Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's never too late

When I was younger I wanted to be a dancer. I was somewhat of a late bloomer, starting in 8th grade, when most start around pre-school. I took to it like a fish to water though and I continued to excel throughout high school. I was so serious about it that I was debating over whether or not to attend a conservatory for college. At the end of the day, I decided that as much as I loved dance, I wasn’t sure I was up for living in New York, going to auditions, and living at the poverty level trying to make a go at it full time.

After college I departed from dance for several years. I was in full fledged grad school mode, an all consuming endeavor for those who might be unfamiliar with the experience. I only danced a handful of times during that 6 year period. I initially tried to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal. Sure, I danced, but dance was my identity. That might sound good but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that if you have a dream in your heart you won’t be able to rationalize it away. You might not actively pursue that path or operate in that role at the moment. But our dreams are unequivocally part of who we are. Our gifts are the driving force of our calling. They’re our breath, our life, and our unique imprint on the world. When we fail to become who we’re meant to be, we suffer and so do those around us because they’re not benefiting from our light.

For the sake of time, I’ll abbreviate the process of finding my way back to dance. Suffice it to say, I tried on a few different ways of integrating it back into my life on a regular basis. Then one day I realized the answer. It was like a dawning. How had I missed it before? My favorite part of the day was when I attended Zumba class. In that hour long class, I was happier and freer than I was any other time. My soul had reconnected with my first love and it was like oxygen to me.

I share all this to offer one simple message. It’s never too late. I’m reminded of Bruce Wilkinson’s book, The Dream Giver. Basically, we’re all given a dream in our hearts. There comes a time when that dream is tested. Perhaps you wonder if it’ll ever come to pass. You might even be required to sacrifice it in some way without the assurance that it will return to you. But here’s the exciting promise for all of us. The Dream Giver is able and willing to fulfill each and every one of our dreams. The fulfillment of the promise might look very different years down the road than it would have at an earlier season. But it shall come to pass.

Just look at me. I’m thankful for my educational opportunities. I’m humbled by my credentials. I feel a sense of purpose in the work I do. But when it comes to truly experiencing joy and soul satisfaction, I get that from dance. And my cup overflows at the thought of my dream to dance coming full circle. Wherever you are in relation to your dream…if you’re living in it, discovering what it is, or if you’re surrendering it for now, know that it’s never too late. The One who gave it to you is faithful to fulfill it. Just wait and see!


Friday, February 14, 2014

Love is a person

Valentine’s Day is here and it’s a celebration of romantic love. Romantic love is a wonderful thing. Like I said, I’m not throwing any shade this year on people who have that in their lives. I honestly think there should be a prize of some sort for each year of remaining faithful to one person. It’s a big deal to partner together and do life with someone. But for those who don’t have that, and even for those that do, there’s something even greater. It’s God’s love.

The image that always comes to mind when I consider God’s love for me is a scene with Liam Neesen and his daughter in the first “Taken” movie. It’s the one where he finally finds her. The daughter looks shocked to see him and with tears in her eyes she says, “You came for me,” to which he replies, “I told you I would.” Let me tell you, as a girl who never had a dad, that scene messes me up every time. It also perfectly captures a father’s love. He would’ve stopped at nothing to get his daughter back.
That’s exactly God’s sentiment towards us. He created utopia and human beings for fellowship with him. That was ruined when we believed there was something more satisfying than all that God had already given. Once we were separated from God, ancient law required that a sacrifice be made to atone for sin. Instead of punishing us like we would’ve deserved, God offered himself in the form of Jesus to be that living sacrifice. In laying down his life, he showed himself as being both just (because the law had to be fulfilled) and merciful (because he took the L instead of us).
The gospel is a love story. It’s about God’s fierce, passionate pursuit to restore us to himself. And he didn’t just do one act of love and then stop. He continually pursues us and invites us to know him intimately. This isn’t some guy that can’t be bothered to text you back. He’s not a lover that drops you after he gets what he wants. He is the lover of your soul who’s willing to go to the ends of the earth and back just for you.
On this Valentine’s Day remember that love is not just a feeling. It’s not just for those with a romantic connection. Love is a person and that person is Jesus.

*Here’s a playlist of my personal favorites that might help you feel the eternal love that God has for you
Your love is extravagant- Performed by Tribe of Benjamin
You know me- Performed by Steffany Frizzell-Gretzinger
Spoken for- Mercy Me
Everlasting love- Performed by Tony Terry
Divine love- Performed by Jaye Thomas

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Let's bring back, 'will you go with me?'

Remember the days of innocence when you exchanged valentines at your elementary school

Valentine’s Day party? Everyone got one and no one was left out. Perhaps if a classmate was emboldened, he or she might write you a note that asked, “Do you like me? Check yes, no, maybe.” Middle school and high school got slightly more advanced in dating norms. That’s when you started “talking” to someone, still a popular term today, meaning the getting to know you period with someone you like. But generally, you were only talking to one person at a time and once you decided you really liked each other one would just ask, “Will you go with me?” Going together denoted exclusivity and a couple’s identity. Back in the day, things were formal and clear. You knew the person’s intentions and could move ahead accordingly.

After high school, however, things seemed to get a bit hairier. I guess folks realized that you didn’t necessarily have to go together to get physically involved. Casual sex, friends with benefits, hooking up…whatever you want to call it, all seemed to emerge as the norm in young adulthood. Quite honestly, it seems to remain the norm throughout adulthood until folks are ready to settle down. But my concern is there are a lot of hurt feelings and broken relationships that occur between “Will you go with me?” and “Will you marry me?”

I’m not trying to step on toes here. Far be it from me to interfere with two consenting adults who want to do what grown folks do. My issue is that it’s not often that casual sex people and relationship people find their respective matches. Time and time again they find each other and a host of problems ensue. So, here, I humbly submit some thoughts on ways to minimize frustrations and broken hearts, so people can find the love they long for.
Restore your honor for sex.

I realize our culture is inundated with sex and I believe this has really desensitized us. It’s become casual and inconsequential. Pornography is normalized and frequently joked about. Sexual discussions are more common in the workplace than exchanging recipes. People who “catch feelings” are seen as soft or weak. It seems with each generation sex becomes less and less of a big deal. But at its core, sex is a unifying act of body and spirit. You literally become one flesh with a person and it bonds you whether you realize it or not. If you disagree, just consider how many people stay in bad situations because the physical connection is so intense. In the immortal words of Miss Mary J., “The sex was good you had my mind and I let you come back every time.”

Honestly evaluate your needs.

While this might seem like an obvious statement, you’d be surprised by the incongruence between people’s actions and their values. If you know you just want sex, communicate that clearly and initially. Don’t spend months grooming a person and making them feel something can develop if deep down you know you don’t want that. If you’re a relationship person, don’t kid yourself into “just keeping it casual” with someone you really like because you will get hurt. And for those that are just plain lonely or bored or in need of validation, do us all a favor and manage that on your own. Like Elizabeth Gilbert says so poignantly, “Never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.” In a word, let your romantic connections be driven by your beliefs and values, not merely your biology.

Take your time.

It’s okay to use the “talking” period of a relationship for actual talking. Converse over coffee or a meal. Whatever talking you do, keep it vertical, out of the bedroom, and in the full light of day. Too often sex is used as an icebreaker in relationship formation. The reason it’s problematic to lead with the physical is because it can deceive you into thinking you’re closer than you are. Again, because it’s a bonding act, people get distracted by the intensity of that connection and fail to cultivate other key parts of a relationship (i.e. communication, conflict resolution, compromise, etc.). So, I say, it’s okay to take sex completely off the table while you’re getting to know someone. I’m not talking a 1 month or even 3 month trial period before intercourse. I’m saying, sex is not a factor at all…or at the very least, it’s certainly not a factor, until you have time to truly know who the person is. How does he handle stress? How does she resolve conflict? What’s his family like? What’s her character and consistency? Even sex in a monogamous relationship can complicate things and arrest the natural development of a connection if engaged in too quickly.

My hope from this post is that people wouldn’t feel shamed or judged or like I’m attempting to police their private behavior. Ultimately, everyone must decide what makes sense for their lives and live according to their values. I was just feeling a little nostalgic for the days of innocence. The days when holding hands gave you butterflies and a kiss sent you over the moon and you knew when someone asked you to go with them you were their one and only. I believe what every person desires is unfailing love (Proverbs 19:22). And when we learn to live truthfully and behave lovingly towards one another, we’re so much closer to finding it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dining in?

For those of you wanting to avoid the crowded restaurants on the biggest date night of the year, consider staying home. And if you decide to stay home, boy, do I have a treat for you. Here’s a simple recipe of seafood pasta I just created a few weeks ago. I think it’ll be an excellent choice for a romantic night dining in.

Rainbow or tricolor penne pasta
Fresh salmon filets (or any preferred fish)
Lemon pepper & Lime pepper (or just one of them)
Dill herb
Salt & Pepper

Boil the pasta per the directions of the box and drain when done
Sprinkle salmon with lemon juice; Season with lemon pepper, lime pepper, and dill

Bake on 400 for about 20 minutes or until flaky; put to the side
Coat pan with olive oil and heat
Add drained pasta and sauté in salt and pepper to taste
Add cooked salmon in same pan and mix
Add parmesan cheese (if preferred)

Side Options
I think having a fresh salad prepped to taste is always a nice touch. You might also sauté asparagus spears in a little olive oil, lemon pepper, and garlic salt.

Wine pairing
White wine typically goes well with seafood dishes. If you have sweeter tastes, Moscato or Rieslings are a good choice. If you like the dryer varietals, there’s chardonnay, chenin or  sauvignon blanc, or viognier. If you aren’t sure, white blends will be somewhere in the middle. Apothic white might be a good place to start. I’m not sure if the last paragraph makes me a connoisseur or a lush, nevertheless, that’s your crash course in wine 101. 

Pick out fresh flowers and try to go beyond the classic red roses, unless they’re actually your favorite. The more personalized this night, the better. I’m partial to orchids and calla lilies. One of my friends loves tulips. The more attention you give to detail, your partner’s preferences and tastes, the more special the night will be.

Ah, dessert. The pièce de résistance. The possibilities are endless. But, I think I’ll leave that up to you ;) Enjoy!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pick me, choose me, love me

A couple of months ago I gave a talk for a university leadership lecture series. I spoke on “Leading with Love” and drew from the work of Dr. Brene’ Brown and Dr. Kristen Neff. My basic points were these: 1) We’re created for connection, 2) Our unresolved hurts and dysfunctional patterns keep us out of connection, and 3) The way back to connection is through authenticity and courage.  To illustrate my points, I showed this classic clip from Grey’s Anatomy.


Meredith declares her love for Derrick for the first time. She just found out he was married but she still wants to make a go at a relationship. So, she urges him to pick her, choose her, love her. Many would give pause simply because of the dynamics of the situation. I’ll save for another post how Shonda Rhimes has impacted our cultural narratives about love and relationships through her hit TV show like Grey’s and Scandal. For now, I was just curious at a very basic level, how many people would express their love like Meredith did.

Do you know that not one person in a group of 60 young adults would have put themselves out there like that? Honestly, I was shocked. I thought for sure each generation gets bolder than the previous. Surely, millennials wouldn’t have a problem taking a risk for love. But their basic sentiment was this: What do I look like begging someone to love me?

Maybe it’s because I’m a big marshmallow. I love sappy stuff like that. Maybe it’s because I’ve done what Meredith’s done before, in not so many words. But I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that we have become so guarded and suited up in protective armor that we wouldn’t take a risk to say what we really feel. I’m certainly not suggesting we be reckless with our hearts. I’m all for guarding the heart with all diligence. There’s a very real principle of not casting away what is precious to the one who doesn’t know its value, lest it be trampled. What I’m saying is that if we lose the ability to freely feel and express love that says more about us than the other person. And if we dare to share our hearts with someone and it’s rudely or unkindly received, that says more about them than us.

This Valentine’s week I invite you to check in with yourself. For those who are waiting for love and those desiring to improve or maintain love, consider this. Are you loving? Are you willing to be first to repair or apologize? Are you willing to be first to invite or initiate intimacy? Are you willing to say I love you first? Are you willing to be vulnerable and risk being seen for the sake of connection? If the answer is a hard no, never, not a chance, perhaps some parts of your soul need healing. If it’s yes, then I sincerely hope you find a safe place to start and reap the reward of genuine connection.

Friday, February 7, 2014

V-day with the love languages

Valentine’s Day is coming up. One week from today to be exact. One might expect the obligatory single girl diatribe on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you’re used to rants about one’s jerk ex or how Valentine’s Day is stupid and commercial and is merely “Singles Awareness Day.” I won’t lie and say I’ve never shared those sentiments in years past. But that’s not really the space I’m in now. I support all things related to love and healthy connection. In fact, I plan to dedicate the next several posts to this upcoming “Love Week.” And just because I’m not booed up this year, doesn’t mean I can’t share wisdom on how to have a meaningful Valentine’s Day with your partner. Consider it my tithe to the coupled community.

Most people are familiar with the idea of love languages created by Gary Chapman. If you aren’t sure of yours, take this quick test: The idea is that people give and receive love in these primary ways: 1) Acts of service, 2) Quality time, 3) Physical touch, 4) Words of affirmation, and 5) Receiving gifts. You might have a preferred way of loving but your partner might have another. Based on how your partner receives love, here are some ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day in an affordable way.

Acts of service- People with this love language feel most appreciated when you help them accomplish a task or complete something so they don’t have to. Take stock of the projects around the house you’ve been putting off and finish them. Surprise your partner by organizing that closet, clearing out that second bedroom, putting up that shelf, etc. It might not sound very romantic to you, but for someone who speaks this language, it’s a huge sign of love and appreciation.

Quality time- This is mine and let me tell you, it’s all about meaningful connection. Do a shared activity of some sort. It doesn’t really matter what, as long as you’re conversing and connecting. My favs would be a walk or jog at a park followed by a cooking night. You can grocery shop together and try a new recipe. Both activities have the potential to be very sensual and can enhance feelings of closeness. Anything is fair game with this love language because it’s about togetherness.

Physical touch- Now before all the men who read this post, jump to say this is their love language, please note that this is not about sex. When physical touch is your love language, it means you feel most loved and connected through hugs, kisses, gentle caresses, etc. If this is your partner’s love language, be intentional about increasing your frequency of positive, tender, non-sexual touch. Maybe give your partner a bath and a massage. This can progress to lovemaking but it shouldn’t be the assumed goal. It’s about saying, “I love you,” without expecting anything in return.

Words of affirmation- If you want to build up your partner through encouragement, I recommend you go old school with handwritten letters. Revisit positive memories and times shared. Research shows that recalling your relationship history intensifies the bond. If you’re not really a writer, just consider post it notes of all the things you like about your partner. For example, Day 1- I love how your hair smells after a shower, Day 2- I love how you make eye contact and smile at people who wait on you, etc. It doesn’t have to be deep. Just keep it simple and sincere.

Receiving gifts- Before you get nervous because you can’t afford a Tiffany’s necklace keep in mind this love language is not about the monetary value of the gift. It’s about the element of surprise and the thought behind it. Pick a token gift everyday of Valentine’s week and surprise your partner. It can be a $5.00 Starbucks gift card, a cupcake from a local bakery, smell good lotion or body mist. Hide them strategically each day or give them at different times of the day. This will increase your partner’s expectation and sense of arousal. Then let the finale gift be something that he or she mentioned wanting when they didn’t think you were listening. Again, it’s more about the thoughtfulness than the item itself.

There you have it. I bet you could show love and appreciation for 30 bucks or less. And these ideas aren’t just the generic fancy dinner, chocolates, and roses. They are unique to your partner and how he or she receives love. Here’s a secret to love that isn’t widely circulated. Focus on putting your partner’s needs first and 9 times out of 10, they in turn, will respond and love you like you’ve never been loved. Give it a try and report back. I’m living vicariously through you this year.