February 25, 2010

Like a Gazelle Among Hyenas...

I was just walking normally, I promise I was.  I mean, that's how I walk-- I zoom past everyone else, bobbing and weaving through the crowd.  My shoes clack-clacked on the ground and I felt the wind on my face.  My hair flowed freeling behind me.  Like a gazelle among the hyenas, I glided through the hallway towards my destination.

"Go, Miss Hardt, Go!"  a particularly energetic student at the end of the hall squealed with laughter.  I was just walking normally-- I promise I was!  Apparently my normal walking speed is... just a little faster than most.  While I laughed with the student and reminded him that I'm a city girl, I remembered another incident that made me realize that my gait may be abnormal:

It was July.  In Florida.  It was hot and humid, and I was on my very first and one and only date; this was a date about which I wasn't even enthused.  Imagine my uneasiness.  Imagine the awkwardness.  It didn't help that I was nervous, I'm sure, but I was walking beside (let's call him Carlos) Carlos with a quick step.  I didn't realize it, of course, because I always walk that fast.  Suddenly, a hand descended upon my shoulder, slowing me and taking me by surprise.  Is he getting fresh?!  The outdated, only semi-serious thought barely flashed through my mind as I looked up at him in surprise.
"You walk really fast," he said.  I slowed, I laughed nervously.  Awkward. 

I'd like to say I learned my lesson, but how many times have I been walking through the mall with friends as they pant desperately, "Can you slow down?!"  Apparently I can't.  Apparently I walk through life at a breakneck speed, intent upon my destination and unwilling to waste any time getting there.  And I suppose that's how I live life, too.  My eye becomes fixed on the goal, and I waste no time reaching it.  That's not to say I can't stop and smell the roses, but for the most part, I glide.  College, Europe trip, job.  There was a time in my not-so-distant past when my next goal was marriage.  I didn't know how I'd reach that goal, but everything in me was focused in that direction.  That's no longer my goal.  I've already written about my new and improved goal. 

As I thought about my walking habits as a symbol of my life and my new goal, it brought to mind two verses in particular:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." 

So I walk fast.  Good.  It reminds me of the way I should be pursuing the Lord.  Walk with me?
P.S.: notice how legit this early 90s illustration is.

February 21, 2010

Confessions of a Scaredy-Cat...

"Amanda, you have to stop freaking out every time a guy shows even the slightest sign that he may be interested in you."
"But I don't want to lead anyone on!"
"True, but you can be friends with guys, I mean, that is how you want it to happen, right?"
"Yes, but... if I know I don't want that friend to end up as my husband, then I don't want to give off any... signals."
*eye rolls and sighs all around*

My sisters and I were camped out in the local cozy coffee shop (NOT that name-brand chain, thankyouverymuch), animatedly and loudly discussing the newest issues with which I'm dealing.  Because as you know, though I'm a woman who's never dated, somehow I  have a whole host of issues that have come from that way of life.

Suddenly I nearly shout, "I'M A HOT MESS!!"

Surrounded by cakey muffins and freshly squeezed orange juice (the perfect nightcap), our faces flush from the excessive heat used in Florida establishments during winter, we laughed.  Okay, we cackled.  I think the cashier may have smiled.  It is funny.  I am a hot mess.  My friends are close enough to me that they could reveal this in no uncertain terms.  I love that about them.  As we sat there like cast members of a sit-com, it got me thinking about another unexpected consequence of singleness: fear.

My friends noticed that I don't act like someone who wants to get married.  I am more likely to run from anything that even smells like commitment... whatever commitment might smell like.  You might ask yourself why someone who has always wanted to be married would be so afraid of commitment.  I think it's because the more of life I live, and the more marriages I witness, the more I realize the intensity of such a decision.  While still herself, the married woman is now one with her husband and no longer her own person.  Independence is abandoned in favor of a lifetime of dependence (and companionship).

I get nervous anytime any guy shows even an inkling of interest because I fear getting into something that's not right, not wanted, and not as it should be.  Therefore my first instinct is always to run in the opposite direction, where it's safe, secure, and familiar. 

 Let me give you an example:  picture with me, if you will, the coffee-infused upper floor of a commons area at college.  I am asked to stay just a little bit longer than my friends and talk with a certain boy.  This boy and I had become fast friends in my last semester of school, and for a few weeks I'd begun to expect he felt a little more than friendship.  We sat, and he spoke.  He told me he had started to like me and.... then I zoned out as my mind raced.  I pasted on some kind of sick smile and my eyes glazed over as I heard a little voice in my head cry, "RUN!"  I literally contemplated getting up from the table and running across the plaza into my cozy dorm room.  Fortunately I don't listen to the voices in my head.  I zoned back in.  I was not put at ease by the next thing he said: he had been talking to his father about me.  Serious, much too serious... suffocating... have to get away...  I think God graciously gave me the ability to form the words, "I'm flattered, but I think I need to pray about this before I get into a relationship," and then I met my sisters (the very same ones with whom I still cackle in coffee shops) and recounted the whole event on my bed in my cozy dorm room.  Needless to say, I did not get into a relationship with this boy.  This was odd, considering I was in my last semester at Bible college, a time when most girls start to get a little desperate and assume that if they don't find someone before graduation, they never will.  And here a perfectly funny, charming, cute and friendly boy wanted to pursue me, and I ran.

I don't have a ton of other examples because frankly, I'm not the kind of girl men fawn over (thankfully).  But I know that this fear must shadow my relationships with guys.  My mom has always said I need to smile more, but I don't, because I don't want guys to get the wrong idea, or I don't want to start something that I'm afraid to finish.  I think I'm friendly enough, but maybe this is also why I don't flirt (see previous post on flirting).  I suppose the longer I am single, the worse this fear will get, as I will continue to live independently and the fear of giving that up and the fear of the unknown will only grow. 

Yet I know that perfect love casts out fear... so this "hot mess" will need two very important things in order to take a leap of faith into eternal commitment some day.  First, God will have to steadily remove my fear and replace it with trust in Him and trust in my eventual spouse. Secondly, some very strong, VERY patient man will have to ease my fears.  He'll have to be strong enough to tame "the shrew," and patient enough to want to stick it out until the fear is gone.  Until then, I'm grateful to be able to live the independent life now... I may feel like a lost cause, but I know that really, if I continue to trust in the Lord, He will truly remove my fears, because His love is perfect.

February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Snapshots...

As a true fan of the festivities of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd give snapshots of the Valentine's Days of my past. I hope they are little nuggets of joy in your V-Day.

No matter the year, I would wake up and smell Mom's pink pancakes. I'd scramble into some manner of pinkpurplered, anticipating all the day's festivities!  Next to my plate of pink pancakes and glass of cold milk was a little heart-shaped box of chocolates, usually with Barbie on the front.  Accompanying the chocolates was a note from Dad, written on a scrap piece of paper.  The valentine from my father usually included some kind of funny character, and some hand-drawn flies for added effect.  I thought this was something of my past, until I received a card in the mail yesterday with a picture of two gangsters (St. Valentine's Day Massacre... I am from Chicago, folks) and an inscription that read, "in lieu of crappy chocolate."  I love it. 

Snapshot #1:  My lunch would always include Mom's classic sugar cookies with pink icing (I can smell them even now), the same sugar cookies she sent me years later in college, which I used to pay a boy for picking up cough medicine for me.  It's true.  Mom had sent me beautifully iced sugar cookie hearts in the mail, but I was coughing like I had TB, and was losing my voice.  A kind friend on my brother floor went to Walgreens and picked up the meds for me, so I didn't have to brave the cold February city.  Though we were just friends, that was one of the sweetest Valentines I could have ever received: the sticky red elixir of health.   So I thanked him with the cookies.  But they were heart-shaped, and I think he maybe thought I was sending a message with that.... oops.

Snapshot #2: You can't have Valentine's Day without those ridiculous chalky conversation hearts.  I once had one that read, "be my icon."  Weird.  In high school, my fellow redheaded conspirator and I flipped them over and wrote our own conversations on them and handed those out.  I can't recall the sayings, but I do recall uncontrolled laughter, so I'm sure they were quite witty.  Probably we could have marketed those, except for the pen ink and everything.  More candy: I really loved the Sweet Tarts that were shaped like hearts.  I loved them so much that I put a white one in the ashtray of our old '92ish blue Plymouth Voyager, and about two years later I opened the ashtray and found the same piece of candy, now aged to a fine moldy white.

Snapshot #3:  The passing out of the valentines was always an event.  First of all, picking out the valentines was nothing short of exciting.  Should I get Barbie?  Or Disney?  Or maybe the cute puppy ones?  Of course you had to be very careful when distributing the valentines-- you wouldn't want to give that weirdo boy a valentine that read, "you're my Prince Charming;" that could be disastrous.  After the crazy mess of wildly sowing the valentines around the room, we'd sit down at our desks and sift through the pile of potential love notes. At the very least, the spoils you took home told you that your class at least liked you enough to write your name on a folded piece of paper secured by a heart sticker.

Snapshot #4: One thing I always thought was weird in elementary school was when "boyfriends" would give gifts to their "girlfriends."  I remember in fifth grade, Richard (whose favorite color was green and thusly he wore green sweats five days a week) gave Mandy (a tomboy with a heart of gold) "diamond" earrings (probably the finest translucent glass earrings he'd ever given) and a red rose made of feathers, maybe?  I thought that was weird.  I mean, what were their dates like in fifth grade?  "Let's hang out and play Pogs!"?!  I did get a Garfield book from Jose one year though.  Mom thought he liked me, but when a little boy flips his eyelids inside out at you, that doesn't say, "Be my valentine!"

Snapshot #5:  Through the years, I never gave up hope for a secret valentine.  Even at college.  They sold Crush cans that you could send to your friends or crushes, depending on the color.  I woke up one year to find a Monster can outside my door.  That was supposed to mean someone was stalking you.  Stalking does not equal secret valentine.

I've never had a real valentine, but I've always enjoyed the day.  May you find your own nuggets of joy on this day, with or without a valentine.  

February 11, 2010

My First Ebenezer...


There are moments in my life which I remember with perfect clarity-- the day Kristin and I signed our first contracts for our first teaching jobs, the snowy afternoon I opened my acceptance letter from Moody, and that snowless, dreary February day when I reached the first real turning point in my faith...
February 12, 2000 was an unseasonably tepidly cool Saturday.  I was sitting on the couch, and the phone rang.  I looked behind me out the window.  The grass was brown, dead, with the snow long-melted but the spring still far off.  I didn't know what the phone call was about, but really, I did.  Dad came in and told me that Tim had died, and I cried.  I went upstairs and turned on my late-90s Christian music and leaned against my tall dresser and cried.  I opened up my journal-- a Veggie Tales journal that still bore the traces of girlhood-- and I wrote what had happened, my mascara-tinted tears staining the page.  As I think back ten years, I remember that girl, sitting on her bed, crying.  Her heart was broken.  She didn't understand.  Her life had changed and she didn't think the pain would ever, ever subside.  She certainly couldn't see ten years into the future, and how this event would forever change her life.

Let me back up even farther.  It's May, 1998.  I was about to graduate eighth grade.  I was to leave the friends with whom I'd spent nine years of my life and enroll in a Christian high school, full of beautiful tall, blond, Dutch models... and I didn't know a soul.  As if that weren't frightening enough for a fourteen year-old, my parents had dropped a bomb on me.  We were leaving the church in which I'd grown up.  This was the church where I'd met my closest  friends, been involved in AWANA for years, and created countless memories.  We were leaving and I didn't understand.  My whole world capsized, and to a fourteen year-old with deep emotions and a lack of control over them, this was unbearable.  

We started church hunting one Sunday, beginning at Grace Fellowship Church... and we never left.  Immediately I was welcomed into the youth group.  The girls liked my homemade "glow worm" dress.  They took me on a walk during the church picnic with the intent to witness to me, because they didn't know if I was a believer.  They showed me the love of Christ.  Their leader was Tim Yetter, a young Moody grad with a wacky sense of humor and a deep love for the Lord.  This youth group and its leader began something in me that would change the rest of my life: I think it was sometime after joining this youth group that my Pharisaical faith became real.  What I'd always heard about and known in my head finally entered my heart and I believed it and wanted to live it the way Tim lived it.  I'd never seen someone so young be so on fire for the Lord.  He inspired the whole youth group to be "fully-devoted followers of Christ."  The lessons I learned as I entered high school were the building blocks of my true faith, and little did I expect that I would soon need to rest on those blocks when the storm came.

The youth group wasn't perfect.  We probably idolized Tim too much.  But even so, he always pointed back to Christ, quoting John the Baptist: "He must become greater; I must become less."  But one day, on a youth retreat in Minnesota (the picture at the top of the post-- he is seated front left), Tim mentioned some fleeting health concerns.  We made fun of him, put Ambersol in his Billy Bob teeth, and forgot about it on the eight-hour ride home in an un-airconditioned bus with vinyl seats.  But just a couple months later, he was yellow.  Jaundiced, because he had a rare disease of the liver.  And as if that weren't enough, by winter we knew he had liver cancer.  He was 27.  He was our youth pastor.  This wasn't supposed to happen to him.  His ministry was thriving.  Things like this didn't happen to people like him, right?  His name went on the transplant list.  I recall one night around Christmas, youth group had been canceled because Tim was on his way to potentially get a transplant.  We gathered anyway in the sanctuary that was lit with Christmas candles and prayed.  We sang.  We made the choice to trust God rather than blame him.  

The transplant didn't pan out.  So we had an all-nighter.  Tim spoke to us and fed us the words we'd heard him say before: "He must become greater, I must become less."  He was weak, yellow, dying.  But there were words of praise, not words of pain coming from his mouth.  Two weeks later was the day Tim went to be with Jesus.

And that's where you meet that girl on the bed.  I say "that girl," because I am no longer "that girl."  Because that day, I knew I had a decision to make: I could choose to not trust this God who had allowed something so terrible to happen to such a wonderful leader and teacher... or I could choose to trust that this God was sovereign and good, with a purpose so beyond me that I could not understand.  And here I raise my ebenezer: I trusted him.  I trusted him, and that test of my faith grew me more than I could have ever imagined, because I (and the rest of the youth group) was forced to depend on the Lord and trust and hope that good would come from this painful situation.  

It wasn't easy.  I remember going to bed each night and praying that God would make me not miss him as much the next day, that it would hurt a little less.  I thought I'd never heal.  But I did.  Years passed, and the series of events that have played out in my life are sovereignly connected to Tim's impact on my life.  I attended Moody Bible Institute, which forever changed my life and my relationship with the Lord, and it led me to move to Florida where I now have my own ministry to young girls whom I teach to be fully-devoted followers of Christ.

I can't let February 12 go by without remembering Tim Yetter, being thankful for his spiritual legacy, and most importantly, giving credit to God for orchestrating events in a way that changed my life more than I could have ever imagined (and I know I'm not the only one).  The point of this blog is a memorial and a reminder to me from whence I came, and an encouragement to myself to continue trusting God for my future.

I pray that if you read this, you think about your spiritual legacy.  I pray that if you read this, you remember the fact that God is sovereign and good.  And I pray that you strive to be a "fully-devoted follower of Christ."

And God, the next time you see him, please tell Tim "thanks" for me, and let him know that I'm keeping the main thing the main thing. :)

February 9, 2010

The "Gulf War"...

One of the hardest things about singleness is not among the first that might come to your mind.  Not being cared for?  Sure.  Uncertainty of the future?  Of course.  Feeling rejected?  Obviously.  But something I've been pondering lately is a blow I never saw coming: a feeling of disconnection.

Without trying, the marrieds have separated themselves.  They do not intend to exclude, nor do they wish ill-will on us, the single.  However, it remains that the marrieds talk about married things.  They're buying houses.  They're buying furniture.  They're having children.  They're making decisions.  They're laying foundations.  This is the stuff of their lives, stuff about which I'm unaware.  I'm living month-to-month in my rented apartment.  I have no idea where I'll be in a year.  I have neither tie nor foundation.

Trying to overcome this disconnection is an endeavor; as a single you are not the priority.  Their spouse is, as it should be.  After regular responsibilities and spousal accomodations, whatever time is left may or may not be used to catch up with single friends, and when they do catch up, there's that whole I'm-in-a-different-phase-of-my-life-than-you obstacle to overcome.  You have to struggle to imagine the minutae of marital bliss, and they have to struggle to remember the idiosyncracies of singleness.

With my closest married friends, this isn't as big of an issue.  We make the effort to regularly spend time together, with and without the spouse.  We were friends before the spouse and we'll be friends for years to come.  Yet I notice it even so.  I don't know if marrieds are as aware-- I doubt it.  I think they have their own disconnect with other marrieds.  But when I am out with my married friends and I find myself as the only single, I feel a palatable separation that is, while unintentional, completely difficult to handle at times.
Mostly I choose to ignore it and move on.  What can be done?  If I'm doing my best to love them and spend time together, and the disconnection remains, what can be done?  This is a question for which I have no answer. 

I'm not sure there is an answer.  This disconnection shouldn't be an excuse to spend time with only singles, or to shun marrieds, or to wallow in self-pity.  I think this gulf between married and single is natural and normal, but I didn't anticipate it.  It's probably something I'll get used to over time.  The gulf will probably grow over time when children are added. 

But what this disconnect has reminded me is that I can be comforted in the fact that Jesus Christ has bridged the gulf of sin between me and God.  The mild separation I experience between my married friends and me is painful, but nothing in comparison with what those without Christ must experience.  I will be forever thankful to my Savior for giving himself for me to give me that relationship with God.  No matter how disconnected I may feel from my married friends, I am promised that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.

February 5, 2010

Cyberspace Graffiti...

There is graffiti in a stall in the school in which I work that reads something like this: "hello person in the last stall.  You would choose the last stall.  I like it here too. <3"

What is the purpose behind writing with a Sharpie on the outdated, speckled tile of a bathroom wall?  Or etching your nickname into a desk?  Or musing on the graffiti-littered bunk beds at camp?  Legacy.  We want to leave a legacy-- make our mark, leave something behind.  Some kind of physical emblem that evidences our brief existence.  Isn't that why it's done?  So we can point to it in the future, smile, and say, "that was me.  I was here.  I made my mark."  And as I thought about this odd social practice that evidences such insecurity, I asked myself one uncomfortable question: is this what blogging is for me?  My way to make an indelible mark in cyberspace?  A kind of world-wide graffiti?  Is blogging a way to leave a legacy-- evidence that I existed and my life meant something?

I suppose to an extent that's true, and for many people with blogs it must be true.  But as I explored this topic, I found that this is the real reason I blog:

Though I'd never begin to actually compare myself to David or my writing to the Psalms, my goal in writing is to do what the Psalmist did-- lament or joy about the things of life-- true emotion, real though, veritable feelings... but then pull things back to God, where the focus should be, reminding myself of the truth that trumps emotion.  This is often for myself-- a chance for me to air my thoughts, type it out, and get my head on straight.  But like the Psalmist, I'd really like to encourage my readers.  I would hope that by God's grace, readers would relate to what I've written, know they're not alone, and be encouraged to then live and react in an appropriate way.  I hope others will learn and benefit from the milestones I've reached in my own life.

So I suppose in a way, I would like my blogging to be a kind of legacy.  When I'm gone, if what I've written will point others to Christ, that's the kind of legacy I would like to leave.  I've been putting a lot of thought towards the topic of legacies, as that will be much of what we talk about at summer camp this year.  What do I want to leave behind?  For me, I want to leave behind a group of girls who love the Lord and will in turn teach others about Christ.  I want to leave behind writing that points to the Savior and the Truth.  I want to leave behind the memory of an example of Christlikeness.  And now, in the day-to-day, moment-by-moment, I strive to live my life in such a way that I will indeed leave these legacies, for God's glory.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?  Hopefully it's more than graffiti on a bathroom wall. :)