Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Digs: Trusting the Lord All Over Again

So, as you all know, I completed a move away from hip, chic Arlington to quiet, untrendy Falls Church just over 6 weeks ago. Traumatic might be a little bit of strong word for the experience, but it was certainly unpleasant and not something I was looking to repeat any time soon. Ah, the best laid plans.
When I returned home on Friday, there was a small letter waiting in the mailbox, informing my roommates and I that our lease is being terminated early and that we must be out by November 30. There was no reason given, though before I moved in, the owners mentioned that they were thinking about moving back into our house. I can only assume that that is exactly what they have decided to do, a month and a half after they renewed our lease. I was shocked- and angry, and frustrated. What in the world? Could they even legally be allowed to terminate without cause? Upon reviewing our lovely 30 page lease, my roommate who is a lawyer realized that there was a clause that said, yes, indeed, they could legally terminate our lease without cause.
It was so surreal. How could this be possible- after all the money and trouble to be able to move into this house, it's all been a waste. I have to expend the finances and energy all over again.
But as the initial shock and visceral reaction begins to wear off, I can only laugh and shake my head. Something so out of the blue has all the regular markings of the Lord up to some kind of crazy plan.
See, we want answers so immediately. I do, anyways. I want things to make sense to me and I want to be in control of them. But that is just not how life really works, and that's definitely not how God works. I have spent my whole life trying to be in control and to make life adaptable to my desires- but really, when I'm still and I'm honest with myself, what I really desire is Jesus. The great part of that is that Jesus promises that those who seek Him will find Him. The hard part about seeking Him is that you do a lot of waiting and a lot of listening- two things that I have never been that great at.
God has promised to lead me, protect me, and guide me. But I have to let Him do it. It's like a toddler who gets a trike for Christmas that has to be put together- he wants to do it himself. When his father reaches to help, he stubbornly yanks the pieces away, and at the end, he has a one wheeled junk heap, with extra pieces laying around that wouldn't fit. I want with everything in me to give up and let Him take the pieces and reassemble them so that it all fits together the way that they were destined and designed to.
So I'm waiting and praying that He will do put together the pieces in a situation that I definitely don't understand right now. I'm still confident that God led me to this place, so I will be just as confident that He is leading me out. Now, whether He's leading me to somewhere by myself, to somewhere with roommates, to somewhere inexpensive, or to somewhere that will cost a little more, I'm not sure. But that's why my Father lets me talk to Him and sort these things out with Him.
I am unsure of what's going on right now, but I am very sure that one day I will understand why God led me here and then away so quickly. In the mean time, I'm trying to be patient and wait on what the next steps should be.
If anyone has any housing leads, let me know. I will definitely be thankful for any prospects to consider!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Keep Your Shirt On and Other Essential Points of Gym Etiquette

Since I've finally made myself start getting up to go to the gym at the crack of dawn instead of pretending that I'll go after a 12 hour day of pencil pushing, I've become awakened anew to the minutiae of gym life. The regulars, the inepts, the loud mouth-breathers, the inappropriately dressed. The gym is the mecca where all of these characters, who usually exist in completely separate worlds, converge and collectively run without going any where or lift objects whose sole raison d'etre is to be heavy or punch invisible attackers.

I arrive at the gym around 5:45am, meaning that my mind is not fully coherent or rational. My rapier wit and glowing beauty are not fully evident at this time of morning (read: slack-jawed, bleary-eyed, and bed-headed), but this state of blurry muddle-mindedness is conducive to observing my fellow early-birds. I have seen many wonders: men kissing their own biceps after completing a challenging rep, women checking themselves out in the mirror as they jog on the treadmill, an old man working out in what looked like a safari outfit. But what I've mostly noticed is that there is a significant paucity of basic etiquette between different members of Gold's Gym Merrifield. So, for their benefit and mine, I have disstilled my observations into some basic rules of the road:

Correct Machine Spacing (Creepy Guy Violating Personal Space is Not Okay): I was on my eliptical, running my little heart out. There was only one other person on the row of machines, with 10 or so elipticals in between, and another 6 or so past me. All of  a sudden, I realized that some creeper had planted himself on the eliptical right next to me. I'm not sure if he was hitting on me or just had some kind of intense codependent complex that forbids him exercising without someone within smacking distance, but this violates common decorum. When you begin taking seats, you go as far away from other people as possible. Then when new people come, they half the distance, and so on and so on, until people are finally forced to sit directly next to someone else. This same principle applies to gym machines. In addition to making me uncomfortable, I purposefully try to not exercise on a machine next to other people, as I am a competitor at heart, and I find myself craning to see their screens so that I can make sure that I'm running faster than them. Which throws my whole schedule of intermittant speed and rest into a tail spin. All because some weirdo isn't following the basic laws of respecting others' personal space.
Grouping Like TV Channels Together (Which One of These is Not Like the Other?) To mix things up, I slept in on Saturday and rolled into el gimnasio around 10am on September 11th. As a sober day for all Americans, the good folks of Gold's Gym had rightly discerned that many people would like to watch the memorial while they ran off the booze weight they'd put on the night before. So I'm running along, trying to focus on Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, but out of the corner of my eye, I keep seeing alternating shots of a pencil and then a close up of a woman's bottom on the TV next to mine. Alarmed, I turned to see that this particular infommerical had devised an entirely new measurement by which women can judge their bodies and find them lacking. Place a pencil under the crease of where you bum and thigh meet. If you can hold it there, your tush is too big and sloppy. If the pencil drops, you have successfully used their product to lift and firm. Aside from the fact that sloppy or no, I like my bum and resent anyone trying to make it feel bad, I found this in rather bad taste. I was trying to focus on and pray for the families still feeling the effect of a terrible and traumatic day in American history. Instead, I was now forced to be distracted by my own backside in comparison to the energetic supermodels in spandex onesies. Common courtesy and sense would suggest that grouping like TV shows together. Probably workout videos and Jersey Shore in one corner, CNN and CSPAN in another, and Friends reruns in the middle.
Appropriate Modesty While Sweating (Stop Kissing Your Guns and Put Your Shirt Back On): What I'm about to say may be controversial and bring some hard realities to bare, but, Gentle Reader, know that this is said with love. The gym is air conditioned. No one in there is so uncomfortably overheated that they need to remove their clothing- or if they are, they are not in good enough health to be at the gym. The bottom line is that people who are taking their shirts are doing it because they think that they look hot and want to flaunt their physiques. This can only be for one of two reasons: to attract amorous attentions or to wordlessly judge the less toned. Either the shirtless offender in question is hoping, like a peacock, to entice a potential mate, in which case a bar might be a more appropriate venue to do their strutting. Or they are trying to prove to everyone in the weight room that they are in better shape and are therefore superior, thus discouraging the attendence of the people who most need to be at the gym. Unless you are at the gym during what I refer to as "hot people hour", either motivation is inappropriate. The "hot people hour" phenonmenon was discovered by my roommates and I during college. In this case, all the sorority girls in itty bitty tanks and cheerleading spanks would converge upon the campus gym at the same time to lightly jog in front of fraternity muscle men, who would reciprocate interest by shirtlessly lifting mammoth weights while winking at the girls in question. If you go to this kind of establishment and your primary motive is finding a date for Friday night, then the fewer articles of clothing you can legally get away with, the better. Otherwise, put your shirt back on and focus on what everyone else is thinking about: working on your fitness (I'll even be your witness).
Non-Threatening Hovering (Share, Don't Scare): Part of not having your own personal gym is having to share equipment. This requires a certain level of patience and flexibility as you wait for machines to become available. Some people get around this by politely asking the current occupent to let them "work in," meaning that while the current occupent is resting in between reps, the new person does a rep and then switches back. Others find this approach too straight-forward and instead stand directly behind the current occupent, staring at the back of their head, presumably hoping that the current occupent will become so uncomfortable that they will hurry through their last rep and vacate the machine. While the latter method is highly effective, it is also extremely creepy. My suggestion would be to strap on a pair and ask to work in, or be a good little pet and wait your turn.
No One is Getting a Prize for Parking Closest to the Door (You're at the Gym- Walk the Extra 20 feet): The shopping center where the gym is located has only 2 major businesses: the Gold's Gym and the Great Wall Supermarket. Unfortunately, the peak usage times for both establishments are concurrent- after work and Saturday morning. This leads to a lot of angry yuppies in beamers battling annoyed Asians for a finite number of parking spots. The customers of Great Wall are, in my opinion, justified in desiring a parking spot near the door, as they need to haul a load of groceries back to their car. However, the intense determination gym members have in obtaining a front row spot is, I must confess, somewhat puzzling. You pay money to the gym every month for a place to get physical activity. You already have the clothes with you that you're going to sweat in and you have tennis shoes. Would it really be a tragedy to walk a couple extra rows to get into the gym instead of frazzling some old woman whose trying to unload her groceries into her Buick? I know DC is filled with competitive, Type-A overachievers, but maybe you could just sit this one out and get into the gym faster, without nearly hitting pedestrians and causing a fender bender. Just a suggestion.

Anyways, despite these lapses of logic or politeness, I'm enjoying my renewed commitment to physical fitness. And maybe I can send these guidelines into Miss Manners to see if she approves.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reflecting on the Song in My Heart

So I woke up this morning with this song in my heart and head, and I remembered how much I love it. It was the first song from this album that really jumped out at me, and I've come to think of it as "my song" with God. I think everyone has that song- one the connects with who you are, where you've been, how you are changing. For me and my life, this song best expresses how I feel about Him and what He's done for me and generally just makes me joyful and thankful. I've had some hard, traumatic things happen to me and I've definitely done my share of messing things up, but when I think about my life, I think about where I was before Jesus, and who I am now since He's come into my life. I'm glad that there are so many people who knew  me B.C. and can testify to the difference- His mercy and healing for me takes my breath away.

The words don't really come alive without the music, but I thought I'd share them with you anyways. I am humbled and grateful for the love of my Savior for me:

when i think about the Lord
how He saved me, how He raised me
how He filled me with the Holy Ghost
how He healed me to the uttermost
when i think about the Lord
how he picked me up
turned me around
how He set my feet
on solid ground

it makes me want to shout
hallelujah! thank you, Jesus!
Lord, you're worthy
of all the glory, and all the honor
and all the praise!
Hallelujah! thank you, Jesus!
Lord, you're worthy
of all the glory, and all the honor
and all the praise!
-- Shane & Shane, "When I Think About the Lord"

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ebony and Ivory, Side by Side on My Piano Keys: Reflections on Prayer

I generally have a difficult time figuring out when to push and when to wait. Do I call someone every day until they respond, or do I call once and sit by the phone indefinitely? (I think He's Just Not That Into You probably addresses this quandry with respect to the opposite sex...) Do I go to the store one day for that sold-out book I want or return daily to six bookstores until it's finally in stock? Do I ask my manager for a face-to-face four times a week until he caves or put in the request on Monday and assume he's too busy if I don't hear back?
See,  there are two conflicting impulses within me that are always in tension. There's the go-getter that wants to hunt the person or thing down that I need to accomplish my goal and will not relent until that they succumb to the sheer incessant force of my will. There's also the passive people-pleaser whose desire is to be liked and not rock the boat, which too often morphs into laziness.
As I've been reading passages of the Bible addressing prayer, I can't help but muse on these tendencies within me. These stories shed light on 2 different perspectives... there are the stories of persistence, comparing God to a callous judge who will relent only to the incessant pleadings of an old woman, God as the annoyed neighbor who comes downstairs after lots of loud knocking, etc. Then there are the verses that seem to imply a one time dump of worries onto a God who will go off and come back with results ("Cast all your cares upon Him", "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your request to God," "Ask and you will receive").
When it comes to down to it, I feel real conflict about the right theology in this area... and, traditionally, I am realizing that my patient (or passive) side overwhelmingly prevails in how this practically plays out in my life. While there are definitely themes about what is on my heart and therefore what I pray for, my mentality has always been that once I've asked, I can forget about it and move on. There's definitely something to be said for this- I think I can honestly say that I have a small gift of faith in this area, because I know that many people really struggle with philosophical mechanics as to whether God hears us or how we can know that prayer does anything. That has not been a large obstacle in my prayer life. I am coming to realize that I see prayer almost as a fact finding mission to a completely wise and fair judge. I bring the facts as I know them and my recommendation to Him and walk away assuming that He will do as He sees best.
However, I'm realizing that this view is what may keep me from praying persistently for something. The piece of the puzzle that I think I'm lacking is the faith that what I ask for will change what God does. I see prayer as bringing the situation to God's attention; I don't understand what it means to believe that I am bringing counsel to the Counselor that will be seriously considered. We have to be really careful here, because it is all too easy, especially in our current cultural climate, to morph our view of prayer as our rabbit's foot, a way to manipulate the Governor of the universe. Any such view is facile and, ultimately, just silly. However, God makes some embarassingly extravagent promises about His willingness to listen and act on our behalf ("He will give you the desires of your heart", "If your son asks for bread, will you give him a stone?", "Ask and you will receive"). The Bible is filled with people who bargain with God and get results (Abraham about Sodom, Moses about the protection of Israel). Frankly, these stories would make me a little afraid of trusting a God who was completely governed by the will of men, if they were not balanced by stories of people who do not get what they request (Job, Jesus in Gethsemene). The whole picture shows a God who is open to the desires and requests of man, but not dominated by them.
That's a bigger picture than my simple mind would develop on its own and I'm sure I'll never fully grasp the subtleties. The key to all of this, of course, is the heart behind it. "He will give you the desires of your heart" is prefaced by "Delight yourself in the Lord." Again, having the heart of delight isn't something I really understand- I suspect I have my moments of it, but we spend our whole lives seeking it on earth.
All of this to say, I feel that God has called me to pray for something persistently and consistently- try every day!- and I'm feeling like a wimp in the face of this challenge. I feel like a brat sitting in the backseat of the car on a long road trip saying, "Are we there? How bout now? Now? Now? Now? Now?" It seems so repetitive and frustrating. But I'm trying to think of it as the cute tow-haired tot who comes to her Daddy every day for a hug and an "I love you". I have to believe that a daughter's small act of obediance has to feel like love to her Father. And I have to trust that there are battles going on that I can't see or imagine- that I am throwing the my weight into the battle (Eph 3:18).
Both one time prayer and consistent petitioning have a place in our prayer lives. I'm curious- How do other people balance persistence and patience in prayer? Any insights would be welcomed.