Posts Tagged 'Christianity'

On Memorial Day Weekend and Ultimate Hope

Well readers, remember this post in which I talk about how even for people who believe in the Restoration, it is all too easy to slip up and place our ultimate hope in the wrong things? I told you I would update you on whether I could adopt this eternal perspective when faced with disappointment, and unfortunately this weekend, I slipped up again.

I am not a huge fan of summer itself. My favorite season is Spring. We will get a few perfect summer days, but often times, summer days are too hot, humid and buggy for me. I start getting a headache and feeling weak after just a short time in the sun, and after dark especially, the mosquitoes eat me alive. If it is below 75 degrees or so, I love nothing more than going for a walk or taking a braille book outside to read on my porch swing, but above 80 degrees, I just want to read or write in the comfort of air conditioning. But I love Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Oftentimes, the weather is absolutely perfect on Memorial Day weekend, not hot or humid the way it usually is on the fourth of July. I love the festive atmosphere of Memorial Day weekend as our neighborhood which was frozen and quiet all winter, which often onofficially extends into May, comes alive again with happy voices of children playing and people having bonfires and picnics. Memorial Day weekend is sometimes the first weekend you can ride in the car with the windows rolled down. I also love the fact that Memorial Day is always on a Monday, so rather than preparing for work or school Sunday night, we can have a leisurely cookout, and then take a late evening walk to smell the lilacs and hear the beautiful sounds of late spring, especially the mating calls of the frogs from my neighbor’s pond up close, rather than just through the window as I get ready for bed. Then on Memorial Day itself, we have a leisurely breakfast and then we dust off our lawn chairs, load them into our van and drive to a neighboring community to see a parade. I know parades are somewhat visual, but I love just the festive atmosphere, and the moments when a marching band or a bagpipe and bugle corps march by are so spectacular it is worth waiting through the visual stuff.

But in 2016, this idyllic weekend was shattered by a rejection letter. As I discussed in this post, my job was causing me a tremendous amount of anxiety, but I was so excited about a position with the State of Wisconsin as an Equal Rights Officer. It would have been a higher level position investigating cases of employment discrimination and it was located in Madison so I would get to experience living on my own. When I woke up the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend 2016, I was on top of the world. I hadn’t had a long weekend off since New Year’s Day except for one Monday I requested off to go to Madison to interview for a position in the Public Defender’s office, but that doesn’t really count as a day off since getting suited up and mentally preparing for an interview is nerveracking. In those dark days, it seemed as though Memorial Day Weekend would never come, but at last, it was here! I remember waking up and having a leisurely breakfast, and then having a wonderful bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends. After that, Dad and I went to Chipotle, our favorite Saturday lunch spot and had a peaceful lunch. Mom usually went with us, but she didn’t feel like going for some reason. I forget why, but Dad and I wanted to go, so we went out just the two of us. On the way home, I distinctly remember driving slow with the windows rolled down enjoying a glorious warm spring breeze. Jimmy Buffett’s song Volcano came on the radio, which is one of my favorite songs to sing along too. When we got home, I planned to sit on the porch swing and read My Side of the Mountain. I remember loving this book when I read it in fifth grade, but had kind of forgotten what exactly happened in the story. I remembered the basic premise of a boy living in the city who ran away from home and taught himself to live in the wilderness, but couldn’t remember a lot of detail, so when I saw that this book was available from Seedlings, a company that produces braille books for children at a reasonable price, I felt compelled to order it for Memorial Day weekend thinking it would be a therapeutic, fun, easy read. But then Dad pulled up to the mailbox to get the mail, and in that pile of mail was the rejection letter. I thought I had interviewed well for this position, and while the rejection letter for the public defender position came pretty quickly after that interview, I thought it was promising that the Equal Rights Position hadn’t responded yet. Hope was still alive Saturday morning, but now that hope was dashed, and I had looked at the job boards Friday evening and there were no promising prospects. Would I be stuck in this miserable position forever? I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to stand it. All around me, the rest of the world was enjoying an idyllic Memorial Day Weekend. I went through the motions of enjoying the weekend. Saturday afternoon, I went out to the swing and tried to read My Side of the Mountain, but after reading the first paragraph ten times, it was clear I couldn’t focus, so I gave up. I went to church with Mom and came down from my room for meals with my family. My dad cooked steak and baked potatoes on the grill Sunday evening, and we ate in our dining room with the window open enjoying a pleasant cool evening breeze, but my heart wasn’t in this moment. In high school I discovered that on the eve of Memorial Day each year, PBS broadcasts a Memorial Day concert from Washington DC. The music in this concert is always beautiful and the solemn reading of letters from soldiers who were killed or wounded, or their loved ones really put life into perspective. It became a tradition for my parents and I to watch this concert every year, but as I despondently sat down to watch this concert in 2016, I just couldn’t pay attention to these soldiers and their families who really had something to cry about. All I could think about was my feeling of hopelessness, and this made me feel even worse. By Monday evening, I realized I needed to get myself together because I had to work the next day, so to give myself hope, I made two resolutions. The first one was healthy and positive. The second one I now realize, was bizarre and petty. The first resolution was that by next Memorial Day weekend, one way or another, my circumstances would be different. If I couldn’t find another job and my current job was the same, I would quit. If I burned through my savings paying for insurance and could no longer afford it, then I would be uninsured. This first resolution was achieved. After Christmas, I exclusively handled appeals for other case managers and my anxiety soon melted away, and then in February 2017, I switched to a part-time schedule and have been at peace with this decision ever since. But the second petty resolution was that I was bound and determined that next year, I would have a do-over of this ruined weekend and have the perfect Memorial Day Weekend.

In March 2017, Mom went down to Indiana to take my grandma to a doctor appointment. She planned to go down on Thursday March 23 and come home on Saturday, but ended up having to rush back on Friday because of my seizure. Then in April, my mom needed shoulder surgery and was not able to drive, or sit in a car for a long period of time. By May, Mom was not comfortable driving yet, but she felt she could handle sitting in the car, so she wanted to make a trip back to Indiana. The original plan was to make a quick trip to Indiana the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, but that week, Dad came down with a really nasty cold and was still coughing up a lung Saturday morning. Mom and Dad decided rightly that it wouldn’t be smart to go to Indiana with him in this condition, especially since Grandma’s immunity might be weak. So they decided Memorial Day weekend was the most sensible plan B, especially since with my new part-time schedule, I had a four day weekend. We could leave Saturday morning, stay for a parade my cousin would be marching in, after which my aunt always hosts a cookout, and then come home late Monday evening.

But the older I get, the more I hate overnight travel of any kind. I hate the commotion of packing for the trip, the difficulty of cooking a gluten free breakfast in an unfamiliar kitchen, the loss of freedom and independence I feel in an unfamiliar setting, everything. I would not have enjoyed it the weekend before either, but the fact that I had to travel on my precious, long-awaited Memorial Day weekend made me even more disappointed. I could have stayed home, but I could tell my parents were nervous about leaving me home alone for that long after my seizure incident, and if I did stay home, there would be no cookout, parade, or pleasant outdoor walks because I don’t know how to use the grill, and where we live, there are no sidewalks so someone needs to go with me for walks, and we have to drive to our parade route. Either way, I wouldn’t be getting the idyllic Memorial Day weekend I had hoped for, but I decided all in all, I would have more fun if I came along than if I was stuck home alone. So instead of a leisurely breakfast that Saturday morning, we ate a quick breakfast as we analyzed what we still needed to pack. I could tell it was going to be a glorious day outside, but instead of racing out to the swing with a book to savor it, I was preparing pre-measured bags with everything I would need to cook gluten free oatmeal for breakfast Sunday and Monday morning. Since Grandma now needed to live in an assisted living facility, there was no longer food in her refrigerator and we weren’t going to be staying long enough to warrant buying food to cook when we got there. While there are a few gluten free restaurant options for lunch and dinner, I would have to make breakfast myself.

On the trip down, we had a pleasant lunch at Cracker Barrel, and I enjoyed catching up with Grandma when we arrived that evening. Sunday was a peaceful day too. Per usual when cooking breakfast away from home, my oatmeal didn’t turn out right, but my mood improved when we went back to see Grandma and she showed me some of the things the therapist wanted her to do. We played catch together with a soft ball to work on coordination, and we laughed as we both kept missing the ball. And we would hear a THUNK as the ball hit the wall. In the afternoon, Dad and I went to an Italian restaurant in a town nearby that advertised gluten free options. It was delicious, and I especially enjoyed the sautéed spinach, something unique that I had never had before. Then we took a long walk on a nature trail. But in the evening, I started getting a headache, probably because I wasn’t used to the weather which was ten degrees warmer than it was at home. So we went back to Grandma’s house where I cooked a can of soup and went to bed early. Because Grandma was no longer living in her house, cable and internet service were cancelled. I tried to stream the Memorial Day Concert on my phone as I lay in bed using data but had no luck. I wanted to keep with tradition and watch it live, but it was being taped at home, so I accepted that I would just have to wait until then.

Mom brought a crockpot and all the ingredients to make a cherry cobbler to take to my aunt’s cookout. So on Memorial Day, she assembled the cobbler which she planned to cook at my aunt’s house during the parade. Then we proceeded to pack the car because after enjoying my aunt’s cookout and visiting Grandma one more time, we planned to head home. But that morning, it had rained a little, and this made the wooden ramp that leads down to the driveway of Grandma’s house very slippery. So while carrying something to the car, Mom fell. She had been warned that if she fell, she could undo her surgery, thus requiring another surgery, and Mom was in a lot of pain after this fall. We ended up quickly visiting Grandma, dropping the crockpot off at my aunt’s house and telling her to enjoy the cobbler without us, and then heading home early. We tried to make the best of things, going to Chipotle on the way home and then having a peaceful evening watching the Memorial Day Concert. But I felt so bad seeing Mom so upset and in so much pain, and there was such a palpable fear that she would have to undergo another surgery when recovery from the first one had been so rough that I was glad to see this Memorial Day Weekend come to an end. Next year, I vowed to myself, we are going to have the perfect Memorial Day weekend!

And so the countdown to Memorial Day weekend 2018 began, especially after New Year’s Day when we all desperately need some hope to get us through the long cold winter. Then at the end of April with just five weeks until Memorial Day, Dad and I were taking a walk when Dad suggested, “I was thinking for Memorial Day, the three of us could take a trip…” “No!” I said before he could even finish. “You know I would plan everything out and make sure there were good gluten free options and everything. And we would come back Sunday so we could still go to the parade Monday,” he said. My dad does do a great job planning things and sniffing out gluten free restaurants, but there was to be no stress, no packing hassles, no gross bowls of oatmeal in a hotel, no troubles of that sort marring this perfect Memorial Day weekend I had waited three years for. I just wanted a peaceful weekend at home, and I wanted to replicate the activities I was too sad to enjoy in 2016. Then a couple weeks later, we celebrated the birthday of the grandma on my dad’s side. For the past several years, my parents have been taking Grandma to a play, ballet performance or concert for her birthday and Christmas presents rather than buying stuff. She enjoys the arts but would not be able to get to these venues herself, and because I love the arts, I almost always come along as well. This year for her birthday, my parents decided to get tickets to a patriotic concert the Milwaukee Symphony Pops orchestra was performing in honor of Memorial Day. Now I absolutely love the Milwaukee Symphony Pops orchestra. I even got to perform with them when I was in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, so I was looking forward to hearing them again and reliving memories of when I was onstage with them in this very venue. What I didn’t like was the show time my parents chose. They thought about inviting Grandma over for a quick dinner and then going to the 8:00 show Friday evening, but instead decided to get tickets for the Sunday afternoon show and then have dinner afterwards. Normally I wouldn’t mind this arrangement either, but I knew Grandma would want to take us out to eat and since we would get home from the concert right at dinnertime, going out to eat would make more sense than cooking. Of course we could have the cookout Monday, and Mom said that is actually what people traditionally do, but in 2016 when we had the cookout Sunday, it seemed as though my parents enjoyed it more because their minds were not already thinking about work the next day, whereas the evening of Memorial Day itself has that Sunday night feel. I also wanted to be home in time to watch the National Memorial Day Concert since sometimes our DVR malfunctions.

On Thursday, we had to turn on our air conditioner for the first time this season, and the weather forecast said we would be in the 90s all weekend which is unusual for Memorial Day. So as I got ready for work Friday morning, I realized I would need to re-think my plan of reading on the porch swing all afternoon. Then on the way to work, Mom invited me to come along on a quick trip to visit my brother who lived about an hour and a half away, as we needed to give him some important mail that came to our house. As long as we were there, we would go out for brunch and then when we got home, we could go swimming in the afternoon. At first, sibling rivalry reared its ugly head and I was annoyed that we needed to visit him when he had come home and taken over the house the previous three Saturdays (more about this in a future post), but I really do love my brother, and we are a lot alike. The town where he lives has a surprising number of gluten free restaurants given that it is a smaller town than Milwaukee, and it was going to be too hot to sit on the swing and read so what else would I do. And I liked the idea of swimming in the afternoon. Swimming was my favorite summer pastime as a child, but as an adult, I was tired of the public pools over-run with screaming kids and too packed to move freely. About two years ago, my parents joined a gym with a really nice outdoor swimming pool, and after Christmas this past year, I decided to join too. Between nasty weather that sapped me of all motivation, and other family commitments, I had only been to the pool once in April, but now that it was unofficially summer, I resolved to start swimming regularly, ideally three days a week. But then after work Friday, I decided I better doublecheck the pool’s hours since their website indicated special hours for the holiday weekend, and to my fury, the pool was only open until 3:30. By the time we got back from visiting my brother, the pool would be closed, or it would be so close to closing time it wouldn’t make sense to try and get there! For heaven’s sake I had waited three years for a perfect, idyllic Memorial Day weekend and it was going to be screwed up again! My dad wanted to get to my brother’s place early because there are two bakeries he likes to visit there. (One of them is a gluten free bakery which I like too). He wanted to get there before all the good stuff was sold out. But when I informed Mom of the pool hours, we decided to swim for 45 minutes or so in the morning and then go visit my brother, but that meant inhaling breakfast and hurriedly changing into my swimsuit. Hurry was not supposed to be in the vocabulary of this idyllic Memorial Day weekend. I was absolutely furious that the universe wasn’t aligning in my favor. What kind of gym has such ridiculous swimming hours the first weekend of summer? ANY other weekend would have been a wonderful weekend to take the road trip to visit my brother. If only I were sighted, I could take myself swimming while my parents went to visit my brother. This first outdoor swim of the season was pleasant I guess, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I felt like I had to watch the clock, and my stomach was a tiny bit upset from having to inhale breakfast.

My mood gradually improved on the pleasant drive to visit my brother as my mom described the rolling countryside. We stocked up on goodies from both bakeries. Even my brother who does not have to eat gluten free food and would complain about the gluten free baked goods my mom and I would make when he lived at home, likes this bakery, so he picked out a few things too! Then we had a nice lunch at an Asian restaurant with a lot of gluten free options, which was exciting because while there is gluten free soy sauce on the market, most Asian restaurants use regular soy sauce and don’t say a word about gluten free options on their web sites. But as we were driving home from this pleasant afternoon with my brother, I was hit with three realizations, all having to do with how petty and stupid my behavior had been.

First, the original intention of Memorial Day was to remember soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It is supposed to be a solemn time, but as is the case with many holidays that started with good intentions, our culture has corrupted it, with picnics, festivities and store sales taking center-stage and the solemn remembrance of fallen soldiers becoming secondary. With that in mind, watching the solemn National Memorial Day concert is really the only tradition that is truly in the spirit of Memorial Day. Related to that, I had made Memorial Day Weekend all about me, as if it were my birthday, not that it would have been okay to behave childishly on my birthday either, but at least if it were my birthday, I might have ben able to rationalize my disappointment a little bit. As it was, my behavior was nothing but petty and stupid because the holiday is not about me. I have this weird photographic memory where when major events of my life take place, I remember the exact date they occurred when no one else in the family does. My parents come to me with questions like “When did we adopt Snickers?” Sunday August 20, 2000. So while August 20 is just another day for the rest of the family, I am thinking about the happy moment we brought Snickers home. But this photographic memory applies to unhappy events too, so even though I am in a happier place now, I feel a little melancholy every year on May 28, the day I received that rejection letter. Perhaps I thought that if I had a super happy Memorial Day weekend the following year, I could in a sense blot out this sad moment from my memory. But rather than fixating on dates, I should just live life one moment at a time. Saturday May 28, 2016 was a sad day that will always be stored in my memory, but life is better now, and I have had many idyllic weekends, and idyllic Tuesdays and Thursdays since then. It’s not dates that matter, so after this past Memorial Day weekend, I am making it my goal not to fixate on dates anymore but just take life one moment at a time.

Second, my behavior was a shameful example of first-world problems. While I was furious because the pool hours weren’t convenient for what our family needed to do, and we were going out to dinner instead of having the cookout I envisioned Sunday, there are millions of people for whom just finding food and safe drinking water is a daily struggle, and yet according to one of our church pastors who had visited Africa, these people worship with a more genuine joy than people in developed countries. I have heard that in third-world countries, allergies don’t exist. The reason people in the developed world have allergies is because our environment is so sterilized that our immune systems have nothing to attack. But our immune systems were designed to fight and so in the absence of bacteria and parasites to fight off, the immune system reacts to harmless things like peanuts, gluten, eggs, or tree pollen. I think this is an excellent metaphor for life perspective too. Since we don’t have to struggle to meet our basic needs, and in fact live a life of luxury compared to most of the world, we take this comfort for granted when we worship, and since we have no major problems, we overreact to little annoyances, like the Wifi signal being weak, or the pool not being open when we want. As recent blog posts show, I have been glowing with joy over my spiritual growth these past two years, but through my self-centered behavior this past Memorial Day Weekend, God showed me I still have a lot of work to do. I cannot do anything about my immune system’s overreaction to gluten and tree pollin, but I can strive to change my mind’s overreaction to first-world problems. I cannot promise I won’t slip up again in the heat of a moment, but it is my goal to work harder in this area, and if my Jehovah’s Witness friends, or any of my bible study friends read this, please pray for me.

But finally and most importantly, I realized that by setting such ridiculous expectations for Memorial Day Weekend, I had put my ultimate hope in the wrong thing. While this life has moments of joy—for me, many moments of joy—God never intended for life to be perfect in this fallen world, even on Memorial Day weekend. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasurable moments of this life, and while it is human nature to cry at sad times like the death of a loved one even if we know we will see them again, our ultimate hope should be reserved for the Restoration. Once I had calmed down and remembered this, my mood lifted permanently the rest of the weekend. The concert was fabulous. My dad didn’t realize he had gotten front row seats, but while the sighted people were complaining that they had to strain their necks to see the stage, I loved it because I felt up close to the orchestra, almost as if I were onstage with them. After the concert, we went to a favorite restaurant of ours called Blackfinn Ameripub, where I ordered the California Naked Bird, a super flavorful turkey burger loaded with toppings in a lettuce wrap. We got home just in time to watch the National Memorial Day Concert Live. After the concert, my parents were too tired to take a walk, but I found some good music I had forgotten about and went on the treadmill. The next day, I woke up with a headache, but it went away in time for the parade. We even found a spot in a performance zone this year, meaning that instead of just getting drums which are all that plays much of the parade route, we got the full bagpipe and band performances right in front of us which was exciting. Then after the parade, Mom and Dad prepared burgers, potato salad and baked beans for lunch. So while this past Memorial Day weekend didn’t meet my bizarre expectations, once I put things into a more mature prospective, I realized that every moment this past weekend was a happy moment and in this way, it was a perfect Memorial Day Weekend after all.

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Campaign for Causes, Vote for Good Character

One morning early in the 2016 primary race when Donald Trump was gaining traction and winning in a few states, my mom and I were eating breakfast and watching some morning news before work and I half-jokingly told my mom, “If Donald Trump gets elected, I’m moving to Canada!” “I’ll come with you,” she said, “but he won’t win.” Well, I didn’t follow through on this statement. In all seriousness, fleeing to another country would present so many legal and logistical hurdles that I would only consider it if faced with war or persecution like those poor people in Syria. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had this idea however. Shortly after the election, I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is not a show that would appeal to everyone as John Oliver is quite generous with the F-bombs, but if you can look past that, he does make good points. That week, he basically told viewers that while the idea of moving to Canada is very alluring at the moment, we should not do that because we are needed here. We should stay and fight for a return to the values our country was founded on. That reminded me of discussions from my political science classes in college where we talked about how the people are the foundation of any institution or organization, so it is up to them to preserve its values. When Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada was interviewed on 60 Minutes, he sounded so much kinder, more intelligent and more rational than Donald Trump, but when Justin Trudeau’s term ends, who knows who the next prime minister will be. What I mean is that the grass may seem greener in another country right now, but in this fallen world, political situations are ever-changing, so our efforts are better spent fighting to preserve our country’s values, rather than just running away to another country. I love the tagline on the web site of the American Civil Liberties Union which says, “Because freedom can’t protect itself.” And that reminded me of the bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends months before the election when I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses are neutral when it comes to political affairs, meaning they don’t vote or run for political office.

“I know the problems of this world will never be resolved under this current system,” I remember telling them, “but if we had more people of good character like Jehovah’s Witnesses in office, people of integrity, humility and high morals, this world could be a whole lot better.” To this they responded that there are good people in office right now but because Satan influences all worldly governments, these good people are unable to be effective. I tossed this around in my mind a lot in the months that followed and realized they had a point. As hard as good people tried to speak out, warning us about Donald Trump’s low character and trying to stand up for what was right, these civil, rational voices were overpowered by Satan. At the same time however, the bible also says that Christ’s followers should be salt and light to a hurting world, meaning that although there will always be trouble in this world until Christ returns, we are called to try to make the world a little bit better, and to me the Jehovah’s Witness approach of completely separating themselves from this world is the religious equivalent of moving to Canada, or in other words, throwing in the towel. At this point in my life at least, I am seeking to find that happy medium of not separating myself completely from the world, but not worshipping political figures to the point of wearing Obama underwear either. To that end, I have been thinking about two goals for approaching politics in the future. First, I want to campaign for causes, not people. Then on Election Day, I want to vote based on character alone.

I have heard that many of the people who voted for Donald Trump didn’t like his vulgar comments and mean-spirited behavior at all, but voted for him out of desperation. These people were often poor people who couldn’t afford healthcare or who had lost their jobs when the factories moved overseas or the coal mines closed. The forces that cause factories to move overseas, healthcare costs to rise, or coal mines to close are largely beyond the control of any president or even the entire congressional body. But they saw Hillary Clinton, a career politician, as a continuation of the status quo, whereas Donald Trump, an outsider with no political experience, would shake things up. I will go into more detail about the hypocrisy behind this thinking in another post. But the point is, Donald Trump, with his fiery rhetoric, simple solutions and lack of political experience struck a chord with a lot of people who thought he could bring about real change. There are certain situations that require the steady-handed, decisive leadership of one person, most notably the decision whether to launch nuclear weapons. This is where the importance of character comes in, which I will discuss shortly. But when it comes to economic forces and social issues, both of which are too complex for one person or government to solve, and which don’t impose an imminent existential threat, it really doesn’t matter who we elect. Even if a candidate’s platform says for example that he/she is going to bring back factory jobs, it is important to remember he/she is often just making these promises to get voters motivated because when the candidate actually gets into office and realizes how complex the issues are, , he/she may not be able to make good on these promises anyway. And even if a candidate is able to make good on a campaign promise and pass a law to address a cause important to you, passing the law is the easy part. Due to complex factors, many of which are beyond government’s ability to control, implementation of the law is when the real hard work begins, and thus it is not uncommon for laws passed with good intentions to fail upon implementation. So if you are a single-issue voter who votes for someone just because he/she supports one particular cause that is important to you, you will likely be disappointed.

The other reason I think we should campaign for causes rather than people is because at least in my opinion, neither party platform is completely in the right. For example, the Republican platform campaigns for entitlement reform which I think is necessary because the current rate of spending for these programs is unsustainable and if something isn’t done, these benefits may not be available when my generation is eligible for them. But the Republican platform also campaigns for de-regulation to foster a business-friendly climate. While I understand the value of a business-friendly climate, I think some regulation is necessary, like the Dod Frank regulations that were created to hold banks accountable and prevent another recession like the one in 2009, and limits on carbon emissions because I believe climate change is a real concern. This puts people like me in a conundrum. If we had to campaign for a candidate, who should we campaign for? Both causes are important, so if we worked for one candidate’s campaign, it would have to be at the expense of one of our causes. I did buy a Hillary for America t-shirt in 2016, the proceeds of which went to her campaign, but from this point forward, my goal is to never work for a campaign, or donate to a campaign even if it is just buying a button. That way, I am free to support the causes that are important to me even if they are contradictory on a particular party platform.

But by no means am I advocating for abstaining from the voting process because if citizens who want leaders with good character don’t exercise their right to vote, leaders of bad character will seize upon this apathy and rule unchallenged. I believe that if we can get Donald Trump out of office in 2020, he will go down in history as an anomaly, from a time when the people were grappling with complex issues and feeling desperate and just were not thinking straight, and thus I don’t think he will pose a long-term threat to our freedom. But if voter apathy continues, there is no guarantee our country couldn’t go down the path of Russia and North Korea because “freedom can’t protect itself.” And in addition to corruption and economic inequality, guess what else unchallenged rulers of bad character now and all through history have in common? They see religion as a threat, and will thus impose laws that conflict with God’s laws. Sadly, it is too late for Christians in countries like Russia and North Korea to change their situation as their tyrannical rulers are well-established now. But we still have a chance to make things right, and if people who want leaders of good character exercise their right to vote before a leader of bad character takes this right away, we could continue to steer clear of the religious persecution millions around the world face.

When it comes to judging a candidate’s overall character, it is unusual for the differences in character to be so stark, so cut-and-dry as they were in 2016. No additional research was necessary in 2016. It should have been obvious just by listening to the words that came out of Donald Trump’s mouth that Hillary Clinton or any of the other sixteen or so candidates Donald Trump beat in the primaries demonstrated higher character. But under normal circumstances, which I believe we will return to, it can be difficult to judge a candidate’s character. They all have slick commercials, speak well and seem as though they genuinely care about the people they are running to serve, even if their ideas of what the right path for the country looks like are different. I also confess that I have been a lazy voter in the past, voting for someone because I liked how they presented themselves in the debates, or because I was influenced by peers who liked them and just jumped on the bandwagon. But from now on, my goal is to be a super-informed voter who decides who to vote for based on objective character assessment alone. Here are a few ideas I have come up with as to the questions I would ask. If more ideas come to mind, I will post about them and of course, feel free to comment with your own ideas I may not have thought about.

What is the candidate’s level of honesty? When nonpartisan fact-checkers rate the candidate’s statements, what percentage of them are rated true or mostly true, and what percentage are rated mostly false or “pants on fire?” If a candidate is incapable of honesty regarding small statements during the campaign, they will lie to us in office when the stakes are far more serious. Has a candidate accepted large amounts of money from a particular interest group, becoming a puppet of that interest group rather than being an independent voice free to do what is in the best interest of everyone he/she serves? What is a candidate’s past voting record in the house or senate? Is it consistent, no matter which party has the majority, or do they scream about irresponsible government spending when Democrats are the majority, and then vote for huge increases in government spending when Republicans become the majority? Even if I don’t personally agree with a candidate’s views, I have more respect for people who stand by these views than people who are hypocritical. On a similar note, has a candidate held a particular position for many years, or does the candidate’s position on an issue mysteriously change just in time for an election? When a candidate is confronted with a group of protestors, or an unflattering article someone wrote about them, do they attack and belittle the opponent, or do they take the high road? Does the candidate have a track record of bipartisan cooperation, or a track record of jamming through legislation without inviting anyone who disagrees with them to the negotiation table?

I think if we all scrutinized candidates objectively, keeping a file on our computer, or a notebook where we record the answers to these questions, we would automatically eliminate candidate’s of bad character or extremist views, making room for rational, moderate leadership on both sides of the aisle. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Until Christ returns, there will always be injustice in the world and important causes that will not get the attention they deserve because many of this world’s problems are too complex for earthly governments to solve. But the odds of addressing at least some of the injustices of the world are far better when the government is controlled by people of high character than they would be under a tyrannical regime. But even if a cause important to us is never addressed in this life, if we elect leaders of good character, we can at least continue to preserve the most important cause of them all, our freedom which includes freedom to practice our faith.

A Better Government is Coming

I will never forget Tuesday November 8, 2016. I was in the thick of my job anxiety and was burnt out and depressed most days. But that morning, I felt energized because after work, my mom and I were going to vote, and then we were going to come home, put a gluten free pizza in the oven, and watch the election returns on television where Hillary Clinton would crush Donald Trump. I was so certain that this would be the outcome. I did not idolize Hillary Clinton. Things I have heard her say in the past indicate that sometimes she chooses political pandering over sincerity, and she definitely used poor judgement regarding the private e-mail server. But her intelligence far surpassed Donald Trump’s in the debates, and I got the sense that while she is human and has made mistakes, she would have been a steady leader, a leader who truly wanted to serve and do good for the country, unlike Donald Trump, a narcissist who knew nothing about serious foreign and domestic policy who was simply on an ego trip and turned what had always been an honorable, dignified position into a reality circus. I was well aware of Donald Trump’s rabid supporters, but surely when it came time to actually vote, people would stop and think. As one by one, state after state fell to Donald Trump, including shamefully, Wisconsin, my mom felt sick to her stomach and it was a long time before we could eat that kind of pizza again. I was just in shock and disbelief. Maybe this was just a bad dream I was having. Maybe when I woke up Wednesday morning, we would find out the votes had been miscounted and this result was a mistake.

Over Sunday morning breakfast last week as we were watching Meet the Press, which was talking about fired FBI director James Comey’s soon-to-be-released book, and how angry Trump was about the special counsel’s investigation, my parents and I wondered out loud for what seemed like the millionth time what our fellow Americans were thinking when they elected Donald Trump. In this conversation, my dad made an interesting and sobering point, which is that even though we never even considered voting for him, we were all a tiny bit complicit in his success because we were entertained by him. He had a point because although I was horrified by his behavior, there was definitely some train wreck psychology at play because I looked forward to getting home from work to see what stupid thing Trump said today. But like I said, I never considered voting for him, and I felt compelled to make this known to people in our very Republican community, so in May of 2016, I bought a T-shirt on Amazon that said “Stop hate, dump Trump” and although I wasn’t allowed to wear such a shirt to work, I made sure to wear it on Saturdays. The first Saturday I wore it to the Farmers Market, my parents wanted to put some of our purchases in the car before going back to buy more things because it was getting difficult to carry everything. Usually when they do this, they find a spot for me to stand and wait, but that week, they wanted me to go with them. I found out later they didn’t want to leave me by myself with that shirt for fear I would get beat up by a Trump supporter. I was annoyed when I found this out, but their fears weren’t entirely unfounded. Never in my lifetime had I heard a candidate for President of the United States encourage people to punch protestors in the face at his rallies and offer to pay their legal fees, and my parents had never seen this kind of behavior either.

I always watch televised presidential debates, even during the primary season, but most election years, I have a hard time following who stands for what during the primaries because there are just so many voices onstage to keep track of. After the debate, I will sometimes say, “I really liked the candidate that said X,” and Mom or Dad will say “that was Joe Biden” or whoever. In this way, I start to get a little bit of an idea who I like, but I have a much easier time when the field is narrowed down to two or three candidates. But in this last election cycle, while I lost track of the voices of the other sixteen or so Republicans onstage, Trump’s voice was unmistakable. My mom and I noticed right away a striking difference between the Democratic and Republican primary debates this past election. While the Democratic debates definitely got heated sometimes with disagreements between the candidates, the Democratic debates really felt like a civilized debate between grown-ups. By contrast, the Republican debates felt like watching a bad reality show, all because of Donald Trump. When high school and college civics teachers everywhere used to encourage students to watch these debates, I bet they never imagined a debate would degrade to the level of implying things by the size of Trump’s hands, if you know what I mean. Trump never had anything intelligent or substantive to contribute to these debates. His contributions were either personal attacks that one by one, caught the other candidates off guard so that they did not perform well and were voted out, or overly simplistic statements like “we don’t win anymore,” “I alone can fix it,” or “we’re going to bomb the s**t out of Isis.”

But his remarks off the debate stage were even worse. When Trump said that Mexico wasn’t sending us their best and brightest, but was sending rapists, murders, and “a few, I suppose are good people,” I remember thinking It’s over for him. Sure, a few crazy racists will like that kind of talk, but the vast majority of Americans are enlightened and will be so horrified by such a statement that he’s done. When he made that remark on that radio show about Megan Kelley and blood coming out of her… I remember thinking There goes the vote of any self-respecting woman, or any decent man who respects the women in his life for that matter. He cannot win without the support of women and decent men, so he’s done. After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in October 2016, I thought the same thing. But somehow, despite these shocking remarks, his popularity kept growing, and on Election Day, while he technically did not win the popular vote, enough men and women in key states voted for him that he became our president!

On Wednesday November 9, as Mom and I ate breakfast before work and watched the morning news, all we could think was Evil has won. What is going to become of our country. I was so sad to come home from work that evening and read articles about how latino children were bullied in schools that day, and teachers almost became grief counselors for children whose parents were undocumented who feared their families would be torn apart. And I will never forget watching Saturday Night Live that week, when the actress who played Hillary Clinton on the show opened by singing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia, and then with a crack in her voice as if she was speaking at a funeral said “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.” It really did feel like the America we knew had died in a sense. Although America has a dark history, and although I knew we were far from perfect in terms of achieving the ideals our founding fathers envisioned, before Donald Trump became president I thought we were becoming more and more enlightened with each passing generation. While I knew that hateful groups like the Kuklux Klan still existed, until Donald Trump emboldened them, they were hidden under their rocks, and the vast majority of society seemed to have moved on from such ridiculous attitudes. But with the election of Donald Trump, I don’t think I was alone in feeling as though our country had taken a major step backwards.

In the fifteen months that Donald Trump has been president, his behavior has not changed and in many ways has gotten worse. My mom and I were talking the other day about how with all of our past presidents, we could trust that they had the best interests of the country, not personal grudges or their ego at the forefront of their minds even if we didn’t always agree with them on some policies, and thus we could just vote and then go about our lives. But with Donald Trump as president, each week brings a new scandal, or a new shocking remark, and we have felt as though we need to stay tuned to the news constantly to keep tabs on him. On Tuesdays and Thursdays when Dad is working—he complains that we watch too much news–Mom and I have gotten in the habit of listening to CNN while we eat lunch, and we also enjoy podcasts like The Daily, released by the New York Times, and Embedded from NPR which has done in-depth investigations on Donald Trump and others in his circle. When Donald Trump is no longer president, we might not know how to fill our time anymore, but that will be a nice problem to have.

But I have not lost hope. In the earthly sense, I have not lost hope because a few Republicans are starting to speak out about Trump’s behavior and are working to remind Americans that this is not normal. I also saw a story a couple days ago where Republicans said that if Donald Trump ran for a second term in 2020, they would not endorse him. They should stop endorsing him now, but saying they won’t endorse him in 2020 is a good start and a sign we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I also think the 2016 election woke up a lot of people, especially young people, who chose not to vote, so I bet there won’t be the apathy in 2020 that we saw in 2016. But I have also found peace in a higher hope.

The Friday evening after Election day, I went to my Jehovah’s Witness friend’s house for bible study because she had something going on the next day, so we thought rather than missing a week, we would have our bible study on Friday. Months earlier in one of our lessons, I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote. They also abstain from patriotic celebrations, military service or political office, and teach their children not to say the pledge of allegiance in school. The idea is that they are campaigning for a higher government, the righteous world-wide government that Christ will establish when He returns, and their campaign would be ineffective if they were loyal to any earthly government because all governments in this current system are influenced by Satan. The Bible teaches that we need to respect laws put in place by the earthly government we live under to maintain order while living in the current system, unless of course those laws conflict with God’s commandments. If Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to do something that conflicts with God’s commandments like saying the pledge of allegiance which they believe worships country above God, they will go to court and fight these situations, but other than that, they just take what comes as far as things like taxes or healthcare, knowing that a better government is coming. Nondenominational Christians believe this as well, but few put this belief into practice the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do. At this point in my life, I cannot bring myself to take this belief as far as not voting, which I will talk about more in the next post, but that Friday, over dinner before our lesson, this friend, her husband and I had a wonderful conversation about the hope that we can have knowing a better government is coming that has been a tremendous source of peace during these crazy fifteen months. If Christ does not return before 2020, I hope that good will prevail to the extent that is possible in this earthly system, meaning that we can elect leaders who will be far from perfect, but will serve their country rather than their own ego or personal business interests, demonstrate integrity and humility, and seek to unite rather than divide us, so that maybe we can start to heal our country from the wounds left by Donald Trump. But no matter what happens now or in 2020, rather than being discouraged by another scandal, or another story that makes the prospect of positive change seem hopeless, I try to remember that eventually, good WILL prevail.

Practical Implications of the Restoration: Part 2

This past Thanksgiving, my sister and her husband offered to host Thanksgiving because they live in the heart of New York City and ever since I was in a choir that was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in 2005, my parents and I had wanted to experience the Thanksgiving festivities in New York City because the choir came home the day before Thanksgiving. Overall, I had a wonderful time despite how much I have come to hate traveling, especially since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2012. There are tuns of restaurants that offer gluten-free options in New York City. Even so, I always breathe a sigh of relief when we get home from any trip, even New York City, without me getting sick, as Celiac Disease has made me paranoid about the possibility of cross-contamination, or of a mistake or misunderstanding in which something I thought was gluten-free wasn’t. I also just hate being out of my routine and having to depend on others. But I didn’t want to be home alone on Thanksgiving, and I really did want to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that I watch on television every year live, so I sucked it up and went along on the trip.

Like I said, overall I had a wonderful time. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing A Bronx Tale on Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with this story which was originally a movie, it is a coming-of-age story of an Italian boy living in the Bronx who is enamored by Sonny, the leader of the mob, and this causes conflict with his parents, especially his father who is trying to teach him the value of honesty and hard work. He also falls in love with a girl at school who is black and lives in a different neighborhood. due to racial tension, it was perilous for them to be seen together. The music is similar to Jersey Boys because it is from the same era and general region of the country, and the plot reminded me of West Side Story. I would highly recommend seeing it if you make it to New York City while it is still playing. At the end of the show, the real-life person the story is based on made a surprise appearance, and then as we were leaving the theater, my dad got me in line for a picture with the actor who played the main character. All of our meals were wonderful, especially Thanksgiving dinner which my sister and her husband cooked themselves in their apartment, and the leftovers that followed. My sister also arranged two “touch tours”, one at the Museum of Natural History, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of art. Both tour guides were wonderful and I had the opportunity to touch things that the general public is not typically allowed to touch which made the museum experience far more enjoyable than it usually is for me. I could never live in New York City as my blood pressure felt elevated there because it is just so noisy, and the impatience of drivers there is incredible. I heard more angry horn blasts in the four days I was in New York City than I would hear in a full year in the quiet suburb where I live. But it is a neat place to visit. Especially in Manhatan, it almost feels more like you are walking through a state fair than down a city sidewalk as there were so many people selling things along the sidewalk, and so many wonderful food smells. On Thanksgiving day, there were even people selling turkey dinners that people could pick up and take back to their apartments.

But the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn’t the exciting experience I had been hoping for. I had known for a long time that the television broadcast comes from Herald Square, and Herald Square is the only location from which the singers and broadway casts perform. To see the parade live from Herald Square, you have to have tickets, and you have to have special connections to get these tickets, so I knew from the outset that I wouldn’t be seeing the full-scale performances like I hear on television. My sister entered my name into a lottery for special seating for disabled people on the parade route, but I did not win this lottery. But a relative of my sister’s husband invited us to watch the parade from a law office where she worked right on the parade route. We graciously accepted this invitation and I was excited because we would stay warm and not have to fight the crowds for a spot, and I thought I would be able to hear the noise on the street and thus experience the ambiance of the parade through the window. But what I had forgotten to consider was that buildings in New York City aren’t like the law firm where I work, a small single-story building where you definitely would be able to hear parade noise through the window. In New York, people work in sky-scrapers, and from the high up floor where this person worked, I couldn’t hear a thing from outside. There was a television so I was just going to pretend I was in my livingroom at home and just listen to it on television, but the volume was set really low, and the television was broken so the volume couldn’t be turned up. This relative also brought bagels for everyone, and under normal circumstances, I have come to have no problem with people outside my immediate family eating wonderful-smelling gluten stuff in front of me, but on that day, this rubbed salt in my wounds. While everyone else was having a grand old time admiring the balloons which Mom said are much larger and more spectacular than what they look like on television, and enjoying bagels, I was getting absolutely nothing. Why didn’t I just stay back at the hotel, or better yet, stay home? When my mom saw me sitting alone at a table pouting, she came up to me and whispered, “you need to just try and put on a happy face. These people were extremely generous to invite us and we need to be gracious.” I understood where she was coming from, and I agreed that it was generous of them to include us, but I just couldn’t muster up a happy face. Experiencing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I felt like I was so close, but so far from it. I begged and pleaded with Mom to take me outside, but she didn’t want to impose on these relatives and was afraid that once we went outside, we wouldn’t be allowed back in. But about halfway through the parade, I think everyone sensed I wasn’t going to be able to hang on much longer before bursting into tears, so my mom, the parents of my sister’s husband and I went outside and found a spot on the sidewalk outside the building. After that, my mood improved dramatically as I got to experience the joyful ambiance of the crowd, and shortly after we got outside, a float came by with a choir singing a Christmas carol. My mom said the choir was comprised of Macy’s employees, and they were arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. We stayed outside for the remainder of the parade. I didn’t have the opportunity to see the relative that invited us to her law firm again, but I apologized for my behavior to the parents of my sister’s husband. They were extremely kind to me and understood where I was coming from, but if this relative happens to find this blog, I just want to say again that I am very sorry for my childish behavior that day.

What does this trip have to do with the Restoration, you may be asking? Well, this parade experience came back to mind when John Eldredge talked about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he had been dreaming about for years that ended up being a big disappointment, and even though he fully believed in the Restoration, human nature took hold on that trip and he was feeling pouty just like I was. In a culture where most people either aren’t aware that this life isn’t all there is, or don’t believe in the Restoration, arguing that this is just one interpretation of the Bible, or that the Bible isn’t true at all, it is all too easy for even believers to slip up and place their hopes in earthly things like the chance to see a spectacular parade live, so when the experience doesn’t live up to what we had expected, we are devastated. Eldredge sites bible verses that show we were never meant to place such hope and expectation in Earthly things because in this fallen world, these earthly things will often let us down. Our hope and expectation was meant to be focused on the Restoration. Now that I have read this book and thought about the Restoration in an even deeper way than I had with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wish I could turn back time and see if I could have put on a happy face during that parade experience, not because I was necessarily enjoying the moment, but because I recognize that this is just a silly earthly parade I was never supposed to place such hope and expectation on. I may be bored now, but someday when all is restored, I will get to fully experience things like parades, and they may be even grander than the Macy’s parade. When I was in high school, a family friend came over to our house to watch the Tournament of Roses parade with us on New Year’s Day. A couple weeks later, she invited me to her house because she wanted me to understand what a float was. She had gone to Goodwill and bought odds and ends, including a toy that had moving parts and made music, and we designed our own float. That was one of the most fun Saturday afternoons ever! Sadly due to health issues, this neighbor is no longer able to do things like this, but at the Restoration when her health is restored and my sight is restored, we could be a dream team, designing a real, awesome float for a real parade!

Unfortunately, I cannot turn back time, but I am going to make a stronger effort to remember the Restoration when faced with situations where I find it very difficult to be a good sport. If I have to go to a museum that doesn’t offer touch tours, I hope I can close my eyes, smile and remember that one day, I will be seeing wonders even greater than what they are seeing behind that glass. I am fully in acceptance of my Celiac Disease at work when someone is always ordering pizza or bringing doughnuts or cupcakes, but I should admit I still feel left out and sad when family members buy a loaf of bread or a gluten dessert and rave about how wonderful it is in front of me. But I hope in the future when this happens, I can smile and remember that one day, I will be able to enjoy such wonderful bread and desserts with them again, and they may taste even better then than now because with sin removed from the world, they won’t be baked with genetically modified ingredients that research has shown to be a culprit of the rise in conditions like Celiac Disease, but with real ingredients as God intended. I recognize that adopting this attitude in the heat of a disappointing event may be easier said than done, and if even John Eldredge who has believed in the Restoration for years relapses into earthly thinking, I am sure I will to. But I am going to make an effort to practice this new way of thinking, and I will definitely keep you updated on how it goes in practice.

I hope nobody reading this entry thinks I am a whiner regarding my current life. I am so blessed. I have a family that loves me, live a comfortable affluent life and have a job that I am at peace with even if it is not my calling. But the bible said in this world, we will have trouble, and we will face disappointment because while God gives us moments of joy and while there is beauty and goodness in this world now, we will never be, and were never meant to be fully happy and fulfilled in this life. But fortunately, this life is not all there is. So no matter what your life circumstance now, try not to succumb to discouragement or hopelessness, but close your eyes and think of the Restoration. If we all did this, maybe we would all find it easier to muster up a happy face, which just might make the world a better place even now.

Practical Implications of the Restoration for Life Now: Part 1

One Tuesday morning, in the bible study I go to with my mom, the subject of Christ’s return came up and I had an opportunity to share how I was intrigued by how Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the return of Christ and the new system way more than mainstream Christian churches do. The leader, a karismatic person I really like made a compelling argument for not focusing too much on the Restoration. She quoted a professor from one of her seminary school classes who said “you don’t want to be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good, or so earthly minded you are no heavenly good.” This is true, and to be honest, I noticed that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not encourage as much earthly good as Elmbrook Church does. Jehovah’s Witnesses will go overseas and minister to people after natural disasters, and like Elmbrook, they have elders that visit a member of their congregation who is sick in the hospital, but they don’t get involved in the community on a day-to-day basis with programs like James Place that assist immigrants, tutor children from low-income neighborhoods or help people with drug addiction or homelessness get back on their feet. Spreading the gospel is important, but so is practical assistance to the poor as Jesus talks about in Matthew chapter 25 when he unequivocally indicates that we will be judged on whether we gave the hungry food, or the thirsty something to drink. Matthew 24:36 also indicates Christ will come at an hour when it is least expected, implying that in the meantime, we should go about our lives thinking about the coming kingdom certainly, but not forgetting that to be granted life in this new kingdom, we must first do our part and do some earthly good. With that being said, what follows are some thoughts I have about how I can strike the right balance of being heavenly minded and doing earthly good in my own life.

I could start by having a more compassionate heart when filing Social Security disability appeals with clients at work. Even though this job is not my calling as I mentioned in the previous post, it constantly provides opportunities to show compassion and provide comfort to people who are poor because they can no longer work, and sick with physical and mental illnesses. Unfortunately, I don’t always take full advantage of these opportunities. I am always polite and professional, but my heart isn’t always in it. When a client cannot remember something like what medications they take, I am guilty of hitting the mute button so I can let out an exasperated sigh instead of showing compassion and remembering that these people often do not have the advantages of education, affluence and family support that I was blessed to have, advantages which make everything easier, even seemingly basic things like knowing the names of your medication. Sometimes while clients are pouring their hearts out to me, my mind just wanders to things like what’s for dinner after work or something fun I plan to do tomorrow. I have heard it is natural for people in professions that handle people in sad circumstances to become numb to them, and when I first started the job and these situations were new to me, my heart was more compassionate. But I want to find my compassionate heart again, truly listen to them and show genuine compassion. I wish I could tell clients about the Restoration, but I don’t think this is allowed and even if it was, I want to be respectful of the fact that many people are uncomfortable talking about religious matters with strangers. I know this because even I get uncomfortable when on a few occasions, really passionate strangers have asked me personal questions about religious matters. Of course, Jesus said his followers would face opposition and sometimes evangelizing requires being uncomfortable, but at this point in my life at least, I still think there is a time and a place to talk about such things. It is acceptable when hanging out with a family member or friend who is not a believer, but maybe not appropriate when doing appeals with clients, many of whom are already anxious and nervous enough without bringing up controversial subjects like religion or politics. Maybe an approach I could start taking is when clients share their struggles with me, I could say a cryptic “I’m so sorry about what you are going through, but I believe things will get better.” Then after the call, I could say a quick silent prayer that someone in their social circles that they are comfortable with will reach them and tell them of the Restoration.

Elmbrook Church is very committed to both local and global mission work, which is about spreading the gospel while at the same time offering practical assistance. The church sponsors people who go overseas to remote areas of Asia and Africa, and once a year, some of these field workers come home to share their experiences at an annual event called Harvest Fest. While I am amazed and inspired by these stories, given my disabilities and medical issues, I sensed God telling me that going overseas to do mission work would not be a smart move. There is a great deal of need at the local level as well, but I haven’t figured out where I fit in in terms of volunteering. This wasn’t a service project, but I still remember how when I was in eighth grade and singing in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, the director organized a pizza fundraiser to raise money for our upcoming trip to Italy. One Sunday afternoon, we came together to make and package the pizzas for the fundraiser, but given the visual nature of the project, by which I mean sanitation requirements which didn’t allow me to use my hands, and just because the room was so crowded and chaotic, I felt like I was just in the way. When I was a junior in high school preparing for Catholic confirmation, my Sunday School class went to a homeless shelter downtown and served a meal. They found a job for me handing people folded napkins with plastic silverware inside. (I have nothing against this task, but I just hope that this place always has someone hand people their silverware, and that it wasn’t a situation where people usually pick up the silverware themselves as they move through the line, but someone talked to someone and they “made a job” for me.) There was no tactful way to ask, but in any case, it was an eye-opening experience, especially when numerous people would say to me, “God bless you,” when I should have been saying that to them as being blind is way less difficult than being homeless. But even with this job, I was glad my dad came along to help me because people would come up quickly and quietly and without him, I might not have realized when there was a line of people forming in front of me waiting for silverware. For a long-term service commitment, I would want a project where I could just be dropped off and would be able to serve independently. I have thought about tutoring, but don’t know how to handle rambunctious kids, and could potentially make their academic challenges worse if I had to tutor them in Math. I would love to assist immigrants but don’t know a second language and would have a very difficult time with nonverbal communication. But I have sensed that what I can do right now is donate money to these causes to help those who have the natural talent and ability for these ministries to thrive. In fact, there was a sermon about this a couple months ago in which the pastor refered to the field workers called to minister to people, especially those that go overseas, as “the feet of Jesus” but recognized that most of us cannot make this kind of sacrifice. But financial support for these ministries is just as important, and by donating to these ministries, we are “the hands of Jesus.”

In January 2016, I set up an account on the church web site for automated weekly giving, and decided to donate $30 each week, $15 for the church’s home fund, and $15 to support the church’s local and global mission work. I apologize if anyone reads this and thinks I am being boastful as this is not my intention. No donation given with a generous heart is too small, and I recognize that many people are unable to donate this much due to other financial responsibilities. When I set up this account, I was working full-time and this amount was just about 10 percent of my income. Both the old testament and new testament refer to this figure as the amount that should be given back to God. Now that I am working part-time, this is a little more than 10 percent of my income, but I have decided that for now, I don’t feel compelled to decrease my donation. After all, I am blessed to be able to live with my parents so I don’t have the financial responsibilities I would have had living on my own, so why not donate more to the church and its mission work. If I didn’t donate, I would feel as though I was just hoarding money,. I am still careful about what I spend and am saving in case circumstances change or my parents are no longer able to support me for some reason. But the more I ponder how I can do earthly good, the more content I am with donating at this level, and maybe at the Restoration, I will meet people whose lives I indirectly changed for the better, even if I never find a way to be the “feet of Jesus” now.

Finally, I could do more earthly good by embracing my blindness and using this unique perspective to help others. I used to think that blind people who worked for an organization for the blind, or deaf/quadriplegic/autistic people working for their respective causes were selling themselves short. I used to think people with disabilities should break free of this status and prove to the world that they are more than their disability. But with maturity, I realize this thinking was silly. While people shouldn’t feel defined by their disabilities, to shun opportunities to advocate for or mentor other people with your disability is to ignore a unique purpose God may have for you. I started to appreciate this in college when I was invited to speak on several occasions about blindness by a professor who taught a class on diversity in business. I always embraced and enjoyed these opportunities but at first thought I was letting my blindness define me. As I matured, I realized that this wasn’t the intention at all. I was simply invited because it would be pretty dumb to have some sighted teacher or social worker speak to the class on theoretical terms about how blind people can be happy, well-adjusted contributors to society when there is a blind student on campus who can speak about this topic first-hand. I have not been invited back to speak to this class since the year after college graduation. Possibly, the professor lost touch with me after so many years, or maybe there is another blind student on campus now who has taken over this role which is fine. (I have been toying with the idea of looking up this professor in Carroll University’s faculty directory and sending him an e-mail to see how he is doing and if this class is still offered). But if this professor, or anyone, wants me to speak about blindness to a class, I am happy to do it.

I also think people with disabilities can be valuable mentors to each other. While I have written in the past about feeling judged sometimes by other blind people, I have also been encouraged by other blind people, especially when I was a volunteer at ABLE in 2013. But since starting my job in 2015, I have pretty much been isolated from the blind community, and it has occurred to me recently that maybe this is the community I should be doing more to serve. When I was volunteering at ABLE, I heard about a braille mentoring program similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters except that the “Littles” are blind children and the “Bigs” are blind adults who spend time each week with them in their home or school helping them practice reading braille, or just talking to them and being a positive role model. I know I said earlier that I am not good with kids, and while I was a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters in college, I don’t know what I would have done without the assistance of the volunteer coordinator. But maybe I would do better with blind children. I don’t know what the statistic is now, but back in 2009, only 10 percent of legally blind children were being taught braille, and I recently read an article that featured students who found braille cumbersome and preferred computers and audio books. But listening to something being read is no substitute for “seeing” the words for yourself. I would even go so far as to say that blind people who aren’t taught braille are illiterate. I have seen writing from blind people who didn’t learn braille or never got proficient with it, and the spelling and grammar was atrocious which I am sure has stifled their potential. I know that hard-copy braille materials take up a ridiculous amount of shelf space, and for now at least, technology like refreshable braille displays are incredibly expensive, but innovators in the field are working on making this technology more affordable, and given the incredible advancements in technology for the blind that I have witnessed already in my relatively short life-time, I know a more affordable braille display is achievable, so we should be encouraging these innovators and continuing to give blind children the priceless gift of true literacy which I was blessed to have. As you can see, I have a lot of passion for this topic, so although braille literacy isn’t on my church’s radar as an area in need of mission workers, this is where I am starting to hear that small voice telling me this is where I should serve. Blind children may not necessarily be poor, but in this age of school budget cuts, there is a danger they could become marginalized, in that the district may not have the funding to give them the one-on-one instruction and support they need to become proficient with braille.

I was actually toying with this idea in the fall, but decided after the anxiety of working full-time, and an unusually difficult summer after my mom had shoulder surgery, I felt I needed a year of rest and restoration where I didn’t bite off too much so that I could reflect on what really mattered to me. But after reading John Eldredge’s book and thinking about the restoration, my enthusiasm about this opportunity has been renewed. I plan to contact the director of ABLE who also coordinates the braille mentor program over the summer so that hopefully I could be matched with a blind student in the fall. I will need a lot of prayer that I can handle things if the child I am matched with is rambunctious or does not like braille, and that I can bite my tongue if judged by other teachers or blind adults again. But I am uniquely qualified to serve in this way because I remember when I was a little kid mixing up my braille letters and loosing my place on the braille page, so I would understand their struggles better than their teacher or even their parents. Therefore, I think the rewarding opportunity to share my blessings with someone else, to motivate one child to stay the course and practice reading braille so that he or she can live up to his/her fullest Pre-Restoration potential, will overshadow any difficulties that may come my way.

This post is getting long, so I will end it here, but in the next post, I will share some additional thoughts I have had regarding how I could live more purposefully on a personal level until the Restoration.

Dreaming of the Restoration

I am about to embark on what will likely be the most important blog post I ever write. Unlike most of my blog posts which have no higher purpose other than to unravel my thoughts about my own life, I sense that this post could change other people’s lives. And after this blog post, when I go back to rambling about my life, I get the sense that I will be referring back to this post a lot. While most other blog posts were written because I wanted to share them, I felt a strange stirring inside, a sense that I NEEDED to write this blog post. If I neglected to write it, I would be brushing off an order from God. So my prayer is that God will give me the right words to do justice to the incredible insights I have received lately, and that this joy will be contagious and transform other lives.

In June 2015, Dad, Gilbert and I were taking an evening walk when a neighbor who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was out walking her dog too. I don’t think I had met this neighbor before this, but we hit it off and became fast friends. She was curious and amazed about how I managed life as a blind person, and asked if she could come over to my house a few days later to chat more, and if I was interested in a bible study. I said yes to this, and was excited about the prospect of learning more about this faith. Even as a small child, something intrigued me about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Maybe it was the genuine compassion and interest they showed in me when I ran to the door out of curiosity, or maybe I was enamored by their passion and dedication to their cause. There must be something special about a religion that inspires people to go door-to-door talking to strangers about it. When I was older and had picked up a few more tidbits about this religion, including the fact that they didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays like Christmas, I would find myself feeling disheartened when my parents, and one time my grandma would beat me to the door and be very polite and courteous to them, while also making it very clear they were not interested in learning about the faith. I wanted to be more open-minded.

Almost every Saturday for the next two years, this neighbor and another witness would come to my house and we slowly studied the organization’s introductory book “What Does the Bible Really Teach?” I also went to several Tuesday night bible studies at their kingdom hall, and even attended the memorial for the death of Christ in 2016, which is their version of Good Friday, except that they observe it on the first full moon of spring, no matter what day of the week it is. I did not end up converting because there were some theological things I didn’t agree with, which I will talk about in a future post. But one chapter of the book filled me with a deep sense of joy and anticipation that I had never experienced before. This chapter taught that when we die, we will not go to heaven. Instead, we will just be asleep in a sense, but when Christ returns, everyone all through human history will be resurrected and those who follow Him will live forever on a paradise earth, free of all the sin, sickness, trouble and even disabilities that plague this current system. Elmbrook Church is a bible-believing church of course, and they do believe that Christ would return and this troubled world would not be that way forever, but Elmbrook church, like most mainstream Christian churches, focuses on how to live a Christ-centered life in the here and now. When eternity is discussed, it is usually discussed in an abstract, churchy way. To be shown verses I had never paid attention to which showed we would not be spending eternity in some abstract heaven in the sky, but here on a beautifully restored Earth free of sin and trouble was exhilarating.

Years ago I heard an old country song by Red Foley called “Peace in the Valley.” The second verse says, “The bear will be gentle, and the wolf will be tame. And the lion shall lay down by the lamb. And the beast from the wild will be led by a child, and I’ll be changed from this creature that I am.” I always felt compelled to stop what I was doing and drink in this song when it came on the radio, and it was one of the first songs I looked for to download on iTunes when I got an iPad for Christmas in 2011. It turned out that I think God had been trying to speak to me for years through this song because one Saturday in our bible study, I gasped as I realized that the words to this beautiful song were lifted right from Isaiah 11-6:9. I was absolutely giddy, and the witnesses agreed that God had been speaking to me. I played the song for them, and they enjoyed it to. When our bible study for that day had ended and the witnesses left, my parents and I decided to go out for lunch at Chipotle. I don’t usually share what we talked about in bible study because while my parents are open to me being open-minded and studying with them, they were not interested in learning about this faith themselves and I tried to respect that. So when they would ask how bible study was, I would just reply with a cursory, “it was good” or “it was interesting.” But that Saturday, I was so giddy I couldn’t resist launching into an excited tangent in the car on the way to Chipotle about the life to come on a paradise earth. But before I could finish, Dad shut the conversation down with a firm “that’s just one interpretation.” Maybe he was right. I was allowing myself to get a one-sided interpretation of the bible, skipping the critical analysis recommended by all my college professors. But oh how the child in me wanted this interpretation to be true. At the time I was in the thick of my anxiety and feelings of hopelessness, working full-time in a job I had no idea how to do, and this bible study infused me with new hope and joy that I desperately needed at the time. So I decided that I was going to have the heart of a child, something Jesus encourages, and quietly embrace this interpretation. With this decision made, I began to let my imagination go wild and think about what I was most looking forward to on a paradise earth. This decision spawned many amazing and thrilling conversations with the witnesses on Saturdays, but I was careful to keep these thoughts to myself around everyone else. One Tuesday when I went to a kingdom hall bible study last summer, everyone was encouraged to do what I had been doing, and again I came home giddy. My dad noticed this giddiness when I walked in, but I didn’t tell him why this time. I was not going to let myself be deflated again.

In August 2017, I stopped studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and had what was for me a very difficult conversation about how I didn’t agree with everything Jehovah’s Witnesses believed, and didn’t want to leave Elmbrook because God has spoken to me there to. But we are still friends, and I still think about the coming paradise earth a lot. Since I love music and sing in choir, I noticed that other songs, especially country songs, would trigger thoughts about the paradise earth. For example, one day, my parents and I were watching a movie and during the closing credits, they played Gene Autry’s rendition of “Don’t Fence me in.” “oh give me land lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in. Let me ride through the wide open country that I love. Don’t fence me in.” Hearing that it occurred to me that in this current system I sometimes feel fenced in by my blindness. It is not safe for me to leave the house without a dog, cane or person, and even with these things, I don’t feel totally free. In unfamiliar settings, a sighted person is in the driver’s seat, directing me where to go, even when I am using a cane or dog. But through this song it was as if God was telling me that in the new system, I will not be fenced in. With sight restored, I could run out the door all by myself and just wander wide open woodlands, going wherever the spirit leads me. And maybe I could even find a horse to ride to the top of a hill where I could appreciate for the first time what sighted people mean when they talk about having a stunning view.

Then one Sunday this past February, I was in a weekly apologetics class offered at Elmbrook when the instructor recommended that everyone, especially millennials read this piece. This article was very thought-provoking for me, someone who is a millennial, and I will talk more about it in a future post. But after reading the piece, I was just exploring the rest of the website as I sometimes like to do, and found out that the author of that piece had also written some books, one of which caught my attention. The book was called All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love. This sounded like it could be a book about the new system, the paradise earth! To my delight, it was available on Bookshare, so I downloaded it, and indeed, it was about the new system to come! John Eldredge called it the Restoration. To hear a mainstream Christian thought leader, embrace and write a whole book on the new system, a topic that I have never really heard pastors talk about, was refreshing and thrilling, because I felt like I now had renewed permission to think about and hope for this new system. Eldredge points out in this book that ever since we lost the garden of Eden, we are “like cut flowers.” We appear to be fine, but deep down, we ache for something, and we cannot place what it is. We find fleeting happiness in a new car, or the next adventure or dinner out, but this happiness doesn’t last. When I read this, I think I gasped to myself as a post I wrote back in 2013 came back to me. As a child, I would have these bizarre obsessions about nontraditional people like dogsled racers and pioneers who live off the land. I couldn’t understand why these things fascinated me so much as I wasn’t by any means an outdoorsy person who liked rugged living, unless I just admired them because they bucked the status quo and did something different rather than just being good little soldiers and settling for boring office jobs that didn’t fulfill them. While I didn’t actually want to live like a pioneer or race sled dogs across the wilderness of Alaska, I longed to figure out what a counter-cultural life would look like for me. I wasn’t aware of the Restoration back in third grade, but even then, that was what I was looking for. Eldredge also says in a later chapter, “most humans are profoundly thwarted in their calling here because of wounding, assault, envy, or circumstances that would never let them fly.” Due to a severe recession that was in full swing when I graduated from college, combined with a changing journalism field that was doing more with less and thus no longer felt welcoming to me, I have indeed felt thwarted in my calling by circumstances that would not let me fly. Because of this reality, Eldredge says that for most humans, their jobs range from disappointing to oppressive. While I am blessed to have a job that is not oppressive, it would be a lie to say I haven’t felt disappointed, even now with my part-time schedule. I am content enough in my job. All aspects of the job are accessible for me, and the people I work with are wonderful, but it is definitely not my “calling.” I often ache for, feel as though I was made for, something more. In the thick of my anxiety working full-time, I remember grasping at straws after work. I looked at writing classes, graduate schools in public policy, a class I did well in and enjoyed in college, and even whether it would be feasible to start a food truck selling healthy soups or salads. But the writing classes and graduate schools didn’t stir me with enough passion to go through with the rigors of applying for and paying for these programs, and my parents said (rightly) that a food truck would not be feasible with my disabilities. At that time, this lack of clarity, this feeling that my dreams were constantly being thwarted filled me with a sense of hopelessness. Now I realize I was longing for the restoration, when we will all be unencumbered and able to reach our fullest potential.

This post is getting long, so I will discuss practical implications for how these insights could shape my life in the here and now in the next post. But I want to close this post with an exercise Eldredge recommends everyone do, and which I had already been doing with the witnesses. I am going to share the first three things I would love to do at the Restoration. Thinking about the Restoration in this personal, practical way makes this hope more tangible, and as I will elaborate more on in the next post, this tangible hope will make this current life seem less hopeless, even if our circumstances don’t change. I would love to hear about your own dreams in the comments as well.

First, I would love to take a walk with Jesus, the way my dad and I enjoy taking walks on summer nights in this world. Jesus and I are similar in personality in that we both like quiet and solitude, so we may spend long periods just walking in silence, just enjoying the breeze on our faces and the sounds of birds, but we would also have deep conversations about why events in my life unfolded the way they did, what I could have done differently, or when He was intervening and I didn’t even notice. Then, I would love to strike out on the most epic vacation ever, one where I am in the driver’s seat. It would include running or riding on horseback through wide open country, as well as going to Africa to see and even pet lions or elephants which I have heard described as magnificent, but right now I can only listen to someone reading a plaquerd about these animals at the zoo because I cannot see and they are too dangerous to touch. The trip would also include sitting around a fire or table with people freely enjoying bread again because Celiac Disease will be no more. Finally, I would love to be a singer in a huge choir of thousands, maybe even millions of voices, many of whom would be people who would love to sing now but are too busy with the troubles and demands of this world to have time for choir. This choir would not struggle to raise money to stay afloat like so may choirs in this world, and since everyone would be free of health issues and the stresses of unfulfilling day jobs, they would come to rehearsal and not be exhausted or pre-occupied, and thus would sing with a more genuine joy.

I am sure more thoughts will come to mind, and I look forward to sharing them as they take shape in future posts. And as I said, I will discuss practical implications for what these thoughts mean for the here and now in my next post. But in the meantime, if you are feeling discouraged, thwarted in pursuing your dreams, hopeless, or just longing for something more, rather than succumbing to hopelessness, or grasping at straws like I have done, or looking for escape in a silly television show or the next dinner out, I urge you to start dreaming instead of the Restoration.

Taking a Leap of Faith

Well readers, at the end of my previous entry, I mentioned that there were other events that transpired in the absence of my braillenote but which needed a separate entry. Well, the most important of these events that came to mind first was my leap of faith, literally. I think I have mentioned in past entries that I was Catholic? Well, this is no longer true. I now officially consider myself a non-denominational Christian. It was a somewhat wrenching decision, as I knew it would upset my grandmother, who was also my confirmation sponsor. But as I transition in to adulthood, it occurred to me that while respecting elders is important, I could no longer ignore the yearning for a more meaningful church experience. I am so blessed to have a mother who understood where I was coming from and felt the same way herself. We had been going to this non-denominational church full-time for about a year, but perhaps out of guilt, we kept putting off making the plunge, so to speak, by becoming official members of this church. But in February when we found out about a membership class being held February 28, we decided we were ready. So I guess it is fair to say, ironically enough that Pope Benedict and I both resigned that day.

     It was a three hour class with speakers who discussed the history of this church, what this church believes and what it means to be a member. Then the day after the class, I filled out my membership candidate form, which asked for general stuff like contact information, but also a testimonial about our life before faith, how we came to find our faith and what life is like now. At first I wasn’t going to publish my testimonial on this blog because it is personal, but when we met with our group leader to discuss it last Sunday, fulfilling the final step of the membership process, and the leader said it was really well written, I thought it might inspire others to reflect on their own faith journey as I did, and give them the courage to make a change in their own spiritual lives if necessary.

     It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have faith in Christ. I was raised Catholic and had wonderful moments where I felt Christ’s presence in my life. I was also inspired by my grandmother whose devoutly catholic practices gave her peace which got her through the tragic loss of two sons. But unfortunately, as I got older, I started to notice that I was viewing faith as a one hour a week obligation. I was just going through the motions to respect my family, especially the previously mentioned grandmother who has a strong bias against other Christian traditions. I think this negative attitude intensified when this church’s leaders wanted to renovate the church and school but were having difficulty raising the funding because it was the height of the recession. The priest often spent sermon time showing videos about how great these renovations would be and pleading with the congregation to “prayerfully consider donating more money.” When there was a proper sermon, I often felt like the priest was just rambling about how the readings can be applied to the mission of that particular church, but not really using the bible to go deeper. I felt like I wasn’t growing at all and in fact was possibly regressing. I would rattle off the prayers with the congregation while in my heart I wanted to roll my eyes. When mass was over, I left with a “glad that’s over with for the week” attitude. Something had to change.

     I came to a Sunday morning service at Elmbrook Church for the first time on August 31, 2008. I had just moved in to the dorm at Carroll University and heard that a lot of students went to Elmbrook Church. I had heard wonderful things about Elmbrook from my mom who was also looking to grow in her faith and quietly discovered and joined a Tuesday morning women’s bible study. I couldn’t wait to get home from school on Tuesdays and hear about the dynamic speakers she heard that morning, and we were both inspired by the global mission mindset of Elmbrook. Hearing about all this made me secretly want to attend a church service at Elmbrook and see if this church might bring my faith back to life. But in an effort to respect his mother, my dad did not want to try a different church, and since Mom worked weekends and I am blind and thus cannot drive, my only choices were the Catholic church or no church at all, so I decided to stick it out at the Catholic church. But when an older girl in the dorm offered to take me to Elmbrook that first weekend in the dorm, I joyfully accepted.

     From the moment the service started, I loved it! The music was more modern and way more joyful. Even though I didn’t know the words to the songs at the time, just hearing everyone else singing them made me feel more awake and alive than I had felt in a long time. After the singing, some church members who had just returned from a mission trip came forward to speak and I remember thinking “wow! I wish our church did that!” Our catholic church would take up a collection for a school or church in another part of the world each lent and send teenagers to rural, impoverished areas of this country in the summer to help poor families with home repairs and things like that, but nothing to the extent of Elmbrook’s mission work. And I was awake and engaged through the whole sermon, one based solely on the bible. When that service ended, something told me I would be coming back.

     Unfortunately, I could not come back as soon as I would have liked. Living in the dorm proved to be difficult for me and my new service dog, so my parents and I came to the consensus that I would have a much less stressful college experience if I moved back home. While this was a wise decision for the majority of the week, unfortunately it meant going back to my old church every week. It would have been too much of an imposition to ask the student to pick me up at my house or Dad to take me to Carroll to meet up with the student. Even a year later when my mom got a different job and didn’t have to work as many weekends, she wanted to try and stick it out at the Catholic church, even though she also wanted to grow more in her faith, simply for the sake of family unity. Occasionally if Grandma was out of town, we would sneak off to Elmbrook and Dad would go to the Catholic church by himself, but mostly we still felt obligated to stay with the catholic church.

     But with each passing week, I was feeling more and more frustrated and disengaged. When I confided to Mom that as soon as it was financially possible, I couldn’t wait to try living on my own again, ideally in an apartment close to Elmbrook so I could arrange transportation and go to Elmbrook by myself, Mom and I decided it was time to go where we felt called. We both felt guilty that Dad was going to church by himself, but we decided we couldn’t put our faith life on hold any longer. By the time Elmbrook started the Famous Last Words series (a series that delved deeper in to the significance of the last words Jesus spoke before his crucifixion), we were going to Elmbrook full-time.

     Taking the leap and switching to Elmbrook full-time was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made because my faith life has changed dramatically. Church is no longer an obligation. It is an hour I look forward to all week. And when the service is over, I think I can speak for both Mom and me and say that we are so inspired that our worship continues all week. In the car on the way home from Elmbrook, we always feel compelled to discuss how that day’s message is relevant for our own lives, whereas I pretty much forgot about the catholic sermon by the time I got to the car and the discussion was on to “what’s for lunch?” The songs Elmbrook chooses for worship continue to fill me with joy the way they did that first service I attended, but now that I know the words to many of them, I’ll catch myself singing them with passion all week as I go about the house. My favorite is Beautiful (a powerful song about how we can see God in everything from the sunrise to the galaxies and how we will soon be “coming home.”) While I still fall in to sinful behavior sometimes, I have become more aware of when I am being sinful and pray for guidance and forgiveness on a much more regular basis.

     But the most dramatic and probably important way my faith has been transformed by Elmbrook has been in the revelation that being a follower of Christ is not about observing the right rituals, memorizing the right prayers or donating enough money. It is about following God’s commands laid out in the bible, having a personal relationship with Christ and praying from the heart. Or in the Pastor’s words from the Stuck series (where he talked about sinful patterns believers get stuck in) that still stick with me, “it’s not about religion. It’s about faith.”

     I’m still not the devoted follower I would like to be. I will be the first to admit that sometimes when I am faced with a difficult situation, I forget to pray and instead rely on my own strength, and as a member of Elmbrook Church, I will need to make a more concerted effort to take my worship beyond the church service out in to the local and global community. I will even admit that when watching the news or encountering people skeptical about the existence of a god, I have questions sometimes. But I have come a long way, and as a member of such a large, loving and supportive Christian community as Elmbrook Church, I know my faith can only grow stronger.