Monday, January 25, 2016

Store-Bought Waffles Deserve Maple Syrup

"I'm going to have some waffles for breakfast," my son announced this morning. "Will you ice them with peanut butter?"

I have turned into somewhat of a food tyrant; in our house, it comes down to syrup. Because I won't buy it. "It's not healthy to start your day with a stomach full of sugar," I explain to them. "And peanut butter has protein and fat to start your day." And if you are going to start your day with sub-par store-bought waffles, then the least we can do is add some sort of nutritional gravy to it. It's not that I'm looking for ways to deny my children the things they want. I'm just trying to get them to see that maple syrup (don't get me started on table syrup) is not adding much in the way of a healthy start.

But we live in a time and place that has us all believing that not only do we want to start our day with syrup on our waffles, but that we deserve to start our day with syrup on our waffles. It's available to me at the store and I do have the $8 it costs to buy it, and it does taste good. So why should I not buy it?

It's not about syrup for me. I've (mostly...) cut sugar out of my diet and am happy without syrup. It fits for me. But I do believe that when I want a new rug under the kitchen table, I should go ahead and get one. I don't necessarily think it should be the most expensive (the sacrifice), but I do think I need a new one. Even if the old one still works.

So maybe it's not about syrup or rugs for some people. I have a list of wants that is a mile long and I'll keep adding to it because I like to dream. It includes a Houzz-worthy white kitchen (with reclaimed ceiling beams, obviously) and reclaimed walnut floors in the basement and marble counter tops in the bathroom. I think I'm worthy enough to actually deserve these things; why not? That doesn't mean I'll get them, but a part of me, albeit a small part, wonders why I should be denied the good things, whatever those good things might be. Chocolate. Hardwood floors. A prime spot at the front of the store. All things happy, all the time.

This week of Jennie Allen's study stuck was hard for me. I don't like hard. I don't mind introspective and thoughtful, but I don't like hard. Parenting is hard. Relationships are hard. Friendships? Hard. Being mad on the inside because I've (a) made up a list of deserved rights in my head, (b) been offended when that list is challenged or stepped on and then (c) being asked to give up my "rights" to said feelings of offense? Ha! OFFENSIVE.

"I'll have you know," I thought to myself this week. "That I'm not your biggest fan right now, Jennie Allen. I like my list of rights that I've made for myself and anyways My People and All The People should know better than to step on my list." The List, as follows (some items have been omitted to protect the reputation of the author):

1. Don't step on my toes. I'm sensitive.
2. Don't ask me to do anything out of my comfort zone. I don't like it.
3. Don't challenge me on what I deserve. Because I actually deserve it all.
4. Don't argue with me. Just don't.
5. Don't ask me to change. Because I probably won't.

I feel like it's a little bit of a touchy subject, this "What Do We Deserve" topic, because I think there are basic human rights that we are entitled to. But entitlement is a dangerous word, and it's bled into our lives like a slow drip IV, making me believe (with gusto) that the current bathtub situation that I must deal with every day  (sniff) has got to change or I can't be happy. Which, among other things wrong with that example, means that I'm literally placing my happy in a bathtub, and I think you might agree that that doesn't make much sense. How can a bathtub determine my ultimate happiness? And yet. I think about it much more than what actually brings real joy, peace and real, actual goodness. Which is something I could use.

I find that when I focus on myself, and by default, all the things I want and need and deserve (and then demand), it actually takes away from the things that I really do value in my life, like creativity, peace, calm, organization, relationships, and gratitude. Those things are are life-giving to me, just like exercise is. They fill me up so that the things that do drain the well (like certain social engagements, which are sometimes killer for me) don't drain me to the point of no return. But focusing on myself takes away from those things, yet I do it with alarming regularity (and passion, I might add, since I am sometimes my very own most favorite person, hands down. And I do have the best ideas.).

So last week, when reading my study and discovering that the suggestion was to lay down my perceived rights, I was at first offended, and then mad. I found it laughable that someone else would suggest something as radical as offering to lay down one's own rights. No! I hold onto them with a tight fist, because if I don't fight for myself, who will? 

Jesus wants our dignity to come from Him...
Do we trust Him to defend us if we stop 
defending ourselves?
jennie allen

But then I, at the suggestion of a friend, bought a relationship book that we are going to read together, and it suggested laying down your rights. And then I read about laying down your rights during my quiet time on this very morning. And whether you just think three's a charm or repetition is God's way of getting your attention, I think it might merit just that. My attention.

It would be radical, wouldn't it, to adopt a lifestyle that says something about sacrifice. See, maple syrup isn't really a sacrifice for me, and really, neither is not getting the perfect rug for under my kitchen table. I want those things, but don't really care enough about them to get really worked up over them. (Well, sometimes maple syrup gets me worked up, but that's another story for another day.) The point is, I don't feel any internal struggle when I'm debating either of those things. It's not really a sacrifice for me, really, to give up on the Quest For A New Rug. What does cause much internal chaos is when someone says something as radical as give up your perceived right to not getting your toes stepped on, because (a) you're not that sensitive and (b) you don't really deserve it in the first place. It is here that I'm stopped in my tracks, and here that I'm doubly offended that someone would even suggest such a thing. And here that I have to stop and think why. Why am I so afraid of this? Why do I think I deserve it all, no questions asked? Why do I think everyone else should deal with getting their toes getting stepped on, their beliefs challenged, their habits changed, their forgiveness withheld, their motives questioned, but not me? And yet I rise with an indignation performance worthy of an Oscar at the mere thought of being placed in such a position.

Christ laid down all his rights, put on a cloak of humility, and was beaten and hung on a cross, so that I (and you and everybody) could be forgiven and free. The real sacrifice was done for me, so I could live in freedom, but also so I could live in a way that shows what Christ did for me. So in a way, I'm living for Christ and not for for myself, and while this goes against every selfish grain in my being, it's what I believe. So it's my responsibility to show love, and that's love for others, not for myself. And to show forgiveness and humility and that happiness can be found beyond bathtubs and All The Things (seriously, sometimes I do want All The Things).

God doesn't tell us never to get angry. God's call is that we be slow to anger because He knows we are so easily offended. And in doing this we live like God: "The LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).

If Christ, laying down His rights, justified so few reasons on this planet to respond with anger, how many can we justify?

Let's pick our fights wisely.

jennie allen

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Faith is Questionable

You guys.

Did you expect a whole new look and a new feel and a new blog after all that time off? I'm sorry if you're disappointed. I'm slightly disappointed, too. But. I'm more concerned with thoughts and talking and writing than about those things, and besides, I don't know much about creating a blog. I just write.

I walked into this room slowly, not even wanting to open up the laptop. Or my life. I've got things to do, things that require my time and energy, things that don't include Writing A Blog. Especially a blog that remains largely unseen and unheard of, because I say "Go Big or Go Home", and nothing about this life of mine would be described as Big. As in significant.

But in any event, here we are, beginning a New Year and Resolutions and all the Things that are supposed to bring us joy and peace and instead fill us with a certain sense of...dread? Trepidation? Maybe even fear?

Precisely the reason I don't make resolutions. On New Years Day, anyways.

I don't feel like I've crossed a finish line. I feel like I'm limping along (or sleep/dream running through mud, which is even worse) and there is no finish line in sight. Little things, trivial things, minor things keep popping up. I think every single time I can handle this, only to realize that the reality of the situation is that I remain calm on the outside. Perhaps sometimes I appear collected. Maybe I seem disconnected, closed off. But it's only because I understand what I can't seem to make myself admit out loud: I do not have anything. Related: I have no idea what I'm doing.

Isn't hindsight a beautiful thing? It helps you understand what you did right and what you did wrong and how you'd do it all over again, only different. It helps you remain actually calm and collected, firmly rooted in what you already know. But most of the time I feel like I need hindsight for the future, which, obviously, is impossible unless you are Marty McFly.

I'm doing a new bible study at church that challenges you to question your faith. Of course, some take this sort of challenge on with a bravado that I could only hope to have, because I agree with the concept but am fearful of where it might lead me. What if I find out I have no faith? Where does that leave me? Where does that leave God?

Of course, this leaves God as God because that will never change, and it leaves me a small lump of dark fear. And alone. Which is one of my greatest fears.

So it comes as no surprise that I grabbed the book and brought it home and answered all the questions and pondered and thought and read all the readings (I am type A, after all, and no question can be left blank. That would be preposterous.) and have come away with two thoughts: I still have no idea and I am scared. 

There are lots of things that I'm scared of. Honestly, there is too much in the world that is scary. We know of it all too well, with the frenzy of information we sometimes describe as "media". But for me, it's especially scary to be a parent. Especially when your children don't come with Care Labels. Especially especially when said children make choices. And those choices make your eyes pop out of your head. And extra especially when you have no idea what to do about it.

The root of the issue (can only one root issue be defined here?) is that I am scared of what is left when you strip it all away. I am 100% terrified of knowing that I cannot do life by myself (who can?) and also that no one is actually listening. Maybe this is why I identify with Grey Street so well. Go ahead, read the lyrics and see if you know what I'm saying.

There are things I know I want (like a new phone, things like that) and there I things I am desperate for, like wisdom and peace and this elusive happiness. I see articles and such all about How To Be More Happy, but I don't know that gaining It can be done in seven simple steps. Maybe this is why we hang on to happy, why we gravitate toward what we know is only temporary. Because we are scared that when we really search for it, when we really choose to believe the promises and the stories of true happiness, we will just be grasping smoke.

This is probably why I like the idea of being skinny so much. Call it what you want. Thin, slim, willowy, me, it represents happy. Because if I could get there, then I would not be here. Here doesn't always feel happy. There certainly would.

But is there an actual there? Or are we so scared that Happy just doesn't exist that we're willing to settle for what it seems to be?

I am scared. Instead of grabbing my faith and taking on the world, I feel like the world is taking me on and in the process swallowing me up. It makes me question if I ever really had a firm grasp on my faith to begin with. The reality that is mine isn't changing much, and sometimes, on bad, frustrating days, it seems to be worse. And I find myself thinking, despite all that I know, shouldn't faith make it be better?

I am fearful of grabbing onto the hand that promises to never let me go, because I'm mostly scared it won't actually be there. And I think what does that even mean, anyways? What does it look like? What do I do? Where do we go from here, with this hand holding business? 

But, despite my own best efforts, maybe I do have a faith that won't die, because when the aforementioned children are sassy and disrespectful and make choices that make my eyes pop out of my head and even when I tell them to get your head out of your butt and concentrate on something other than yourself. Like school (you don't have to agree with my method or my terminology, but all I can tell you is that in moments of frustration, the household is lucky I don't resort to only cussing), I find myself holed up in my closet, writing out my fears and disappointments and heartache in a prayer to the only One who I know can offer me comfort, taping my hastily written prayers on the wall. I beg for wisdom and discernment, plead for the answer to my constant question tell me how to handle this. I may be scared of not being heard, but I'm there, which means I may have a tiny shred of faith even on the rough days.

If there is one thing I hate, it's feeling out of control. Related things I hate: feeling stupid, a messy house, feeling disorganized, wasting time, not getting my list done, having things hang over my head that need to get done, not being able to turn my family into Heather-approved robots. I want proof that what I'm doing now is going to be of benefit in the future. I want to know that all the decisions I make today are right. Not just good. RIGHT. I don't like making mistakes, and I don't like learning from said mistakes. It's hard for me to watch other people, especially especially my own people, make mistakes. It, along with all the other things, scares the living daylights out of me. But, as we all know, I am not in control of much of anything (even my own tongue, see above: re: get your head out of your butt, which resulted in one of my children saying "Oh, I'm sorry I'm such a disappointment to you, I'll just sit here and be a disappointment"...but I digress). When I realize this (Lack of Control=Hate), I do the only thing I know to do, which is fall back on that tiny shred of faith, and pray for My People and My Own Self and Faith. Other Options seem few and far between, and besides, I've already been down that path, and honestly, Other Options don't taste as good as they look. Talk about grabbing smoke.

Which leaves me with one option: Faith. Even when I'm not feeling it, even when it sounds absurd and conservative, even when it seems like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth.

I'm taking it easy and easing back into this whole writing a blog thing. But let's keep the conversation going, and I'll see you in a couple of days. Thanks for hanging in there with me. :)