Sunday, March 29, 2009

Boston, days 1/2 and 1

So, as some of you know, I'm currently in the process of trying to make a decision about where to go to graduate school. I've pretty much narrowed it down to two possibilities. One the one hand we've got good ole Abilene Christian University, and on the other hand we have Boston University. Two schools which are worlds apart in oh so many ways! It's almost the differences between them that make the decision so hard. Each school has so much to offer; they just offer different things. Finding the right balance between those things and the right fit for me is proving extremely difficult, and I welcome all the encouragement and prayers you're willing to give!

In the process of figuring this thing out, I'm making visits to both of the schools. I've been to Abilene plenty of times before, but at the end of February, Scott took Corey, Hunter, and I down there once again to scope out the place. A good program, great professors, and amazing people all around. I know I would fit in marvelously there and get a good foundational education to prepare me for further studies if I decided to go that route. I came away from that weekend just *knowing* that was where God wanted me to be. I was comfortable with that knowledge and excited about the future. Within just a few days, I got a phone call. Boston University on the line. I already knew I'd been accepted. What I didn't know until that phone call was that they were going to pay for it. Full tuition, a decent living stipend, and most expenses for a trip to visit the school and check it all out myself. Yikes! Not something you can just turn your back on easily...

So here I am in Boston. Got a cheap ticket through Priceline and am here for six days. I figured if I'm coming all the way up here, I might as well have a bit of time to enjoy it. Plus it was even cheaper that way for some reason. I'm staying with Nellie's friend Vic from back in Malaysia. He's amazingly nice, so much fun, and quite hilarious! So how has the first day or two gone, you want to know?

Well, it started off interestingly... You'd think if I were to have bad weather mess up my travel plans, it'd be in Boston or in Cincinnati, where I was changing flights. One of those northern yankee cities. You'd be wrong. Saturday morning, when Nellie dropped me off at XNA, it was raining. But that rain quickly turned to sleet. And then snow. We all got loaded onto the plane quickly and were even going to be early taking off, but of course, the hose on the truck that was deicing our plane broke when they were almost finished, so they had to go get a new truck and then basically start all over. We sat out in the plane all that time, waiting, and we finally left nearly an hour late. So instead of a 30 minute layover in Cincinnati, I practically ran through the airport to try to make my plane but missed it and then had a 4 1/2 hour layover until I could catch the next flight to Boston. Oh well... Look on the bright side, right? Guess I got my workout for the day in...

I finally made it into Boston, grabbed my bag, found the shuttle bus to the T, and made my way across Boston to where Vic lives. In the whole process, I am proud to say I only got hit on once. The guy next to me on the blue line of the T. Let me tell you, he was something else with his baggy jeans, t-shirt, ball cap, and Red Bull. "Can I give you my number? I could show you around. I like being a tour guide. It makes me feel important!" Um, no. Not so much.

Vic met me at the T stop near his apartment and so very kindly walked me there. He had some dinner all prepared (mmm - Malaysian food!), and we had a very nice time chatting for a couple of hours as we ate and then as we walked a ways to a bakery/coffee shop, where we sat and talked some more. He's a really great guy who is so generous and so much fun to be around! Back at his apartment that night, he fixed me up with a lovely air mattress and anything I could possibly need. I slept pretty well after the long day.

This morning we slept in a bit. It was cold and rainy outside. Just the kind of day where you don't want to get out of bed. Plus, it had been a long day on Saturday, and neither of us is a morning person either. When we did get up and around, he fixed breakfast. Again, mmmm! Pancakes. But not pancakes like most of you are used to. More like a cross between MeMa's pancakes and the palacinky/Palatschinken you can get in Europe. Very thin pancakes which you can fill with a topping and fold over to eat with your hands. My favorite was lemon juice with a bit of sugar. I'll be eating that more often in the future!

After breakfast we set out to see some of the city. Like I said, it was pretty dreary outside. That front that had come through and brought the sleet and snow to Arkansas was here, but strangely enough, up here where you'd think it would be colder, it was warm enough that we just got rain. We took the T to the stops near Boston University and wandered around the campus a bit. It's very unlike the U of A's campus because it's located in a downtown area of a big city. The buildings are beautiful, but you can tell a lot of them were probably co-opted from their previous uses to serve the university's purposes. Most everything was locked up since it was a Sunday afternoon, but we stopped by a food court area and sat to have something to drink to warm our chilled selves. Sat and talked and watched the people around us. When we were warm and dry enough, we set back out and meandered down some of the streets to see what we could see. Kenmore Square, the Back Bay area, lots of nice shops and restaurants, the Apple store... Took the T to Government Center, where we walked by Boston City Hall, Faneuil Hall, through Quincy Market, near Long Wharf, and over to the North End and some nice little Italian areas. Got some gelato at an amazing bakery and then headed back across town to crash at his place again.

Here for the evening, we spent some time working on various things. I thought I might take a short nap, since I was sleepy and my knee was hurting a bit from all the walking in the cold, wet weather. But I ended up spending a couple of hours on the computer. (Yes, I know, come all the way to Boston just to spend my evening online!) But there were things that needed to be done. Forms that needed to be filled out, emails to send, things to figure out for all this silly admissions process which is more of a hassle than it should be. Got to email back and forth some today with a girl in Abilene who is looking for another roommate to fill the fourth spot in the house. She seems absolutely amazing, and if I end up there, I hope it works out. So I feel like I accomplished a lot this evening. I've gotten some things straightened out, I think, so that's good. Spent a bit of time talking to Libby this evening. I honestly don't know how I'm going to do without her! It's only been two days, and I think we're both going through withdrawals! How in the world are we going to survive months at a time?!

It's been a full but enjoyable day. Not too pressured or busy. Gave me an introduction to the city. Allowed me to wrap up a few things that needed taking care of so that I can really focus more in the next couple of days. Just the right way to start off my trip here. And now, it's nearly 1 am. So it's time for bed again! I'll keep you posted!

One last thing to leave you with: Boston By Fog...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

tension of the heart

As you can see, I've got quite a bit to say tonight. I hope you will make it through to the end with me, even if not all in one sitting. :-)

I would like to begin by praising God for the fact that my outlook on life has improved a great deal in recent weeks. I am extremely thankful for this change and must let you know that. There is, however, one aspect of my perspective which has become an area of concern for me. I have realized just within the past few days how much I am living in fear of condemnation. Not condemnation from God, for I firmly believe that I have been justified fully through the blood of Christ. I have accepted Christ as my one and only way of salvation and redemption and am attempting daily to live in faith and in His will for my life. I do not believe that I have anything to be uneasy about from God, for He has promised redemption and is always faithful. And I know that in the last day I will give an account for myself and no one else, and no other will give his own account for me. The fate of my soul is and will be between me and God; to my own master I stand or fall, and I will stand, for the Lord is able to make me stand. No, when it comes to my worry about condemnation, it is rather God’s people of whom I am afraid. Now this may sound ridiculous. After all, what might I have to fear from the people who should love me the most? But this gnawing apprehension will not ease, nor will the worry that my concerns may have some basis. And above all, my trepidation points to some deeper issues of the heart.

To state it rather candidly, I am in the process of exploring some points of view which I believe are not and probably never will be supported by some members of my family and church fellowship. I don’t want to delve deeper into those specific contemplations at the moment, as that is not presently my aim. And it would serve us all well to remember that, as I have already mentioned, this is a process. My views are far from set -- more that they are in the stage of inception -- and they will surely continue to develop, most likely continuing to evolve over the course of my lifetime. I cannot say for certain who I will be and what I will believe a year from now, much less fifteen or fifty years from now. My prayer is that God will continue the process of maturing me in faith, in love, in knowledge, and in wisdom. I cannot ask to see the end result right now. I can only ask for Him to be faithful in the present and to assist me in my own faithfulness to Himself.

All that being said, my deliberation at this time, as I begin to prayerfully examine the beliefs that I hold, is how to faithfully fulfill the various purposes and directives I believe God has given me in this life, especially as those paths sometimes seem, in my own admittedly limited vision, to be inharmonious or perhaps even irreconcilable. One calling I cannot dismiss is that to examine my heart, mind, and beliefs, to pursue truth, and to live a life dedicated unswervingly to God’s service in light of the truth which is revealed to me. At the same time, I am called to live a life of love, giving of myself as Christ gave of Himself, and submitting to my fellow Christians out of reverence for God.

Jesus assured His followers that if they would ask, seek, and knock, they would receive their answer from God. And so I am asking for knowledge, I am seeking wisdom, and I am knocking at the door of the kingdom, humbly desiring to enter. I am searching for the truth that gives freedom. I am in all things wanting to glorify my Savior and Redeemer, and I want to do nothing which will inflict injury on or inhibit the spiritual growth of His church. I do not believe that these two callings of mine -- one to wisdom and the other to love -- are mutually exclusive. By no means could they be, since Christ realized both of them. At times, however, because we are all imperfect humans with incomplete understanding, there is an extremely delicate line to walk. And I am not yet sure how to even approach that line, much less how to engage it.

Perhaps in my time of study and prayer, God will lead me to conclusions which are generally acceptable to those whom I love dearly. Perhaps my current inclinations are merely the expression of incomplete knowledge or faith. At times I almost wish this to be so, for it would simplify my life considerably. But the life of faith has never been an easy one, and to sacrifice truth for the sake of convenience would be foolishness indeed! And so, I must continue to follow the beckoning of God into greater knowledge, understanding full well that this may turn out to be a costly decision. How am I to react if the wisdom he imparts to me is in fact at odds with the beliefs of those I love? Undoubtedly, I am to serve Him first and foremost, even at the cost of leaving behind father and mother, husband and children, brothers and sisters, and even my own life, as Christ makes quite clear in Luke 14. Yet at the same time, I am called to live a life of love, just as Christ loved and gave Himself up. I am asked to sacrifice my own desires and proclivities in order to ensure the spiritual health of each member of the body of Christ. On disputable matters (whatever those may be!), I am permitted to hold an opinion which may not be shared by all, but I am never permitted to allow that belief to destroy my brother for whom Christ died. I am to make every effort to do what leads to righteousness, peace, joy, and mutual edification.

This is not an easy path to tread, however. It would be much more manageable an affair if I were guaranteed that those with whom I will be interacting were doing their best to work toward wisdom and deference as well. The church is certainly better able to seek, serve, and glorify God when it also pursues unity and reciprocal submission. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. And even when all of the parties involved do preserve those goals, the definition of what exactly is contestable and what is essential comes into question. In what matters should we surrender, and on what issues would acquiescing to another’s opinion be an abandonment of the truth of God? I fear that some subjects which I would consider to be the disputable matters addressed in Romans 14 are regarded by others as issues of extreme importance, perhaps even to the point of salvation, issues which are not open to question or interpretation. And I am sure the same is true in reverse. There’s the rub.

Perhaps ‘condemnation’ is too strong a word. Perhaps ‘reproof’ or ‘disapproval’ would be better suited to name my apprehension. For, again, I do not foresee damnation or censure from God, though I am sure there will be others who would believe I should dread such a thing and will not hesitate greatly to tell me so themselves if the time comes. It is rather the possibility of just such a reaction from those I love that distresses me. I do not ever want my family and church to feel as though I am living in blatant disregard for and rebellion to God’s commands and am subject to His disapproval. I do not want to be spurned for my convictions if I have come to them through an honest desire to know and follow God. It would be nice to be received for the person I am and am becoming in Christ, regardless of the fact that my beliefs may sometimes differ from their own.

However important these considerations may be to me, though, through my consideration of them, an even more fundamental question has come into view in my life. This more pertinent and all-encompassing query is this: Should it even really matter? Should I be attentive to the kind of reaction I get from those around me regarding the convictions I hold? Ought not my one and only guide be God, as revealed through Christ the Word and the Spirit, my Counselor?

Please, please do not misunderstand me to be saying that I believe the observations and concerns of my Christian family should be disdained or even neglected. I know that God has placed His people in community for many very good reasons, one of which is so that we can encourage and exhort one another to live pure and holy lives of faithfulness. I greatly value this role of the church, and I thank God for His wisdom to use His people in such a way!

What I am getting at, rather, is really the question of where my allegiance truly lies. Is my faith built on the weak foundation of a need for acceptance and affirmation, or is it firmly established on the Lordship of Christ and none other? Why am I fearful of the judgment of others if I have been justified fully by the grace of God? If indeed I am given the knowledge that I ask God for, and if indeed living in that knowledge entails something which is different from that which I have known and that which those around me still cling to, how will I react? How will I attempt to live in submission to my fellow Christians without compromising the integrity of the gospel of Christ? And if those I love are not as supportive as I might hope, will I shrink back in fear of displeasing them, or will I be able to boldly step out in faith into the life that God has called me to? What are my idols, and who is truly my God? Will I abandon all else, even that which is most precious to me, leaving everything behind in order that I might know God better and serve Him fully?

I like to think I know the answer to those questions. I like to hope that in faith I will be able to live confidently in the Lord, pursuing and living in truth as He reveals it to me. And I know that God is in the process of developing such a faith in me. I ask you, however, to consider these questions in your own life. And I beg you to pray for me, for yourself, and for all of us. Pray that we might seek knowledge and wisdom, that we might live in love and submission, and that, above all, we might find Christ and only Christ at the center of our lives!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

a quick request

Hello, all! Hope that you're doing wonderfully today! I just have a quick request for those of you who do read this blog. I'd like you to say a prayer for me, if you don't mind. First of all, a prayer of praise that things have been going quite well in my life lately. And secondly, a prayer that I will be given wisdom in both the choices I am making (especially regarding grad school) and in regard to some issues that I am currently contemplating. I'd like to go where God wants me to go and know what God wants me to know. That's it! Thanks!!