Friday, February 29, 2008

on dancing and the author of joy

The moments are rare when I embrace God as the Author of Joy.

Sometimes I tend to look at the guidelines He gives us for life and I forget that they are to give us peace. I forget that they are there to keep my heart safe. As the church we tend to lose ourselves sometimes in the difficulty of the boundaries He sets in our lives. We spend more time sidestepping failure and sin and skipping over the cracks in the sidewalk then dwelling, walking and dancing with God.

What is so amazing to me is that when we are ready to find joy, it is available. When we are ready to crack open our hearts and recognize that life is greater than ourselves, we will find Greater Joy. It is waiting.

And it is so filling to get lost in the romance that is Christ. To be swept off our feet by the wonder of forgiveness and creation. To be brought to tears knowing that His love for us has not grown cold. He waits patiently for us to realize that what He wants for us is not a dull or boring life, but one of unconditional love and adventure, of challenges and battles, of warriors and victory.

I think He smiles when we finally realize that it is okay to dance. That it's okay to want to throw your hands up in the air and twirl like a child. It's okay to get lost in a breeze and sing out loud; to jump around when something moves inside of you.

I danced with Him today. Felt His hands in mine, pulling me to my feet and later bringing me gently to my knees. Felt my body so full of joy that I learned to forget myself and get lost in Him. More than anything, what I felt was perfect peace knowing that my life is ransomed. That I am new. And that, most beautiful of all, it has nothing to do with me.

I began to remember today why He is the Author of Joy. Because nothing I have ever felt or experienced has come close to fulfilling me like He did today. As a person I can be easily distracted and quick to compromise, but I hope when those moments of decision come I reflect on today, and I remember that we danced. That it was beautiful. That even if just for a moment, I knew it was okay to dance like a crazy person and to jump around in joy, because that's the reason I was made.

I was made to love.

Friday, February 15, 2008

on the empty nights

If only everything made sense. Followed some sort of logic, even.

Some days are so wonderful, and the sun shines down and the coming of spring is evident. The grass is green and all is well.

But I wonder sometimes why there are hard days; days with tears and frusteration and uncertainty. Days when all you need is to cry out, but you can’t find the words. Even if you could find them, the people you need the most seem to be occupied or the timing is unfortunate.

And so a cry breaks the silence. The tears are shed alone. Not quite alone; though God seems sometimes as far off and as vast as the sea. It is hard to understand the ways of Someone bigger than I could understand. Alone is how it feels, whether it remains true or not.

When everything falls down, and the walls are stripped away; when friends aren’t around and peace is hard to find… maybe that’s where I will find Him.

I hope it’s true.

on roses and sushi

My hair is pushed back from my face, my hands still smelling like soy sauce and bleach from the long day finally behind me. I still have Korean menu items and sushi specials floating around nonchalantly in my head. It is hard to find peace in my heart and to leave the rush of Valentine’s Day dinners and hour-long wait lists behind me. But now? There is silence (save the Alexi Murdoch songs playing faintly in the background of my evening).

Now there is peace.

There are days when I feel like I am not getting far in life. I feel like I will always be waiting tables, always searching for a way to get back into school; forever the could-have-been. When I got home, Jeanine and I had a conversation tonight about goals in life, and about where this world places your ultimate value, whether in business accomplishments, retirement plans or a 401k.

“I don’t have those things,” she stated, “but I have found self-worth in things that are eternal. When I think on it, I have had a great life. I have lived in India, traveled the States, spent time in Seattle and Los Angeles, and I have my son Ben. I always want to keep learning in life… to keep finding out new things and new perspectives. I never want to feel retired to doing nothing when I am helping so many people in my job now. I am helping to change lives.”

When I first started my job waiting tables full-time in Tokyo Seoul, a sushi and Korean barbecue restaurant, I didn’t see the opportunity in it at all. In fact, God pretty much had to corner me into working there after other options just didn’t come through. I was a little bitter, thinking I had left my waitress and bartending days behind. I long for the day when I don’t have to pull out a pen and a pad with a plastic smile and ask if my guests are ready for dessert.

I can be very wrong sometimes, searching for the answers in life thinking they are hard to find.

One cool thing I am learning about the Korean language, as I struggle to keep up with it in my everyday life at Tokyo Seoul is this: depending on the intonation of just one syllable, it can turn a question into an answer. I think that is beautiful. That the answer to our questions can be so close, that the answer might already rest in our heart’s vocabulary someplace.

Because I am surrounded by a language barrier everyday, I am learning how important actions are instead of words. I am learning that making somebody coffee because they look like they might be having a rough day in the kitchen is more important than just asking how their day is. I am finding that being open to other cultures, traditions and the strange foods they may offer you out of love, is important because it helps those people feel like you are trying to meet them where they are. When action is the only thing you have to show you care, you learn to appreciate the essence of actually doing instead of just talking about doing.

Every morning a Korean immigrant named Ashjima makes me soup for breakfast. I can’t tell her that I have already eaten, or that onions and raw fish don’t really suit my taste buds at ten-thirty a.m. But she invites me to sit and eat with the four other Korean employees with a tug on my arm. She doesn’t speak more than three words in English, but I know she cares about me, and I know that she values my presence and my attitude in the restaurant. She is shorter than I am, with kind eyes and a soft spirit. Through her I am learning to speak more in what I do and how I do things than in words that seek to be high and lofty.

I am so thankful for this journey. I’m so thankful that I don’t need to have things all figured out; that maybe having goals and running toward them is more important than whether you get there in the end or not. I am thankful for today; I am thankful for roses sent to my work, and for a heart that is quickly captivating me. Thankful for Ashjima and sunsets and sushi, for family and for failures I have learned through.

Thankful for today.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

on salsa and imperfections

I watched ‘El Cantante’ tonight.

I rented it for the music, really; it’s about a salsa vocalist. To be honest, I never really cared for salsa music until I learned to dance with it. To feel it in your heart, and in your emotions. I had to see people passionate and in love with salsa before I could learn to love it on my own. To my friends it was more than just a genre or a defined set of dancing rules. It was feeling, and raw emotion. They would cry out in angst or shout with joy when they felt something move inside them, and somehow it melted into the melody perfectly every time.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a dance, and I am missing some of the steps. It’s like I’m still learning to love the person that I am, to be passionate about remaining that person no matter what comes. I have trouble sometimes realizing that that person is beautiful. I slip up sometimes. For some reason I am a lot harder on myself than anyone else is; I am my biggest critic. And in those moments when I lose my footing, it can be hard to find the beat again. To rise above a mistake or decision and realize that in my weakness, God is still good. He is not invisible when we cry out. He hears us when we are troubled.

Somebody else’s heart is troubled tonight, and my own heart is the cause. I have a way with words, and they can be good or they can be restless and exhausting. When it is the latter, I am prone to make others anxious with me… to drag them through my own insecurities or pain. I am learning, through that someone and through their words, that it is important to dwell on what is good. On things that are beautiful and true. Even in myself.

I get so caught up sometimes in my flaws, and forget to stop and be thankful for how far I have come. For the mountains I have climbed, or more frequently, been carried to the top of. For the flaws in my humanity that give me need of a Savior. For the dance through life, the missed steps and the beauty of sinking your feet back into the rhythm again.

Spinning and swaying through life is not always easy, and it is not always beautiful. But I am coming to find that in those moments when you have to come face to face with yourself; when you have let somebody down or you should have left things unsaid, hope can still be found.

There is a line in one of my favorite songs by Switchfoot that says, ‘Maybe Redemption has stories to tell; maybe Forgiveness is right where you fell.’

I think that is beautiful, and I am finding that to be true. We search so hard sometimes to have all the right answers or the perfect things to say. We read books that give us plans and formulas on how to seek God, when really, He is already beside us in those fallen moments. The broken moments. The times in my life when I have been the most awe-stricken by God is in the depth and totality of His forgiveness.

I have spent three hours trying to put this in black and white, in words that make sense and are logical. But it’s hard to resolve a story when you are still in the midst of it; when the ending lingers out of sight. It’s even harder to write about self. For me it’s easier to address broad and general issues, like problems in the church, or world hunger. But talking about flaws and imperfections in me is a whole different challenge, and it’s one that I usually try to avoid because it’s uncomfortable. It’s risky, and to be honest, I just don’t like it. I fidget a lot. Play a few games of solitaire to get away from it. Reheat my cup of tea. Things of that nature.

But somehow, in almost all of my favorite movies, the hero or heroine is made relateable to the audience by their weakness; by their fear. We love them because that is the one thing that we all share; it’s the greatest appeal to the human emotion because we have all been there. We have all felt our weakness. We all know what it’s like to fall short and to crave that second chance. In the movie tonight, the main character’s wife talks about how his main struggle in life was being unaware of how loved he was by others. She said he had so many people that loved him and he just couldn’t see it about himself; he didn’t understand why.

That is my heart sometimes, and that is one of my greatest struggles. I was comforted in knowing that others wrestle with the same things. So just maybe those things we are afraid of sharing are the things that tie us all together. The things that make us human. They are proof of the God at work in us.

I am thankful for the dance, and for God at work in me. Thankful that I am not who I was, and that the person I will be is wiser than the person that I am today. I am thankful for the steps that I missed along the way, not because I fell, but because it is beautiful to be picked back up.

And I will always be picked up.