Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Leaving the Parks Department with Leslie Knope

Last night was the series finale of Parks and Recreation. If you know anything about me, you know that I take series finales very hard, and very personally. I hate it when things end. I get, one may say, emotional. And a finale is never as good as I want it to be, because it still feels like one of your favorite tv shows is breaking up with you.

The only way I could have truly loved the Parks and Rec finale is if once the credits rolled, Jean Ralphio popped out and yelled, "Psyeeeeeeeech!" And then they just kept doing the show for another hundred years.

Or something.

I think this finale hit me a bit harder than others, though, because it was about the end a group of people who work together and love each other.

Last month, I made the decision to leave my job at Christianity Today. My long-term goal has always been to become a full-time independent writer and editor, and that opportunity finally opened up. I knew it was the right time and the right decision to leave my job.

But I wasn't just leaving a job. I was leaving some of my very best friends--people I've seen every day for the last five years. These are the people who've known me since I was 23; people who grew me and had the hard conversations with me. They're also the people who I've gone on ice cream runs and Starbies runs (treat yo' self) and lunch runs with weekly for the last five years.

They helped me leave my college days behind completely and taught me that you can still be yourself when you're a grownup. I moved from early 20's to almost 30 with these people--I went from single to dating to single to dating to single to dating to married with these people, and they saw me through it all. Cory used to send me sassy break-up mixes when I was feeling heartbroken and Laura would come dance around my office with me until I felt better.

And I watched their lives change, too. I held their babies and their baby showers. I felt heartbroken when they felt heartbroken. We celebrated and we prayed for each other.  These are people who I will hold dearly in my heart for the rest of my life--women who are strong and smart and gritty and beautiful, and men who taught me how good-hearted men can actually be.

I cried last night while watching a bunch of my favorite friends and colleagues (I mean, no, I mean Leslie Knope's friends and colleagues) say goodbye and move forward into the future of their lives because Leslie and I have sort of a kinship in that we're very intense people who feel EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE VERY DEEPLY. I knew exactly what she was going through, wondering what the future would hold and when all of these people would be in the same room again. I cried because it was too recent for me that I did the same thing. I don't live far from CT, or from any of these friends, and I will see all of them regularly, but when you don't work together, you aren't a team anymore. You don't get each other through the day with stupid YouTubes and dance parties anymore.

I liked being a team.

On my last day at work I walked around the building and took it all in. I felt so overwhelmed by the emotions of leaving and who I was leaving that I almost couldn't breathe. I walked past the painting of Billy Graham that I jokingly saluted on the way down the hall to my first job interview (I got caught doing this by the VP and she still hired me. Please recognize how amazing these people are.) I walked by the bathroom I cried in after my first ever work review, the cubicle I started in when I was a coordinator, and all the offices of people who weren't there anymore, who I missed. I walked past the room where a big group of us used to eat lunch together--a room where I laughed so hard that my face would hurt for the rest of the day.

And then I walked by the coffee station where I bumped into my future husband, Kevin, for the first time.

I pictured it all like a movie of ghosts before my eyes because let's be honest, I want my life to be a Nora Ephron movie. I remember him cordially shaking my hand and introducing himself, and I remember being horribly awkward and trying not to stare at him because they just don't make men who actually look and talk like that in real life do they?

I remember thinking, This is it. This is the guy. I'm done. I marched into Mary's office afterwards to inform her that I'd just met the man I was going to marry. Two years later, this happened:

We both had work "colleagues" in our wedding party--people who'd started as acquaintances and became sisters and brothers. The man who married us used to be Kevin's boss at CT.

I know, it doesn't sound real. It sounds pretend and weird. But Christianity Today is kind of a pretend, weird place, with characters you'd find in books and people you'd cheer for in movies.

I love my life now. I get to drink coffee in bed in silence for as long as I want before I'm ready to get up, and I get to write and edit for a variety of people who pay me, regardless of whether or not I'm unshowered and wearing sweatpants while I do it. And other highly professional reasons.

I have more room for more people in my life (and more room for some of the same people, now I just make them come see me on their lunch breaks) and I am certain I made the right choice. God had been asking me to trust him with my finances and my future for a long time, and I finally did. I feel brave and my cheeks feel flushed again. This is an adventure for me.

But I know where I came from, and who I have, in part, to thank for getting me here. My very, very dear work family.

I love you guys very much.

Except for you, Jerry.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Meditation on Psalm 23: Life in Heaven, Life on Earth, Dumbledore

*Note: I have never, ever written meditations on Scripture before, but this morning, I decided to write something out as I was reading a Psalm because it helped me process it. Then I wondered if it might help other people process it, as well. I wrote this with some trepidation because my husband is a huge theology nerd and so are a lot of my friends and they just know a lot more than I do. 

If you are any of those people, please ignore anything I've written that appears incorrect. MMKTHANKS.

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.

King David was a shepherd boy before he became king. He calls God a shepherd here, I think partially, because it’s the thing he can relate to most. When life was simple and all he needed to do was care for dumb sheep all day, making sure they didn’t fall in holes or get stuck in bushes, his purpose was clear and his heart was full.

God is the one who leads us and provides for us—he is our relentless Shepherd. He is the reason I have all that I need, and he is the reason I will always have all that I need.

Shepherd: noun

1.A person who herds, tends, and guards sheep.

2. A person who protects, guides, or watches over a person or group of people.

(, because I do deep research.)

In a season of some unknowns and lots of risks, this is what make makes my heart stop palpitating and my hands stop sweating. If a shepherd is willing to go out of his way for his sheep, how much more does God guide and provide for us each day?

He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

It’s important to God that we rest in his beauty. Life with God is messy, but it shouldn’t be “keep-you-up-at-night anxious,” because his peace is stronger and deeper. I can always tell when I’m moving away from God’s leading because I stop getting sleep at night. I wake up in the middle of the night and I worry and panic and bargain with God to let me keep doing whatever it is that I’m doing. Eventually, this wrestling stops, and he wins. Then I start sleeping again. It’s the most tangible experience I can point to when it comes to God’s leading in my life.

God is leading us so that we can follow him with peace in our hearts. When he calls you to rest, you have permission to rest. Rest and trust go hand-in-hand, so this type of rest means trusting God even when all you want to do is stress and make lists and feel anxious and wide-eyed. Rest is the trust that God is at work, even when you aren’t.

    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.

God is the place where our strength is renewed. He is where we need to go when we are exhausted. Sometimes that means a simple prayer and a long nap. Sometimes that means deep time in the Bible. But he is our constant source of energy.

With God, we don’t have to doubt that we’re on the right path—God is using our lives to bring glory to himself. And that’s not a selfish thing. The glory we bring points others to him—and that faith is what brings others to life in Christ. This is the greatest gift God offers the world.

Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.

We will go through sucky, horrible times. We will. And that’s not sugarcoated here—David writes “when” because it’s not an “if”—it’s a when. But God is with us. He is close beside us. When we feel like we’re walking through a haunted house and things keep popping out to scare us, God is the body in front of us, behind us, and next to us that lets us know that we’re not alone, and that we have someone to hide our faces in. When things are getting too hard, and too real, God is still there to bury our faces into. He wants to feel our tears on his chest. He is right there.

It’s sort of like how Dumbledore was there in Harry Potter, and it made the kids feel safe. Except for when he died. That was rough. But God is like an un-killable Dumbledore who’s been around since the beginning of time.


Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.

We’re going back to shepherd mode here. God isn’t a pansy. He teaches us to turn the other cheek, yes, but for his own children, he has no qualms about becoming a mad mama bear. Remember the Israelites? Remember the famine and the gross bugs and the dead kids that took place because Pharaoh wouldn’t let God’s people out of slavery?

God has a whole army of angels. Also he’s God so he has other things, like all the power in the world. And I like to think he has lightning bolts, too.

What I’m saying is, God protects his children. We have been promised persecution, but in the end, we will be in heaven with God and with our Christian brothers and sisters for all of eternity. But he is also super not cool with earthly persecution—both now and not yet, God is working for our good. He is not silent. He is here, and he wants us to know, always, that can both offer us comfort and protect us.

I sincerely believe that when we lose the people most precious to us—dear, amazing, beautiful people with big eyes and soft hearts, it’s because God can’t wait to be with them in heaven. Instead of allowing those people to suffer life on earth, I think he fast-tracks them to heaven so that he can look into their big eyes and tell them that he loves them. And they can watch him say it to them, and then can look into his eyes, and they can know eternal peace and joy.

I think about those men who were beheaded by ISIS—21 Christian men with families and children and friends and jobs and purposes here on earth. I think of the terror they must have felt and the fear they must have lived in. And then I think of the news getting to their families. One of the men’s brothers said this: "We are proud that they went to the father in the sky.”

These are now reunited with God in heaven, and he is looking each of these men in the eyes and telling them that he’s watching over their wives and their children, and then he loves them deeply.

Oh, to have a faith so unshakable.

I am working, always, on being less afraid of separation from people, and more afraid of separation from God.

You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.

I think this must be about heaven—God is preparing a place for us. The Bible calls it a wedding feast, and when I think about this I picture God in heaven, rubbing his hands together with excitement and thinking about whether or not he’s going to seat C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien together or if he’s going to ask them to mingle with extroverts. I wonder if he’s going to seat Joan of Arc next to Saint Paul, ask them a question about the role of women in leadership, and then slowly back away to watch the debate unfold.

I just planned a wedding, and I can tell you, the joy in the planning comes from thinking about all of the people who will be there—the people you love the most. And God is doing all of it while Satan and all his little punks are running around this earth, still believing they’ll have the last laugh. And God’s like, “LOLOLOLOLOL.”

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.

In Bible times, this practice was often done by a host to his guests, as a sign of respect. I’m trying to imagine how God could respect any one of us, but as his children, made in his image, I can definitely see how he’d do it as a sign of love. I feel like this is the “well done, good and faithful servant” moment that we all want to have in heaven.

And the idea of this moment, thinking on it now, definitely fills me up. It makes me see the now and the eternity—and how infinitely blessed I am that God has given me a faith in his son, Jesus Christ, and placed people in my life who have helped me sustain and build that faith when I’ve wanted to fall away. This verse is a moment of thanksgiving.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord

So here it is—the now on earth (6a) and the forever in heaven (6b). This is, in all it’s simplicity, a picture of the Christian life. What an incredible sentence—David really knocked it out of the park here.

God’s goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life. In Christ, God’s goodness and unfailing love will pursue you all the days of your life, too.

And then, one day, most likely a day we don’t know and we can’t predict, God will bring us home. This is the hope of heaven. The hope that people don’t just die—they move on, and they move up. They stop worrying about mortgages and safety and what-ifs, and they start living the life of praise they were made live on earth. And they live that life with other people.

I wonder what it will be like to live in the house of the Lord forever. I used to dread this idea because it sounded a little bit boring—like if you’re at a worship service and it starts getting too long and you start looking at the clock and you’re thirsty and you’re starving because the communion cracker somehow made you more hungry…this is what I worried heaven would be like. One long, hands-off worship service.

But the more I learn about it, the more excited I get. It’s not an eternity sitting in a pew, it’s an eternity spent in the presence of God’s love and warmth. It’s looking Jesus in the eyes and saying thank you for your amazing sacrifice—I cannot imagine anything better than being able, finally, to thank Jesus for giving his life for me.

And, I imagine seeing old friends and making new ones, and asking Peter what he was thinking and telling Jonathan that he was always my favorite person in the Bible and meeting Mother Teresa and just staring at her beauty and shaking Martin Luther King’s hand and listening to his stories. These are the things I long for.

But even more than that, my anxious heart is excited to be with the people I already know and love. I’m excited to know that they aren’t going anywhere—they aren’t going to move, or get cancer, or face racism, or sexism, or lies, or get in a car wreck, or experience any kind of pain. Sometimes I wonder what kind of unknown weight we all experience each day because of the reality of pain on this earth. I think if that knowledge and pain were removed, I’d be so light, I’d be able to float.

I’ve heard this whole passage a million times—I’ve heard songs written about it, I’ve read it, I think I’ve even spotted it as a cross-stitch in a few homes. But I’ve never really sat down and stared at it, and basked in the warmth of each verse. The hope and the joy and the faith that God’s love is unchanging for us resounds with each word.

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”