynamic, like the real romance of falling in love with God.  It isn’t something that you test out in a game and practice over and over until you get it right.  Sometimes I’d say the wrong thing, and disappointed myself, and sometimes I’d say the really wrong thing, and really disappoint myself.  Sometimes Ben didn’t do what I wanted.  (Horrifying!)  Nothing really went like how I’d daydreamed it would and lots of times there was a whole lot more confusion and growing and terror and just plain hardness than I’d counted on.

Early on, time and time again I kept wanting to quit.  But I never did.  I prayed to God, begged Him to help me, and practiced trusting Him.  And as I started really, really falling in love, I realized that this felt very familiar . . it felt very much like when I met my God.

Teej Ben 8

I call him my earthly Boaz.  🙂

Now, I miss Ben like crazy.  He lives over 17 hours away from me.  I can’t wait to see him again.  I want to spend every moment of the rest of my life with him . . and it reminds me of how I feel about Him.  In fact, Ben’s loyalty, devotion, care, tenderness, compassion, mercy, and humility remind me of the traits God showed me of His nature when I fell in love with Him.

I am still almost in disbelief when I realize that the Love of my Life, Jesus Christ, introduced me to another child in His care to be the love of my life.  When I look back on the patheticness of my life, I am even more amazed that He has loved me so.

God works in different ways with different people.  There are Christians a million zillion trillion times more worthy than me who go through their life single.  God doesn’t always work in the same way.  I don’t know why.  But I do know that He loves us, and that the greatest Romance of our lives is always available to us.  It’s Him.  Even if Ben were to drop me like yesterday’s news, the Romance of my life would still be here.

I am still shocked at times that he loves me.  And I will be shocked for eternity that He loves me.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8, NIV)

Published in: on April 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Bicycle balance

There’s that feeling of when the bike could fall left or fall right.  I start to feel like I might fall to the right, and I pull hard to try to get it back on balance, and I crash.

Later, I learn to steer more gently.  It’s still struggle.  The bike still swerves right or swerves left.  I still feel like I could lose balance and topple over, but I’m getting more confident.

And then I get really good.  I mean, I can ride my bike up and down the parking lot.  So I wave in pride, and the handlebars swerve and I topple to the blacktop.

And then I get humbler.  Ride more like a learner than a teacher.  Start trying for uphill.  The hope is for the downhill.  I press on the pedals, and that’s all easy on the flat top.  But then I start the climb and I start pushing harder on those pedals.  But it’s still not too bad.  I can push through it.  But this hill seems to be getting taller and taller.  It is a hot day and I am hot.  The sun is melting my tires and growing the hill.  I am shoving the pedals down now, and my legs tremble.  I have to try to stand up.  I stand and I push and push and I get to that point when I know I am not going to make it, and the bike is tottering like stilts in gator water, and I cannot steady it.  I fall off, and I am wearing my helmet, but this time I get a scar on my knee that lasts and even now I still have it.

Over time, I can ride my bike through the neighborhood.  (I can even learn to make it up that hill.  I think.)  I ride farther.  I no longer worry all the time about the bike tipping me over on my head like a pebble in an upside-down Coke bottle.  But every once in a while, when I think about what I’m doing–balancing my weight on two thin wheels–I often start to tilt.

I still have a surprising spill at least once.  My helmet cracks that pavement and absorbs the first roar of shock for me and I don’t even wind up with a scratch on my noggin.

I can look around now, feel the breeze swim over me, feel the satisfaction of taking myself somewhere.

If I stay in my neighborhood, the challenge is pretty much over.  Sure, there can be a surprise here and there–but it’s not likely.

But if I go outside of what I’ve already learned, if I keep going, I find hills against which I’ve not been tested[1] . . slopes so exciting and so easy I can race out of control and flip my bike over going down them . . curves in the road tighter than I’ve ever turned.  As long as I keep biking, the adventure’s not over.  The adventure’s never over.  As long as I keep biking.

I forgot what it was like to bike until a few days ago when I rode a rented bike in Florida for the first time in years.  The memories came back to me as I biked and as I watched a new biker learning how to ride.  The funny thing about biking is, you never really learn it.  You can always go steeper, deeper, longer, curvier, and on a new kind of terrain.  You can always find something you can’t yet do, but you might be able to if you keep holding tight to those handlebars, keep pedaling with those sneakered feet, keep wearing that helmet.

I realize now how biking is a 6-year-old’s prep for what a relationship will be like when you find your knight in shining armor (or, for you guys out there, your fair maiden).

I’m almost 30, and I’m in my first long-term relationship.  My first!

There are times I feel that uneasy wobble I felt as a kid riding her first bike without training wheels.  There are times I feel like I’m gonna crash.  There are times I feel like I’ve got it: I’m an expert and I’m ready to write seven marriage books about it, I’ve just gotta wait until I get married.  And always–before I get to sign my autograph on my imaginary marriage book for a long line of imaginary, eager women in an imaginary, elite bookstore– I nosedive to the black top and only my helmet saves me . . and I see I didn’t have the whole in-a-relationship ride so balanced as I thought.

A relationship is one of those things, that, if you look at it, it seems like a miracle that it could ever work, like two thin wheels holding your whole weight up as you soar up and down hills.  And whenever I find I can start to feel the breeze and start to see the sights, I always find there’s something a bit harder up ahead.

That’s just exactly how it is.  It’s challenging.  It’s an adventure.  It’s . . learning.  Not how to pedal a two-wheeler.  How to love a soulmate.

And there’s this . . excitement.  This . . zeal.  And this . . fear.  This . . uncertainty.  At times, this dread of the next hill.  At times, this overwhelming joy and fright that the next valley is gonna cause your wheels to go airborne and you to go sprawling.  At times, this weariness that there is always that next hill.  And at times, this thrill that there is always that next hill.

There’s this . . work.  This work that is this rush of scary pedaling and wobbly lurching and humiliating falling.  This work that is this rush of delight for the road ahead and adrenaline-filled breathing for the challenge and foot-spinning love for the pedals.  This work that is this rush.

I couldn’t do it without my helmet.  If I didn’t have Jesus to absorb the first shock wave of every fall, I wouldn’t even want to ride my bike.  I’d be content to roll my bike along as I walked beside.  But I do have Jesus who promises me that He won’t let any fall happen to me unless He can use it to help me bike better.  I might skin my knee–okay, I will skin my knee–but I won’t bust my head open.  He is my helmet.

I’ve never gotten to go on this ride before.

I love this ride.

Thank You, Jesus, for this ride.

Thank You for not giving up on this girl even way after the years where she shouldn’t be needing training wheels, and teaching her how to ride in the winds of Your grace . . alongside a soul mate who’s learning, too (but a lot better at it).

To Ben.  I love you, my biking buddy.  I love that you wear your helmet and remind me that I have one, too, and that it will be okay.

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. (Proverbs 24:16a, NLT)

Put on salvation as your helmet (Ephesians 6:17a, NLT)

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

(Jesus’ promise to those who receive His salvation, Matthew 28:20b, NLT)

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[1] An idea from something Gandalf says in the first LOTR movie about facing enemies against which he has never been tested.

Published in: on March 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Snowballs in the forest

Do you know how sometimes in fiction the characters, setting, and events are so contrived that something splendidly outlandish happens at the precise moment required for the best reaction possible?

Probably my most favorite of those moments takes place in C.S. Lewis’ Silver Chair.  The following is a creative retelling of that moment.

The children and the marshwiggle have been miles and miles underneath the earth . . having plunged deep into a pit in their escape of man-eating giants and their hunting dogs . . and having met odd underground creatures and being taken captive by order of the serpent queen . . and having freed the nearly mad prince of Narnia, the prince who has been lost for years and years underneath the ground where no mortal Narnian knew to find him . . and after the marshwiggle not putting up with any witchcraft nonsense from the fierce serpent queen . . and after they have slain the serpent queen . . and after the underground began to crumble and shake, all the queen’s witchcraft becoming undone . . now the children, marshwiggle, and prince all fleeing the destruction of the quaking underground realm . . and now all the odd underground creatures, freed from the serpent queen’s spell, leaping down into the deeper caverns where they are really at home . . the deeper caverns with rubies and sapphires you can eat, and rivers of flame, and iridescent gems as big as you please . . and after the children, marshwiggle, and prince decline an offer from one of the odd creatures to explore the deeper caverns (after declining only at the insistence of the child Jill, who does not think it wise to take tea with the underlings in their deep down home even as the crevice to their deep down world closes, not to mention the disastrous flooding of the upper underground world as it all collapses in on itself) . . and at last now at last they have at last come at last to what they hope at last might be an escape hole . . and now the boy and the marshwiggle and the prince boost Jill up . . and now they want to show the lost prince back to Narnia before his father dies . . and whenceupon here and exactly now Jill pops up through the hole and is hit square in the mouth by a snowball.

–As it turns out– the forest creatures in the glorious above world of Narnia are participating in an interpretive snowball dance, the fauns gracefully clopping (I imagine it rather as river-dancing) amidst the dwarves . . and the dwarves throwing snowballs back and forth in as complicated-as-you-please pattern of arching, lobbing them from one dwarf to another, precariously close to all the fauns . . and the fauns fearlessly twirling with their little goat hooves, twittering through the snowy grass . . and the tree nymphs singing along . . and the dwarves still pitching snowballs in their mysterious pattern and still-of-yet not hitting a faun . . and here Jill finds herself–or rather her head, as she’s peering out of the hole–in the midst of it all.

Well, what a way to crash into Narnia!  How splendidly outlandish that it should be during the once-a-year first snow winter dance of the fauns and dwarves, with all the forest animals (including lots of wonderful bears) watching on.  So of course Jill can’t say anything because the snowball is in her mouth, and she’s quite taken aback anyway . . and of course the others (prince, marshwiggle, boy) still underground assume something very terrible has happened to her (especially the marshwiggle presumes something very terrible indeed) . . and of course the snow dance is very officially crashed by the unexpected guests who come pulled up out of the hole by all the talking animals . . and of course the prince is rushed to see his father . . and of course he does . . and of course the children get something warm to drink and blankets piled high and a royal tent for a great sleep . . and of course the dwarves stop throwing the snowballs.

I want to be there.  Coming up out of a hole from a dark underground rule reeking with spell and deception . . to snowballs in a forest (and with the fauns and dwarves and wonderful bears).  I want to be there, and I want to see it all, and I want to add to it.  I want to meet every Narnian creature and shake all their paws and meet a few kings and queens and especially enjoy tea.  I want to hear the silver music and see the snowball trajectories and climb the majestic mountains and twirl around with the fauns and try to make sure they don’t step on my toes with their hooves.

I want the splendidly outlandish thing to happen to me.  I long for adventure–open adventure, not a story already fully written, but a never-ending chapter whose pages go on and on, each one more rich and satisfying and surprising than the one before it.  I want not only to get to hear about the adventure, or even only to tell about the adventure.  I want to be in the adventure.

Am I alone in this?  I don’t think so.  Your longing might not be for snowballs in a Narnian forest, but I bet you have a dream of an adventure where you’d like to be.  It might be in a book you’ve read, a movie you’ve watched, a game you’ve played, or it might even be something in your head that you wish you could make happen.

The longing for adventure is so a part of us humans that we can scarcely oppress it enough to rid ourselves of it.  We are nearly incurably curious beings.  We seem born with a hunger to explore.  We seek out quests of make-believe as children with no one needing to teach us how, only give us time to play.  As we transition from childhood to adulthood, our minds still drift to the ache of adventure.  We thirst for purpose.  We long for that splendidly outlandish thing to happen to us.

But no matter how much make-believe we saturate ourselves with, no matter how much time we inundate ourselves with daydreams, we never feel we quite get what we are stretching so hard to reach.  We long for that next adventure, that bigger adventure, that better adventure, that real adventure.  We, like Bilbo, find ourselves always “quite ready for another adventure.” [1]

God is that adventure.

He is everything you would long for, if you knew how to long for Him.  He is everything your heart would seek, if your heart knew how to seek Him.  The deepest ache that no fantasy can fill is reserved for the reality of God, and will be left empty in your core until you invite Him in.

You cannot in all your imaginings get yourself to Him, because He is not make-believe.  No wishes can beckon Him, no spell can call Him, no imagination can define Him.  He is the real conception of the happily ever after.

God is the real conception of the happily ever after.

He Himself is the adventure you have been waiting to discover.

For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” (Romans 8:15, GNT)

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Scripture taken from the Good News Translation – Second Edition, Copyright 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Photograph by Alex France, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexfrance/3177786516/in/faves-64933655@N03/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

[1] From Lord of the Rings: Return of the King by New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.