college, acceptance, and grocery bags of mail

My youngest daughter has been getting college mail. She’s known for the last year what her pool of preferred school was. She got in to her top two last fall and has done all her paperwork for freshman orientation at “The One.” Obviously, she doesn’t need the mail. It goes straight into the lovely blue Crate and Barrel Outlet recycling bin. 

This is so completely different than what I did with my college mail.

I saved my college mail in brown paper grocery bags. Several of them. I got a LOT of college mail. I never threw any of it out. Not even the smallest postcard from some 154-college-body liberal arts college in North Dakota I had NO intention of even driving past. Every envelope got stuffed into a grocery bag and stashed in my closet, right beneath my brother’s fifteen years or so of National Geographic. I saved it all.

Why did I do this? Was I an early candidate for Hoarders? Showing a commitment to Reduce/Reuse/Recycle before it was fashionable? REALLY desperate for late night reading material?

A few years into college, obviously,
since I didn’t even start dating this
handsome dude until senior year.
You have to understand the atmosphere of my high school life as it was. Debate team, straight-A, band geek. All the beautiful Farrah-hair I so carefully achieved couldn’t mask the truth–I was a complete nerd. No where else on earth was anyone clamoring for my favor. But those colleges were.

Hey, I was a reject by everyone else. The fact that hundreds of colleges did seem to want me around? That was heady stuff. I might have gilded the letter from Harvard. 

I have zero comprehension of my daughter, who clicks her tongue in annoyance at her ipod and whines, “Another email. From another school. Why won’t they quit bugging me???”

I was thrilled to be wanted. Too thrilled. It became all that I was. And that, girls and boys, is never, ever good.

I know better now, but I still see it all around me. Sigh. And yes, in me. 

Girls who will do anything to feel wanted by a boy. It’s become all they are.

Adults who will do anything to retain a job. Even if they hate it. Even if what they’re doing feels wrong. It’s not the security of employment—it’s the identity of feeling important.

Women who will do anything to remain a princess in their perfect home, because questioning the facade might mean someone won’t approve of them.

Christians who harbor doubts and question accepted black and white who keep those thoughts locked up so their “friends” won’t start keeping their distance.

Hanging on to acceptance– 
even acceptance from places we never intend to go, from people we shouldn’t listen to. 

It’s still heady stuff. But what does it get you? Five paper bags of junk mail stuffed in a closet that you don’t want, don’t need, and don’t know how to get out of your life. We all know, the longer we hold on to the need to be accepted, the harder it is to get rid of its trigger. It’s surgery, and no one without Munchausen’s volunteers for that.

I only applied to one college. One. It’s all I wanted or needed. I knew where God was nudging me to go. So why not just listen? Avoid all the junk clamoring for my attention, promising security and happiness and identity, and listen. I might have heard something like, 

“You are a chosen people . . . God’s very own possession. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people.” (1 Peter 2.10-11) 

Identity enough, right?

I am glad, though my younger self would be mystified, that my daughter knows where she’s headed and feels no need to find acceptance in empty words cased in envelopes and paper bags. She knows Who has ultimately accepted her and isn’t looking elsewhere. I wish I had been so wise at seventeen. But then, I guess someone had to teach her. 

On The Hunger Games and Easter Sunday

Easter, and high school students, and Katniss Everdeen. I promise you—they do

intersect and make sense. 

Sunrises. We like sunrises. Who doesn’t?
A couple times this year, most recently this afternoon, I have had the chance to speak to a room full of high school students about bringing God into their culture. I talked about a few ways they could do that, but the final idea I gave them was simple—bring hope.

Is “hope” really a cross-cultural concept when we’re talking about the Millennial generation? You bet it is.

Witness the biggest genre of YA literature for the past several years—dystopia. A story playing out amid the ruin of a world that no longer resembles the one we know. The dictionary definitions of dystopia include:

  • “An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

  • “ A society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”

  • “An imagined place where people are unhappy and usually afraid.”

Well that sounds like quite the pleasant little backdrop.

Witness two of the blockbusters of this genre—Hunger Games. Divergent.

Now darkness is hardly new to YA literature, and I would be the first to argue that some darkness is necessary to challenge and empower the reader. But there is a not-so-subtle difference in what has been going on in recent years. Harry Potter was dark. Lord of the Rings has its share of dark. But those series ended with people going on to assume lives in which darkness did not reign and evil did not win. Those books ended with—hope. As Samwise says, “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.” Those authors believed and conveyed this.

The new ones don’t. Heroes are antiheroes. Conflict is “not great” versus “really bad.” You’re not sure you even want to root for anyone in the end. No one wins. Heroes even die in the final pages. The books reflect the attitude of a culture that has shifted. In the words of another LOTR character, “Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”

They just look like hope.
This is the call, I believe, to writers who want to matter and to make their faith matter. 

Bring back hope.

Thus, I told those kids. And I’ve told my daughter, who wants to write this kind of literature. Whatever you do, whatever you write, whatever you are called to do in this life—do it with hope. Draw hope. Photograph hope. Cook hope. Put out fires, police streets, wait tables, perform surgery, counsel families—with hope.

Not happy-clappy ridiculous hope that ignores real life. That’s not hope—that’s wishful thinking. We already have a little too much of that in faith-based writing.

But real hope? If you intersect the culture with hope, you are bringing in an explosive device they are not quite prepared for. Bring it anyway. Bring it especially.

On this day after Easter, those of us who celebrated yesterday have the greatest, no, the only, source of this explosive hope. If you have a relationship with God—a living, vibrant, relationship, not just a go-to-church obey-the-rules one—you have a source of hope your culture needs.

You have it because God calls you, me, and all humans, precious souls whom he ransomed from pointless lives. Because God proved it with the power that kills death itself. Because he promises he made us for more. Because Easter proves there is an ultimate great hope, that evil can be defeated, and that we get to participate in the greatest story ever. It’s not our story. But we’re in it. Are we in it to create hope?

I kind of like that I get to be a Samwise in this world. A proclaimer of darkness-killing light in a world where it does indeed “shine out all the clearer.” Sam’s pretty cool. Sam is a hope spreader. It was needed in Mordor—it’s needed in your backyard.

glass in our feet and other ugly stuff

This weekend I went to the Festival of Faith and Writing. It was amazing. I will write more on this later. The salient point here, though, was the final plenary session. It was Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorites, and I so needed to hear what she had to say.

Us, trying to fly a kite last week in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Yep, that’s pretty much how I feel things look right now.
Not exactly flying high. And there were a LOT
of people on that hill in San Juan who could
fly a kite well. Like, four-year-olds. 

“If Only I Had Her Verbs! On Jealousy, Creativity, and a Generous God.”

The title got me, because I had more than an inkling she was going to go there. There, to that place I knew would be raw and painful to the touch. Like the time I had to let my husband dig a piece of glass out of my foot while I cried and grasped the chair like it was a rope hanging off the Sears Tower. It had to come out so I could walk. But the process threatened my polite pastor’s vocabulary.


Jealousy of other writers, other pastors, other professionals who are where I want to be. Saying what I want to say. With platforms that actually get them heard. And I am jealous.

Yes, it’s ugly and counterproductive and hard to admit. But it’s real. And I don’t think I’m alone.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on my Facebook author page that I have one prayer practically every day: “More You, less me.” Short and to the all-too-mortifying point. I despise my own obsession with me. But I have a tough time getting over myself.

Is anyone with me here?

I echo John the Baptist so often in my personal moments of chastisement. “He must increase, and I must decrease.” God, that’s what I want. But I lack the mad skills to know exactly how that happens when the mind is an insistent thing clamoring for me to live inside its walls and telling me the internet reception is better there anyway.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the demon on one shoulder telling me I’m the best thing since CS Lewis and why don’y people recognize that or the demon on the other shoulder insisting I’m a huge fraud with no talent who should have gone to law school as planned because at least there putting on a show is acceptable business. 

Neither one, you might have noticed, is an angel. Both have the same goal—to get us to think about ourselves. Only ourselves. And to obsess over where those selves stand in the world of other selves. Above or below? We have to know.

(For the record, I have never believed myself to be the best thing since CS Lewis. That is called hyperbole. Just so you don’t think I’m that far gone. And the immediate need to make sure you don’t think badly of me just proved my point handily, I believe.)

I took to heart what she said, and I vowed to make it mine. “There is enough room out there for everyone. God is a generous God.” I know this to be true. I believe it with everything in me. I want to live it.

Then, with those best intentions evidently not-so-firmly in place, I open Facebook on Monday to hear all about my writer friends who are doing great things. And all those intentions sink in a sea of “That’s so not fair!/ Why is that not my life?/ Well goody for you little Miss Sunshine I hope you enjoy it while it lasts.”

I can be pretty rude in the grasp of jealousy.

Usually, I am content to be very happy for others’ success. I can want mine and love theirs. But some days, it feels like their comes at the expense of mine. That so smacks of older brother rivalry of his little prodigal bro. I don’t like being that brother.

Why is there such a disconnect between what we know to be true and what we feel to be true when our dreams are threatened? Why do we listen to those twin demons? Why does someone else have to be less than so I can be more? Why can’t we live like we believe “There is enough room out there for everyone because God is a generous God”?

I think the culprit, as usual, isn’t anther person. It’s fear. Fear that our dreams will not look like we want them to. That they won’t ever look like anything. Fear can cause some ugly, ugly stuff to come out of our hearts and into our thoughts. 

What do you do when fear makes you ugly? I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

Less me. More you. God, every, every day. Until it’s true. 

an offer I couldn’t refuse

My husband just had his birthday. A big, important birthday. One of those with a ‘0’ at the end of it. I won’t mention which one because, to be honest, I reached that mark a year and a half before he did. He keeps trying to catch up, but no success yet.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in the midst of one of those full-blown college girl frenzies caused by (of course) college boys, I cried out to God, “OK, I’m done! I’m done picking out guys. Clearly, I don’t do it right. God, this is the kind of guy I’m looking for, and if he’s out there, I’m leaving it up to you to find him. I quit.” Yes, I did give God a list of my qualifications for a guy. I’m not sure why I thought He couldn’t figure that out on His own. But I definitely remember what I heard next, in the quiet after my rant. (Not audibly, as in heard this voice in my bedroom, which would have been a little creepy. But when you hear from God, you know.)
OK, deal. It’s about time, really. But you already know someone who meets all those criteria. Have you thought of him?” 

Who, God?? No, I hadn’t. Probably on account of I was a junior and he was a freshman with Coke-bottle glasses and an ROTC haircut. And a girlfriend back home. Nice friend material, but . . . really?
That was near the end of the school year, and said freshman and I went home to or respective states, and we wrote letters. We were friends–that was OK, aforementioned girlfriend and all. 

Yes, letters. those things you printed on paper with a pen and needed a stamp and a mailbox for. Strange. I sent one letter with the sticker you see here:
It was just a fun sticker. Although, in fact, that was one of the worst summers of my life, and chocolate would definitely have been welcomed.
He sent it. A box of chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but homemade fudge, without nuts (just the way I like it), made not by his motherbut by him. I think that’s when I fell in love. (Plus, somewhere in there he dropped out of ROTC, grew curly dark hair and a beard, and got contacts. Those things helped. A girl’s got eyes, after all.)
Three years later, I married Mr. Fudge Guy. Hey, if God says he’s the guy for you, AND he bakes fudge, I do not argue.
The course of true love never did run smooth. (Thanks, Shakespeare. You are almost always correct.) Sometimes it’s paved with college tantrums, desperate prayers, hippo stockers, cancelled stamps, and even fudge. His parents’ path was paved with war. His dad mailed bath towels to his girl back home with an engagement ring attached. We are all resourceful in our own ways where love is involved.
In any case, it has been a good road. Thanks for letting me ride. Let’s keep driving for a very long time.

What’s your love story? Do share.