Friday, June 29, 2012

Debunking the Relationship Myths

And the grand finale for the relationship series . . . now that I've hopefully made you aware of some of the biggest myths about relationships, and why they're harmful, what are some practical things we can do to start debunking the myths and giving people a more realistic view of dating, relationships, and marriage? Here are some ideas I have:
  • Support people of all relationship statuses--single, married, dating, divorced, widowed, etc.--within the church environment. Sadly, sometimes older single people become a sort of "orphan generation" in our churches, having few options to be a part of a group within the church that meets the unique needs they face on their spiritual journey. We should support programs and groups which respond to the needs of everyone in our churches, even those adults who don't fit into the traditional category of "married with families."
  • Respect and value people for the talents and qualities they bring to the table on their own, not just in a current or potential relationship. Respect them for what they can offer through their careers, their unique skills, their spiritual gifts, their personality traits, and their goals. Refuse to send the message that someone must be in a relationship before their full potential can be realized. This is especially important for women--in a culture where women are not yet treated as equals with men in every arena, it is very important that we not subconsciously send the message to young women that their real value comes only through who they can be in a relationship with a guy (I strongly support equal rights, opportunities, and respect for women--if that makes me a feminist, so be it.)
  • Believe that all people--you included--have tremendous worth in Jesus Christ whether you are single, married, dating, engaged, divorced, widowed, etc.
  • Model Christlikeness, compassion, and love in any relationships you have.
  • Encourage teaching and writing--both in the church and beyond--not just on issues that are unique to married couples, but those that are unique to singles as well. Also, when it comes to books and devotionals written for singles, I think we need to encourage more people who actually are single to speak up about these topics--whether through writing actual books, blogging, or otherwise. Have you ever noticed that about 9 times out of 10, any Christian book on how to navigate and enjoy life as a single person is written by one or both members of a couple? Of course married people can still have good insights to share with single people (after all, we're assuming they were single at one time!), but far too often, their writings take on the tone of, "If you would just do X, then God would bless you and you would be able to get married (like I did)." I'm afraid this approach doesn't make a lot of sense to single people. They need people who are actually in the same boat to speak about what the experience is really like for the many who are still waiting for a spouse, even when they're doing all the right things.
  • Encourage young people to pursue some of their own goals--travel, advanced study, mission work, etc.--before jumping into a relationship if they haven't really considered some of the freedom and flexibility thay may have to give up to do so.
  • Respect the fact that not everyone has the same goals when it comes to relationships, and that can be ok. Not everyone wants to get married in their twenties. Not everyone wants to get married at all. Not everyone wants to have children. But many of these people who are in "nontraditional" situations live lives of tremendous service to the kingdom of God. In short, let's not pressure people to adopt relationship-oriented goals that they may not have. We're not all cut from the same cloth, and that's ok.
  • Recognize that marriage is beautiful and a gift of God, but that singleness can be the same.
  • Believe that God can redeem broken relationships.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Guest Post: Being Single in a Relationship-Oriented World

Today I'm posting something that my sister Meagan wrote. This is her perspective that she wanted to contribute to "relationships and dating" week on the blog:

So this series of posts on relationships/dating could not have come at a better time. I went home this weekend for a wedding and got the usual barrage of questions about my relationship status (100% single, in case you were wondering). Like my mom trying to set me up with the latest guy that would be "just perfect" for me isn't bad enough, I had to navigate this awkward conversation: An older gentleman that I have known basically my entire life and really care about came up and said to me that he was just waiting for my wedding invitation. Ok...what?!?! First of all, I am totally single. Not even close. Most definitely not one of those girls that's "talking" to a random guy but they're not really boyfriend/girlfriend, and not one of those girls that's dating a guy but says she's single just because she's not engaged to her boyfriend of four years (newsflash: if that's you, you're not single!) No, I don't even have any prospects on the horizon. And second of all, why is that the first thing he said to me?? Didn't ask me about the new job I just started, didn't ask me how life was in Richmond, nothing like that. Even though he may not have meant it this way, it sure seemed that my relationship status (or lack thereof) was the most important thing about me in his eyes. 

Ok, let me get real. I'm usually pretty cool with being single. Sometimes it would be nice to have someone around to take my car in to get the oil changed every 3,000 miles (ok, I know that's not all they're good for!), but otherwise I like laying around in my underwear watching The Notebook at 11:00 on a Sunday night just because I can. But honestly...if other people cannot be content with me being single then how in the world am I supposed to be content being single?? And when my relationship status is the first question you ask me, it makes me want to avoid you because I get tired of having the same conversation. Don't you?! When there's something to be told, I will tell it.

For any single person, the most dreaded, annoying question that we face is when people ask, "Why are you still single?" I can say with 100% certainty that I am still single because God, in His timing that I know is perfect even if I don't always get it, hasn't brought the right person into my life yet. Thankfully I am not sitting around questioning, "Could he have been the one? Did I let the perfect guy get away?" because I KNOW that's not the case. But what on earth do people expect you to say when they ask that question? "Ummm...I'm still single because the last time a guy asked me out I posted a picture of what our children would look like on his Facebook wall and he mysteriously had to cancel. I'm still single because my seven cats are all the love I need in the world. I'm still single because I pick my nose in public and could win the 'Most Socially Awkward Person of the Year' award." Come on. One time a guy asked me this and I said, "I'm not sure - why do you think I'm single?" He got a panicked look in his eyes and said, "I don't know your life!!" and backed way up. Seriously though, it's the worst question ever. No one who is single because of some overwhelmingly negative quality is going to say that that's why just because you asked. And for the rest of us, honestly, we are just as puzzled as you are.
To wrap up, let me just share two things that have encouraged me as I wait on the Lord's timing:
1. It's better to want something you don't have than to have something you don't want. (Self-explanatory!)
2. When you get married, it will (hopefully) be for the rest of your life. That's a long time! We all have things that we want to do that would be more complicated if we had to take into account another person's wants and needs. Maybe you want to travel, take certain classes, run a marathon, do mission work, or something else. Once you are in a serious relationship or are married, it may become impractical or impossible to do some of these things. So why not do them now? Refuse to let your years of singleness be wasted years.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Relationships and Redemption

So I've spent the past few days writing about the "biggest relationship myths" which are typically found in Christian circles, writings, and teachings. Most of these myths start out well-intentioned but get very messed up over time. And I'll be honest: I had no intention of writing about this topic this week, and even though I wrote these posts at a feverish pace, pouring out my heart on these issues, it was kind of hard to write about them. Hard because I don't want to offend anyone, and it's possible that I did. Hard because sparking controversy is not my favorite activity, and my words may have done just that. Hard because sometimes a myth is more attractive than truth. And especially hard because I myself have believed some of these myths, even some for years. If you don't agree with me on some or all of these things, that's absolutely ok, and I'm more than willing to be a part of a dialogue on these issues. Like I said before, I'm not an expert on these topics, I'm just seeking out the truth and God's best for my life. I know I'm not always going to get it right, but I'm going to write as God leads me to write. And I will readily acknowledge that these beliefs I find damaging, that I've called "myths," probably all began from very well-intentioned people and teachings, but became distorted and blown out of proportion with time.

That said, have you been able to detect the common thread running through a lot of these myths? It's the idea that we have to get relationships completely right the first time, and that failed relationships and hearts that have broken over love for another person will haunt us forever and are beyond repair and out of reach of redemption. That they are unable to be turned into something beautiful. Basically, it's the idea that complete redemption doesn't extend to the area of relationships. And I'm not even going to euphemize that with the word "myth": this is completely and totally a lie.

A redemption that can't reach such a central area of our lives is no redemption at all. It's one that we've used our rules and our formulas to strip of its power. And that is a tragedy.

But I believe that God can redeem anything and forge something truly beautiful out of the nastiest, most tear-stained messes of our lives. In His kingdom, no experience we can have is worthless or beyond repair. He can redeem broken hearts. He can redeem lifelong singleness. He can redeem failed relationships, misplaced affections, shattered relational boundaries, and the grief that comes from missing what you had with a person so deeply that you don't know how to move forward. I don't know how you have been broken in this area, but I know that you have been. We all have. But nothing is exempt from redemption through Jesus Christ. Nothing. And that news is truly good. If Christ's death could restore our broken relationship with God Himself by tearing down the walls that separated us from Him, then surely His death and resurrection can redeem the brokenness that stems from our human relationships too. His love can still tear down dividing walls and rebuild broken spirits.

And so we should lay it all down before Him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Biggest Relationship Myths: Part 3

. . . and the final installment:

Myth #8: You shouldn't date someone unless you're already pretty sure you'd be ok with marrying him or her. But my question is this: how in the world are you going to know if you want to marry someone if you don't date them first? In the past decade or so, dating has gotten a really bad reputation in Christian circles and has been viewed as an immature way to satisfy your desires, have fun, and play with another person's heart and emotions. But dating doesn't have to be a selfish way to use another person to meet your need for emotional connection with someone without the pressure of a serious commitment. Dating can be--and should be--a responsible, fun, appropriate way for two people to simply get to know each other on a deeper level so that they know whether they are willing to commit to each other long-term. And if and when they realize that they aren't willing to commit, then they do need to step away from the dating relationship before any deeper feelings develop.

Myth #9: Marriage will solve all your problems and it is the be-all and the end-all of life. No, I'm afraid it won't. I've heard that marriage is hard, and it takes ongoing work, effort, and commitment. Marriages can fail. Marriage isn't always the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And moreover, a marriage will probably be happier if the people involved don't expect it to do things it can't do--like complete them or offer them ultimate fulfillment. Only a relationship with Jesus Christ can do that. No marriage is ideal. And while marriage usually adds a lot of joy to life, many, many people are happy and fulfilled without it.

Myth #10: If you've had your heart broken, it means that you gave away a part of your heart that you now will never be able to give to your future spouse. And it means you're basically damaged goods. This is one of the most damaging lies I've ever heard about relationships. In an ideal world, sure, the only person you'd ever "give your heart to" would be your spouse. And no one's heart would ever get broken. But it isn't an ideal world. We don't always get things right the first time. It doesn't mean there's no opportunity for a satisfying relationship in the future. Plus, I'm not convinced that "giving your heart" to someone is such a bad thing anyway. I've "given my heart" to a lot of people--family and close friends of both sexes, at least in the sense that I have loved and trusted these people deeply and shared deep parts of my life experience, hopes, and dreams with them. And yes, my vulnerability with others has sometimes led to hurt and disappointment. But that doesn't mean I have any less love and trust to offer my husband someday. Love given away is multiplied, not divided into little pieces until someday you realize, "Oops! I don't have any left to give."

And the Final Myth: When it comes to relationships, you'd better hit the nail on the head the first time. There is no room for trial and error. (This sums up the myths about how you shouldn't get your heart broken, and how the first person you fall in love with will be your spouse, and how you shouldn't date unless you think you will marry the person). Here's the thing: I believe that marriage is intended to be for life, and that we should do everything we can to make a marriage work once we are in one. In that sense, I don't think there should be room for "trial and error" in marriage relationships. Once you've made that commitment, you shouldn't back out because you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But, this truth has been needlessly extrapolated backward to give rise to the idea that you shouldn't really date, and your heart shouldn't be broken, and the first serious relationship you're in--the one where you fall in love--had better be with your spouse (and if it's not, well, you have less to offer your spouse someday). But it's not really true. Again, we don't live in a perfect world, and try as we might, we won't always get it right the first time. Please don't misunderstand me: yes, we are to strive for exemplary purity in all of our relationships--romantic and otherwise. Yes, men and women should guard their hearts and minds both with respect to the opposite sex and to all the thoughts that we take captive and allow to enter into our minds. Yes, we should take a stand against the larger culture that says that a relationship is all about ME and getting what I want, and remember that Jesus showed us by example that to love someone means to sacrifice and give of ourselves. And we certainly shouldn't be recklessly and thoughtlessly entering into relationships, knowing that our rash behavior will inevitably scar our own hearts or someone else's. But because we're human, we won't always do relationships perfectly. And even if we could do it perfectly, we may not always get the perfect fairy-tale ending. But God is bigger than our failures; our mistakes were never meant to define us. God can redeem our failures. And what a great Redeemer He is.

. . . Come back tomorrow as I explore this: What can our view of relationships reveal about our understanding of redemption? How does the redemption we have in Christ matter--right here, right now--for our relationships?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Biggest Relationship Myths: Part 2

. . . continuing from yesterday:

Myth #5: It's selfish to be in a long-term relationship or marriage and to not intend to have a houseful of children and to exemplify the classic American dream family. Just as I don't believe that everyone is supposed to get married, not everyone is supposed to have children, either. Not everyone wants to have children or would be great parents. Yes, social protocol states that you will get married around the ages of 22-27 and proceed to have 2.3 kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence. But I think it doesn't make any sense, and is almost prideful, to say that someone who wants to get married but doesn't want kids is selfish. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but not everybody can have kids, and many of these people know that they can't long before they get married. And for those who can, not everyone wants to or feels called by God to have children, and I think that is 100% OK. Honestly, saying that everyone has to be a parent is like saying that everyone has to be a plumber, or a Marine, or an air traffic controller--regardless of whether they have the skills, the desire, the right circumstances, or the calling to be able to do it. And really, what's more selfish: choosing not to have children because you know it isn't right for you, or having children you really didn't want and aren't ready to care for just to please other people and fit in to social expectations? It's not our place to judge people for wanting to get married, but not wanting to follow that up with parenthood.

Myth #6: Being spiritually compatible with someone is the only compatibility that really matters. It is the first thing you need to find out AND the first thing that should attract you to a potential spouse. Don't get me wrong: spiritual compatibility is very important. I believe Christians are to marry other Christians so that they aren't walking in opposite directions in terms of faith. And you don't want to find yourself in a situation where you are deeply committed to the Lord, but your spouse doesn't want to read the Bible, pray, or talk about spiritual issues with you. So why is this on the myth list? Because it's turned into this wrong idea that if you are spiritually compatible with someone, nothing else should really matter that much--like whether the person has similar (non-spiritual) goals, or makes you laugh, or enjoys some of the same activities that you enjoy. It's not as if you can check spiritual compatibility off the list and then forget about everything else you want in a spouse. It's ok to want qualities in a spouse that aren't overtly spiritual. And here's the other thing. You may have some sense of where your date is at spiritually--maybe you've seen him or her at your church, or grown up together, or happened to end up in the same Bible study. But if you're just meeting them and getting to know them for the first time, where they stand spiritually may not come out the very first time you spend time with them--and that's ok. It's take time to get to know someone, and typically, deep spiritual issues aren't going to come up on the first date or two. I don't think people need to grill their date about spiritual questions before they even have a basis for a relationship with them--those questions will be answered in due time. And finally, there's nothing wrong with you if the first thing that attracted you to another person is their laugh, or their smile, or their intelligence--and NOT a faith-related quality (read: I saw them raise their hands during worship at church and I knew immediately that they were the one).

Myth #7: If you are in your early twenties and don't have at least a general plan of when you're getting married, you're weird and/ or you seriously need to re-assess your priorities for the future. But the fact is, unless you're already engaged or an engagement is imminent, you can't plan when you're getting married. I could say all I want to that I plan to get married when I'm 25, but that would be silly, especially because there's not a guy in the picture right now. Two people have to agree and be at the same place in their lives in order for a marriage to happen (I talked about this same issue when I wrote about singleness here.) And there's nothing wrong with focusing on things you CAN control--like your career or higher education--instead of trying to plan something that you can't control. There's nothing wrong with wanting to get married at a certain age or time, but I don't think people can be expected to have "plans" for how marriage is going to fit into their lives when they may not even be dating yet. Making those plans when there's no immediate way for them to become reality is a set-up for disappointment.

Come back tomorrow to read about the last few myths!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Biggest Relationship Myths: Part 1

Disclaimer: I'm no expert on dating, relationships, and marriage. I'm just a 23-year-old woman seeking God's best for her life in all of these areas. But this list that I've created reflects "advice" and "wisdom" about these topics that are very prevalent in Christian circles (and one or two are prevalent in the larger culture as well). But I don't think that this "wisdom," while it may come from well-meaning people, is very wise at all. Many of these things I have heard from various sources since I was a child, but that still doesn't make them right. Over the past few years, realizing that some of these things are just plain wrong has been like a breath of fresh air.

So here are, in my opinion, the biggest myths about relationships (here's 4 for now, more coming tomorrow):

Myth #1: The first man or woman that you genuinely fall in love with will be your husband or wife--if it's not, then you messed up somewhere. If you have feelings for someone who doesn't end up being your spouse, it's nothing more than shallow infatuation or a "major crush"--and if you think otherwise, then you're too immature to know the difference between infatuation and love. I think that this myth reflects a completely unrealistic view of love that can be very damaging, especially to young women. Because the fact is, we live in an imperfect world, and people fall in love and get their hearts broken. People also genuinely fall in love but watch as time, circumstance, career, or God's leading in their lives pulls them apart instead of toward marriage. You can fall in love with someone that you don't end up marrying. When someone says that they fell in love with another person and continually get shot down ("it was just infatuation"), what they hear is: "You don't know the first thing about love because you're just too young and too immature. You don't know what your own experience was (even though somehow I do)." This is simply wrong. You're not always going to get your perfect fairy tale ending that goes like this: "My first real love was my husband/ wife." Sorry--it may happen once in awhile, but in general, it's not reality.

Myth #2: You shouldn't make a list of qualities you are looking for in a mate, because it is too idealistic and sets you up for disappointment. This myth comes from good intentions--trying to keep people (especially women) from having ridiculously high standards or detailed qualifications of what they are looking for in a mate, which are likely to only result in disappointment as one person after another falls short. But what's wrong with it is that I think it encourages people to never really think about, or articulate, what they want in a mate. It suggests that having anything that even resembles a " what I want in a mate" list is a bad idea. But before you begin looking for a mate, I think it is a very good idea to at least have some clue what kind of person you're looking for! And I don't think that having a list of qualities you think you would like in your mate is a bad idea by any stretch of the imagination.

Myth #3 (which follows on #2): If you do have a list of qualities you are looking for, you'll really only be satisfied with someone who has most of those qualities. People often say the "List" is a bad idea because it puts you in a box and makes you ignore any potential with someone who doesn't match up well to the qualities it contains. But the fact is, the List is a jumping-off point of qualities we think we would like in a mate; it's not a dealbreaker list such that any date who doesn't have every single quality gets written off. The qualities you look for are guidelines that are malleable by experience and by the people you actually meet; they're not intended to be written in stone.

Myth #4: If someone of clearly marriageable age does not intend to get married, they are obviously not mature enough to know what they really want and will realize how deluded and foolish they are, hopefully sooner rather than later. Or they just haven't met the right person. But here's what I don't understand. People in their early twenties are beginning careers, getting advanced degrees, joining the military, doing mission work, traveling and working abroad, starting companies, etc., and we usually don't seriously question most of their decisions in these areas. But as soon as one of those young people dares to express that they don't want to get married or perhaps don't feel called to get married, the immediate reaction is to assume that they are just being immature and will change their mind later. But not everybody is destined to get married, wants to get married, or should get married, for various reasons. And some people live happy and fulfilling lives of service as single people. Bottom line: if you're old enough and mature enough to do the things on that list above and not be questioned about them, then chances are you're also mature enough to have made an informed and careful decision about how you feel about marriage, and you deserve to be taken seriously.

Stay tuned for the rest of this list tomorrow and Tuesday!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

50th Post!

This is an exciting moment because this is my 50th post on this blog! That may not seem like much, and I hope to do much more writing in the future, but this is further than I have ever gotten with a blogging venture before. Keeping up with a blog was one of my biggest goals for 2012, so I'm excited to have maintained it 6 months into the new year (and about 5 1/2 months after most of my New Year's goals are long-forgotten).

To my readers who have been loyal from the start, thank you! And invite your friends to check out the blog too. I appreciate each one of you! If my words can make a positive impact on even one of you, it's completely worth it.

And for anyone who might be a brand-new reader, first of all, thank you for taking the time to check out my writing! Second, just so you know what kind of posts to expect in case you've recently come on board: I'm a law student, so I write a lot about my experiences in law school, getting ready for a career, determining what I actually want to do with my life, and a lot more. I also try to write a lot of devotionals and reflections on how to live a passionate, engaged, committed Christian life--if these things interest you or your friends, please come back for posts on those kinds of topics. I'm also hoping to do some book reviews and some movie reviews this summer. I eventually plan to try to write a devotional e-book, and it might incorporate some things from this blog. I'll keep you all updated on that as well, although that's not planned for the immediate future because I have other major commitments (i.e., law school!) to think about right now.

And I have something coming in the mail which I think will change this blog for the better: a new camera. My old camera got irreparably damaged when I visited the bubbling mud pools in Costa Rica (long story). But once I get the camera, I'm planning to take a LOT more photos for this blog. I love photography as well as writing, and I've always envisioned that my blog will reflect that, and I will soon have the tools to make it happen! And on the inevitable days when I don't feel like I can write a single word . . . well, then I can just post pictures.

Thanks again to my readers: you are the ones who make this blog totally worthwhile, and I hope you stick around!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's Really Important to You

Today I read a pithy yet inspiring little quote: "Actions speak louder than goals." Now, anyone who knows me well knows that I am all about having a number of clear, written, specific goals. In fact, right now as I look through the files on my laptop, I see a life goals list, a summer 2012 goals list, a fall 2012 academic goals list, and a 2012 year goals list. That's a lot of goals. But as this quote reminded me, goals are completely useless if they aren't backed by action. You can make goals all you want to, but they don't amount to much if you never DO anything to make them happen. A goal without action is shallow idealism. I know some people (and I probably do this sometimes too) who talk all the time about goals they want to accomplish, but I never see them taking any concrete steps to bring their goals to fruition.

And then there are the excuses--I know you've probably used them a time or two, because we all have! "I'm too tired. I'm too busy. It's too hard." But the thing is, you WILL find the time, energy, and means to do the things that are truly important to you. In fact, if you want to know what's really important to you, don't bother pulling up your goals list. Just take a look at how you spend most of your time, what you think about the most, what keeps you up at night and wakes you up early in the morning, what you talk about and write about and ponder. Whatever it is, for good or bad, that's what's important to you. This can be kind of a sobering exercise--there are definitely days when the things I spent the most time and energy on were decidedly NOT what I want to consider important in my life. (Trust me, I would never want to say, "Oh yeah, today my life priorities were updating my Facebook status and reading Seventeen magazines.") But it's a good reality check as to what's really a priority.

So in sum: a goal is a good thing. It's definitely a start. But by itself, it's just not enough. Sometimes, one decisive action is worth ten goals.

If you want to accomplish something, you will make a way. If not, you will make an excuse.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just One Touch

When I read passages from the Gospels, I sometimes find myself forgetting that the people I'm reading about had real lives, real dreams, real joys, and real heartache. We talk about "Bible stories," and there's nothing wrong with that, but I think it's easy to to view Biblical characters' lives as just that: only stories--not realistic, not like us. Sometimes, a person's entire life is treated in only a verse or two, and much is left to the imagination. But before you hurry on to the next verse, it helps to remember this: these people had lives. Probably lives that are a lot like ours, at least in the ways that really matter: similar joys. Pain. Hope. Ideals.

Take, for example, the woman who came to Jesus in Mark 5 to be healed of her bleeding disorder. I'm not sure whether it was hemorrhages or something else, but this woman had been "subject to bleeding for 12 years." And then her life (before she met Christ) is summed up in one verse: "She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse" (Mark 5:26). Just think about it for a minute. This woman would have been considered the least of the least in a Jewish culture that placed a premium on ritual purity. Because of her illness, she would have been deemed impure. Unclean. Dirty. I'm pretty sure she would have been forced to dwell outside the city gates, ostracized and forgotten. She could very well have had family members that she could hardly ever see, or who had given up on her entirely. She may have had small children to care for. She was an outsider in the truest sense of the word, and had been that way for 12 miserable years. More than likely, no one ever touched this woman. No one wanted to associate with her, because if they did, they would be unclean too.

And that's not all. She had tried her hardest to get better. She probably went to every doctor she could find; she may have been victimized by scams from physicians convincing her that they could heal her, and then taking her money and abandoning her. She was penniless and alone. But, even though her illness had robbed her of her money, her health, and her dignity, she clung to her faith, and that is what mattered.

She heard about where Jesus was, pressed her way through the crowd, and touched the edge of his cloak. This was an act of tremendous boldness on her part--she knew that under Jewish law, she would transmit her "impurity" to anyone that she touched as she forced her way through the crowd. And after a single touch, a single contact with the Lord, she was instantly freed from 12 years of suffering. But Jesus didn't let this woman just walk away, content to touch only the border of his robes. No, He allowed her to fall at His feet, to touch Him personally, to speak to Him. She didn't have to blend into the background anymore. She didn't have to remain an outsider.

I think in some ways, this story foreshadows how Christ himself would eventually, in his suffering and death, become an "outsider" just like this woman. Hebrews tells us that Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His blood. He, like this unnamed woman, would become intimately acquainted with rejection, grief, and loneliness. Interestingly, the Gospel writer uses the Greek word for "suffering" to describe the woman's condition; but in every other instance in the book of Mark, that Greek word is used to describe the suffering of Christ in his death. While I don't think the writer intended to equate the suffering of this woman with that of Christ, I think it does suggest that Christ was willing not only to make physical contact with suffering people, but to take their suffering upon Himself when He became an "outsider" at the cross.

And He did it for us. So that we have the privilege of fully approaching Him, without hesitation, falling at His feet, and basking in His mercies.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Going Off the Grid

So here's my social/ personal/ financial experiment for the next 7 days (starting today, going through next Thursday): I currently have $16 in cash in my wallet, mostly in ones, and several dollars in quarters and other spare change. I put both my credit cards and my debit card in the back of the cabinet above my fridge. And I'm going to try my hardest not to use them until next Friday rolls around. I resisted the urge to go stock up on groceries and do a bunch of shopping last night, and I'm also going to try not to do a spending binge when I'm done, because that would kind of defeat the purpose of the experiment. I'm calling it "going off the grid financially."

The point isn't really to save money, although I would imagine that will be a pleasant side effect of the experiment. I think it's really about trying to be resourceful and find contentment with less in a culture that constantly pursues more. In far too many countries in the world, if a person had $16 and change to spend in a week, they would be considered unbelievably rich. Also, I think I've gotten far too accustomed to thoughtless spending--whether it's going out for lunch way too often or buying clothes I don't need. I'm hopeful that this week, if I succeed with the challenge, will help me to reset my financial compass and appreciate the fact that I'm blessed with all I need, and more. Even without my credit cards.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Random Tuesday Thoughts . . .

1) I have a huge craving to go abroad right now. I went abroad in April 2010 and April 2011, but not this past April, so I feel overdue for some serious international travel. Seeing beautiful travel pictures posted by my friends who are studying abroad this summer is not helping this urge! Ideally I would travel abroad at least once a year. Top of my list right now would be to go to Italy. I also want to go to South Korea, the Holy Land, India, Ghana (because the sweet little girl I sponsor through World Vision lives there), Russia, the Galapagos Islands, France, and Thailand. There's something really inspiring about the thought of sipping coffee in a Parisian cafe, or seeing the sun set from a faraway island, or walking in the African savannah. There's SO many places I want to see and not enough time to do all the traveling I want to do.

2) I mentioned one of their songs recently, but I just bought the Sidewalk Prophets CD called "These Simple Truths" and it is the best CD I've bought in a long time (well, I actually hardly ever buy new music, so that's not saying much, but this CD is fantastic!) These wonderful Spirit-inspired songs have been blessing me all week. You should check them out! I'm probably going to go buy all their CDs eventually.

3) I need to get motivated to do a summer deep-cleaning extravaganza in my apartment this weekend--we're talking about scrubbing out the kitchen cabinets, cleaning out the freezer, dusting the ceiling fans, wiping down the baseboards, etc. I've lived here for 10 months and I haven't done one yet, so I think it's high time for one of those occasional but necessary heavy-duty cleanings. What I actually think would be good would be to get a group of friends together for a Saturday to go around and work together to deep clean each other's apartments, then top off the day with something fun, like a movie or dinner out. Call me crazy, but I think that could be fun! (I'd just have to find some friends willing to do that with me!)

4) I officially love my job (working in law school admissions). I'll admit that it wasn't my first choice for the summer--I wanted to work in a law firm, but the competition for that is pretty tough, especially since this is a law school town with lots of students trying to get the same positions, and it just didn't work out that way for this summer. But I work with pretty much the best group of people on campus--they are all so nice and so supportive, and I also get the chance to interact with professors, deans, and career services staff almost every day, so I know I'm having the opportunity to build some valuable connections. I've been able to lead a lot of tours for prospective students, have great conversations with them about law school life, etc. And today, the dean of admissions asked me to lead a school tour next week for a group of high school students who are aspiring attorneys, and then to speak at a luncheon for these students. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be a role model for these students and to help encourage them to pursue their career goals. And even though it will probably be relatively informal, this is my first real "speaking engagement"--so I'm pretty excited. I love getting to work with people all the time and feeling like I can help them make important decisions (like what law school to go to). I feel so blessed to have a job that I really like, and I'm interested in possibly working in admissions/ student recruiting for a couple years after I graduate while I pay off my loans, so I'm sure this experience will pay dividends in the future, even if it's not at a law firm.

. . . and if I had any more random Tuesday thoughts this entry would be ridiculously long! :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Career Aspirations

I mentioned that I had exciting news, so here goes: Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to really solidify in my mind--and then verbalize--what I really want to do with my life, career-wise. I've known for a long time what I've wanted to do, but I've beaten around the bush when asked about future plans because getting to this career seems almost insurmountable. In a lot of ways, it seems more like a dream job than a real career path.

I want to work in the intersection of forensic psychology and law. These are the people who evaluate clients for their mental competency to stand trial and assist in all sorts of psychological consultations to determine how mental health and behavioral issues play a role in the courtroom, especially in criminal, family law, and personal injury cases. Forensic psychologists are experts in how psychological issues and neuroscience affect our understanding of criminal responsibility, sentencing, and the potential for recidivism. They do not always have law degrees, but many of them do because they have to be able to communicate effectively with attorneys, judges, and juries about how psychological issues might affect the outcome of a case. And that is exactly what I want to do. I've been absolutely fascinated by the brain and behavioral sciences since I took my first psychology class as a freshman in college. This is my passion, and I want to be able to pursue it.

Along with those decisions, I also really think that I want to eventually move back to Virginia (of course, provided that there's work available there in the areas I'm interested in). I love Georgia. I really do. And I have such wonderful friends here, who I wouldn't want to leave, and I think I could definitely be happy staying here. But I also miss living in VA a lot, and I feel like I left part of my heart in the Shenandoah Valley! It was so amazing to go back a few weeks ago, and I felt like I was coming home. After I came back here again, I realized that I really, really missed it, even though I've tried to convince myself that I don't. That would mean taking the bar exam in Virginia and pursuing moving up there, either right after law school or eventually.

There are so many obstacles that stand in the way of me reaching these career goals, but I'm going to see them as challenges to deal with as they come up. For one, I would have to get a master's, if not a doctorate, in psychology--in addition to finishing my J.D. My bachelor's degree is not in psychology, which is not really a problem, except that I may need to take a couple prerequisite courses before I could enroll in a master's program. And I would probably want to work for a couple years after I finish law school just to gain experience, be sure of my career aspirations, and pay down student loans before I started working on the psychology degree.

I can't say for sure that this is the direction I'm going to go in, and I want to be open to whatever I'm supposed to be doing. But this is what I am passionate about now and have been passionate about for a long time. Today when I was at work, the director of career services stopped by and we chatted for awhile, and I told her that this is what I want to do. It made it seem more official just to really talk to someone about it--and who better to tell than the director of career services? It's hard to know exactly where I will end up, but as long as I know this is a passion I have, I think I owe it to myself to see if it's possible to turn it into a career.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekend Getaways

On Friday I got my first summer paycheck (which was great) as well as my spring semester grades (which were not as great). Suffice it to say that I am now really motivated to work hard and do really well my second year of law school. Then I went out for barbeque and some window-shopping with my friend who just graduated and is trying to study for the bar exam. I feel a little daunted just hearing about how intense the pre-bar-exam summer is . . . but I'll cross that bridge when I get there, and for now I'll just do my best to support my friends who are there now!

Thursday afternoon, my friend Stephanie called and said, "Amanda and I are going to a fine wine festival in Dahlonega this weekend. Want to come?" Why yes, yes I would. :) Gotta love those spontaneous summer adventures! So the three of us drove to Dahlonega on Saturday morning and went to the festival in the afternoon. We were able to try some wines (including sweet peach wine and dark chocolate wine--yum), listen to jazz music, and meet a lot of fun people, all in this gorgeous vineyard:

Then we went to some nearby outlet malls for a little retail therapy. Stephanie and Amanda made some good finds at J.Crew, and we all had fun trying on designer sunglasses and high heels at the Saks 5th Avenue outlet store. We even found this little candy store with pretty much every kind of candy you can imagine--the kind that reminds you of childhood--and stocked up on jelly beans, milk chocolate peanuts, and Sour Patch Kids. We finished off the day with dinner at Shenanigan's, a little Irish grill, and explored in beautiful downtown Dahlonega before heading to a bed and breakfast for the night. Such a fun weekend having great conversations, laughing way too much, and having a chance to relax!

I came back and took a LONG Sunday afternoon nap--next on the agenda is laundry and more laundry, dishes, errands, and maybe doing a little reading. Book reviews are probably forthcoming, because I'm tearing through my summer reading list. But I have exciting news to share--probably coming tomorrow, so stay tuned!

And last but not least: I just heard this song for the first time two days ago, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be my theme song for the rest of law school--Sidewalk Prophets' The Words I Would Say. Listen to it. Seriously. It is so encouraging!

Psalm 138:8: The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Real" Adulthood

I don't know how other people my age feel about this, but I constantly feel like I have to prove to the world that I'm a "real" adult. Maybe this is because I could easily pass for 16--maybe 17 on a good day or if I'm wearing heels!

I've always felt that certain experiences, rather than certain magical "ages," make you an adult. Or at least, over the past few years, I've had a number of moments after which I thought, "I'm definitely an adult now because of what I just did/ learned/ experienced." Such as:
  • signing my first lease
  • driving by myself for a long trip (250+ miles)
  • signing a contract for my first rental car
  • filing a motion in court as part of my summer job
  • getting into law school
  • learning how to cook
  • learning how to read a map (Seriously. This is something I really never had to do until I was trying to drive around a new city by myself).
  • realizing that I now find the "teen" section of the library to be pretty boring
  • setting up flights and flying by myself for the first time
  • going to networking events
  • going to my first charity benefit dinner/ party
  • buying my first real professional suit
  • checking my credit score
  • replacing ink cartridges in my printer (because this used to always be Dad's job . . . but not since I'm living on my own)
  • realizing that things like hydrogen peroxide, laundry detergent, and light bulbs are cropping up on my list of "stuff to get at Wal-Mart"
  • basically everything that happened while I studied abroad in Costa Rica, including interning at a law firm and taking care of bank business, all in Spanish
I do really love the independence of being on my own and making my own decisions. For example,   no one is going to say anything about it if I decide to have blueberries for dinner (like tonight), or if I want to get up and clean/ study/ watch movies/ make macaroni and cheese at 3:37am because I can't sleep. It's great to be free to do things your own way, but then the pressure is on to make the right decisions and use the freedom wisely. And sometimes I have no clue what I'm doing and have a major "Toto, I think we're not in Kansas anymore" moment.
Most of the time I feel like I'm a real adult . . . but I'm not sure when I'll ever be convinced that the rest of the world sees me that way too. I think my perception of this would be different if I were working right now instead of in graduate school. Retaining the "student" label sometimes makes me feel like I come across as being basically still in high school! But even if I do look a lot younger than I really am--I want people to take me and my ideas seriously.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Identity Crisis: Prestige vs. Happiness

I think that one of the most significant "identity crises" for people in their twenties, just beginning careers, is choosing between prestige and happiness. Because let's face it: it's kind of hard to have both, or at least very hard to have both on a consistent, long-term basis. Usually, what's prestigious isn't necessarily what will make you happy . . . and what makes you happiest may not be prestigious at all.

This topic is on my mind a lot because I see this issue 24/7 in the law school environment. Most people who end up in law school (yes, including me) are by nature incredibly competitive, driven, and goal-oriented. And most of us law students each want to be that person who "does it all": who is the managing editor of law review, captain of a Moot Court team, president of multiple student organizations, a clerk for a judge, etc.--all while getting straight A's, maintaining an active social life, and being ready to pass the bar exam with flying colors and then go make a great salary working for a prestigious law firm. It's probably true that no matter what field you end up in, there will be people who seem to be able to do it all and still have time to breathe and have a life--and who are genuinely happy in the activities and goals they're pursuing.

But for most of the others, it is all too easy to get caught up in a rat race where you are constantly pursuing the next prestigious, attractive option to beef up your resume or to impress people, without even realizing that what you're striving for isn't making you happy. Yes, some people are truly happy pursuing all of the prestigious goals I described above--but for a lot of people, the things they really want to pursue in life or in their careers aren't going to elicit responses of "Oh, that's so impressive!" from others. I've begun to realize since starting law school that a lot of the things that I and my peers want to do aren't what you might call "prestigious," whether it be traveling to Third World countries to tackle legal issues in poverty-stricken areas or pouring our time and energy into clinics that provide pro bono legal services to people who really need them. I'm beginning to realize more than I ever have before that some of the most prestigious options available to me are not necessarily going to make me happy, while some of my deepest passions probably wouldn't be considered impressive at all. In the typical situation where you really can't have both, it is very hard to choose between the most prestigious option and the one you think will actually make you happy.

I'm trying to learn how to choose happiness over impressiveness, because I'm pretty sure that will help me lead a more satisfying, regret-free life in the long run. I can't say it's not an incredibly difficult choice or one that doesn't make me second-guess myself a lot--but I would rather fulfill my own passions than simply someone else's expectations.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Is the Gospel Offensive?

I'll just come right out and answer that question: yes, the Gospel is offensive--and the Bible describes it that way. Christians often say that we should never be offended by the Gospel, but I think what they really mean is that we should never be ashamed of the Gospel. Christians should freely and without shame embrace the Gospel as the truth on which they base their lives, but the Gospel, by its very nature, is offensive.

We live in an achievement-saturated culture that teaches that people will get ahead and be successful by their own hard work and best efforts. Our society is filled with hierarchies in which the rich, the powerful, and the successful are on top, while the poor, the broken, and the outcasts are all too often ignored and left behind. All around us we see cutthroat competition to do the best, have the best, and be the best. It's all based on who we are, and what we bring to the table, and how great we can be. And people who are deemed "more successful" than others are rewarded much more than those who don't have a long list of accomplishments to boast about, or a ten-page resume, or a seven-figure bank account.

But then the Gospel bursts onto the scene--and it throws all of our notions of merit out the window and embraces these great divine paradoxes that we may never fully understand. It utterly offends and shatters all of our concepts and preconceived notions of what's important. It says that who you are does not matter; who you are in Christ does matter. It claims that the most accomplished person on this earth isn't even one step ahead of the deadbeats when it comes to receiving the life Christ died to offer us. It tells us that the last shall be first, that the treasure of Christ is poured out into jars of clay, that all the strength and power of a risen Savior rests on the weak, the broken, the poor, and the persecuted. Because of what Christ has done, it doesn't even matter what you bring to the table.

The apostle Paul claimed that through the Gospel, God made foolish all of the wisdom of the world, and that God has chosen the weak, foolish, and lowly things of the world so that no one may boast before Him. The Gospel teaches that our hope comes solely through Christ, crucified and then risen from the dead. Nothing else counts--not our striving, not our efforts, not our successes. In Christ, stronger isn't better. More accomplished isn't better. More powerful isn't better.

And honestly, it's a shock to the system. It ruptures everything we know about how the world works and turns it on its head. God is not running a meritocracy, and that offends the way our world works.

It's offensive that our striving doesn't help. It's offensive that we can't do it on our own. It's offensive that our best efforts don't put us into right standing with God. It's offensive that our past accomplishments are deemed rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ. It can be difficult to accept, confusing, and even frustrating. But it is true--and it is good news indeed. The Gospel has the power to make us overturn our ideologies, change our commitments, relinquish our privileges, and dismantle our hierarchies. Our beloved merit-based system needs to get offended by the outrageous, ridiculous, extravagant GRACE of the Gospel.

Our society is obsessed with being politically correct and never offending anybody. But sometimes the truth is offensive. And sometimes, staring truth in the face and being offended by it--offended enough to be shocked out of our complacency and propelled toward change-is a good thing. But instead of embracing the offensive qualities of the gospel, we sugarcoat it in messages that are more like self-help, popular psychology, and the "prosperity gospel" than genuine truth. It's easy to sweep the hard truths under the rug.

The message that the cross of Christ wipes out even our very best efforts and shatters the wisdom of the world has always been offensive, and I think Paul recognized that in a way that we don't get today. In Galatians 5, he explained that he was being persecuted because his message refused to do away with "the offense of the cross." Paul embraced the offense of the cross and got his hands dirty with the Gospel message. And so should we! It is profoundly offensive--and that's the way it's supposed to be. 1 Peter describes Christ not only as the "chosen and precious cornerstone" but also as a "rock of offense" to some. And Jesus Himself asked His disciples on occasion, "Does this [my teaching] offend you?" He knew that his own message was bound to be offensive.

The Gospel offends all of our long-held assumptions about merit, effort, strength, profit, and power. It can overturn the foundations we've built our lives on. But if we're willing to let the message of the cross, in all its truth, offend all of our beliefs about how the world is supposed to work, we will be left face-to-face with grace.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Reading List

Happy Friday! This weekend I want to 1) watch way too many episodes of Big Bang Theory and 2) sit by the pool and read. Here are some books on my list for the summer:
  • Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in the World by Frances Mayes
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • The Pelican Brief and The Firm by John Grisham
  • Lone Wolf and Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult
  • Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
  • The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • St. Augustine's Confessions
  • The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns
  • The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
  • Knocking on Heaven's Door by Lisa Randall
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (I read this in high school but it's definitely worth a second read)
  • Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
I have to get totally caught up on all my pleasure reading now because I know that I probably won't have time to do it once school starts. I find that if I'm not reading, I can't write anything decent either because I lack inspiration. So for me, the best way to beat writer's block is actually to go read a book. I doubt I'll get to everything on this list (especially considering that some of these have already been on my list for forever) but I can at least give it a try!