Tag Archives: bible verse

Plans

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“Have I ever given you reason not to trust me?” –Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

Today was a mess.  I was put in my place, reminded that hope is really not for me.  As my three o’clock meeting approached, my computer (yes, this one, that works so great right now) and internet decided to conspire against me.  I spent more than an hour trying to get it up and running and online.  Yesterday I downloaded every update, ran every scan possible, and was ready for my web conference.  I had an hour to just get onto the website and, go figure, couldn’t.  I did everything in my power and ended up in tears watching a job opportunity slip away.

I quickly called into the number listed with the web address and hoped I could get by with just listening in.  I was late and missed the first minute or two of the meeting.  I took notes the best I could, scribbling every term or direction that they gave, for a program that I could not see in front of me.  I tried to calm myself and focus and planned how to best send an apology email and ask to still be considered for this training session.  In less than half of the time we were told, the meeting ended.  I apparently understood more than most of the other candidates did, who asked questions, without ever seeing the website.  I got all of the information that I needed to log on (miraculously) after the meeting ended and was able to easily navigate the training site.

I called my mom, still shaking from the frustration and emotion racing through me.  (I may have used some very, very harsh expletives when yelling at my laptop.)  I calmed down as I told her all about the frustratingly unsurprising bad luck I had.  I tried to shake the tension with a quick shopping run before rush hour set in in the valley.  As I walked down the hall to my car, one thought flooded my whirling mind.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you hope and a future.'” 

I have felt discouraged and hopeless about much in my life since graduating from college.  I have felt stuck, cornered in a place that I never intended to be.  I have tried, but grown so tired trying to find a way out, a way back.  At some point, I resigned myself to the fact that it doesn’t get much better than this.  So it goes.  And then, though I fought it, I allowed myself a little hope, a bit of dreaming.  And then it all failed me.  I barely made it through and it remains to be seen whether any of this will work out.  Yet in my frustration, through all my self-pity and self-loathing, I heard it:  “Plans to give you hope and a future.”

My plans are not His plans, and His are rarely mine.  Since graduating and losing (and perhaps leaving) much of my faith support system, it is far harder to hear His plan.  Perhaps I have not been seeking it, and that’s why it’s not clear.  I am still unhappy, still stressed about this new venture, but today I heard Him.  I know that, while I still doubt and fear, deep inside me is rooted this promise.  Somewhere, beyond what I was aware of or thinking about, His words echoed.  Somewhere, woven deeper within me than my skepticism and self-destruction, is the knowledge that He does have a plan to give me a future, one full of hope, worth hoping for. 

 

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The Ring and The Cross

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“It is a burden he should never have had to bear.”  –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

In these last few minutes of Good Friday, I have been collecting my thoughts on what today means.  It means something slightly different every year that passes.  In the years that I went to Catalina for the days leading up to Easter, the death of my Savior meant something different from any year before.  When I was a child, we prepared for it with Stations of the Cross, washing of feet, and a Seder meal.  The choice of death, on my behalf, means something different every year because life means something different each year.  I mean something different. 

This week I watched the film Inglourious Basterds.  The film itself is relatively irrelevant here except for its violence.  While much less than I expected, its graphic nature was perhaps worse than I anticipated.  I flashed back to my Senior year of college.  As we finished studying the book of Mark, ending obviously with the Crucifixion, I was deeply struck by the gore of it, the depravity.  The way that humans torture each other, mock each other, humiliate and pain each other will never cease to perplex, sadden and sicken me.  We watched the death scene from Braveheart after reading the passage, a visual of the sort of scene we had just experienced.  I felt myself growing angry and disgusted as it played, looking away for much of it.  After reading about Jesus’ death, we watch a blockbuster film that profits from the depiction of a tortuous death.  It just sat entirely wrong with me.  Those feelings about violence came back to me watching Basterds and I really digress into this only to show that Easter means something different.  I still was uneasy with the violence, but not in the same heated, emotional way that I was on the island.  Life is different this year.

Tonight I sit in front of my television as the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy plays.  Appropriately enough, Gandalf just plunged into the depths of Moria with the scary fire monster.  All three films are playing this weekend, culminating on Sunday with the Return of the King.  The blueray dvds release next week, so I am sure this is tied to the sales of them, but I can’t help but think that it is also deeply tied to Easter.  As a literature and theology student, I spent a lot of time analyzing christ-figures in art.  Any number of characters in this epic qualify for that title, but I was thinking of Frodo in particular tonight.  He is similar to Jesus, but so different.  They both bear loads, on behalf of the world, that they did not deserve, if you will, to carry.  They travel through hell and back, literally seeing the “end of all things.”  They leave this world, at peace and ready, leaving behind a world that they saved.  Frodo is much more human, in some ways.  Jesus tells Peter to stay alert, reminding him that, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  I grew up thinking that this was in reference to His own feelings, to His sacrifice, but it refers to His companions.  When Frodo begins to fall under the ring’s power, this phrase comes to mind.  He wants to do right, to be good, but there are things that humans (or hobbits) fall prey to.  We are weak.  No matter how noble the intent, people are frail.  Eventually, Frodo ends the ring’s reign and Peter and the other disciples become the church, but it’s messy and a long road.  There are missteps and ugly mistakes, but the spirit’s willingness outlasts the flesh’s weakness. 

I’m going to leap again, since I’ve already been all over the place here, to Aslan.  As I’ve been rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, there has been so much that has amazed me.  Lewis is brilliant.  The thing that strikes me every time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the scene at the Stone Table.  This actually starts as Aslan quietly walks to his death, alone.  The girls watch him leave and follow for a bit until they are caught.  He tells them, when they beg to follow, “I should be glad of company tonight.”  This is the second thing that strikes me about Aslan, Frodo and Jesus.  There is an immense loneliness and isolation in their stories.  As the lion approaches his slaughter, he goes quietly and willingly, with no hesitation and fear.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me.  He is a willing sacrifice, the payment for all sin, but He asks if there is another way.  It is not weak, nor cowardly, but honest.  He is willing to do His Father’s will, but if there is a way out of what is coming, He wants to take it.  He is sorrowful, scared, lonely and anxious.  This makes the whole story so much more beautiful, powerful.  He didn’t do something that was easy.  It was scary, and He wanted out.  He didn’t want out enough to deny God’s will, but He didn’t want what was waiting. 

I have perhaps the lowest pain tolerance in history.  I fear almost everything that might bring discomfort.  I know the feeling of dread, the clenching nausea that rolls from my stomach throughout my body.  I know fear.  I know loneliness.  I know what it is to feel, whether it is true or not, that no one else can possibly understand my pain, my isolation, my fears.  I can relate to a God who wants to do what’s right, but really is scared of the cost.  I like that my God knows what it is to feel alone.  Not because I want God to feel sad or be pained, but it means He knows how I feel.  He knows the desperate feeling of just wanting to feel connected, the empty ache of being left by those He loves.  He knows my racing heart as I wait to get a shot, because He felt the terror of impending pain.  While my pain cannot compare to His, my isolation paling in comparison, He knows how I feel. 

Today is a day to remember that Jesus, God with us, chose a brutal death.  He died.  A man that walked this earth and sat under this sun, that saw the flowers bloom in spring and had a favorite food and a family, died.  He chose death so that people He never knew, people who curse His name, people who killed Him, would have salvation from damnation.  He died.  He chose the hard, scary, lonely road to death for me.  His victory will be celebrated in a couple of days, but today, His lonely sacrifice is the focus. 

“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.”  –Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring

“I am only one, but still I am one”

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“I don’t say he’s a great man.  Willie Loman never made a lot of money.  His name was never in the paper.  He’s not the finest character that ever lived.  But he’s a human being… so attention must be paid.  He’s not allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”  –Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

I love the new CBS television show “Undercover Boss.”  I have only watched a handful of the episodes that have aired, but there is something so moving about the show.  Leaders of vast businesses disguise themselves, which is somewhat unnecessary, and perform everyday duties at different levels in their company.  The show presumes that, while learning how to improve productivity and profits, they see what life is like for those they employ.  Almost every show follows this format: boss “slums” it by not shaving and changing their name.  They presume that they know how to do the work and laugh at bit when they are not as adept as they thought.  Then they get sore.  They see just how demanding the work their employees perform is and they see how little praise and recognition they get.  They hear the stories of those who work hard to eek out a life, then they reveal themselves as changed people.  Each boss does something huge and personal for the people they met and grew to love and something small to change the company based on their experience.

Despite my love for the show, I recommend it to everyone with one caveat: I don’t think it’s fair that they only help the handful of people they met.  It’s nice and touching, but for the rest of the nameless cogs in the company, it does nothing.  That is, until I watched the show tonight. 

Here I digress: this week I sent in my first census.  I have been counted under my parents’ household twice before, but this was the first time I sent one of my own in.  The commercials on television tout the importance of being counted and the implications that the census has on our lives, but it really was a remarkable experience.  I was somewhat disappointed by how simple and superficial the questions were: name, age, sex, race.  There was nothing to it.  Still, for some reason, I felt something exciting, something big when I filled it out and mailed it in.  I count.  I am on record.  I am important enough to take note of.  And I wasn’t a number.  Since high school I have been a number.  Well, I guess, since the day I was born, Social Security has seen me as a number.  I was a four-digit high school number, seven-digit college number and now a seven-digit work number.  All of this and yet, to the US Government, I am me.  There is something so personal about the clinical, standardized form. 

That digression leads to me being a little more forgiving of “Undercover Boss.”  Yes, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of employees who get nothing out of the show.  Tonight, the boss gave one man $10,000 to help pay for his wedding.  The part of me that is wired to want things to be fair dies a little bit.  Then there is the part of me that just mailed in her census.  That man, his story, his life touched his boss.  He became a part of his CEO’s story.  And he, in turn, became a part of his employee’s story.  It is intensely personal.  I fell into the same trap that I’m caught in everyday: a business isn’t a massive group, it’s individuals.  Yes, there are many, many others who will never benefit from this new perspective the CEO gained.  Then there are some, people with names and stories and families, that are effected for that precise reason: they are people with lives and hearts. 

This is the essence of why the show works.  People matter.  The work they do matters.  When the CEO of 7-11 went and made coffee, he saw how huge the job is.  He understood that sitting in the corporate boardroom does not keep the company running any more than the hourly associates who change coffee filters.  Working for a large retail company, I may be more moved by the show than others because I am on the nameless end of the deal.  I have managers that are in my store weekly who do not know my name.  I do not know who my CEO is any more than they know me.  To walk into our store, they wouldn’t need a disguise.  They may as well operate a million miles away from us.  There is such a huge disconnect, such an ugly separation from them and us

I’m sure that Karl Marx would have plenty to say about my alienation and discontent.  One a more personal level, beyond production and goods, so much of what we crave is to be known, to be noticed.  We want to be more than a number, to be a person.  A person is more than a name, it’s a whole being– all our joys and fears, our needs and gifts.  We want to count.  Jesus assured His followers of the importance they held, that their lives mattered to God.  They would be risking their lives, but there would be providence.  He reminded them that, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).  We want to know that someone notices us, the big and the small things.  Sure, I want my boss to know my name.  I also want my friends to know that my eyes are hazel, not brown.  We want to matter enough for someone to pay attention.  The idea that something as insignificant and ever-changing as the number of our hairs is noticed is humbling and comforting in a world where I rarely feel noticed.  One of the most quoted, most beautiful Psalms has the writer proclaiming “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalms 139:13).  Our Creator knows us that intimately, that closely.  He has known us forever.  While this is incredibly moving and beautiful, we still want others to see us too.  I still want people to see me.  It’s nice to think that in a country that stretches out over more than 3 million square miles, I mean something.  In fact, I mean just as much as any star in Hollywood or politician on Capitol Hill.  I am important enough to count.   

“You’re waiting tables and parking cars/ You’ve been selling cell phones at the shopping mall/ And you began to believe that all you are is material/ It’s nonsensical…” –Switchfoot, “4:12”