Sunday, June 24, 2012

Call Me Jonah.

I used to think Martha was my power player in the Bible that I could relate to, but I'm a little bit horrified to realize that I'm more of a Jonah. Now, you probably don't understand this if you had the same Vacation Bible School understanding of Jonah that I had before today. He ran away from God, he got swallowed by a whale, he was saved and followed God's will. That's not so much the part I relate to. It's the part after that. It's a lot of scripture, so I'll give you my synopsis.

After Jonah agrees to God's plan for his life, he goes and preaches to the city of Ninevah, known for skinning people alive and letting them slowly die, and tells them that God will surely destroy them. And here's the amazing thing: they listen to him. They all repent, the people, the king, everyone. And God spares them. Isn't that awesome?

Except, here's the thing. If I'm Jonah... and I actually kind of am... I just did three days in a whale for essentially not going above and beyond in my faith, and now these crazy skinner/killer people basically got off with a warning. I'm Jonah. I didn't kill anybody, I'm a good person, I helped bring these people to faith... and now they've faced NO consequences for their actions.

I'm going to stop right here for a second. Okay, have you ever realized that someone annoys you or you even dislike them because you two are a lot alike? Meet my dad and I. I love him to death, but he can annoy and irritate me more than most people, and I've begun to realize that it's because we use the exact same tactics. Or maybe you've recorded yourself singing or speaking in public and you think you've done pretty well... and then you watch it and feel immediately like you need to destroy the recording. This is kind of how I felt listening to Jonah's story. When a.) Jonah goes to a desert to pout about other people being forgiven and b.) when God gives him a tree for shade and then kills it as a lesson in hopes of bringing him back and Jonah's like, "Ya, I AM mad about this, and I'd rather be dead right now"... I'm thinking, "What a jack-wait a minute..."

I try most of the time not to complain about things. Mostly because I hate when other people complain, so I think it's only fair. But, when I do complain... I don't really complain. I pout. In the most visible and epic fashion possible. Where it makes other people uncomfortable. And I don't pull this pouting skill set out too often, but when I do, watch out.

Why isn't Ali eating any food? Why is she sitting as far away from everyone as possible? Why is she refusing sunblock or aloe for her sunburn? Why is she visibly grimacing when people make jokes?

Oh, she's just pouting. She'll be fine in a while.

You could offer me a new car mid-pout, and guess what? I wouldn't take it. Because I'm busy being miserable and I don't want a new car to mess with that. Short of a desert, I'm Jonah.

And my mom said after the message that she couldn't understand why Jonah, who had a hand in bringing these people into God's presence and into faith, would be upset that God working through him actually worked.

But I get that.

I've helped people out, and then disliked them more than before. Actually, at least twice in my life, I was able and felt called to be a blessing in someone's life, and then later felt like they were judging my generosity. I definitely went full-Jonah for about 24 hours, and I think I still go semi-Jonah from time to time when I think about it. And I know some people don't struggle with this at all, but Jonah's story is MY story. Sometimes I think that life would probably be easier as a Ninevite human skinner, probably like Jonah did. But I know it wouldn't. I know that I need to embrace not just what God calls people to do, but his reason, his love, his purpose, his timing... the reason he created such diverse people with different strengths and weaknesses and struggles.

I told my mom once (when I was struggling) that I genuinely believe that everyone does the best they can in their lives, all the time. Because, why wouldn't they?

Even though I don't want to believe this... I still kind of do. I truly think that we're all people fighting different battles.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is Your Mom Disappointed?

Yesterday, my mom brought my friend a cake at our workplace for her birthday. See below.

Whenever my mom bakes something for people unfamiliar with her baking, it gets oohs and ahhs, lots of questions, and inevitably "this is too pretty to eat!"

I also usually field the following questions:
"Did she pass her baking skills on?" or "Do you like to bake to?" (No and no.)

Which sometimes results in my least favorite question that people ask:
"No? Is she disappointed?"

I invariably got asked this question yesterday. Luckily, it was from a sympathizer, who wanted to tell me about her torturous pre-teen years canning tomatoes with her step-mom to prepare her for wifedom, but I still don't like getting that question.

I usually say, "No, she's not disappointed. We get along great, but we have very different strengths and hobbies."

And I really don't think my lacking domesticity bothers my mom. Well, it might bother her. One time last winter my car wouldn't start, and there was a -20 windchill. When she showed up and we were waiting for a tow-truck, she asked if we could clean out the back to my car. The answer was no... but I've never felt like my mom was "disappointed" that my house is generally messy, my cooking is generally subpar, and I'd rather poke sewing needles in my eyes than use them to whip up some home-sewn craft.

If anything, I'M disappointed. A lot of my childhood memories revolve around these things, so I kind of felt most of my semi-adult life that before I had children, I would have to learn to cook, clean, sew, bake, do laundry beyond throwing any and all dirty clothes in the washer and dumping some detergent in... but it quickly became apparent to me that would probably never happen.

And please don't say, "Oh, I never wanted to do those things when I was younger either! You'll get better!" That's SORT OF true. I can make crockpot meals now, because it's cheaper than Chinese take-out. But will you ever hear me say, "I just found a new recipe I can't wait to try!" No. And if you do, I'm mocking my mother.

But when I really think back on growing up, it wasn't because she cooked or baked or sewed that she was the best mom... It was because she took care of me. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And that, in whatever form it may take, I can do for my children.

I hope that they never have to field a question like, "Oh, you hate writing? Is your mom disappointed?" or "You're not a good student? Is your mom disappointed?"

But if they do get asked those questions, I hope they can respond with confidence in the same way I do, knowing that their parents love them, acknowledge their unique skills and abilities, and could not be disappointed by them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The KFC Martyr

I like to think that I'm a darn funny person, so it pains me to say that the most laughs I've ever received from my parents, sister, and husband came from this great one-liner:

"I'm not stubborn."

You would have thought I reinvented the knock-knock joke or something. These people that knew me best were ROLLING on the floor with tears STREAMING down their face. Fine, whatever. I'm stubborn. I didn't realize though, how stubborn I was perceived as being until January when I went to the ER for dehydration. About 10 hours after leaving the ER for treatment, I was back at work. I only told everyone because I did miss one day... and the tape from the IV was still stuck to my arm. My favorite co-worker expressed her genuine concern at my idiotic behavior and my boss just smirked and said, "Ali loves to be a martyr."

At first I thought this was a compliment. Martyrs are really great, brave people, so passionate for a cause that they'd die for it. But hold on... I don't think most martyrs, at least sane ones, love to be a martyr. They're just willing to be. And it's for one cause. If there was someone so stupid that they'd lay their lives down for every opinion they have... crap, that wasn't a compliment. To be fair, if there's a gene for stubbornness, I have it bad. You see, I'm the granddaughter of the KFC martyr. My grandpa didn't eat or purchase KFC for 35 years. THIRTY. FIVE. YEARS. And he loves fried chicken. But you see, thirty-five years ago, some person at some KFC pissed my grandpa off. And he was done doing business at KFC. All KFCs. Forever.

Would he go to a KFC in China? Answer's still no.

Not to mention my dad, whose going 12 years strong on his boycott of Old Chicago after they had bad service on my sister's 10th birthday. My grandpa told Nate a while (I don't even remember who about), "Well, if you don't like him, I don't like him!" which in our family is a great compliment, but I think it just kind of disturbed Nate (as it probably would most people).

Don't get me wrong, in many areas of my life, my stubbornness has served me well. My first weekend at Eureka one of the douche-y frat guys saw my friends and I walking around campus and invited us to play beer pong. I didn't even say anything. He looked at the look I was giving him and said, "Okay, she's not in, apparently." So in terms of peer pressure, being stubborn is a great asset. No means no - because I said no. I think it's also helped me professionally. Ya, I probably come off like a huge jerk from time to time, but at the end of the day, I get things done. Because I don't care if your Vice President, Senior Vice President, Senior Executive Vice President, or the cleaning lady. I want you to have answers for why you want me to do things a certain way, and if I think I have a better way, I expect you to explain why you still want to do it your way. This makes me sound like a miserable employee, but at the end of the day, even if a leader doesn't know it, that's the kind of employee that they want and need.

Though it's hurt me too, my stubbornness has actually helped my faith in a lot of ways. I stand firm for my faith, and I'm not shaken because stubbornness is just a part of me.

But as I think about all of the things that I'm stubborn about... all of the things I fight for... all of the things that I beat myself up about if I give in on... I feel a little silly. I'm working to become more deliberate about choosing which things are worth being stubborn about, and which things I should just let go. Because really, a martyr who will die for anything, really isn't a martyr at all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sometimes Rocky Road: Relationship Advice for Anyone

My husband is my favorite person in the world. As I type this, he's laying next to me asleep and snoring, with crazy hair, blowing his stink breath on me. And he's still my favorite person. We're about a month out from our second wedding anniversary, which is also our seventh anniversary as a couple. Yes, that's right, we're one of those crazy high school sweetheart couples that made it through. That fact usually elicits a few "aww"s. Even just telling people we've been together since we were 16 usually gets response like, "You have the relationship I want!" or "You're so cute!" But to be honest, while finding my soul mate at 16 saved me heartache in a lot of areas, it's a lot less adorable-ness and a lot more work than most people understand. Discover yourself as a person, graduate high school, make college plans, decide on a future career... all while nurturing the most important relationship in your life (other than God)? Sure, no problem. But when you make a metal alloy, the metals lose their individual characteristics, and the atoms of different sizes and shapes combine, creating something entirely new... and stronger. I want to share with you a few things I've learned about our relationship that are a little less "aww," that you need to know and know how to deal with, if you want a successful relationship.

1. Your relationship will struggle if God isn't at the center, no matter how hard to work.

I am a hard worker. And I'm stubborn as heck. But all of my hard work could never match the blessing of what God has for Nate and I as a couple. I think Nate and I had God in our relationship for most of our seven years, but we always tried to make him feel like the awkward third wheel. "Oh, hey God... we were actually just going to a movie... Come along? Well, okay." But I think that about six months ago, we truly took the step to put Him first, each other second, and let everything else fall into place. That decision has been a blessing above and beyond what I could even imagine.

2. There will be moments when nothing seems sacred anymore.

I remember the first time Nate and I farted in front of each other. Is that weird? Because we both do, and for some reason, we love that story. It was about 6 months after we started dating, and we were actually celebrating Christmas at my parents' house. My mom had made double chocolate cheesecake, which apparently is both a delicious dessert and a colon cleanser. We started talking about how our stomachs hurt, and I did it... I farted. And he chuckled like it was the most adorable thing he had ever seen/heard. Fast forward six and a half years and my farts are usually met with total disgust or even a non-response. Seven years has taken the mystery out of just about everything, but that's okay. Mystery is for puppy love. When I was first pregnant, I think I had a trimester's worth of morning sickness in about 24 hours a few days prior to finding out I was pregnant. I woke up at about 2am on a Sunday, horrified, and RAN to the bathroom to sit on the toilet. In the process of expelling everything except my soul out of me, I ALSO started vomiting. I was already on the toilet, so I just threw up all over our small bathroom's floor. These delightful sounds beckoned my husband and he ran towards the bathroom. "Oh God..." he said, looking at me with huge eyes, as everything that I had ever consumed shot out of both ends Exorcist style. I began to sob, and he told me to get in the shower, and he would clean it up. Now, that alone should win him husband of the century, but as I cried in the shower and he cleaned up my vomit... I said something that wins him husband of the millennium.

"Nate," I whimpered softly.
"Ya honey?" He said, being the champ he is, cleaning up my puke.
"I think... I think I s*** the bed."
"You think what?" he said slowly, sure he had misheard.
"I S*** THE BED!!" I sobbed loudly. "I woke up and it was too late!"

Ya, please say "Aww" to that people. Because someone that will clean up multiple bodily excretions of yours in one night is more adorable than a Nicholas Sparks book, hands down.

3. You can tell a lot from the fights you have.

When Nate and I first got married, we had a HUGE fight. Probably one of our biggest. And I left. I just left. And it was late, probably midnight or so. I didn't have anywhere to go, but I had to just get out of there. I was SO mad. He kept calling my cell phone, and on about the fifth call, I had burned through a lot of gas, so I picked up.

"WHAT" I said.
"I know you're mad," he said.
"Oh, you think?" I yelled sarcastically.
Nate responded softly. "If you don't want to see me, then come home, and I'll leave for the night. It's late and I don't want anything to happen to you."
I wanted to yell at him some more, but how can you even respond to that with anything but love?

4. You'll want to give up.

Nate and I don't use the word divorce. We've never fought to a level where we'd even have used it, but we don't even say it jokingly. But about three years into our relationship, we wanted to give up. It was at the point where you've been together long enough that everything seems boring, but not long enough that you've truly invested in each other. We were also making huge life choices, and in the process, trying to figure out if we were making decisions for "me" or "we." We spent the night on the phone, talking about whether we really wanted to be together, and I think at one point, I hung up on him. At the time, he was on his cell phone at Kroger. About 30 seconds after I hung up on him, leaving our relationship in an uncertain place, he ran into his ex-girlfriend. They chatted for a bit, and she told him that they should hang out that night. "Ya, sounds good," he said.

To this day, I am so thankful that Nate paused a couple seconds, turned around and said, "Actually, my girlfriend and I are fighting right now... Tonight's probably not the best time for us to hang out."

5. Money can ruin everything.

I've only given Nate one ultimatum in our entire marriage (other than the 40 or so I jokingly gave about him proposing). But I've only given one seriously, because I think ultimatums are tacky and if something is that wrong, than you should probably just leave.

Nate really didn't have a lot of good examples in how to handle money, and his spending habits showed that. He was in an apartment he couldn't afford, paying everything on an always-nearly-maxed credit card, and it just wasn't good. I knew that, but I was trying to let him deal with the situation himself. That is, until I found out about the second credit card he had opened when he maxed the first one's limit.

When he realized I knew, he started crying before I even said anything (ya, I guess I'm that big of a b-word). But God gave me calmness and I actually hugged him, even though I wanted to punch him in the face. "You know we can't get married if you don't get this debt paid down," I said. "We need a good start to our marriage." And I hugged him tighter. A year later, we owned a home together, and got married with no consumer debt.

So those are five kind of crappy things about relationships, but in the end, if you're with the person that God has for you to be with and you're prepared for those circumstances, your life and relationship will be a BLESSING. It's not all roses, but when you have someone to lay next to you snoring and blowing their stink breath on you that you can truly thank God for, you don't mind fighting for that relationship.

Happy Two-Seven Year Anniversary, Nate! <3

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why We Will Tithe - Hint: It's Not Because of Nate's Professor's Legalistic Views

For anyone who missed my last status update... Nate took on his professor on an issue that came up in his class. Nate's professor said, "If you say you are a Christian and love God, but don't tithe (at least 10%) then your words mean nothing." I'll be honest, that really ticked me off. Part of me wanted to remind Nate that the professor is the one who gives him grades, but most of me just wanted to watch Nate pour over scripture and think carefully about the matter at hand. If a pastor told me what this dude said when I first started attending church, I think I would have probably told him that people like him were the reason I'd never wanted to attend church in the first place. I'm not a fan of the hard and fast rules on non-salvation issues, and I'm also not a fan of people sounding so judgmental and legalistic. PLEASE don't let this dude tell that to the single mom who's trying to rediscover her faith or the person who's been laid off, but gives freely of their time since they don't have the financials to tithe.

That being said, for some reason his words bothered me more than they should have. And longer than they should have. And on one end, it didn't make sense. I'm a Christian... I don't give 10% of my income... I know that my words don't mean nothing to the God who created me and loves me. So it wasn't that part that bothered me. Professionally, I try really hard to take criticism/advice well. And people have given me some really stupid feedback, to be totally honest. Feedback that I could have thrown away without a second thought. But I always make a point to examine what they've said. Poor communicators will give vague and unhelpful advice, but I make it a rule to take time to get to the bottom of what they're really saying, or what grain of truth I can get out of it. Was it the way I handled a specific situation? Was it verbal or non-verbal? Even the worst advice or feedback I've been given has usually given me insight in some small way.

I still think Nate's professor was wrong in his magical black and white 10% statement, but I began thinking about why it was bothering me. I prayed about it and realized that God and I hadn't talked money in a while. And I had never really felt called to give more, to be totally honest. Feeling called, I started our household budget over, with 10% taken off the top for a tithe.

To be honest, it's hard to cut my budget. We operate on a pretty lean system. We've ditched smart phones, don't have cable, pay for the cheapest Netflix package ($7.99 a month), call Comcast what seems like every stinkin' day to keep a reasonable rate on our internet, and keep our house too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. We live debt-free, other than Nate's student loans (in the process of sloooooowly paying off) and our mortgage (less than $475 a month, including insurance and taxes). As I went through the categories, I could think of a lot of reasons that now isn't the time to up our giving...
  • We're having a baby - we have to buy stuff for it, plus medical bills, plus we're trying to contribute to a college fund for her.
  • We're moving - we feel called by God to move to Bloomington, so we're doing it, which could mean increased housing expenses and uncertainties 
  • We're finally in a really good place with our finances
But when I got to the end of the budget, I had done it, coming out about $6 short a month. But if God can feed thousands from almost nothing, I'm sure he'll provide $6 a month or opportunities to save $6 in other areas. And I thought about all the reasons we SHOULD tithe.
  • Nate's studying for and feeling called to the ministry, and tithing shows our respect for the system and our faith in God to provide
  • Our daughter will come into the world knowing where our values lie
  • We will be asking others to help financially support our vision for the church plant we're participating in, and if we're not giving absolutely all we can, how could we begin to ask others to?
  • It's God money, anyways... he's just trusting us with it.
So, I continue to swear up and down that Nate's professor is wrong, and I do truly believe that. But his words and others' feedback allowed me to take time with God to re-evaluate our giving and be at the tithing level in September. When I talked to Nate about it this morning, he said "Sure, let's do it"... quickly followed by, "Is it only 7am? Why are you waking me up?" He had spent hours in scripture to debate this topic with his professor, but at the end of the day, Nate is the first to faithfully submit without question. Speaking of questions... does anyone have $6 I can have? I'm going to need it this month. ;-)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Moving Boxes of Rocks

Good, bad, or otherwise, I've never been an overly sentimental person. This is not new information to most people who know me, but as my reading audience has expanded, I think it's only fair to start with that. I didn't cry at my wedding (I did throw up, but that's another story), I never understood why people wanted me to go to my senior prom so badly (I didn't, and honestly will never regret it - I married my date, and we've done much cooler things since then), and I didn't even attend my college graduation (it was raining and I didn't feel like driving 35 minutes there). The same is true with physical places. When we graduated high school and my friends sighed and said, "We may never come back here..." I wanted to throw a praise hand up, say hallelujah and get out of there.

But I try to respect the sentimental. I have to, because my mom and sister are very much the sentimental types. I remember when we moved from our first house to the house my parents live at now, I was about 10 and MacKenzie was 7. I didn't know if that girl was going to make it through the move. First, she didn't want to move, which, fine, I get. Then, she wanted to take her rock collection with her. Her massive, extensive, heavy rock collection. And here's the thing about her rock collection... NONE OF THEM WERE EVEN COOL. In our old house, we had large stone landscape in a lot of areas, instead of gravel or mulch, and MacKenzie, the little recluse, would spend hours examining the rocks, and select a few... probably every day... to bring back inside with her. I believe the final compromise was "one small box of rocks" got to come to the new house, which I thought was beyond generous - to load a moving van with a box of rocks.

I might have met my rock collection last night, though. Last night, Nate and I went over to our church's ministry center in Morton to help load stuff up and clean, as our church moves into their first permanent location in Pekin. Prior to now, our church met at the Morton High School, then Morton Cinemas, then Tremont High School... and along the way we acquired our ministry space in the Field Shopping Center in Morton, where the pastors' offices are located and we have a space for meetings, student ministry, and other outreach. I think in a lot of ways, that space has been the site of more spiritual growth for Nate and me than any other area. As I swept the large open room in front, I thought about all of the youth groups we had there - my first message to the students on honoring their bodies, telling them my struggles with depression, Nate's first message on love and acceptance, Nate first expressing his hope to pursue a call to ministry, and talking with students and getting to know them and their struggles and their hearts. I also thought about my grandparents attending church there for the first time for one of our Christmas Eve services. As I moved into Connie's office and started sweeping, I thought about how she had mentored Nate and I there, or even just taken time to laugh with us. And as I vacuumed Dale's office, I thought about how terrified Nate and I were while we sat in there for marriage counseling, and how we came out of the sessions more terrified, but also more empowered and devoted to making a marriage work than ever before. As I cleaned these spaces, I started to get upset. "This place means too much to me to leave!" I thought, for probably one of the first times in my life. I wanted to shout to everyone to bring everything they had moved back into the building... or figure out a way to move the whole building, or something. I wanted to take it ALL with us. I didn't just want to take one small box of rocks.

But at the end of the day, those milestones aren't in the walls or the carpet or the chairs or the desks. Just like MacKenzie eventually realized that her childhood and memories weren't in those rocks. The milestones, the memories, the growth - they're in the people. Those things happened because of God and because of the people who worked to do his work in the world and invest in people who want to do the same. Where we're moving... God will be there. He's already there, working through the same people, through new people, and bringing more people to do his work every day. If I mourned that building, I'd just be mourning a big collection of rocks... and that would just be silly, right MacKenzie?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

You Only Live Once #YOLO

The #YOLO is everywhere. By everywhere, I mean mostly on Facebook posts of young people doing stupid things. But really, it's kind of become this mini-movement. Drake sings/raps about it, one of those stupid young heart throb guys (Justin Bieber? Zach Efron?) tattooed it on their hand. The Washington Post did an article on #YOLO and this is an excerpt - "YOLO, or “You only live once,” is sort of a teen interjection for “Carpe Diem.” Only it’s short on the noble idea of living life to its fullest — and more focused on brash decisions and their consequences."

Don't get me wrong, I don't disagree that you only live once (it's a fact people), but I'm just kind of upset about what this has become and what it COULD have become. When it comes down to it, our life on earth is short and that's what #YOLO is about, but how our life is executed based on that principle is what irks me.

I never see really positive, exciting statuses featuring #YOLO. It's always really stupid stuff usually involving reckless behavior, alcohol, drugs, or all of the above. And I get it. Please don't think I do. I know I act like a grumpy 80 year-old lady 95% of the time, but please remember I'm 23. That's young. I get it, and I got it even more about eight years ago. Because as young people, we constantly and consistently make bad decisions, and then try to find people or ways to validate them as being legitimate ways of living. Welcome to high school... for everyone. So now, young people don't even need friends to tell us how cool our "Demi Bad" tattoo is (Yes, this is a real tattoo Nate's 15 year old cousin has... her name is Demi, but anyone who doesn't know this would just assume that she was "sort of bad" based on the tattoo or maybe that demi-bad was how the tattoo rated for artistic quality). Young people don't need friends to tell them how awesome it is that they out-drank everyone, took our pants off, and jogged around the neighborhood and still managed to score with our crush  because now there is #YOLO. The #YOLO is there to validate you when you're hungover and feeling empty.

I think the reason I hate this #YOLO movement so much is because of what it could have been. Because life DOES have #YOLO moments. But they generally don't involving drinking too much, driving too fast, getting tattoos, or anything like that. Want to hear my #YOLO moments?
  • My husband is pursuing a call to ministry, and even though we don't know what the future holds, we're moving our little family to plant a church because we feel called by God. #YOLO
  • Last year, my great grandmother who I loved with all my heart passed away. I hadn't seen her in nearly five years because it broke my heart to see her in her severe deterioration from Alzheimer's, but when I knew she was going to pass, I visited her nursing home by myself for the first and last time to tell her good-bye and that I love her, even though I was terrified. #YOLO
  • I started dating my husband when I was 16, and instead of giving up when times got hard (real hard) or believing people when they called it "puppy love," we worked our butts off to create a relationship that would stand the test of time and committed to never give up on each other. #YOLO
"You only live once" is a fact. It shouldn't be a scare tactic, but it shouldn't be a validation for being an idiot, either. When you find your validation in a faith in Christ, you still only live once... but it's forever. And it's a life with purpose and meaning. So remember that. #YOLO