September 28, 2011

the secret life

"love is not a feeling. it's an ability." marty, "dan in real life"

ever since i was a little girl i have always wanted to be a superhero. while most little girls dreamed of being kimberly, the pink power ranger, i had much bigger aspirations and tried to model my life after raphael, the teenage mutant ninja turtle. and after spending almost every saturday morning with the turtles and captain planet, i truly wanted to make a difference in the world.

as i got older, my interest moved from playing the role of the rescuer to totally owning the role of the rescued. lois lane captivated my complete envy and admiration, and i wanted to be saved by superman with every fiber of my tiny being. so that being said, i would create desperate situations as a 6-year-old, which would result in a heroic rescuing. before i became an effective swimmer, i distinctly remember paddling to the deep end of the pool in a little, inflatable raft and dramatically throwing my body into the water right in front of an older, handsome boy, completely trusting that his dashing good looks and floaties would somehow preserve my life.

but my favorite characteristic of superheroes was the enigmatic mystery of their secret life. i was always amazed at how they were able to keep their identities a conundrum to the common man and that even their best friends were unaware of their incredible abilities. i admired that they chose their actions because they were right even when the choice was difficult or disagreeable. and what i adored the most was that they never sought credit or acted out of selfish ambition but loved in the absence of recognition.

and their secret life makes me think of my own life and makes me question the intentions and motives behind my actions. as human beings, none of us tend to be too qualified in keeping quiet or keeping secrets. when we do good things, it is so easy to try to ensure that others see them and notice them in order to think that we are good people. we want our love to be seen and acknowledged in order to establish our own personal status of holiness. almost every action of our lives is designed for either a facebook album or status, and i wonder how many of our good decisions are inspired by the recognition and attention that they will give us in return.

we are people who seem to no longer pray in secret but want to appear to everyone else that we communicate with GOD every day. we are walking, whitewashed tombs, appearing so flawless and together outwardly but decaying within. we choose to love either those who will love us in return or those whom it will be most beneficial and admirable to love. we have created our own definitions and measures of spirituality based on the deeds that we see, despite our left hand's need to remain in a state of oblivion.

but i wonder what would happen if we began to view love as a super-heroic ability to be done in secret without recognition. what if every action we took was never to be noticed by anyone else? what if we loved without ever disclosing our identities? what if the good things others heard about us were to only come from the lips of other people instead of our own? what if every deed we did was solely to uphold righteousness? what if we prayed in the closet and loved in secret at the risk of being a little less spiritual? what if we truly loved our enemies or those who wouldn't love us in return?

therefore my new ambition starting today is to be the peter parker, the bruce wayne, the clark kent, the steve rogers, the tony stark of love. to treat the act of loving like a super-heroic ability to be done without notice or attachment of my good name. to keep abilities and potential securely fastened underneath an ironed, buttoned-up shirt and to wear a nerdy pair of glasses to throw people off.

to love without agenda and without intent of recognition or praise. to love regardless of feeling and to love everyone with the same amount of significance. to love regardless of what someone has done or hasn't done for me in return. and to love those who will never be able to return it.

to love without expectation and with no hope of reciprocation. to treat everyone the way that i would like to be treated without demanding the same treatment in return. to love righteously. to love equally. to love wholeheartedly.

to be an enigma. to pray in the closet. to love in the dark. to no longer live life as a whitewashed tomb. to act without fear or inhibition. to love regardless of spirituality or feigned holiness.

to live the secret life.

September 17, 2011

the closed door

"when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." helen keller

there are many characters from books and movies that i can relate to and identify with, and one of those characters is maria from "the sound of music." i'm pretty sure i have the ability to outpester any pest and to drive a hornet from its nest, and i'm sure that i've been referred to as a flibbertijibbet a time or two, but more than anything, i understand the desire to look for the open window after GOD has closed a door.

i'm a planner. i'm a fixer. i'm a doer. and i like to make things happen, especially in my own life. and so the minute a door closes in my life, i tend to start scanning the room, determined to discover the perfect and suitable window that is even better than the door. but as i'm getting older and as different doors of my life have closed and are closing, i'm learning a profound and different truth:

sometimes GOD's gift is not the next open window; sometimes the gift is the closed door.

i've heard it said that "there are two ways of being unhappy: one is not getting what you want, and the other is getting what you want," and i believe it to be true. as humans, we just can't seem to find a steady state of contentment. sometimes we don't get the very thing we wanted, only to be disappointed and upset. other times we get exactly what we wanted, only for our minds to change as soon as we get it. and sometimes we just simply don't know what we want. but in our constant state of restless wandering, running through all kinds of different doors and windows, GOD does us such a huge favor by closing the doors and providing us some direction.

sometimes the door that we thought would open to a big, bright room of possibility is in reality a door only leading to a closet, going nowhere and ending with a wall. sometimes we realize that the big, strong oak door that we admired for so long from far away is in reality nothing but faux wood after taking a closer look. and sometimes when GOD closes the door, keeping us from what we want, HE is preparing the path that will lead us to what we need.

the truth is that we never know what GOD is actually sparing us by closing the door, and hindsight usually is 20/20. whether it's only a few weeks later or a couple of years, it's usually only a matter of time before we're shouting a "thank YOU, LORD," for protecting us from that! and that's because GOD in his greatness already knows our plans. HE is greater than our hearts. and as much as we might complain and truly hurt over the closing of the door, HE knows that by providing the closure, HE is providing protection from getting trapped in the wrong room.

and even worse than an obviously closed door is a door that leaves us wondering whether it is really closed or if it might still be open. and we wait and wait, hoping that there is some chance that it will still be cracked and might miraculously swing back open instead of finding the bright and apparent window in the middle of the room leading us to our freedom.

but when it comes to finding the open window, reading GOD can be tricky. because the same GOD that led us to the closed door is now leading us to the window that might end up doing the same thing. sometimes the open window seems to become apparent immediately. and other times we have to be careful to make sure that the window is in fact open and not just really, really clean.

but every closed door prepares us for the open window to come. every wrong turn. every broken lock. every funky knob is telling us that that particular door is not our door and to keep searching. whether it be the loss of a job. or the loss of a relationship. whether it be a sudden change in circumstances. or a sudden change of heart. whether it be the rejection of a new future. or the rejection because of a former past. whether it be the betrayal of a friend. or the betrayal of yourself, every closed door, whether it be suddenly slammed or gently shut, is just leading to the right window.

and sometimes instead of immediately looking for the next open window, we need to just take a moment to breathe and to thank GOD for graciously shutting the door. to take a moment of silence. to do a dance of victory. to shout a long hallelujer! to rejoice and be glad because GOD gave us a gift by closing the door. and when we think about the magnitude of GOD knowing us and loving us enough to give us the desires of our hearts and yet to protect them at the same time, we must feel confident in HIS closure.

so today i choose to praise GOD for all of the things that i will never even realize that HE is sparing me from: the heartaches, the struggles, the fears, the anxieties, the troubles, and the problems of choosing the wrong way. and every day when i pray for the clarity to discover the open window, i will try to remember to thank GOD for the closed door.

September 9, 2011

the bite

"no man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." nathanial hawthorne, the scarlet letter

you are 7 years old, and you just don't know how it happened. you wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. you put the netting over your bed. you sprayed yourself with all of the right stuff. but somehow the mosquito still got you.

you didn't notice it at first, but while you were going about your day minding your 1st-grade business, something rubbed up against your arm. and for the first time you began to feel the itch. and as a 7-year-old, you realize that you have a mosquito bite, and you look at your arm in annoyance as you can't figure out how in the world you got that bite when you took every precaution so that you wouldn't.

and now that you've felt the itch, you can't think about anything else. but at this point in your life, your mama has established that you are to never scratch a mosquito bite because it could become infected. and so you try to go about the rest of your day normally, thinking about everything BUT the fact that the only thing you want to do is scratch your arm. but as much as you try to avoid the existence and irritation of your little bite, it's the only thing that you can think about.

you realize, though, that if you scratch it, it will turn red and irritated just like your mama said, and it will then become evident to all your fellow 1st graders that you did in fact get bitten by a mosquito and that you are in fact the proud owner of a bite. and in your 7-year-old mind, the idea of your friends knowing that you got bitten by a tiny, little mosquito would be just plain embarrassing, and the thought of eventually having a giant, red spot on your arm is completely mortifying. so in an effort to hide a potential wound, you decide to keep your mosquito bite a secret.

so you continue through your day, busying yourself with your amelia bedelia book. you pull your sleeves down so that no one will notice your little bump and so that you won't think about it anymore. and hours may pass where you completely forget that the mosquito bite is there. but then, when you least expect it, something rubs up against your arm again, and that quick and brief satisfaction brings about a sweet and sour relief.

and you start thinking about the bite. you look around to make sure nobody else is watching, and you take your hand and gently start to rub it. and you slowly begin to justify your action. rubbing it won't hurt it, right? mom didn't say you couldn't rub it. she said you couldn't scratch it. barely touching it won't break it or infect it. it's safe to make it just a little better.

until rubbing it isn't enough. so then you take your finger and start lightly scratching all around it. but you're not scratching it directly, so it won't hurt anything, right? mom didn't say you couldn't scratch around it. she just said you couldn't scratch it. you can scratch around it for a long time before there's really any problem.

until you soon just can't take it anymore, and in a moment of weakness, you completely succumb to the itch. using all of your fingernails, you scratch and scratch until you feel complete but temporary relief. you smile at the satisfaction until you feel something moving down your arm.

you look down, and you are bleeding. and you look up, and everyone else has realized that you're bleeding, too. little susie faints at the site of the blood. little daniel thinks it's the coolest thing he's ever seen. and soon 19 other 7 year olds plus your teacher are surrounding your arm. the mosquito bite that was once only a tiny bump that you hoped to hide from everyone else is now a red and gross wound that everyone else can't help but notice.

the teacher sends someone to get you a band-aid. someone else runs to get you some neosporin. but the truth is that as much as people offer to help you now, you've already broken the skin and created a wound. and in creating a wound, you've created damage that will be much harder to heal than if you had never scratched. and you've created a cycle of itching and scratching that will continue until you decide to scratch no more.

because the truth that you've just learned about mosquito bites is that once you scratch, it will continue to itch until it heals. and the only way for it to heal is to no longer scratch.

and so it is with our sin. we can't explain why we have the struggles that we do. we may have even taken precautions not to have them. they may all be the results of our circumstances or the choices made by the other people in our lives. but for whatever reason, one day that sensitive spot is rubbed, and they are then brought to our awareness.

and once we feel that itch, we realize that we do in fact have a mosquito bite, and it begins to feel impossible not to scratch. but in our humanity and immaturity, we are so ashamed of our struggles, that we don't want to reveal to anyone else that they exist. in some cases our struggles would be so mortifying and disgusting to others, that we dare not reveal them for fear of losing those relationships. so we roll down our sleeves and pretend that they're not there. and not only do we fool everyone around us, but sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that they really aren't an issue. that there really isn't problem. that it's already gotten better. or that time and distraction will heal it for us.

but then it happens. something rubs that spot again, bringing the sensation back to our awareness. and while we know we really shouldn't scratch it, the temporary relief just feels so good that we just can't seem to ignore it. and we start making excuses and justifications to let ourselves rub it, scratch around it, and eventually fully give into it.

but when it comes to our sin and our struggles, we make the mistake when we don't let others know about the bite. when we keep our sin and struggles secret, we run the same risk as arthur dimmesdale in the scarlet letter: we allow the sin to eat at us from the inside out, and in carrying the burden of our dirt and filth alone, we fall victim to all of its effects. the faint itch wears on us daily with no one there to help encourage us not to scratch. with no one there to give us a band-aid to cover and protect the bump. with no one there to give us the anti-itch cream to relieve our temptation.

when we face our sins alone, we don't allow our relationships to progress for fear that the secret will be exposed or because our secret holds us back. we are so ashamed of our ugliness and hideousness that we would do just about anything to keep it from becoming exposed. but the truth is that until we expose our mosquito bites, we just create a cycle of itching and scratching that will continue until we decide to scratch no more. because once we scratch the bite, it will continue to itch until it heals. and the only way for it to heal is to no longer scratch.

the truth about our struggles is that we won't overcome them if we succumb to them. and we will succumb to them if we don't allow GOD and one another to help us overcome them. the bites will not heal with time but only by the healing hand of GOD, and we have to be there for each other in order not to scratch until we are healed. because if we are allowed to rub and scratch around our struggles with no one watching, we will never be able to overcome our sin.

the truth is that every one of us has our own mosquito bites (romans 3:23). but our bites were meant to be shared (james 5:16), and we are meant to boast in our weakness (2 corinthians 12:9). we were not meant to live a life of secret struggle and sin because just at the right time, our HEALER came with the anti-itch medication, at the very time we were itching the most (romans 5:6). and we are meant to encourage each other not to scratch until we are healed (hebrews 3:13-14). and by exposing our mosquito bites, one to another, and by sharing our struggles and sufferings, we allow ourselves to become more than conquerors (romans 8:37).

September 3, 2011

the half-full lemonade

confession: i am that person who orders a lemon with my water at every single restaurant and instantly grabs 2 packets of sweet'n low to make free and frugal lemonade. and i am also that person who after drinking half of my creation views the glass as half full instead of half empty.

but recently, life has been handing me lots of lemons but has been forgetting to provide the water and sugar to make the lemonade! and juggling all of these lemons is just not as fun as turning them into something sweet. i am slowly learning that peace is the sweet'n low of life and that having peace turns a lemony glass of water into a glass of contentment. so in my quest for the sweet'n low to make my half-full lemonade, i've found a handful of quotes that are helping to turn my potential bitterness into betterness and to turn my brief period of sour into something truly sweet.

i'm also discovering that the best way to encourage yourself is by encouraging someone else, so in the chance that you need some peace and encouragement, too, i present you with the half-full lemonade:

"peace does not come from finding a lake with no storms. it comes from having JESUS in the boat." john ortberg

"i am only one, but still i am one. i cannot do everything, but still i can do something; and because i cannot do everything, i will not refuse to do something that i can do." helen keller

"each one has to find his peace from within. and peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances." ghandi

"GOD didn't promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but HE did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way." unknown

"we ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." mother teresa

"i believe in pink. i believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. i believe in kissing, kissing a lot. i believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. i believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. i believe that tomorrow is another day. and i believe in miracles." audrey hepburn

"i do not want the peace which passeth understanding, i want the understanding which bringeth peace." helen keller

"GOD cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from HIMSELF, because it is not there. there is no such thing." c.s. lewis

"peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures." john f. kennedy

"GOD grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change; courage to change the things i can; and wisdom to know the difference. living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as HE did, this sinful world as it is, not as i would have it; trusting that HE will make all things right if i surrender to HIS will; that i may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with HIM forever in the next. amen." reinhold niebuhr