Wednesday Wisdom

“Kissing the wave means we stop flailing our arms in panic and embrace the God who has sovereignly designed our circumstances for our good and his glory.”

Dave Furman

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Dreams and the Falsified Idea of Happiness

Aerial view of computer laptop on wooden table

His name was Jimmy and he was a college senior still wet behind the ears, birthed into a society that told him to dream big and to make that dream a reality.

He asked to sit at my table in the student center so his computer cord would reach the outlet. I said yes and we began talking. Jimmy had a wide smile and a dark complexion with hair that swooped up over his head. He began prodding as I ate my Chick-fil-a sandwich, asking what I studied and where I worked. I knew this conversation would probably turn into a blog post so I thought about what his ethnicity was and before I had a chance to ask, he told me he was Indian. But alas, this is not a post about race.

He was studying finance and accounting.

“But that’s not what I really want to do,” he said quickly, trying to redeem himself, as if the field of finance and accounting wasn’t cool enough for today’s world. “I want to open a car repair shop.”

Jimmy’s innovative idea was to open a repair shop with hours between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. so that people who worked late could still take their cars in for repairs. I could tell that he really loved cars and he said he bought his first car for $50.

“I grew up always working on cars with my dad,” he said, clearly brought to life just by talking about it.

Full of drive and ambition he continued the conversation asking what my dream was and what I wanted to do.

My dream had been to play in a symphony orchestra. My dream had been to publish a novel. My dream was once to work at a newspaper and be a foreign correspondent. But after living a little, and experiencing some hard things, I have come to notice that life is more than dreams.

I didn’t really tell Jimmy what my dream was. I mentioned East Africa and wanting to work for the United Nation. But then I wondered what Jimmy would be like in a few decades, maybe forty or fifty years from now. I pictured him looking back and thinking, “What happened, I thought this dream would make me happy?”

And I began to ponder the issue with the idea of “dreams.” Perhaps that’s it. They are just ideas. It seems like people have an idea of what will make them happy and they gamble their life on it, working tirelessly to get that one thing, or job, or spouse.

Although I’m probably too young to be talking about life as a whole, I feel like the book of Ecclesiastes is right in saying everything in life apart from God is like chasing after the wind. Every hope and dream will come to nothing. And at the end we will all lie in our coffins waiting to be buried.

When my close friend John died last fall, they published an article about him that said he dreamed of opening a coffee shop. But as his friend, I know John’s life-worth wasn’t in this dream. He put his worth in the saving work of Jesus—and he used this love of making coffee to bring glory to God.

I recently heard a talk by Tim Keller where he said that young people are more likely to believe there is something in life that will satisfy them. But I suppose anyone who has lived life without God would probably say they really thought there would be more in life.

As I left Jimmy at his computer, I wished I had told him that God loves him. Despite what trials he will face as he pursues his dream, God loves him. God loves him when he succeeds and when he fails. And when there’s nothing left in life to live for because it has all disappointed him, God still loves him and because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, life is worth living.

My Pursuit of Happiness

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One of the happiest moments in my life was when I got into college. My parents stood in the kitchen glowing with excitement waiting to hand me the letter of acceptance. It was like opening an envelope with my future inside. I spent the summer planning and packing. In autumn I left home and started making new friends and all the newness of college was carried by a sense of adventure and possibility.

Those were happy days.

On a cool night in November I sat in orchestra rehearsal, rolling my wrist around. Playing through our repertoire was beginning to ware on my body and the growing tingling sensation through my hand told me something was wrong.

“I think I have tendinitis,” I told my mom. She was visiting for homecoming weekend and I told her casually as we walked to the football stadium. She gave me a look of worry and I blew it off, without knowing how detrimental this could be to my life as a violinist.

And it was.

A year later I had to turn down multiple opportunities and soon enough no one remembered me for my musical ability, because I had none. The tendinitis resulted in chronic nerve pain and I, the failed violinist, began to spiral into a dark place for most of my college years.

“You should go see a counselor,” my roommate suggested as she drove me to the pharmacy for more pain meds. Eventually I did. And counseling taught me to recognize the good and bad in life and not to fixate primarily on either one. The happiness of going to college was soon forgotten and in its place dwelt the cloud of sadness and his friends broken dreams and disappointment.

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I was serving breakfast in a Puerto Rican cafe on Washington street when I got the call. It was a warm September afternoon just five months after graduating college. We were slow with customers so I slipped back to the dish-washing room to answer the phone call that would change my life entirely.

“Miss Camara? We were very impressed with your interview and we’d like to offer you the position.”

Oh the joy of getting a new job. The next two weeks I steamed lattes, pulled shots of espresso, mopped floors and washed dishes with the anticipation of doing something more in life. My closet began to fill with professional clothes as I tossed my coffee-stained aprons into a storage bin. And weeks later I was parked in my downtown garage and smiling at the sound of my high heel shoes on the Statehouse floors.

But happiness is not joy; it only lasts a moment. The days and weeks after my first day of work were rather mundane. Others were peppered with anxiety and loneliness. But I don’t think I really knew what sadness felt like, until last October when my friend John was killed in a bike accident.

Death makes life feel as if nothing will every be happy again.

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For a while I mistook happiness for joy and sadness for hopelessness. Greg Morse in his article Happiness Can Betray You said, “Physical blessing is not the same as spiritual blessedness.” I did feel betrayed by happiness. But that is simply because I mistook the good things from God for contentment in God. The question remains as to where I stand apart from all good things. Can I still find happiness? As a christian whose hope is not in happiness and whose faith is not broken by sadness, I’m learning to relate these highs and lows to my spiritual life.

Dear January, you’ve been so unkind

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I really wanted to begin this year with confidence and poise. I went to a conference on evangelism. I was going to make 2018 about spreading the gospel and loving people unconditionally and using every opportunity to share about my life-giving God.

Instead, I’m held up in my house watching TV, eating microwaved dumplings, stressing about my statistics homework and dreading small group — which I’m already late for.

We’ve come to the end of January and I’m so far from the Julia I wanted to be this year. I typed a blog post on how God was calling me out of my comfort zone, but I was terribly unprepared to actually experience discomfort.

My car accident two weeks ago sent me into a flurry of stress, confusion and sadness. But mostly I find myself irritated with everyone: the smiling people overjoyed with happiness, the sad people complaining about a flat tire or their dog who died last year. And I’m frustrated with myself for not sympathizing. After all I’m a feeler. I’m usually so understanding. But lately this Julia is cloaked in an unsettling numbness.

My current form of transportation is a rental car. I’m still waiting to hear if my issuance will cover my car damage or just write me a check for a new one. If only they’d call me back.

My time is consumed with calculating data for my stats class and drafting memos for my finance class, all the while hoping this semester won’t swallow me alive. Then I’m sitting in a classroom, tired from a long day, and reluctantly eating my jalapeno Chex Mix because I accidentally bought the wrong flavor. My professor is lecturing but I’m not following him, all I can think of is how much he looks like Frank Sinatra with the teeth of Humphrey Bogart.

As the sky outside grows dark I think about the night, like this, when I drove home from class to discover my friend had been killed in a bike accident. Death is the greatest discomfort.

After class, I stumble through the 27 degree air to my garage and climb into my rental car. It’s nice actually, a 2017 Corolla, with a little screen that says, “Hello” and “Goodbye.” My gas tank is so low I might not make it home, so I pray as I’m speeding up the main road that I’ll find a gas station.

***

It’s Wednesday morning in January and I’m so glad this awful month is almost over.

Maybe February will be better. Peut être. -_-

 

The Saga Continues

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Indianapolis, 9:30 pm — This blog should be called The Saga of a Girl Named Julie.  In a recent blog post I noted that I would stop writing about death and write more about living.  Well here you have it. Bet you didn’t realize there would be so much drama.

Today my symptoms of pain from the car accident increased tremendously. I arrived at work feeling pretty bad with the pain in my neck and lower back drifting in and out. A few hours later the pain was so intense I couldn’t think straight so I decided to spend my lunch break napping in my car. I headed to the garage and felt both nauseous and dizzy. As I gently rubbed my neck, it only seemed to worsen.

I decided to go straight to the ER. Only after I pulled out on the wet streets did I realize I was in no condition to be driving. But I made it there. It was the same ER where we sat in the bereavement room with fresh news of John’s death. I felt a wave of sadness and my heart began pumping rapidly. I stayed a moment before realizing the line was way too long and that maybe I was just overreacting.

I went back to the office and sat at my desk to formulate a game plan. My body seemed to tell me to go home, so I scheduled a quick doctor’s appointment and found my way back to the garage. My sweet and wonderful roommate met me at home and drove met to the doctors office.

As a result I learned there was nothing seriously wrong with my body other than severe whiplash and maybe a little PTSD, which I don’t want to admit. I’m suppose to take some meds and start Physical Therapy. The doctor noted that the symptoms may have been increased by anxiety and trauma, not only from the accident but also from losing a friend three months ago.

So I went home and slept it off but when I woke up I realized I had all the same problems I went to sleep with: damaged car, unfinished grad school homework, and a huge bill for the repairs. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep going when you have to deal with one dilemma after another. It’s so tempting to just throw in the towel.

When I woke early this morning I felt like a car had run over me. “God, I can’t get up today. I just don’t have the strength,” I whispered into the darkness, then I thought of something.

Yesterday in church our pastor shared a video of his friend who has terminal brain cancer. This man is only 40 years old and has a wife and kids. But the video was about living for the kingdom of God. Even though this man can see the end drawing nearer, he still lives everyday sharing the gospel. So I told myself, “If that man can get out of bed everyday and live for the kingdom, so can I.”

Today was tremendously difficult. I cannot deny it. But writing seems to help a little, I’ve made it through a lot of days and lived to blog about them.

Let us keep the faith and live for the Kingdom without growing weary of doing good.

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:12-13

The Stress is Real

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This week has been extremely exhausting. Let’s be honest. As cheerful as I sounded in my last blog post, I really didn’t know what was coming. It’s amazing the amount of stress one suffers under the conditions of a car accident. Not only are your joints achey but you’re suddenly forced to coordinate rides and humbly, dare I say desperately, ask for help.

Things seemed to go from bad to worse, over the last few days, as the holding lot charged me for not only the tow but also for spilled fluid and the four days it held my car. And no matter how many times I tried to coordinate with the body shop for them to pick up my car, I woke up to another morning to find that my car was still waiting in the pound.

There’s nothing like seeing money leave your bank account for no good reason.

I feel like this week I was in survival mode, all the while trying to remain calm. From work to school to talking with my insurance, to phoning the impound lot and driving to the repair shop, I kept telling myself “This is not that bad.” But who am I kidding? This absolutely sucks.

But I finally got my car out of the holding lot. For some reason coordinating a tow truck was way more difficult than I anticipated. Aside from some whip lash and stiff joints I’m physically okay. Mentally? That’s questionable.

For the time being I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has helped me out so far. My friends who gave me rides, John’s parents for lending me their car. And hopefully by Monday I should have a rental.

I don’t usually do update posts, but considering the circumstances I just thought I might as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accidents Happen

Indianapolis 3:57 a.m. — My bedroom is dark and I’m sitting in my warm bed listening to the hum of the humidifier. This is becoming my prime time for writing blog posts, those sleepless hours when my mind begins to formulate my feeling into descriptive sentences. But tonight it isn’t caffeine keeping me awake. No, I’m just rattled from my car accident.

So, remember when I wrote about letting go of comfort? Maybe I spoke too soon. This evening I was on my way home from work. The roads were pretty slick and the temperature was flirting with the single digits. Yeah, a recipe for disaster.

I was almost home when I lost control on an icy road. Suddenly I was forced to decide between hitting the guy in front of me and hitting the fire hydrant beside him. Reluctantly, and in a sputter of panic I chose the latter. And now I am without a car.

Talk about letting go of comfort.

A moment later a kind face appeared in my car window as I began to sob. I couldn’t get the door opened so he told me to roll down my window.

Why was I crying? I wasn’t hurt and hadn’t hurt anyone. I guess the shock of it was what triggered the tears all at once. And I couldn’t help but relate those feelings of shock to the night John was hit. And in seconds I was not crying for myself or my car. I was just crying for John.

I’m sure the witnesses were wondering how such a small accident could cause a girl to cry.

In all honesty, I left the scene of the accident feeling disturbed and achy . . . but I was alive. After the initial shock wore off I started to worry about getting through the next few days sans my beautiful Toyota—don’t worry I’m not one of those people who names her car. My car and I are friends, but at the end of the day it’s just a car.

Then I remembered my empty fridge and how I was planning to buy groceries on the way home. And then I wondered how I would get to work tomorrow and to class and back home. . . sigh.

Life is a gift that often feels like a burden.

“You’re lucky to walk away uninjured,” they told me. Am I really? Wouldn’t it have been better to say, “Well, time’s up. Now I can cross over from this side of heaven, a place that sometimes feels like hell, and graciously bid this world adieu.”

But of course not. In reality I’m not ready to die. As I was sailing toward the fire hydrant, bracing myself for impact, feeling absolutely no control over my car, I felt so afraid. And as I collided and watched my bumper explode, I felt only fear. The cold air bit me as I came out to examine the damage, exchange paperwork and phone my friends. My legs wobbled as I found warmth in a stranger’s car and waited for the police. It was a minor accident but definitely left me feeling shaken up.

Life is so surreal sometimes. The mundane is ruptured by these things called accidents where ordinary people experience extraordinary things. And you look up at heaven and breathe into the cold air, “Lord, why?”

Why Johnny, and not me? Why here in my neighborhood and not the forty minute trip I took over highways and under bridges where such an accident could have been fatal.

In high school I was in a car accident. Oddly enough I didn’t blog about it or even share it on social media. I was embarrassed and scared. It’s interesting to see where I’ve come and how I view life differently. I believe it’s important to be both authentic and transparent, to recognize life as difficult and cumbersome, and sometimes mundane and often scary. By recognizing our difficulties we learn to bare each other’s burdens.

These next few days will be far from comfortable, but I’m resting in Jehovah Jireh, my God who provides.

Letting go of comfort

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My friend Anna got married two days before Christmas. We sat in a cafe one Saturday in November and she told me of her wedding plans. Quietly, I sipped my coffee and listened, sort of wishing I had been invited. After John’s funeral I wanted, for some reason, to attend a wedding and remember what it was like to celebrate happy things. Am I wrong to say there is no happiness in death?

The following day, Anna asked me to play violin in her ceremony. So there I was, two days before Christmas playing music and feeling so much happiness. The song Anna chose for us to play was called “Shall not Want” by Audrey Assad. The lyrics begin,

From the love of my own comfort

From the fear of having nothing

From a life of worldly passions

Deliver me O God

As we played I thought of how everyone strives for comfort. Even me. Comfort is something I love, maybe even idolize.  I believe I hold tightly to comfortable things in the uncertainty of tomorrow. But then again, comfort is overrated.  I almost feel as if God is calling me to give up my life of comfort in this new year.

It’s sort of liberating to do the things I always thought of doing but failed to do because they lingered outside of what I deemed comfortable. Good things, of course, like praying for someone aloud, like buying a bowl of soup for a homeless man, like giving more that I feel obliged. These are all uncomfortable things but they involve living for the God of all comfort in a selfless and radical manner.

Last week in Virginia I found myself hesitating when God asked me to give double the cost of the conference to the Richmond church. I reluctantly penned my name in my check book and dropped the check into the offering box.

When I got home from the conference there was a letter sitting on my desk. Inside was a check from Anna for playing in her wedding. I really hadn’t expected her to pay me and to my astonishment the amount was exactly what I’d given extra in Richmond.  I began to realize that living comfortably is really overrated, especially when we serve the God of all things.

Something else I find uncomfortable is losing a friend. And even more so, seeing the ramifications of that lost friend, the hurting ones who miss him most. The aftermath is far more than uncomfortable to watch. It’s disturbing. But God has called me out of my comfortable space. I turn the page and see that this book of life has more characters that need love and comfort than I do.

My prayer is for God to deliver me from a love of my own comfort and to guide me through life’s desserts and valleys with a faith so strong I don’t need to rely on the comforts of this world.

Good Morning December

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This December has been a weird one. Since we lost Johnny in October, I feel as if the months are drifting by, unnoticed. Or maybe this is just me having to grow-up much faster than I anticipated.

December makes me feel like a kid again, especially now that I’m out of school and back in Indianapolis. The city transforms with lights and trees and decorations. The sky dusts the naked trees with snow. I sit in my living room and gaze through foggy windows watching a mesmerizing snowfall. Why is it that year after year the first snow never fails to leave me speechless? But something is missing. This year will be different because we’ve lost someone.

I think of Johnny’s sisters coming home for Christmas and how I will want to cry with them. I cry with his best friend as we write cards of condolences to comfort friends in this holiday season. It has been two months since Johnny passed away and the absence of our dear friend is still surreal.  I begin to wonder if the human mind can ever fully comprehend death.

When I wake up to a new day, with fresh thoughts of grief and sorrow I simply rise and say “Good morning December. Let’s get through this together.” For December is not just a month in the year. If December were a character in a story he’d be tall and burly with a fur hat and wide leather boots, and deep eyes that tell stories of Christmases gone by.

I know I promised to write about something new, to leave the subject of death alone and blog about a more vibrant topic. But, try telling that to the bare trees and the empty cornfields and to the frozen earth where the grass is turning brown. Death is ever present on this side of heaven.

I feel as if December is mourning John’s death too. The stale air, the dead trees, the blood stained sky above a cold morning sunrise. Together we grieve.

And yet . . . together we look to the Lord to bring us through these dark valleys and grant us rest in green pastures.

Death, a path we all must take

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It hit me yesterday. Just plain sadness. So I sat there and let it wash over me, refusing to fight, hide or minimize it.

Sadness comes to me in moments when I think of John and how he’s gone. In these moments I ponder where he is and what he’s doing. I silently weep and admit he is definitely enjoying life in heaven worshiping God, but I wonder what that looks like. Why am I saddened by this? Maybe because it’s so difficult to understand.

***

It’s another Friday on this side of heaven, and I’m determined to write about a new subject. . . Life.

Lately I’ve focused primarily on my body and not on my soul. As the thought of death has been haunting me these last two months, I feel a sense of frustration that I’ve only been thinking of death as the end of all things and not a mere transition from physical to spiritual life. My friend expressed some similar fears. She brought up C.S. Lewis and his series the Chronicles of Narnia, a story where children find a magical world by climbing through a wardrobe.

“This life is like the wardrobe, and Narnia is like heaven,” she told me. “We are just passing through.” We smiled at each other in spite of our fears.  I have to admit, no matter how you put it, death is still difficult to understand.

Last Sunday I watched The Lord of the Rings. This movie alone reminds me of Johnny. We watched it a lot when we were kids, acting out scenes and trading playing cards. One piece of dialogue in the movie helped me see life in a new way.

Pippin: I never thought it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey does not end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take… The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it…
Pippin: What, Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores… And beyond… A far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No… No, it isn’t.

Okay, I’ve definitely deemed myself a homeschooler by quoting both C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in the same blog post, but nonetheless I am resolved to focus not on death, but on life. The life to come, the life Johnny is living now, and the life I am commissioned to live on this side of heaven until my new journey begins.