Archive for December, 2009

Favorites of 2009

The annum is drawing to a close, and I am reflecting on the struggles and the blessings of the past year. I am so thankful for the people in my life, my health, my job, and the psychological, spiritual, and physical growth I’ve experienced this year. In reflection, there are some items that have improved my life, or that I’ve simply enjoyed having. These items were not necessarily created/published/invented in 2009, but I discovered them over the past year.

Books:

“The Path of Loneliness” by Elisabeth Elliot – Elliot has so many nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout her book. I have struggled with loneliness a great deal this year, and Elliot’s wisdom has helped me to understand my struggles as a gift from God. I think on a subconscious level, I believed my struggles were punishment, but that is not the truth. If I don’t have something, it is because I don’t need it, as God has promised that He will provide all I need (Phil 4:19).

“I Hate You; Don’t Leave Me” by Jerold Kreisman and Hal Straus – This book is fascinating to those who are interested in psychology. It helped me to understand Borderline Personality Disorder in general, as well as specific people in my life. (Disclaimer: I am a trained professional counselor; I do not advocate diagnoses by lay people, as erroneous labeling can be damaging.)

“Why is it Always about You?” by Sandy Hotchkiss – Hotchkiss explains more about narcissism, not just as a diagnosable personality disorder, but as a general character flaw. We all have narcissists in our lives, and this book helped me to better understand them. The bottom line: Stay away from Borderlines and Narcissists if at all possible.

Music:

Intimacy Remixed – This album by Bloc Party comprises my favorite music of 2009. Kele Okereke and his electronic-edged Brit punk band are talented and original. Their lyrics are amazing (so many artists use clichés and common metaphors, but Bloc Party writes original and extremely poetic lyrics). The music itself is very unique, dynamic, and complex. When I listen, I feel like I melt into the music and it flows through me, and I’m always a sucker for a good remix.

 

Home:

Charlie’s Soap Detergent – This laundry detergent has changed my life. It is inexpensive as compared with major brands of liquid detergent, and it is biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and free of dyes and perfumes. It works well on my athletic clothing, as well as my general daytime wear. I can no longer use regular detergent, as I cannot tolerate the artificial perfumes.

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein – I perform strength training and cardiovascular exercise every day. I broke my vegan diet about six months ago in order to cut down on the amount of soy I was consuming and to increase my protein intake. Within a few weeks, I lost a lot of water weight, and over the past several months, I have put on more muscle and gained in strength. Adding a few protein shakes a day has helped me meet my protein requirements and balance out my diet.

MAC Eye Shadow and Pigment – MAC Cosmetics has had a cult following for many years, but I just discovered why this year. MAC eye shadows and pigments are the best I have ever used: they are highly pigmented, blend easily, and they come in so many lovely shades. I get many compliments on my eyes from women when I wear MAC, although guys seem to prefer my face with less makeup. Once you go MAC, you will never go back.

 

Activities:

Crossfit – A few months ago, I added crossfit workouts to my strength training and cardio exercise at the gym. These varied, fast-paced workouts have helped me to get stronger and leaner. The fun Workouts of the Day, which are given women’s names, are fun and challenging. I enjoy the Fran workout, which involves completing a series of thrusters and pull-ups as quickly as possible.

Georgia Aquarium – My boyfriend, before he was my boyfriend, and before he knew I hated surprises, surprised me with a trip to the Georgia Aquarium for my birthday this year. It was amazing, and I loved seeing all the tanks filled with interesting fish. My favorite creatures were these little worm-like animals that were rooted in the sand, and I highly enjoyed the shark tank. I also loved touching the sting rays, and I wanted to steal one of the mini-sharks, but security is pretty tight at the Aquarium and they were watching me like a hawk.

Bodies Exhibit – I loved the Bodies exhibit at Atlantic Station. I am very interested in science, especially anatomy and physiology, and the Bodies Exhibit exceeded my expectations. Also, I went with one of my favorite people, who happens to be very knowledgeable about the human body and diseases, as he is a paramedic.

Bible verses:

Romans 8:1 – Romans continues to be my favorite book of the Bible, and Paul is my favorite author. Self-condemnation is an area of struggle for me, but Paul reminds me that I am free from condemnation now that I have a personal relationship with Christ.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Psalm 37:4 – The psalms are balm when experiencing times of turmoil and anxiety. God via David reminds us that He wants us to have the desires of our heart.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

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You Are What You Wear

Though I do not wish to have children, I often think about what kind of mom I would be. Of course, it is easy to idealize my parental attitudes and behaviors when I am merely hypothesizing. In practice, I’d probably be a basket case.

There are so many choices that parents make that drastically alter a child’s life. Do I perpetuate lies to my child year after year about Santa, the fictitious gent who advocates obesity and consumerism? Do I allow my child to consume artery-clogging, hormone-altering chick nugs and big macs for the sake of convenience? Do I sacrifice my time, identity in the workforce, and energy in order to home school my children, granting them a superior education vis a vis the public school system?

Most notably is the question of what my child would wear. Do I impart style or frugality? Appearance is everything in our culture, so do I teach my child to use the system to his or her advantage, or to rebel against it?

I am an advocate of allowing children to make their own age-appropriate choices in order to foster independence, creativity, and critical thinking skills. I like the idea of allowing my child to choose his or her own outfits and ensembles. Yet, I would still be the parent purchasing the clothing. Would I help cultivate my child’s sense of style?

Just as there are websites dedicated to fashion, to my horror, I discovered a website dedicated to fashionable babies. I do not know whether to be amused or appalled.

Douglas Fir Fields Forever


As I was waiting to check out at the grocery store a few days ago, I overheard the woman in front of me complaining to the cashier that no one seemed to be smiling. The woman wondered why, just days before a festive holiday such as Christmas, everyone seemed grumpy and impatient. The cashier, who was simply trying to make it through the day, wearily attempted to engage in the conversation. The cashier agreed and replied, “I almost wore my Christmas earrings today. I have some dangling Santas and Christmas trees.”

I immediately piped up. “You ARE wearing Christmas earrings,” I noted. She was wearing gold crosses in her earlobes. You could see the realization slowly dawning across her face as she thought about that.

Just today as I was checking out, another cashier at a different store asked me if I was ready for Christmas. I thought of Jesus, the Christmas Eve services that I am looking forward to attending, and time with my family and boyfriend that I will enjoy, and I replied in the affirmative. I then politely returned the question, and she began telling me how she had all her Christmas shopping done, though she had not wrapped any presents yet. She expounded on her debt and stress over Christmas, but concluded by saying, “It will be worth it to see the looks on my grandkids’ faces when they open their presents.”

It struck me that the focus of Christmas to this woman is shopping and the (albeit empty and meaningless) fulfillment of young ones via material things.

Why does the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?” mean in our society, “Have you finished your shopping?” I find the question and its implied intent odd, and it gives me pause. The natural small talk of our society around this holy-day centers not on God’s amazing and profound love for us, and the sacrifice of His precious son for a wretch like me. It seems to be centered on consumerism, materialism, and false happiness.

As you may know, I protest consumerism and do not buy gifts for anyone for Christmas. I also do not watch television, in part because advertising and commercials pollute my mental environment. While watching television, we are bombarded with messages that essentially persuade us that stuff will make us happy. If we buy the right car/beer/diet pills, we will be comfortable, we will be attractive, we will meet the right woman, and we will be perceived as successful.

God makes a lot of promises to us. But a life of comfort, attractiveness, love, and success are not on His list. And certainly no earthly things will satisfy us. God says to us through Matthew,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Fulfillment, love, joy, and peace are found in Christ alone. And what better time to thank God for Himself than at Christmas time, the time when He sent his son to live and die on our behalf? After all, Christmas is still Christmas without presents and a tree. But without Christ, it’s just -mas.

Loneliness


Do you ever look into a person’s eyes when (s)he thinks no one is watching? What do you see? At times, I forget that we are all living lives of quiet desperation, and that most of us are simply trying to make it through the day. At times, I feel like I am the only one experiencing the pain of loneliness.

I work at a church, and many times, people are honest about sin as a philosophical concept, but not necessarily open about their sin as an ugly, unctuous reality. We talk about it intellectually, and we can confess our respectable sins, like struggle with lust, tithing, or reading our Bibles, but we do not admit our deep and loathsome struggles. We engage in hypothetical dialogue, but we do not feel safe sharing the lacerations of our heart, the wounds of our humanity.

I have been thinking a lot about loneliness recently. I have struggled with a deep sense of loneliness for a long time, sometimes a dull ache in the back of my throat, and other times a poignant pang in the center my chest.

For quite a while, I have assumed that my loneliness is a sin problem. I know intellectually that God is all I need. If I feel lonely, it is because I do not trust Him enough. I often believe, somewhat subconsciously, that I am feeling lonely because of the choices I make. I seek comfort, control, power, and approval from sources other than God. And as one consequence of those idols, I struggle emotionally. The loneliness I feel is my fault, I think to myself. It is a result of my sinful heart.

But I have been reading “The Path of Loneliness,” by Elisabeth Elliott, and she avers that loneliness and struggle are “gifts” from God. He knows everything about me, and He knows what will happen, and He may allow seasons of struggle and feelings of loneliness for a purpose. Everything I experience is part of the sanctification process. Elliott’s words gave me pause, because what I thought was my sin may be God’s gift to me; it may be His bidding.

The loneliness I feel comes from three sources. In a general sense, I feel existential loneliness as a result of The Fall, Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, where we lost our glory and perfect relationship with God. We all experience what Irvin Yalom calls existential isolation, as no one can know us completely or meet all our needs. More specifically, I feel loneliness as a result of circumstances that I did not choose, such as the lack of emotional connectedness in my family of origin and my general temperament. I also feel loneliness because of my own sinful heart, because of the choices I make and because I do not turn to God to meet my needs. Rather, I take matters into my own hands and try to fix my issues in my own strength, rather than seeking God.

It has occurred to me that the real issue is not so much the loneliness I am feeling, but it is the self-condemnation. I have been condemning myself for my struggles. Why am I so hard on myself? Romans 8:1 tells me that I am free from condemnation. Whether my struggle comes from my own choices or circumstances beyond my control, God forgives me. Completely. I am free.

A friend reminded me that Satan has no power unless God grants it. While I am still responsible for my sin, God allows it and ultimately uses all things for good (Romans 8:28). God gives Satan whatever power he has. For instance, in Job 1:8, it is God who suggests Job to Satan. So even in my transgressions, God is present, orchestrating all things with His mighty hand.

Tim Keller says that humility is not thinking less of oneself, it is thinking of oneself less. I realize now that I have been worrying too much about what I am doing or not doing. I have been self-focused. The condemnation I have felt is about me, not God.

Most likely, my loneliness is a combination both of my own sinful heart and God’s doing. Part of the answer is to focus on God in prayer and petition rather than dwelling within myself. I am unable to do anything in my own strength; it is God who gives me strength, and I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Phil. 4:13).