celebration.

this Saturday morning was brought to you by a “friendship session” (for lack of a better term) with my dearest friend, biggest encourager, and muse Sean – she worked on a gift for a friend, I read a book, we talked about dreams (like the sleeping kind,) she convinced me that I should be listening to more John Mayer, on and on and on – it was one of those times when, in the best possible way, you get a sense of what you should be doing. It’s an encouraging, a calling up, a lift in every imaginable way. It’s life-giving.

This time was simultaneously the inspiration for but also the confirmation of an idea I’ve been pondering for a while – taking time to celebrate more things.

This idea has been on my mind for a while: the things you consume, the things you ponder, the things you stew upon and you give your mental faculties to are the things you will end up regurgitating. When you spend your time worrying, fearing, stressing, lamenting, etc – you will just end up doing those things more. Our thoughts translate into our actions and mentalities. So I started an exercise with my co-workers and some of our customers at work – we play a “game” called, “Tell Me Something Good.” The rules are simple: One, the answer can’t be “I’m getting coffee,” because that’s too simple and routine of an answer. Two, you have to tell me something good. The goal is that you’re telling me something good in the positive – something like, “I’m reading a great book,” or “I saw a great show last night,” or, “I had a really good conversation with a friend,” or, “my house is clean!” If it has to be in the negative – make sure it has nothing to do with people. Something like paying off debt, purging some of your stuff, getting rid of something that held you down or held you back  – that’s good stuff, too.

The point of the game is that it’s difficult to do – at least at first. We’ve become so accustomed to talking about the things that are tougher – financial struggle, interpersonal struggles,  a tough job, a tough political climate, etc – that it’s easier and more default for us to think about those things, and that’s fair enough because that’s normal, but this is one case in which I don’t think normal is good enough. I think normal is moldable. I think we can make a new normal.

So, after thinking on it and being given a big boost by a great friend (thank you, Sean) there will be a little bit of a rebrand of this blog – a rebrand by addition. I don’t necessarily want to get too bogged down in cliche blog features, but I’m going to start doing a weekly piece of recommendation. These will be recommendations of a great meal, a great book, a great film, an activity, a topic of discussion, an event, etc – along with perhaps some details of who’d like it the most, why I liked it, what’s good about it, and some other stuff that I’ll figure out as I go along.

Then, I’ll hope to hear from you. There’s actually an email address for correspondence with this blog and I’ll include that in the weekly post. Hope you enjoy.

constitution.

last night, my dad came over and was talking with me and my brother. the conversation quickly turned to my dad’s new truck, and stuff he saw at the hardware store, and the two of them got to talking about all kinds of mechanical-speak, so much stuff that I genuinely don’t know what to rattle off without repeating the same thing twice. It’s all about ten feet over my head, to be quite honest.

My dad’s really good at stuff like that. He’s been an electrician for a big chunk of his life, knows a ton about cars, knows a ton about building things, knows a ton about fixing things. My brother is largely the same way – if there’s anything even remotely broken, he wants to try and fix it. It’s taken me years (as the youngest sibling, slightly mistrusting of my older ones) to realize that he’s not doing it to get a leg up on me – but because he (and my dad) are just genuinely interested in fixing things. They get a kick out of seeing an end result. I’ve never had a mind for that sort of thing. I’m usually the type to let things be mildly broken (see: my car; which I guess is technically quite broken) and see how far I can get and then spend a little more money than probably necessary to get a new one, or just live with it for a while (see: my current financial plan.)

To be honest, I’ve fought myself for a really long time about my mechanically-uninclined mind. I feel bad because my dad is so into that sort of stuff, and he’s really kind and just wants to teach me…it’s just that my mind doesn’t really cling on to that sort of information. (I mean…my mind doesn’t really cling on a much information at all, it kind of washes in and out.)

What I’m realizing, though, is that everyone has a brain that works differently, that has a different trigger, that has a different focus. It’s part natural wiring, part down to our interests, and part down to our experiences. I’m sitting in a coffee shop, and I’m looking around and I see a billion things that a billion people could think about differently:

-The photos on the wall: one person wonders, “where was that taken?” another, “what kind of lens did they use?” another, “how did they choose to lay them out in that sequence?” another, “I bet they had to do [insert photography tactic here] to get [insert photography term here.]” another, “wow, that’s so beautiful!”

-The menu: one person wonders, “I wonder why they decided on that font.” another, “what’s an espresso tonic?” another, “I wonder where they got that board?” another, “I wonder how much their coffee must cost to have to charge that price…or what’s their margin on that?” Another, “coffee!”

-The tables: “what kind of wood is that?” “This must have been difficult to craft. I wonder how long it took.” “That’s a really neat finish.” “These are kind of wobbly.”

Seriously, think about it…there are so many things to think about: how they set up the nitro cold brew; where the coffee comes from; what that guy over there is reading; what that couple is talking about; what’s that I smell baking?; who made the handlettering on the sandwich board?; how they rigged up the lighting; what this building is zoned; where they got those sweet jars for their tea; what the workflow must be like; how they treat their customers; on and on. And this is just in a coffee shop.

There are so many things people can be tuned into in other contexts…the beauty is how differently we all think. Mechanics think differently than writers who think differently than politicians who think differently than accountants who think differently than chefs who think differently than musicians who think differently than lawyers, etc. etc. and so on. What makes this so wonderful is that we all need each other – to put it in Myers-Briggs terms, Es need Is (and vice versa,) Ss need Ns (and vice versa,) Ts need Fs (and vice versa,) and Js need Ps (and vice versa.)

If we were all meant to be entirely self-sufficient, then we would be, and we’d never need families, we’d never need friends, we’d never need communities, we’d never need anything. The things that happened in our own heads would suffice for books, movies, music, and art; the skills we possessed would be responsible for our housing, transportation, and financial management; the philosophies we held would constitute our self-governance, our security and self-defense, and our theology.

but we aren’t. So we need each other. I, a writer and people-person, a reader and musician, definitely need people who think like I do (they make my heart sing and make me feel understood and accompanied,) but I also need people who think more concretely, because unlike Alexander Hamilton, I cannot write my way out of anything/everything. I can’t write myself a new car. I can’t sing money into existence to pay off debt. I can’t sit around and think and build myself a place to live.

The question is not whether or not we are able to take care of ourselves by ourselves, but how we use (or how we let God use) our constitution, our skill sets, interests, etc to help others. Never ask, “am I accepted the way I am?” the answer is an indisputable, undeniable, unchangeable, “yes.” The question is, “how do I, with my habits and hangups, interests and abilities, make the world a more whole, complete, healed place?” Whatever the answer to that question is – that’s what you are to do.

dreams/ambition (a ramble.)

I’ve spent a big chunk of the last few days thinking about dreams and ambition.

I’ve been thinking about how we make those two words synonymous with “careers” – as in, in order to be an ambitious person, in order to have a dream, you have to have a dream job. Your dream somehow has to be your work, or it’s no real dream at all. If you don’t have to go to college for it, then it’s not a real dream, and you don’t have any real ambition.

Now, nobody’s said that to me explicitly, of course – because once you write it out, it kind of sounds really, really crazy. It kind of sounds pretentious. It kind of sounds just plain silly. But don’t you think it’s kind of implied?

I’ve wrestled with this since the end of college – and if we’re all honest with ourselves, we probably all have – when people ask you what you want to do, and you don’t have a “good” answer…that is, you don’t say, “oh, yeah – I’m getting a job with such and such company and I have such and such an internship and I’m eventually going to grad school for such and such…”

When you don’t have that answer, it’s easy to feel a little less than; a little unworthy, a little unambitious.

When you’re in your mid-late twenties, and you’re working a job you love, and people you know are in grad school trying to move on up in the world, chase a new thing, do something new, move to a bigger city…it’s easy to wonder what’s wrong with you. Why is it that you’re perfectly happy where you are, working your job that’s paying the bills just fine, living a life you genuinely enjoy (and/or you realize that anything that’s less than great about your life is outside of work and has nothing to do with your vocation…)

I say that because it’s my struggle. It’s my struggle, and I hope someone out there can relate to it. I hope someone out there knows what it is like to be discontentedly content. To be thrilled with what they’re doing, to have great friends, and/or to be willing to see a dream as bigger than just a job.

I’m hoping that’s what we can start doing as a culture. I hope it’s what we teach our kids to do – to think of a dream as a lot more broad than just a job. Why don’t we think of a dream as something like this: living in a town you love, having a group of friends you love, spending your time doing things you love, having conversations you love, listening to music you love, reading books you love, and in general loving your life – irrespective of how many zeroes are in your paycheck, how many degrees you have, and how big of a town you live in?

I wonder sometimes if we have a contentment problem as a culture. And I question this not as someone who’s figured it out – but as someone who wonders if I should learn to dream bigger, or if we’re taught to dream too big. To be vulnerable with you, reader – the fear of ambition has burned me a few times in my life. Specifically in regards to dating – multiple times I have invested my heart in someone who ended up chasing after a dream of theirs and ultimately ended up going after that thing instead of being content with where they were in life. Do I fault them? Not necessarily. But it only reinforces insecure thoughts about what’s important in life – career ambitions, or the desire to be content.

And I’m sure someone out there could make a coherent argument for why the two aren’t mutually exclusive – and I’m sure it’s a good argument. I’m only able to see it from my side, for now – from my perspective of being in my mid-20s, with more debt than I care to have (and therefore no desire to go to school and accrue more,) having a job that I love doing and that pays the bills, with a phenomenal group of friends, living in a geographically and culturally wonderful place, going to a great church and being involved there, listening to all my favorite music, reading all my favorite books, etc. etc. etc.

I’m slowly learning to consider that the dream – that I truly want nothing more than that in life. If I can learn to do that – then I’m truly living the dream.

imago dei.

I’ve gotten a little stagnant in my prayer life lately – perhaps its because my life hasn’t changed up a whole lot and I’ve still been fighting the same battles – my prayers all look and sound something like this:

Father, thank You for this day. Thanks for putting breath in my lungs, thanks for waking me up this morning. You are good and merciful, and You let me speak to You even when I don’t deserve it. Help me be a good co-worker today; help me to serve people the way that Jesus would serve people; help me to be a good steward of the things You have given me; help me to respond to my surroundings and circumstances with grace and with peace. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now – there are probably 100 different ways people would criticize that prayer: maybe I didn’t spend enough time in adoration, maybe I didn’t pray scripture, maybe I didn’t root my requests in the right things, maybe I should have been more supplicatory, maybe I could have been more intercessory. (I just read Tim Keller’s prayer, so the concepts, types,  and elements of prayer are fresh in my mind.) Anyone who gave any of those criticisms would be, at least in part, correct.

The thing I’ve become all too aware of, however, is how weak my reasoning is to ask to be changed, and that’s my main motivation for writing today.

Let me take you under the hood of my theology and worldview for a quick second. I’m of the mind that God created the world with a very specific design in mind. A design for time, a design for money, a design for sex, a design for our diet/nutrition/health, a design for relationships, a design for work – you name it, chances are I could at least theorize on how God designed it to be done.

So, often times when I’m rethinking something in my life, I’m trying to contrast my current state with what I believe the God-designed world looks like, and then making adjustments to move my current state to that God-state. But in my approach, it has less to do with the fact that God made it, and more to do with the fact that I believe it’s the best system, the best setup that will give me the best outcome. For example:

If I indulge less, then I will save money.

If I save money, then I will be financially free and financially comfortable and have financial autonomy.

If I abstain from sex, then I will be emotionally, mentally, and physically at peace.

If I keep a cool head at work, then I will be less stressed outside of work and remembered well by co-workers.

If I treat my body well by eating well and working out, then I will have a less painful, longer life (at least in theory.)

See, all of those “ifs” are good things to do, and the outcomes aren’t half bad, either – but I’m not choosing to do any of them because it’s the God-designed way of living my life. Instead, I’m more or less using the God-designed way of living life (which speaks to the brilliance of God, I believe, that His plan for life is in some cases simply common wisdom,) to get the best thing for me.

And again – that’s part of the mercy of God, that even if we don’t know that it’s His design for our lives, we still get to reap the benefits of it. That’s called common grace.

Still, however, this approach is misinformed. Seeking our own good – as followers of Jesus – isn’t the point of our lives. It isn’t our job. Jesus made it crystal clear when He said to seek first the kingdom of God and these things (provisions) will be added unto us (Matthew 6:33.) So the benefits still come, but they shouldn’t inform what we do or why we do it.

Perhaps our approach to change should involve three questions: what am I being transformed into? How am I being transformed? Why am I being transformed? I think the theological answers are these: into His image, by beholding Him, and for His glory.

If you extract any of those three answers, the whole thing crashes.

If you seek to be transformed into anything but His image – perhaps someone you admire, or a vision you have of your “ideal” self – then beholding Him becomes unnecessary (as He is not your standard of what to become) and there is no glory to be given to Him (as it is not Him you are seeking to reflect.)

If you seek to be transformed into His image, but do so by any means other than beholding Him (see: 2 Corinthians 3,) then – even if you were successful in your endeavor – He gets no glory, because it is not Him who is doing the transforming, it is you.

If you seek to be transformed into His image, do so by beholding Him, but don’t do it for His glory, then your change is misinformed – simply because the point of being changed into His image is to reflect Him to the rest of the world and in so doing, point back to his glory time and time again.

 

But how glorious it is when the three things are fused together. Consider it –

 

we are given a gift, a chance, to be transformed into the image of God: the God who is good, the God who is kind, the God who is just, the God who is love, the God who is beautiful, the God who is creative, the God who is righteous, the God who is wise. we are heirs of such an image.

we are given a standard and a reference point to behold – Jesus Christ – who embodied every bit of that: He humbled Himself to come to earth, He spent His time with others, He healed the sick, He gave sight to the blind, He humbled the rich and exalted the poor, He preached good news, He told truths both harsh and comforting, He never defended Himself in the face of false accusation, and He ultimately gave Himself up – an innocent – to die in the place of guilty sinners such as you and me so that we’d have His inheritance, and ended up rising from the dead three days later, having liberated us after taking the keys to death, hell, and the grave.

and we are given the opportunistic mandate to reflect that glory: that any change you or I are able to make – whether that’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control – is a chance to love and glorify the Father who gives us good things, no gift greater than the gift of Himself.