Did You Become a Better Person in 2017?

climbNo, I’m not dead.

*big sigh of relief (or disappointment)*

I just stepped away from the blog for a few weeks over the holiday, and honestly, it was nice to escape the pressure. I’m back now, and looking forward to your readership in 2018.

It’s funny…when people ask me how my 2017 went, I’ve found that my usual reaction is to fall back on the typical “oh man it was horrible, toss that one in the bin and bring in 2018!” that we all cynically throw around for a laugh. Or some version of that.

But then I stopped and realized…my 2017 was actually rather terrific.

…is it okay to say that?

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The Real Triumph for the Christian Single

triumphAs Frodo and Sam clung to the burning flanks of Mount Doom in Return of the King, the One Ring destroyed and their quest complete, Sam thought of Rosie Cotton, a girl back home in the Shire. If there were anyone who caught his eye, Sam lamented as the lava crawled near, “it would’ve been ‘er.”

Yet even as he mourned, there’s no doubt that the two hobbits’ hearts were full and glad. All of Middle Earth was saved! The darkness had been vanquished, the armies of the West delivered, and a new age of peace was dawning thanks to their bravery and sacrifice – even of their lives, they suspected, as the volcano melted down around them amidst the Ring’s death throes.

Of course, we know that Sam got his girl, because a bunch of eagles appeared out of nowhere and pulled the pair off the mountainside before they crisped. (Seriously, where were those eagles and their convenient carrying ability five volumes ago when Frodo first faced thousands of miles to Mordor? Talk about your continent-sized plot holes…)

But I digress.

My point is, it would have been silly to think that Sam underewent those unbelievable travails just for Rosie. He didn’t reach Mount Doom to find Rosie chained there, waiting for rescue. Had Rosie never existed, Sam would have gone. Much, much more was at stake – both outside the two hobbits and within.

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Why We Might Not Want to Live Without Suffering

The other day, I learned the physiological mechanics of a mosquito bite.

Yee-haw.

Some of you might have seen the same animated video that I did as it makes the rounds on Facebook. I learned that it’s really all about the mosquito’s saliva (ick) – it acts as both an anesthetic and anticoagulant, allowing the female to get the blood she needs (what a wonderful provider God is!….I think…).

Then the video concluded with an interesting point: the actual swelling and itching of a mosquito bite isn’t directly caused by the saliva. It’s caused by the body’s immune  response to the bite. The saliva is an allergen, which triggers antibodies to attack the foreign intrusion, and that causes the swelling and itching we’re all familiar with as we writhe around upon the grassy ground, scratching like gangbusters.

I was reminded of other bodily responses. A lot of symptoms we experience to various problems aren’t actually caused by the problem: they’re the result of our body fighting the virus or the infection or whatever.

We would not want to live without physical pain.

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Never Assume

When I read that Robin Williams had died of suicide, a thought went through my mind that is probably shared by many.

“I had no idea”.

Perhaps at some point I’d fleetingly read that Williams was in rehab from substance abuse, but I had no idea that his addictions were an attempt to fight off depression.

I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest people-reader, and 99% of what I saw of Williams was a performance of some kind. But I have trouble connecting the manic, happy-at-all-the-wrong-times boom of “Aladdin”‘s Genie to a depressed soul. The man’s calling was to cheer people up. He was so gifted at it. He had so much admiration from people. It was hard to guess what was under the surface the whole time, that the great well of humor and compassion from which he enriched others belied a different internal reality. I so wish I’d known him; I wish I’d had a chance to build him up.

It’s a reminder to me that we must never assume.

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Not By Works: The Calling Card of Christ

cardI had a Muslim housemate a few years ago, a transfer student from (if I recall) Saudi Arabia. I got to sit down with him a couple times and hear about his life. He was discombobulated, a devout follower of Islam living in a Christian area. Hypercharged homesickness. I felt for him.

But that was nothing next to what I felt after hearing about his faith.

This guy had no idea whether his religion was “breaking through”. He practiced, as best he could, the Five Pillars of Islam and their attending rituals – a dizzying mass of minutiae including five daily prayers at proper times, even kneeling in a specific manner. Charity work. Fasting. He hadn’t yet made a Mecca pilgrimage, though he hoped to. But he admitted that all these observances were doing nothing to reassure him that God accepted his work. He was “flying blind”, as the saying goes.

I couldn’t help but think, “that’s an awful way to live.”

Then I read something today from a Catholic…: “If I take off my scapular prior to surgery and die on the operating table, will I still go to Heaven?” A scapular is a ceremonial apron that Catholics believe will grant you eternal life if worn at one’s death. I was like…good gravy! The sheer paranoia if such a talisman carried that kind of weight. Forget it in the morning and forget about heaven! I’m bad enough at remembering to pick the right shoes for the day.

You’re probably thinking, I’m glad we Christians don’t go there.

If only.

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In Defense of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

twoI’m a product of the nineties. I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Taco Bell dog, Rush Limbaugh in his glory days, and most relevant to you readers, I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris. Like many young Christians, my approach to dating and romance was heavily shaped by the 1997 bestseller, probably more so than I first realized.

Once I did start to realize, it was easy to get annoyed. “What was he thinking?” I’d grumble. Years later, as a budding writer myself, I repent of my easy arrogance. This “words” business is tough to wrangle. One poor word choice, one errant paragraph, and my idea darts off in a direction opposite what I intended, never to be seen again. (Although I’ll certainly see its criticisms. Better stock up on burn cream.) That an author’s ideas sometimes get away – even a Christian author, held to a stricter standard –  is something that should be met with grace, especially in “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). I prefer to think of Harris now as a pioneer. You try new routes, and some don’t work out. You just back up and try new ones. Eventually, you’re able to forge solid trails across new frontier.

But yes…sometimes the cliffs are painful. And the false trails might bring trouble to those trying to follow you.

The generation raised on the 90’s singles culture is now looking around for something more. I myself have some beefs with that culture. Even with my limited relationship experience (limited partially because of IKDG), I’ve been able to look back over my trail and pinpoint both its good and its not-so-much. There are regrets I have in following the book. And since it (and its long line of successors) targets a topic so foundational to our youth, it’s both necessary and proper to honestly examine the trails the book has forged.

However – we ought not to do it in anger. With Harris’ recent announcement that he’s reexamining the book, there has come out of the woodwork a flood of frustrated millennials who are discovering their struggles with the Christian singles culture. There is pain and confusion in their words. It’s understandable. But it’s also making it hard to judge the book well. Many criticisms out there are simply sloppy and show that it’s been a while since some of us read the book closely. If I were Harris, the thought that my legacy is a book everyone hates would be a source of deep pain. I’m not here to pile on.

So I want to sound three notes of grace on what we’ve taken for granted about the book, and where we might actually owe it a great debt.

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Singles Training #5: How to View God

mountain-climbing-768813_960_720“But God…you’re just so boring.”

The confession was guilty, but honest.

I was in the waning years of my teens, struggling with loneliness, and had stumbled upon an article telling me to “find my ultimate satisfaction in God”. The author just dropped that little gem in front of me and then…finis. End of article. Walked away without telling me how to do it, how to find pleasure in a God I couldn’t see or hear.

As if it’s a piece of cake or something.

Relationship with the unseen is hard. I don’t wake up every morning and have a crisis of belief over whether my best friend exists. I’ve seen him, I’ve heard from him, and even though we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like, I know – easily, simply, without a doubt – that he loves me as a brother.

It isn’t like that with God. He’s intangible. Elusive. He tends to speak with a still, small voice. Sometimes it takes hour of prayer, Scripture, and meditation to hear him.

I certainly believed in God through Scripture, saw him as a master and a savior. But intimacy? Delight? That’s another level. Especially when I felt I was disappointing him, that our relationship was mostly expectations. When the Psalmist spoke of “eternal pleasures at his right hand” (Psalm 16:11), I felt guilty. Like when you sing the lyrics “O How He Loves” and secretly groan, “It’s a beautiful song, but I have NO idea what he’s talking about.”

Who wants to be pressured into a relationship?

Especially with human fulfillment so seemingly close at hand, so simple to drink from. Home and hearth and sex and babies seemed way more tantalizing. Everyone else seemed to be getting such a kick out of it. Looking back I can see the illusion, how tense and spotty it really was, but at the time, I remained blind. God seemed like the manipulative mother, sabotaging her son’s life so he’d stay home.

So I spent years resenting the very God who wanted to fill me. I accepted a grievous lie, one which I believe many Christian singles have embraced deep down.

“God can’t really fill me like a mate can.”

If you don’t think you’ve embraced this lie, tell me your reaction if I told you you’d be single the rest of your life. How do you feel? Do you have something else to fall back on?

I didn’t.

I’m embarrassed about it now. But I didn’t.

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