Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Grace and the National Championship

As I write this I have that feeling I get where my cheeks ache because I'm trying so hard to hold back tears.

The Auburn football team, and consequently my family, is going to the National Championship in Pasadena.  It's confirmed.  Official.  We have flights, hotels, and now game tickets.  And while I am OVER THE MOON about Auburn's miraculous season, the cause for my restrained tears is much bigger than football.

Only three full days have passed between the time Auburn found out they were going to the big game and today--the day I found out my family is for sure going.  During that time, my mom and dad have lost sleep and a good bit of money trying to secure the arrangements for our trip.  I have done NOTHING to contribute to this effort.  I have racked my brain for contacts, connections, and inside tracks to championship tickets.  And yet nothing came to mind.  And before I could start sending desperate emails to anyone I've ever known who has anything to do with the Los Angeles area, the NCAA, or Vizio (which is all of 2 people), it was done.  They had everything under control.  We're going!

And it's killing me.  Because I didn't help. This is what I do.  I connect people.  I reach out to people.  I network.  I'm not ashamed to ask for favors because I enjoy doing them in return.  I am good at buying event tickets.  I'm savvy with social media.  I should have been able to help in SOME way!  I'm almost 30 years old.  I'm an adult with a good job.  Surely I could have found something, bought something, ANYTHING.  But no.  I am simply left receiving.

And then the tears come, because I know this is so much bigger than this game.  This is grace.  Right?  Being given something I do not deserve and have not earned.  And I have been receiving this kind of grace from my parents my entire life.  Not cheap grace.  Not "giving into every desire and honoring my tantrums" kind of grace.  But the kind of grace that says "I love you. You are my child. I want to give you good gifts.  I can give you things you cannot give yourself."  As a child this was easy to receive.  As an adult, it's been more difficult.

The segue way here is fairly obvious.  This is what Jesus offers me too.  So often I want to do something or prove to him that I can help and pull my own weight in our "partnership."  But then he brings me back to the manger. And then the cross. And then the empty tomb.  And I am reminded that this is NOT a partnership. This is Him giving everything and me giving nothing.  Him emptying Himself fully and me receiving.  This is grace.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thoughts on Advent

I love the Liturgical Calendar and the rhythm it brings to the year.  In years past I have reveled in Lent--a season that gives us the freedom to acknowledge and reflect upon our sinfulness and brokenness before God.  And while some people find Lent to be depressing, I find it to be cathartic and almost easier than, say, Advent.  In Lent we are allowed and encouraged to mourn this fallen world in which we live and the condition in which we find humanity.  In Advent, we are asked to wait with hope.  And, if we're honest, isn't it often easier to mourn than to wait with hope?

But this year, I need an Advent.  I need to exercise the discipline of waiting with hope.  Yes, I said discipline.  While, for children, Advent is a time of cookies and parties and carols and unjaded anticipation, as we become adults it becomes a discipline.  Once we have experienced what it means to wait for something we desperately desire--that promotion, the engagement ring, that acceptance letter, the clean bill of health--we realize what a discipline it truly is to continue to wait with hope.  

In Romans 8, Paul tells us that "we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."*   Hoping in what we do not see and waiting for it with patience is what is asked of us as we wait.  And as we wait, we can take heart in knowing what Paul tells the Corinthians, that in Jesus "it is always yes!" **

Not always "yes" to our earthly desires, but "yes" to that for which we ultimately wait and hope:

YES! God has come to us in the form of his Son, Jesus!
YES! He lived, died, and rose again to rescue us from ourselves!
YES! He will come again and perfectly reconcile us to Himself!

In Jesus, it is indeed always "yes!"


*Romans 8: 23-25
**2 Corinthians 1:19

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cold and Warmth

It's raining here. And it's getting cold.  Like 50 degrees and rainy.  Is there anything worse?  Maybe 40 degrees and rainy. Because once you get into the 30 degrees range there's a possibility of snow, and that becomes somewhat magical.  But this kind of weather is not magical.  It has me all angsty and nostalgic.  I'm listening to The Counting Crows and writing.

This time every year when we turn the corner to the weather officially being "cold" I flashback to this time of the year when I was 22-25 in Washington, DC.  We were angsty on an entirely different level.  And I'm not sure there was much nostalgia.  It was very simple, really.  We'd lived through DC's swamp of a summer, then fallen for the trap of its crisp autumn days.  The kind of days that contained magnificent colors where we had enjoyed the warmth of a pullover coupled with the smell of the last remaining hint of sunscreen in our moisturizer.

And then one day we would turn that corner into winter and DC would laugh at us for falling in love with her all over again as her temperatures plummeted and her wind burned our cheeks .

It was COLD.  And we hated it.  But we hated it together.  And we would walk through the streets (all 4 southerners, 2 mid-westerners, and 1 yankee thrown in for good measure), grumbling and griping about how cold it was, yet not realizing how we were taking for granted the fact that we were all there freezing together.
We would leave work, cuss the wind, run for the Metro, cuss the Metro for being delayed and then cuss the wind AGAIN because a Metro platform is a wind-tunnel all its own.  What we hoped would be relief once aboard the train was the blast of hot air that smelled as if someone had burned his garbage and piped it through the Metro heating system.  So we would cuss again and grumble some more.

But in the midst of all this cussing and grumbling was the re-telling of the day's stories.  "Which crazy constituent called?  Did that cute guy from Kennedy's office walk by today?  How were the students?  Did they behave?  Beth, what exactly do you DO at your job?"  And once we arrived at our destination--usually a certain Mexican restaurant that served one $8 pomegranate margarita that packed the punch of two--those conversations would continue and evolve. "Your ex-boyfriend from home emailed?  What does HE want? That guy you've gone out with once or're really starting to like him?  What in THE WORLD are we going to wear to this 90's party this weekend?  If I get ONE more lecture about the way I'm leading my small group..."

And we would eat and drink and be warmed from the burn of the tequila, the spice of the Mexican food, and the glow each of us radiated as we sat and exhaled amongst friends who were family.  Then just as we would reach our peak of warmth, it would be time to be thrown back outside.  But this time it wasn't so cold.  Oh the temperature had continued to drop, but we weren't bothered by it.  Blame it on the tequila or blame it on the conversation, but after times around that table the wind didn't seem so violent. The Metro was quieter after rush hour had subsided. And I remember one distinct night of having the train all to ourselves and dancing through the various cars.

Eventually, we would arrive at our respective homes, dotted along 3 different Orange Line stops, fall into bed tucked under layers of blankets, and know that in a few hours we'd have to start the next cold day, but that for now we were warm beyond comprehension.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"I Love It"

I am a realist about the present, but a romantic in regards to the past.  I don’t know why.  I can’t explain it.  Maybe it’s because I was a history major.  Or maybe this is WHY I was a history major.  Either way, in the past week one friend called me one of the most rational people she knows while another marveled at the way I can remember intimate details from our past so vividly and excitedly.

It is the latter half of my twisted brain equation that causes me to be a sucker for songs about time or place.  Notably, times and places in the past.  Give me a “coming of age” country song and I’m hooked.  You know the tale.  There’s some moonshine, a small town Saturday night, a pair of cut-off jeans and then a little love in the bed of the truck.  I may have heard the same story told fifty times before by different artists, but it doesn’t matter.    I hear it and I’m carried away into the past, to a place where I have found myself a thousand times, yet have never actually been.  

Surprisingly, the most recent song to send me into the past (or at least towards a celebration of it) is not a country song, but rather Icona Pop’s mega-hit anthem, “I Love It.”  I can’t get it out of my head.  I can’t stop singing it.  And I can’t help but turn up the volume when it comes on the radio.  In fact, there are times I find myself suffering through other “songs” on the local Top 40 station in hopes that I might have the fortune of hearing this aural cocaine before getting out of the car. (Nevermind that I purchased the song on iTunes AND have it on Spotify.  Why are songs so much better on the radio?  Another post for another time.)

I first heard the song at Taylor Swift’s (an apologetic of my Taylor Swift fandom will come soon) show in Atlanta when she played it, along with Lenny Kravitz’ “American Woman,” as her entrance music.  I admit I didn’t care for this song that all these teenagers were screaming along to, until I heard the line that makes it one of my current favorite songs.  

“I Love It” might just be another high-production club hit if not for this seminal line:  “You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s bitch.”  If you’re reading this and were born between 1980 and 1990 I don’t have to explain myself.  But, just in case, I will.  Like I said, I love the radio version of this song.  However, today, I noticed that on the radio (thanks, FCC) this line is changed to: “You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s chick.”  

Admittedly, I might be considered a bit liberal when it comes to loose language.  I was once told to keep my language between a 5 and a 7 on a 1-10 scale, because a 1-4 is too weak to emphasize anything, and when the situation calls for a 10, I was told that I don’t want to miss the opportunity to punctuate my point due to overuse.  I believe I abide by this rule, staying firmly within the 5-7 range.  I drift lower at work, reverent occasions, and with my grandparents and drift higher when I’m furious or, as my advisor said, need to make a point.    

Back to the song.  I understand why things are censored on the radio, television, etc.  Certain language need not be heard by certain ears.  So, to be clear, this post is not advocating for the lack of censorship.  I’m simply stating that I prefer the original lyrics to this song because of what they convey. During the 90’s I was ages 5-15.  That’s a pretty transformative decade.  Among other things, these ten years saw my entree into my own taste in music.  I realized, despite my parents’ best efforts, that there were other types of music than classic rock and Motown.  And the music I experienced in the 90’s merited the word “bitch,” not “chick.”  Hell (see what I did there), there was even a SONG called “Bitch.”  Bless Meredith Brooks; Mom loved that song, even though she wouldn’t let me buy the CD single at age 12.

Over the past few years the pop-cuture powers that be have decided that enough time has gone by that we can now begin to reflect on the 90’s.  We have “I Love the 90’s” on VH1.  Washed-up 90’s stars are appearing on Celebrity Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, and other reality shows.  And frankly, it was time for a song at least referencing this decade that was so underwhelming to us all at the time, but now feels iconic.  I remember saying to my mom in the car one day, “I have to have been born into the WORST musical time period EVER.”  This may actually be true.  I’m not sure that any one band or artist from the 90’s would be remembered or canonized in pop-culture history if those deciding didn’t feel like they HAD to highlight SOMEONE from the 90’s.  But, damnit, “I don’t care. I love it.”  

In addition to the aforementioned Meredith Brooks, this decade of music gave us Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, TLC, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, The Spice Girls, and Shirley Manson…to name a few.  Were these women simply “chicks”??? NO!  Let me give you a little run down.  Two of them fronted bands where the rest of the members were men.  You think anyone without a little bitch in ‘em gets away with that?  One of them sang break-up songs so cruel and bitter that she made Taylor Swift’s lyrics sound like she’s singing Lionel Richie songs.  Another was known for breaking into screaming fits on stage.  And just about all of them engaged in some sort of sexual activity that I would not personally condone.  Basically, they were BITCHES!  And they inspired a generation of girls (who are now young women) to let their inner-bitch surface, even if just for a moment here or there.  It was girl power to the max.  

Now, anyone reading this probably knows me and knows that in His sovereignty, God knew to provide me with great parents, a wonderful church, and an enormous fear of getting into trouble.  So no, I never engaged in any of the above activities in my youth.  (I saved my select few screaming fits for home-love you mom.)  But you’d better BELIEVE that in my car and on my Discman I was rockin’ some “Don’t Speak,” “You Oughta Know,” “Oops I Did It Again,” “Celebrity Skin,” “Only Happy When It Rains,” and “Wannabe.”  These songs and the women who sang them shaped me.  They gave contexts for my newly forming hormonal emotions.  They gave me music video dances to learn with my friends at slumber parties.  And mostly, they gave me reasons to engage music and to think about what these songs were saying.

All of this is why, as I watched those “tweens” at the Taylor Swift show chant the lyrics to this song, I grimaced.  These girls were not “90’s bitches.”  They grew up on Miley Cyrus and, well, Taylor Swift.  Actually, Taylor herself barely qualifies.  Though, I admire her desire to join us.  They don’t get it.  But, I do.  I’m 28 and most of my friends have children of their own, but when I hear “I Love It,” I am instantly transported to the back seat of my parents’ car on a family road trip with me trying to hide my inner teenage angst by putting on my Discman headphones and blaring “Ironic” as loud as tolerable.  I smile as I go back there in my mind…because it is the past.  I was a good kid.  I have grown into a fairly responsible adult.  But, somewhere down inside me, there is a “90’s bitch” that rears her head every now and then at just the right moment. Thanks, ladies.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Some Thoughts on Boston

I run races.  Not long ones.  And certainly not marathons.  5K's with the random 10K thrown in there about once a year.  To call myself  "a runner" feels like I am cheapening a term in which so many people take pride.  Nevertheless, I run races.

I started running races about five years ago to give myself a reason to exercise.  A training goal.  I also ran my first race because a friend asked me to run with her in honor of her family friend who was fighting (and has since lost) a battle with brain cancer.  It was in this first race that I was reminded that a race, and running in general, is about much more than a reason to exercise.

My high school track coach used to bristle at the idea that track was an "individual sport."  The only time I ever saw him angry was when someone on the team started acting like it was.  He argued that track is one of the greatest team sports, because you are truly competing against yourself and your personal best and that frees you up to cheer for your teammates to do the same.

This idea came flooding back to me as I ran that first 5K.  As I watched thousands of people fill the streets of Washington, DC in bright colors, funny hats, elaborate costumes, and smiles just to run a few miles to raise money for brain cancer research, I remembered my high school track coach.  As I ran step by step with a friend who normally ran much faster than me, but had slowed her pace in order to encourage this nervous first-time racer, I began to understand what I never grasped in high school as my coach preached: that runners have one of the greatest communities this side of heaven.

Have you ever watched a race?  Participated in one?  If so, you know that at a race you will find nothing but encouragement.  People who are there are running, yes, "by themselves," but really they are basking in the reality that they are a part of something so much bigger than one person.  Yes, most races benefit a charity, which is glorious in and of itself.  But even if they did not, races benefit the charity of humanity.  At a race some of the purest and best qualities of humanity--endurance, encouragement, discipline, community--exist to remind us that though this world is fallen, its Creator made it and it was Good.

And if you watch closely at the finish line of a race you will be reminded that this world will one day be Good again.  That same friend who asked me to run my first 5K told me that the reason she loves running the last mile of any race without headphones is to hear the cheers of the crowd as she approaches and crosses the finish line.  Not for her own personal satisfaction, but because she believes that it is the clearest image we have this side of heaven of what it will look like when we cross that final finish line one day.  When we approach heaven will all of the saints who have gone before not clap and cheer and welcome us across that finish line with open arms, and a place to rest, rejoice, and recover from our long journey?

I think they will, which is why yesterday's events in Boston saddened me so much.  They made me angry.  How dare someone try to taint this image of the finish line that means so much to me and countless others who have more claim to it than I.  How dare they mess with something so pure and good?

I am still angry, but as I read the words of Isaiah (and then of Paul echoing him in 1 Corinthians) this morning, "Death is swallowed up in victory[...]Where, oh death, is now thy sting?"  I am comforted.  And as I focus on that final finish line we will all one day cross, I am able to sing to myself a verse from my favorite Christmas carol: "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men."