Week one is done.


Things I haven’t told you this week that we need to get out of the way:

– I’m a literacy intern in downtown Chicago. That pic is from my L stop. 

– Air conditioning is nice, but you can totally live without it in the Midwest, even on the third floor. Or maybe that’s just because we have a strict box-fan-in-every-window policy.

– I almost picked up a 4 foot tall stuffed giraffe from the sidewalk yesterday because it had a free sign on it. The only thing that stopped me was 1) hygiene and 2) I was on my way downtown and wasn’t sure about lugging a giraffe of unknown cleanliness on the way. Unfortunately, the giraffe wasn’t there on our way back, so I’m giraffe-less.

Let’s talk about how God knows me better than I know myself. Let’s talk about the way that I was just sitting in Austria, registering for classes, hoping to get into all the classes I needed and found I didn’t have enough credits.

So then this opportunity just popped up out of the blue yonder of InternMatch.com. And not only did they let me Skype interview, but they offered me the position early on. And they have the perfect, book-filled office in a great neighborhood. And I get four free books a month and get to work to promote literacy in a city where there are so many who have not been encouraged to read.

And I have a mug with my name on it. And my own little desk. It’s a dream come true. And there’s a Keurig and lots of coffee.

God also knows what I need to hear. I met him at church this morning, and he met me, too. He said, “hey, remember that thing that’s been tapping on your heart and asking to be dealt with? Well I just told your pastor to talk about that. Yes, this is a word for you. No, you didn’t know you needed it.”

God knows that I needed a third floor apartment this year because the view is beautiful in our little alley when the sun is going down. I have a great vantage point. I didn’t know I wanted a third floor apartment.

When I got frantic about money again, I got another email – “hey, I have a friend who needs an editor for their book!” 

The. next. day.

I still can’t get over that. Why is God interested in my life? Why is he involved? (because we all know you can be interested from a distance and not be involved) Love? Oh, that’s crazy.

Here’s my jumble. That’s what’s going on in my little bundle of heat brain. I hope to gain some coherency as the semester goes on.

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Walking, catalysts, and pans.


Update on the pans, in case you (like my Canadian friend) were wondering what transpired there: they were in the very bottom on a box all along, somehow obscured so that I could not find them.

I’m not in Austria anymore, but I was thinking back to before I left today. I remembered how I didn’t know what to expect and mostly pictured a lot of walking, coffee, trains, and classes. And German, though I didn’t realize how much. Then, when I arrived in Austria, I saw that the pretty, old buildings I expected were there, along with the trains, the German language, the classes, the need to walk, and plenty of places to get coffee.

And then there was the excess of free time, where I realized that I have a big part to play in creating my reality. Who decides my schedule? Oh, right. I do that. There’s a certain amount of responsibilities and assignments and requirements involved in that decision, but I decide. I decide how I get places and when I go. I decide when I don’t go and what I do instead.

It’s both a freeing and frightening reality.

So, today, thinking back to my days of walking around Graz and (as Thoreau might say) “sauntering” from place to place without a goal in mind, I took a walk. I started walking and eventually gave myself a direction. Sure, the buildings were all brick, and there was a heck-of-a-lot of sirens and honking and cars and dust and people, but that’s Chicago. It was a different kind of wandering. Still the kind I need to do to foster creativity (I’ve found that walking is integral to my writing process) but just in my current setting.

I found myself in Lincoln Square, then decided to walk into the book store, where I spontaneously picked up a Billy Collins anthology and bought it, asking the clerk if this book store is hiring. Then I took a lesser known route home, trusting the Chicago grid to get me where I need to be.

You can wander anywhere, and you create the kind of life you want to live, to an extent. If I want to be the kind of person who up and walks to an adventure, then I’d better start being that person.

Sometimes, you’re your own catalyst.

Here and not holding out.


I’m back in Chicago now. I’ve left home and arrived at my apartment. Roommate reunion – check. Sweaty move-in – check. Furniture assembly – check. We’re still hanging pictures and figuring out the best places for our various whisks and such. I’ve realized that I left my mixing bowls at home, along with a few other things. Thankfully, however, those things are not the most urgent. 

I’ve arrived. And the natural next step is to figure out what I’m doing here. Not that I don’t have a schedule for my week and certain responsibilities and jobs, but what am I doing?

My parents and I went to my Chicago church this morning, which is always some kind of a good experience. And my pastor got me thinking about obedience. He was talking about what kind of God we serve, what he’s like and the lies the world, our flesh, and Satan tell us about who he is. 

He said something that put my brain on a loop for a minute: 

“God is not holding out on you.” Repeat that abut ten times, then move on.

I don’t think I hear that enough. When people talk about how God has so many rules and stipulations, I think – well, yeah, that’s just kind of the way it is. It’s good to be obedient. But I forget why it’s important. 

God is not holding out on me.

He has made it clear in his word that Christians are supposed to love, honor Him, honor each other, work for justice, save sex for marriage, live in a way that draws people to Him, not steal, not kill people, speak up for the voiceless and for righteousness, and in general, be holy.

It’s kind of a tall order, and it’s kind of a lot to ascribe to. There are parts of it that I’d rather ignore because it’s a lot of work and because it sometimes makes me butt heads with people I care deeply about and don’t want to offend. Also, my nature isn’t to be obedient. I like to question rules and ask if it’s really important. Like, why do I have to not do that if it won’t hurt me or anyone else?

But God is not holding out on me. The rules and the commandments and the advice and teachings aren’t to hem me in or to bind me to a legalistic type of relationship.

He’s a giving God. That’s his nature. Romans 8 says that if God gave his own son to die for the sins of the world, why wouldn’t he also give us everything else? Why would his rules be pointless and his guidelines be insignificant? If God is so loving that he’d sacrifice his own son in order to have a relationship with mankind, wouldn’t it be small potatoes to offer blessing and peace and joy and satisfaction as the result of obedience?

We’ve all seen some kind of movie where a man is being threatened at gunpoint. Give me the launch codes to the nuclear missiles, and I won’t kill you. Then, when the man refuses (so full of integrity and honor he is), they pull his little boy out from somewhere. Well then, we’ll kill him.

This is usually the part of the movie where the father says, NO! NO! ANYTHING BUT MY SON! The love the father has for his son is so powerful that now the fate of humanity is not as big of a deal. 

But God?

Don’t get him wrong, he loves his son. Jesus is a part of him; it’d be impossible for him to hate a part of himself, the perfect God. But God so loved the world, that he gave. He gave. And gives.

So when he asks us for obedience, it’s small potatoes. It’s the key to living a life of satisfaction and peace and joy and etc etc etc. It;s not hemming in, it’s setting free – at the expense of Jesus, who apparently could handle it since he defeated death in the process.

I’m not being hemmed in when God commands me to abstain from something or to go out and do something instead of something I’d rather do. I’m not being corralled into a boring or rule-driven, legalistic life when I follow the God who made the rules. I’m stepping into abundance, accepting the grace that God offers and telling him that I think his love and sacrifice merits a response. 

Doesn’t it?

 

Leaving again.


Leaving seems to be a theme for me. I leave home. I leave school. I leave home again. I leave Austria. I leave home again. I just keep leaving.

I mean, I could see this as “going.” I’m just going somewhere. I’m going to arrive in another place. But to go, you have to leave. 

And you have to pack.

*Sigh*

Packing is becoming the bane of my existence. Not that I can’t do it well, but it’s exhausting, mostly because I obsess over what to bring and if I remembered everything and if I am using all my space as efficiently as possible. Do I really need that sweater? What’s ratio of how many times I’ll wear that sweater versus this sweater? And if we factor in the amount of space that each takes up and if I have enough hangers in my apartment (and if they’ll get wrinkly if folded) and if the weather in October will warrant the wearing of such a sweater and the temperature of the rooms I’ll be having class in versus my body temperature as I’m climbing the stairs to that class, will it be better to have this one or that one?

Welcome to my crazy mind.

I usually get too tired to actually calculate and weigh my options, so I just take both. Or neither. Depending on what we’re talking about. 

Also, Liesel and I still have no idea where our pans are. If you know, please tell me. 

I understand why people never leave home, sort of. Especially if you’re just a little bit high maintenance and high stress. You could be much more sane if you just stayed in one area. However, I have decided that I need to leave. Leaving is my theme song, for now. I’ll be back, but I need to leave first. 

So, without further ado, more decision making about apparel and decor and hangers and furniture.

 

10 weird things.


You wanna know what’s weird? There are actually a lot of strange things I’m thinking about today.
1. I will be on my way back to school this time in two days. Already.
2. I can’t find my pots and pans from last year. We packed them up in December, and either I or my roommate took them home, but somehow they went AWOL. Do pans go on strike from disuse? We’re hoping they’ll show up.
3. I’m babysitting a little girl today who doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly. She only likes butter sandwiches. As much as I love butter…
4. God asked Isaiah to wander around naked for three years in order to get the Israelites’ attention. If that’s not strange, then I don’t know what is. I’m kind of wondering what a modern day equivalent of that would be, because though streaking is kind of an attention-getter, I don’t think it would make people take your message seriously.
5. A week from today I start my new internship at Open Books. Say what?
6. My sister has been a Mrs. for 7.5 months.
7. A Pocahontas 2 exists. I’m guessing it’s about as historically accurate as the first one.
8. I’ve been up before 8 for the past 4 days. This is not how people typically spend their last week of summer vacation.
You can imagine all the dissonance and strangeness going on in my head from that sampler. There’s more, too.
9. My friend sent me a picture of a woman walking on the street yesterday from Google Maps and said, “Is this you?”
10. There is also such a thing as turtle balloons. You can blow them up to unnatural sizes.
Here’s to spending another day with a six year old! Here’s to butter sandwiches! Please come home, my lovely pots and pans!
And cheers to another semester in Chicago.
May normal never be the norm.

Updates for Taylor.


Dear Taylor Swift,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly because you didn’t respond the last three times. But that’s okay. I mean, what’s that they say: if at first you don’t succeed, keep writing letters?

I just wanted to update you on our life in general, because there’s a part of my life that belongs to you, and I think you should know about it.

1. Last night, I startled a woman in the store I work at, because she thought I was you.

2. People in Austria aren’t super familiar with you, so I had 5 months off of being told that I must be your long-lost twin (at least, for the most part). You’ve got to go to Vienna or something, girl.

3. Your story about the popsicle sticks and building a house for your toy bears in the attic on Jimmy Fallon? Yes, that is a little bit pathetic. But also adorable. It’s a life skill to be able to entertain yourself. This is probably why you’re good at entertaining others. I used to jump rope with a tree during the years between when my sister went to school and when I got to go. So, yeah. We both have fairly similar childhood stories.

Those are my top three for right now.

I’ll be back with more, just in case you don’t get this and jump at the chance to know your doppelgänger.

Here are the links to the other letters I’ve written you, just in case you don’t know why I’m writing you: because we look strangely alike, because I like to offer unsolicited advice, because you copied my hair , and because every time I do this, my blog gets lots and lots of views.

You hang in there. I know you feel like part of you is missing, and let me just say – it’s me. Let’s do lunch sometime and fill the twin-hole in your heart.

<3

Ashley

Public blessings.


Since I’ve got under two weeks til I head back to school in Chitown, I’ve been packing my days full of people. I’ll have you for breakfast, you for lunch, and you for half apps. And you, we’ll do something active because I’ve been eating a whole lot.

Audrey and I have been cruising all over town to meet up with treasured friends. I’ve been reminded of a few things over these past couple weeks.

1. I need people. Without people, I lose perspective. When I don’t tell my stories and hear others’ stories, I forget where my life fits into the grand scheme. Not that I can’t find any significance in my life on my own, but it’s hard to see your life from the outside. I had no idea that story was so funny until I shared it with you. You have given me joy in my story. My people sometimes rejoice at the mundane or marvel at the perplexing. It’s a gift.

2. Though friendship across many miles and phases of life can be difficult, it’s rewarding, too. Sure, sometimes you need to let people fly to the people who are really theirs now, but sometimes your fight to hang onto each other has strengthens your friendships and increases its value.

3. Fiction is no substitute for reality. As much as I enjoy my books and tv shows and imaginings, they lack the real dimensions. You can’t talk to a fictional character and have them respond. (If you can, that’s a problem.) They can’t commiserate and be compassionate or laugh with you until the people around you are probably wondering if you’re sober or not. (you totally are) Fictional people can’t point out your quirks (like apparently how I unintentionally flirted with a barista-man and another guy I didn’t know… when I just thought I was being awkwardly friendly) and tell you they think you’re wonderful because of them.

This post is more for me than anything else. Sometimes you need to count your blessings in public so that you have something to look back on.

Justice, mercy, and I got a pedicure.


I had a lovely day today. My sister took the day off of work so we could hang by the pool and get pedicures. I bought the only romper I’ve ever found that actually fits me, a tall person, and I’ll spend this evening at my church’s open mic night.

Also today, people died of the ebola virus. Children were beheaded in Iraq simply because their family would not renounce their Christian faith.

Women all over the globe were forced to have sex upwards of twenty times today. Entire families are working ridiculously long shifts in brick kilns and garment factories.

And here I am, sitting in my new romper, getting more deflated by the minute and closer to tears.

When does this end?

When does the evil stop prospering? When do the oppressed get to stand, apart from their oppressors and say that by the blood of Jesus they are free, and no man can make them a slave again? When will justice roll down like a stream and righteousness like mighty waters?

When?

And what do I do in the meantime?

How do I reconcile my day, which I thought was pretty nice and not harmful to anyone, with what my brothers and sisters are encountering all across the globe? How can I feel okay about that?

There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance here. I want to find joy in everything, in the little things like, how for the first time this week, I didn’t burn my toast today and how I saved a whole lot of money by shopping at the store I work at. But then I want to cry, “INJUSTICE! EVIL!” at the real horrors of others’ daily lives.

Because there’s no way to twist these things, to make them sound better than they are. They really just are evil. There’s nothing even remotely good about a child being beheaded. A child. That must break our hearts.

That is the right response, isn’t it? We should have broken hearts over these things. God does. He most definitely does. But he also is glad that my sister finally got a day off of work. He rejoices that I had fewer carcinogens going into my body today.

Sometimes I wonder if God looks at us American Christians and says, Man, you guys have it easy. I really expect more from you.

More. I bet He does expect more from us.

But more what? More sorrow? More money? More aid?

Lord, what do you want from us?

You can have my guest room, Lord! Send the Iraqi Christians! Is that what you want? Will it eradicate evil? I’ll do it, Lord. I’ll do it because I don’t think my heart can take anymore.

Your heart must be even heavier, God.

I suppose this is the juncture where I remember what God asks of us, to love our God with everything that is in us. To be all in (even the kitchen sink) and loving our neighbors here on planet Earth like we love ourselves.

What does the Lord require of you?

To live justly. To implant right works in every aspect of our lives, to speak about injustices and work to correct them.

To love mercy. To forgive, to be forgiven, to love to see redemption win.

And to walk humbly with our God.

I think that’s what I have to come back to on days like today, where my reality is so starkly different from most of the world. Because if I walk humbly with God, I’ll be following Him. And if I’m following Him, He’ll ask me to be a part of things and give me His heart for people.

Buttons.


Today I’m watching my mom walk down to the stop sign on our street, my former cut-off point for bike rides (like… fifteen years ago) with a different set of children. Lil Boy rides in the stroller and Lil girl walks, holding my mom’s hand, which makes the going pretty slow. It’s adorable.

I’m watching them make their way back from my perch at the bar stools in our kitchen.

IMG_20140807_100953

Sometimes I think that God made us as blank slates, to be written on by the life we’re given, or as clay to be molded and hardened into something useful. But then I look at these little ones, who decide to ride my guitar case like it’s a horse and pour buttons out on the floor and dance on them (even though I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before) and realize that we come with some sort of package.

“For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

For you gave me a creative mind and a zest for life that makes me want to dance and smile and giggle and speak in a language that no one can understand yet. For you set my mouth babbling and my eyes twinkling.

No one had to tell these little ones that strawberries are tasty and that a whole one can fit in your mouth if you cram it in there.

So maybe we’re not born with logic, like when Lil Girl starts eating the nail polish off of her fingers and you tell her not to do that, but she says, “But I need to.”

But the cuteness, the sweetness, the longing to discover new things and to hold someone’s hand while you prance around the room ( on the buttons, of course, all the while getting them stuck to your feet).

I think we were created to live outside the box, weren’t we?

Maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant when he said we should be like little children. Trusting, creative, sweet, and ready to dance.

Knowledge is muscle.


“If we want to know what’s most sacred in this world, all we need to do is look for what is most violently profaned.” – Christopher West

I know what hunger is, but that knowledge alone doesn’t feed those who feel it every day.

I know what poverty is, but simply knowing doesn’t offer clothes and shelter to the needy.

However, in some cases, knowledge truly is power. Because I know what pornography is, I can help delete it from our society.

Why is pornography an issue?

In Greek society (and yes, pornography goes way back before Playboy), the word “porne” referred to the lowest class of prostitute, affordable to all male citizens. Pornography today aims to depict women – and not just the women pictured but all women – as low, vile, promiscuous, and cheap.

Are we cheap?

I’m not talking just about women, because pornography aims to make men users, dependent on a fantasy to be satisfied. It aims to skew their views about women so badly that they will never be content with a real one, always needing to go back to the pornified woman.

Pornography cheapens men, too.

I ask you again: are we cheap?

We’ve cheapened ourselves by not identifying the pornographic influences in our advertising, in our conversations, in our media. We’ve said it’s okay to make sex casual and violent and graphically displayed in public places.

And what has it brought us? Increased prostitution, higher rates of human trafficking for sexual slavery, catcalling, rape culture, and a view of sex that objectifies both parties involved.

Are we content with this?

Once you know, it’s difficult not to speak up.

Fight The New Drug (FTND) is a nonprofit organization working to educate people on the effects of porn, primarily to let people know that pornography is harmful.

If we truly believed that, if we knew that ridding our society of porn wouldn’t take away our fun but would improve our lives, would we bring it up at the dinner table? Would we tell our cousins about it at family reunions? Would we risk pushing people away because we know that if they know that it will be addictive, change their brain chemistry, and crush their relationships, it will be harder for them to use porn?

Get the facts on FTND’s website. Educate yourself on what pornography will do to you or to your loved ones – or, hey, to that person who lives down the street that you happen to be Facebook friends with because they matter, too.

In this case, knowledge is muscle. We can fight away the lies we’ve been fed with the truth about our value as humans, our expectations from relationships, and how pornography tries to steal that from us.

For more information, visit Fight The New Drug’s website, or check out Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines.