Finding Faith in the Seasons of Mundanity

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I’m reading in Genesis right now, smack dab in the middle of the story of Joseph. What a crazy life. Born a favorite, naively arrogant to his brothers, betrayed and sold, escalated to the highest serving position in every single circumstance he found himself in, ran Egypt, and eventually forgave his brothers and reunited with his father.

Pretty exciting events in there. But what struck me was the amount of time Joseph spent in each season. It’s not absolutely clear in the Bible, but let’s assume Joseph was 17 when his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites. He was 30 years old when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. 13 years in between. Think about 13 years ago for you. I was a freshman in college. 9/11 happened. Think of all that’s happened to you since then.

We know Joseph was in prison for 2 years, so we can assume he served Potiphar for 11 years. How in the world did Joseph get through those long stretches of time?

Everyone has a plan for their life. What was Joseph’s? Did he try to figure out a way to escape Potiphar and get back to Canaan in the early years and then finally succumb to his lot and accept being a servant? Did he try to find the positive aspects of the situation and serve joyfully? Did he ever get to the point of despair while in prison? How did he keep his faith in God through those times?

It’s easy to praise God in the really exciting happy moments – the birth of a child, the marriage of two people, the achievement of a degree or passing a test, reaching a long, sought after goal. And it’s easy to cling to God in the dark moments – the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, job, or identity. But what about the other 99% of life? The day after day after day after day after day? Sometimes I feel like I’m trudging.

My answer is I don’t know. Or maybe it’s one of those things that is simple and hard at the same time. The truth is, it’s not glamorous. It’s getting up 15 minutes early to read a passage of scripture you don’t understand half the time. It’s trying to keep your thoughts from distraction during silent prayer. It’s saying, “Oh Lord” every morning when you get in your car to go to work. It’s extending grace and forgiveness time and time again to those around you – and yourself. It’s serving at your church every other week, making dessert for this or that event, tucking in your kids every night with “Jesus Loves Me.”

Strong faith comes from incremental decisions. Disciplined effort. Non Instagram-worthy moments. Obviously, there are amazing times of clarity or insight, and of course it’s all worth it. There is an end goal. Reading scripture in the morning will set your priorities for the day and detox your soul. Prayer will keep the world in perspective and God in control. You just may not see it everyday.

Whether you are exactly where you want to be in life, or feel like you’ll never get there, continue to seek God in the mundanity, wherever you are. After all, loving you is never mundane to God.

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Grace and Forgiveness

When the person behind you is riding your tail.
Grace and forgiveness.

When someone dismisses your heartfelt compliment.
Grace and forgiveness.

When you find yourself being hypocritical.
Grace and forgiveness.

When someone cuts you off when you’re talking.
Grace and forgiveness.

When you’re accidentally left out.
Grace and forgiveness.

When you’re intentionally left out.
Grace and forgiveness.

When someone spoils a movie you haven’t seen.
Grace and forgiveness.

When someone ate the last cookie and you didn’t get one.

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Grace and forgiveness.

 

 
When you smile but don’t get one back.
Grace and forgiveness.

When you work hard and someone else gets the credit.
Grace and forgiveness.

As you start your day.

As your live your day.

As you end your day.

Grace

And forgiveness.

Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other {grace} and and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Devotions for June, Entry 18 {grace}

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

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My biggest pet peeve is slow drivers. You want to know how vicious I can be? Once I thought to myself, “the only reason I can think of why people drive exactly the speed limit is simply because they have nothing better to do.” Geez Sarah!

When we get easily angered, it’s usually because something isn’t going our way. There’s a misunderstanding, or miscommunication. Anger is one of the HALT triggers (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) which means it doesn’t lead to good things. Even if the misstep is our fault we still get angry. Sometimes it’s at ourselves.

A while back, I was talking to a coworker and relaying what I thought was important information to them. Instead of a “thank you, that will be helpful” I got an “okay…” in that tone of voice that told me I was wasting their time. Through my professional and clinical experience, I knew the information I was giving was vital and I would have been reprimanded if I hadn’t told my coworker. And yet, I got that response.

I was a little miffed. I didn’t say anything, but I felt angry that my information wasn’t appreciated. And then I remembered a phrase from that week’s sermon – extend grace.

Extend grace.

Who knows what my coworker was going through that day. Maybe it was a bad day. Maybe they were swamped. Maybe they don’t convey appreciation outwardly. I decided to forgive the person right then and there (more on that Friday.)

You know what it did? It made me feel better and it kept me from venting to someone about it. What if we all extended grace instead of complaining about other people? We might actually run out of things to talk about. Or maybe we’d start talking about the right things.

p.s. Why do we call the prayer before meals “grace”?

How can you quantify life?

I learned a lot about research in my music therapy education. Research steers science and medicine. It proves things, which results in change in practice and policy. It’s crucial in music therapy because it legitimizes what we do. There are two kinds of research studies: qualitative and quantitative. In the simplest definition, qualitative studies record natural behaviors, observations in narrative form, experiences, interviews, that sort of thing. Quantitative studies can be summed up in one word: numbers. Quantitative studies result in statistics, facts, and clean bar graphs. For obvious reasons, quantitative research garners faster acceptance and change than qualitative research.

It’s much harder to conduct quantitative research studies in music therapy than qualitative studies because of the nature of the work. Especially in my field – hospice. Thankfully, researchers have come up with scales that can measure what would be considered qualitative data, but it’s still looked at as subjective and soft data. I can’t easily produce numbers and percentages in my work, but I can tell you lots of stories that would make a case for what I do.

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I spent a good part of my weekend watching the sessions from the IF Gathering that was held in Austin this weekend. It was just for women and all the speakers were women.

(Side note: What I loved the most was the complete omission of talking about how to be a godly woman, how we are different from men, what our role is…there was NONE of that. It was just about being a child of God and being obedient. I loved that. I am so tired of us putting gender before our faith in our identities. I’m not a woman who is a christian. I am a christian who happens to be a woman.)

One talk was about how we need to stop “measuring up.” We need to stop comparing ourselves to each other. The speaker said that if we judge another, we are usurping God. The talk began with the idea that the church has become an enterprise, or rather, a business. Businesses work with data. Businesses look at the bottom line. Businesses make transactions. Businesses don’t work for free.

We deal with numbers all the time, everywhere. Time, money, weather, miles, weight, spending, earning. I can get the 8 oz for 2.99 or I can save and get the 16 oz for 4.99. Numbers and measures are necessary for civilized life. Especially those two scoops of coffee grounds I put in my coffee maker each night for the next morning. Numbers guide businesses, weather patterns, sports, accomplishments. But are we using numbers in parts of life that we shouldn’t be? Are we trying to measure things that cannot be measured? Are we trying to quantify our lives?

I recently had a conversation with someone about common denominators. In a business, the common denominator is the product, the deliverable, the bottom line. In a church, the common denominator is Jesus. What is the common denominator in life? Survival? The American dream?  For whatever the common denominator is, that is what you serve. For me – someone who believes that God is the Creator – I consider Him to be the common denominator in life. We all come into this life the same way and we all die. What does this have to doing with numbers? We are all God’s, therefore we are all enough. We all measure the same.

So then, if we don’t compare and measure, how do we know if we’re doing a good job? Jesus. His life is the only one we can measure ours to. Nicky Gumbel, in an Alpha talk, used the analogy of a column, floor to ceiling, representing all of humanity, with the “bad” people at the very bottom and the “good” people at the top. Where would you put a serial killer? Where would you put Mother Teresa? Where would you put yourself? How do you measure up? Then, Nicky asked, where do you put Jesus? The answer? Jesus is not on the column. Jesus is the sky.

Jesus is love. How do you quantify love? Isn’t there a song in RENT about this? How do you quantify compassion, or humility, or obedience? When we try to quantify our lives using measures that are not designed for the human spirit we end up with skewed results that do not provide the answers we were looking for. In research terms this is called validity: Did the study actually answer the question that was asked? But when we use those results as a measurement for our lives we fall short. We are disappointed. We are hard on ourselves for not being better people.

Most things in this life that matter cannot be measured. Nor should they be. I just watched a documentary on a hospice program in a prison. Prisoners can volunteer with hospice and take care of their fellow inmates at the end of life. In an interview, the warden said, “You can provide skills and trades but then all you have is smarter criminals.” He said that the only thing that will change them is a change in morality. You can measure skills and trades through results, you cannot easily measure morality.

The speaker at the IF Gathering said, “Grace is the only one-way love that ends the transactional business model.” Grace cannot be measured, nor should it be. Grace doesn’t expect anything back. That idea doesn’t fit in our capitalist business culture. Very seldom is something given without expecting a return. You can’t record that data. It doesn’t provide statistics.

Numbers are important, but numbers are quantitative. And human beings are not. We are applying quantitative measures to our lives, but our lives are full of qualitative data. Instead of comparing and measuring up to the next person, remember that we all have the same common denominator. And He is fighting for us. He just wants us to be. He wants us to take care of each other – in a way that can’t be measured, nor should it be. Conversations, prayers, meals, relationships. If we constantly try to quantify our lives we will be left behind with the measuring tape. Abide in Jesus and reach out your hand so that others can feel the love of Him through you. And expect nothing in return.

This Time Last Year

This time last year, I was getting ready to board a plane that would take me to South Africa. Being in South Africa was a great experience. My trip was clouded with a lot of emotional wreckage though. I certainly wasn’t spiritually or emotionally prepared. And I don’t mean in the sense that God was going to turn my world upside down kind of unprepared. I didn’t even have the capacity to let God do that. Looking back, my treasured moments from that trip are the nights at my host family’s house, watching Wimbledon, or the wedding of the Prince of Monaco to that swimmer from South Africa. My host parents, Leon and Dalene, became my surrogate parents, and that home, with the two cats and two dogs, became my surrogate home. They took care of me. And I needed it.

This time last year – last summer – was the hardest time of my life. So many things changed. In the time span of one month, I: 1) started an online class, my first class in 8 years; 2) Stopped teaching piano; 3) quit my job; 4) moved to a new town; 5) and went on an overseas mission trip. I do not advise this much change in such a short span. Also, due to my not thinking about the financial future, my bank account was severely depleting with no paychecks coming. After coming back from South Africa, I saw the last Harry Potter movie in DC (I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since), and then went running to my family in Ohio for a month to save money, rest, stock up on unconditional love, and try to figure out how in the world I was going to make it. I was so completely lost.

Now.

Now, I am so thankful that it’s now, and not last year. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s important for me to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in that between times of trial, He grants respite. I’m only halfway done with my certificate for music therapy. I’m literally starting my masters program today with two new classes. Eventually (maybe even next summer), I will have another season of major change, filled with uncertainty. But I think when it happens next, I’ll be able to weather it all a little bit better. I’ve learned some things about myself.

Everybody who knows me knows that I need time alone. A lot. I love people. But I need to get away from you all for long periods of time in order to be a normal human being. I’ve learned that the lack of that works the same way as lack of sleep or lack of food. It is essential to my daily living. Over the past year I’ve had the blessing of solitude. Sometimes there wasn’t enough. Sometimes there was too much and I got pretty lonely. But I function so much better when I’ve had time to myself. And I think it’s because I’m the type of person who has overactive senses, and I take in everything when I walk into a situation. I’m overstimulated, whether it be with the actual physical landscape, the nature of the conversation I’m having, or the amount of information I’m taking in over a short period of time. I need to go home, sit by myself, and process that.

I’m also learning that, in the words of my dear friend Tobi, “you get to the point where it’s too tiring to be anything but yourself.” I’m learning to love myself more, because God loves me just as I am. It’s a slow process and I’m still working on it. But, it really is less exhausting to just be yourself.

I’m learning that you really can live on very little. This is what you need to cut out of your spending: eating out, buying clothes, and instant purchases. To add to that, when you finally justify after several conversations with yourself that it’s okay to eat out this one time, or it might be a good idea to buy a new dress for a special occasion, and you’ve worked it into your budget, it’s so much more meaningful. Also, Netflix is the best thing to happen ever.

With all of that said, here are some things I miss:

1. I miss a lot of my friends in DC. I don’t really miss DC.
2. I miss going to the movies (I’m allowing myself to see two this summer, Brave and The Dark Knight Rises.)
3. I miss daily life without the constant guilt of the fact that I’m not studying. (I don’t get a break from classes this summer.)
4. I miss travel! Seeing pictures on Facebook of people traveling, especially overseas makes my heart ache. Not for them! I’m happy for them. I love travel. But it’s one of those things that I won’t get to do for a few more years, and when it does happen, it will probably be the best trip of my life! (as long as it’s not in the middle of an avalanche of change. I’ve learned my lesson on that.)
5. This isn’t really an “I miss” comment, but…I really want a dog! I absolutely love dogs and as soon as I get settled with my job and home and everything, I’m getting myself a dog. I don’t care if they tie you down.

So, wherever you are in life, thank God for where He’s taken you. If your life sucks right now, remember that God knew this was all going to happen and He will provide a way out for you, if you trust in Him. The sucky period just might be the marinade you need for a richer life later on. If your life is great, thank God for it, but to stay humble, remember the crappy times. For me, simply the fact that I’m used to being a student now, I’m happier in my own skin, and I don’t have to move this summer, is enough for me.

And that the Olympics are happening in one month. In London, my favorite city.

Jacob the Deceiver

Today’s reading was the story of how Jacob got so many sons (that’s a weird chapter), how he got a little bristly with Laban, and then how he started becoming fearful of his brother Esau.  Jacob had a lot going on.  Not to mention a little scuffle with God Himself.

My initial reaction to this passage was “these are the most bizarre, pretentious, superstitious people, and you built your nation of Israel on this foundation?”  I get that the whole sleeping with the maids to get children and having more than one wife is a whole cultural thing that seems atrocious today, but was normal at that time.  But to eat mandrakes [Aside: aren’t mandrakes those loud annoying baby looking things from Harry Potter??  Funny how pop culture always invades] because of a superstition that you will become pregnant, or to breed your cattle and goats near ‘rods’ so that they come out speckled and striped…kinda weird.  Or is it?  How often do we buy into superstitions so that our fortune goes the way we want it to?  Even something simple as thinking you’ll be happy because of getting the next gadget seems to fit into this category.  Or reading horoscopes.  Or self-help books.   Basically anything that you rely on that takes the place of relying on God.  That’s what they did.  Shoot.  I do that.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge…

Jacob seems awfully deceitful throughout this story.   He even rubbed off on Rachel and she became deceitful herself.  I think if Jacob could see how he went down in history, he wouldn’t be too proud that he was known as ‘The Deceiver.’  If there was one attribute that you would be known for after you died, what do you think it would be?  I would like to think I would be known for something on the good side of the spectrum.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that would be the case.  I lie sometimes.  I could be known as Sarah the Liar.  Sometimes I don’t have the greatest work ethic, maybe I would be known as Sarah the Lazy.  Most likely though, I would depart this world as Sarah the Procrastinator.

A lot of people would say, well that’s not fair, there’s more to someone than just one attribute.  And I agree.  I think this is true for Jacob as well.  When we see an adjective we think of it in the purist sense, kind of how we see bad guys as pure evil.  Jacob might have been a deceiver, but I’m sure he didn’t always see it that way.  I bet there were probably a lot of great things about him.  I think he was human, trying to figure things out, and sometimes he did things his own way instead of  looking to God.  That sounds familiar.

At the same time, God’s grace gives us ample opportunity to grow in Him and change our ways so that the admirable attributes start appearing more often and we are filled more with the character of God than the character of the flesh.  Every little thing counts.  Just like a pointillistic painting is made up of tiny dots, your life is made up of tiny moments that shape who you are.  But only God can truly see the painting from a distance.

So don’t be surprised if God wants to use you for greater things.  He sees you as know one else sees you.  Just like he saw Jacob.