The Messed-Up World: Having a Realistic Perspective of Life

IMG_20180522_182606897Will it hurt? Will I be afraid? Will I be lonely? Will I mess up? Will I hate it? Will I be bored? Will I want to die?

It’s no secret I struggle with fear of the future. Recently I’ve seen dread stealing joy. Memorial day weekend was a beautiful three-day weekend; but some of the bliss of an extra day off from work was masked by dread of starting work again. If I get to bed on time, I can have the peace of knowing I can sleep for the next eight hours; but sometimes that peace is stolen by the dread of waking up. I love school and enjoy so many aspects of being at Cornerstone University; but sometimes the blessings of school is darkened by my dread of what happens after I graduate.

How frustrating it is to so often not be able to appreciate the joys I have right in front my face. But what I realized recently is that I actually don’t even have to ask these haunting questions anymore; I already have the answers: yes, yes, and yes to all of the above.

Honestly folks, don’t try to tell me otherwise. In the future, I will hurt, I will be afraid, I will be lonely, I will mess up, I will hate life, I will be bored, and I will want to die. After A shattered flowerpot on a windowsillall, the author of Philippians put it well, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We live in a sinful, broken, painful but temporary world. We who are sincerely pursuing a relationship with Christ are called to be soldiers in the battle on this world. That means we’re going to get hurt, we’re going to get tired, and we’re going to go through some really rough patches. But, after the Fall, this is the way the world is and–in a manner of speaking–it’s quite the way it’s supposed to be.

The significance of this may not be clear at first. After all, how can such depressing news lead to anything but dread of the future?! But see, perspective is powerful.

The first thing this realization does is remind me that life on earth is temporary and it’s not the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t go great. I mean, if my entire life–every second of it–were to be wholly rotten, as soon as I was resurrected, the temporary pain would be completely past and absolutely nothing in comparison to eternity.

Secondly, this realization helps me to reorient my expectations. If I expect that happiness and ease are owed me, then it makes sense for me to fear their leaving. Today I might fear tomorrow’s happiness being stolen because I am deserving of that pleasure tomorrow, but I know I don’t always have it. Therefore, I fear being cheated. However, to recognize that pleasure isn’t something I can expect means that I don’t have to fear it not existing tomorrow.

Image result for lawn mowerConsider this: if you were to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower, would you, whilst mowing your lawn, dread the moment you have to return it? I would hope not. Instead you’re likely to be grateful to have it in the moment. Indeed, if pleasure is not something guaranteed, but is, instead borrowed in a way, then it becomes a pleasant surprise when offered. It is easier to enjoy the extra day off from work, the eight hours of sleep, or the current situation in school, because these pleasures are not guaranteed, so we don’t try to possess them. At the same time, they aren’t inherently expected–so they are also a beautiful surprise.

C. S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, points out that man, expecting his free time to be wholly “his,” becomes upset when something is required of him during this moment. But, how narrow-minded this is! God has gifted each man with every breath he breathes. If we, instead, expect to use our time for God’s glory, the times that he provides for our individual rest will be accepted in gratitude instead of demanded in selfish pride.

Therefore, going through life expecting it to be painful and hard and, sometimes, wretched, in an ironic way, opens my eyes to the beauty and joy and pleasures that I am offered in the present. 

I feel I ought to note also that having this realistic perception of the fallenness of the world doesn’t inherently mean we cannot always be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16) or cannot always sense God’s peace that surpasses understanding (Philipians 4:7). I wholeheartedly believe that, because we know how the story ends, we can still experience these blessings, even without being blind to the painful situation Earth is in. Faith is not a feeling and feeling lonely or scared or like a failure is inevitable sometimes. However, these feelings need not define us.

Overall, then, I call Christians to a realistic perception of the world: it stinks. “Smile, Jesus Image result for smile jesus loves youloves you” isn’t inherently wrong by any means, but we also can’t expect that all the time. We should live fully aware that we are soldiers fighting a bloody battle, aware that we’ll often lie sleepless at night bearing the burdens of the world, and that there will be days where we’d much rather take the gain of death than the life of Christ.

But, in all of this, there is a peace and a joy that comes with the release of the “American dream.” Enjoy every blessing that God offers you right now. But don’t worry about what will come tomorrow. Your pleasure isn’t expected tomorrow, it’s expected in the next life.

 

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How to be Happy, Seriously.

IMG_20180509_142441718_HDR-EFFECTS.jpgI sat on the edge of my little brother’s bed as I said goodnight to him. “How much money did you make at work today?” He questioned, somewhat randomly. “Sometime could you give me just $2,000 so that I can buy a nice 4-wheeler?”

I chuckled a little, but was completely opposed to the idea. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I love you and I want you to be safe, buddy.”

“But the $2,000 4-wheeler has a seat belt! Please!”

“No, I need the money for school, kiddo..”100_0795 - Edited

The discussion went on for a while as he tried to acquire the cash and I discouraged him. He kept asking “why?” and I had to think of an answer that was good enough to stop the pleading. Finally I realized the actual reason I was most opposed to him pursuing this 4-wheeler: “Buddy, the reason I don’t want you to get this is because it’s not going to make you happy.”

It’s the truth. Sure a 4-wheeler would be a ton of fun, but he’s got a lot of other (cheaper) toys that he’s bored with; a 4-wheeler would eventually amount to the same. But my 11-year-old brother has a hard time believing me.

In fact, don’t we all have a hard time believing that things won’t make us happy? Culture is ready to “satisfy” our needs with possessions. But if we look to possessions to be happy, we won’t ever be satisfied. This is something I have a feeling we all know with head knowledge, regardless of where our hearts are. So I’m not going to try to beat you over the head with it. While it’s important to remember that possessions cannot provide joy, the idea isn’t really new and it’s harder to believe than we’d like.

However, an idea that is slightly more novel, and thereby useful, would be something that Andy Stanley said in his sermon serious “What Makes You Happy.” He stated that IMG_20180511_160258995you need a “who or two” to be happy. While spending time, energy, or money on things does very little to satisfy long term, spending time, energy, or money on people is a thoroughly rewarding pursuit.

Over and over I have found this in my daily life. Reading my brother a goodnight story, helping my mom make dinner, folding laundry with my sister, cleaning the bathroom for my siblings, buying someone a surprise doughnut, have left me feeling fuller than anything I could ever do by myself. What are you doing to spend your time, energy, or money on people?

Even just being more thoughtfully aware of others does much to help my attitude. For example, the thought of going to work this morning wasn’t the happiest thought I’ve ever had. However, if I break for just a minute to realize that going to work can be a way to serve others, I suddenly can find meaning and purpose in it–because then I’m making work about other people instead of myself.

There are some simple and entirely reasonable methods for applying this perspective.

  1. Okay, first things first: our God is the God of joy. In order to be content and purposeful, the first thing you need to do is to connect with God!
  2. After having done so, though, there are ways to be more intentional about our attitudes. When I think I’m having the worstest day ever, remembering that other people have problems too is like a taser shock reminding me of my blessings. A recent goal for me is that, when I’m having a bad day, I reach out and ask how other people are doing. Turning my thoughts away from my pity party is not only helpful for me, but encouraging to the others.
  3. img_20180506_143341873_hdr.jpgMy psychology professor, Dr. Geoff Kramer, once informed me of research he’d found which stated that money spent on activities with people as opposed to possessions for oneself were far more rewarding. This is so easily applicable; it’s worth considering. If you had the choice between spending $40 on a day trip with friends or on a new pair of jeans, the former will provide a better sense of fulfillment.
  4. I’d like to encourage you to spend time with other people. Maybe make it a daily goal to intentionally serve someone else–even if it’s as simple as intentionally opening a door or putting away dry dishes from the rack or even just hanging out, honestly. These can take less than two minutes, but this focus can be enough to get your head out of your own little world and to start thinking about others. Whenever I do this, I’m that much closer to “be[ing] joyful always” and living with the hope and love that we, as Christians, should aspire to.

If you want to be happy, start looking for ways to make others happy. How beautiful is it that our wise God set up life in such a way that making others happy makes us happy as well 🙂 Trust me, we all know it’s not always peachy. You definitely won’t always feel delighted about serving others or spending time or money on them. But I can entirely guarantee that it will leave you happier than if you left humans out of the happiness pursuit.img_20170708_153402971_hdr.jpg

The Best Days of my Life: Always.

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My legs burn as I peddle madly on the stationary bike. Kicking the peddles is about as close as I can get to kicking my problems. My frustration is going to come out in either sweat or tears and I’m hoping it will all be the former, so long as I push myself hard enough.

Last semester this experience became a weekly occurrence as I had a weekly job which reminded me of my shortcomings, frustrations, and feelings of failure. But I was back to it at the beginning of this semester as well, as my plans for an internship fell through and I was caught in a whirlwind of being unsure of my plans, afraid of my future, and aware of my inadequacies.

In times like these, I sometimes long for the security of middle age, when I’m settled in a career or in a family and I have an idea of where I’ll be a year ahead. At that point, I’ll IMG_7374know who my friends are, I’ll know what my job is, and I won’t be constantly checking my grades. But this perspective is more subconscious than conscious, because, when I really think about it, I do not want to wish middle age upon myself right now.

There are so many blessings college life entails: the random weekend adventures, the opportunity to devote oneself to learning, the constant action, the environment of energetic spontaneous young adults, the nights going to bed when I want to without having to put any kiddos to bed…

Doubtless, the future holds great adventures and (hopefully!) there will be a point in my life where I don’t have so many unknowns. But, as I’ve written before, the last thing I want to do is pine for the security later years will bring and ignore the countless blessings right in front of my face right now.

Jason Gray wrote a song titled “Best Days of My Life” which grasps this concept so well. The whole song is worth listening to, but my favorite line is,

“Every step along the way
I know You’ll never leave my side
Whatever the season I can say,
‘These are the best days of my life.’

Life now might scare me. I might not always appreciate the uncertainty of it all. But at the same time, there is so much adventure in this time of life. There are so many things I love about learning, so many things I adore about being here at Cornerstone. And, through it all, no matter what stage of life, I know that God is with me.

“the good times and the hard times were the best times I ever had18447548_1209092089216552_4674075823915041457_n.jpg
Cause You were beside me, above and behind me
Lovingly leading me home”

So this year, I want to, at some point in every day, stop and realize that–in every season of my life–these are the best days of my life.

P.s. Is the background too dark?

 

Well, I’m ready to call it a life: Persevering with Purpose

dog-2532610_1920.jpgRecently I was making my way through another day. At about 5:30 PM I sighed and commented, “Well, I’m ready to call it a life.”

While I feel far inferior to Paul in most of his godly approaches to life, one attitude of his that I can relate well to is the way he sees our time on earth: “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing…While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh… we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2-4). 

Or one of my favorite verses, which has been scattered as a reminder to myself throughout my journal pages: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Phillipians 1:21). Dying is Image result for to dogain and when the Lord takes me away, won’t I ever be rejoicing! But as I learned through years of asking questions, we are granted life on earth for a purpose. While there are many days I wish I could be relaxing and rejoicing in God’s presence right now, I have to remember that I have a purpose right here, right now. While it’s not necessarily fun living on earth, we have many blessings and many tasks to accomplish. Each day we’re alive, God wants to be working through us. That is a very encouraging thought; the Creator of the universe has a plan for each day you’re alive. He’s using you for his great purposes.IMG_0711

So, while we do want to be heaven-focused, we also have the privilege of serving God here, and we can’t dismiss this opportunity.

Therefore, until that day of rejoicing when the Lord takes me home, I am determined to use this gift of life that I’ve been given to serve God and others–through my work and through my attitude, by being positive, joyful, and intentional. If I can’t be home now, I might as well make the most of this earthly adventure.

This I Believe: There is Beauty, Even in This Dark World

Rain, Purple, Flower, Purple FlowerA cool drop of water tumbles downward. Falling…Falling…Then, suddenly, it hits my shoulder with a soft pressure. The droplet bursts, its cool wetness sifting through my shirt, hugging my skin. Around it hundreds more are falling, gently embracing whatever they land on. I duck my head and, like everyone else, begin to run to the next building, fearing the little droplets, wishing them away.

But suddenly, I stop.

The rain keeps pouring.

I turn my head, looking around; what have I against these gentle patterings of water? I close my eyes and feel the little splashes tenderly bursting across my face, softly running down my neck. As everyone else huddles indoors, I listen to the joyful music as the raindrops dance against each surface they hit, as they form delicate streams across the sidewalk. There is such mystery, and even greater beauty in all of it. Yet everyone else simply does their best to ignore it.

I believe in being deliberate. Deliberateness causes us to be genuine, to stop taking things for granted, and to see the abundance of beauty in the world. It allows us to be more content in life. When I take a moment to be deliberate, I take a moment to be genuine. When my sister asks, “What do you think of my hair?” it’s tempting to answer, “I don’t know” or “It’s great.” But when I focus on being deliberate, my answer is so much more real. “It’s interesting, but I liked the pony tail better,” or “Wow, that really makes you look professional” are answers that will mean so much more to both of us. Relationships aren’t built on the “It’s great” answers, but on the deliberate thought that goes into a conversation.

Image result for world war two prison campsWhen I take a moment to be deliberate, I take a moment to appreciate what I have. As grisly as they are, I like to read books about how Jews were treated in concentration camps during World War II. For when I grimace at their pain, I finally notice my lack of. And then, as I chew my food, I wonder at its marvelous taste. As I lie in bed, I sink deeply against the feel of clean sheets. And even as I argue with a sister, my anger diminishes, as I realize how grateful I am to even have her.

When I take a moment to be deliberate, I take a moment to be awed by beauty. Every snowflake that falls is a diamond crystal. Every sunbeam that shines is golden warmth. Every smile that’s given is a priceless treasure. Even as I shiver painfully in the cold fall morning, I don’t have to get upset as I wait for my brother to unlock the car. I can focus on the glistening, silver frost covering the grass.

There is beauty in every ugly circumstance. There is joy, even in this dark world. When I take a moment to be deliberate, I find myself more content. I feel a genuine world, a grateful heart, and a beautiful life. I believe in being deliberate.

Making the Most of Memories: the benefits of Reminiscing

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Memory of going to a “hobo” party with siblings 🙂

July 4th I went to work at the campground as usual (holidays aren’t breaks for campground workers–they are busier actually). Half an hour into my work day, two guys in black ski masks and sun glasses blocking out their eyes snuck into the campground office while I was distracted. I turned around and they grabbed me, blindfolded me, and put me in a car. My mind was racing during the following 40-50 min drive and, aside from a hasty command to remain seated and just wait at the beginning of the ride, nobody in the car spoke during the whole time. 

File:Balaclava 3 hole black.jpgWhen we finally parked, I was pulled out of the car, passed around from person to person at least once or twice, and after what seemed like a very, very long time, the bandanna blindfold was ripped off; I was greeted with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” and a cake with burning candles. 

I spent the day in the company of good friends exploring the ruins of an old cement factory and biking on the North Country Trail. I had a fantastic day and know I will remember the day for a very long time.

Memories are astounding things. But they don’t seem to get the credit they deserve. Experiences that were hard work, cost a lot of money, or are long gone are easily retrievable and re-experienceable and yet we so often forget to take full advantage of this mysterious thing called memory. I would like to encourage you to go back and consider some good memories for multiple reasons:

Memories are a way to stay content

The day after that kidnapping adventure, work was especially slow and boring in comparison. But while I worked, I remembered the happenings of the day before and was forced to smile every so often. Plus, I recognized that the only way adventures like that can happen is if we go through our normal, every day lives most of the time. Thinking about that instead of having a pity party at work helped me to be grateful for what I have instead of bemoaning what I don’t have. When you are bored or discontent, take the time to consider an old memory that will make you smile. I can guarantee it will make you just a little more content in the current situation.

IMG_20170708_153310165_HDRMemories are a way to stay connected with friends

Relationships have a past, present, and future too. As explained in my intriguing post “Relationships in the 3-D,” keeping the past (good memories together) in mind helps to strengthen the present. Remembering old adventures with friends and siblings is a guaranteed way to rejuvenate love and admiration toward others.

Memories help us to keep a good perspective on life

Have you ever been on one of those vacations where everything goes wrong? Or you had an experience with a friend that was just rotten at the time? Our family once watched a terrible movie. It had a lame plot and ended with the family being broken up and doled out because the parents died and the orphans needed homes. It was such a waste of time to watch, and yet, now our family laughs whenever we remind each other of it and we use that waste-of-time experience for good now. Remembering and laughing about those Image result for hippie vankind of situations in the past helps us to keep a better perspective in the present. When you have a hangnail and your eyelid won’t close all the way and have a mosquito biting your nose (but you can’t swat it because your hands are sticky from eating spoiled oranges) and you get a flat on the side of the road and have to hitchhike with a hippie gangster (not a true story and NOT recommended), you’ll be more likely to take it in stride–recognizing in a little while it’ll be over with and just be a memory to laugh at. Rough things have to happen, but they aren’t the end of the world.

Memories are a way to keep in mind what God has done for us

In the book of Exodus we see God doing miraculous sign after miraculous sign after miraculous sign to free the Israelites from their bondage to the Egyptians. And yet, as soon as they are freed from their miserable slavery, they immediately forget God and turn to such wretched activities as building themselves a golden calf to worship. How guillaume-de-germain-303020 (1)insane is that?! And yet, I do the same thing. I am SO quick to forget what God has done for me. Taking the time to remember what God has done for you in the past is an invaluable way to keep your faith strong and to keep you well connected to your maker.

It is true that sometimes we need to leave the past behind. You’ve been forgiven for your sins and there are some memories we need to let go of in order to move on. But there are also countless memories we are way too quick to forget. Reminiscing over past joys is such a free, easy activity that can really have so many benefits!

I’d like to challenge you to remind a friend of a shared memory with him/her–just to Image result for smiley facemake the two of you smile, or to thank God for something he’s done in your past that you sometimes forget, or to wake up in the morning (and, if you’re human, you’ll sometimes wake up grumpy) and to immediately consider a good memory so that you can start the morning with a smile. Why not take advantage of the advantages of memories?

Also, I’d love for you to comment on the post with a good memory or just your thoughts 🙂