Nothing to complain about

What does it mean to be human? To be Christian?

Are the two such polar opposites, as some would have you believe?

Or is the very criteria of a believer to be so innately human that our flaws are unavoidable? Our sins laid bare at the foot of the cross?

In Romans 7:19, Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

Sitting in book club on a Monday evening, I feel an anger-lit ember fan deep in a corner of my heart. I know it doesn’t belong there but I’m careless at containing the flame. Flipping rapidly back and forth through the pages of Thrashing About with God, I remind myself of the importance of “I” statements and avoiding accusatory statements. Even so, I launch into a monologue of defense.

A woman in the book club has just made the comment that the writer is whiny. Not just “whiny,” but she goes on to say that there’s nothing wrong in the writer’s life and the writer has nothing to complain about as an American Christian. As if that’s a thing… As if a faith can be broken down by region and all of the people within that region can be lumped together under some privileged title.

As quickly as the words leaves her mouth, I concede that I will not invite my struggling friend to this study.

My loosely-dampened words spill over my tongue, half registered to my own ears, and I am fueled by thoughts of my friend’s gut-reaction to such a careless summary of untruth.

“Nothing to complain about.”

A slander against those who struggle behind radiant smiles or who bear their trials in silent obedience.

A statement of exclusion.

Yet perhaps the ember flames so easily in me because I’ve stood in this woman’s ostentatious stance before…

Perhaps I am reminded of my misplaced belief that living a life worthy of the calling I have received (Ephesians 4:1) somehow means a life free of dark spaces. Of doubt. Of dissatisfaction.

But then…

Psalm 34:17-18  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

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Detroit Blood

I’ve gone soft.

The change happened over a span of 8 years while adjusting to and then permanently residing in West Michigan. The adaptations have been gradual, of course, but the reality hit me today like a rush hour traffic jam on 696. Fast.

When I left the Detroit area, I left in my black ’99 Ford Taurus, seat tilted back, rap turned up, one hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, pushing 90mph and weaving in and out of traffic. Fast forward a few years and I’m returning in my white 2011 Mazda3, driving 74mph, white knuckled at 10 and 2 with straight seat back and Carrie Underwood streaming through my Bluetooth radio.

You could say things have changed a bit.

When I first sped into West Michigan 8 years ago, I cursed the slow drivers and the laid back attitudes. I stained my walk and talk with Detroit blood like a badge of honor and I’d bad mouth anyone who dissed the D.

But over the years, I grew softer. My speech calmed, my speedometer slowed, and my pace slagged. I started to look at Detroit as a concrete jungle full of aggressive type As. I hated it and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to move back. There’s no opportunity there. The housing market hasn’t recovered. It’s dangerous!

And in many ways I have loved that I’ve softened. I don’t need to feed off aggression or memorize speed traps. I can relax. And it is nice to be relaxed…

But I realized today that becoming soft also robs you of some things. Pride, for starters. I have pride in West Michigan but as an Eastsider I had pride in myself. I knew that if you wanted something, you had to get aggressive. No one is letting you in their lane because you used your turn signal. They’re letting you in because you shot the gap into the one car length ahead of them that they didn’t mean to give you. And if you managed to switch lanes without immediately slamming on your brakes, you earned the right to be there.

Becoming soft also robs you of growth. When have you ever faced a new challenge resting on your heels and come out on top? I didn’t think so.

And, in an unexpected twist, being soft limits your happiness. The happiest people are those who constantly try new things, push their limits, conquer new goals.

As I drove 696 tonight, I realized the beauty of the Eastside. I tilted my seat back just a little. I opened my sun roof and switched my radio to Nappy Roots, for old time’s sake. In a stroke of luck, I caught the echo of classic V8 engines roaring through the cement jungle after a night ride in the Woodward Dream Cruise. I breathed in the hot pavement, rubber and exhaust of the city and thought to myself, “My children will never know the lure of this place like I did.”

My Detroit blood has thinned over the years but it still courses throughout my veins with every beat of my heart and every rev of a V8 engine. It’s still inside of me. And it always will be.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The London Olympic Stadium is 53 meters high. This blog had about 670 visitors in 2012. If every visitor were a meter, this blog would be 13 times taller than the Olympic Stadium – not too shabby.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

As I increased my writing on megdaniellemarried.wordpress.com, I have update you all from here less. Even so, I appreciate your continued support and hope to grow with you in 2013!

Forks in the Road Don’t Have to Have a Right and Wrong

I’m not entirely sure the purpose of nostalgia. Is it a longing for something we no longer have? A happy remembrance of what brought us to where we are today? An opportunity to laugh about your mistakes or relish in the distant praise of your few successes?

I’ve been caught up in sweet dreams of nostalgia lately. Laughter over some of my inexplicable past and a yearning for the rush that followed some of my small victories; I mull it over with an understanding that I did not have before and a clarity that comes with age.

What is the purpose of nostalgia?

Perhaps these feelings of nostalgia simply precede the next great thing.

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When you get married, do you know what they say? They say things like, “Everyone is in such a rush to get married lately! I’m taking my time and enjoying my independence.”

“I couldn’t imagine tying myself down at this point in my life.”

“We are so happy as boyfriend and girlfriend; why would we want to ruin that?”

They don’t say it to you as a warning, rather they say it at you while thinking to themselves aloud. They are lost in their own thoughts… In their personal journey of love, of relationships, of independence. Yet though they do not speak to but only at you, you hear them. And it stings to know that your friendships will inevitably change in this next chapter of life.

Suddenly, you are lost in the sweet nostalgia of an unbridled life. An ability to leave. To be tough. To stand up to anyone… And then you take the leap.

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There are choices each day that define you. A series of crossroads. And if you choose wisely, you will find more happiness in the fork you choose than you will leave behind. And as you continue to move forward with your choices, you will begin to cherish nostalgia. It is no longer a longing for the past. It is a keen awareness and acceptance of the choices that have brought you forward.

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The next time people speak aloud and tell you that a spouse is a chain and a house is an anchor or a child is the end of fun as you know it, you must keep silent. Do not retaliate or defend your choice. Do not hesitate or hurt. Remind yourself that you are happier on this turn because of the direction you chose… That this is your path and that the people speaking to themselves aloud have made the equally important choice for themselves to be single or unwed, un-mortgaged, or without attempt for children. And you must honor their choices as well.

We need to start a revolution. To fight human nature, which tells us that the grass is greener on the other side. We must not pull others toward feelings of regret to protect us from those feelings ourselves. And we must also watch ourselves when we are tempted to react to some news of a friend’s new direction following a fork in the road.

Do not compare their choices to those of your own. Just listen, love, and accept.

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We need more advocates for love in this world. For inclusiveness. For appreciation of these crossroads and the opportunities these choices make. For those that follow different paths and for those who go in an expected direction.

You are not better because you are different. You are not better because you are the same. You are you and your “you” is beautiful. I am me and that is beautiful too.

I Cannot Deny that He is Present

I start off my day with an alarm clock chirping to warn me of the impending workday. It’s not just any workday, however; it’s Saturday.

I roll over in an attempt to ignore my alarm clock and realize that sometime between going to bed and waking up, I’ve been joined by my handsome husband. The thought of leaving him so soon on one of our mutually free mornings seems cruel.

He gently reminds me to get up and I finally come around. No time to shower. Start the coffee and grab a bowl of cereal. Who knows how long this day could be.

I borrow the Jeep for traction and head off. When I arrive, I’m not surprised to see that I’m the last one in.

Five hours sneak past me and I look up to find myself no longer surrounded by a team, but rather I am with only one other woman who has stuck out the day with me. I tell her to pack up and head home. I need a break and I’ll come back to finish.

One hour is all I can afford to see my husband before he goes to work for the evening. I plan to shower him with attention but by the time I walk in, my stomach is growling. I need lunch.

He makes me a lunch and patiently listens to my exhausted babble before sending me back to work to finish out my day. I hate to leave again but I go, knowing I have less than two hours to meet my deadline to ship; FedEx should have later pick-ups on Saturdays.

I get to work and the door doesn’t open. Locked as locked can be. I pull out my extra set of keys to trigger the unlock and remember I took the pass off during the week. It’s on my main set now so I can have them when I need them. But I took the Jeep today. A week too late.

A phone call and a few minutes later, Fred pulls up and hands off my keys, giving me a small pep talk before zooming off to work. I truly love that man.

Race the clock. One hour down. After losing so much time with my key debacle, I now have to cut my losses. I pack up the Jeep and head off to FedEx to make the 4pm delivery. On the way, I call Fred for reinforcement. He tells me to back and finish the job. Whether FedEx delivers or not, I’ll have done my part.

I know he’s right so I head back to work for the third time today. I let myself in and this time, I turn on the radio. Black Keys. I get into a rhythm and start to feel a little rush of energy now that my deadline’s blown. I go over the paperwork for the shipment carefully and, once convinced that I have everything in order, I head back to FedEx.

The woman smiles when she sees me. “You again?” she asks.

“Last one of the day.” I reply and turn to leave.

“Just in time.” she says. “They haven’t come yet.”

I, forty-five minutes past pick-up, make the deadline. The rush of relief is tangible – formed into tiny droplets that well-up under my eyes.

I hastily exit with a smile and tears on my face and take a deep breath of the cold air outside.

God is ever-present in our lives.

I don’t know how people can go through life denying His hand… He is there.

My heart is humbled and joyed on my ride home and my head is full of thankful prayers. It might seem simple, but it is the simple things that make up our days.

I turn into our apartment complex and see “reverse” lights coming toward me. She’ll see me. I’m driving a big, red Jeep. She has to see me.

I reach for the horn to tap a warning but the horn hasn’t worked in over a year. It’s not my car and I’ve wasted precious reaction time.

CRUNCH.

I look down my driver’s side window and see a hood dented up toward me. The driver drives back into her parking spot and I park on the opposite side. I open the door, expecting the worst.

The door swings freely and I shut it with no extra force. I look at the door. Then I look at the front. Then the back. Then I rub my hand along the side. I crouch down and look at different angles.

That car did hit my driver’s side, didn’t it?

I replay the collision in my head and I’m certain she back up into my driver’s side door.

At this time, she walks over. She’s young. She seems apologetic and admits that she didn’t see me. I continue to look at the car and ask her how she is. She was doing fine until now but I tell her my day had started poorly and that unexpected things happened to make it better.

“It’s weird.” I tell her. “I don’t see any damage on my car. I think this is another one of those good things.”

By this time, her mother has come out to join us. She asks what happens and her daughter explains the situation. Now all three of us are looking at the car. After some disbelief and relief, an offer to come over if I see anything later, and well-wishes, we part ways.

This is strange. Strange, but good. Strange because it is unexpected. And certainly from God. I am not deserving, but He loves me. And it won’t happen to me often (though it might), but He wants me to feel His love in my life.

I am loved.

I started my day with stress, regret, and guilt. After blowing my deadline, I started to struggle with the choice between husband and work while conflicted that the deadline wasn’t entirely my own to begin with.

I believe that God used the snow’s delay at FedEx to let me know that He values my relationship with my husband. To remind me that I am a hard worker and that I should find some peace in that, even if I miss a deadline. I believe that a car collision without damage or harm is a definite warning that the horn needs to be looked after – that God gives us the tools to be safe and that we need to empower ourselves to use them. I also believe it will be a warning for the young woman who backed into me – a “painless” lesson in the importance of staying alert.

I believe that today has been a very loud message from God to say nothing more than: “I am here. You are looked after.”

And that says it all.

Secrets Unhidden

I went nearly a full year without a roommate. In that year, I got to do many of the things that you or I would be too embarrassed to do openly with a roommate. Some of those things included:

  • Leaving food in the fridge longer than it needed to be left in the fridge out of sheer laziness.
    • This one backfired on me more than once. So you know, a carrot, left unattended, changes from solid to liquid. I’m not proud.
  • Going a day…or two…or three without showering.
    • A baseball cap is a magical accessory; of this, I am sure.
  • Collapsing into bed fully clothed, and fully sober, because I didn’t want to experience those few seconds of cold while putting on my pajamas.
  • Living room dance parties. Alone. With the lights dimmed so neighbors wouldn’t see my shadow as I tried to learn the moves to “Run the World” by Beyoncé.
  • Consuming a full pizza from Jets by myself and immediately disposing the evidence in the dumpster so I didn’t have to face my guilt the next day.
  • Laundry. Up to my ears.
    • Here’s a word of advice: If you’re looking at an apartment without a laundry room inside, stop.
  • Uncontrollable sobbing in response to the latest Grey’s Anatomy episode that lasted well beyond the end of the show.
  • Hours out of my day spent in my towel.
    • If you haven’t done this, you probably have a roommate. It’s advisable. But typically ends with an unplanned nap. I’m not sure why.
  • Beauty regimen…with the bathroom door open!

Anyway, it’s a short list but these are some of the things that I’ve shamefully enjoyed while living on my own.

Being married is like having a roommate…only that roommate isn’t across the hall while you shorten your hours of towel-wear into the 15 minutes just after your shower. (Oh, no. There’s no chance of that. He’s in the room with you!)

So you get out of the shower and you get dressed.

You may skip your morning shower but you’ll hurry to get in the shower when you return so you’re clean before he comes home from work.

You do not eat an entire pizza. Period. Because that’s never sexy.

You limit your Grey’s Anatomy tears to certain points in the show and pretend that you’re not devastated over Meredith and Derrick’s loss of their baby (she’s their baby!).

Long story short, there aren’t secrets here. My bad habits pile up like unattended laundry. They rack up like hours spent on Facebook when I’m not being watched (if I remember them correctly).

I’m exposed. Unhidden.

And part of me wishes to harbor my secret consumption of Sun Chips alone for dinner so badly that it’s almost comical. Like Gollum with his precious…and those of you who know my deep, deep-rooted fear of the Lord of the Rings character now realize how desperately I wish to keep my bad habits hidden!

You know what’s funny about marriage though?

He’s already caught me red-handed more than once. He might tease me or squeeze me when he sees just how bad I can be, but he loves me just the same.

Mourning Utilities with a Happy Heart.

Here’s the countdown, if you can believe it: I am 10 days away from marrying my best friend. At this point, I’ve surpassed the wedding jitters and just want to get on with the show, okay?! Next Saturday feels like miles away and we cannot wait to be married to each other!

It’s great, preparing to marry your companion. It’s exciting and fun and joyful. It doesn’t feel strange either. Looking up marriage license information doesn’t seem strange to me at all. Nor does calling to confirm appointments or putting on my wedding dress at the fitting. It’s not strange to pick up our keys to our new place. These things just aren’t strange to me!

But for whatever reason, today when I put a stop notice on my gas utility service for October 24, it flipped my stomach.

No more favorite little apartment.

No more coming home to my own space.

I will never go home to something that is just mine ever again.

Don’t get me wrong! Every night I come home to my little apartment now, I wish Freddy would come too. That’s why it is strange that I feel this ping that I’m leaving something behind. A heart tug over utilities?!?!?

I went to a church service once about change. (Well, to be fair, I’ve heard many sermons about change…but this one sticks out in my head.) I’m certain I’ve mentioned it before, but the idea behind it was that change is difficult for us. End of story. Be it bad, good, or great change – we must go through a season of mourning for whatever we leave behind in change.

So here I am, mourning my little apartment while at the same time decorating our new apartment in my mind, filling it with pictures and laughter and Freddy’s guitar playing and piano.

The whole thing is just an unexpected reminder that we, as people, struggle with change even when we yearn for it.

It’s a good lesson to come across with such a happy heart. Remind me of this later in life. I’m certain that I will need it!