The Best-Laid Plans

 

Growing up, my family didn’t take regular vacations.  Still, I’ve been to Puerto Rico, Kauai, the Philippines, Vancouver, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and plenty of places in/around the Bay Area where I was reared.  Since graduating from college, I’ve never really felt like I’ve been in a financial latitude, personally and as far as my family was concerned, to take a trip anywhere.  Back in 2007, when I graduated from high school, my dad lost his job and we eventually lost our home.  Ever since, his employment status has been a moving target and, well, vacations just don’t make sense when you’re wondering if you’ll be able to make rent on the place you reside in day to day.

Fast forward to mid-2015 and I’ve started what I guess I could consider my first “real job” – a salaried position, full benefits, business cards.  Boy oh boy 😉  My parents are also working and we’re all in a position to begin to actually save money and plan something beyond a paycheck to paycheck existence.

Earlier this year, I remember talking to a number of coworkers and friends about travelling.  I was in awe at the destinations they were considering – Thailand.  Cambodia.  Vietnam.  South Korea.  Brussels.  The Netherlands.  At the conclusion of these conversations, I always ended up questioning what the heck I was doing as an unattached, healthy woman in her late 20s by staying put, squandering the opportunities to head off someplace.  After some thought, I eventually set my sights on Ireland – predominantly English speaking country, European, gorgeous scenery, lots of historical churches, birthplace of my current celebrity crush (Andrew Scott – Moriarty forever!!).

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*swoon*

In no time at all, an itinerary was born –

3 weeks.  SFO -> DUB

Rock of Cashel.  Blarney Castle.  Cork.  Ring of Kerry.  Skellig Michael.  Dingle.  Limerick.  Cliffs of Moher.  Doolin.  Inis Mor.  Dun Aenghus.  Galway.  Croagh Patrick.  Strandhill.  Enniskillen.  Derry.  Giants Causeway.  Dunluce Castle.  Carrick A-Rede.  The Dark Hedges.  Belfast.  Tollymore National Tower.  Strokestown Park & National Famine Museum.  Bru na Boinne.

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Puffins on Skellig Michael. PUFFINS!!!

I scoured blogs, YouTube, Google Flights, Hopper, and TripAdvisor, to hammer out the finer points of booking flights, renting a car vs. public transportation, the best bed & breakfasts with proper Irish breakfasts, and pub etiquette.

And then in August, my dad drops me off at work and tells me that the following week would be his last; the company was laying people off.

I really wish I could say I met this announcement with grace, rallying around my dad with encouragement and support, but the truth is that I became quite antagonistic, very short-tempered and rude to him and the rest of my family members in general.  As the idol of my own life-plans took a hit, I rounded on them fiercely and lashed out in my anger and disappointment.

In the weeks that followed, I stewed in my resentment toward them, the situation, and God.  Can’t You just let me have my way?  Why do other people get to go places?  Is one trip too much to ask?  One small hiccup and the very goodness and generosity of God Almighty was, to me, up for questioning and doubting.

I tried my hardest not to pray or read the Bible, too.  I did not want to self-reflect, self-examine because the reality of my heart’s desires were there front and center.  The true lord of my life was revealed and I didn’t want to stare back at a grotesque image of myself, utterly consumed and focused in on what wanted, what deemed best, when, and the manner in which saw fit.  I didn’t want to acknowledge how deeply I was drowning in the lies of what a fulfilling, meaningful life really consisted of.  I didn’t want to admit how I doubted that knowing and enjoying God, and glorifying Him forever, would be truly satisfying.

In time, though, God showed me more and more how the circumstances He allowed were a demonstration, and not a lack, of His goodness, and how unrelenting His love is for me.  In the midst of me growing more attached, in love with, and reliant on money and leisure, He showed me how easily they crumble, how the treasures here on Earth can be taken, how they will grow dull and fail under the weight of importance I ignorantly place on them.  When I want to shortsightedly settle on the here and now, on building castles of sand, He sends the waves to topple them so that I might look up and away at the eternity He beckons me into.  He anchors me in reality and directs my attention at those who still live in darkness and the shadow of death; He bids me look at the great harvest in which He would send me out into if only I paid attention, if only I cared more for the eternal state of souls than my own passing pleasures and mere distractions.

A month or so ago, God brought James 4:13-17 to mind –

“Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

It’s still hard for me to recognize how fleeting and fragile my time here on Earth is.  It’s not natural for me to believe that I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and that I can’t make plans and accomplish them entirely on my own.  And truthfully, I find it more than a little galling, this posture of capitulation to the Lord and what He wills.  I can’t even bring myself to imagine saying “If the Lord wills” in regular conversation, even among many Christians.

But the reality is that I am no longer my own.

Christ has saved me; He is Lord and the acknowledgement of this in word and practice day by day is sweeter and more secure than all my best-laid plans, it is the best way, period.

My dad has since received an offer letter for another company and with the sense of gratitude and relief is some trepidation – I know I can be lulled back into a false sense of security in money, and that my attention and heart can turn once again to making my own plans, ignoring the Lord’s will and ways.  to this I echo the words of an old hymn as a prayer –

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.  // Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.  // Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

Mother’s Day

[What better time to make a Mother’s Day post than a few weeks away from Father’s Day, right?  Lol.  This is basically a repost of my Facebook status from May 10th]

I realize that I am super late in the 5-Day Bible verse challenge that A.Su tagged me in, but better late than never, right? Here’s day 2 of 5.  🙂

I really hope people, mostly my relatives, don’t take this the wrong way. This isn’t me trying to air dirty laundry or disrespect my mom. This is me trying to be real about the reality of human relationships made messy by our brokenness and sin nature; but, more importantly, this is about the abundant redemption God offers, and is working out so beautifully, when we come to Him. God doesn’t call us to pretend that everything is alright all the time, or to put on a show just because it’s “the day” on the calendar for it. His strength is magnified in our weakness as He sustains us and works in our lives.

My mom is an amazing woman in many, many ways. One of these days I’ll write something that details just a fraction of how much God has worked through her to bless not only our family, but others as well.

But at the same time, I can’t help but say that there were, and still are, times when Psalm 27:10 was/is my life preserver, keeping me afloat when our relationship was/is turbulent and unhealthy.

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

For a long time I chose to take this to mean that I could just cling to the Lord and then push my mom away. But more and more I am being challenged to see this as a directive for me to take whatever pain, confusion, rage, disappointment, frustration, etc. that I have towards her to the Lord, and to allow Him to heal my heart and mind so that I might continue to choose to love as sacrificially as He loves me. He is so patient towards me. He always forgives. If I call myself a Christian by His name, shouldn’t I do the same?

This is, of course, so much easier typed than enacted. And I realize that the things that have happened between my mom and I are probably not as intense as what other people have gone through with their own mothers.

It really warms my heart to see all of you posting such beautiful photos and moving tributes to your mothers, wives, sisters, etc. I myself just got back from a great dinner with my mom where we were able to share and laugh together as a whole family.

But I want to make space to acknowledge those for whom Mother’s Day is not so rosy, so filled with warmth. I’ve certainly had my years where that was the case; and, after reading PostSecret, I know I’m not the only one –http://postsecret.com/.

In my experience, the deepest and most searing hurt I’ve ever felt comes from the rifts I’ve had in my relationship with my mom.

So to those who are still in the middle of this and struggling, I pray that there are people in your life who just love on you until you can’t nearly stand it. May there be people in your life who can just listen and not judge, who can encourage you to forgive and love for your good and personal freedom, but just be patient and not preachy with you because it is such an arduous process with no promised ending. May you have shoulders to lean and cry on, people to laugh with and who bring sweetness into your life.

And for the mothers who act out of their own hurt, may there be healing, too. May their lives be filled with love that they might overflow and love out of the abundance.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Thriller

My parents love to reminisce about how I would, as a little girl, run out of the room whenever the music video to Michael Jackson’s Thriller would come on.  As an adult, I find it inconceivable that I would have ignored such amazing choreography and MJ’s vocal stylings, haha, but I guess that little-me could only focus on the ashen faces and tattered clothes of zombies that couldn’t hold a candle to the ones found on The Walking Dead.  Instead of eliciting fear, this music video now draws out laughter and excitement.  I’ve tried to learn to play this iconic song on the piano, and have come thisclose to putting “Dancing in a Thiller flash mob” on the bucket list in my mind.  Thriller is one of those songs that manages to get everyone, no matter how self-conscious, on the dance floor.  Needless to say, I’m so glad that my initial fears did not become my final stance/response or else I’d really be missing out on having “the soul for getting down.”

It recently occurred to me, though, that even though I am older, I can still give up and miss out on many potential joys when I choose to succumb to, and steep myself in, present fear and pain.

Switching gears a little, imagine that you are the successful owner of a business and have a beautiful family with grown children and a spouse with whom you can share life and grow old with.  One day, though, you receive news that successive waves of vicious people have abruptly and ruthlessly taken away every last piece of inventory you owned, and the authorities are powerless to recoup your losses.  Soon after, you are told that all of your precious children have perished after a storm destroyed the place they had all gathered to eat together in.  And after all of that, you yourself fall ill, and your spouse, caught up in the anguish within their own heart, can no longer speak peaceably to you.

Could you imagine that?  Can you believe that all of that happened to a man named Job?  That all of those aforementioned tragedies came upon him within the span of two chapters?  The Book of Job has not always been a source of comfort to me.  Before I was saved, I used to think it stood as perfect proof that the God of the Bible was unspeakably cruel and clearly unloving.  And even now that I have been walking with the Lord for a few years, I still don’t think I have come to make sense of it all.  But even though I don’t yet fully comprehend everything, I can’t deny that God has been opening it up to me and using it to minister to me in profound ways.

Earlier this month, I found myself in Job, and one verse in particular stood out to me.  To set the scene, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, three of Job’s friends, had gathered to comfort him.  After seven days and nights of mourning, Job speaks straight from his pain, curses the day of his birth, and at one point says:

“For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.” – Job 3:25 (NKJV)

When my now ex-boyfriend and I first came onboard at SRVGC (church), we held a couple of GYYL (Grill Your Youth Leader) sessions.  We passed out index cards and pens to the youth and told them to write down any questions they had for us.  In retrospect, this was probably a real rookie mistake, lol, but we (mercifully) received a range of solid questions.

I’m not sure if you can see it, but the last question on the bottom card written in blue ink is: “What is your greatest fear?”

I can remember telling them that I feared being alone.

This garnered a chorus of “aww’s” from the group, and I was confused until I realized that they thought I meant being alone… as in without my boyfriend.  While I certainly did care very deeply for him, I said what I said with a different relationship in mind – my relationship with God.

Now I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39), but sometimes I still allow myself to doubt that, and that’s usually when I really begin to crumble and fall apart.  What I’d like to highlight in this post, though, is that as far as I know, God has taken me to a place in my walk with Him where the thing I fear the most, is something that ultimately can never come to pass.  Let me try to explain what I mean.

This thought was something that dawned on me when I let Job 3:25 really sink in.  Three chapters into his story, Job proclaims that everything he most feared in life has come upon him.  I’d say that he was absolutely justified in saying so.  I then started to think about the circumstances that had unfolded in my own life in the past couple of months – being dumped, stepping up as the Youth Director after my ex stepped down and left the church, having my boss go into early retirement, changing jobs, being the only young adult at my church.  Lord Almighty.  I had never asked to be a leader.  I had never asked to be, in some senses, abandoned.  I didn’t ask to feel these feelings of rejection and worthlessness, confusion and helplessness, all while needing to be strong and purposeful before my youth group and church family.

But as the hurt and anxiety began to rise up in me, along with the temptation to despair, it was as if the Holy Spirit asked me: “Iona, don’t you know how Job’s story ends?”

“Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.  He also had seven sons and three daughters.  […]  After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations.  So Job died, old and full of days.” – Job 42:12-13, 16-17 (NKJV)

Everything Job feared had come upon him, but that wasn’t where his story ended.  As I sat there with The Word, God was, in that moment, reminding me that my current pain was just that, something present in this moment, but something that would not last.  And even if I were to suffer all my life long, my ultimate destiny is an eternity in Heaven with Him.

Rewinding a little, if you’re anything like me, the whole reason you fear certain things is because you believe that if they happen, something – an opportunity, your whole life – will be shattered beyond repair.  That you will be, somehow – emotionally, mentally, physically – broken beyond redemption.

In his 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton wrote: “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer. Because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”

Like I said before, I used to hold a really warped view of God as someone who just toyed with us human beings, who took perverse pleasure in allowing us to experience painful situations. Now, though, I am beginning to see something else.  Far from seeing the act of allowing me to experience trials as being cruel and unusual punishment from a capricious deity, I see it as an act of love from my Father in Heaven, the one true God who sent His only Son to die to not only set me free from sin, but from all the, as Merton put it, “smaller and more insignificant things” that I fear.  Jesus sets me free from, as Job put it, the things I most fear and dread.  When I find myself right in the middle of something I feared, and realize that I can still not only survive but thrive because of the mercy of my God, my heart rejoices.  It is in those moments that I come to know deep in my soul that those things I fear cannot break me beyond repair or redemption; my sovereign Savior is the One who defeated death itself and rose from the grave in glory.

I think the Apostle Paul put it best when he said:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned that in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13 (NKJV).

Am I trying to say that I walk around not fear anything?  No.  This is definitely a lesson God has had to keep reminding me of, but I know that I am quicker to trust more fully in Him each time trials come.  I am more willing to turn immediately to Him and to reject refuge from lesser things.  I believe I experience more deeply the peace and assurance that are my blood bought birthright.

Dear brothers and sisters, are you finding yourself in an overwhelming situation?  Have the things you feared come upon you?  Resist the urge to run away from God and to someone/something else.  Resist the urge to retreat into your own self.  Pour out your heart to Him; He alone saves.  Reach out to your family in the faith and allow them to shoulder your burdens with you.  Be encouraged.  Wait upon God and watch Him move powerfully in your life.  These circumstances and the pain that you feel are not how your story ends.  Cling to God, allow Him to grow your faith, and be set free from your fears.

Get It Done

[Note: I posted this up on the Facebook wall of my church’s youth group on December 31, 2014.  Every year, in lieu of making a list of resolutions, I typically pray about a verse/passage that I will meditate on over the next year.  In 2014, I focused on “abiding” a la John 15.  2015 is all about “being strong in the Lord” and “getting things done” in the spirit of 1 Chronicles 28:20]

I had a really hard time falling asleep last night.

I don’t think I suffer from insomnia, nor do I believe it was the fault of the adrenaline still pumping through my veins after singing T. Swizzle songs with Michael and Hubert. Instead, I place blame solely on the two adults in the attached photo. Many of you know them. They gave an… interesting… talk on relationships once. Getting back to my original point, I don’t know if your parents snore, but God saw fit to place me in a family where two were joined in holy matrimony.

As 11:30 rolled around, I tried to extract lemonade out of my situation by turning it into a game. Was that cavernous rumble the sign of a tongue base snorer? Dad, is that you? As the snores began to increase in volume and mingle, it hit me. An old memory of a family vacation, where we stayed in a two bedroom Residence Inn suite, came rolling through my conscious mind (http://www.residenceinn.marriott.com/tour?fp=2br-fp – scroll down for the floor plan). My mom and I were in one room, while my dad and little brothers were in the other. I remember missing out on the little window of opportunity to fall asleep before my parents (curse the temptation that was Nickelodeon to a girl whose parents refused to subscribe to cable). By the time I pried my eyes away from the umpteenth episode of Rugrats, at around 1/2 AM, and I headed for my room, my mom was already fast asleep and… snoring.

I must have tossed and turned for another hour before deciding that I had had enough. Thoroughly frustrated, I grabbed my pillows and marched out to the living room. I threw them onto the couch, curled up into the fetal position, and closed my eyes… only to come to the horrible realization that I was now stuck in a living room DMZ with my mom on one side… and my dad on the other. Let’s just say that I don’t remember being a very pleasant person later that morning.

But as the memory played out last night to the soundtrack of only more deafening snores, I found my reaction to be quite different: I laughed.  Not the kind of wild laughter that comes from an attempt to dodge pain by untethering oneself from reality and going off the proverbial deep-end. Not the kind that succumbs to the pain, marked by a rueful sardonicism at being dealt “a bad hand” and no longer having the will to keep playing. No and no.

Instead, it was the kind of laughter that bubbles up from a soul that experiences what David penned in Psalm 27:13 – “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (NASB). It’s the kind of laughter that bursts forth from someone who can still feel all the feels, but now knows that they can thrive in the midst of it, because they are held in the hands of their loving Heavenly Father who has seen them through, and has redeemed their pain.

Too much? I mean, really? Not despairing over snoring? Is that really a noteworthy triumph/example of God’s goodness?

Well, the snoring didn’t just trigger the aforementioned memory with my nuclear family, but many others with my family in Christ. Like the first Friday back in April where we went through 1 Peter 1:3-9. The first Friday my family spent with my dad in Chicago (I had dropped him off at San Jose International Airport just the previous Sunday). The first and rawest (and not in the positive way Sam uses it) Friday when things were tumultuous at home, and between my parents, and my heart was so heavy thinking about how this felt like one of the “various trials” that God’s children would be grieved by “so that the tested genuineness of [their] faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When I admitted that it felt like the flames were turning my faith to ashes and I was struggling so hard to be hopeful. When Pastor Johnson walked clear across the room and just had everyone in junior high lay hands on and pray for me. And KK, Matthew, and Teru provided me with enough handfuls of Kleenex to clog every toilet in the church… so I took one for the team and just used them to wipe away all my tears.

I had a really hard time falling asleep last night… because I was just so filled with gratitude.

On September 2nd, I booked a Thanksgiving flight for my dad. (See? Sometimes I can plan ahead!) He was supposed to fly in on November 27th, and then depart for Chicago on November 30th. The day after my birthday, September 19th, he sent me a text message saying that all of the contractors were being let go, and that he would be home in two weeks. On September 29th, I successfully converted his flight from a roundtrip over Thanksgiving, to a one-way flight into SFO on Saturday, October 4th. The following Monday, he had an interview with the Space Science Laboratory in Berkeley. A few weeks later, they offered him a full time position.

And on Thanksgiving morning, the screen of my phone lit up with a Google calendar alert that I had forgotten to delete, an alert telling me that my dad was going to be flying in that morning…

Yes, last night I reflected on how grateful I am to have my dad back (even if it’s gone from there being a solo snorer in the house to a duet). But I also realized that my joy is not solely tied to this change in circumstance; instead, I am overwhelmingly grateful to be able to look back on the chapter of my life that 2014 comprises, and say that even though it has been filled with a fair amount of trials, I have not gone through them alone. God has been there each step of the way, encouraging me through His word.

A few weeks ago, I was reading through 1 Chronicles 28, where King David prepares to hand the building of the house of God off to his son, Solomon, who he acknowledges is “young and inexperienced” (1 Chr. 22:5). In 1 Chronicles 28:9-19, David gives Solomon all of the building plans, from the layouts of the chambers and treasuries, to the weight of precious metals for lampstands, and then ends his charge with these words:

“Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1 Chr. 28:20).

I can say quite honestly that I never envisioned being in the place I am now when I first came to San Ramon that first Friday, May 3rd, 2013. That is, single in terms of relationship status, and also in leadership. It’s easy for my mind to have that word connote being alone and abandoned in some ways. It’s easy for my shoulders to tense up as I think of all the things I need to coordinate and how little time I have to do it. It’s easy for me to feel the flames of this trial begin to singe my faith. It’s just all too easy to fear and be dismayed.

But God has shown me 2 things in 1 Chronicles:

1) He Can Be Trusted:
If God could help the “young and inexperienced” Solomon build His house, He can be trusted to build our youth group in 2015 and beyond, to make us even more of a family and united Body that reflects His goodness and love. Yes, there will be work for all of us to do, but above and beyond that, we can “be strong and courageous and do it” because God is with us.

2) He Has Given Us One Another So That We Can Build Each Other Up:
Does the phrase “be strong and courageous” sound familiar to any of you? I’m sure Joshua 1:9 was a memory verse for many.

I did a search of the phrase and it turns out that in Deuteronomy 3:28, God tells Moses to “charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him.” And later in Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of [enemy nations], for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

In the middle of tough times, I’m all too prone to retreat into myself and away from other people, to forget God’s promises and, once in self-imposed isolation, to falter under the weight of my own doubts and fears.

What I saw between Deuteronomy and 1 Chronicles, from Moses and Joshua to David and Solomon, is a pattern of mutual encouragement that is, from the very beginning, something that God desires for us to do for one another.

Speaking for myself, it has been such a blessing to know all of you! Each time I’ve faltered, whether that was over family strife or with ministry leadership changes, there has been no shortage of listening ears, prayer partners, encouraging words, smiles, hugs, offers of boba, etc. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the internal tide of my thoughts turn from worry, to joy and hope, and I know that I didn’t get there alone.

All in all, I had a really hard time falling asleep last night because I was just so filled with gratitude… as I reflected on how truly blessed I am to know all of you.

Happy New Year, brothers & sisters. Thank you so much for walking with me through the valleys and peaks of 2014. I greatly look forward to, as one of you so succinctly put it in a letter, “kicking butt in 2015.”

Amen, amen.

Hello Again

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

I am not big on “signs,” but when I opened my daily K-LOVE Encouraging Word email on Wednesday, December 31, 2014, and saw the passage that inspired me to create this blog, I smiled.

Ok, God, ok.

I will not let 2015 fly by.  I will savor every moment.  Whether I’m in the valley of the shadow of death, or catching my breath on a mountaintop.  I will make time to ponder, to patiently listen to Your instruction, to passionately obey.

“Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

Thank you,  Lord, for everything.  Everything.

Five Favorites (Vol. 8)

My boyfriend, Matt, and I had a great time exploring San Francisco a couple Sundays ago.  Here’s where we went and what we did:

1. Brava Theater

 One of the women in our Bible study/home group is a theater artist, playwright, and arts administrator.  She wrote Love Balm For My SpiritChild, a play featuring the testimonies of Bay Area mothers who have lost their children to acts of violence, and it was playing last weekend, and will be playing this weekend, at Brava Theater in The Mission, SF.  We’re both so proud of our sister in Christ and the work of healing and love that God is doing through her!

 

2. Bi-Rite Creamery

(Clockwise from top-left) Matcha Green Tea, Basil, Balsamic Strawberry, & Peach.  Matt really loved the basil ice cream, and I still think the balsamic strawberry is the best.  This is such a great spot for quality ice cream!

 

3. Dolores Park

It’s been a looooong time since I last slid down a slide or swung on a swing.  Dolores Park has both, along with a number of other fun play structures, and I had lots of fun getting to be a big kid!

 

4. Palace of Fine Arts

Interestingly enough, the last time we were here together in 2013, we ended up getting into a big misunderstanding.  We got through that little rough patch, but thinking about this particular place always seemed to bring back some funky feelings.  I’m glad that we had an opportunity to come here again, walk around, talk, snap some great photos, and just make a new memory.

 

5. Beach Chalet

A coworker friend of mine who lives in the city recommended the Beach Chalet to me a while back.  I bookmarked it on Yelp and when my Matt and I were trying to think of a place to go for dinner, I was able to finally cross this off the list!  Luckily enough, we got a table for two right next to the window, and were able to eat great food and watch the sunset together.

He Will Give

One of my favorite places in the world is Saint Mary’s College Chapel.  I am so blessed to live less than a 10-minute drive away from this sanctuary, this place where I can consistently find a quiet, peaceful space to sit, relax, and enjoy the overall privilege of slipping away to just be with God.

Things were tense at home last Thursday, and I felt really agitated and anxious.  In times like those, all I desire is the comfort of my Father, to be in His presence and feel Him bring my soul out of chaos and into serene stillness.  Time spent with Him gives me clarity of mind and He renews my strength and resolve to continue to live with Christ’s love towards the people He has brought, and will bring, into my life.  When I arrived at the chapel last Thursday, I sat down in one of the pews in the back.  Even though I have been to this place many times, I still like to spend a few moments to take in my surroundings.  At the front is a crucifix:

This picture really doesn’t even capture one-tenth of the beauty of this place.  The stained glass windows have a deep, rich purple background, and when the sunlight filters through them, the interior of the chapel just swims in a multitude of colors.

After a while, I knelt down on the kneeler board, took off my glasses, and just closed my eyes.  I silently reveled in this experience of tranquility, and when I opened my eyes, I looked back up at the crucifix and saw this:

Which is exactly what you would expect to see if you’ve got really poor eyesight and have gone without your corrective lenses.  I knew that the chapel was beautiful because I still remembered what it looked like when I had my glasses on, and as I reached to put them back on again, I just felt really grateful to have them.  

That thought stuck with me for a bit, and as I thought about what life might be like without them, if I didn’t have insurance or a job and could all of a sudden not afford them…  A small amount of panic began to rise in me as I sat with that thought and the implications of being without corrective lenses began to play through my mind.  I would be in pretty bad shape.  It would be infinitely harder to get around.  I could no longer drive.  I would be unable to do my job.  A lot of the things that I pride myself on being able to do, would be impossible for me.

And I really believe that at that point, God prompted me to remember a certain passage in Genesis that I had read earlier that day.  After Joseph interpreted the dreams of both Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and his chief baker, and the events came to pass (Pharaoh reinstated his chief cupbearer, but executed his chief baker), the chief cupbearer forgot all about him, and Joseph languished in prison for “two whole years” (Genesis 41:1).  After that, Pharaoh had a dream that none of his magicians could interpret for him, and the chief cupbearer suddenly remembered Joseph.  

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in meGod will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:14-16)

When I first read over Joseph’s answer to Pharaoh in verse 16, I felt like rolling my eyes a little.  What a “Sunday school”/get-me-out-of-this-tight-spot answer.

But as I sat inside the chapel and thought about how utterly helpless I felt as I realized how quickly and absolutely my life would change without the ability to see, I pondered afresh how he could say what he said, without any hesitation, to Pharaoh.

I came to see that I definitely take a lot for granted.  And what’s worse, even though I might not ever voice this opinion outloud, my actions and attitudes show that there is a part of me that believes I deserve good things.  Moreover, another portion believes that that is so because I possess an inflated view of what I think are my own abilities.  What do I have that I have not worked for, that I do not, consequently, deserve?

Joseph, on the other hand, had come a long way from being his father’s favorite, the envy of his older brothers, and the one who had unabashedly shared two dreams that his family would one day bow before him (Genesis 37).  I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, put Joseph through the trials that he went through to show him what I got a glimpse of today – that we see, breathe, move, and exist by the very grace of God alone.  There is nothing I bring.  There is nothing add.    

Joseph knew this to be true after seeing God’s mighty arm take him through each and every painful, seemingly impossible to redeem situation he found himself in, and it was from such a deep conviction born of experience that he told Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

God will give.  God is giving right now.  God has already given.

Too often I strive for what I don’t have, and I end up forgetting that there is so, so much that I already have been given.  Why can’t I exercise more gratitude?  Why can’t I exercise more faith in God’s provision knowing that He will never change?  

I know I need to.  I pray that as I recount all the ways God has shown His mighty arm and redemption in my life, that I would become humble and confident like Joseph.