Permission to Study

As someone with a degree in English, I am familiar with analyzing texts and the practices and theories that go with that. As a Christian, I know what it’s like to have something sacred. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with reading practices for my sacred text of the Bible. I have read passages, felt like it spoke to me, looked at the footnotes, navigated to some related passages, and moved forward. I didn’t know how to go any deeper.

And that’s why I’m thankful for my favorite podcast: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.

You might be asking, “how does a podcast about Harry Potter help you to read the Bible?” It may seem counterintuitive. But these two Harvard Divinity School graduates walk through each chapter of each book (so far, we are on Order of the Phoenix) in a specific theme and use sacred reading practices to analyze the text. In essence, this is what I did in college. And, since I did a few papers on the Harry Potter series, I’m familiar with analyzing the messages and symbols in the books. But for some reason, I never thought to apply those same practices to reading my Bible.

I always had this perception that using study methods on the Bible was wrong, but the more I’ve listened to the podcast and done Bible studies, I realized something: how can I begin to further understand something if I don’t study it. It may sound odd, but its almost like the podcast gave me permission to study what I love. Ya know what I mean? And it’s for that I’m grateful.

I may not always agree with everything in the podcast, but that’s the beauty of not only these types of endeavors, but also of textual analysis: each interpreter can see something different, the text can speak to them differently, and each person has their own opinions and ideas on what they encounter. It doesn’t mean anyone is wrong. What is important is that you are exposing yourself to new, and sometimes different, ideas and figuring out your thoughts through it all. What’s important is that you are learning.

I’m thankful that I learn things every day. I’m thankful that I can learn valuable lessons from something that could be seen as simply entertainment. And I am thankful that there are people who take the risk to analyze pop culture in unique ways and share that adventure with others.

 

Trust & Intuition

I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.

Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.

We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)

She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.

Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.

She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.

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Belle

. . . . . .

On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.

The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.

We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.

“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.

“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.

I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”

But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.

“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.

“Sure,” I told him, smiling.

Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.

As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.

. . . . . .

In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.

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Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.

 

Math Lessons

My dad is really good at math. Like can-do-it-in-his-head good. And of course he is–he’s an engineer. I, on the other hand, am not cut out for the subject. And it shows when I have to calculate grades.

When I was little, daddy would try to help me with my math homework. It usually didn’t turn out too well. I didn’t understand the material so I would get really frustrated, and then he would get frustrated with me because he didn’t understand why didn’t understand. But there’s one particular homework that I still remember.

In elementary school, every class would learn to count to 100 and then we would throw a big party. Well, of course, after we learn to count to 100 we continue on. I had brought home this homework, moving on from just 100, but little me couldn’t wrap my head around what came after 100. To me, it was 200. My logic was simple for a child: 2 is after 1, so 200 must come after 100.

My dad kept asking me: “what comes after one?”

“Two!” I would yell.

His response: “No.”

And I just kept repeating that 1 does come after 2. At some point, I ended up beginning to cry, and I stomped up to my room and curled on my bed. My mom explained to my dad that I didn’t understand what he was asking because my logic was different.

Honestly, I don’t remember what happened in between, but I remember daddy coming up to my room and the lightbulb eventually going off in my head.

. . . . . .

I passed a sticker on a truck today for the 101st Airborne and, though a particular person passed through my mind first (for unrelated reasons, really), this instance of doing math with my dad followed quickly. And for some reason I just thought: “if he had said what comes after zero, maybe I would have understood it quicker.”

My point is that we all see things in this world differently. We come to our conclusions in different ways. Sometimes we can take a “shortcut,” and sometimes we can’t. Because we all have different ways of understanding, it means we have to be patient with others when they don’t see things the way we do or understand things as quickly as we might.

I recently wrote a post about how we cannot place our expectations on someone else. This is similar–we cannot expect others to comprehend or process in the same manner, or even the same pace, as we might.

Sometimes–like in the above instance with my dad–we need to walk away from the situation, take a breather, and then come at it from a different angle. It may take time to come to a solution. What’s important is that you are eventually on the same page. It doesn’t necessarily matter how you get there.

Daddy has taught me a lot of lessons, and he may not even know it. Heck, I didn’t even realize this was a lesson until this afternoon. And then it hit me. He may not have meant to do it, but he taught me something that resounds through the years.

. . . . . .

I don’t know why this came to me so suddenly today or why it resonated with me so much. I do feel, though, that it came at this time for a reason. This knowledge wouldn’t have served me well as a child because I wouldn’t have understood it, and it wouldn’t have been relevant even a year ago because I hadn’t grown in the way I have now.

Maybe it came to me now because God has a plan for it.

And that’s the thing: God has solutions for every problem we encounter. But sometimes we are too busy yelling “logic” and “reasoning” and “reality” at Him to really hear what He is trying to tell us.

Maybe what He is telling me now is to be patient and start simple. And for once in my life, I am content with that solution.

“There are all kinds of courage”

“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Albus Dumbledore

As you know, this year has been rough. It didn’t start off that way, and I didn’t anticipate that it would be, and yet…well, here I am. With the new year quickly approaching, I have been reminiscing. While it is, of course, sometimes quite painful, I have begun to see that I have choices. I have a freedom I didn’t see before, and I accept that.

This hardship has given me an opportunity to learn about myself and to accept myself in ways I maybe didn’t before.

My mom insisted I open my presents on Christmas Eve, as we were leaving Christmas Day for Orlando. She told me I had to specifically open a large, rectangular package. As I sat on the floor, drink next to me, and opened this box, I began to realize what she had gotten me and why she wanted me to open it before we left. Lifting the cardboard lid, I pulled out replica Hufflepuff robes. I bounced up and down, hugged her, and cried my thanks. Literally, I think there were tears in my eyes.

Maybe it was wearing the robes and being able to represent my house. Maybe it was using the interactive wand and watching the scenes in shop windows move. It all felt more magical this time.

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I think, though, the reason it felt that way was because I allowed myself to be more…well, myself. I was excited. I was having fun. My mind wasn’t whirring with what ifs or trying to connect dots that don’t make sense. I didn’t feel like I was being judged by anyone, even when my mom and I went to the hotel’s rum bar for drinks and the bartender simply said “You know, I don’t see a lot of Hufflepuffs.” For once, I simply took it as a comment on my t-shirt, without a hidden meaning of a passed judgement.

As the new year fast approaches, I have begun to make my own type of resolutions. The biggest being:

  1. I am going to stop trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense
  2. I am going to be unapologetically me

and

  1. I am going to make plans I want to make

It’s been on my mind for a while—years, actually—but, for some reason, my most recent visit back to Diagon Alley sparked my desire to begin planning a trip to England. I texted a close friend of mine to see if she’d be interested in joining me, and, to my surprise, she said yes. We haven’t even hammered out actual dates, but just the simple idea of getting to plan such an adventure with a friend got me really excited. I don’t think I’ve come down from the high yet.

For me, this is huge. A few months ago, I could barely fathom planning a semester. The key here is planning things I want to plan, things that bring me joy. Yes, I still have to plan for my courses, but this makes it easier somehow.

I still don’t know what will happen this year, but I know it is through God that I am beginning to have some sense of clarity and patience. It is only thanks to God that I have seen I have choices, too, and I can stand by what I believe. It is only through God I have the strength I have.

As it is a holiday weekend, of course there is a Harry Potter marathon on TV. (I swear this particular station plays a Harry Potter marathon for everything.) As I’m still on my “Harry Potter high,” I’m eagerly watching as much as I can.

At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Luna gives us some wisdom: “things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

As I said, I have realized I have choices. So, this coming year, I am choosing to take Luna’s outlook. The alternative is depressing.

I don’t know what this choosing says about me. That I am a true Hufflepuff, “patient, true, and loyal”? That I have more faith than I thought? That I am stronger than I think? It tells me I have more power than I thought I did. It tells me I am growing. And that is a pretty decent way to start a new year, if you ask me.

As Dumbledore tells us: “There are all kinds of courage.”

Responding to the Conscience

Seven months ago, I packed up our three animals, my clothes, and anything I might need for six to eight months and drove away from our apartment in Arizona to Maryland for a job. This was the only solid job offer I had received in six months, and we were against the wall financially.

I tearfully hugged my husband, and I could see the emotion in his eyes, too.

As I drove out of the four feet of snow, my heart started hammering wildly, more tears sprung to my eyes, and I started to have trouble breathing. My mom, who had traveled from Maryland to help with this move, asked if I wanted her to drive.

I sniffed, shook my head, and gripped my steering wheel. But I glanced in the rearview, and when I did, I heard a murmuring in my head: why are you doing this? Don’t go.

Crying, I kept driving. Because I didn’t feel like we had a choice; it was take this job to help support our family or hate each other because he would be the only one working.

. . . . . . 

When was the last time you had a twinge of conscience? How did you respond to it?

This question was asked by one the blogs I follow, one of my favorite blogs actually. While I could have responded as a simple comment on the post itself, I felt compelled to create a post of my own about feeling the twinge of conscience. Because our stories are our testimonies.

I responded poorly. And I’ve never told anyone.

. . . . . .

The entire move, I couldn’t help but feel I had done something wrong. A gentle whisper pervaded my thoughts: don’t do this; turn around. The logic part of my brain, though, the part that handles finances and planning, was shouting at me: what are you going to do otherwise?!

Looking back, I now feel that small, gentle whisper was God telling me I was not doing what He had asked of me.

As the months progressed, things got worse. Tears became frequent, practically nightly. My heart ached (and still does). I began to see things in a different light. I was no longer excited for the opportunity; instead, I was miserable.

But I never told anyone I was miserable. I feigned happiness day in and day out. Because I felt if I let people know I wasn’t happy, I was showing weakness. If I let them know I felt I hadn’t made the right choice, I would be scolded.

In the months since, I have learned not to care what others think of my choices. I should not concern myself with what others think of my mindset or my aspirations. What matters is if I am doing what I have been called to do.

. . . . . .

I mentioned I was going to begin a fast. Week one did not go as planned, and I beat myself up for every mistake, as I am prone to do. I grabbed a cookie or two one night; I ate a few M&Ms at work out of sheer boredom. I decided the pre-packaged frozen chocolate covered fruit we have is acceptable since it curbs sweets cravings, but I realize that’s not staying true to fasting desserts.

But I have heard another gentle whisper on my heart during this time, so maybe I’m not doing everything entirely wrong.

This whisper has told me to “fast” complaining.

I realized I have complained about what I am unhappy about, what I don’t like, and just things in general. I am feeling angry all the time again, and that’s not a healthy state to be in.

Instead of complaining about my day or what I struggle with, I am going to change it to thanking God for another day and another opportunity. Instead of complaining out loud, I am going to give those concerns and frustrations to God, whether that means openly praying them during my prayer time or writing them in my journal as they arise. Either way, I am going to release them because, otherwise, they just poison my attitude.

. . . . . .

When I complain, I can feel a nudge of stop doing that. But, as we all know, once we begin complaining, it can be difficult to stop. But I know that nudge is my conscience, or God, telling me to stop and re-examine before I continue to speak.

This time I am going to respond better.

This whole experience has showed me that I have been self-centered in the past. I have been able to see that I gave up gifts I had been given to pursue things the world told me to pursue, because the world told me those things were necessary.

I am writing more now. I found avenues to publish material to get my content out there. I have reconstructed my blog to reflect my writing aspirations. (I hope you like it. Let me know!) I am actively working on writing pieces I had put away for years because I was told, not by friends or family or my husband but by society, that it would never matter because no one would ever care.

We all make mistakes. We all do things we shouldn’t have done. We all get off the path at some point. We don’t always listen to our conscience’s whispers to us. What matters, though, is that we eventually do.

I am choosing to actively listen.

. . . . . .

When was a time you didn’t listen to your conscience? What did you learn from that experience? What are the steps you took to change it?

Making Mistakes

Today was the first day in a few weeks I broke down in tears and fell on my knees, literally crying out to God.

Even though this past weekend was enjoyable as we spent time on the beach in Delaware and I watched Belle frolic in the ocean for the first time, I could feel something bubble up, just beneath the surface. I could feel it in the way I had trouble focusing on anything other than Belle, in the way I couldn’t control checking my phone though I knew there was no reason to, and in the way I could barely finish a thought without a heavy mental sigh. Another episode.

I missed my therapy appointment last week because of our trip to Delaware. I thought I’d be okay for a week, but I guess I didn’t realize how much therapy is helping me.

I left work early today, explaining I “don’t feel well,” that I’m “taking it one day at a time,” and requested to work from home the rest of the week in hopes it will help me recoup some of myself. I don’t know if it will.

Honestly, the only thing I know to do at this point is cry out to God.

A few days ago, I woke up with this idea in my head: we can acknowledge we made a mistake without dismissing that we learned from it. As the day wore on (and I do mean wore on), I began to wonder if it was God trying to speak to me.

For weeks, I’ve been told by (some) family members not to view past decisions as mistakes. But why not? These people seem to think I’m somehow dismissing that I’ve learned from the mistake. I promise you, I’m not. I just learned the hard way. But the fact of the matter is I did make a mistake. If I don’t admit it, if I don’t say it out loud, if I don’t own up to it, then nothing can ever change.

I made a mistake.

Now all I can do is thank God for letting me learn, for not forsaking me, even in the midst of my mistakes, and for keeping His promises, even if I cannot see them yet.

Since my positivity challenge ended, I’ve struggled to write. It goes back to feeling I have nothing to write about, nothing that anyone else would care about.

But that is the enemy speaking.

I know that because one of the comments the Editor wrote on my draft of my final publication for the positivity challenge was telling me that she followed each of the posts and that I have inspired others to challenge themselves. And what better praise could an aspiring writer get than to hear you’ve inspired others?

So, yes, I made a mistake. But already God has kept a promise to me, and He has used that mistake to turn me back to a gift He blessed me with.

After falling on my knees, and with tears still streaming down my face, I took a nap. (Because when I’m depressed, I sleep a lot.) I slept longer than I meant to, but when I woke up, I felt a little better. Maybe not 100%, because that will come in time, but a little. My tears had stopped at least. But in that tearful crying out, I felt close to God. In the admitting of making a mistake, in admitting to trusting in my own will above His, I felt relief.

I hope I can encourage you. If you made a mistake, cry out to Him. It doesn’t make you weak. It brings peace, relief, and new insight. It is in those moments, when you give yourself entirely to Him, that He will speak to you.

Day 13: Help My Unbelief

How did it go?

Hazy is one word to describe today.

I just felt as if I was existing in a constant haze. I couldn’t focus for the longest time. When I finally did, at least, I got a project done that I didn’t think I would get done today. I was proud of myself in that moment.

I managed to listen to the most recent Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast episode, which was great. It served as a good “distraction” for my spiraling mind on my commute.

I also listened to TED Radio Hour’s episode Prevention. But I’m going to have to re-listen because I started working on my project as this episode was finishing, so I didn’t get to really catch all of it. What I did catch, though, was really good. The only problem was it begins with the concept that stress would be less stressful if we planned for it. I beg to differ on that. I’m a planner, but that planning has gotten me into chaos in life. Plus, thinking about all that planning, and all the “if this happens, then…” scenarios, makes my head spin, which ends up causing anxiety. Maybe, though, what he is suggesting is a healthy balance of planning. Maybe that’s what I missed.

Because of the haze of today, though, my day seemed to go by pretty quickly. Before I knew it, I was picking up Belle from “dog daycamp” and bringing her home, which is, of course, always the best part of my day.

What did I learn?

 Well, I tried setting a timer for myself every 90 minutes to check in with myself. I was trying to hold myself accountable that for those 90 minutes I remained focus on whatever task I was working on.

Then I decreased it to every 60.

After the third time trying, I quit.

And I’m so upset with myself that I did!

But I began to get frustrated. I found I had the same thoughts every time I would “check in”. What’s the point of checking in with yourself if nothing new is happening!?

As I settled down in the evening, though, I realized checking in with myself wasn’t about getting immediate change in my attitude or thoughts. Instead, it was about knowing where my thoughts were that could distract me and writing them down, releasing them to God so I no longer held on to them.

I learned that boredom frustrates me and actually causes me a bit of anxiety.

I also learned I associate God and prayer with instant gratification. And that is no way to have faith. Because, as the Bible study I am currently working through has reminded me, we are put in desert seasons for a reason: God is trying to work on us, humble us, shape us into who He needs us to be before we can continue on.

Even the Christian podcast I listen to reminds us that we need to trust in God’s timing, that He must work on us before we can receive anything He has in store for us.

So, I’m going to try that checking in process again. Sure, maybe I’ll start low—maybe at 30 minutes—just so I feel accomplished when I do it. But I’ll bet as I keep working—as I keep holding myself accountable, as I keep humbling myself to Him, and as I keep searching for Him—I will see God move in miraculous ways.

Sometimes just a little hope, just a little belief, is what gets you through.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24