Not as we know it, but as it can be

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Love songs make me cry.

It seems like such a strange thing to say for me. It’s so cliche, and so unlike someone who would choose a documentary about elephants over a chick flick every time. Except that I’m not referring to the Harry Met Sally kind of love.

I’m not referring to songs of infatuated determination -- I would be a mess every time someone turned on a radio if I was. I’m referring to songs about real love. About what it is, and what it means to give and receive that kind of love.

I’m sure you’ve heard of it: It does not boast, it is not self-seeking, it is not proud. It wants the best for us, and it thinks and speaks the best of us. It doesn't keep score. It covers our shame, and it catches our fall.  
It doesn’t make a “plan B.” It doesn’t hold parts of itself back. It doesn't fly south for the freezing winter; it stays. And in it’s staying, it goes all in.

That kind of love. That’s what makes me cry. And it should make me cry. Because there is nothing else more moving -- or more in defiance of our human nature -- on this earth.

I cry because I’m so glad it exists... and because I grieve the years I utterly failed at showing it and receiving it.

I’ve been thinking about this love for a while now. And without even really trying to, I found four reasons I believe we don't practice this version of it.

One reason is that, somewhere in the back of our minds, we believe that this kind of love only really presents itself in opportunities of heroic altruism. Public generosity for a popular cause might be an example. Be loving while being loved? Sign us up, every time. We hear about this rare kind of love, and part of us thinks, “I can’t wait for an opportunity to be like that.” But I think that when we pay attention, we realize that opportunities are passing us like cars passing car trouble on the side of the freeway.

It’s the assumption we allow ourselves to make in our minds about a person who is not having their finest moment. Or maybe just when they fail to meet a reasonable expectation, like not taking days to return our text (I’m so guilty!). It’s the acceptance or disapproval that our eyes convey when someone is telling us something they’re not proud of -- and a small part of us believes, maybe even knows, that in their situation (which we rarely fully know) we would have done things differently. It’s when the reputation of someone who once intentionally hurt us in a humiliating way is suddenly at our mercy, and we decide whether or not we’re going to “press charges.” The opportunities for this kind of love are not rare and flashing, but found within the subtle nuances of our interactions with others everyday.

Another reason we don’t practice this love is because we’ve been sold a counterfeit. Mainstream “love” doesn't mean what I've described here, but ironically, it is a temporary feeling (because the word “temporary” can always precede “feeling”) that brings oneself great gratification and happiness. 

I say that this definition is ironic because the differences between that love and the kind of love I'm talking about couldn’t be more striking. One of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned is that love is not a feeling -- it is a decision. And it’s not thinking about your Instagram bragging rights, or really you at all -- it’s thinking about the other person. 

If we're honest, this is a wildly different picture from what we've come to associate with “love.”

Another reason is that we make the mistake of believing that this kind of love only really exists in theory. It just sounds impractical. Or maybe a pie-in-the-sky kind of doable. It's the opposite of what we're watching most of the world pursue, and if we’re buying the message, than love certainly doesn't seem worth the inconvenience. 

We nod our heads as Corinthians 13:4-8 is read at the altar, and as the recession music plays and the wedding guests’ eyes follow the couple outside of those four steepled walls, the bride and groom think, "Well, we’ll do our best.”

Which brings me to the last point. We think our best is enough. Marriages fail in the process of realizing this -- it’s part of the reason mine did. The love I’m talking about is a monument to something we’ve already been shown. I know it’s not just theory because it’s been demonstrated in my own life. Thinking that I could operate in something so counterintuitive to my nature in my own strength was an honest mistake it took me years to realize I was making. But 2 Corinthians 12:10 tells us that it is when we are weak that we are strong. 

I don’t just believe it. I am proof of it. And I’m so grateful for it. I'm grateful for being able to look at my own meager strength, and the version of “love” that society offers us, and know that there is a better way.

This is the part of the blog where I remind you that I don’t have it all together. I still fail at demonstrating love on a regular basis -- often times in areas that I’m not even aware I’m failing at it yet. But I’m figuring it out, I’m letting it change me, and I’m increasingly unrecognizable from the person that I used to be. If that’s not something worth sharing about, I don’t know what is.

Love not of you,
love not of me
Come hold us up
come set us free
Not as we know it
but as it can be

I just kept strumming

Monday, April 25, 2016

It had been a long and productive Monday.
I ran across campus to minimize time spent in the cold, the sound of headphones blaring in my ears and dull thud of my feet on the pavement as the fluff of my scarf bobbed against the top of my chest. The night was young and I was invigorated by the pace of the day. Reaching for my car keys, I decided to reward myself with an evening spent however I wished.

I didn't have to think about it. All I wanted to do was play my guitar.

I got home, put my things away, and quickly prepared and polished off my usual snack of frozen blueberries drizzled with peanut butter and topped with shaved coconut. (I'm telling you. IT'S GOOD.) I had gripped the neck of my guitar, and was teetering a little as I lowered to sit cross-legged on my bedroom floor when it happened--

my D string popped.

I'm not sure how it happened. Don't even remember the exact sound it made. I only know I was in disbelief and, in that moment, pretty stinking sad.
This didn't stop me from trying to play it, though.

Which proved interesting. Because as a novice player, I tend to rely on the relative location of a string to quickly find them. With a prominent string missing (I suppose the fact that there's only 6 makes them all prominent strings), I was suddenly fumbling over songs I'd played dozens upon dozens of times. Out of desperation, I tried to fix the problem by reaffixing and tightening the shriveled string--the spoke groaning as I twisted and twisted, ultimately resulting in a repeat snap. My proud and beautiful instrument suddenly looked like it was missing a tooth, and by the sounds of my fumbling and general something's-not-right of the guitar, I wouldn't doubt if my roommates started to wonder (when I'd stop and) if I was ok.

Someone who has never experienced what I'm about to refer to may think it's a stretch. (Though this is quite possible coming from a mind so analytical, it seems to find life parallels like a middle schooler does gum under a table in their cafeteria.) But as I was trying to adjust to a D-stringless guitar, I couldn't help but notice how much it felt like loss.

You try to go about life as you always have. Sometimes you get so good at it, you forget something is missing, that something was ever there. You always know in the back of your mind that it was, of course; no matter how conscious you are of it--or successful you've been at trying not to be--in your heart of hearts, you know it was. You wonder if it could ever sound as beautiful. But you also know you can't just give up. So you pursue a new normal.

Sometimes others inadvertently remind you. Not intentionally, but with confused eyes that search your casual expression for answers, because it's only their natural response. They weren't expecting it any more than they've come to terms with it; haven't realized the need for acceptance of what you know you can't change like you have.

I suppose if I were to take my guitar downtown like many musicians do on Sunday afternoons when the weather begs us all to get out and enjoy the day, some passer-bys would judge me. They might think I chose to play the guitar that looked and sounded like that. Perhaps they'd wish I'd conceal my scars like the rest of the world so they wouldn't even have to wonder.

Then, of course, you have the ones who don't genuinely care about what you may have been through, but merely stand around and pretend to sift through their pockets and purses for spare change to throw into your empty guitar case until you offer them an explanation that eases their curiosity, at a cost their tattered dollar bill and spare quarter could never begin to pay.

But I'd smile, of course, because I've learned I have nothing when I don't have love--and because those people act not out of malice, but out of their own honest-to-goodness ignorance and immaturity. And that's ok. Because they'll get there. And when I suspect they've already missed that train, I'll still choose to extend grace, because I treated people and their pain carelessly once, too.

You're right. Perhaps it was a bit of a stretch. Because in reality, I can buy another guitar string in the morning, and will only have forfeited a few bucks and a night of practice. But someday, someone might ask me: What was it like when everything was suddenly different from what you knew? And what did you do?

It was like suddenly playing your six-string without it's D. And I just kept strumming.


Just be

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

This week is spring break.

Breakfast in CO with my parents.
(Mom: "Take a picture of the food!"
Dad: " 'This is my food as it's getting cold...' ")

Normally I would have something adventurous planned -- something somehow-grand on a Shauna-richter scale. And while I am getting restless for a roadtrip, I'm feeling pretty satiated from my whirlwind adventure to Colorado that I made earlier this month to attend a John Eldridge seminar (still basking in it a bit).
And now I'm content to just be.

Just being has involved

waking up whenever my eyes blink open.

sitting in a cafe and staring out the window as the cars go by.

marveling at how green the grass has been made by the springtime rain.

being early to yoga, and making small talk with the people I lay my mat next to every week, but never get to know.

being on time to a friend's birthday dinner, and not being too busy to bring a carefully selected card,
gift, and bouquet of flowers.

smelling said bouquet of flowers a dozen times before relinquishing them to birthday-friend.

sitting down to play a song on the guitar -- twice a day.

standing in the mirror for ten minutes wearing my cap and gown.

long talks with my parents.

finishing that amazing, but thick, book I started over Christmas break.

Life can be so bittersweet. But you know, when you slow down enough--enough to be aware of what you're feeling; of your breath as it pushes and pulls from your lungs; of the fact that hours go by more like seconds, and years go by more like days--I can't help but appreciate how good it is just to be alive.

East to West

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The thought occurred to me lately that there's nothing quite like the pang of regret. 

We don't all have stories that would make a highly-rated reality show or best-selling novel. Yet we've all experienced regret. Life's coulda's, shoulda's and woulda's. They're not restricted to well-defined moments or specific events in our lives that cause us to look back and ask what we were thinking; they can be as unsuspecting as something you thought at the time was a good idea, or years of using an approach to life that wasn't doing you any favors. They come in all shapes, all sizes. For me, that week, Casting Crowns' East to West had been listened to on repeat.


My favorite regrets (see: sarcasm) are the ones that beg questions with no answers, such as why you didn't know what you didn't know before you knew it. (Please never ask yourself such an inhumanely torturous, insanely asinine thing.) The ways to evoke it are endless; its presence can be relentless. And actually, there's no other feeling in the world that I loathe more.

Unexpected bills for $497 can be an unwelcome distraction, though.

I never should have been charged, and figured it was a mistake. But when preceded with bolded statements like "AMOUNT YOU OWE:", confidence in mistakehood can be shaken. Reaching for the phone to get it sorted out but realizing it was after business hours, I resigned to imagining all the ways I could have spent $497. A road trip; a day at the spa; airfare home to see my family (plus a ticket to Disney World). Oh it was aggravating.

So, I did the only things you can do in such situations: I said a prayer that it'd all work out and moved on with my life. Days passed before I finally got a chance to call.

Turns out it was a simple mistake: A receptionist's typo caused my insurance to refuse me coverage. It was solved in about 30 seconds.

"So this will be completely covered, is that right?" I asked, in my usual leave-nothing-to-chance kind of way. 
"Yes, ma'am."

"So I can tear this up without having to worry about it anymore?" 
"Yes. It's all been taken care of." 

I thanked her, heaved a sigh of relief, and slowly tore up the bill into, ohhhh, 18 different pieces. 

Taking a moment to gaze at the messy, shredded squares of paper between my fingers, I relished the moment of a lifted burden. I went from being in a debt I never meant to incur and couldn't afford to pay, to realizing I didn't have to.
And then the thought came to me. 

As I stared at the shreds, it was as clear as if it was deposited right into mind, and I just knew.

"That's what I've done for you."

Courtesy of Pinterest



Cast your cameras

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My 5D Mark II broke while second-shooting a wedding this past spring.

After months of saving for what I assumed would be costly repairs, mustering the ambition to figure out how to begin the process, and preparing myself for a verdict that said it was officially kaputs, I packed up my dear camera and made my way to FedEx.

It turned out the verdict wasn't too bad at all. For whatever reason, something small was off mechanically, causing the whole camera to go haywire. For a five-day wait and $234, I was able to come home one day to find a big sturdy box containing my perfectly working, freshly cleaned electronic child.

This is technically the end of a sweet story that'll make you hold your cameras close.

But what if?
What if, shortly after leaving the FedEx parking lot, I turned around, re-parked the car, and demanded the clerk relinquish what I'd handed her only a moment before? Maybe I resorted to chasing down a delivery truck. Determination could turn to desperation, you know, and the whole scenario could quickly start to resemble something out of a Madea movie, as you watch the police chase me down the 101 on the news. Or maybe I never got aggressive, but just called Canon while it was in the process of being fixed and told them to ship it back immediately--that I decided it was better off in my care. Sure, it'd be broken and effectively useless; but at least I wouldn't have to worry that it'd get lost in transit, or bear the news of what it would cost to fix it, or well, I could go on. Reasons for avoiding the unknown are innumerable.

The reason why I paint the picture of this ridiculous scenario is because I think it's often what we do with God. We give him something--some area or relationship or aspect of our lives that's in disrepair--and we relax in faith, trusting that he'll notify us when it's restored.

...OH wait no, that's only how it's supposed to work. Because if you're anything like me, you hand something over to God and walk away feeling satisified that you only offered him a few reminders on what your expectations are, and provided only a few specific instructions for its care.

But somewhere, not too far down the line, you look at your hands and realize you're holding it again. It's as though we experience spiritual blackouts where we don't remember deliberately doing it, but after acknowledging something as broken and giving it over to God, we turn around and snatch it back out of his hands again.

And this is where it's important to remember that God is a gentleman. He's not going to play tug-of-war; he could've simply denied us the freedom of will in the first place if he was going to operate like that. He sees us in our moments of black-out mode, where we pace and mutter our way back to his feet to reclaim what we were wise in deciding needed to be left there. Deeming our past wisdom as present insanity, we stride towards him once more with arms outstretched to snatch it all back. And snatch we do.

Around the time my camera was being repaired, I realized that God can only work on issues in our lives if they're in his hands. It took several more months after that realization, but I finally abandoned my own something-or-other there.

Not without tears. But also not without the deepest sense of peace and relief that I could never fake and have ever known.

Cast your "cameras" on him, folks. There's no one more trustworthy. I promise holding onto them isn't worth what you'll get in exchange--and that they'll be in far better hands than mine or yours.

Pumpkin, Wisdom, & Magic

Monday, September 7, 2015

**  E N T E R :  F A L L  **

"We learn by being wrong."

-A quote from one of my professors this semester. Yep, classes have started. And the local coffee shops have started offering pumpkin. And I'm just having a good ol time.

Also, it's almost BIRTHDAY TIME! For me, and well, the majority of the rest of the world.

As usual, I'm planning something modest & magical.
If I made you curious, you're welcome to stay tuned. :)

**  E X T R E M E  C O U P O N I N G . . .  L I F E ?  **

A friend jokingly made the comment the other day that I “extreme coupon life.” Obviously she was being a little extreme herself, but what I think she meant was that I trim the financial “fat” where I’ve learned that I can. Admittedly, I used to be a self-proclaimed cheapskate. But let's be honest: People who worry about money like cheapskates don’t shop at Whole Foods or blow their savings on traveling to foreign countries every opportunity they get. So, I’m ixnaying “cheapskate” and embracing... "strategic prioritizer"? “extreme coupon life-r”?

Whatever you’d like to call it, here’s my savings tip for the week: Don’t be afraid to speak up at the cash register. “Do you give a student/military discount?” “I think that rang up incorrectly. It was labeled as [price] on the shelf.” Or, for goodwills, Craigslist transactions, or garage sales, “Would you take [x amount] instead?”

These things may seem simple, and nothing new to many who'll read this. But there's also many who balk at the idea, thinking that being so assertive is -- audacious? embarrassing? Whatever their reasoning, those people are free to enjoy their scruples. I’ll be eating organic food and cruising the River Seine.

**  F A V O R I T E  N E W  L I S T E N **

Mike Vass’ enchanting album, In the Wake of Neil Gunn

**  R E N E W E D  A P P R E C I A T I O N S  **

This last week I went on a sugar-free diet.

Let me stop right there and remind you that I don’t eat snickers bars or drink mocha frappucinos. No. This involved the removal of some big staples of my diet, such as granola, peanut butter, fruit for smoothies, and yes, even seemingly “innocent” foods like quinoa (carbs are carbs, and carbs = sugar). My meals started to consist of a heap of steamed broccoli and unsweetened yerba mate lattes. (Desperation leads to creativity, though; I found out that if you add almonds and Asian chili sauce to the broccoli, it ain’t half bad. I also learned to really like the subtlety of the unsweetened yerba.) By day four I had found enough loopholes that eating was no longer a complete chore.

I'm not attention-seeking or crazy; my digestive system was just out of whack, and a week of no sugar and lots of water and probiotics helped me get it back into place. But it made me realize how much sugar had found its way into my daily diet, and seriously renewed my appreciation for the wonderfulness that is food, and the ability to JUST EAT IT without dissecting it down to the molecular level. (I’m not bitter. Can’t you tell?) Also, my skin was clearer than it had been since the days I listened to Avril Lavigne and was impressed by Limited Too, with even deep red spots somehow disappearing. As much as I love a dewy complexion, though, I honestly think I love agave in my coffee more.

 **  F A V O R I T E  N E W  S A Y I N G  **

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

Friends & Pens & Here We Go

Monday, August 17, 2015

** T H A T  T I M E  O F  Y E A R **

It's that time of year again.

The time where I spend 20 minutes in the school supplies section of Target, picking out new notebooks and fresh pens in seven different colors, and then going home to reorganize my school bag like a dork.

It may seem like such a small thing. But academically speaking, I think it's kept me going. Which is good, because although fall is typically the most invigorating time of year for me as a college student, I'm feeling particularly annoyed at the thought of being knocked once again out of the eb-and-flow of my established daily grind. You know, the one where I wake up early only if I want to spend extra time working out or sipping my coffee; where I read something I want to read on my break; and where I come home from work and decide how I'd like to spend my evening.

Leisure. Recreation. Options. Concepts that I must temporarily re-train my brain to forget.

But I'll continue to find joy in the little things of college life. In my friends. In my pens. In the insane amount of tea and coffee drained in the name of burning the midnight study oil. I know I'll miss it once its gone. So here's to seven different colors of ink, and an attitude that says all eight of us will be just fine.

** Q U O T E S  R E M E M B E R E D  **

My family cracks me up. To the point that I've actually devoted pages in my Notes app to documenting the ridiculous things they do and say. I stumbled across one of these pages the other day, and well, I had to share.

THE TIME: This summer
THE PLACE: Family vacation in the Smokies

To another car while driving down the interstate---
"What are you, Johnny Cash? PICK A LANE."

While navigating an unfamiliar town---
"No, it's this way. I know this town like the back of my hand. ... Except not now. Because it got stung by a bee... and I don't even recognize it."

In response to me saying the Spanish phrase, "no te preocupis"---
"What did you just say about cookies?"

At the onset of a hike on a beautiful day---
"Let's go to the mall."

**  C A N ' T  S T O P  L I S T E N I N G **

"Grand Design," by Jill Phillips

Oh, I could start running in anger, but then what's the point of a Savior?

** ( P A R T I C U L A R L Y )  G R A T E F U L **
It's been brought to my attention more than ever lately how blessed all of us Venturans are to live where we do.

California's a beautiful place. But I wouldn't live in most of it unless you paid me very well to do so. San Diego is hot, crowded, and expensive. San Francisco is frigid cold, crowded, and ridiculously expensive. Ah, Los Angeles... keep your distance. And anything east of any of those cities is too hot for how much cheaper the living expenses are not.

But my beautiful Ventura! Cool. Small. And beachy, in the most Californian way. Downtown is home to a darling coffee shop that offers a mean Lavendar mocha; healthy cafes; Thai restaurants, thrift stores, and used bookshops; and, last but not definitely least, plenty of free parking. It lies sandwiched between the enchanting Santa Barbara and the famous beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica. And although it's true I'm not a fan of LA, it goes without saying that there's a lot there, if you're up for the notoriously temperamental traffic. And don't get me started about the charm of nearby Ojai. Rumor has it that Ventura was even recently named best city to live in, and though some people my age complain that it's "too quiet," I gratefully understand that to mean "actually not crowded."

It wouldn't seem that settling down here is in my plan. But for now, the realization of this wonderful place grows my gratitude, which grows my appreciation, which grows my realization... and repeat.

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