Category Archives: Millennial Culture

What I Learned From Buying a House…at 22 (Part II)

Last week I chronicled the adventures of my husband and I in becoming homeowners at 22 and 23. We sometimes pretend to be adults.

In wrote in my last post what we learned about holding a dream in an open hand, becoming kings and queens of DIY house renovation, and the importance of acknowledging the sacredness of space. But something else intrinsically happens when you take on the responsibility of a mailbox and a mortgage.

Ownership teaches stewardship

When I see dishes piled high in the sink, I get a sudden nostalgia for my old college apartment. Because chaos, there, was the norm. We were renters, and lived in our space with an air of casual transience. And as a result, we neglected the dishes, never bothered with deep-cleaning, and valued comfort over cleanliness.

But in “The Gingerbread House,” I know that if I don’t clean the cracks, no one will. I suddenly care about order and aesthetics because home is a becoming a clearer concept. I have literally undergone a personality change in terms of chores and domestic duties because of this house. Where before I was irresponsible and messy, ownership has made me a better steward; because we have poured so much hard work into this house, we care about its upkeep. I have also begun to understand the endless tasks such as dishes, cleaning, and laundry as carrying liturgical significance. It doesn’t always feel very significant, but routine chores remind me of a God who is just as constantly renewing and sustaining the world with His daily grace.

At the same time, our flawed home has taught us not to get too attached to “stuff”

Buying a home was a big adjustment for both Zach and I, as we’re both free spirits who hesitate to put down roots. We also plan on living here for only a few years, and don’t know what will come next. This awareness of the temporary paired with our will to save financially has made us very intentional about the purchases we make for our home. When you’re renovating a home that hasn’t been updated in 60 years, it’s tempting to go to Lowe’s or flip through a design magazine and convince yourself you need the very best. But we don’t.

The advantage of living in a quirky old house with flaws is peace of mind. Because our furniture is mostly from thrift stores, we don’t get up tight about scratches on the wood. Because we don’t plan on having a family and retiring in this house, we don’t feel the need to update every appliance to its shiniest new edition. We learn to be content, and to not let our “things” be the cause of our worries.

Have you noticed any difference in attitude, habits, because of where you live in a house or a rented space?

How Do We Dialogue With Grace?

This is a question ever on the minds of many bloggers. The Internet has created many unique social dynamics, including the ability to leave an accusing comment with anonymity, the waves of backlash to a ministry leader’s latest trip-up, or the diatribes that spark online conflict which would never occur face-to-face.

Does it really credit anyone’s maturity to volley blame back and forth across the blogosphere? Is it really the best way for the church to embody Christ’s love and unity, which He said is how the world will recognize us…”by our love”?

I appreciated these perspectives this month on these issues and hope we can learn from them:

Earlier this month, Nish at The Outdoor Wife posted a series on Hot Topics and Haters: A How-To Guide, and I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to read her posts, which are practical, balanced and grace-rich.

In Part II, she writes,

Aggressive tone and a lack of appreciation for opposing views will do one of two things: Divide your readers, or keep them from sharing. Neither option is good for promoting healthy dialogue.” 

Also: “Approach your writing with the possibility that someone could actually change your mind about something.  Understanding that someone on the opposite side of the aisle could make a valid argument against you does wonders for your word choice, tone, imagery, and structure.”

Shawn Smucker wrote this week on the phenomenon of backlash against the silly Christian celebrity, and asks the million dollar question: “Why do we so willingly provide PR for people we disagree with?” 

Intended Result – To prove, with our superior logic or higher level of morality or more graceful approach to life that this person is a complete idiot and what they said was ridiculous.

Actual Result – More people than ever hear this person’s message, a message that we consider to be uninformed, or a poor example of Christianity, or an illogical approach to life.”

There’s a quote from Michelangelo that sums up what I hope to pattern my constructive dialogue on–”Critique by Creating.” Here’s a piece of my article on this idea from RELEVANT,

Instead of acting and reacting, pushing and pulling, a third way approach to culture calls us to rise above the conflict altogether by creating something new.

Do you have any personal standards for online dialogue that you have found to be helpful? What are your thoughts on upholding grace in dialogue?

What I Learned from Buying a House…at 22

On the verge of my 22nd birthday, what was never in the cards in the first place happened—and I became a homeowner. When my husband and I were planning our wedding and life together, it was a given that we would rent. And we did, for the first eight months. We lived in a little shoebox apartment with a vintage claw foot tub (no shower), an efficiency kitchen (no cabinets), and one bedroom (no home office for me working from home). But we figured newlyweds are supposed to start out young and poor, right?

by Agatha Villa via Creation Swap

But Zach had his eye on a house. It was brick, and when Zach first told me about it, he said, “It’s like a little gingerbread house!” It was an estate sale, and adding to the fact that absolutely nothing in the house had been updated since the 1940s when it was built, it had not been lived in for 5 years. It was also cottage-sized—just big enough for two. And all these factors contributed to a reasonable price. We ran the numbers, and discovered 1) We had enough cash to make a 10% down payment 2) Our monthly mortgage would be slightly less than the average rent in the area, and 3) We would still be able to live off of one income and pay the monthly mortgage. Additionally, we would qualify for the First Homeowner’s Tax Credit, which would almost cover our down payment.

After seven months of praying, deliberating, and jumping through all the necessary hoops with our realtor, seller, and bank, the “Gingerbread House” became ours. I have to say that the purchasing process was one of the hardest things we could have gone through in our first year of marriage. There were many snags in the process, working with our bank was a brain-boiling nightmare, and even our realtor said he had never seen a home-buying process this complicated or strung out.

Our home was hard-won, but the blessing of owning a home in our early twenties is not lost on us. And I learned many things from buying a house at 22, which I will be writing about in a weekly Wednesday series, starting today…

If you really want something, hold it in an open hand

In the end, the only reason we were able to buy our home is because we were willing, at any time, to let the whole thing go. My husband and I decided that we were going to put in an offer which we could afford, and let the seller take it or leave it. We were not going to negotiate and stretch our budget to accommodate what we could not afford. This was also our way of entrusting a huge life decision to God, both giving us peace of mind about whatever might happen and allowing Him to orchestrate His best for us, whether buying or renting. Three times, the seller tried to negotiate with us, and three times, we declined and stuck to our original offer. It took six months, but the seller finally consented to our price.

Elbow grease is a currency in its own right

We began the house renovation completely from scratch. The kitchen was covered in Barbie pink plastic tile, there was asbestos in the floor and frightening orange carpet in the living room, and the bathroom was not even functional. Fortunately, I married a handy man! We spent long nights painting, gutting, priming, and rebuilding—choosing to invest our own time rather than expenses to hire professionals. We only hired one carpenter to install the tile on our kitchen floor, and it feels very satisfying to know that we have renovated our entire home ourselves—and saved thousands of dollars by not hiring out the work.

Space is sacred, and must be consecrated

Moving into a home that has been abandoned for 5 years might have been a little creepy. The former resident of our home had left various and bizarre artifacts that were never cleaned out, including Christmas ornaments that were hung ritualistically from every door and window frame, and a Ouija board I found while cleaning out the garage. I can’t make any judgments about the people who lived in our home before us, but I do know that Scripture shows again and again the need for God’s people to consecrate new territory to Him.

When the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, God instructed them to tear down any remnants of the land’s former legacy of sin—the altars for human sacrifice, idols, and temples of false gods. Zach and I believe that space is sacred and we want to intentionally consecrate this new home we inhabit to Him and ask Him to dwell deeply in this place. So this month we are planning a house blessing, with friends and family, which will begin with prayer and dedication and end with a celebratory feast.

What have you learned about making a home, whether in an apartment or a house? What do you think about this idea of consecrated space?

The Memoir Controversy

Today I’m guest posting over at the Generous Minds Blog on memoir. Jon and Mindy Hirst are the founders of Generous Minds and I love their commitment to practicing generosity with ideas through shared learning, valuable content, and community development in media ventures. Here’s the beginning of the post and please visit their blog to read the rest!

America seems to have a love/hate relationship with the memoir. This genre has risen in popularity over the past decade, with advocates praising its transparency and the inspiration of human triumph over the odds, and critics accusing it of syrupy, self-centered drivel.
I’ve read memoirs that fall into both categories, and while at times personal narrative slides into an egocentric universe of one, I would argue that the memoir is a powerful creative outlet for self-giving…

Click here to read the rest!

Why We Need Friendship After Marriage

It was a late afternoon a few months after we were married and I was alone in our apartment, reading a cookbook, and dissolved in a hot mess of tears.

I was trying to decide what to make for dinner when I picked up As Always, Julia for inspiration; a collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, a lifelong friendship that unfolded through page after page of charmingly old-fashioned letter-writing, an art that is lost to most of us today.

Their entire correspondence spun out of an exchange over cooking knives, in which they mutually praised upon the endless virtues of French knives and snubbed their noses at stainless steel and the silly American housewives who want it, and now they were writing about lobsters. A real tearjerker subject, I know.

Avis lived on Boston’s waterfront and was describing her long, leisurely days on the beach, and giving her lobster recipe, which I think might easily double as poetry:

I also stubbornly maintain that the only real way to cook lobsters is in three or four inches of sea water, in a covered kettle, for about twelve minutes…you then drape these dazzling creatures over the rocks until they cool off a bit, tear them apart with the bare hands, dip each piece in melted butter, and guzzle. There should be from two to six lobsters per person. While the lobsters cook and cool off, two dry Martinis a la DeVoto should be served. Nothing whatever else should be served—we are eating all the lobster we want, we are not fooling around with salad or strawberry shortcake or even coffee. All you need are the martinis, plenty of lobsters, millions of paper napkins, and a view…I am not saying that the French lobster in all its sizes and varieties is not a fine thing, but when you have plenty of lobsters right out of the ocean I think it is a crime to obscure that heavenly flavor with any sauces” (p. 14).
It wasn’t any of the subject matter that was hitting me, it was the beauty of their friendship. Something I craved to find. My husband and I had been dating long-distance for a year before our wedding, and with the perfect send-off surrounded by the friends and family we love, we were ready to spend every spare minute together. But three months of married life had passed. I was in a new state, working from home, and we only had one car, so my days were spent in solitude only to be broken by Zach’s return home in the evenings. I was loving married life, but beginning to miss other friendships.

When I was single in college, my worst nightmare was losing friends once and forever after they got married. We’ve all seen it: a friend starts dating and suddenly disappears. They don’t have time for us anymore, pouring all their energy into one relationship and neglecting all others.

You may not think so at the blissful beginning of a relationship, but you need your girlfriends and your guys. Their friendship is irreplaceable, and the best marriages are those which stay connected to their friends. There’s no one else I would rather spend time with than my husband, but there’s no doubt we are who we are in part because of the incredible people in our lives.

It’s difficult to articulate the treasure of having mothers, sisters, and girlfriends in your life (or fathers, brothers, and dudes)…maybe you can tell me?

Will the Real Men Please Stand Up? Part II

Last week, I wrote about human trafficking and the subtle misconceptions that can wreck us, and it quickly became my top-read post. I am amazed and overwhelmed by your generous responses, as so many of you spoke out your own stories, admirable standards, and challenges. I am so thankful for your truth-telling, and maybe I should title this post instead, “Look at all these Real Men and Women!!!” since it’s clear you are a very fine bunch indeed!

As I read and learned from your responses, I realized how powerful righting these toxic misconceptions by speaking the truth can be. And on this note I’d like to tell one more story…

Truth in the Grotesque 

There is a mystery embedded in the heart of the red light district. It appeared anonymously, in the middle of the night, unnoticed: an artist stealing into the red light district at midnight not to take pleasure for himself but to tell a simple but unspoken truth.

One morning, the dawning light over the red light district revealed new artwork in its streets. A bronze statue, the naked torso of a woman, held in the hand of a man, and both anchored to each other by the same circle of chains.

via Flickr by Stacey B from Brooklyn, NY

The statue was solidly embedded into the cobblestones of the church square of the the ancient and abandoned Oude Kerk or “Old Church,” a 14th century cathedral that now marks the heart of the red light district. Aren’t we all cathedrals in ruins? Sanctuaries vaulted to heaven yet crumbling at the cornerstone?

When the public discovered the statue, the city council set out to remove it, fearing it would offend the sex workers. But the sex workers said, No! Keep it. They went to the city council themselves and insisted that the statue stay in their square, where the cathedral and the red light district meet.

I don’t know that I ever heard their reason expressed for keeping the statue, and I don’t know how many prostitutes kept or left their work as a result. But I think this much is clear…something in the statue struck a chord in them. Somehow, these women saw themselves in this bronze reflection and said, Yes, this is it. Trading skin with strangers, the woman becomes faceless. The man becomes a disembodied, groping hand. Whole souls are fragmented into only a muscle, a body part, a limb.  And it is impossible to tell who is in bondage to whom.

I wonder if the prostitutes, instead of feeling offense, felt honored that someone had spoken truth about their reality. It is not beautiful, it is not desirable, but there is dignity is truth-telling, even in our darkest districts.

Truth Dispelling Darkness

As we talk about prostitution, pornography, what a woman is worth, and what we are all worth as brothers and sisters in this cosmos, I think the first thing we can do  is become truth-tellers.

Let’s not make the grotesque sleek and sophisticated. Let’s reject the pretense that pornographers and strip clubs treat women categorically differently than human traffickers, and that we can compartmentalize our private sexual choices from the rest of our lives.

Sexual empowerment is a euphemism, a word so much human wreckage is hidden behind. But even prostitutes want to be told the truth. And if we want to lead the way to healing, to open up avenues of redemption, the bitter truth must first be told.

How have you observed truth-telling–even in the grotesque–to be redemptive?

Work: Gift or Curse?

When I tune into the local radio stations, I always hear the same refrain of “getting you through your work day.” It’s as if the radio personalities assume that, universally, the 9 to 5 bracket of professionals punch in so they can just as quickly punch out, putting in their time so they can live it up on the weekends. I hear sound bites from radio listeners such as, “I looked up at the clock, and I couldn’t believe it was already time to leave!”

Photo by Scott Foster via CreationSwap

These radio taglines cater to the perception that work is an unwanted burden, captivity to the corporate clock. Monday’s a drag. Wednesday you’ve made it “over the hump.” And Friday is freedom.

And I wonder if that’s really how most of us view our work.

An Ancient Dilemma 

The sentiment is not new. I’m amazed when I read through Ecclesiastes to find the author’s (presumably, King Solomon, gifted with profound wisdom) knotted and conflicted views on labor. His opinions weave through a labyrinth of resentment, seeing work as meaningless monotony, an effort only motivated by envy of our superiors, and a waste when a workaholic lifestyle is inevitably replaced by a successor. But despite this cynical outlook, Solomon works out a surprisingly bright conclusion:

 “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12).

And later, he calls work our “portion in life,” and advises, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (9:10). Threaded throughout Ecclesiastes is the idea that work is to be a sincere effort and even enjoyable by virtue of its being a gift.

Gift or Curse?

I see tension between this idea of work as a gift, and work as a curse and consequence of sin. I think it’s clear that even before sin entered the world, work was a glorious and integral part of creation. God crafted the earth and the frames of the first man and woman, and Adam and Eve were given the privileged task of being caretakers for the Garden.

But the curse in our labor introduced thistles and thorns, that still injure us when a team conflict arises, a contract falls through, a supervisor makes a cutting remark. From work we can derive meaning and satisfaction, but also the pressures and stress of work can make life nearly unbearable.

Work is a gift—tainted, by our own poor choices, with thistles and thorns. How do you view your job? How do you reconcile this tension in your work ethic? I’d love to know your thoughts and stories.

Not A Man’s Issue

1 out of every 6 women sitting next to you in small group, volunteering at the welcome center or youth ministry at your church, and leading what from the outside looks like a polished evangelical lifestyle, struggle with a secret. 1 out of every 6 women are marginalized and stigmatized into silence when their pastor addresses pornography, with exclusively male pronouns, in a sermon. They think they are the only one.

I would really love to personally introduce every one of these women to Crystal Renaud, founder of Dirty Girls Ministries and author of new release, Dirty Girls Come Clean, named strategically to grab the attention of women searching online for porn.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Crystal and leading the publicity campaign for her new book, and I can’t tell you how grateful, impressed, and amazed I am by her story and ministry.

Sexuality, in all its celebration and its distortion, is not a man’s issue. It is a human issue. But as Crystal can testify, the issue of women struggling with pornography and sexual addiction has been far too often neglected in Christian circles. But the statistics still stand: 17% of all women are, in their own words, addicted to porn. And shame and systemized silence keep us stranded alone.

The mainstream culture has no problem talking about porn; our culture has normalized female pornography and masturbation, taking it so far as making it a political issue by heralding these sexual behaviors as an equal right and freeom they get to strut along with the men.

But freedom is not one of the words Crystal would have used to describe her own addiction to pornography. And after a journey of recovery, freedom is not in the vocabulary of the women Crystal ministers to through Dirty Girls Ministries workshops, groups, and discussion forums.

I love Crystal’s approach to finding hope and healing. Even if a woman can completely recover from their destructive habits, she says,

“…pornography is not the problem. Masturbation is not the problem. Our compulsive sexual behaviors are not the problem. They are merely the symptoms of something much, more bigger. The symptoms of a core, unhealed woundedness. A wound that has been filled with a whole bunch of junk to deter from and ignore what’s really going on.”

Sexuality is a human issue, wrapped up in our holistic being. It’s too big for a quick fix. We need to be wholly healed.

If you struggle with this issue, or know someone who does, or even if the whole idea is new to you, I encourage you to visit Dirty Girls Ministries and find out what it’s all about. With so many women today silently struggling when their church does not even legitimize their struggle, this is one conversation we need to keep going, so that we can open up the doors for confession, community, healing, and freedom.

Grace in the Eleventh Hour

I’m excited to participate in a truly creative endeavor the good people of People of the Second Chance (POTSC) is currently hosting…

NEVER BEYOND POSTER SERIES: 25 posters representing well known historical, current and fictional characters who have harmed society. The posters pose a question that each one of us can reflect on “Who Could You Give A Second Chance?” We all have people we would and wouldn’t give a second chance. We all have certain beliefs and lines that we have drawn about who we could forgive.

This campaign will consist of digital and print posters and the full collection will eventually be displayed as a touring art exhibit.

And this week’s poster of reflection is:

There’s nothing that awakens the outrage of society more than the injury of a child. The Casey Anthony case was so public and controversial because it dealt with the death of an innocent, and even to a pluralistic culture who heralds tolerance over truth, this is grievous.

And when she was acquitted, a nation demanded justice. We wanted blood, like the crowds in ancient Jerusalem. Sometimes we still cry crucify.

Jesus was an innocent crucified with two criminals. And as the three were dying on that hill, one mocked Him along with the soldiers, and one rebuked this scoffer, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Luke 23:40).

Do we not fear God, under the same sentence of condemnation?

Is our sentence any more dignified than the sentence of the thief, the murderer, the adulterer?

Is our sin somehow more sophisticated to merit a lesser penalty?

As debtors to grace, we cannot afford to encore the judgment of others.

We don’t know the past of the criminal on the hill, what his crimes were or the extent of their darkness, but we can be sure of his future. At death’s door, this man turned to Jesus and asked for forgiveness, and Jesus did not turn him away. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

We are never beyond. Even in our eleventh hour, we are gifted with the choice of a second chance. 

Who would you give a second chance? Join the campaign of POTSC and keep the conversation going!
1) Share this post on Facebook and Twitter
2) Host a conversation, this week, on your blog.  Email here to sign up and learn more.
3) Start a conversation on social media.  Facebook and Twitter are great places to start.

Critique by Creating: Take Two

Last week I wrote out some ideas on a fascinating quote from Michelangelo, “Critique by Creating,” but even as I wrote it I wished I had more room to flesh out these ideas. You can only do so much in 4-500 word blog posts!

So when RELEVANT magazine asked me to re-write the piece for their website, I was glad for the opportunity to go a little deeper into exploring this idea of engaging with the culture as creatives, rather than consumers or critics.

Here’s the beginning of my revised article,

“Critique by creating,” said Michelangelo, a man who painted a ceiling with glory—and a man the Church of the 21st century could learn from.

Christians are infamous for being reactive, polemical, boycotting and rebutting everything that goes against the grain of our worldview. And I am as guilty as the next. Sometimes, controversy is our drug of choice.

It’s why Love Wins rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. It’s why there’s been a recent web explosion over bullying the “effeminate.” It’s why we’re up in arms over hot-button issues of homosexuality, divorce, gender roles and differences of theological opinion.

Tolerance is one extreme, but knee-jerk reactions are another. What if there is a third way? What if instead of triggering a backlash, we put our energy into moving forward?

What if we chose to critique by creating?

Head over to RELEVANT to read the rest!

And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. It’s a fine art to learn how to navigate as believers in cultural immersion. How can we best do this? How did Christ do this? 

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