Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shades and Shadows

Joy is the second fruit mentioned in Galatians 5:22 right after love, and maybe it's because they are the most important, but maybe it's because they are universally understood. You don't have to speak the same language or grow up in the same culture to understand an act of love or if someone is joyful. Joyful people smile and you don't need Rosetta Stone to translate a grin. For example, my grandpa either couldn't speak English or didn't care for it. Either way, he didn't communicate in anything but Spanish. I never understood anything he was saying except for "feo." He called us grand kids this so often that I had to ask. It means "ugly." Apparently it's a synonym for "good-looking" in Mexican culture. 

There are things in life that I think will make me joyful but don't. I also think I confuse happiness and joy. Joyful people are happy but not all happy people are joyful. I've been told joy is a state of being rather than a fleeting emotion and it was hard for me to understand this but once I saw it, I could experience it.

I remember riding a train into Paris, France having a conversation with Noah and noticing there was a lot of graffiti. The best part of traveling is realizing how naive you are. I thought Paris was this perfect city filled with beautiful sights, fame, and lots of tourists. And it is but it's also filled with the same stuff you can find right here in Albuquerque. Every city is someone's home and in every city, life happens. Graffiti happens. People like to litter, whether you're the home of the Isotopes or the Mona Lisa, it won't change the way people flick cigarette butts or gum wrappers.

Ever since that trip to Europe, I try to look at each city remembering that no matter what, people do people things in it. One of those "people doing people things" moments was when I was in Chicago. We were at Buckingham Fountain surrounded by this magnificent city. There was a man with two long poles and a bucket surrounded by children. He was dipping these poles into the bucket and letting the wind make these giant bubbles. The children were going crazy over them. They were by a $750,000 water show but they paid no attention to it and couldn't stop smiling at these bubbles that probably cost no more than $10. My mind wanders and I wonder what brought these kids here. Did their parents bring them here? Do they have both their mom and dad? And what about the man making bubbles? What is it in his life that motivates him to take time out of his life to make bubbles for kids for free? Where's his family? Does he do this for his grand kids? Does he have grand kids to make bubbles for? Based on my imperfect life, I'm imagining the kids' and this man's life aren't perfect either. That the bubble man has had plenty of bad days in his time and the kids will have their fair share soon enough. But in that moment, on that day, they chose to be happy. And I think that's joy. There's freedom in choosing to be happy, and that freedom leads to joy. Despite everything that could be bad in their lives, they chose to be happy and content playing with bubbles.

I don't think the world is as black and white as I'm led to believe. That I can't be happy in times of distress, that I can be sad or happy but not both. Anne Lamott puts it beautifully in her book, Bird by Bird.

"For instance, I used to think that paired opposites were a given, that love was the opposite of hate, right the opposite of wrong. But now I think we sometimes buy into these concepts because it is so much easier to embrace absolutes than suffer reality. I don't think anything is the opposite of love. Reality is unforgiving complex."

Life isn't black and white. It's every shade in between black and white. I don't think anything is the opposite of love either and I think you can be happy and sad at the same time but still be able to choose joy in the midst of it all. There's so much life to be lived in the gray areas of life because shades and shadows give life dimension, it makes things come to life.

My non-English speaking grandpa always seemed happy, no matter what. I remember hearing the story how he lost half his finger. He was working on a lawn mower while it was still on and lost most of his index finger and split his middle one. He drove himself to the hospital and afterwards stopped to get lotto tickets on the way home. He didn't let a few stitches change his daily life or the chances of him winning the jackpot. He never struck it rich but that didn't affect him either.   Black says when you lose a digit you should be upset or maybe pissed off. White says you don't need that finger, you have nine more. But the grey says life would be easier with ten fingers but you can choose to make the best of what you have. It's looking at life honestly and choosing to be happy.

Life would have been easier if my grandpa and I spoke the same language but we enjoyed each other's company anyways. It's almost better this way. Like Paris having graffiti. I think it makes this city more beautiful, it makes it real. There is no perfect and I can't always be happy just like the cities I want to visit won't be perfect. I shouldn't be surprised when places like Venice and Paris have vandalism or trash in their streets because they aren't immune to the impact humans have. I shouldn't be surprised when bad things happen in my life and that I'm not happy all the time. 

I guess what I'm saying is joy is a choice. We have the choice to let Jesus into our lives. We have the choice to walk in the Spirit and we have the choice to be joyful.

in His grip,


Tuesday, September 8, 2015


This weekend, I took a vacation. I went to see my dear friend Nicole and her husband in Southern California. Before I left, I told myself, "Sarah, you must take a break." So I only allowed myself to take two books to read for work/school. Haha.

But I did it! I rested, hiked, went to a baseball game, laid by the pool, walked on the beach, and enjoyed time with people I love. I came back to Albuquerque feeling refreshed and excited. Usually when I return from "vacations," I am grouchy and tired and annoyed. I asked myself this morning what the difference was between this trip and so many before it. The answer I've come to: it was actually a vacation.

Now "vacation" can mean several different things, but this is my favorite official definition of it: the action of leaving something one previously occupied. So in this instance, I physically left Albuquerque in order to occupy Fontana, California for several days. But maybe vacation is about much more than simply where my body is located. Maybe it's also about leaving the occupations of one's mind as well. I left the numerous tasks I could do over the weekend at home in order to be fully present with my friends. When I arrived home on Sunday, the tasks were still here, waiting for me, unspoiled, and my life was not in ruins because they hadn't been done yet. Imagine that! The world doesn't revolve around my productivity!

As I was reading the definitions of vacation to my roommate Bryn, she said something profound when I got to the definition above: "Wow! According to that I could go on vacation every day!" I never would've thought of it that way, but she's right. We can leave things for tomorrow. We can take a break even in our own homes and our own routines. Of course, I'm not championing shirking responsibility or a lack of follow-through, but I also think in our culture - and even (if not especially) in Christian culture - we celebrate the work-a-holic pace as successful and valuable. Efficiency and productivity is great...but at what cost?

Galatians 5:25 states, "If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit." This statement directly follows the list of the fruits - so through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we may keep in step with the Spirit. I have found the faster the pace of my life, the busier I am, and the less in step I am with the Spirit. Now maybe this only holds true for me which is fine. But let me tell you what I mean and what it has to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The more I try to cram into my life - under the guise of increased output and productivity - the less patience I have, the less joy, the less peace, the less kindness, etc. I get snappy and grouchy and annoyed and tired. Ask my roommates.


When I take a step back and complete the tasks that God sets before me while saying "no" (*gasp*) to a couple of well-intentioned projects that I really only would've completed to make myself look good...well, I find myself living more - even if only a bit more - in step with the Spirit. I've stepped out of a place I previously occupied in favor of a vacation, however brief, however small.

The fruits are all about balance - balancing out our selves in favor of the Spirit. And there's not just one fruit - there are nine. So what if our cultivation of these fruits, our walking in step with the Spirit, taught us about balance not only in character but also in lifestyle? What if we allowed ourselves to refresh and relax every so often, taking a break with the Lord to rebalance and ultimately allowing Him to direct the labor of our lives? My sneaking suspicion is that we would be more efficient and more productive. Why? Because one time Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed a multitude, and if that's not efficient (and miraculous!), I don't know what is.

So I'm going to try it. You can try it with me if you'd like. Or just tune in to see how it goes - we'll be here!

Happy Tuesday, friends!