Tuesday, 13 August 2013

How Much More

"I will throw open the windows of Heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so GREAT you won't have enough room to take it in!" -Malachi 3:10

"He truly does care, Bethany. He cares for us." Liz's words seemed so simple, and yet, the context of shattered, shallow beliefs I found myself in at the moment they were spoken made them deep. Life-changing even.

My God LOVES me and He CARES.

To fully understand the weight of these words, I must share a few stories. Stories that should have been proclaimed from the rooftops long ago. Lord, forgive my silence.

It started my Senior year of college.  My Christ-fearing friend, Liz, went on a run with me as she often did. Lifting up some prayers to our Savior on this run, we both began to pray for a simple, yet immediate need I had. Running shoes. "Lord," we prayed, "could You provide these?"

Rummaging through my room the next day I found $40 in an old letter from my mother which I must have overlooked a few weeks prior. Ecstatic to so CLEARLY see the Lord answering prayer, I rushed out to tell Hanna, my roommate. She praised God with me and then pointed out, "Beth, Melissa and I were planning on buying you shoes, so if that's not enough, we'll cover the rest." And that same afternoon, I carried my new shoes out of Hibbets and the smiles were incurable. God provides.

A few days later, the realization came that the $40 had been intended for upcoming necessities. Us brilliant college students rarely plan ahead, or at least, I constantly failed in that area. And so I did what now seemed logical. I went to Liz and again we prayed, "Lord, could You provide?" This was around 4pm. The next morning when I went to work in the post office, an anonymous letter awaited me in my post office box. $40 and a typed note simply saying, "You are a blessing to me." My supervisor said she didn't see who dropped it off, but she noticed it came around 4 o'clock the day before. I asked so many of my friends if they knew anything about it or where it came from, and they all promised they did not. O God, how exact You are in Your miracles, making it EVIDENT beyond argument that YOU PROVIDE.

Months later, as a poverty-stricken college graduate, I was living off of nothing and rent was due. Anxiety, I admit, did get the best of me for quite awhile. But somewhere along the way I chose to BELIEVE--God will provide. The night before rent was due, I sat on my apartment floor, gaping at an envelope full of $175 in cash. More than enough to cover what I could not. The words came rushing back.

"He truly does care, Bethany."

And in all my weeping and offering up of a sacrifice of thanksgiving, I realized that I must NEVER wonder again. He WILL always provide.

Less than two weeks ago I drove onto campus at Southwestern--jobless, rent due, friendless; uncertainties--my largest cargo. The question, "what am I doing?" would not leave my worried mind. Had I not seen miracles before? Was I such a disloyal follower as to doubt, after ALL my Shepherd had done, that He would again provide?

"I have faith, Father," through my trembling it felt a funny thing to claim, "but it is so very small." And because He CARES, He shared this comfort with me:

"Of how much more value are you than the birds?" His Words pierced through my clamped-down thoughts, "I FEED them... Now, consider the lilies--Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!--I CLOTHE them. How much MORE will I clothe YOU?" (Luke 12:22-34)

How much more? How much? Have I made enough room for all that You provide, O God? I don't know if I ever can, because in ONE day, I had everything I needed for the semester. And all that I can think now is this:

He CARES. For me.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


http://youtu.be/eAUCHRzY4lI (A little mood music)

The waves come crashing in.  Funny how soothing and gentle they seem from shore. "Rolling" is so often used to describe their movement.  Yet out here they turn vicious.  You try to "roll" with them, try to duck under them, or even attempt to jump above their foaming, stinging heads as they rush at you.  None of it saves you from the salt.  Gets absolutely everywhere.  Taste it, feel it.  Singes your eyes.  Transforms your throat into a burning cauldron.  Irritates the flesh 'till most of your body feels raw.  You are wracked and beaten by the end of your ocean venture and the salt has dried you out. 

Sometimes I think the salt gets into my head as well.  Makes my imagination click into "rabbit-speed."  There is something unavoidably romantic about the ocean.  And no, I do not mean chic flicks or cheesy love stories.  I refer to the classical idea of romance, one to be often found in medieval narratives--heroic or fantastic events; an inclination towards adventure, mystery and  excitement--strange happenings far removed from what we deem ordinary

I tend to fantasize over a few stories embedded in my mind as a child.  The first is always mermaids. Sure, I suppose I owe my initial imaginings to Ariel and her incredibly colorful parade of aquatic friends, but numerous other day dreamings swim into my head as well.  Deep, dark tales of half-human, half-fish creatures.  Trapped in a state of in-betweens.  Lullabied by the underwater echoes of orcas at night.  By day, drawn to the light and warmth above them which causes their scales to glisten and shimmer--jewels of the sea.  Where do they come from?  Where do they belong? With salt seasoning my lips, I watch the rippling horizon. I imagine mermaids.  I imagine the longings and satisfactions of one who truly lives life "under the sea."  Danger, beauty, adventure, mysteries... Romance.

The second eerie tale I turn about in my wild thoughts is one I barely remember.  I simply recall watching something as a little girl--a story about a woman that once was a seal. I can remember very little of it, just a short clip, where the woman lies pale and vulnerable on the deadly rocks, her shed seal skin offers no protection from the environment she used to dwell in so naturally.  And a man comes.  He finds her, wraps his coat around her and takes care of her.  Strange occurrences and heroism--Romance.

I like to think that I can relate to both stories in some small way--through the last and most memorable story, the one that my ocean day-dreamings always return to...

"One day He got into a boat with His disciples and He said to them, 'Let us go across...' So they set out, and as they sailed He fell asleep.  And a windstorm came down... they were filling with water and were in danger.  And they went and woke Him, saying, 'Master, Master, we are perishing!'  And He awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was calm.  He said to them, 'Where is your faith?' And they were afraid, and they marveled saying to one another, 'Who then is this, that He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him?'" ~Luke 8:22-25~

I am a helpless woman, once a seal.  For I sinned and fell short, but the grace of my God reaches out to me, covers me.  I have shed the old ways, and though I am vulnerable in the new self, Christ is the man who comes to my rescue.  He finds me.  He takes care of me.

I am a mermaid.  I do not fully belong on this earth, for my destiny and my treasures lie in Heaven.
I look out to the rippling horizon again.  The sun is setting now.  My favorite time to be out here.  I like to think that His ship is just beyond the farthest waves I can see, He's coming back in for ME. 

I am the doubting disciple.  Jesus calls to me, "Let us go across!" and in my selfish desire for romance, adventure, excitement, I say "Yes!" and eagerly climb on board. But when the waves come and pound my weak, mortal body and confuse me in my vulnerable state of in-betweens I panic and can only yell one thing--"Master! I am perishing!"  And what does He do?  He rises and calms the waves.

I am left standing in awe, nothing but foam over stilled waters.  And the taste of salt on my lips.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


(This is a short fictional narrative I wrote to submit to the literary journal my English Honor Society publishes)

My dress was not the color of the ocean.  Grandma Jen said it was, beautifully so, but it was not.  The blue folds were far too bright, too perfect.  There is nothing oceanic about this dress.  But I liked how it looked on me, looked good.  The dress that is; I can’t recall what I looked like last time I glanced into that frozen frame of me.  Mirrors aren’t really too important, they just reflect.  And as we all know a reflection is simply the bending back of a structure upon itself.  At least, that’s what I learned in AP Biology last fall.
I wonder how a person bends back upon themself.  I certainly wouldn’t want to.  Sounds painful—slightly yoga-ish.  And I hate yoga.  One time my two older, more flexible sisters convinced me to partake in the supposedly rewarding activity of a yoga video.  It was not pretty.  Hmphs and guuhhs and oofss, that is what erupted from the uncanny mass of myself as I attempted to twist my body into very unnatural positions—who does this? I am not silly putty, you skinny, pink-topped lady on the TV screen. My sisters laughed of course.  They found my sorry attempts amusing.  I guess I did too ‘cause I laughed as well.  Laughed defeatedly through most of the experience.  But I was humiliated—my pride was twisted all up and then deflated in a very un-ladylike manner.  I couldn’t help being a bit perturbed.  I am normally so much more dignified.
But this is not about my dignity.  It is about a transition. 
I stood before a crowd.  I donned a ridiculous, square cap and ginormous blue gown. One must note the mocking tone in which I say “gown.”  When I think of that word, my mind waltzes off to a far-away place that begins with “once upon a time” and ends with “happily ever after.”  I picture balls and prince charmings and all other sorts of magic pumpkins and chipper old women with sparkling wands.  This “gown” might as well be a pumpkin on me.  I stood behind a podium, trying to not shake, not stutter, not lose myself.  Maybe Cinderella felt similar at the ball, but she at least had glass slippers to boost her self-esteem.  I just had me.
How does one pass from a current state of being into another?  And what can be said to a crowd of people—stone-faced and dull—when such a shift is occurring?  This is life?
Well I said something.  Speech done, faculty appeased, diploma received, gown off.  Check, check, check, check. I stood before my Grandma Jen and a handful of other relatives.  My un-oceanic, blue dress danced around impatiently in the breeze, the way I was not allowed to do.  Get me out of this crowd, tired of people on every side.  I just wanted a moment, one that was all mine, in which I could stop and think about what just happened.  About life.
Citrus locks mingle with the earth like oil and water.  There together, but separate.  I have my moment now.  My long hair is pressed underneath me as I lay alone in the overgrown field.  Perhaps my curls will sit here long enough to be planted and sprout into something, hopefully not an addition of me though; I already have more of that than I know what to do with.
Four years.  It’s over now.  There is no possible, un-humiliating, sane way to ever go back.  I wouldn’t want to either, even if there was.  But that doesn’t mean I know what to do next.  For months people have asked, “What will you do after you graduate?”  For months I have blabbered about anything and nothing that comes to mind upon their inquiries.  But now I see what I wish I had said—it’s not about what I will do, it is about who I will be. 
These shifting periods in life—they just keep happening, don’t they?  I would be foolish to believe otherwise.  And I will always be me in the midst of them, won’t I?  Of course I will.
So if transitioning is actually what makes up the majority of life, and if I am never completely changing my identity, what is the big deal?  Circumstances will shift, different people will flow in and out, but I think it’s safe to say I will someday look back on the next four years and see many parallels with the four I just conquered. 
Conquered.  That particular term often draws my memory back to a rainy summer afternoon.  Those same two sisters had convinced me into a ridiculously dorky past time.  We were re-enacting  and somewhat re-inventing a Lord of the Rings battle.  The oldest was Aragorn, valiant and passionate, bearing a sturdy blade that was closely comparable to a large stick.  Then there was the next sister, Legolas, smooth, swift and graceful, grasping an elven bow which also appeared very similar to a large stick.  And lastly, I was Gimli—fiery-spirited, stubborn dwarf.  I got a little stick.  I mean, an axe. 
We orienteered through every acre of our woods like spies.  That was the part where we worked to believe in the world we were creating.  Finally the climax—the battle—took place in a field not unlike the one I now lay in.  That was the part where what we were playing at became real.  Many of our comrades died in battle, falling tragically to the bloody blades of the orcs.  But we conquered.  No victory could have felt more true.  And as we stood on top of a nearby hillock, headed back into the woods, we turned to glance upon the battlefield.  The field was littered with bodies and our hearts were full of accomplishment; accomplishment dirtied with pain.  Aragorn made some touching speech and I swear to this day that she—being my oldest sister in reality—shed real tears.  Legolas too started choking up.  The battle was over and we were far too old to play such games.  We all knew this.  Perhaps that is where the tears came from.  We weren’t just walking into the woods, we were walking back into real life, uncertain if we could ever come back to this, this world of wonderment. 
And I didn’t cry.  Because I just knew, we will always have fun together, we will always use our imaginations to go on great adventures, and all that is really changing is our race—dwarf to human being. 
That was a joke. 
All that is truly changing is the context of our adventures, the circumstances we find ourselves in when we choose to go on being us and having a blast doing it.  We actually will do very similar things throughout the rest of our lives, for the human character doesn’t allow for a very wide variety of changing, if looked at logically.  I will be me and life will go on.  Like it or not, I will just be doing a lot of reflecting—bending back upon myself and what I’ve already done.  Like it or not, life is full of a lot of yoga.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Once Upon a Distraction

"I have to return this pigeon to its flock" says Snow White, "it's the only chance it has.  Or else it'll be lonely forever; no one should have to suffer that."

"But," protests Prince Charming, "there's a storm coming...at least let me take you?"

"No.  I'll be fine."  Her face appears determined but her eyes reveal a deeper sense of worry, conflict, and helplessness.  She says.  She doesn't mean.

And surprise, surprise, the next scene reveals Snow White, typical damsel in distress, hanging from a fatal cliff in a thunderstorm.  Idiot.  Why didn't she just let the prince help her in the first place?

Luckily for her he has the decency to follow her and ensure her safety.  Yet upon his saving her she does nothing more than regain her breath, shake herself off, and remark, "I have to return that pigeon to its flock."  Without allowing herself a moment's hesitation, she marches right back to the caged bird.  Thunderstorms--those are easy.  Prince Charmings--they are the real danger.

See, this Prince Charming happens to be, well, unavailable.  Irregular fairytale, but then again, isn't that what life is truly like?--A mixed up, distorted bedtime story?  And Snow White is simply trying to face, with courage, the fate that has befallen her.  What more can any of us do?

Sure, the guy is handsome, and yes, his presence releases your wild, eager heart from its cage of emptiness, but certainly, there's a catch more often than not.  He's taken, he doesn't return the feelings... maybe doesn't even know you exist, let alone desire to know your soul on a deep level--the way you feel you already know his.  Us princesses, we are all so similar--ready to jump at love before it even shows its face.  We can't even resist the fantasies we invent.  What could we possibly do against a real-life prince when he's before us?

Distract ones self.

That's all you can really do.  Snow White had the right idea--focus on that pigeon!  So long as her attention, passion, love, devotion, service, and loyalty were all preoccupied with something else, no matter how insignificant, she could walk away from temptation.  First she had to recognize this--Prince Charming--as her potential downfall.  After all, aren't temptations beautiful more often than not? Fairytale-like?  Too good to be true?  Well if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Not to say what you want will always be out of reach, just that a lot lesser things will tempt you to settle, while on your journey.  Don't.

Easier said than done, right?  That faithless boy is so attractive, that unavailable man is so good at drawing you in, and those feelings... they know how to control ALL of you. Even if they're not returned.

So go, do, serve, and in time--forget.  Each time you focus on someone else, you are one step further away from falling all over Prince Charming in a pathetic fit of blind infatuation.  Trust me, when you finally master GENUINE distraction, that is only caring about the ones you are serving, NOT what/who you can gain, the true Prince Charming (the available, equally love-struck one) will come riding up and never want to leave you again.  Others are most taken with us when we are the least taken with ourselves.

The End

Monday, 5 March 2012

the guardian of my heart

Woke up this morning to the spring-like sound of birds outside my open window. So many things to get done today and no motivation to do any of it--joy is not my first instinct. I toss the bird song over my shoulder nonchalantly and begin to move about in a to-do-list sort of way. Shower. Check. Eat. Check. Quiet time with God. Che.... wait. It shouldn't be like this. My soul knows it and attempts to tell me. It tries to tell me in what should be the most obvious way, the way that I so often just ignore--through a feeling of unrest, discontentment--no peace

How is it that I can wade through my day as though there were weights on my back and not recognize that something is wrong  down deeper? Certainly the thought might occur to me from time to time but I usually just think, "my day will get better tomorrow, or in the next few days, or next week when I'm less stressed, less busy... When life slows down, I will get some peace." But peace is always within our grasp, regardless of our schedules, problems, pain.  And it is a command.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The LORD is at hand; do not  be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the PEACE of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:4-7

The simple fact that this command is repeated, adds emphasis that isn't seen in many other commands.  Not that we should take that as more than it is, just that the great importance of this should be noted. "AGAIN I will say--REJOICE!" :) And if you are rejoicing, it follows that you should also be a reasonable person.  An essay is due tomorrow, the laundry still isn't done, that deadline is rushing in quicker than you can possibly get the work done, that relationship is just...hurting. These are all important to us as humans, and therefore God does care about them, for He cares dearly for us. But NONE of these are liscence to loose control, to freak out, to begin behaving coldly to others around you, to turn from God. They are a part of life.  And you do not throw an antique away because it is old or a little scratched up--that is part of its beauty!  If you can manage joy in the midst of your daily routine, people will see that you are reasonable, for somewhere inside us all is the sense that small things shouldn't be made into huge deals. Life hands us crap sometimes, but reasonable are those who accept this with a smile, for they hardly see the troubles due to how strongly they are gazing towards God and what is TRULY important.

Are we taking life in with the realization that the problems are just one ingredient?  Do we see that it's our choice how much we want to add of joy, and that it can easily overpower the taste of anxiety? Are we praying? And thanking our LORD? Are we honestly asking Him things? It is okay to ask Him for things, in fact we are supposed to make our requests "known to God." And if these things are happening, even in the midst of a monotonous day, peace will be the guardian of our hearts. :)

So I correct myself: Go back to the song of the birds, breathe in deeper that which has been placed in my path to bring me joy. Be reasonable. Find peace. Have a lovely day!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

count it all joy

Blowing the steam off the surface of my fresh coffee, I sit down for a few moments to enjoy something.  Life.
As simple or as complicated as one chooses to make it, life is a gift.  And what does one do when a beautiful gift is given to them?  They rejoice! They exalt, exclaim, gawk, tear up, giggle, blush, thank and thank again--to be thought of, to the sweet extent of having that thought materialized and presented to them, is truly a precious thing. A gift is physical proof of love.  And love, more than anything, causes one to feel content, comfortable, special.  Love MAKES the soul want to rejoice. 

This is for the days we want to have joy.

Let it out!  It is there; it's tickling the heart with happiness and lining the soul with smiles.  Show it!  For as Mother Teresa once said, "Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." An image comes to mind--shy flowers timidly revealing their beauty to the vast heavens. Green vines flowing across pebbles that hardly show up amidst the overpowering grass and clover. And small, determined feet that thump, thump, thump through this little garden as though it was their own personal jungle. Chubby Little hands clutch an old wooden net, crowned at the end with a lovely trap of twine. So many things to catch, nothing else to occupy the mind but catching, keeping, treasuring.

What occupies my mind when joy is bubbling up within me?  Is it the thought of "catching souls"?  Or is it the selfish plans of a selfish person to make the joy last as long as it selfishly can?

In Nehemiah 12 a day is described in which the people of Israel are rejoicing. They rejoice because "God has given them great joy (verse 43)."  But what is it they do that perfects their rejoicing?  How do they turn their joy into something that glorifies God? They offer "great sacrifices" as their thanks and then they go on rejoicing in such a way that it can "be heard far away!" So we should do likewise. Respond first in gratitude, second in generosity.  Share it.  Give your joy wings that it might spread through hearts as though it were contagious.  Go light up a room, lift a fallen countenance, care for someone else--fight to hold onto your joy by striving to give it to others.  And your joy will grow.  And you will shine into darkened souls. And you will glorify God.