Friday, December 31, 2010


"I think we should just be friends." Those words have always loomed as a guillotine to any romantic interest. Their weight has crushed many hopeful hearts. They're meant to soften the punch, but they always feel like the kiss of Judas. Just friends? That's it? Well, I have more than enough friends, just look at my Facebook page! But at second glance, I'm beginning to see that I've underestimated the value of friendship in the realm of romance. I've always segregated the two. Now that I think about it, I'm quite the dunce, after all she is called a girlfriend.

I've heard many people say that you should marry your bestfriend. I realize now that my perspective on love had always been so unrealistic and immature that that sage advice never made sense to me. But now I actually believe it. Micheal W. Smitty was right when he sang those ol' campy words "Friends are friends forever if the Lord's the Lord of them." Romance comes and goes, but friendship remains. In 2 Samuel, David said of Jonathan "Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women." Apparently, what David had with Jonathan and didn't have with women was a deep friendship. Yet, I think it is possible to have that kind of friendship in a marriage.

As I'm trying to decide what kind of a person I should marry, what I'm really doing is deciding on what kind of a friend I want to have for the rest of my life. I now realize that the qualities that I look for in a friend are very similar to what I am looking for in a wife. I think that he who finds a true friend finds a good thing. So the question is what is a true friend? I think that wedding vows mirror the covenant of a true friendship--"for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part." A true friendship is unconditional. A sincere friend will love you through your insanity, your failure, your crap. When your world falls apart they will help you put it back together. You can lay down your armor around your friends and know that you're safe. You share a language of unmasked honesty. A good friend is a vault for your secrets, and will go to battle for you when anyone speaks ill of you. A real friend enjoys your God-given personality, quirks and all, and they won't try to change you into someone else. They believe in you, they invest in you. You are on a journey together and will never leave the other behind, come what may. You will both fight for the friendship as if you are fighting for your very lives. You will wrong each other and you will forgive gratuitously because the friendship is more important than being in the right.

I now realize that venturing further into friendship is to be on my way to sublime love. Jesus said "No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for a friend." That's as good as it gets, finding someone who will die for you, and you for them. In hindsight, I've known a lot of people, but I've had few real friends. Some friendships aren't really friendships, some "friends" just take and take and they'll stick around as long as you give them what they want, or be who they need you to be. Oddly enough, it is very possible to build a relationship on selfishness, where there is an unspoken agreement that if certain conditions aren't met then love will be withheld. But that's not love, and that's not friendship. Anyway, I hope to marry a real friend. Or rather, I hope to be a real friend to her. It goes both ways. As the ancient proverb says "He who desires friends must himself be friendly."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What Is The Point of Marriage?

Our generation's version of love is broken. The well is poisoned and we all keep drinking from it. When something like marriage is working less than half the time, it is in need of more than minor adjustments. As a culture, this calls for a massive, messy gutting. This calls for a complete reprogramming in the way we understand love and relationships. If we stubbornly keep venturing farther down the same road then we are going to get the same results, it'll just get worse.

It's odd to me that most married couples seem to gauge the success of their marriage simply based on how many years they've been married. Each anniversary is another gold star. If they've been married 30 years, then it's considered a success by most standards and everybody claps. But to us singles, it always sounds like they're riding a mechanical bull, and that it's all about how long you can stay on. Apparently, you're supposed to get married and then just hang on for dear life as you're whipped around and whoever stays on the longest wins. At least that's the impression I'm left with. And when that's my impression, it makes me wonder if I really want all that added turbulence in my life, it sounds nauseating. Afterall, marriage is not a command, it is an option according to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. Some people portray marriage as if it is a trial that you volunteer for. They speak of marriage as if it is God's instrument of torture to make you a better person. However, I'm not convinced that that was God's intent. If that's the case then it seems like some sort of nasty prank. I always thought it was supposed to be a blessing. Nevertheless, life presents plenty of character-building trials whether or not you're married.

I wonder if marriages are failing because many are unclear about the point of marriage. If we don't know the vision, then we don't know the goal, and we have no reference for success. And at that point, we reduce marital accomplishment to the number of years a couple stays married. Once again, we only consider a marriage to be a failure if divorce happens. And again, that criteria seems funny to me because we wouldn't evaluate the excellence of someone's life simply based on how long they managed to stay alive. To be fair, relationships are difficult to assess on paper. We like our numeric systems. And so we measure relationships using years as a unit. That way we can put in into Excel and add it up and graph it.

Be that as it may, this brings me back to my initial question: What is the point of marriage? I have some thoughts of my own, but I want to leave it up for discussion. . .what do you think? Is it to help us understand Jesus's love and commitment toward the church? Is it to help us serve God better? Is the point to have sex and "be fruitful and multiply?" Is it to make us happy? Is it a self-improvement method? Is there something else to it? In addition to my first question, what do you think God deems as a good marriage?

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Do You Think?

Last night, a group of us were talking about dating and marriage. It's always a topic where everyone has something to offer and something to learn. I learned that a girl wants a guy to tell her right away if he is at all interested in her. That was news to me, I guess I always thought that I had to have my feelings clearly defined and my intentions mapped out before having that talk. But apparently I was wrong.

It's curious to me that even though dating and marriage are such a big deal, God didn't give us a whole lot of instructions about the whole thing. There is so much left to the imagination, so many questions unanswered, so much room for so many mistakes. We are like children playing with sharp objects. How do you know who's right for you? Is there one right person for you? How do you know if you're in love? What's the right way to go about dating? What's the difference between "pursuing" someone and stalking someone? Most people have passionate opinions about all of this, and its difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Recently, something shifted in my heart and I think it's good. Something settled. It dawned on me that I've been looking for someone that doesn't exist. This whole time I've been looking for a girl who's perfect. I've never met her and I never will because nobody's perfect. And the more I think about it, it would be a terrible idea to marry someone who's perfect because it would make me feel like the beast in the relationship. And why should I expect that other person to be perfect when I'm not even close? I've realized that I've had a double standard. It's actually quite selfish, come to think of it.

Anyway, rather than killing the romantic inside me, I'm forcing him to look long and hard at the real world. It seems like we've bought into the idea that being "in love" is initially the most important thing for developing a satisfying relationship. But I'm beginning to question that whole concept. I'm not sure that it's real. What if falling in love is not like winning the lottery or being struck by lightning? What if falling in love really is a choice? What if it is something that you invest in and work at and master?

We live in a culture where we think we are always the victims and we are always shifting the blame. Especially when it comes to love and relationships. We see love as something that happens to us. And so we wait for the day when the stars align and we are kissed by a love that wakes us from our slumber. But maybe it's within reach, maybe it's not somewhere out there but maybe it's within us. Maybe it's not something that you wait for, but maybe it's something that you work toward. And maybe it has less to do with the other person than we think. It's funny how each one of us think that we are the main character in our love story, and we just assume that the other person will be glad to play a supporting role. It's interesting how celebrity marriages don't look all that different than normal marriages. Everyone's got a celebrity complex in some way.

These days I try to imagine myself married to this or that girl. God sometimes gives me a glimpse of a possible future. But often times it's not too far removed from the present. It seems that the present is a peephole to the future. In the realm of relationships, I take a close look at my friendship with a particular girl. If there is frustration or confusion or drama in the friendship right now, then that will most certainly be a liability in a future marriage. It's not anything that we couldn't work out but it's just good to be aware of those things beforehand so that I know what I'm getting myself into. On the other hand, if there are special blessings about our friendship right now, then those would also carry over into our marriage.

I've been weighing which is more valuable, peace or passion in a relationship. Peace in the midst of all this chaos is so beautiful it's haunting. When there is peace, you just know that God is there, the One who calms storms and silences demons. I think if I had to choose between peace and passion then I would choose peace in a relationship. Maybe that's not a popular choice, but I've never really trusted the majority vote. Not that I don't want passion, I do. But feverish passion has never been a reliable compass for me. For me, the peace of God has always fullfilled its promises. It seems like all the good marriages have lots of peace and all the bad ones have lots of passion. Often, what begins as a swooning blaze ends up burning down the house. I've never heard of peace doing any damage. For the record, I love passion and I consider myself to be passionate. Actually passion comes easy for me. But peace is something that is harder to come by, and that's why I want it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Wait or to Date? That is the question

I'm always surprised to find out who reads these crazy blogs. It includes everyone from those who are single to those who are married to those who are divorced to those who are well-acqainted with the status of "It's complicated." I've also recently learned that I have readers from Japan, Indonesia, and Brazil. So apparently I've gone international, but I won't let myself get a big head, mainly because I still want to fit into my favorite hat. It's a good hat. One time I was driving down the freeway and it blew out of the window. So I pulled over and played Frogger with the high-speed traffic in order to retrieve it. I also think it's funny when my friends tell me not to include our conversations about love in my blogs. They fear the power of the blog, and rightly so.

Anyway, we all have something in common. That is love. What we also have in common is that we are all wide-eyed students when it comes to love. It's something we yearn for and yet we are never quite sure exactly what it is. We are all discovering love. Most of us know that we want love, and yet since we don't fully know what it is then we don't know what it is that we want. The problem is that love gets bigger as you get closer to it. There are no experts, except for God. I think I would have to be God in order to understand love. An attempt to define love is an attempt to define God. You can't do it.

I know so many singles who are praying for a relationship. It's fascinating how we singles are the answer to our own prayer. If we all just paired off then the problem would be solved. But I know that it's more tangled than that, because we all have been taught that there is only one right person for us somewhere. I'm not sure where we got this information, probably from Disney, and we all seem to believe it. And so we wait and wait and wait. Someone is waiting for me and I am waiting for her. We are simply trying to find each other, as if we are in a pool full of people playing "Marco Polo" but everyone is calling out "Marco!" and nobody is saying "Polo!" Waiting has replaced dating. We wait for our Eve, we wait for our Adam. It seems a little less than fair that Adam and Eve were perfect and sinless, and really they didn't have any other dating options at the moment. What an easy decision! It was a classic case of Adam looking at Eve and saying "Me Tarzan, you Jane." But we continue to hear the horror stories about marriage and how catastrophic it is when two people are wrong for each other, and so we wait and wait and wait. Everyone is telling us to wait, but they don't really tell us what we are waiting for and so we wait and wait and wait. At the end of the day it feels as if you've been stood up by a stranger. It feels like waiting for a bus that you don't know the number of, and you don't know where it's going, but somehow you're supposed to know it when you see it and get on before the doors shut. And the buses just keep huffing by as you wait. There are those of us who feel like we've waited this long, so why not wait a little longer? Just in case. And so we wait and wait and wait.

It sounds like I'm chiding waiting, but I'm really not. It is a Biblical concept to wait on God and it an extremely wise thing to do, especially when it comes to marriage. I'm simply commiserating. But it does seem like anything that God calls us to is ultimately a step of faith and obedience and the conditions are never perfect, it's always a bit risky. With God, our obedience is not to be based on ideal conditions but on our trust in Him. And so I just want to challenge my readers as I am being challenged to yield my demands and ideals to the Lord and ask Him "Who do you want me to be waiting for? I trust You."

We are a generation that has grown up in very safe conditions, for the most part. Our culture has mastered the art of safe with all of its safety precautions. We are accustomed to the predictable, and the unknown seems to be off limits. Sometimes, I wonder if we're losing our sense of daring adventure. Somewhere deep within us there are primal instincts that only awaken to the occasion of danger and risk. Relationships are highly explosive and are to be handled with the utmost care. Dating will never be safe. All that passion and all those dreams colliding can do much harm or much good. But again, eventually it will involve a step of faith. And God will be the one calling out "Polo!" We find our Eve or Adam by seeking God. So we are not waiting as much as we are seeking. It is not idle time but an active pursuit of our First Love.

Friday, October 29, 2010

1 + 1

I know that life will change when I get married, but there are many things that I currently do that I will still be doing even when I'm married. For instance, right now I'm at Noah's Bagels drinking coffee and eating a bagel and stalking friends on Facebook. I think I would still be doing this even if I was married and my bagel would taste just as good. The only thing that might be different is that I would probably also be swapping texts with my wife, with lots of smiley faces and romantic innuendos and making plans and such.

I do look forward to the day when I don't have to have my antennas up anymore, on the lookout for the one, constantly asking myself "What about her?" When that question is settled, I will have so much more brain space, I think I will be much smarter. Yeah right. Most likely, I will be faced with more enigmatic questions about love and I will probably feel dumb all of the time. Whenever I've been in a relationship in the past, it's always been somewhat of an unsolved mystery, a hallucinogenic riddle. Right now, I'm not in a relationship and I do feel free. In a relationship, you do give up some liberties in order to have other liberties. But what is freedom? Being dragged around by only your desires, isn't really true freedom. That sounds more like slavery. Maybe, real freedom happens when you completely give yourself to someone else. That's how it works with God. You give up your life and you gain eternal life. You thought you were free before and then you realize that you didn't even know what freedom was because you'd never experienced it.

I marvel at how Jesus said that in marriage "the two become one." It's like you become siamese twins. Two worlds collide, two stories coalesce, two destinies merge. You become so intertwined that life without the other person doesn't seem like life at all. You find out that competing with each other is futile because you're both on the same side. If you win an argument then you actually lose in the end, because their loss is your loss. If you insult her, then you are actually insulting yourself, because you are both one. I pray for a marriage where we are fighting for one another, instead of fighting each other. It would be such a travesty if we used all of our passion and strength against each other, instead of combining our efforts to do wondrous things for the kingdom of heaven.

I have to admit, sometimes, life without love seems much simpler. But that is impossible. We love no matter what. If there is noone else to love then we just love ourselves more. But self-love leads to self-destruction, because true love is meant to be given away.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pretty Woman

We sing a lot of songs about how God is beautiful. And how do I know that He is beautiful? Because He made men and women in His image, and women are absolutely beautiful. And that's how I know that God is beautiful.

It's crazy that most girls don't think that they are beautiful. And no matter how many times you tell a girl that she is especially stunning, she still has her doubts. I've heard husbands say that they have to tell their wife "I love you" several times a day and yet it's never enough to resolve their wife's insecurities on the matter. I read that women not only need to know intellectually that they are loved but that they need to feel loved. And if a woman doesn't feel loved then she will begin to self-destruct and then all hell breaks loose. In short, a woman who doesn't feel loved doesn't feel like a woman. And it all comes back to beauty. A woman's worth is tethered to her beauty. If a woman doesn't feel loved then she doesn't feel beautiful. And if she doesn't feel beautiful then she feels worthless. Beauty is of utmost importance to the psyche of women. That's why they are constantly swapping lines like "Ahh, you look so cute! I love your hair!" One girl told me that girls will settle for trying to be sexy if they feel like they can't be beautiful. The difference being that beauty is holistic while "sexy" is only external. And so they settle for a shell of true beauty. A mask.

Anyway, I can't help but see the parallels between us and God. It seems that most of us are very insecure about how God feels about us. His Word tells us over and over that He loves us, and that He demonstrated His love toward us. We know intellectually that He loves us and yet we don't feel it most of the time. So we doubt our God-given identity and we feel worthless. So what does it take to feel loved? To feel priceless?

Sometimes, I think that God feels obligated to love me, because He loves everybody. And so there is a part of me that doesn't feel very special if He loves everybody. Maybe, that's the struggle for women. Maybe, that's why they try to find unhealthy validation from guys. After all, it's the idiosyncracies in our identity that are longing to be recognized and appreciated. That's not always pride, we just want to feel known. Even though God sees women as beautiful, they struggle to feel uniquely beautiful. It's like their dad telling them that they are beautiful, for some reason it's not enough. They want a second opinion. So life becomes an endless beauty pageant with countless judges.

So, what exactly is beauty? Why is each and every iridescent sunset so beautiful? What makes the crooning of a violin so beautiful? Why is the poutpouri of Christmas beautiful? There is something that beauty does to our hearts that is difficult to articulate, you just know it when you experience it. It brushes past the senses like a ghost slipping through walls. And perhaps that is why so many women don't feel beautiful, because they aren't quite sure what it really is. But maybe, true beauty is simply a window to God. Wherever we see beauty we see a hue of God. God is not insecure about His beauty, He invented beauty, He defines beauty. And so the more we become like Him then the more beautiful we are. The Bible refers to the beauty of God's holiness. Holiness is awe-inspiring. So if we are resembling that holiness of God then we can also be completely secure in His beauty. And I believe that each and every person exposes a unique angle on God's beauty. We are not the same, and yet we all reflect different sides of the same prism.

With that said, men are wired to appreciate beauty and women want to know that they are beautiful. What a glorious design! But there is a chasm of difference between a woman allowing a man to appreciate her beauty vs. allowing a man to define her beauty. That is God's role, He is the aficionado, the appraiser. A mere man is never to be put in the place of God, in the place of Judge. What's more, I am convinced that only men who have tasted the beauty of God can truly savor the beauty of a woman of God. Godless men know nothing of divine beauty.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Maybe I'll Elope

The other day, I ran into a girl that I knew from Portland. She wore gray sweatpants and a gray sweater that was about 3 sizes too big. She waved to a guy walking across the street and said that he was her new husband and that they are now living in Corvallis. It surprised me, because I recalled seeing her last New Year's Eve and she wasn't even dating anyone at the time. What happened? She explained that an old flame had rekindled and that her and her man decided to elope. Elope? You're probably thinking Oh, they're probably not Christians. Nope, they are Christians. Or you're thinking It was probably the guy's idea. Wrong again, it was her idea. They wanted to save money and not go through the gauntlet of organizing a traditional wedding. It made perfect sense to me.

I just sang at a wedding last weekend. From my piano bench, I watched the whole pricey shebang unfold. The parade of the confused little ringbearer and the doe-eyed flower girl, the entrance of the stalwart wedding party, the groom beholding the dawning of bridezilla, the music, the wedding vows, the exchange of rings, the pronouncement, the kiss, the send-off, more music. The only thing that didn't go according to plan was that one of the bride's maids fainted because she locked her knees, but indeed the show must go on. The whole time, I was thinking Where did all of these crazy traditions come from? Not from the Bible. It's funny how we make up rituals and then act like they are ordained by God. I once read that the act of tying cans onto the back of the wedding getaway car is in order to scare away evil spirits. But how bad could a spirit be if it's intimidated by some tin cans?

I've also noticed that we have traditions when it comes to dating. We approach relationships as if there is some kind of protocol, as if we are coloring by numbers or putting it through an assembly line, and yet every love story is completely different. There's no formula. The third verse is not the same as the first, you have to learn to freestyle. You learn to sail with the changing winds of the Holy Spirit. You discover what makes someone feel loved, and in that, you discover love for yourself. In fact, you can't discover true love without making someone else feel loved. Marriage doesn't have to look the same for everybody. The Bible gives us very loose guidelines. We are told to love each other for life and to not sleep with other people and that's about it. I know one Christian married couple who are in a rock band together. Anyway, I don't like tradition. I don't like forcing things, and I don't like things to be forced on me. I want organic love. We are often so concerned about what other people think. Hype and pageantry is for impressing people, but I think that God gets bored and changes the channel. No one likes watching reruns.

I'm always skeptical of couples that broadcast and showboat their love. It's always a sign of insecurity when people are trying to prove something to others. I always wonder what their relationship looks like behind the scenes. I admire the couples who exude a love of quiet confidence. It's the same thing with Christians. Some Christians are too concerned with loudly convincing others of their love for God. You wonder if their public enthusiasm carries over into their private prayers.

I don't want love that needs embellishment. I'm tired of going after that sparkling mirage and still going thirsty. In the end, I just want to deeply know someone and to feel like they know me. Maybe, love is not about what it looks like on the outside. Maybe, my love story will never become a star-studded Oscar-winning film, and yet under the surface, God will tend to roots that are deeper and stronger than most loves. And with his green-thumb, He will bring about fruit that is sweet and satisfying. The buzz comes and goes, but true love takes time, it ages like a fine wine.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Requiem For A Romantic

I don't think I should be a romantic anymore. I'm getting too old for it. Reality has slapped me one too many times. Maybe, it's time to grow up and realize that true love doesn't really exist. Kind of like a love atheist. Maybe, I should finally wake up to the fact that love is just a bunch of chemicals. Or that love is just something we choose arbitrarily, and that it's as free as our will. Maybe this whole time I've been looking for someone who I could fall in love with but I should have just chosen anybody who was a good match for me on paper. This is all very easy to write, but I don't know if I can do it. I don't know if I can really kill the romantic in me. It runs deeper than romance, I am an idealist in every way.

Even as I write, I fantisize about becoming a world-renown author, and I imagine people lining up and camping overnight in the rain and then stampeding and scrambling into the store to buy my new book. I picture people coming up to me at the grocery store with tears streaming down their faces, saying that my book turned their lives around. And then I could go into hiding and move to Australia for a while and write another book that would save the world. And then other world-renown authors would quote me for the next 100 years. I don't care about fame, I just like to dream. Anyway, love is hard on romantics. It makes us hallucinate, hoping for the best and seeing things that aren't there, but eventually the fever breaks and then there is a part of us that wishes we were still hallucinating, even if it wasn't real.

But I still see glints of hope in the Bible. I like the story about Isaac and Rebekah meeting for the first time. It appeared to be love at first sight, with God as the matchmaker. It says that Isaac loved Rebekah.The Hebrew word for that kind of love is ahab aheb, which means to have affection for. It was more than just a responsible decision, more than a good arrangement, Isaac actually felt something. Another love story involves Jacob and Rachel. Again, it says that Jacob loved Rachel, same Hebrew word for love--ahab aheb (pronounced "hubba hubba"). And apparently, he had so much affection for her that he worked for 14 years to get her. Isaac and Jacob seem like the patriarchs of romance. The original lovesick souls.

I've also been stewing over the verse in Song of Solomon that says "Do not awaken love until it pleases." This is a curious phrase that implies that we do have a choice when it comes to falling in love. But the phrase "until it pleases" seems to imply that there is an aspect of love that has a will of its own once we choose to animate it. There are sides to love that are within our control and parts of it that are beyond us. Some of it is manageable and the rest of it is as mystical and bizarre as the Trinity itself. And then there is the allusion to timing in this verse. Timing is key. It warns us to wait until the right time to fall in love.

Anyway, being a romantic feels like you're craving a kind of food that you can't seem to find, nothing tastes right, nothing hits the spot. Or you feel like the guy in I Am Legend, a lone warm-blooded human in a world full of flesh-eating zombies. The truth is, I've never been married but I miss my wife. I've missed her for quite awhile now. I hope she misses me. Someday, I want to give myself to her without holding anything back, and I want it to be mutual. I was just reading about the woman who poured all of her expensive perfume onto Jesus's feet. And then she wiped his feet with her hair. She withheld nothing, even to the point of looking foolish. It was so undignified and unraveled. I want to love someone like that. Extravagantly, recklessly, wastefully. I don't want it to be like a poker game anymore, with all the bluffing and gambling, holding and folding. No more charades. I want all the cards to be laid face up on the table, so we can both see that neither one of us have a very good hand, but that it doesn't matter because winning isn't really the point. There's no competition, the point is just being together.

It all seems very possible. Then again, maybe not. After all, I am sick in the heart. Indeed, there is a high cost to being a romantic. It's kind of like being a Christian. There is a high cost to being a follower of Jesus. But the cost of not following Jesus is much higher. So maybe I will string along the romantic for a little while longer. And I will try to convince him that it will be worth it in the end and that he is not the only lovesick soul out there.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Fog of Love

The fog of war is nothing compared to the fog of love. Life is hard, and love is the hardest part. Love toys with the mind, bending it beyond its dexterity, mushrooming until it is impossible to think about anything else. At times love seems as fickle as the wind, yet other times it glimmers as the anchor of our humanity. If only love was an algorithm. If only it was black and white, yes or no. If only it could neatly fit into a magazine, right next to the cooking tips. If only it came with a warranty for those who invest everything toward its cause. With love, nothing ever plays out how you see it in your mind. Nothing.

A girl emailed me and told her story about her last relationship. The relationship started out so well and then ended in a hopeless tailspin of "He loves me, he loves me not." I felt her confusion and frustration and pain. And I began to wonder if her ex-boyfriend had multiple personality disorder. One day he'd act as though he was head-over-heels in love and the next day he would blow her off. She forgave him and gave him grace upon grace, but no amount of thoughtful gestures from her could bring back that lovin' feelin'. Her every effort to be closer to him only pushed him farther away. The worst part is that she is now left torturing herself, trying to figure out what she's done wrong. She didn't do anything wrong. Why do the good ones always have to suffer? Anyway, she asked me for advice and I quoted the old proverb that says "Run Forest, run."

So what are we supposed to learn from all of the headaches and heartache? Are we supposed to learn to love less? That seems bad. So are we supposed to learn to distrust the people we love? That doesn't seem quite right either. Or maybe to learn to distrust ourselves. That could be good. Trusting myself means that I'm not trusting God. That's why I like the Bible. I need something outside of myself to rely on for direction. Some people think that they are following God's heart when they are really just following their own heart and claiming that it's God. That is known as psychological projection where someone projects their feelings onto someone else. Those kind of people don't like the Bible because the Bible is too direct and honest. They want a flattering pat-on-the-back but the Bible tells them that they've got something in their teeth and a booger hanging out of their nose and that their shoes are untied. So they read something else. Anyway, I need to trust God and not myself in order to navigate my way around this maze. With most mazes you are trying to find your way out, but I'm beginning to see that there is no way out of this love thing. We discover where the deadends are, but there is no exit and that is the point. And even with the Bible's razor-sharp words, love is still so messy. We can never quite get it right. There's no closure. I used to analyze my relationships but now I know better. If I try to predict what the other person is thinking or feeling, based on reason alone, then I'm usually wrong.

Maybe, this is why God seems so complicated, because God is love, and love is the epitome of complicated. Maybe, this is why we get so frustrated with God sometimes. We come wanting answers and He tells us a riddle. And then we ask Him for the answer to that riddle and He tells us another riddle. And then we don't want to ask anymore questions. But maybe, God is really trying to tell us that our comfort is not as important as we think. We want love without pain, and yet pain is an integral part of love. It's interesting that Jesus's death on the cross was the greatest expression of love. It wasn't very romantic, in fact it was ugly. There's nothing pretty about a bloody, naked man crying out in agony. Love without pain and you have no Crucifixion. No Crucifixion and you have no Resurrection. Yes, unrequited love kills us. It is a cross. But when a part of us dies then we are ready to undergo a resurrection. Death and love are not so far apart, death makes way for glorified love. . .as long as we don't stay in the grave. Love is boobytrapped to make us need God, only God can resurrect deadened hearts.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Love Wishlist

On life's road, we get so wrapped up with where we are trying to get to and often forget to roll down the windows and breathe in the bold, crisp air. Sometimes it even calls for hanging your head out of that window and letting the moment rush over you and through you in such a way that you feel like you've arrived at your journey's end. At least for the moment.

A few days ago, I decided to take a road trip to Glacier National Park, being the road warrior that I am. The extent of my planning involved taking a road map and enough money to get me there and back. After some twists and turns and a few phone calls, I've ended up at a gorgeous ranch in Montana. Montana is like a young, blushing Oregon. Voluptuous mountains, virgin rivers, and the trees, oh the trees, dripping with color that redefines green. The wildlife dances and sings as if in a Disney film. Yes, I am having a love affair with Montana, as it seduces me with its down home country charm. Something tells me that I will retire to this rugged paradise someday. I can see my future. I can see an old man guarding a log cabin nestled in the woods, as he rocks in his chair and smokes his pipe and pats his dog. During the day, he chops wood and at night he sits by the fireplace, writing and fiddling with prose long after the world has ceased from reading. Anyway, I love road trips. There is something about seeing the world from a new vantage point that causes me to take a fresh look at life itself. Clarity and inspiration and enlightenment waft through the air like incense. God is here, omnipotence at rest.

I've been thinking about what kind of woman I should marry. I feel like I've been searching each and everyday for most of my life, it's exhausting. I feel like Bono, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Church people will say that God brought Eve to Adam while he was asleep so we don't need to worry about doing anything to find our soulmate. But I sometimes wonder if it's time for me to wake up and behold my bride, maybe the problem is that I've been asleep for too long. Some Christians will also say that you shouldn't have a wishlist when it comes to looking for your spouse. But if you ask those people "Should I marry a Christian?" then they will say "Yes, of course." If that is not the beginning of a list then I don't know what is. I think what they mean by not having a list is that we should hold the specifics very loosely. If your list is too exhaustive then you might not recognize the better person that God has for you. For instance, I've always thought it would be neat to marry a woman who sings so that we could sing together, but ultimately it's really not that important. Or it doesn't really matter if the girl is blonde or brunette. Stuff like that.

I've heard several Christian guys talk about finding a girl that embodies the 3 H's---holy, hot and humble. Yeah, it's not a perfect list, but it's a start. I'll explain my version of that list. Holy--A girl who deeply loves God and lives in obedience to Him. I want a girl who encourages me toward Spirit-filled godliness instead of pulling me toward materialistic mediocrity. Hot---not in a worldly sense, but a girl who is naturally beautiful inside and out. Yes, beauty is both subjective and fleeting, but it still makes sense to marry someone that you are attracted to. Humble--a woman who serves others instead of expecting the world to serve her, someone who will serve alongside me. I find this to be the rarest of the 3 H's. Whenever I see humility in a girl, I'm taken back to the point of stumbling over, as if I've just seen the angel of God. It is quite extraordinary. Many guys are willing to settle for a hot and holy girl, but for me pride is the deal breaker. I can't marry a prima donna. It would be the end of me. And ultimately it would hinder me from serving God. No can do. I'm called to be a leader, and I need a wife that will let me lead the dance. And when I fall, I want someone who will help me up, not hold me down. The point is this, a girl who is full of humility is a girl who is full of grace. I want grace incarnate.

Yeah, I have high standards, which is probably why I haven't married yet. But I think that the only thing worse than having high standards is to have no standards at all. It's interesting how different girls seem to bring out different sides of me. I guess maybe I'm looking for the girl who makes me feel more like who I'm meant to be, or at least who I'd like to be. And I want to be that for her too. When I was younger, all I wanted was a relationship with scintillating passion. That's still important to me, but I've come to esteem something else even more. And that is, peace. I want the girl who I'm at peace with. That kind of peace that brings with it completeness and contentment. I already have that with God, and I want to have that with my wife. Be that as it may, it seems that my wishlist is more of a general silhouette rather than a detailed portrait. But she's out there. Somewhere. I just know it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Is Romance?

"Romance" is one of those words that you think you have a firm grasp on until you try to define it and then it doesn't sound quite as romantic. It is relatively tied to the definition of "love" which is equally as shifty. But if I want to be a romantic and if I am to romance another then what exactly is romance?

When we try to define romance we usually resort to describing romance in action. We say things like "Romance involves candlelight dinners and exotic vacations and poetic serenades and dancing into the night." I don't doubt that those are wonderful manifestations of romance, but is that it? I wonder if a relationship could have those activities and yet not have romance. And it seems that if those are the only benchmarks of romance then we are doomed to a romance that is inconsistent and will soon grow tired. Sure, romance thrives on adventure and chivalry and intimacy and thoughtfulness, but where does it all begin? What fuels that romance that so tickles the soul?

We must always rethink where our standard for romance is coming from. Magazines? Movies? Novels? The Bachelor or the Bachelorette? (Bad news, most of those relationships haven't lasted very long once the cameras stopped rolling.) The world peddles a romance that divorces itself from reality to the point of becoming unattainable. When we don't find that kind of romance in the real world then we exile our hearts to the magazines and movies and novels and TV shows, all of which are after our money and not our well-being. For us Christians, vigilance is quite necessary if we are to avoid buying into the deceitful patterns of this world. Afterall, the most dangerous lies are those that speak so sweetly to our hearts until we see the truth as the enemy. The Bible presents many ironies. It tells us that we will find our life when we lose it. When we run after happiness then we feel very unhappy. It becomes that carrot, always just out of reach. You never feel like you can do enough to arrive at bliss. Likewise, when romance becomes our number one priority, then it becomes our god. We originally expect that god to serve us, but later realize that we are the slave. I must always remind the romantic within that he too exists to serve the true living God.

I looked up "romance" in the dictionary and didn't find a suitable definition, so I feel some liberty to discover it for myself, instead of following someone else's recipe. Naturally, the artist in me desires a romance that is fresh and spontaneous and full of possibilities, anything but scripted. Afterall, I find that happy moments cannot be bought or engineered. I don't think that romance can be defined because it is not a one-size-fits-all formula. It looks different depending on the person you are romancing, it calls for a custom fitting. Giving a dozen roses to someone who is allergic to roses would hardly be romantic. At any rate, it seems that the key to obtaining romance begins with the desire to make someone else feel romanced. It hinges on knowing them, caring enough to understand what makes them feel understood, and then specializing in what makes them feel special. The best romantics are those that know how to improvise.

The curious thing about romance is that it must be given in order to be enjoyed. It is like electricity which requires a current in order to feel it. Romance is designed to flow in and out, instead of being absorbed. It goes both ways. It is always better to give than to recieve. It's not unlike the old proverb that says "He who desires to have friends must be friendly." In other words, in order to get romance we must be ready to give it. I heard a speaker say that many couples approach a relationship as if it's to be 50/50, so that each one of them are merely concerned with contributing their 50 percent, as long as the other person holds up their end of the bargain. But the speaker said that that's all wrong and that both people should have the mindset that they are both contributing 100 percent no matter what.

Oddly enough, many Christians discount the element of romance in relationships, as if it's a childish fling. I don't share that sentiment. Piety and passion don't have to be at odds with each other, in fact they provide a beautiful symmetry. The apostle Paul said that marriage is actually the outlet for those who are burning with passion. Yes, I'll take spicy, sizzling romance thank you very much. God doesn't seem to like lukewarmness either. Personally, I cringe at the thought of being in a relationship without romance. What can I say? I am a lovesick soul. Guilty as charged.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thoughts On Dating

The reason why I hate dating is that I hate breaking up. Whether I'm the one breaking it off or getting dumped, everyone loses. I really wish there was some way to date without hearts opening up and getting attached and risking heartbreak. And yet, that would probably be a very dull dating experience. People will tell you to "guard your heart," which sounds good until you try to do that, while still trying to function as a human being. How do you explore love and yet guard your heart?

C.S. Lewis said "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.” C.S. Lewis knew all about this sort of insulated solitude. He didn't marry until he was 56 years old, then he was only married for four years until his wife (17 years younger than him) died of cancer.

I think that heartbreak comes in different forms. Separation is not the only means to heartbreak. I'm sure that even married people experience heartbreak from the caustic words and actions of their spouse. But the reason that they experience heartbreak is because they love. Our hearts cannot be broken by people whom we have no affection for. To love someone is to allow them to reach into your heart, they may either do good or do damage, there are no guarantees. But, in the end, feeling pain is better than feeling nothing. A heart that has never been broken is a heart that has never truly loved. The problem with broken hearts is that they tend to react by locking all the doors and boarding up the windows, until they suspiciously observe everyone through a peephole. Everyone becomes suspect, everyone becomes a threat.

When love is awakened, heartbreak is inevitable. Most sane people don't go into a relationship with the intention of hurting each other, and yet it happens over and over again. I think that dating is only dangerous if there is no intent to explore the possibility of marriage. I would argue that if someone is nowhere near ready and willing to get married, then they are not ready to date. I could be wrong, but statistics show that everyone who agrees with me is right (go figure). So what is dating? It seems like it is simply a means to get to know one another and see if you still like each other after that:) Many young Christians, seem skittish when it comes to dating, as if dating is not spiritual. It can be very spiritual or it can be very worldly, it depends on how you go about it. Prayer is everything. God should be allowed to chaperon the whole process. That might sound old-fashioned, and yet excluding God in the dating experience is a sure sign that things are not heading in the right direction. We tend to pray selfish prayers, but I recommend praying for the other person, prayers like "God, what's best for her? Am I the right person for her? Will this draw her closer to you, God?" That seems like a good place to start. If we enter into dating with a selfless attitude, then that very attitude will set us up for a salient marriage. In short, practice being a good husband or a good wife, right now.

I think the best way to buffer your heart is to keep giving it to God, even while you are dating. That is also a good indication of whether or not you should date that person. Ask yourself- Am I still able to give my heart to God in all of this? God doesn't want us to worship our girlfriend or our boyfriend, our wife or our husband. They are miserable gods of miserable heavens. We must put our faith and hope in the true God, not in another human being. That being said, if we are ever to get married, then we must date. Maybe, dating is another way for God to teach us to pray fervently.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Marriage Is Not The Meaning of Life

How many movies have ended with a wedding? As if that is the end of the story. As if that is the resolution to any and all conflict. As if that is the end of the adventure. I want to make a movie that begins with a wedding. . .

The other day, I realized that a germ of a lie had crept into my head. The lie is this-I will be happy if I get married. I wonder how many people enter into marriage or a dating relationship expecting the other person to fix them. Is that what marriage is all about? Just another self-improvement method? People parrot the words "It is not good that man should be alone," but as singles, we hear them saying "As long as you're unmarried, you will be unhappy and broken." Jesus wasn't married, and apparently it was good for him to "be alone." Anyway, that verse about man being alone, was uttered in the context of Adam being the only human being on the planet, he was utterly alone. No friends, no family. For some reason, people quote that verse as if marriage is the cure to loneliness. However, I know that their are many married people who still feel lonely. Be that as it may, it is interesting that Adam had unfiltered communion with God, and yet he was declared to be alone. Evidently, we need people, and that's okay. God designed most people for marriage. It's okay to love God with all your heart and still desire to be married. We were designed for fellowship with others, and marriage seems to be the deepest fellowship that we can have with another human being. It involves sharing absolutely everything. It involves being absolutely naked with somebody. It involves sex, the indelible bonding of two souls. Marriage is the confluence of two lives.

These days, there is a lot of talk about living in the present, the now, as a means to contentment. A couple years ago, I took a world religions class. I learned that Buddhism places a heavy emphasis on living in the now. Our assignment was to go into the MacDonald Forest and try to fully exist in the moment. It was the opposite of escapism. I was to drink in my surroundings and become fully aware of my thoughts and senses. It was an attempt to freeze time. It was very calming. It was also very difficult. It is tricky to think about what you are thinking about. Sometimes, people ask me what I'm thinking about, and I don't know what to say, because my mind feels like a buzzing beehive. Anyway, I stood in that forest, trying to think about what I was thinking about. And then the most annoying question popped up-Why? Why am I doing this? What is the point of being so engrossed in the moment that I have to go stand in a forest by myself? Dwelling on myself is depressing, not liberating. With that in mind, I can't think of any scriptures about the importance of living in the moment, but I can think of several verses about living one day at a time. We're told to not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worries of its own. We're told to pray "Give us this day our daily bread." We're told to hold our future plans loosely, and say "Lord willing, we will do this or that," because we have no idea what will happen tomorrow. And we're told to not look back once we've put our hand to the plow. Naturally, it seems that all of my discontentment flows from living too much in the past or in the future. I will only be content if I'm able to live for today, not focusing on what could've been or what should be, but simply appreciating what is. Another day is before me. An opportunity to live and love people. An opportunity to be content in God.

If you are single, say this sentence out loud "Marriage is not the meaning of life." Louder!. . .okay, not that loud. We mustn't try to find our life's meaning in marriage. We're not going to be married in Heaven. Marriage is temporary, like everything else in this world. What you are doing right now and whatever you do later on today- going to work, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, getting a haircut- it's all temporary. Most of it is quite meaningless. After all, it's not about what you're doing, but it's about why you are doing it. If it's not for God's glory in some way, either directly or indirectly, then it's meaningless. And you will feel a divine discontentment in your soul. Similarly, if you invest in marriage only for the sake of having a good marriage, then it is meaningless. But if you are truly doing it for God's glory, then it will shine as eternal gold.

Here's my new outlook on the matter. I am not going to expect marriage to grant me contentment. 1 Timothy says that "Godliness with contentment is great gain." Apparently, godliness is linked with contentment, it has nothing to do with circumstances. It is a godliness that contents itself in an unchanging God. It is possible to be "godly" and yet not content yourself in God. That's where most Christians err. I want to achieve that sort of steadfast, divine contentment before I get married, so that I don't put impossible pressure on my wife to make me happy. I'm not going to enter into a relationship with the idea that we will fix each other. Only God can fix us. I want to get married for the sole purpose of loving God more through our togetherness.

Yesterday, I was trying to be content with life as usual, not just concerning relationships, but with everything. I prayed "God, if you want me to settle, then I will settle." He told me not to pray that anymore. It seems that there is a place for godly contentment, but there is also room for godly discontentment. If you've read the Bible, then you will notice that God never told people to get comfortable. God is not a very good massage therapist. He always imposes on people's comforts, roughing them up a little. That's fine with me, I get bored easily.

Anyway, each day seems to be a temporal bridge between yesterday and tomorrow. My world is changing, I am changing. I know I am in the fold of providence, and so whatever bridge I am on right now, is a bridge worth crossing. I want to keep moving forward, following hard on God's heels, and God is always on the move. But I also need to learn to enjoy the journey, laughing and singing along the way. Say it again-"Marriage is not the meaning of life." Maybe, we should stop asking "What is the meaning of life?" and start asking "What is the meaning of today?"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Love's Spring

Late April is an aphrodisiac. Beauty is blossoming everywhere, pollinating hearts. Birds are serenading from somewhere in the trees. Lovers are loving, holding hands, locking eyes, lying in the grass under the spotlight of the sun, while time and space orbit around them. They are the kings and queens of their little plot of land in the world. With spring comes hope. And it is always a most happy occasion when hope and love are reunited. The two have always been dear friends to each other.

It seems that love phases through different seasons. There is the spring of love, when it's new and fresh and full of possibilities. It is love's genesis. It's when hearts come out of hiding, daring to dream again. The air is charged with excitement. Then, there is the summer of love, when love is fun and blissful and everything is in its right place. Its when love itself is enough to silence every other desire. It seems as though the euphoria and contentment will last forever. But then the autumn of love begins to set in. Things begin to look different. Colors fade, as an arctic wind whispers foreboding prophecies. The scent of death is in the air. The fire is sputtering. As this point, love's future seems uncertain. Then, without warning, winter falls and all goes dark. It feels as though God has turned his back. You feel as if you made a wrong turn somewhere back there. Hope is nowhere to be found. Your heart feels cold and numb, while praying to survive each moment. Heated passion turns inside out, and your best friend becomes your worst enemy. Life's winter is long and hard on love. But real love endures all things. Then, just when you think that all is lost, the sun breaks the spell and spring returns as if winter was only a bad dream. And love's cycle resets itself.

The other day, someone told me that their grandparents have been married for 60 years. That is a couple lifetimes, from my vantage point. I wonder how many times they've been through the seasonal cycles of love and come out on top. I wonder what advice they would have for me, as someone who has been married for zero years. I wonder how they would blog about love. I wonder if their love now exists in an endless summer, having broken free of love's spin cycle. I wonder if the word "love" means something so different to them that it might as well be called something else. I bet that they are very loving people. I bet that love has become a way of life for them, so much so that they don't even have to think twice about it, it's as natural as tying their shoes. I'm sure that they still go through winters, but I bet their love is unaffected by the changing winds. That reminds me more of God's love. Unchanging. Not seasonal. And yet I am far from that accomplishment. For now, I am sure to venture through the seasons of love, and in the dead of winter I will remind myself that spring is not that far off. Love endures all things.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Art Of Singleness

I wonder how many single people wish they were married, and how many married people wish they were single. . .

I had a great phone conversation with a dear friend who is now married. Amidst the crescendo of chirping kids, she encouraged me to enjoy my singleness while it lasts. She said that when God feels that He can bring more glory to His name through a married Ryan Smith, then He will bring the right woman along. It's a very easy thing for Him to do, as easy as turning a page. It could happen at anytime. One day can change the course of a life. He could even take one of my ribs and fashion a Mrs. Ryan Smith if He so desired (I hope I don't have to call her Mrs. Ryan Smith, that would be weird). He's God and He can do anything. But right now, I'm single. Just singing my solo. So God must feel that I can bring Him more glory as a single person during this chapter of my life.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35 says "I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible."

In all honesty, just because I'm single doesn't mean that I always spend my time "doing the Lord's work" or "thinking how to please him." That's the bull's eye, but sometimes, I feel like my singleness is enabling my selfishness. Singleness is virtual anarchy, self-rule, absolute freedom. I am not living with my parents and I'm not living with a spouse. I march to my own rhythm. It's all very simple. Do I really want to complicate things? And yet, I think most singles have this haunting sensation that they're missing out on something amazing. And those of us who've plumbed the depths of singleness and exhausted the luxuries of its liberty, are ready for something new. All the while, the hour-glass of God is patiently keeping time, grain by grain. God is very punctual. This is all part of His plan.

As singles, we must hand over our hearts to God. We are not in limbo, we are not idling, we are learning to love God more than anyone else, more than anything else. Someday, that will be the cornerstone of our marriage. In our impatience, we are learning to be patient. We are learning the art of waiting on God. And that will prove to be a life-saving tool in marriage. In our desperation, we are becoming more desperate for God. To be desperate for anything but God is a dangerous thing. Like Esau, some singles seem to be on the verge of hastily selling their birthright for a bowl of stew. We are also learning to give our freedom and our rights to another, namely God. We are learning what it means to serve. These are virtuous lessons. I think some married people are still trying to live as if they are single. They still can't seem to give up their independence. And so they fight their spouse as if they are leading an insurrection.

I want to marry a woman whose sole purpose is to please God. That way, if I please her then I will also be pleasing God through her. In that case, she will not be a distraction but a window to Heaven. I do not wish to marry someone who has worldly ambitions, because I would feel as if my pains to please her would be shallow and evanescent.

This is a time in my life that I will someday look back on and wonder why I didn't invest more of my freedom in the kingdom of God. I hate regrets. Often times, the tension of not being married, robs us of the joys of being single. I know that marriage will call down new glories, but right now I want to do things for God that I won't be able to do when I'm married. As a single, I feel like an artist, spontaneously splashing buckets of paint onto a canvas. From here, it looks messy, but to God it is a masterful mosaic worth finishing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Second Chances

Sometimes I hate love. Sometimes it seems like an awfully mean trick or a cruel lesson that is never learned. . .

We don't get a second try at this thing called life. I wish we could've had a practice run or a crash course or something. We constantly face situations that we've never encountered before and we constantly make mistakes. What else can be expected of us? Everything is so clear in hindsight. I wish I had that sort of clarity in the present. Most days I feel like a rat in a maze, as if I'm part of God's science experiment. And I keep running into dead ends.

I've been struggling with the question of whether or not there is only one soul-mate for each of us. For me, that's always been more of a philosophical question, but now it's personal. The reason being, I have a gut-wrenching feeling that I let my soul-mate get away. I had my chance and now she's married to someone else. That's that. Forever. I keep replaying the past in my mind hoping to get back there and do things differently. I keep trying to remember what exactly was running through my mind back then. The problem is that our memories are so biased and clouded. I don't know if I'm replaying reality or not. Maybe, I wouldn't do things differently if I had it to do over again. But I feel like I really messed up God's plan for me. And now I'm left questioning whether God can bring along another soul-mate, a second chance. I'm trying to believe in the impossible, but the past continues to badger and bludgeon my hope. My heart literally aches, it hasn't ached like this in a long time. I'm trying to give it all to God because nursing these regrets seems very sinful and pointless and deadly.

I always feel like sad situations have worth if I learn something from them. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to learn from this. Sometimes, I get tired of learning lessons. But maybe, I'm supposed to learn what true love really looks like. I have a better idea now. And if by some miracle I see it again, I will recognize it and I won't let it get away this time. My only consolation is that I know that God sees the future, and that He knew that I would be in this very predicament. It's not a surprise to Him. So, I hope He has a back-up plan. I hope there is greater grace ahead, grace enough to quiet the past. What haunts me is that it is possible to miss out on blessings that God has for us. That's not a feel-good truth, but it is the truth nevertheless. With love comes freewill, and with freewill comes the freedom to live outside God's will. However, I wasn't trying to go against God's will. I was trying to wait. I was trying to be cautious out of reverence for God's will. But often my overly cautious nature results in gridlocked ambivalence. Sometimes, I fear that I am the servant in the parable who hid his talents and didn't take risks, because of his fear of God. God help me if that's the problem.

Fortunately, I believe in a big God, a God that turns bad things into good things. My prayer is that someone better will come along, someone better suited for me, someone that I'm better for. And I pray that I will look back and see that this whole thing was God's plan all along. And if I did miss true love, then I will dare to believe that He is still a God of second chances. Maybe, this is not a lesson in love after all, but a lesson in faith.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Sickness and In Health

Apparently, my number is up and it's my turn to be sick. I've been sick for the past few days, but I'm feeling a little better now. I live by myself in a studio apartment, and I was soon reminded of how dismal it is to be sick and alone. I wondered how long it would take for people to discover if I had died in my apartment. A week ago, I gave a sermon on Heaven at our church, and I pictured people testifying at my funeral and saying things like "God recently prompted Ryan to speak on being homesick for Heaven and now he is there, how beautiful! (or ironic?)." When I'm sick, I start to develop cabin fever from being quarantined for hours and hours watching mindless, melodramatic movies. When I was little I sometimes hallucinated when I got sick. During one delusion, I watched a monster truck drive over our house, crushing me inside. I hope I don't die like that.

Oddly enough, being sick makes me think about marriage more. Maybe, that's selfish or maybe that's by design. Meaning that when we feel fragile and vulnerable it makes us need others. Especially God. I pray more when I'm sick. Not just prayers for healing, but prayers that are more like conversations. Maybe, it's just the cabin fever setting in or maybe sickness slows us down enough so that we're able to simply enjoy God's company. Illness often helps me rethink my life because I'm reminded of how mortal I am. It is humbling that a little germ can come in like a Trojan horse and conquer me from the inside out, leveling me for days.

I wonder which will be more glorious in marriage, to share happy moments or to share hardships? I'm beginning to realize that I look forward to both. These days, I find myself fantasizing about the reality of marriage (if that make sense), and that's a big step for a dreamer. In wedding vows, the words "for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health" have always sounded bittersweet and ominous to me, a death-wish of sorts. But I'm realizing that to love each other during the low points is actually a more blessed love. Real love seems to go deeper during the storms, and if two people love each other through those times then they will emerge closer in the end. In other words, when life gets hard, it is an opportunity to love harder.

Honestly, I have become so independent, that it's difficult to imagine becoming "one" with somebody else. I'm sure that I will get the better end of the deal. It is remarkable how marriage speaks of our "oneness" with God. Often, I feel like I'm trying to earn a oneness with God that I already have. I try to make myself more presentable, even when my heart is ill. But God knows and He continues to love me "in sickness," shouldering my burdens and nursing me back to health. And in the end, I feel closer to Him. More in love with Him. Desiring to do nice things for Him.

I thought I was done with this blog and then I realized that I left a culprit unaccounted for. We writers have a tendency to beautify things with lilting words, often avoiding reality. For instance, even the phrase "in sickness and in health" still carries with it a certain poetry. Part of the problem is that we are groomed to believe that love is always dramatic. But I just realized that it is neither the highs or lows that characterize most marriages, but it is the in-betweens. After all, that's where we spend most of our time, in the ever-present mundane. It is still somewhat romantic to think of loving someone through the dramatic lows, and yet I wonder if it isn't harder to love someone when there isn't any drama at all. Maybe, wedding vows should include the promise to love "even when it's dull and boring." Nobody looks forward to a marriage full of paying bills and cleaning the house and visiting the doctor. And yet those things are a part of the ordinary rhythm of life, whether we are married or not. I think I'm onto something. When there is no drama, we let our guard down, and it seems like that would be the most opportune time for the cunning devil to have his way with a relationship. So, I need to love not only when it feels good or bad, but especially when it doesn't feel like anything. In our relationship with God, we call that faith. The Christian life is often less epic than we make it sound. We soon find that it is hardest to live for God when Heaven seems to have stopped singing over us.

I think that the purpose of marriage is different than what most people look forward to. And it seems to be the same thing with Christianity. We sign-up to receive the benefits of love, but we are only able to relish it when we become mature enough to give it. It's the point in life when a child realizes that Christmas isn't about getting presents or eating cookies, but that it's about giving. That's why selfish people never find love, they don't recognize it, they're looking for the wrong thing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


A thorn of a question has been nagging me for quite awhile now. The question is this: What does it mean to live all-out for Jesus? To put it another way: What does it mean to be a wholehearted Christian? I don't like questions like that because there is never an easy-to-swallow answer. Living "all-out" for Jesus sounds hip and thrilling until you actually try to do it. You soon find yourself on a lonely narrow road, and you begin to wonder if you're going the right way, while everyone else is going the other way. If someone says that the answer to my question is to "live like Jesus lived" then I don't know anyone personally who is a wholehearted Christian, me included. Jesus walked around all day, everyday preaching to unbelievers. Most Christians just preach to other Christians. Jesus didn't have a house or a paying job and yet He constantly helped people to the point of exhaustion. I don't know many homeless Christians, and I certainly don't know any homeless Christians who are constantly helping people.

At this point, most people will quickly play the "grace card." Yes, I too am grateful for grace, but I'm not sure that it lets us off the hook so easily. I wonder if Jesus was serious when He said that we must "lose our lives" and "take up our cross and follow Him." When Jesus told the rich young ruler to "sell all his possessions" he didn't give him a loophole and add "or you can just talk about grace a lot." I wonder what all of this means for me in 2010 here in America. I feel like writing a book, but I don't think that we need another book. I feel like writing a song, but the world doesn't need another song either. Frankly, I get tired of Christian talk. I've grown up with it and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of Christians talking about how church should be done. I'm tired of Christians talking about their latest epiphany from God or their latest profound insight on easy-to-understand Scriptures. I'm tired of hearing Christians pray without lifting a finger and telling God to do everything. More than anything, I'm tired of Christians telling other Christians what to do and not living up to their preaching. I'm amazed at how much Christians talk and don't really do much more than that. I'm guilty of this too, and it bothers me. But then I come back to my initial question and it bothers me too. What does it mean to really live for Jesus? What are we really supposed to be doing with these lives that will soon vanish like a vapor? I think it's more than just occasionally telling people about God. I think it's more than just being a family man. I think it's more than smiling and hugging and opening doors for people. I think it's more than being in "ministry." It's definitely more than singing songs. Sometimes, I wish Jesus would've just spelled it all out, step by step, and yet that would've led to mere legalism, not love. At any rate, I'm not sure that I want a feel-good resolution to my question because that only enables me to get comfortable again. And yet, I don't want to remain comfortable with ambiguity either. No, I must know the answer, but only an answer that demands change.

Sometimes, I'm on the verge of selling everything and moving to a third-world country and living out my days in impoverished obscurity and yet happy that I will be known by Jesus in heaven. I wonder if that's what Jesus meant by choosing Him over the world. Most Christians would say that they would gladly do that too if that's what God told them to do. But it's so easy to "hear" God "say" what we want Him to say, it enables us to find loopholes in boldface, pointblank Scriptures that demand everything of us.

I'm just thinking out loud. The finger is pointed at you and me. I don't think God wants us to feel guilty about any of this, but I do think He wants us to feel a little bit uncomfortable. Lord, I need to be wholehearted, show me what that means, eternity is at stake. . .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Secret Bench

Last week, I found a secret bench along the Willamette river. In all my river wanderings, I'd never spotted it before. There's no path leading to it, it's just there, as if it just grew out of the shaggy ground like the trees around it (I'm sorry, I cannot disclose the location of my secret bench at this time). At least I thought it was a secret bench, until I came back the next day and found a homeless man sleeping on it. So I guess it's a secret to me and the homeless man, it's our little secret. I'm not sure why I automatically assume that he was homeless, maybe he thought I was homeless when I was sitting on his bench. After all, I'm sporting a fairly grizzly beard as of late. Anyway, my secret bench is my new favorite spot in the world. I love it. It's magical and insular and weird. I now have a new view of little ol' Corvallis. It makes me wonder how many other things that I walk past everyday and don't even see. I am the type of person who relishes new perspectives. I like to go down roads that I've never been down before. I thrive on new inspiration and inspiration comes from new experiences, new places, new people, new benches. I also like to observe familiar concepts from new angles. Familiar things like love.

Love is like that Chinese puzzle that you can never solve. It sits on the coffee table, defiant, daring you to play with it. You fiddle with it day after day, and yet the mystery remains locked inside. Sometimes you get frustrated and throw it across the room, but inevitably you pick it up and try again, not knowing whether you're getting closer to the solution or not. And yet, it's well worth it. I can't imagine a world without love. I wonder what we would do with our time. So much of what we do depends on our desire to be loved and to love others.

I want to keep exploring the secrets of love. I never want it to become ordinary. I don't think love itself could ever really become ordinary, but my perspective of love very well could. As much as I try to figure out love, I don't really want to figure it out. I want it to remain as that secret bench, numinous, a haven from everything I already know. More than anything, I always want love to remind me of God.

It is unfortunate that the phrase "God loves you" has lost its bang for most people. It has become as commonplace as saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. It doesn't really stop us in our tracks, it doesn't take our breath away, it doesn't make us teary-eyed. Why is that? Perhaps, we don't need another sermon on God's love. But maybe, we need more clarification about God Himself. There's something wrong when human love means more to me than God's love. Maybe, we don't know God as well as we think we do. Maybe, we need to focus on Who it is that loves us. Only then, can the confession of His puzzling love stop us, slay us, rescue us, and change us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mmm Good

I'm enjoying a steaming cup of coffee with a splash of cream. I'm enjoying the earthy serenade of Jack Johnson in the background. I'm enjoying the crispness of the morning, ushering in a day that has never happened before. And more than anything, I'm enjoying God.

I recently realized how often my prayers begin with the phrase "I'm sorry." In view of God, I'm always sorry for something. I'm sorry I did this, I'm sorry I didn't do that, I'm sorry I'm like this, I'm sorry I said that, I'm sorry I thought that, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. If it's not one thing then it's another. Moreover, I've realized how much of my Christianity is compelled by guilt rather than love. And how much I try to add to the work of the cross and earn forgiveness by punishing myself and undergoing a non-stop cycle of self-flagellation. So often I misplace the heart of my faith. I begin to see God as a tightly-wound referee ready to blow the whistle on everything I do wrong. Nobody likes referees, and it's hard to love a God like that.

There is certainly a place for being sorry. The Bible says that godly sorrow brings repentance. But the whole point of repentance is to throw open the curtains and let forgiveness shine in. I wonder at what point do we simply walk in the confidence and freedom that we are completely forgiven and declared innocent forever? At what point do we get past the pummeling waves of condemnation and out into the open sea where we lay back and relax in the calm warmth of God?

You don't have to attend church for very long before the "do's and don'ts" of Christianity worm their way into your soul. Don't sleep around, don't get drunk, don't cuss, don't lie, don't steal, don't kill people (it's not polite), don't read Harry Potter. We get it. But we often lose sight of the reality that beyond the rules, ultimately, we were meant to simply enjoy God. It is a miserable thing when obligation chokes out adoration. A kiss of duty is hardly loving.

It's interesting that God created so many delightful things in this world. For instance, He created food, not only to serve a practical purpose by keeping our bodies alive, but He gave us sensitive taste buds to savor the myriad of mouth-watering flavors, the delicate nuances of spices and sauces. Food is delicious, and we enjoy it. And He created sex to be enjoyed within the fire pit of marriage. He could've created sex simply to serve the purpose of reproduction, instead He designed it be hot and passionate. He created the aesthetic of nature to be pleasing to our eyes. The Bible says that we can see the invisible attributes of God in His creation, like any piece of art that is an extension of the artist. He handcrafted food and sex and nature, and they all speak of the reality that God is to be enjoyed. He is truly good. The next time you address God, hear Him hush your guilt-ridden words and feel Him snatch you up, tossing you into the air and catching you in His kind arms. Laugh. Live. Breathe. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Big Fat Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is almost here. Alas, I don't have a Valentine. But don't worry, this isn't going to be a "poor me" sort of blog. The truth is that I've never liked Valentine's Day, even when I've had a girlfriend to celebrate it with. It always brings with it so much commercialization and pressure and competition and letdown. I'm not sure I understand the point of it all. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for romance, but why do we need a holiday to exploit it? Must we profane the sanctuary of the heart with cheap novelties? Do I sound bitter? I'm really not. Hmm, I just realized that I feel the same way during Valentine's Day as I feel at a wedding. I don't feel jealous or depressed or anything like that, I just feel cornered and interrogated. I ask myself many merciless questions like: Ryan, why are you single? After all, singleness really is a choice. I could be with somebody if I really wanted to be. That's not prideful, all of us choose singleness one way or another. Some of us are holding out for the best, some of us have been hurt too much by past relationships, some of us really enjoy our liberty, some of us are too scared to put ourselves out there. At times like this, I also question what exactly I'm looking for.

At the risk of sounding overly quixotic, I'm looking for a girl that causes me to stop looking altogether. I'm looking for a love that carries our hearts to new heavens. I'm looking for that delicate hand that fits so perfectly in mine, as if it was there all along. I want to love someone completely, so as to gladly exile myself into the silk of her eyes. I hope that each kiss will unlock a deeper yearning to be closer and closer still. I want a love that will never stop laughing and singing in the face of life's brooding tempest. I want an immortal love. Is all of this too much to ask? Am I a fool to suffer such high hopes? I hope not. If none of this is possible then I'd rather not love at all, for it has nothing more to offer. And yet, I choose to believe in many things that are foolish. I do believe in love. A married man might say that I don't know anything about love. But I'm not convinced that married people are experts on love just because they're married. Look at all the marriage counseling, not to mention the divorces. Let's face it, nobody has love figured out. As for me, I choose to believe in a love that defies the odds. A love that abides at the threshold of heaven and earth. I choose to believe in a love that unveils a much better world. Not a love with an expiration date. Of course, God agrees with me on all of this. Or I agree with God. Either way, we're both right. Anyway, I guess, Jesus will be my only Valentine this year. Sorry, too bad, I asked Him first.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Our church has been fasting together this week. Yeah, it's a little weird, like most spiritual things, but it's biblical. I think that anytime you do something out of the ordinary then it gives opportunity for the extraordinary. So, we are interrupting our routines hoping that God will do whatever He wants to do. We are huddled on a slippery precipice, looking foolish in order to see something amazing. The expectancy is raw and electric.

God hasn't done any magic tricks yet. Nothing phenomenal has happened so far, at least nothing visible. At church, we sing about fire a lot, but so far nobody has spontaneously combusted. One time, the fire alarm went off during a Sunday morning, perhaps God was taking us literally. Anyway, if people want a good firework display then they should go to Disneyland. The fireworks there are crazy awesome, full of lasers and fireballs and a flying Tinkerbell. But it seems like God rarely works like that. Even when people claim to be healed of something, usually you can't really see it. And when someone is born again, they usually look pretty much the same on the surface, except that there is an air of love and peace about them that wasn't there before. It seems that God is more concerned with what is happening underneath it all. He's always been preoccupied with the condition of hearts. He wants to go deeper than surface level symptoms. He wants changed hearts, not just good ratings. This week, the tone of many prayers has been that of heartfelt yearning. Yearning for God-knows-what, just something that only God could do.

I know for me, my growling hunger pangs for God have been louder than usual. I think it all starts there. With desire. We must first nurture the desire for more. We will not see God do miraculous things with us if we don't desire it. And in order to love madly, we first desire to love. Our passions for earthly things must me rerouted toward God. That is why we cannot serve two masters. Our passion is so one tracked, it's more like obsession. We feed our imaginations until they find an open door into reality. In the end, our deepest desires navigate us. That is why we are fasting. Of course, eating food is not bad. But we slave for the whims of our flesh all too much, and sometimes we must remind our flesh that it is not our God. We prove that Jesus is our first love when we are willing to give up other loves for Him. It would be ridiculous to have girls hanging on both my arms and tell them each that they are the only one for me. Love is never content with halfheartedness. What if we became obsessed with God? There's really only one alternative. . .

Monday, February 1, 2010


I think I might be the last person to watch "Fireproof." I watched it yesterday. I put off watching it because I didn't want to watch another cheesy low-budget Christian movie starring Kirk Cameron. That and I'm not married (that's not a cry for help). Anyway, it exceeded my low expectations and I found myself vicariously engaged in the plot and characters even though I couldn't relate. For me, it further unraveled the intricate mysteries of love. More than anything, I was freshly awed by the power of forgiveness. I was reminded that forgiveness is to be given even when it's not deserved. Especially, when it is not deserved. A relationship that steps to the rhythm of forgiveness will walk all the way to the pearly gates.

Many people who watch this movie will think that it was the "Love Dare" that saved the marriage, but that's not true at all. It was forgiveness. It would've been a much shorter movie had it all started with the asking of forgiveness. If only they had started with talking through hurts, instead of pretending that they weren't there. But Caleb had to recognize the generous forgiveness of God in order to both forgive and receive his wife's forgiveness. Forgiveness is so unnatural. From a young age, we have a visceral sense of what is fair and what is not, but forgiveness changes all of that. It is a call for a truce when the only alternative is a vicious cycle of revenge, where everyone loses in the end. Forgiveness is asylum for those who are tired of fighting and have forgotten what they are fighting about. Forgiveness is a pact to never mention those offenses again, they were debts that couldn't be paid and so they were canceled. They were pages that have been torn out of an immortal story.

I believe that forgiveness is the greatest healing of all. Jesus not only came to heal infirmities, but more importantly, to heal souls. He always told people that they were forgiven. He dished out forgiveness like He was giving away money. He enjoyed it. And those of us who have forgiven someone, know the levity of its freedom. It is the feeling of a long winter sighing at the sight of spring.

It is hardest to love when it is not given in return. But that's when love burns the brightest. As I type this, Don Henley is singing an oldie on the radio. He's singing "I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it's about forgiveness. . .forgiveness, even if. . .even if you don't love me anymore." Amen, Don, amen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hollywood Love

I'm in Hollywood and it's raining, really raining, pissing rain. I'm about ready to build an ark. And it's not glamorous Hollywood rain, people aren't dancing in it. It's just rain, lots of it, and I'm still cold and dank from the last time I tried to go outside and do something adventurous. This little vacation isn't exactly looking like a California dream so far. I was feeling sorry for myself until I bought a New York Times and was reminded about the nightmare in Haiti. They wish they had my problems. No matter how bad you think you have it, it's nothing like Haiti. When your hear about things like that, it seems like those things are happening on some other planet. It's so far from our bourgeois utopias, where we feel depressed for not having lives that look like the ones in the movies.

Love usually lets me down, sooner or later. I think I still have the wrong idea and I'm trying to get it right. I'm trying to dream of love in a way that stands a chance in the real world. A love that not only lasts, but flourishes, even through the vapid seasons. Like it or not, life will chip away at your ideals until you see the world as it actually is. We cross a threshold when we stop talking about the way things should be, and start working with what we've got. Still, I'll always be both a romantic and a realist, hoping to coalesce the paradoxes of life and love.

Beauty, in all its forms, is fleeting. Real love transcends beauty. No, it redefines beauty. No, it bestows beauty. Anyway, God loves us out of Himself, not because we are naturally beautiful people, but because He is love. His love projects beauty onto unbecoming souls. It's not a blind love, but it is certainly optimistic. It sees beauty in the most unlikely places. I want to love more like that.

Well, the rain just stopped and the sun is fighting through the canopy of clouds. Maybe, it's a sign of better things to come. Maybe, it's time to go outside and try again. Who knows? Maybe, Steven Spielberg will spot me and ask me to be in his next film. And then maybe I'll get a star on the Hollywood Boulevard, next to a couple other tarnished stars and a homeless guy who's dreaming of his next meal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lover's Block

I haven't written much lately. Maybe, I'm going through some sort of writer's block. But I think I'm just in a rut, all around. A rut is the most uninspiring place to be. Who wants to read about that? Who wants to read about a guy who is bored? Who wants to read about a guy who is tired of praying the same things over and over and over? If God was nothing more than a good buzz then I would probably be looking elsewhere, right about now. This is the kind of stuff that God and I talk about. I hope I'm not boring him. He probably hears it all the time. If I was God, I would get tired of people nagging and yakking as if they know what it's like to be God.

During these seasons, I don't feel depressed as much as I just feel nothing. I'll call it "lover's block." The Bible says that in the last days "the love of many will grow cold." I don't want to be a part of that statistic, and I just need to keep asking God to help me love Him so I don't become religious. Not that He's hard to love, but I just forget who He is unless He reminds me. As a child, I remember walking into church and wondering why everyone was so quiet. I thought maybe God was taking a nap and that nobody wanted to wake Him because He might be cranky. I didn't like that God. Fortunately, later on, I discovered the audacious God of the Bible. It's fitting that God is portrayed as fire throughout scripture. He is both beautiful and terrifying. The flame of His presence licks our voracious hearts until they glow red-hot. During these times, I must warm myself by the fire and reacquaint myself with the living God. I cannot love Him without His love. He is more than a history lesson. He is more than a self-improvement method. He is more than a campaign or fundraiser. He is more than a meeting. God is love. And I want Him.

I'll finish with a little parable that I came up with. It's a really a commentary about empty religion versus intimacy with God. . .

Once upon a time there was a husband and wife. Each night before bed, the wife wrote out a "honey-do list" for her husband and stuck it on the fridge. And every morning the husband would memorize the list and carry out every single task without fail. He prided himself on it. But eventually, he became so obsessed with the list that he forgot everything else. He stopped doing anything that wasn't on the list. Before long, he stopped acknowledging his wife, as if she was a ghost. He stopped having conversations with her. He stopped kissing her. He didn't even look at her anymore. This went on for months, and months turned into years. All the while, he scrupulously followed the list of duties, checking them off one by one, with a twinkle in his eye. Until one day, the husband got out of bed and looked at the list. It read "Call 911, there's a stranger in the house." So, the husband called 911 and told the operator the situation. When the cops arrived, his wife came to the door, pointed at her husband, and said "Arrest that man, I don't know him."