Showing up

I sat on my barstool at the kitchen counter this morning, finishing up my coffee, eggs, and toast and staring out the window. My Bible was open on my left, and I’d read the chapter for the day. Titus something. But I couldn’t tell you what it was about for sure by this point in the day.

It’s a good discipline, to read your Bible every morning. Perhaps it would be more effective if you were the type of person who could remember what you read as well and think about it throughout the day. I do believe that is the intent for those of us who do morning devotions, or at any time of day. I do not remember what I read.

But I do remember what I saw out the window. It was 6:10, usually the time that I would be leaving the house if it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but it was Friday. And I drive to work on Fridays, so I was planning to leave about ten minutes later than normal. I lead such an exciting and varied life.

I stared down the curving street, the one that I know points south because when as a young girl I told my sister I was running away to Grandma’s house and needed directions, she told me Grandma lived in Texas, which was south. And she pointed down the street, telling me that’s the direction I should head in. There was a woman there, running south this morning – maybe to my grandma’s house. She wasn’t the Lulu Lemon model or the poster child for Lifetime. She was just running. Not a sprinter’s clip nor a plodding pace. Fighting inertia, keeping on.

Good for you, I thought, because I am not a runner in the least.

I looked back at my Bible as if trying to remember if there was something more for me there. Thank you, God, for today, for my job and my…

See the time on the clock, glance out the window again, eat another bite of eggs. Strategize about how late I can leave and still get there on time.

Right, I was praying. Thank you for today. Just thank you, really. I can’t remember what else you say when you’re prayingHelp me to show your love to the people I work with today. There, that was something coherent and applicable.

Out the window, the woman is still going down the street. She turns and is soon out of my sight. She wasn’t that jogger you see on the sidewalk who is just barely making it, the one you desperately want to pull over and give a lift to because their faces say they’re dying and their bodies are barely moving though appearing to be attempting to run. Those people are admirable, too, and I say this as one who does not run and hates it. They’re trying, and it’s near impossible. Odds are, it’s not going to be their lifelong passion. This happens for some, but they most likely won’t be runners. Maybe they’ll walk or find that they are passionate about yoga or body pump.

But this lady is a runner. She’s got her route and her pace and her running clothes. She may not run far or go fast or impress the onlookers. But she’s still going.

I tried to go back to prayer. My mind was scattered among the things in my kitchen, out the window, on my calendar, on my (literal) plate. My discipline to at least open my Bible was there, but I wasn’t making grand strides or hearing great words from the Lord. I was just practicing for the next day, when I may show up a little better and listen a little closer.



There are at least three retirement homes near my campus, which is a funny contrast to the hoards of young people I see on a day to day basis. We’ve got young, and we’ve got… retired. I always feel bad for speeding past an older person on the sidewalk, but I mean, people, I’ve got places to be. I’m not retired. I can’t afford to walk at a one block per hour pace.

Retirement is an oddly popular subject in college, not the longing for it but wondering whether or not you’ll ever get to that point. Will I ever have enough money saved up from my low-paying, bad-economy job in order to stop working? It’s not likely since social security will run out before my generation gets to claim any.

I digress.

I’m thinking about retirement today because the speaker at church said something interesting today, as he talked about what God’s word should accomplish in our lives, “The word of God doesn’t retire in us but lives in us.”

It made me think of all those retirement homes where – I assume – the inhabitants have little labor to attend to, many Bingo games, and lots of similarly minded people with whom to share the experience. To a 20-year-old who can only sit still for about an hour and a half, that sounds inactive and boring.

You know how when you sit through dry lectures or board meetings or phone conversations that have no spark to them you lose your spark? I lose mine frequently when people drone ad nauseam about their accomplishments or economic policy or cytoplasm. That’s not a living word to me. If you’re an economics or biology person, the story could be totally different, and you probably don’t light up when people mention the Oxford comma.

His phrase rang true because God’s word doesn’t retire in me. It finds a way to get out, whether in speech or action. Or it finds a way to change an internal function, like the way I think. Matches are the opposite of retirement. Sparks indicate life.

It offers a bit of encouragement since I don’t always notice that I’ve learned something or grasped what I’m reading from my Bible in the moment, but being reminded that it’s a living word changes things. It’s not setting up shop inside of me to grow stale and die. It’s bouncing around and changing things and looking for an outlet.

Here’s to postponing retirement and the living word.

Things you should bring to Austria

We all know how much anxiety I had over packing, how long it took me, and how messy it was. Yes, it was a long, drawn-out process. I have most of what I need, and the other things I’ve been able to either buy here or live without. It’s okay to be a vagabond in some ways.

I’m realizing that some of the things I brought are invaluable, and some things – had I known to bring them – would have been fabulous to have here. So, I’ve compiled a list.

1. Peanut butter – thank goodness someone told me before I left that Europeans aren’t crazy about the sticky, nutty substance. I packed a jar in my suitcase, so I have been just fine with my Skippy. You know how in America we have at least 5 different brands of peanut butter at the grocery store, and a few different varieties between them? Well, at my Spar down the street (and the other one I went to), there was one brand. You could pick chunky or creamy, but there was one brand, in small jars.

Nutella, on the other hand, has multiple sizes of jar, off-brands, and knock-offs.

2. Your self-deprecative sense of humor, for use when you have to communicate in English with people who speak German.

Real life example:

*Enters cafe*

“Grüss Gott. Something in German we can’t understand?”

Every single time, I’m sure I flush. “Uh, sorry, I speak English.” Make that face that you would normally reserve for when your parent or small child is doing something slightly embarrassing, but you want to make sure you’re spared the judgment of the other person. It’s the I’m-on-your-side-sorry-about-them look. I use it to apologize for my non-German-speaking side.

*Proceed to ask a stupid question about something that’s right in front of me. Make the face again.*

“Danke Schön. Tschüss!”

Ahh, a word I know. “Tschüss!”

Sometimes, if you can laugh at yourself, it makes things a lot easier. Then, as soon as you leave the cafe, apologize to yourself for acting like the part of you that doesn’t speak German is embarrassing. You do other things well.

3. Liquid vanilla extract. It’s unheard of. I’ve already asked at least three Austrians if it exists here. Twice, I got a confused, “Liquid vanilla?” and once I got a, “Oh, we don’t have that here.” Welp, that settles it. I’m going to ask my parents to bring some with them when they come. And another jar of PB.

4. Good walking shoes. I know people typically plan to bring good walking shoes with them when they travel to Europe, but really… bring the shoes with the most support and comfort you can find. I’m so thankful to have Superfeet insoles in my little sneakers, so I had little trouble walking a few miles around the city today. I walked to school, and I purposefully got lost after orientation so I could see another part of the city. If I didn’t have good shoes? None of this would be possible.

5. Your Bible. I mean, that’s such a gimme. Really, why would you go to a foreign country for 4.5 months without the holy Word of God? For one, it’s usually pretty heavy. For another thing, it’s not really light reading.

For all the reasons you might not bring it, definitely do. I brought my smaller copy so that I would be able to carry it through all the airports in my backpack. There’s just something about being in a completely different place and reading the same words and truths that changes how you see it. I’m here, and I feel different. And everyone else is different than I’m used to them being, but this is still how I’m supposed to live, this is still how God sees me. This is still true and relevant. 

I need to be reminded every day that God is for me and with me and that He’s called me higher. It’s so easy to forget that when I almost feel like I’m on vacation from my regular life. So few things are as they were last week that I could so easily leave my God behind as well. So easily. Without much effort at all. But the efforts to invite God into the newness and unknown make me feel more alive and more like myself.

Or maybe just more like who God wants me to be. I wonder if that’s why we feel such peace in obedience – because we’re one step further into our Godly identity? That’s where I want to be. That’s who I want to be. Funny how it sometimes takes a journey to think of these things.

Homework babies.

Today, I have a nursery of screaming babies around me.  It’s not literal – I’d actually prefer that.  Nope, my figurative homework babies are here in the nursery of my to-do list.  Lab Report over there is a toddler, so he’s been following me around asking, “Why?  Why?  Why?  What’s that?  How’d you get that, huh?  Why?”

Then there’s a Bible paper over there that’s crying from neglect.  She’s been laying in her crib for a couple weeks now, waiting for me to acknowledge that she’s awake and hungry for some attention.

My Philosophy paper has, thankfully, finally settled down for a nap, but it’ll wake up on Monday and ask for more editing.

These are the moments when I’m thankful that I only have three children…. wait, I mean classes.  Classes, not children.  And I’m thankful that one of them asks me to go in-depth with the Bible.  I mean, really, it’s a blessing to be asked to write a paper about a Psalm of your choice.  It requires time and work, certainly, but it’ll yield good things when it’s done that I can directly apply to my life, right away.

Now, it’s high time that I helped Bible out of her crib and showed her a little loving.  Please excuse me.

Pep talks.

Having an excess of half and half isn’t really a bad thing at all.  It’s actually kind of nice, especially when blackberries go on sale for $.99 at Jewel, so you can eat fruit in half and half.  Then you mush up the fruit and drink the blackberry saturated creamy stuff.

Not a bad thing at all.

I’ve been trying to convince myself all day to work on my final paper for Bible.  It’s been a struggle.  So far, I’ve convinced myself to vacuum, empty the vacuum of all of its nasty stuff, do two loads on laundry, and write a letter.  I haven’t been able to make myself pick up this book that I need to finish or to write a paper based on its chapters.

I know I can do it.  I don’t doubt that.  Somehow, the drive to do it has been a little lacking today.  However, this is the absolute last thing that I need to do in my first semester of college, so I’m going to give myself a pep talk.

I’m sorry that you have to witness this.

Come on, Ashley.  It’s just a twelve page paper.  

I mean, if you divide it up based on topic, it’s pretty much just two six page papers.  And you’ve already written a whole paragraph!  You don’t have that much to do.  

Sure, that book is dry and repetitive, but it’s about the BIBLE.  You know it will come in handy later… like say, when you’re writing that paper!  

You don’t have any cleaning to do – you already did that.  

You don’t have any reason to spend any more time on Facebook or Twitter.  I’m pretty sure all of the people connected with you on there could recreate your entire life from the past few months, minus a few bad meals at ARA.  

You just need to sit your butt down in a chair somewhere, and finish the book.  Here, we’ll take it in steps.

Step 1: Finish the book.  Annotate it.  Mark it up, and get it done.

Step 2: Write the rest of the first half of your paper.  Just 5 and a half more pages.  You can do it.

Step 3: Research Ephesians 5:10-17.  Get some commentaries, a Bible dictionary, and a cup of coffee, and just do it.  You have no reason to shy away from this task.  HECK, the passage is about taking up the armor of God! Tackle that thing head on!

Thank you for being here.  On that note, I will obey my own pep talk.

Dropping eaves.

I just overheard one of the funniest exchanges I’ve ever had the good fortune to hear in Starbucks.  I had just ordered a Skinny Vanilla Latte (never do that… when they say skinny they mean that they sucked all the flavor and goodness out of it… should’ve ordered the regular fat one) and heard the two students behind me order some pretty complicated drinks.  Special milk, no foam, specific number of flavor shots.

Here’s the exchange to the best of my memory:

Blondeish girl, study guide in hand: I need to study for my Bible test.  (insert little conversation I didn’t overhear here… just use your imagination) Okay so Moses is in the desert and he comes across something.  Do you know what it was?

Brunette with braid: A sheep?  A stick?

Blondie: (offering a helpful hint) It was burning.

Brunette: (in laughing, silly tone, with the air of how-could-anyone-ever-know-the-answer-to-that-difficult-question) I don’t know!

Blondie: It was a burning bush.  And God was in the burning bush.

Brunette: It was God?  That’s weird.  Like the Holy Spirit? It was burning?  (insert other comments to the same effect)

Blondie: Yes.  It was a bush and it was burning.  I already told you, God was in it.  Okay, so Moses takes off his sandals, right…..

I had a hard time keeping a straight face, so thankfully right after this eavesdropping session my drink was ready.

Speaking of famous Bible stories, I was reading one of them this morning: the story of the garden of Gethsemane, particularly the part where Peter draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.

I would really love to know what happened to that servant after Jesus picked up his ear off of the ground and put it back on for him.  I don’t have any idea what really happened, but I feel like you can’t just have something like that happen to you and not be changed forever.

I mean, his ear was cut off.  Then a guy who was being accused of lying about being the Messiah and who would later be crucified and rumored to have risen from the dead picked up the ear and casually (at least the text doesn’t make a big deal out of it… the focus is on Jesus telling Peter to calm down) puts it back on.

The servant’s response to both actions – the cutting and the healing – isn’t recorded.  I always just pictured the servant standing there, deadpan and without moving as his ear is cut off and put back on.

But I bet his whole entire life changed after that moment.  I wonder if he remained the servant of the High Priest.  I wonder where he was when Jesus was being crucified.  I wonder if I’ll get to see him in Heaven.

Just something that struck me this morning.  And now, back to speech-writing.

philosophy on football, owner’s manuals, and hair

Football is one sport of which that I don’t completely understand the origins.  I get volleyball – it’s like the game you play with a balloon where it can’t touch the floor, except there’s another team, and you try to make it harder for them to keep it up.  I sort of get baseball, it’s like a more complicated game of catch where you have to run sometimes – and all the spectators eat peanuts and cracker jacks.  I understand swimming because when you’re in water you have to do something in order to keep from drowning.  I get soccer because it’s pretty simple (minus all the weird throw-ins and stuff they do) – just get the ball into the goal and don’t be a ball hog.

But I do not understand football.  Throw this leather ball around while wearing pants made for someone two sizes smaller than you are and tackle anyone who tries to take it away from you.  What kind of lessons is that teaching our kids if we let them watch a sport where people pummel each other for absolutely no reason?

All I can conclude is that it must be a guy thing.  Then again, I know girls who like football more than some of the guys I know.  So I guess I can’t make any conclusions about that.

For me, football is more about state pride.  If the Vikings win, it’s one more reason why Minnesota is the place to be.  If they do something well, it’s proof that Minnesotans are superior – all because we have tough winters that make us into macho people.

Philosophy.  Right there.

apparently Percy Harvin was the man of the game today... at least in the first five minutes I was sort of paying attention to.

Now, on to the hair philosophy.  I have a new philosophy about my hair, as I have mentioned before: I’m not using any heat tools on it anymore.  Woohoo.  Go Ashley.  Go healthy hair.

I got a new camera in August.  (trust me, this story has a purpose.) I got everything out of the box because that’s what I do when I get something new.  I got out all the cords and the quick start guide and the instruction manual and the computer software.  It was so exciting.  I used the manual to get started but quickly found that I could figure things out on my own.   I don’t have a problem with using trial and error to figure things out when it comes to technology.  So, I put the manual back in the box, and it has been there ever since.

That’s how I treat my owner’s manuals.  I use them to get started, and only if there’s a problem that I haven’t been able to figure out on my own do I consult it to find answers.  I never read it for fun or look at it when things are going well with my electronic buddies.

Which is why I will never truly understand why people use the “owner’s manual” illustration to talk about the Bible.  Yes, the Bible has solutions for life, and yes, you can use it’s wisdom to solve your problems, but if we treat our Bibles like we treat our owners’ manuals, we’re going to end up doing a lot of things on our own.  We’re going to put it on a shelf and only pick it up when all else has failed.  It won’t be the first thing we read in the morning – on good days when it doesn’t seem like we need outside wisdom.  It’ll be the last resort: the dust-covered volume that is unfamiliar and maybe even unnecessary to the way we live our lives.

Can we all agree that we need to throw that illustration out the window?

Thanks.  I appreciate your agreement with me.