April 28, 2014

Email Excerpt: Late Have I Loved You

I just wrote this email to a friend:

There is a song by Gungor called "Late Have I Loved You" - do you know it/them? I've been a fan for several years.
I recently discovered (via Dan's Lenten guide), that the lyrics of this song were originally written by St. Augustine. As I listened to this song, and thought about Augustine's words, I was struck by the opening line. What does it mean to "love late?" I sat with this question for awhile, and then wrote a poem:

“Late have I loved you.”

Late have I come to see

and know what love is.

                I have tried to control,

                tried to use

                tried to prove

and tried to know. 

It is only after failing

at each of these

that I have loved you.

When I think about our conversation this afternoon, the question I think we both need to ask ourselves is, "What does it look like to love this person?" Not to control them or use them or know them intellectually, but to love them, as they are, as we are.

I don't want to come to understand and experience love after trying every other option. I want to cultivate love for others sooner rather than later. I want to love and be loved (I think you cannot fully have one without the other) wholeheartedly, in the light of day.

Isn't it both terrifying and beautifully compelling?
And how do we do this?
Who has thoughts? Let's share them!

April 25, 2014

Feeling, Accomplished.

The last few years of my life have been full of feelings.

Scratch that - my whole life has been full of feelings. All of them. Deep feelings. But the last few years have been full of accepting and acknowledging my feelings, which is a fairly significant shift from my previous framework. 

I have long been uncomfortable with strong emotions. I didn't know what to do with them, or what purpose they serve. In my mind, feelings were an annoying interference with the rational and far more valued rational processes of the brain (this is a slight generalization, but not much).

While I could usually identify how I felt, I didn't always understand why it was important to figure that out, or what good could come of telling another person the emotions I was experiencing, especially if they were "negative" or difficult feelings.

It is not that I believed my feelings were irrelevant, but that they were subservient to my logic and my will.

If I felt disappointed that a friend hadn't called me as promised, I would think, "I know she didn't intend to hurt me, so I ought not feel upset."  And I would try to bring my feelings in line with my logic, by the pure power of my will.

OR once I identified a feeling, I would tell myself it was time to move on now. "You've named it. Acknowledged it. Now you're done."

It rarely worked well.

And then, eventually, with the help of wise friends and outside input, I started to believe that emotions are not tasks to be accomplished. I cannot simply identify a feeling and expect that will end my experience of it. I no longer believe that emotions are second-class citizens in this body of mine.

Emotions are an important and inevitable part of the human experience. Identifying them is important. Sharing them (appropriately) helps breed intimacy and trust. And working through them is made easier when you stop pretending they aren't there.
from postsecret.com, a long time ago.

It is okay to be afraid.
Anxiety is not unacceptable.
Sadness is a healthy response to many things.
Anger helps us identify the things we value.

I no longer view my emotions as items to be checked off of a list (Sadness? Accomplished! On to the next one!). Life is messier now, and sometimes more difficult than when my primary relationship with my feelings was one of control and "mastery."

But you know what? It is better. I am better.  My friendships are healthier, and deeper. I know my own self in a way I couldn't before.

Here's how I feel about all of this: Encouraged. Hopeful. Grateful, and Happy.

April 21, 2014

The Trip to Tanzania (don't read this post)

I think a bunch (most) of you know that I am going to Tanzania for a month this summer. If this is a new fact to you, or if this is a fact you don't particularly care about, or if you have any other reason at all, please feel free to skip this post. Because this is a post in which I ask for help. And I don't really like asking for help. I'm happier to have you skip this post and feel free of any sense of obligation or guilt than to read this post and then wonder if I'm secretly judging you for not helping me (I won't be).

The only reason I'm writing this post is because multiple people asked me if I would be writing a support letter, and could they support my trip to Tanzania. The answer, in the typical sense, is no - I cannot get you charitable receipts in exchange for money given to a "sending organization," and I have no plans to send glowing prayer reports of the great "ministry work" I do while I'm gone. But the actual answer is yes, please support me. 

Well, that's an awkward start, isn't it? This whole post is going to be an awkward ramble. You've been warned.

Let's start out with a brief history of relevant information:
  1. As a small child, I wanted to be a missionary. At the time, that meant I would live in a jungle or on the grasslands, helping the uneducated (and likely unclothed) native peoples by preaching the word of God through pictures, stories, and symbolic illustrations out of their own (primitive) cultures. I wanted deeply to travel to Africa. I dreamt of living there someday. In defense of young-Beth, her heart was entirely in the right place. But she had the framework all wrong. 
  2. In university, I took classes in post-colonial literature, and my eyes were opened to the myriad ways in which "my" people had horrifically imposed religion, culture, and disease on "other" people who they deemed less cultured or valuable. University-Beth began to understand that the Church had done some awful things, that the preaching of the gospel was rarely done in a way that would measure up to my own ethical standards, let alone those of Jesus.
  3. My first real-grown-up job was a Christian ministry job in which I had to raise my own support. Not a fully uncommon thing in conservative church circles, I found it much more stressful than I anticipated. I constantly felt afraid of pressuring people to give me money. And I felt the need to live up to my supporters' expectations (or at least appear to), so that they felt their giving was "justified" and going to "good use." When I left this job, ministry-Beth may have sworn to herself that she would never again raise money for herself (with the caveat that if I had to, Jesus would have to do a dang-good job of convincing me of its necessity).
  4. Two summers ago, I visited friends in Uganda. It was my first time in sub-Saharan Africa, and I loved it. I also found it heart-breaking. Upon my return to Canada, I spent a solid four months looking for jobs overseas. But I do not have the requisite International Development experience or training. I finally accepted the fact that if I'm able to return to Africa, it would have to be with an opportunity better-suited to my actual skill-set and calling. 

And now here I am, in seminary, presented with the opportunity to go to Tanzania for a month - not on a "missions trip" in the typical sense of the word, but as part of a seminary course, a "learning experience" on the history and current state of the Church in east Africa. I was immediately intrigued and decided that this is the type of trip I might regret missing out on. I want to learn about what it looks like for people in a radically different social context to love Jesus. I have a feeling there is much I can learn from them. I have a feeling I will be deeply humbled and forced to face many naive or arrogant assumptions I have made about faith, culture, and Christ. So I committed, knowing it would be a financial stretch on top of an already expensive return-to-school year.

Cost-wise, the trip is relatively affordable; I am responsible for my travel & visa costs (a little over $2,500), and the school pays for all in-country expenses. I have to pay tuition, but I would have to pay for the equivalent credits at some other point, so that is a matter of cost-timing, rather than cost-increase.

Technically, I have now paid for the trip. Four installments of $550 on my credit card, and one $500 cheque from my parents. It is tight. It dug into my line of credit, but it's been manageable.

Then I realized that I haven't paid tuition yet. And then I discovered that my laptop is on its last legs, is running a no-longer-supported operating system. And it also occurred to me that a month in Tanzania means a month of zero income (I have a part-time job and two freelance gigs, but all of them would require me to be, if not in Canada, at least online, which I cannot be).

To say I am a bit stressed is accurate. And there's another side to the stress.

I am anxious about some of the interpersonal dynamics with this particular travel group. Very anxious. So anxious I thought about backing out of the trip. But one of the things I think God has been reminding me this year is that I cannot simply surround myself with people that are easy to care about (I have essentially done this for the past 3 years, and I think it was important for a time. But now I need to start doing the hard work of loving all people, not just the ones I easily like). To live and love like Jesus means engaging with people where they are at, as they are. My gut (I think it might actually be Jesus-in-me) is telling me this is an important trip for me to go on, even though the potential positive outcomes are very vague. So I'm still going.

And I need help from my community.

I need prayer and encouragement. I need to know that if I'm lying in bed with dysentery, or if I'm eating strange meats in a village, or if I'm crying in a corner because of interpersonal conflict, there are people in Canada (and the US) who are thinking of me.

And while I don't technically need money, I could certainly use it. I would like to minimize my debt, continue to pay off my credit card each month, and have the ability to upgrade my computer before a crisis occurs.

That's my big ask. If you want to pray or give or have some other supportive idea, let me know. If you don't want to help, there is zero (ZERO) expectation on my end that you will. (I don't even know who's reading this!) If you want to be involved, you will have my gratitude, and the promise of stories of some variety when I return. If you aren't involved in a formal sense, you will still get some sort of stories when I return, because this is my blog, and that's what I do here.

Basically, I am promising nothing in return. (this is why I make a terrible salesperson)
I am going to stop rambling now and hit publish. Because that's not at all terrifying to me.

April 15, 2014

Slow Down, Spring (But Hurry Up, Spring Weather)

For the majority of March, this was the refrain in my head:

"After April 8th, I'll have time for _____/I'll sort out my thoughts on _________/I can get together with _________."

Then April 6th arrived, and I realized that the next 48 hours were about to be insane. And the other side of April 8th was not a serene and barren landscape. It was a surprisingly full and active calendar of deadlines, more school, and socializing.


So I've spent the past week doing things, and as the long weekend approaches, I'm (fittingly) thinking about how to reset and slow down.

On Thursday, my amazing roommate and friend-for-life and I are going out of town for a day of relaxation. And, I expect, much thinking. It's been a few months now since I started out with my "Recipe for a Well-Ordered Life," and I'm looking forward to checking in on how it's going and what tweaks I can make to move out of the old habits I'm sure I've fallen back into...yet I don't feel afraid of discovering I'm a complete failure, or deciding this level of intentionality is too difficult for me. I love that this plan feels exciting and life-giving to me.

The end of the semester and this first year of grad school feels like an appropriate time to do a little self-reflection. Fitting that it's also corresponding with Easter. I just wish the next semester hadn't already started...

(My next post will be about my summer semester. It is a post I have actively been avoiding since December.)

two final thoughts:
  1. This weather. Harumph. That is all.
  2. My friend Kirsten and I have just decided that we need more time, and are going to insert an extra week into the month of April. After April 30th will come the 31st through 38th, so please do not be surprised to see these dates on correspondence from me.

April 7, 2014

Monday Morning Music: Hold On, We're Going Home

Last month, I saw Bear's Den play at the Horseshoe (you all should buy their album promptly), and they played an acoustic cover of this "small local artist" as part of their encore. I loved it.

Turns out, I also like the original song, despite a general dislike for Drake's ego...as seen in this video. I recommend you jump ahead to the 2:30 mark. Or don't bother watching. Just take a listen.

April 4, 2014

She Does Seminary: Almost Done Year One

I am one exam and zero classes from the end of my first year at seminary. One little teeny tiny totally cumulative Greek exam.

No big deal.

But seriously. The last eight eight months have flown by. The last year has been just as fast. To think that this time last year, I was training my replacement at my job, counting down the days to unemployment, travel, summer freedom, and SCHOOL.

And now here I am. A whole year smarter, and a whole year more aware of how little I know.

Many people have asked how I feel at the end of this year, whether it's been a good one and whether I like being in school... my answer to all of it is YES.

Yes. I like school.
Yes. It's been a good year.
Yes. I feel like it has been a year of Yeses.

Last weekend, I went to a retreat/workshop led by my spiritual director. It was called "Pray Through Play" and talked about the principles of improvisation and how they relate to our daily lives and relationships with Jesus. One of the foundational things that makes improv work is the choice to say "Yes, and..." to what another person contributes or offers.

That's what I've been learning this past year. To say an enthusiastic, "Yes, and..." to the opportunities, feelings, people, and ideas that come across my plate. (Of course, one can't say yes to everything, but saying 'No' well is also an important tool - especially learning to say it when you mean it, instead of saying, "Yes, but..." as a way to avoid saying no. But I digress.)

This is the point: I am happy with my life. Maybe the most content I've ever been. Is it perfect? No. Am I perfect? Aitch-to-the-Ell, no.

When I think back two years, to the spring of great anxiety, and another two years before that, to quitting my job and moving across the country, I'm amazed at the internal changes that have happened. I'm excited about the direction of my life, and, quite frankly, I (mostly) like being me.

So let's all high-five. Celebratory high-fives for all of y'all who've been around for this whole time, and high-fives for those of you who've joined my life more recently, and high-fives for those I don't even know are reading.

It's just a good day for high-fives.