Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sabbath Prayer

I crack open one eye and look at the clock. 12:30 p.m. Welp, there goes church, I think to myself as I half-tumble out of bed. I'm groggy. I pour water into the coffeemaker, eyeball some coffee grounds into the filter, and spend ten minutes staring as the dark liquid drops into the coffee pot.

I wander around my apartment in a baggy Cubs t-shirt and black pajama pants that are two sizes too big, recounting the events of the evening prior, giving myself ratings on my performance. Dress: B+. Humor A-. Biting Sarcasm to Kindness Ratio: C. I feel a heaviness settle on my heart.

Someday the kindness will win out, I think. 

Eventually I sit down on my couch with coffee in hand. I've decided that since I didn't manage to get my lazy rear end to church this morning, I owe Jesus some quiet time. I read A.W. Tozer, rereading each paragraph a few times to digest what he's written, and then turn my thoughts over to my journal, flipping through the entries I wrote over the summer before I find a blank page to begin a new chronicle.

I get halfway through a narcissistic retelling of my last week, begging Jesus for peace and direction, when I get a text from my niece, Maya. This is a big deal--she's texting me on my sister's phone, and at nine-years-old, this is one of the first texts she's ever sent. Lots of smiley faces.

She and I text funny faces back and forth for a bit and eventually she calls me, her voice sounding way too grown up when she announces that she's just calling to say "hey" and asks me how me and my roommate are doing. Good Lord, I think. Wasn't she just learning to crawl? Whahaaat is happening?

We talk for a solid twenty minutes before she hands the phone over to my sister, we talk for a bit, and then I hang up. Alone again, I finish journaling, ending in some desperate sort of "God help my stupid self navigate this life less idiotically" plea, and snap my notebook shut, wishing the feelings of heaviness would dissipate, but grateful I got to speak to some family this morning.

I spend the next few hours alone, eyeing the boxes that still need to be filled and stuff that needs to be put in them. I pack nothing. We're moving in five days.

 I don't handle alone time well. I can do it for about...oh, two hours, and then it's all over and I start desperately texting people, asking them what they're up to.

My roommate is the same way. When one of us is out of town, upon return we compare notes about how pathetic we began to feel as the week waned on with one of us returning to an empty apartment. By day three there's usually crying. I know. Ridiculous.

Eventually I pull on some leggings, a sweater, and boots--it's only one step up from pajamas, but it's enough to get myself out of the house, and decide to work on freelance at one of the downtown coffee shops. I try Caribou first, but there are no empty tables.

I curse Wheaton College for being back in session and slowly shake a lowered fist at the college students who've moved into my tables. I walk to Starbucks with no success, and then wander into the only independent coffee shop in town, only to find out that it closes in thirty minutes. 

I don't want to work today. I have no desire--but I have too much to NOT work. I can't seem to shake this feeling of grief, either, which isn't helping fuel my productivity.

I get back in my car and drive to another Caribou, one a little farther out of town, which is, oddly enough, full of Italian men sitting in large groups at tables, all wearing their coats and playing various dice games. I'm pretty sure I'm surrounded by the mafioso, but I've always wanted to be a part of a good mob fight, so I find a table in the back (where I'm safe from being whacked with a canoli) and open my laptop, searching for a recent interview I need to transcribe tonight.

I open my email.

It's not there.

Nay, it's absolutely nowhere. It's not in my Yahoo account, it's not in my work account, it's not backlogged in my Yousendit account...nada. It's sitting on my work desktop computer, and there is no retrieving it tonight. 

I feel a tinge of relief and smile at the irony that I've just been forced to actually observe this Sabbath, a spiritual discipline I LOVE to ignore. I pull out Jen Hatmaker's book, Seven, which I was supposed to have finished yesterday, when my book club met to discuss it, but like the procrastinator that I am, I rolled into book club with thirty pages still unread.

The thirty pages left are, as a matter of fact, devoted to observing the Sabbath. OF COURSE THEY ARE. Because this is the nature of my life. God knows I'm dumb, and that if I'm going to be taught something, I need to be smacked over the face with it. It's all very brutal.

And so I open to this: 

"During the first week of October, I suffered an inexplicable sadness for our Ethiopian kids, yet unknown to us. I couldn't quit crying. I couldn't stop worrying. I felt heavy and dark without knowing why...I threw my emotions up into the Facebook ring for some backup. From adopting friends a common thread rose up: 

'God is prompting you to pray for your children for some reason. You don't know them yet, but he knows they are yours. Intercede for them this week; then write the dates down.'" 

Jen goes on to write about how during her week of sorrow, in which she got on her knees in prayer for the child she was going to adopt, her future daughter had just been delivered to an orphanage in Ethiopia.

The child's first week surrounded by people she didn't know, missing her family, getting her head shaved, wide-eyed and fearful in the night in an unfamiliar place, was the same week that Jen felt she needed to pray for kids, even though she still didn't know who they'd be. Her prayers went to her daughter in a time of need before she even knew her.

Now, I know this all may sound a little bit Chicken Soup for the Soul-y, and if it does, then, gross. But to me, it sounds beautiful. It sounds like God cared enough for this child to have her lifted up in prayer by her mother long before she even knew her.

I'm reading this chapter on slowing down and taking time to pray and intercede for others when God places them on your heart, and my eyes start watering like crazy. I look up and realize that both (I'm guessing based on their awkward facial hair) seminary students sitting in the leather chairs across from me are watching me cry like an idiot, but seminary guys sort of creep me out, so I don't care. 

I feel again the heaviness in my own soul, and the person who I have to pray for comes to mind. It comes on so strongly that I have to stop mid-chapter to lift him up, silently crying a prayer to the Father who loves His children so desperately.

I pray for reconciliation, I pray for the Holy Spirit to move, and I pray God would show me the role he wants me to play in this person's life. I pray until I finally feel the heaviness lift.  

And now I find myself wondering how often God grants me with this same heaviness for this same reason. I've often taken this as a mood swing or a good reason to feel sorry for myself (and Lord knows that sometimes it's P.M.S.), but maybe, just maybe, God places these burdens on my heart not as another way to focus on myself, but as a means of lifting up someone specific. Someone in desperate need of intercession.  

I've decided I'll be damned if I miss another opportunity.

I want so badly to turn my grieving into joy by partnering with the Lord to lift up this world. Every day I meet another broken person, and I wonder at the epidemic of lost and the lonely people. It threatens to overwhelm me, and I'd be lying if I said I haven't at times handled it by hiding.

But standing in someone's place and praying for them with my whole heart...that's something I want. In John 17, Jesus prays for the world like that. He prays that God would protect His people and unite them in love. He intercedes.

On its own, it's a wonderful prayer.

But in context, it's so much more. It's the prayer Jesus prayers the night before He's brutally murdered. He spends the night before his execution using His own heaviness to lift up the sinful, selfish people whom He's grown to love so much. The people He came down to save: me and you.

Thank God.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vacation Manifesto

I'm going on vacation. 

Let me say that one more time, in case you didn't catch what I said. 

I'm going on vacation. VAC-YAYYYYY-TION, if you will. (I'm sorry. I had to. I couldn't not.)

I'm not telling you this to make you jealous. That's just a benefit. I'm telling you this because this is a big deal for me. I haven't left the Midwest and taken a legitimate vacation in almost four years.  

So, in two days, I embark on a trip to a sandy island in North Carolina.

I will be on vacation for eight days.

For these eight days, I've made myself a few rules. These are rules that will hopefully untangle me from a bit of the ever-twisted Stockholm Syndrome I've developed over the past few years of constantly being plugged into everything, all the time, everywhere.

1. I can't check my phone. The world will be fine without me for a week and a half. In fact, it's probably ready for a break. 

2. I don't even have to glance in the general direction of a computer screen, unless I want to.

3. Wearing heels is not an option. Flip flops or gym shoes. That is all. 

4. I'm not allowed to twirl my hair. Hair twirling indicates anxiety which indicates that I'm worrying about things that are out of my control, and I'm taking a vacation from that particular brand of crazy for the next EIGHT DAYS.

5. I'm not allowed to talk about, think about, or even mention the word work. 

Instead, I'm going to lay on a beach and read this: 

I'm going to eat fruits and vegetables.

 I'm going to not set my alarm clock. 

And I'm going to re-learn how to interact with other humans--specifically my best friend, Steph, my sister, her husband, their friends, and their friends' five-month-old baby.

I'm going to drink tea.

And coffee.

And wine. 

I'm going to do yoga. I might even go running. (no. that last part is a lie.)

I'm going to get a real tan. (also probably a lie.)

I'm going to read entire books.

I'm going to eat ice cream.

I'm going to discover new BBQ dives.

I'm going to take walks.

And I'm not going to look at my phone. Ever.

I had a good summer--good, but rougher in some ways than I expected it to be. And sometimes, even though you've healed and moved on as much as you can, it takes going away for a little bit to find the space to fully recover.

What I'm saying is, this vacation could not have come at a better time.

Over the next eight days, I want to reconnect with God.

I want to read about Jesus again, get to know him again, study his face again. I want to spend a good amount of time reading the Gospels, not so I can come back with some sort of Holy Glow and tell everyone about how I spent a week reading the Bible while they slaved away at their desks.'s just that I desperately need to re-read the life-giving words of Jesus.

I need to remember what it's s all about. I need to read about dying to myself...I need to read about the kind of love that Jesus has for me. And I want to pour my heart out to God. I want to ask him questions, confess my most recent bouts with stupidity, give him my worries, and plead, face to the ground, for direction.


I also want to write.

I will write creatively.

I will write without an audience.

I will write because I have to write. Because writing is my own personal catnip. It's the thing that makes everything else quiet's where I can actually use that daydreaming dipstick inside me that I fight on a daily basis, and instead, put her to good use.


And lastly, I will spend the next eight days filling my words and my actions with gratitude. I have a good incredible life. I am more than blessed. But sometimes it's hard to see that, and instead of giving thanks, I complain and I criticize. It's exhausting.

What's especially stupid about it is that most of the time, I'm criticizing myself.

You see, when you're me (or maybe when you're you), you're never good enough.

Every misstep seems like a downfall. Every pound seems like a ton. Every new day becomes a new chance to self-deprecate.

And what I forget, over and over and over again, is that God didn't make a mistake when he made me. He chose to make me a neurotic dreamer. He looked and me and said that it was good. Not perfect, mind you, but good. Good for his purposes.

So for the next eight days, I'm going to unabashedly embrace who God made me to be: spacey, creative, sarcastic, direction-ally-challenged, zero sense of time...a little offbeat....I'm going to thank God for all of it. Even the stuff that annoys the crap out of my family and friends.


I'm going to thank him for my life, and for the people in it.


I'm going to thank him for the salt in the water, the wind on the waves, and the sun on my face.


Oh, and for the wine in my glass, too. I will thank him for all of it.

And I won't look at my phone.