Sunday, January 1, 2012

new hope in the new year

When I was a kid, I learned that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th, and that really bothered me. Why would we celebrate Jesus's birth on the wrong day? But now I think it's no mistake that Christmas comes right before the New Year celebration.

Christmas was very emotional for me this year in many ways. On the joyful side, TJ and I celebrated our very first Christmas together as a married couple. But on the less joyful side, this was our first Christmas celebrating with my parents as separate entities. The word I've been using with people when they ask about my Christmas is hectic. With my parents and my grandparents being divorced, we now celebrate Christmas in four separate places just for my side of the family. I can't express to you how deeply it hurt my soul to be at my Dad's house and not have my Mom there with us, and it was equally as painful to leave my Dad's house to celebrate with my Mom.

But I don't say all of this to bring on a pity party. We're talking about Christmas here. Christmas--the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior. Christmas is a time of beginnings. Christmas is the beginning of salvation. No matter what life might have looked like before--now that Jesus has come here to dwell among us, teach us how to be more like Him, and die so that we might live--we now have the hope of a new beginning. We now have forgiveness and grace.

And now it is a new year, and the only word that comes to mind is hope. I mentioned a long time ago on here that hope is an active verb. To hope is to wait expectantly. I have a lot of specific hopes for this upcoming year, but mostly, I am filled with the words of Romans 8:28. While 2011 was a great time of joy for TJ and me, it was also a time of sorrow. I suppose every year will have it's great joys and great sorrows, though maybe they won't be as magnified as much as our wedding and my parent's divorce. But through it all, we cling to the joys that God has brought and know that He works all things for the good of those who love him. This doesn't mean that if we love Him, everything will be good. But He will bring good out of our trials, if only we are willing to have hope and be open to seeing what He can do.

Celebrating beginnings and hope are what I, personally, needed most at the close of this year. Jesus is here, and it is a new year. So I know that I can be hopeful. I can wait in expectation for what He is going to do this year, and as I do, I trust that He is going to transform my life--not that He will prevent sorrows from coming my way, but that He will change how I see them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

grace at the intersection

Something that has always baffled me about Harry Potter type stories is the fact that two people who both have magical powers don't keep casting spells to do and undo things. I mean, it makes sense to me that if someone casts a spell to, for example, build a wall where there previously was no wall, that the other wizard should just as easily be able to cast a spell to undo the wall. With powers like that, it's a wonder to me that anything ever gets done. Shouldn't spell casting be like in Sleeping Beauty when the two fairies keep changing the color of the dress because Flora thinks the dress should be pink, and Merriweather thinks it should be blue. I mean, if you have the power to make what you want, why wouldn't you just keep insisting on your way?

I like the fantasy of wish fulfillment that wizard stories provide. But it's just that, a fantasy. In real life, I learn that my personal happiness is not the ultimate goal of the universe. I realize this every time I drive somewhere. There's something about operating a giant piece of metal housing a V6 engine that makes me feel so untouchable and powerful. I start thinking that I'm the only one who knows how to drive, and I get pissed off because someone cuts me off or is driving too slow in front of me.

But being on the road requires grace. It means forgiving a person for cutting me off because I understand that we all make mistakes sometimes where don't realize we didn't have the space to switch lanes. It means understanding that maybe someone is driving slow because they are lost and trying to figure out convoluted directions to wherever they're going. But it's more than just that.

The way I see it, you can be the kind of person who does a rolling stop at the 4-way intersection and just goes, or you can be the kind of person who lets the other person go first when you arrive at the intersection at the same time. Personally, I think it makes sense to let the other person go because then you are absolutely ensuring that you will not have a collision due to both thinking that it was your turn to go first. Grace can just be practical sometimes--submission to the other person in order to avoid a collision. On the road, we all have somewhere we have to be. So being a driver who thinks that you are the only person in a hurry is dangerous. And living as if you are the only person whose feelings matter and whose needs and desires should be met is, likewise, dangerous. When it comes to driving, I always [try to] practice grace. When it comes to life, well, I'm working on it.

It's not easy, but I actually think that offering grace to others is the less dangerous way to live. Not only because God says that's what we should do, but also because insisting that a dress be pink instead of blue can make a mess of things. Sure, we all want the dress to be the color of our choice rather than the color of someone else's choice, and we all want to be the first driver to get to go at the intersection, but me getting my way isn't what this world is about. [Even as I say that, I'm like, say WHAT?!]

But if I can remember that the world doesn't revolve around me, I can put others first and avoid unnecessary collisions. Practicing grace might not always get me that thing I wanted, but wish fulfillment isn't reality anyway, is it?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

future mrs rieger

Yes, facebook speaks truth; I am, in fact, engaged! TJ and I got engaged two weeks ago (Oct 26). We were going to be having dinner at The Pressroom, which is in the city. TJ was living about 15 minutes outside of the city, but he told me to be at his place at 4 PM. I was like, what the heck, why is he making me dress up and drive to his place out of the way?! The thought that he might be proposing crossed my mind, but I had to stop thinking about that because I didn't want to be disappointed if he didn't. I figured since he was planning a nice date, though, that I would just go to his place like he asked, and if he didn't have a good reason for me coming out there, I would yell at him later. I showed up at his place promptly at 4, and he brought me in the living room where he had set up candles and scattered rose petals and chocolate truffles everywhere. I was in shock! He told me to sit down and listen to a poem he had written, and the poem ended with him asking "will you marry me?" He got down on one knee, and popped open a trick door on the side of the coffee table, and he had the ring box hiding in there. I couldn't even speak at first because I was so in shock!! But I said yes, of course!

Anyway, it was such a joy to call everyone and tell them about it. But we didn't get to rest in that for very long because all the planning started right away. And as it turns out, wedding planning isn't as fun when you don't have endless money to spend on it. Weddings are expensive. I've been dreaming about my wedding for my entire life, but now I'm finding out that I can't really have all those things that I dreamed about. But I'm glad for it. This wedding is not about having a dream day full of lilies and outdoor reception tents; it's about celebrating the beginning of a marriage with the man that I love.

And rearranging my priorities in regards to this wedding begs the questions: how does God want us to spend money for this wedding? What part does stewardship play in this one-time occasion? Knowing how Jesus found it important to provide really good wine for the wedding at Cana reminds me that God really wants to bless us and love us lavishly. But I also know that spending too much time and too much money on fancy decorations and unneeded traditions is not how God would want us to celebrate our marriage. I keep thinking, why is this so complicated? I just want to stand up in front of everyone we know and commit my life to TJ! But this process is meant to be joyous, and it's partly meant to be an opportunity to offer hospitality to our wedding guests. And that's pretty exciting.

Spending a good chunk of money on a wedding is inevitable, but remembering why we're spending that money is important to me. I don't like following traditions just because that's the way things are done. With every step in this process, I want to keep asking why and keep centering on what's important in this wedding, and to TJ and I, what's important is glorifying God through this. Believe me, I want to get married outside under a beautiful huppah beside a lake with the grass so green that it hardly even looks real. I want our reception to be under an outdoor tent with hanging Christmas lights and centerpieces with yellow gerber daisies. I want a cool dance floor in the center where all of us can shake our groove things. I want beautiful simplicity. But what I really want is to commit my life to TJ. I love him so much, and being with him for the rest of my life is my dream. Being with TJ is what I care about, not having some dream wedding. That's why I'm glad that weddings are so expensive. It forces me to keep my priorities straight and center back on the things that really matter. :-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

kick me

I've been looking at my body lately and haven't been too happy with the way it looks. I work at a pizza shop and can eat anything I want, and so my meals usually involve lots of cheese, and they usually don't happen until 8 PM. This lifestyle is wreaking havoc on my body. But I'm sure I'm the only person who is thinking that I'm a fatty mcfatster (yes, that is what I call myself when I look in the mirror). TJ doesn't like it when I call myself fat because he thinks I'm beautiful. He once kicked me because I called myself fat. True story! We were at the top of the stairs, and he kicked me playfully, and I almost fell down the stairs. What a tough punishment that would have been for criticizing myself too harshly...

But he was right to kick me.

Everyone is always their hardest critic, and sometimes that just means that you don't think your poem is that great even though it is, but more often than not, it gives you broken record messages that really kill your soul.  My friend Betsy once told me that if something isn't nice to say about someone else, it isn't nice to say it about yourself either. That really hit me. Why is it that we would never let someone else think that they are ugly, but we so easily say it about ourselves?

I've thought a lot of horrible things about myself. Good for nothing, fat, ugly, crazy... the list goes on. And I bet as you (my lovely friends) read this, you are probably cringing at how untrue you think that is. Thank you. No wonder it's not good for man to be alone. Man needs other people to keep him grounded and kick him when he starts believing the broken records above God's truth.

But moreover than deeming oneself fat or ugly, I can think of no deeper soul killing lie than the broken record saying that you are worthless in God's eyes. Nothing could be further from the truth. That's the beauty of it all, that though we are all unworthy, God says that He loves us. It's easy to believe that what you've done or what has happened to you has tipped the scales to render you unworthy of God's grace, but it's just not true. I would never let anyone I love believe that they don't have a chance to be close to God because their past is ugly. I would always point my loved ones to hope. And I think that if I believe in God's love, grace, and hope when it pertains to my loved ones, I have to believe it for my life.

When I start believing the lies, I like to think about who God is. And then I hear stories about God changing the hearts and lives of drug addicts, murderers, and prostitutes, and I remember Him. I remember that my God is all about taking a mess and making it beautiful for His glory. And because I believe that God creates and makes things new, I can believe in hope above the broken records that spin in my head. I can let go of those lies because God wants to write a new chapter in the story, and it's safe with Him because my story's ending is secure.

And just in case you have records spinning lies in your head, which you probably do because I think we all do, I intend to kick you and remind you of God's truth when you have trouble hearing it above the noise of the broken records. And remember, since you would never be okay with me believing that I am worthless, ugly, and fat, you shouldn't be okay with believing it about yourself!

Monday, September 27, 2010

psalm 61

My dad is having a bone marrow test done today because they saw some abnormal cells or something like that in his spine. I'd say more but I don't really understand medical things, plus we don't know much more than that. Anyway, my point is that today I was really worried about it. I have been scared about what the doctors are going to find and all that, though I am really thankful that the tests are being done so that if there is something wrong, we can get it taken care of! Still, it's scary.

So I started praying today, and I felt God just giving me reassurance that He is carrying me, and my dad, and my family. He is taking care of us. And I instantly felt peace. It was funny because as I was praying, I was putting my laundry away. And then I compulsively wanted to tidy up my room, but I felt God asking me to put all that aside, and just worship him. So I opened my bible, and I turned to Proverbs, since I've been reading through that. And it didn't feel right for where I am today, so I turned to Psalms instead. I came to Psalm 61, where it says "From the end of the earth I will cry to You when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings." Amazing, right? God is carrying me, so I can rest in the shelter of His wings.

So then I went downstairs to play my Urbana cd, and as I was setting my ipod up, I saw that the napkin holder was empty, and I wanted to put some more napkins in the holder. So again, I had to actively accept God's invitation to put my housework aside. It's funny how that is such a hard thing for me to do. Anyway, I put on the song "In Christ Alone," one of my all-time favorites. I turned it up really loud and went into the living room and just lifted my hands. I didn't even sing along with it. I just stood there. And it felt so freeing to just stand in God's grace. So that's what I did.

I'm still anxious about the verdict of my Dad's test. But honestly, I've never felt so close to God as I do today. It's no wonder that when I'm overwhelmed by life's situations, worship is always the appropriate place to start. There's a silly quote that says "Don't tell God how big your storm is, tell your storm how big your God is." Well, silly isn't a good description because I actually think it's a beautiful quote. I love that God knows how big my storm is, and I can trust the burdens of my heart with Him and know that he won't invalidate my feelings. And I love that when I stop what I'm doing and just worship Him and remember how big He is, I feel secure, and I trust that He is much bigger than anything I'm going through. He's got this!

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
for my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
and my refuge, is in God.
-Psalm 62:5-7

Monday, September 20, 2010

preparing for a marriage

I hesitate to write about this topic because I don't want to freak my boyfriend out, but let me just give my disclaimer that this isn't really about that. You see, I'm a girl who has been planning her wedding ever since [insert an age or milestone event for dramatic event]. I just love weddings. I always have, so I jump at any opportunity to attend one. I love every part of it. I love when the groom walks out, looking dashing, clasping his hands in front of him with a strong stance and looking towards the door for his bride to walk in. I love the moment just before the bride walks in, when you can feel everyone's anticipation of the moment when she will start walking with her father down the aisle. I loved seeing my friend Melissa, who doesn't really cry that often, start crying when she got halfway down the aisle. I loved seeing my friends BJ and Kristie passing tissues to each other, as they both shed tears of joy at their wedding. I love the ease with which the couple interacts with their family and friends. Well, you get the idea.... I love weddings. So naturally, I've been anticipating mine for my whole life. The style of the dress, the colors, the month, the food, the playlist. I've spent my whole life planning my wedding.

But you know how those events go... you anticipate something for so long, and you build it up so much, and then all of a sudden, it's over. It's not that it was a let down; it's just that you have been planning it and preparing for it for such a long time, and then suddenly, it's the day after. My wedding day will just be one day of my life. It will be a very blessed day, one of the best of my life probably, but it must feel weird when it's over. I'm sure it takes a few weeks, once you come back from the honeymoon and have settled into your new apartment, when you realize that this day that you have always been planning for is over. I've spent a lot of time dreaming about a destination wedding here at Hore Abbey in Ireland. And I've made a lot of plans in my mind about how my wedding day will be, but it's a bit silly, isn't it? It's just one day.

That's why I think it's much more wise to prepare for a marriage, since that has much longer time span than a wedding. Preparing for a marriage has a checklist including, but not limited to:
  • Learn to forgive and accept forgiveness in return.
  • Learn to be loving in the hard times
  • Learn to share my resources unselfishly
  • Learn to put Jesus first in my relationship
  • Learn to listen well
  • Learn to communicate love in ways that my partner understands
  • Learn to give when I would rather just take
  • Learn how to grant acceptance, be an encourager and a helper
  • etc.
The list goes on and on, of course, since a marriage is meant to be a deep journey of pursuing the other's heart "as long as you both shall live."

I love weddings, so I will probably continue to think about colors and locations and playlists, but I think what matters more is preparing for a marriage. When people attend my wedding someday, they will definitely spend some of the evening exclaiming that Jess Bui is a FANTASTIC wedding planner/party thrower, not to mention a ridiculously beautiful bride. But I intend for most of their awe to be about the reverent beauty of a wedding that isn't about a perfect wedding day, but rather a celebration of the first day of a marriage. I want my family and friends to be inspired by the couple before them who are vowing to forgive and love and encourage and pursue each other's hearts for the rest of their lives. So from now on, I'm going to put more thoughts and prayers into preparing for a marriage, rather than focusing on flowers and outdoor reception tents. A marriage matters more than a wedding day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

on teleportation and hiking

Yesterday I drove by a place called Susquehanna Scenic Vista or something like that, and I just had to check it out. As it turns out, it was basically a big hill, and it ran through the mason dixon trail. The main walkway to get to the top snaked around the hill, which I didn't think made all that much sense. I figured that going straight up would save a lot of time and energy, seeing as it wasn't really that steep, but I followed the winding path anyway. It was a fun adventure to go on, and it made me realize that hiking isn't really about the scenic vista at the top. On the walk, I got to see some horses and some really big mansions that I wouldn't have gotten to see if I had just taken a straight path up the hill. Adventures are really all about the journey and not the destination. It would be boring if you could just get straight to the top right away.

I mean I understand that whole "it's the climb" philosophy, but I've never really been convinced. I'm more of a destination kind of girl. I think that's why the idea of teleportation always excited me so much. My friend Molly and I used to pretend that we had watches that could teleport us to anywhere and any time period we wanted to go to. I like that. I just thought the value of the journey was overrated. Let's just get there already! Who really needs to learn something along the way? Not me.

I recently read that it takes most people 10 years after college to get settled into the perfect job. Do you know how miserable that sounds to me? 10 whole years?! So by the time I pay off the college loans, THEN I'll find the right job. Great. You see, when I was in high school, I told my English teacher that I wanted to be a lawyer, and she said that I should go to Lebanon Valley College and major in English. And since I'm not much of a decision maker, that's what I did. I just wanted a straight and narrow path. I didn't want to change my mind halfway through college and have to stay an extra semester or two to finish. So when I decided I didn't want to be a lawyer anymore, I didn't consider changing my major to something else. I don't think I ever would have because I love English, but it's not the most clear cut major. It's not accounting or elementary ed, that's for sure. I do love literature, and I had a fantastic time discussing it during college... but now I'm a waitress. And apparently this is part of the journey. And apparently I can't just go straight up the hill and get to the destinations right away, like publishing a best-selling book, getting married, having a baby. Sometimes I wish I could just teleport to those places instead of living this incessant "climb."

But when I think about it, what really is the destination? Isn't publishing a best-selling book and getting married still just part of the journey? I guess life is a journey in itself, and it's not like you get somewhere and then stop and enjoy the view forever. That would be boring, too. The story doesn't end when you get to the top of Mt. Everest; you still have to climb down. And I imagine that once you get to the bottom, you start thinking about your next adventure. No hiker or mountain climber would want to just teleport to the top. What would be the point of that?

In  my life, I'm craving adventure so much. It's not actually those destinations that I crave. So I want to start focusing on living an adventure and enjoying the view at each step because I think that if I'm always just waiting to get to the destination, I'm never going to be happy. Teleportation would be awesome because I'd probably zap myself to Paris right now or maybe Vietnam or 2005. But since teleportation doesn't exist, and all we have is the journey of here and now, I'm just going to keep walking and keep seeking adventures.