Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Left Luggage

A brilliant yellow-red light penetrates my closed eyes. With tears streaming down my face, I look up to see Jesus on the cross. He's not in the robe as I saw him before, but he's suffering. He's covered in blood. He's covered in dirt. His body heaves with each breath, but he does not choose to give up. He has chosen to listen to God and obey, and with this suffering comes great mourning from gatherers. I am bowed at the foot of the cross, weeping. I reach out to touch his bloodstained feet only with my fingertips. As I reach out, I am pulled back, zoomed out, if you will. Now I see the cross at the top of the hill from afar standing atop a dark and massive mountain of rubble.

I look at the hill, one I've seen as boulders and rubble in the past, with jagged crags and unsteady footholds. But this time, I look more carefully. I see luggage, suitcases, black garbage bags, backpacks, briefcases, purses, anything that would carry something. They mount up to make this hill, this huge hill. Piles and piles of bags. I realize the bags are staying right where they are, at the foot of the cross. But they aren't bags, they are sins. They are bondage. They are burdens and yokes. They are anything and everything that separate us from Jesus.

My attention goes back to the cross, and I look back to see him. He isn't there anymore. But I hear him as he speaks behind me. I turn to see him. He looks at me and says in a gentle voice, "I took your sins up there. Leave them at the foot of the cross. Come now, child. Dry your eyes, follow me." And a great strength rises up in me, and I get up from the ground and follow.

He has taken my past. He has taken my sin. He has taken my burdens. Now, I follow. I leave them at the cross. And his grace, which he has given me without any reason, without anything that I have done, is abounding in me. He conquered death to give me life. And He did this for you. Not for your praises, or good works. Not for your time or for payback.

2 Timothy 1:8b-10, "But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of out Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality through the gospel."

So leave that luggage. Those bags you've been carrying for so long. Stop making excuses and say, "Dear God, my Savior, my friend, thank you for taking my burdens. I leave them at the cross and I give them to you. I will not turn back to go get them again. They were destroyed when you gave your life for me. I receive the grace you give and I choose to follow you."

Be blessed today as you shed your burdens and follow Christ.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blog Changes

Instead of continuing with silly stories of non-importance, which I know offer little bits of relief on otherwise mundane afternoons, I find I'm needing to write about the one thing that has stolen my attention. It is nothing external and has nothing to do with the happenings of today. I am not concerned with the Olympics, though curling is possibly the most practical sport because you can learn how to do a household chore while exercising. And I have no interest in material possessions. I will offer some nonsense once in a while. But for now, I find myself needing to write my heart.

I feel I better explain myself, so here I go, I suppose. There is no beginning or end, there is no real sense to my madness inside. I've been struggling through this salvation thing for years, working it out more recently through fear and trembling, as Paul instructs in Philippians, and now I've come to a place where the struggle is nothing. I embrace the suffering with open arms, knowing that as I mourn, I am comforted. The cross weighs lightly on my shoulders, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I find I'm more in love with my creator each day and unhappy whenever I step out of his presence. And I know this is not because of myself or what I do, it is because the God I always believed in has finally caught me and entangled me with his love.

I always thought God wanted to love us from afar, watching from his cloud-made throne in heaven, waving his finger when we did something wrong, but applauding like an unknown audience when we were righteous. Now, something has changed. God's love is not as a father, a shepherd, or a king, though he is all of those things. He is not far off, watching with a telescope. His love is that of a lover. The kind a man gives to his bride. A love where once inside, you cannot leave because you ache and yearn to be with Him always. I find my heart breaking multiple times a day, longing to be nearer and nearer to my lover and my friend. And each time this longing is met with sweet fulfillment. It will always be this way.

I've been reading copious amounts of scripture paired with writings by those who went on before me to serve the Lord. Some may say I'm a junkie, purchasing books to read over and over again as I learn what it is to die to myself, obey, choose Him for myself, be blessed for suffering, ache and yearn for His love, live each moment in his presence, work at everything as if it were doing it for the Lord (the list goes on). But a few have brought me to a place where I cannot do anything except accept what God has done for me through full submission. (Eventually I will write an entry devoted fully to a day in the presence of God, and Brother Lawrence will help me with that.)

But before I go on anymore tangents, I want to know what I am reading and chewing on daily because these are the 5 books I have in my purse right now. Seriously, five books, and these peel away my flesh each day, calling me to submission and devotion.

If you want to borrow any of them, or purchase them, let me know. I want to talk them over with you. In no particular order...

1. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.
--Quite possibly the most basic read, but most essential for understanding how we can acknowledge God in every aspect of life, while being in constant sync with His Holy Spirit.
2. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
--Exceptionally meaty. Bonhoeffer knows what it is to suffer, serving in jail during WWII as a prisoner for the cause of Christ. It will challenge you to die to yourself, and implore you to live for Christ through constant submission. Christ demands us to die, but gives us life. Unless we are to give it all, we are not worthy of the calling to eternal life he freely gives us. Ouch, Dieter, that's tough. But excellent.
3.The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer.
--Tozer was brilliant, but he gained it through no formal training. He never even made it through high school, but God gave him wisdom and knowledge supernaturally (I get what James is talking about now). He regularly spent his quiet time face down on the floor in the presence of God. His book is not about a distant God, but about a loving, intimate God who fulfills us as we long for him. He writes, "To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in the happy experience by the children of the burning heart."
4. Crazy Love by Francis Chan.
--Get ready. It's not about going to church, throwing up a prayer and trying not to curse. This thing that we are seeking is not about us, but about an infinite God who wants what he wants, and that's us. He's going to love us crazily. (I'm in the third chapter as of 1:30pm 2/18.)
5. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.
--Only for the well read (its on a professor level of reading) or those longing to improve while eating steak , this book explains the four kinds of love and how we are made to experience them all.

So friends, take heart. This is the beginning of something I'm obsessed with and I long to share with you if you are working through your salvation as I am.

Read some of the book picks. Suggest some for me. Continue to carry the cross of Christ and do not leave his presence. Oh, and open your Bible EVERYDAY.

Peace, love and blessings.

Friday, February 12, 2010

All in a Lifetime's work

Plastic gloves on. Windex in hand. Rag in other. I walk past cardio machines. Woosh woosh, woosh, woosh. Pat, pat, pat, pat. Clap, clap, clap. Whiiirrrrr. I watch as spandex-clad supermoms kick it up a notch and New Years resolutions are being fulfilled. I look at each person, working themselves to weakness as they zone out on one of the 10 TV's in front of them. Oprah's talking to Celine Dion on TV 4. Women are planted in front of that one on bikes and ellipticals, donning headphones. I look but not too long. No one likes a starer when they're getting sweaty. I walk past, standing almost taller being on display. I seem out of the ordinary. Most are inside their box, calm within the confines of their workout machine. Feeling my breath with each in-suck of air, my blinks are delayed. I continue to walk, smiling.

I make it to "Man Land" where 'roided-out strangers pump up iron. GraHHaaaA. Arggggghhhhhh. AWWWhhhhaaaaa. I survey the mirrors. Smudged hand prints spot the reflections as I peer through the imperfection. I see the same guy I see everyday. He's in his mid-20s. Wears glasses most days. Today, he doesn't. Yesterday, he stared at me while I washed an interior window that separates the gym from the weight area. He noticed that I wasn't staring at him, rather the smudges on the glass. After a minute, I felt his eyes burning on my face. I glanced past the smudges. His cheeks turned red as he smiled. My eyes shoot to my feet. I'm not ready to look him in the eyes yet.

Today, I try harder. I admire his dedication. I admire all of their dedication. He's here everyday along with this beautiful late-30s suburban housewife who wears designer jeans and always smiles warmly at me when I stock and re-stock towels in the locker room. I'm starting to recognize a few faces, but I wonder, "Why do people come to such a busy place only to be alone?" It's a solitary collective. Earbuds galore. Like a monastery full of monks taking a vow of silence. Each right next to each other, living life together, but alone. It's not as admirable at a gym. Each person is doing their own thing. Minding their own business. Working at their own pace. I find it slightly depressing. Sure, no one wants to be hit on at the gym, but for a hang-out, an everyday occurrence, no interaction just leaves me hollow. Mundane. I want to change this, but I work in the back of the house, mostly in silence. I'm not different, excet I'm praying in my silence.

In the back now, washers suds up a new batch of "dirties." 8 dryers spin 50-plus towels. 4 baskets hold them while they're unfolded, and again when they're reconstituted. I think about all the people using them. These towels see more life in one day than many should in a lifetime. If these towels could talk, I know exactly what they'd say.

102.1 blares out country music. I don't know the lyrics but most songs put me at the verge of tears. Somebody's daughter died. Somebody left somebody loveless. Somebody can't wait to go to war. Somebody has an unrequited love. Somebody's working through a broken heart. It's all too close. When my co-workers leave, I turn it off. I don't need anymore distractions. The clock is enough. Mostly I focus on the time. I think, "One half-hour to my break," "One hour to cleaning showers," and, "Three hours until my shift is over." I look around the club for an opportunity to get out of the laundry room. There, I'm trapped between walls of clean white towels as I fold, and I can't escape my mind.

I work with a smile on my face. I know this is a blessing. Even cleaning out sanitary garbages throw it on my face. I know that without this job, I don't pay the bills. Without these hours, I don't eat. I am blessed to be working. I am happy to do anything. I find pride in scrubbing toilets, knowing I'm doing it for something greater than myself.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bathroom Discomfort--it's not what you think

Public restrooms are already uncomfortable. But being tall makes them more so.

During lunch my senior year of high school, it was typical to visit the ladies room with a purpose. Unlike the other girls who found it necessary to reapply their Fantastic Lash and giggle about boys, my visits were strictly business related. I didn't bring a girlfriend or advertise. But sometimes, my friend Jenny and I would be on the same schedule. So we went to the lou. I got in the stall, did my thing and stood up. Jenny had exited her stall already and was washing her hands. I talked to her, probably about the night's basketball game. I'm was watching her as I buckled my belt and realized, "I'm behind the door of the stall, but I can see over the door." Being 6'1" at the age of 18, poses a problem of high school bathroom manufacturers, I suppose. But their design flaw makes it pretty uncomfortable for myself Jenny, and Kate, a girl who was looking in the mirror.

I look over the top of the stall into the mirror again when I hear Kate say, "Woah, Joy! Remind me not to use the bathroom when you're in here." Way to make me feel like a perv, Kate. Like I'm going to check in on the people next to me to see how things are going. I don't even want to be in my own stall. Public rest rooms are really strange. Except at the Loring Pasta Bar, that experience is always fun. Shower heads for faucets. Check it out.

Anyway, from then on, I noticed this about bathrooms. I don't notice the amenities, light fixtures, or paper towel dispensers (only if they're empty), but I do notice the height of the bathroom doors. The University of Minnesota Law School has the shortest doors, causing me to have blinders on the entire time. I could look over to say, "Hi," but that would be really strange for me, I suppose the other lady as well.

My new office, though, has nice, tall doors. I can't see over them. I can feel like I'm not imposing on anyone. But I'll have to test it out when I'm wearing heels.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Apealing? Not bananas. Tasty? Burger Jones.

It takes me over two hours to eat a banana as I punch away at the keys during work. I call up salons asking for their information for a "Beauty Guide." Everyone thinks I'm calling to sell ad space. I'm not, really. I wouldn't even know how to do that. So I press on. "It's free ad space for your salon or spa. It doesn't cost you anything." They start answering questions and getting picky about words.

I know that by the time I finish with this uncomfortable sensory experience with the banana, it'll be lunchtime and the banana will be forgotten in light of the chicken carbonara pasta awaiting consumption in the freezer. I put it next to an enchilada Lean Cuisine so that it isn't mistakenly eaten by another health-conscious, yet too-lazy-to-bring-a-salad coworker. (I brought a side salad for health and vitality. Plus it was leftover leaf lettuce that needed to be eaten.) It seems that both of the freezers are stuffed with Lean Cuisines. Target must have been having a sale. And all the meals are labeled with female names. Liz, Tanya, Michele. Men don't eat Lean Cuisine. They eat Asian takeout leftovers, meatloaf their wives made and homemade pasta casseroles.

But I eat the banana not for taste reasons. I really don't care for them. However, they are naturally prepackaged, filling and full of vitamins--it's still not very convincing. They can't be that healthy if they are that color. Besides, the texture is pretty unimpressive.They're like avocados, "And, who wants that texture in their mouth?" Still, I mow it down knowing my muscles will thank me with fewer Charlie horses.

I remember the great sensory experience I had last night. Ah, the burger. It could have been that I was excited to eat red meat since I had foregone it for a two-week period. Or it could be that I had head about Burger Jones from a reliable source (MPLS/St. Paul Magazine, you know what I mean), but the facts of last evening remain: Burger Jones makes a tasty burger. My dinner date put it this way. "They make the patty by packing it just right. Not crumbly, but not too tight, so the juice forms little pockets that end up mostly in your mouth and some on your plate." (Note: The quote is not verbatim, though it's pretty close. Thank you journalism for your excellent skill building.)

Anyhow, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, which according to Robin our waitress, is the second most popularly ordered burger on the menu. Rating numero uno: The Black and Blue burger. The BCB (bacon cheeseburger) came with veggie fixin's and we split a side of parmasian dusted waffle fries. My affinity for parmisan cheese typically stops right before a waiter asks me, "Would you like parmisan cheese on your ravioli?" To which I reply, "No, never." I usually dislike parmisan, but on the fries, it was excellent. And they were equally crispy and tender, savory but not overwhelming. Though we split a side of those, there were plenty for two.

Back to the BCB. I dressed mine with tomato, lettuce, sauteed onions, mayo, catchup and pickles. And while some may say it isn't anything to write home about, or that "they try too hard to be an upscale burger joint," (Thank you fellow intern for weighing in) I found it definitely worth the 15 bucks (including tip).

I'll recommend Burger Jones to anyone wanting to get out of Dinkytown or the burbs, but doesn't want to pay a million dollar for a specialty burger. The atmosphere is playful, the menu is witty ("Cheese selection: Free: Government Cheese"), and the service is excellent. Kudos to you Burger Jones. I'll be there again soon.