Beauty and Joy, Tears and Heartache

As someone who struggles with depression, the topic of present joy is very real and pertinent to my everyday. It’s not something that I think about only when I reach a crisis or a particular turn in the road. No. I think about joy—the work involved in reaching and staying in a place of joy—all of the time. It’s a matter of survival for me.

This month I went on a couple of really beautiful, lovely dates with a certain young gentleman. They were fun—great food, great conversation, great company. Everything you would want from your first two dates with someone with whom you might start a relationship. Of particular beauty, the second date took us to the, new-to-me, Cincinnati neighborhood, Mt. Adams.

mount_adams_incline_cincinnati_ohio

Mt. Adams sits atop a series of hills overlooking the river and downtown Cincy. It’s a place where cool restaurants, hipster bars, designer apartments and cobblestone alleyways line the streets. It’s a place where signs announcing opening weekend for the Mt. Adams’ Farmers Market grace public doors, where dogs walk their owners and where art and architecture are part and parcel of the community. It’s a place where the light dances with flower gardens, plays hide-and-seek along old brick walls, and beautifies everything in its path. In short, it’s a place of beauty, light and joy.

When I think about that second date with this particular gentleman, it’s this beauty, light and joy that I remember most.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my date noticed the beauty or the joy, either in me or in our environs, and there will be no third date. His reason? My “joy-quotient” was not high enough. Because I failed to portray myself as someone of “optimism and joy” (his words), he decided we were not compatible for the long-term.

For my date’s part, I don’t really blame him for this misunderstanding. Just that evening—the same evening of so much light, beauty and joy on Mt. Adams—I shared with him some of journey with and through depression. Most people advise against sharing such personal stories at first introductions, but I’ve never been one to follow that advice. To know me is to know my testimony of faith and it is impossible to share my testimony without revealing my personal struggles with depression. I’ve never allowed depression to define me and to share about God’s work through my sadness is always an act of worship.

But it should come as no surprise when someone hears my story and misunderstands. For me, living with depression is not unlike someone who must learn to live with Type 1 Diabetes—once you learn you have it, you treat it, manage it and deal with it. For others, especially a potential suitor, mention of depression may easily signify a “red flag” of the highest degree.

Hearing that there would be no third date because of my supposed lack of “optimism and joy” was a hard rejection. It cut straight to the core of my desire to run hard after joy—and not the fleeting kind called “happiness,” but the real, centered-on-Jesus joy characteristic of an “abundant life.” After hearing this particularly harsh rejection, my type-A tendency turned on and I offered him a rebuttal—an argument as to why and how I was, in fact, a person of optimism and joy. I offered a rebuttal despite my own hesitations to argue in these situations, as I know all too well that matters of the heart are often inexplicable and always complicated. I don’t think “arguing” someone into “liking” you makes good use of either person’s emotions.

As it turned out, however, my argument wasn’t for my date. It was to battle my own insecurities and self-doubts that told me my date was right. Despite all of my efforts to live in a place of joy, what if others only see the depressed me. What if I really am not joyful, or even merely happy? What if depression does define me? Does sadness make one un-dateable, unlikeable…undesirable?

It’s very tempting to think this, all things considered.

But it’s not true.

What’s true is that constant optimism and so-called joy are not prerequisites for Christ’s love to dwell in you. Christ himself was well-acquainted with grief and sorrow. What’s more, Jesus does not require us to have the joy-thing completely figured out before we can be in relationship with Him, nor does he promise there will be no tears when we walk out our journey of faith.

In a powerful, and timely, reminder of this truth, my devotions took me to Hebrews 5:7—

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death….” (NIV, emphasis added)

Like us, Jesus carried sadness with him. Burdens. His heart ached. I am not any less desirable because I feel deeply, sorrow often and shed tears easily. What’s more, God is always at the ready to hear my fervent cries and tears, and he likes me no less for offering them up to him frequently.

Tears, sadness, burdens and heartaches. And beauty and joy.

And third dates.

Yes, please.

(Image from The University of Cincinnati Library Collection.)

New Year’s Resurrection : Part 1 : Theological Considerations

(Author’s Note: This post is the first in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. I intended to post this series at the beginning of the new year (to explain the first paragraph), but hemmed and hawed over it for much too long…)

We are just now finishing up the first week of a new year. 2012 done, packed away. 2013 here, ready to unfold. Like so many others, I’m prone to think about what the past year brought to pass. I think about the  tears and the laughter, the heartache and the healing. The mistakes and second chances; the misgivings and the promises.

No matter how each of those equations turned out (did I have more tears than laughter, more heartache than healing?), the fact remains that the days are past—gone, finished. Past. Aside from the memories, all that remains at the end of a year is the promise of future days—the hope that no matter how good (or bad) last year was, this year can be—will be—better.

For Christians, its customary to celebrate this same hope in the future on Easter Sunday, a day signified by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Through Christ’s resurrection, Christians believe, death has been eternally conquered and a new age (not just a new year) has dawned, and eternal life is available to all who believe. So while New Year’s offers rekindled hope for the next 365 days, Christ risen from the dead offers hope for eternity.

While on this journey of seeking out the abundant life Christ promises us in John 10:10, I’ve become increasingly convinced that how we understand Christ’s resurrection has absolutely real implications for how we live. So what does it mean for us to live in this hope on a daily basis? To actually experience the promise of new life and live out the tenant of our faith that promises us eternal life?

THEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
In my own experience, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is preached but not emphasized, especially when compared to the attention paid to Christ’s death on the cross. I suppose this unbalance makes sense, considering Christ’s death is a capstone to thousands of years of Jewish history (we know how things will turn out) while his resurrection is the first chapter in a future still unfolding (we don’t yet know how things will turn out).

Christ’s death is the culmination of Jewish history and by offering himself as a sacrifice for all mankind, Jesus participates in the God-ordained system (based on animal sacrifice) that allows us, His creation, to return to Him. In this way, Christ’s death provides the final chapter in the story of God’s work through His chosen people, the Israelites. His death answers the all-time question of how a sinful man can ever enter into right relationship with a perfect God. Christ’s death answers the question of redemption once and for all.

But while this final absolution of sin answers the most pressing question of our past, does not yet give us a promise for our future.

Consider for a moment how the meaning of the Gospel would dramatically shift if Christ hadn’t risen from the dead. Sure, we are able to have a hope in eternal life because we’ve now entered into right relationship with Him, but it is this hope, this assurance of days to come that drives the Christian narrative and makes it distinct from all other faith narratives.

Community Efforts

I’m continuously amazed (and inspired) by the ways humans increasingly employ the internet to create community. Something that is inherently individualistic and solitary in its success to disengage you from your immediate surroundings and company paradoxically serves to connect us with the global scene and population. As I consider my own efforts to create community, I admit it is much easier for me to create and maintain a website (or a blog) than actually invite a friend over for brunch and let them know the real me.

But the world-wide web is a start, if nothing else, to finding community in the 21st Century. Here is a short list of some interesting cyber-spaces promoting ideas of real-space community. Click on any of the links to learn more about each concept.

WWOOF (or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connects farmers with individuals interested in gaining real-world experience on working farms around the globe. Pay $30 and gain access to a complete listing of participating farms all across the United Statess.

Like WWOOF, FarmStayUS connects real farmers with real people interested in experiencing life on a farm. FarmStayUS differs in their appeal to individuals wanting a more relaxing approach to their farmstay, suggesting a new kind of “agritourism” for the adventuresome family.

Looscubes is a good attempt to provide community for solo-preneurs, artists, techies, financiers, and anyone else more accustomed to working at a desk 10 feet away from their bed through it’s database of workspaces around the world available for rent. Complete with the benefits of shared equipment costs and  water-cooler gossip, As someone who personally knows what it’s like to work alone and at home, Loosecubes offers a great alternative to the corner table at Starbucks.

Stonegate Farm, located in the Hudson Valley of New York, is the closest realization I’ve discovered to date of what I dream of creating someday. It’s a family estate farm dedicated to producing fresh salad greens, vegetables, berries and other artisan delicacies. What’s more, the owner is a renowned garden photographer and opens his farm to other artists for gallery shows, workshops, and garden tours.

Becoming a Farmer

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With all the formal introductions out of the way (see the first four posts), This Beautiful Life can finally move on to the dirty work of actually learning how to be a farmer. Admittedly, I’ve been busy with this task since early Spring but haven’t wanted to share until after first outlining the philosophy and vision for This Beautiful Life. Here’s a recap of the past few months’ farm-related endeavors:

  • Volunteered with the Green Earth Institute in Naperville with planting early-season seedlings.
  • Networked with a team of two Joliet gardeners who developed a gardening curriculum for youth and families. I completed the graphic design for the curriculum—a fun way to bridge two passions of mine.
  • Attended the Family Farmed Expo at University Illinois Chicago, Mid-March 2011 where at I participated in the lecture “So You Want to be a Farmer?” I left still wanting to be a farmer, which I take as a good sign.
  • Signed up to garden Plot #41 at the Wheaton Park District Garden Plots, Atten Park.
  • Plot #41 is the heart of my learning this summer, as it is the locale for my first efforts at growing food. In mid-April I dug up beds and sowed wheat, lettuce, onions, and broccoli.
  • Just as the first seeds were planted, other things in life distracted me. I learned that one rule of farming is it is near impossible to start dating someone during planting time and still get everything planted on schedule. Either the boy or the garden will suffer—or both. In my case, the garden experienced a bit of neglect.
  • Beginning of June saw my schedule lighten a bit and Plot #41 is back to being top-of-mind (thankfully, Plot #41 does not hold grudges). The wheat has taken off and is almost two feet high, already showing its kernels! The lettuce seeds sprouted into lettuce and broccoli plants are flourishing. The onion seeds ended up being a no-go (only one has sprouted into an onion plant) and so I’ve re-planted the space with carrots.
  • In addition to carrot seeds now in the ground, I have bean bushes planted and sprouting. Also sowed cucumber seeds between a handful of growing tomato plants provided by a friend.
  • And just TONIGHT, I harvested the first fruits of my labor—lettuce (pictured above)! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am a bit proud.