Too Many Rabbits

One of the things I love most about living in LA is that there are so many odd, niche things going on. Last Thanksgiving, I went to the Bunny Museum in Pasadena. There’s a chandelier tree in someone’s front yard, and an abandoned zoo, and a cemetery that regularly hosts movie nights.

Yesterday, my exploits included the original LA flower market and some fantastic Japanese photo booths in Little Tokyo. It was a montage-worthy Saturday in LA.

But perhaps the most memorable portion of the day was our conversation with a shopkeeper. Within 10 seconds of entering the child-geared Japanese novelty store, a woman behind the counter called out to us, “been to the flower market?”

You might be thinking how perceptive she was to know we’d been to the flower market. In actuality, our obnoxious flower purchases would have been difficult to miss. As we maneuvered the narrow aisles, Chelsea struggled to balance a giant, floppy, and precarious white orchid while I wielded a mass of sunflowers encircled by newspaper. Two more conspicuous flower children have yet to be seen on the streets of Little Tokyo.

We walked closer to her counter and began chatting. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I must admit that I was a bit confused about how this woman had come to own a store of this particular ilk. She seemed like a stereotypical “basic” soccer mom—her little 8-year-old son was even sitting in a folding chair in the corner—not like the type of woman who passionately pedals Spirited Away posters in the heart of Little Tokyo.

Our conversation eventually turned to a discussion of her store hours: she was thinking about opening earlier, maybe in a few months, once life was a little easier to manage. This is when things got weird…

“With being a mom, I take him to school at 8, and then I go back home and clean and do all the things I need to do…and then I come open the shop. It’s my time to get stuff done.”

…ok, pretty normal sounding.

“I have to clean up after the rabbits. They make such a mess.”

…I appreciated her commitment to keeping the rabbits hygienic.

“I have a lot of rabbits in the house, and they just take a lot of work. Hopefully, we will move soon and things will be easier.”

She went on to tell us about how she had inside AND outside rabbits. She had never intended to have inside rabbits, but it had just happened that way. And, apparently, when you take rabbits out of a group, the whole social hierarchy changes dramatically. So now she was raising two separate colonies of rabbits, and it was taking up too much of her time. “It’s even keeping me from my goal, which was to spend time outside with my rabbits.”

I asked how many rabbits she had, in total. Sheepishly, she began, “Well, ten outside. And…it sounds crazy…” “We have ten inside too,” chimed in the eight-year-old, a hint of judgment in his voice. He seemed like he needed to vent. She tried to explain the predicament away, telling us how one of the rabbits had escaped, and been returned two days later, knocked up.

Here was this totally normal-seeming woman, standing before us, secretly the master of upwards of twenty rabbits. Or, rather, it seemed, subservient captive of twenty rabbits.

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I HATE swarms. Many years ago, someone showed me a video from Okunoshima (bunny island), and it scarred me for life. Even a swarm of bunnies is still a swarm.

New customers finally entered, and as we snuck out of her shop, Chelsea observed, “yeah, but even before that one bunny had babies, she already had over TEN.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Pasadena Bunny Museum. Candace and Steve started giving each other bunny-themed “love tokens” and just never stopped. Now their house is full to bursting with bunnies and bunny memorabilia, and they actually have to move to a larger house to accommodate all their bunny “collection.” Apparently rabbit swag breeds like rabbits.

I think sin breeds like rabbits, too. It can start out seemingly manageable—we keep it on the outskirts of our lives, maybe in the backyard. It doesn’t make a huge mess, doesn’t require much from us. Maybe it’s even easier than the alternative. But pretty soon our outside sin can become our inside sin, and our sin can become so big it keeps us from the original reason we wanted to sin in the first place. The sin can take over and keep us from opening the store when we want or living life how we should. There’s no more room to even walk around the house because something that was supposed to be small and fun now literally takes up every spare moment and all of our brain space and living room.

Eventually, we look up and realize that things have gotten “out of hand”—and we don’t even know how we got to that place. We avoid admitting the extent of it to others because now it suddenly seems crazy—but honestly, we shouldn’t have been looking to bunnies for our fulfillment to begin with.

Living with Christ doesn’t leave room to raise pet sins. Pet sins take up space in our lives that should belong to God. I think sometimes it can be easy to minimize certain sin when it feels like we control it, or when we really like it—like “white” lies, gossip, or love of money—but even a bunny swarm is a swarm, and even a pet sin is a problem. God hates sin—all sin—as much as I hate swarms—all swarms.

Equally, it can be easy to be shocked by “big” sins—just like most people can understand the ridiculousness of owning twenty bunnies. But “big” sins grow from small ones, and we do everyone a disservice when we ignore calling out small sins until they’ve grown into full grown multi-bunny-colony outbreaks. Maybe if we dealt with our ten-bunny problems sooner, we wouldn’t get to the place of having twenty on our hands.

Small Cake, Big Mistake

***NOTE***

Apparently, my blog curation has become so lackadaisical that I’ll dig through the junk drawer of my drafts folder and plop any two-year-old-essay on the internet. Still, at least to me, it’s a funny look back into the life of a disgruntled fast food employee.

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Yesterday, as I reluctantly grasped at the reality of another early morning shift, I noticed a last-minute text from my boss wondering if I’d be able to bring in a “small cake” for Cece’s birthday. (I put “small cake” in quotes because I found it to be a humorous detail). Sure, I’d have to rush my over-priced coffee ritual, but I could acquire a “small” cake, no problem.

Once I’d located the perfect petite pastry (red velvet, in case you were curious), I located the shortest line. Honestly, none of the lines were very long. Surprisingly, the cake-shopping crowd is pretty slow at 7:30 AM on a Tuesday. That’s why I was surprised when the middle-aged male manager beckoned me to come to his register. After all, there was only one woman ahead of me. But hey, I was in a hurry, and he seemed rather adamant that I let him assist me out. I met him over by the balloon area (which surprised me—I didn’t know the balloon counter doubled as emergency check-out). I navigated my way around loud balloons and through a forest of gaudy flowers, only to reach the counter and wonder why Mr. Manager wasn’t standing behind it, ready to scan my emergency birthday cake. I looked at him—my face full of confusion—and managed a, “Hi?

Yes,” He answered, “I need an anniversary balloon.”

Oh, um. I…don’t…work here.”

Oh. Okay.”

He tried to act all whatever-like-I-care, but I could tell he was just as uncomfortable as I was. I promptly turned (because I didn’t want him to see me laughing in his face), and repossessed my spot in the correct check-out line. As I waited in the line I should have already been done with, I initially dwelt on how rude Mr. Forgot His Anniversary was—he didn’t even apologize for confusing me with the staff!

By the time my cake had been properly scanned, I’d come to grips with the reality that we were both equally guilty: I’d assumed he was an employee, too, and he didn’t even have a name tag. We were both looking for someone who could help us, and ready to interpret cues that fit our expectations. It’s not the first time my Chick-fil-A uniform has gotten me into trouble—apparently the all black uniform fits in very nicely at Hot Topic, Barnes & Nobles, Aeropostale, Target, and Panera. Honestly, people are needy, and they’re looking for anyone with a name tag and a style-free outfit to solve their problems.

I’ve recently acquired a red uniform shirt, and I’m excited about the opportunity to pair it with some khakis and wreak havoc at Targét. “Mascara? Toy Department, Aisle 3.” “Oh, I’m sorry sir, our dorm section is off-limits to adults: college students only.”

I digress. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that we humans—myself included—are far too preoccupied with what we need/want, and we end up scanning others for whether or not they’ll be helpful to us. We’re frantically chasing our balloons and cakes, getting in each other’s way and ignoring what everyone else needs.

In the drive-thru window, I see hundreds of people for 30 seconds every day. Those 30 seconds say a lot about a person. After all, if you were to rank humans according to how much effort you need to expend towards positively affecting their feelings, fast food employees would probably fall pretty far down on your list.

But Jesus didn’t care about the status of the human, or what any of us could do for Him. He came to serve, not to be served. He came to show love to the lowest and the lost. Too often, in high school, college, church life, etc., we approach the accumulation of friends with the wrong checklist:

Is this person cool? Do they have what I need? Will they raise my social standing? Will they be fun to hang out with?

I’m not saying those things are bad—If being cool is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I’m just saying that the time I spend on relationships is God’s time. So maybe there are other, more important questions to be asked when we’re considering relationships:

Does this person need a friend? Is there a need I can meet in this place? Will this person help me follow Christ?

And, most importantly, how good is this person at picking out a good small cake from a lineup? 

I can ride my bike with no handlebars

I stress out about parking to an embarrassing degree. When I first moved to Pasadena, someone asked “What do you think?” and the first thing I said was, “It’s hard to find parking.” Our conversation pretty much ended there.

I’m better at parking than I am at conversation sometimes.

On new expeditions, I plan extra time into my travel schedule for, “driving around the block a few times in a state of general confusion and anxiety.” It was during one of these Casual Freakouts in which I found Yolo street. On my way to a job interview, I ended up pulling onto sleepy Yolo to regain my bearings. Then I saw the street sign, laughed, took a picture, and moved on.

A month later, I was back on Yolo street: moving in. I’d taken the job, conscripted a roommate, and landed an apartment. As the name suggests, Yolo was a bit quirky. Once I found a baby doll stuck in a tree on the sidewalk. Some neighbors had a ring of six-foot ghosts in their yard for a month. We lived several months with a giant hole in the ground floor courtyard. At one point we suspected some neighbors of pagan worship? A herd of cats lived in the adjacent lot. The Pasadena Parrots served as my Saturday morning alarm clock.

As a first apartment can tend to go, I labored far too long over every furniture purchase. We went several long weeks without a fridge. Four months before I hung pictures. Six moons before I settled for the Ikea Lack over my Platonic Idea of the Perfect Craigslist Coffee Table. Then—just when I was getting used to our fully functioning living room—the year was up, the lease was up, and my roommate was moving back up to her hometown.

As any Totally Normal Millenial would do, I crafted a new hashtag to help myself cope with the change: #YOLOYOLOO (You Only Live On Yolo Once). As if #YOLO wasn’t already ridiculous enough. I tagged some sappy photos, stole some boxes from a Mexican food restaurant, and moved on with life. My crib count is now at 12 homes, so moving is just like riding a bike at this point.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.31.35 PM

I spent a sauna-hot afternoon in Florida teaching my friend Andrea how to ride a bike. During college. Andrea was (and most likely still is) an immensely and diversely talented individual—but somehow she’d missed the “cycling” session of childhood. I’m sorry you missed such a monumental moment in Andrea’s life, but it went something like this:

It’s humorous that I was the one to teach someone else how to ride a bike—because I was fearfully terrified of biking as a child. Seriously. You think my parking is bad, you should have seen me ride a bike at age seven. Granted, my brother was undoubtedly aiming his bike at me like a little Huffy Kamakazi. Still, I remember coming inside after a grueling few rounds in the cul-de-sac: hands blistered, red, and sore from squeezing the handlebars so tightly.

All of my fear—of falling, of being sideswiped by the six-year-old speed racer—all of it went into grasping the handlebars of my bike with an iron grip of horror. The goal was not “have fun”. The goal was “Survive. Do not fall over. do not get hit by the demon brother.” Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed biking. I just would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d been more preoccupied with the wind in my helmet hair and less with the roadside dangers of suburban Washington state (harrying as they are).

One of my favorite lines from Mary Poppins (My Personal Hero) is, “I shall stay until the wind changes.” At first, the children aren’t keen on such a flighty promise. Who would be? After all, she’s The Mary P. She’s basically adult Hermione, set in old school England. Legitimate conspiracies propagate that she is a time lord. She’s a beautiful, smart, aloof, nanny/witch. Eventually, however, Jane and Michael are able to accept Mary’s inevitable departure and be grateful for the time they had with her and the things they learned from her. Her stupid Parrot Umbrella saw their contentment as ingratitude, but he was always the worst anyway.

Moving to California was hard for me. I had to leave people like Andrea at what I thought was a premature time. But the winds have shifted many times over, and now I’m saying gut-wrenching goodbyes to friends I only met a year ago. I just bought my plane ticket for Andrea’s wedding—isn’t that madness? She only learned to ride a bike five years ago, and now she’s getting married and her dissertation is published. I also recently bought a dear friend’s bike. She’s moving from Pasadena to New York and it feels heartbreakingly too soon—but I have to accept God’s timing and be grateful for the memories and lessons I’ve been gifted.

I want to be okay with the idea that people will stay until the winds change. I want to ease up on the bicycle handles. I want to be less preoccupied with where to park, and more observant of the signs. This past year alone, I’ve seen people lose their marriages, SOs, apartments, new jobs, old jobs, cars, friends, relatives, and health. I’ve also seen relationships begin, marriages blossom, apartments appear, jobs work out, and friendships form. The ones who have coped the best are the ones who didn’t try to iron-grip their way out of the pain: they kept open hands to God’s gifts.

It seems like all of my friends are leaving me right now—but the beauty of that is that they are all friends I didn’t have a year ago. Losing something means that I was blessed to have something in the first place, and that’s worth being grateful about.

The reality is that while in Christ we live forever, you only live on Yolo street once. Each episode of life is finite, precious, unique, and irreplaceable. Humans generally deal with this truth in one of two ways: either by trying to love too tightly, or not loving at all. I’ve been guilty of both. But isn’t it better to have someone to wave to when you leave?

Graduation from Florida College was a hurricane of emotions. It meant parting with a group of people I wasn’t sure I could live without. I spent the next year reeling from homesickness and missing those deep friendships. But Pepperdine graduation was sad in its own way because of all the relationships and experiences I’d missed out on building. Coming in as a transfer, I’d felt disengaged from the get-go, and never ventured well enough to change that. Sitting in a crowd of peers all sad about missing each other, I was jealous that they had goodbyes to give.

It’s not just with friendships—I catch myself living life as if the goal is “do not fall over. do not get hit by [insert calamity].” But that’s not the goal. And when I’m steering from a place of fear, I’m bound to wind up blistered, sore, and exhausted. That’s not what God wants for me, either. As my roommate recently texted me, “Be bold! Timidity is for ppl who don’t know Christ!” When I’m too preoccupied over the precise features of the coffee table, I forget to gather people around it. When I’m too fearful of making the wrong decision, I can end up making no decisions at all. Not every choice is a life-altering, world-ending, show-stopping big deal. If I loosen my grip, it’s possible that I’ll fall off the bike. But if I hold onto the handlebars of life desperately, it’s guaranteed that I’ll return home with hands blistered, sore, and weary.

I’m not on Yolo anymore—I live on a busier street now. Our front porch is loud with the constant roar of cars speeding past. But when I sit outside for long enough, there’s a lull. Then I hear the crickets and the parrots and the wind. The Pasadena Parrots proudly proclaim their enjoyment of our city. That is, I suppose, until the winds take them elsewhere. I want to be a Pasadena Parrot.

I’m not a Taco

How is it already October? Time for me to start plotting how to disguise myself and beg for candy from strangers while still retaining my Adult Card. Of course, my All Time Favorite Costume was 10-year-old Emma as Jonny Appleseed (a real American Hero). Now I’m 23, and not as interested in cross-dressing. Plus, I’m not as interested in the Adult-Halloween-Costume-Scene.

Of course, I know it’s possible to pull off an adult Halloween costume, because I’ve seen it done. This is my friend:
taco justin bieber christian taco justin bieber christian

Last year, she dressed up as a taco for Halloween. She’s not an actual taco (and I don’t even think she likes Taco Bell very much) but she pulls off the look pretty well…whatever “the look” is, in terms of tacos.

Have you listened to any of JBieb’s new stuff? My roommate REALLY likes “What do You Mean?” Repetitive nature of his lyrics aside, she still loves the jam. I guess knowing the quality of meat that goes into my Crunchwrap doesn’t stop me from eating at TB. In a way, Justin Bieber is her Taco Bell. Or Taco Bell is my Justin Bieber. You get the idea.

No one is saying Justin is perfect—there was that whole Florida thing, and the peeing in a bucket thing, and the time he used the word “Chinchilla” in one of his songs. But who among us has not done regrettable things in Florida, really needed a bathroom, or made an unfortunate rhyme? Justin has had some rough times lately, but I once spent a whole year of college wearing a red and white trucker hat…so I’m willing to extend a bit of grace to him now that he’s vocalizing his change of heart.

Exhibit A

Unfortunately, Justin’s positive perspective is a bit misguided, his recent Complex interview had me very confused. In it, he discusses his faith in Christianity—but he also discusses his lack of love for Christ’s church:

I think that people, as soon as they start hearing me saying I’m a Christian, they’re like, “Whoa Justin, back up, take a step back.” Also, I do not want to shove this down anyone’s throat. I just wanna honestly live like Jesus. Not be Jesus—I could never—I don’t want that to come across weird. He created a pretty awesome template of how to love people and how to be gracious and kind. If you believe it, he died for our sins. Sometimes when I don’t feel like doing something, but I know it’s right, I remember, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross and dying so that we don’t have to feel what we should have to feel.

Like I said before, Christians leave such a bad taste in people’s mouths, even myself. I was like, I’m not gonna go to church. I had these church friends and I was like, you guys are cool, I like you guys, but I’m not going to church. Then it was the same thing of, just because you went to a weird church before doesn’t mean that this is weird. It doesn’t make you a Christian just by going to church. I think that going to church is fellowship, it’s relationship, it’s what we’re here on the earth to do, to have this connection that you feel there’s no insecurities. I think that’s where we need to be. Like I said, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.

What do You Mean?

Of course going to Taco Bell doesn’t make you a taco! Going to Taco Bell makes you a taco eater. And being a part of a church makes you a Christ eater. Yes, I know that sounds really weird. It sounded weird when Jesus said it, too:

He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

But the Jews said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

There are a lot of things that JB is still working through right now, but I’m hopeful that his faith will mature, along with his hairstyle. I’m hopeful that he’ll come to see that we aren’t called to go to church, we’re called to be the church. I hopeful that he’ll realize that the early church members were persecuted and slandered as cannibals. Maybe he’ll realize that in order to love Jesus, you also have to love his church. Maybe he’ll realize that fellowship and relationship need to start at the table set by our Lord, partaking in the body and blood of Christ with fellow believers. Sometimes he may not feel like struggling through relationships with broken Christians, but he’ll know it’s right. He’ll know that wearing a taco suit doesn’t mean you worship Taco Bell, and wearing the name of “Christian” doesn’t mean you worship Christ.

I totally get it. Committing to a church can seem illogical, impractical, uncomfortable, and unpleasant. Christians can be hurtful—I’ve been hurt. I’ve hurt others. Churches can be overwhelming. Especially when you don’t know exactly what you believe, or you don’t know how to get where you want to be. They can be clique-y and superficial and liturgical and all that jazz.

But remember, what Justin said: “I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross and dying so that we don’t have to feel what we should have to feel.” Jesus chose the sacrificial, illogical path of communion with broken people. Jesus said “Your will be done,” and he spent the hardest years of his life on earth surrounded by fishermen fighting for importance and one man who would betray him.

So whether you’re an “Unchurched Christian,” or you’re a Sunday-goer with a “leave me alone I just want to sit here in my pew” mentality, think about it: What do You Mean when you say you’re a Christian? I’m tired of people claiming to follow Christ, but openly discounting the importance of participation with his people. If you’re trying to be like Christ, you should try to love his church. He loved it so much that he died for it.

Okay. Rant over. And in case you were wondering…

Anna-Kendrick-Loves-Taco-Bell-On-The-Conan-O-Brien-Show-1438971774

Will Slide 4 Sliders

“Emma, we get it, you finally have a job, would you shut up about it already?”

My apologies, disgruntled reader, but I’m bringing it up again.

In case you haven’t heard, I FINALLY HAVE A FREAKING JOB.

I have so much job, in fact, that I barely have anything else. I have a job from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days right now. I probably have a pretty good idea what Santa’s assembly line elves feel like during December. My office even celebrated Christmas in July last Friday, so it’s a pretty authentic comparison. I took this video from the party, so you could get a visual:

They warned me that it would be like this during “Fall.” (Apparently, the marketing industry is very seasonally confused). Anyway, they warned me, but I didn’t listen to them. I went ahead and joined the company softball team anyway. I rummaged around in my closet for those old cleats, chose my jersey number, and I even bought some softball appropriate clothing from TJ Max. You could say I was invested. All of this was, of course, at the very precipice preceding the Fall season. I felt the impending doom, but was optimistic that I would be able to carve out one evening a week for some mediocre “athleticism.” Yay sports! Yay camaraderie! Yay making up for a two season losing streak in high school!

WRONG. I went to two games. Two Monday nights of witnessing my coworkers in their stretchy pants. By the way—I won more games during those two games of company softball than I did in TWO YEARS of playing the sport in high school.

Hawtstuff

Hawt…

By week three, I was fully suffering under the weight of the Fall season. Monday night’s game came, and went, and I was still stuck in my cube while my teammates were slapping hands and mumbling “good game” to complete corporate strangers.

Week three was followed by week four, five, and six, and I eventually just gave up all hope of ever swinging a bat again. I avoided running into the team’s captain at the copier—anxious to avoid disappointed looks. I dreaded the weekly emails about the team lineup and game timing, knowing that I would have to press decline again.

Last week, a meeting request came through for the team, but I skimmed enough to realize it was for a pre-game team dinner. I absentmindedly declined, without giving it another thought. That is, until HR-lady came over to my cube around 5:30.

“Hi!” she smiled.

“Hi?…” I questioned back.

“Are you coming?” she inquired.

“Oh, to the dinner? No…I…have to work.” I nervously laughed.

At this point, HR-lady smiled and laughed, awkwardly wishing me speedy work as she sidled her way back towards the boisterous cluster of my former teammates.

LOL. Like I would ever go to the end-of-season celebratory team dinner after only participating in two games. I wouldn’t dare be so precocious, even if it was free food. Everyone knows I’m not really on the team—I’m just on the email list. If you don’t wear sliders, you don’t eat sliders: that’s what my mom always said. (It’s right up there with, “You gotta risk it for the [chicken] biscuit,” and other food-related quips).*

To be honest, the softball team isn’t the only area of my life that has been completely sunk by my tidal wave of work. Obviously, I’m sure you’ve been severely peeved by a severe lack of blog posts on my part. In all seriousness, though, I’ve been lax in my relationship with God and His people. This past year, I struggled with too much time and not enough work. In the past few months, the problem has reversed. Distracted by deadlines, I’ve dodged my real duties and become distant from what is dearest to me. While still searching for a church home, I’ve done the bare-minimum in terms of communing and finding a Christian family. I’ve put my spiritual life on pause because I haven’t had time to invest.

But I can’t do that anymore—because if I don’t show up for the games, I can’t expect to be a real part of the team. How can I expect to be comfortable at the end-of-season dinner, if I’m not at home in the dugout? While the softball team might be able to slide down my priorities list in a pinch, my time in fellowship and the word just can’t. I need to be on the team, not just on the email list.

*My lovely mother has never actually uttered either of the aforementioned slogans. It’s okay, though, she was still a decent parent, I guess.

This cube is not my home

Angelos move. A lot. I’m pretty sure it’s part of our DNA or genetic predisposition or whatever. As legend has it, my ancestors pioneered West with the Donner party (the Angelos gave up and stopped somewhere before the Cannibalistic Pass, as the story goes). I haven’t been able to substantiate the claim for myself, but you get the idea. I’ve lived in eleven houses, four dorms, and eight cities. At this point, I’m Tetris Master Level when it comes to fitting boxes in cars. I buy vehicles based on how well they’ll transport furniture, and “good at packing boxes” is one of the most desirable qualities I look for in men.

I’ve been at my new job for 2.5 months, and already had three different workspaces. At this rate, we’re looking at a different cubicle for every month of work. I’m not the only one: the company is consolidating onto two floors, so we’re all playing a lengthy game of Corporate Musical Chairs.

It wouldn’t be quite so disruptive, except the construction is going more quickly than planned (pretty sure that’s the first time since men stopped living in caves). I’ve had several coworkers who’ve come in for work only to discover that their desk is bare, and that all of their effects have been moved to a new (and often unknown) location. Some of the kitchen tables are missing from the breakroom, and rumor has it they’ve been spotted doubling as makeshift desks in an office somewhere. It’s been feeling a little rapture-esque, what with my peers disappearing unexpectedly.

I was barely at my desk for ten minutes together before lunch on Thursday. After training on a different floor for the majority of the morning, I returned to my cube right before lunch, only to spot this lovely note on my monitor:

cannedjello moving

Okay. So, first off: this is a pet peeve of mine. Have you ever gone to a local restaurant or something, and there’s a sign on the door that says “back in an hour,” or some such nonsense? Dear cryptic-message-writer, we don’t know when you wrote this note. We can’t smell the post-it and tell if it’s “still fresh.” Is this 5 minutes from 10:00 am? or 5 minutes from 11:54 am? I’m at a loss.

Thankfully, I’d already seen the fates of my friends, and been living out of boxes for several days. All I had to do was find my new destination (consequentially, only a mere couple yards away). Since I’ll be moving again within a few days, I’m trying to do as much as I can without unpacking my hole puncher.

Friday morning was even more shocking: while my belongings were still safely where I’d left them the night before, all the cubicles surrounding my office had been removed during the night. A lone printer remained (a printer, it turns out, that was now only good for scanning, since its network cables had been cut during the cube-removal-madness).

Have you ever seen an old office space without its workstations? It’s a similar experience to taking all the seat cushions off of an old couch: very insightful, and a little bit repulsive. From what I hear, the creative department found a lot of floor-almonds where their desks used to be. Our space was a bit more diverse—with old candy, post-its, and a dangerous number of thumbtacks littering the ground.

True to their character, studio seized the opportunity to make art out of madness. They went around and took pictures of the random remains, and plastered the images to the walls for all to see. I loved it—visiting an art gallery without even leaving my office.

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Somewhere around ten moves ago, my church’s “theme song of the year” was This World is Not My Home. We sang it probably every Sunday, so you could say the lyrics stuck with me.

This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

It’s easy for me to become caught up in my life and what’s happening to me. Sometimes this world feels like a game of Monopoly, and I’m just pulling Chance cards, waiting to see how they turn out. “The printer’s network cables have been cut: move back two spaces.” “Post-it on monitor: move across hall.” But instead of making me reactionary, it should make me purposeful. C.S. Lewis put it best (as always) in the Screwtape Letters:

We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

Satan wants us preoccupied with worrying about what will happen to us. God wants us focusing on how we can be like Jesus, not on what our circumstances are like. We know we’ll end up on the 7th floor with our coworkers eventually, so it doesn’t really matter how many random cubicles or makeshift “desks” we occupy in the meantime.

Likewise, when this world is finished, the distractions will be removed, and our legacies will be on display for everyone to see. The trash we left behind and thought would go unnoticed? It won’t. Our unseen acts of light and shadow will suddenly be a focal point, so it makes much more sense to focus on what we do on this earth, rather than what’s being done to us by others.

I pray that God gives me a moving spirit. The mindset of a migrant, focusing on my final destination. I pray He keeps me traveling light, and processing life through the viewpoint of one who knows they don’t belong.

Drop the baton

I like to consider myself moderately intelligent.

But then I accidentally lock myself in stairwells, unintentionally sabotage workplace wedding showers, and unknowingly break into cars.

In fact, I’ve done all of those things in this week alone.

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I was deeply engrossed in a task when a coworker came by my cube and surreptitiously handed me a file folder. It’s fairly commonplace to receive vague folders with birthday cards enclosed. We pass them around the office and sign them without letting the birthday person notice. It usually goes off seamlessly.

Or it did, before I joined the company. I accepted the file without even peeking to see whose birthday we were celebrating, and let the file chill on my desk. The file chilled so long, in fact, that I forgot about it for the majority of the day. four hours later, still deeply engrossed in a task, I was interrupted by one of those handy email alerts: I had a meeting coming up in 15 minutes.

Except it wasn’t a meeting, it was a secret wedding shower.

And then I remembered the card. The card that wasn’t actually for an upcoming birthday, but for an impending wedding shower. A 15-minutes-away wedding shower.

I frantically opened the folder, and my fears were verified when I read something hokey about love on the front of the card. I scribbled some generic notes and passed the card along. Returning to my desk, I saw an update for the meeting: “Has anyone seen the card? It’s missing and we need it!”

Yikes.

Anyway. There isn’t really a point to this story, except for the fact that I am a total failure and am probably subconsciously sabotaging the nuptial happiness of others due to my own single spite. Maybe my boss has noticed, because last week she said,

“You’re going to make mistakes, and I’m much more interested in how you handle them.”

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I love learning about the geeky details of people’s lives. One friend recently admitted that she’d done competitive baton twirling as a child. I hadn’t even realized competitive baton twirling was a thing that existed. Anyway, she explained further, “people always ask if I ever dropped it in a competition. Everyone drops it! Because you’re trying new stuff. You do tricks that you know you can do, and then you push yourself to try stuff that you aren’t sure you can pull off.”

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Contrary to popular belief, I have a life (and plans this afternoon)—so i don’t really have time to dive into an essay about mistakes, and the attitude of the church, and how we only confess our sins to each other when we’re worried about people discovering them on their own, and how God’s grace deserves much more trust and merit than we give it when we are dead-set against ever dropping the baton.

So I’ll let Francis Chan rant about it for me:

Timecards

Warning: this blog post contains no pictures, and has not even been proofread. “Wow, Emma’s really let herself go—have you seen the state of her blog?” Shut up, snarky reader. Either accept this for what it is, or go waste your time on Buzzfeed.

Precisely 365 days ago, I sat in between two strangers for several hours, baking inside a human-sized Chipotle-style burrito foil. Or, that’s what it felt like. One year ago today, I graduated from Pepperdine and embarked upon one of the most challenging, frustrating years of my life. I lost my cap a few times due to the wind, and tried not to lose my cool as I considered the uncertainty of the coming months. And from a worldly perspective, I had every reason to worry. It’s been 300 days of job hunting and anxious prayer, of penny-pinching, interviewing, resume tweaking, and fast-food working. It’s been a year full of tears, toilet cleaning, angsty blog posts, and soul searching. I spent an entire year working towards securing a job, but God was preoccupied with a different project.

Now I have my first “grown up” job. I have a steady income that doesn’t involve any polyester, and I love it. I have a cubicle, and a timesheet, and I even have to bill my time down to 15 minute increments. In fact, the time billing thing was probably the biggest adjustment. I’m always doing something wrong with the timecard. Either I’m using the wrong date range, or I’m making up billing codes that don’t actually exist, or I’m billing to timecodes that belong to completely different departments, or I’m accidentally typing “AM” instead of “PM,” and wondering why the program is mad at me. You’d think this was my first job or something.

I have trouble remembering my own mother’s birthday (sorry, mom), let alone how I spent every 15 minutes of my workday. In the long-run, though, it’s made me work smarter. I’m a serial to-do-lister, and could easily spend 15 minutes just analyzing my list of projects. When I’m overwhelmed, I just think. When I’m stressed, I think. It’s a problem, to say the least. Logging my 15 minute list meditations has made me more aware of my time wasting, and helped me to move from project to project more effectively.

I wish I were forced to be more accountable for my personal time on a regular basis, as well. If every two weeks, God asked to see your timecard, broken down into 15 minute increments, do you think you’d change how you spent your time? I would. I would stare at my phone screen less. I would watch less Netflix (although Vanilla Ice Goes Amish is pure gold, in case you haven’t seen it). I would serve more, pray more, praise more, study more. Instead of billing my time to naps, procrastination, and gossip, I’d put it towards “jobs” that God would be pleased with.

However, I am unaware of any biweekly celestial timekeeping system, and must therefore persist in my efforts to conceptualize my time differently through other means. The lack of a heavenly punchcard isn’t the only pitfall through which I’ve squandered my time this past year:

1. Homesickness crippled me

When I moved to Washington, I missed my Oregon friend. When I moved to Florida, I missed my family in Oregon. When I moved to California, I yearned for the Florida life and community I’d left behind. The day after my college graduation, my mom moved to Idaho. I’ve spent a year trying to silence the dull, constant throbbing of my heart. But it’s hard to put down roots, when you were uprooted from a different soil. When part of your heart is on a different coast, it can be hard to share your heart with new people.

There are a lot of weird things about Girl Scouts—those vests, naming a whole age bracket after a dessert (brownies, anyone?), encouraging little girls to go door to door selling baked goods to strangers, etc. My troupe used to sing a song, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold. A circle’s round, it has no end, that’s how long I’m going to be your friend.” It was a creepy song, and I haven’t been able to forget it after all these years. As a seven year old, I thought it was weird to rate your friends like different types of metals. Now, I feel like actually fall into that trap. Why would I want to invest in new silver friends, when I miss my gold friends so much?

There’s nothing wrong with missing people or staying in touch, but if my melancholy over long-distance friendships is keeping me from being present, something is amiss.

2. Perfectionism petrified me

If you think I’m weird, neurotic, or OCD now, you should have seen me as a child. Still, I often avoid investing in working on a skill or trying out new things because I hate being imperfect at them. You mean I’m not the best writer in the history of the world’s existence? Well, I think I’ll just shut down my blog, then. Instead of letting God work through me in whatever method He chooses, I try to curate my conduct by paring my pastimes down to only what I know I can succeed in. And do you know what that leaves me with? Very, very little.

3. Self-centeredness blinded me

Do you remember what I said in the first paragraph?

“No, impudent girl! Your blog is far too wordy and rambling. How could you presume to ask if we’d hung on the minute details of the introductory paragraph.”

Sorry. I was telling you how I’d spent this past year: with frantic and fervent job hunting. And I told you that God had been spending that year working towards a different goal in my life.

Yesterday, I talked on the phone with my sister for two and a half hours. We live an hour apart, so if one of us had just driven towards the other one while we’d chatted, we could have probably made much better use of that time. Anyway, we reflected together on our past year, and how glad we each were that we’d spent it together. We’d always thought we were close. Sure, we’d fought, but only because her slovenliness rivals the Lord of the Rings dwarves. Just kidding. The point is, not until spending a year together could we have conceptualized how close our relationship could become.

Only yesterday was I able to see that a year of joblessness and uncertainty was a bargain for the lifelong bliss of having such an enhanced relationship with my sister. While I was begging God to free me from the trap of unemployment, he was knitting my soul to my sister’s, making us laugh together, work together, comfort and teach each other. While I mouthed the words “thy will” countless times throughout the year, I couldn’t conceptualize how God’s will was dependent on my working in a fast-food drive thru and sharing a room with my sister. I said the words, but my heart was in rebellion. While I am grateful for the blessing of sisterly affection God has blessed me with, I only regret that I’d submitted to His plan so unwillingly.

“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”

I guess it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: with this next 365 days, I intend to be more mindful about every 15 minutes. I want to build up my relationships in Pasadena, not just nurture the ones I’ve left in other towns. I’ll focus less on being perfect, and more on using the tools and the time God has given me. I’ll try to internalize the truth I’ve known for some time: that my to-do list might not match up with God’s, and that His is the master list. And I’m gonna really try to figure out this whole timecard system thing at work, because it’s starting to become pretty embarrassing, actually.

Where’s the Youth Group?

Flashback:

I was visiting my family while on winter break from college. They were still pretty new to California life, and hadn’t yet found a church. One night, we visited a little dinky place in a rundown old neighborhood. There was more dirt than grass, more stray dogs than people, and everything had a chain-link fence surrounding it. The church members didn’t seem to have much more life in them than the neighborhood. They were pretty much all old, except for a few little girls. I was already unenthused. Campus devotionals and church-bound carpools were my norm in Florida. Worship without peers seemed so…dull. Then the singing started, and my judgement was sealed. After all, I usually worshipped surrounded by college students with Pitch Perfect singing skills. After services, I adamantly instructed my mom, “no matter what, you can’t choose this church.” The unfortunate acoustics and aged demographics of the congregation just weren’t up to snuff for my teenage siblings’ needs—I was convinced of it.

Next school break, I found myself in that same decrepit building. My mom had blatantly disregarded my words. The Angelos were officially members of the Musically and Youthfully Challenged Congregation, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had no choice but to sing along and try to get to know my new church family. Now, four years later, I’m saying goodbye to the group that I tried so hard to avoid, and I can’t imaging this last episode of my life without them all. It’s hard to imagine how I could have had such judgement sentiments about such a beautiful group, and the remembrance fills me with a wave of humility.

A bit of a rant:

There’s a misconception in modern church culture that it’s absolutely normal for everyone to kind of just “church” with the people they have stuff in common with, and that misconception is particularly accepted when it comes to age. Even our seating arrangements betray our partiality, with “college” sections, “high school” sections, and “young parent” sections, we demonstrate our relationships in pew form.

Youth groups cater to young people’s prioritization of peers, making communion with like-minds more focal than communion with Christ-minds. In a culture that values youth over experience, we say, “Hey young people, don’t leave God! If you come to church we’ll plan fun events for you and your fellow young Christians. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hang out with the old people.” Veteran members age out, some eventually becoming “shut-ins” who are only members in name. We might visit them in their houses sometimes, or maybe send a card. At the least, we’ll remember to pray about them occasionally. For the most part, though, we seem to buy into the world’s value system of age: entertain and engage the youth so that they will stay with you during their adult years. They’re the ones who need—and demand, and deserve—the attention.

Maybe it’s not as caste-system-esque as all that. Maybe we all just like being around our friends, around the people with whom we have things in common. Still, this is pretty short-sighted. No, I’m not saying that sitting with people of similar ages is inherently sinful or wrong. What I am saying is that there’s something selfish about seeking out people in the church who are similar to you. That statement sounds pretty judge-y, and please don’t think that I’m propagating that I am free of the charge. I think I do that all the time. I think it’s human nature. But then, human nature is a lot of what we’re called to rise above.

When I surround myself with only peers, I’m safe. We have things in common. We’re in a similar stage of life, we’ve more likely had similar childhoods. We are seeking the same things. We think the same things are fun. We wear similar clothing. We know similar people. We talk in a similar way about similar stuff. We have similar obligations and struggles and thoughts. Our peers are our equals. They give us our sense of self worth, and we can measure ourselves against them. They’re comfortable, because they are familiar. It’s easy. So easy, in fact, that we fall into relationship without even intending to preference one group over another.

I’m not saying that surrounding yourself with peers is malicious. I’m just saying it’s the kind of self-centered activity that inhibits us from fully living out the unified beauty of church that God intended.

Don’t take my word for it:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Five reasons why you should try to befriend a non-age-similar Christian:

  1. Jesus cared about the children, even when the apostles were like, “Hey get out of here you little brats.”
  2. Jesus cared about the societally marginalized, even when everyone was like, “Hey, why are you breaking in through the ceiling?”
  3. Christians with different perspectives can enrich your walk and challenge you to view your faith from a different angle
  4. You can offer different blessings/perspectives/etc. to those other Christians, too
  5. Celebrating our diversity in Christ’s unity is the beauty of the church, and it’s another vital way that we are called to shine out as examples to the world.

The end:

If I have literally nothing else in common with an old man at my church, I still have Christ in common. And that’s not a trivial tie. No. We have both been adopted by the same Lord of the universe and creator of all. We have the same redeemer, same mission, same enemy, same family. While our struggles and our strengths may differ, that ought to only serve to unite us.

I’m not saying that you should stop spending time with your best Christian friends, or that you need to suddenly change your seating chart during assemblies (although, why not try a new pew…). I’m just saying check yourself. God created the church the way he did for a reason. He tells the old men and women to instruct the young ones. Our various ages and walks of life should serve as ways for us to encourage and serve one another, not as features to help us voluntarily segregate ourselves. My mom used her dorky homeschool kids both to encourage old, sick, elderly people and to give a bit of a break to a young mom who needed it. She found ways to use her particular moment in life to serve fellow Christians who were in different steps. Sure, she had friends her age, too, but she didn’t limit herself to her own age group.

Maybe spending time with a alternately-aged Christian sounds really boring to you. Or maybe it sounds intimidating. Or awkward. You probably won’t have as much in common with them, right off the bat. But the Christian life isn’t about what’s easy or convenient, and often times the most rewarding relationships are the unexpected ones.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with forming close relationships with people who you’re close in age with. I’m just saying distance in age is no excuse to ignore people. I’m grateful God gave me a mom who can see past ages and superficial differences, because obviously I’m not wise enough to get there on my own. I’m very grateful for my current church family, because I’ve had the opportunity to be forced into real relationships with people ages 7-70. I’m grateful that God put me into relationship with a congregation of musically and youthfully challenged people, and I’m humiliated to admit the biases and superficiality that would have prevented me from building relationship with them (if I’d been the one selecting a congregation). I would have missed out on getting to know and grow with some of the most amazing, generous, caring Christians around. I would have missed out on countless fireside chats, evening home bible studies, and shared meals. I would have missed out on my crazy quirky California family. on the laughs and tears and hugs. on watching those little girls grow up, and on saying goodbye to the elderly that pass. I would have missed out on finding commonality with people who look like Christ, all because I was preoccupied with finding people who were more like me.

Present(s under the tree):

This Christmas break was different. My mom has a church family. When I met them, I wasn’t looking for “my group.” I was blessed to get to know an amazing group of Christ-followers of all ages, and it was beautiful. Cue random Christmas montage:

The blog I didn’t really feel like posting

It’s a little late to post this, but I feel like I can’t move on with my blog until I address some thoughts that have been pinballing around in my brain. So, here it is: the blog I didn’t really feel like posting.

My Thanksgiving was lovely and quirky and very Angelo. While the rest of the country was on fire over Ferguson events and aftermath, I was preoccupied with making sure that my first holiday ham didn’t burn. We spent the break with my cousins, and had a riotous time which included Las Vegas, Full-Contact Monopoly, the assembly of and experimentation with a Back Inversion Table, and high school basketball games. There are many inside jokes and awkward quotes from the visit which I would love to share with you, but would be highly inappropriate for the internet. Angelo functions are definitely uncensored.

On the day of our departure, all the cousins made an appearance at Grandma’s church. As with most grandparents, she was thrilled to show off so much of her progeny. We played our role well: we smiled, shook hands, accepted loaves of bread, fake laughed when necessary, and sat in our pew. As I sat in the pew, transfixed by the piercing stare of the overly attractive image of Jesus on the projector screen (Isaiah 53:2, anyone?), my (half Jamaican) cousin leaned over and whispered, “My brother and I are the only black people in the room…and Grandma says this place is America.” “Hah…yeah…” I snickered in response, “the darkest thing in the building is the coffee.”

handsome jesus cannedjello

I’m pretty sure this is the exact Jesus that was staring into my soul from the projector screen.

But as we sat, silently laughing together at the gross misrepresentation of the population, I wondered how I hadn’t noticed it before. I’d only noticed Jesus’ beautiful green eyes, not the paleness of the people around me. I notice when I’m the minority, but not when someone else is. I notice when I’m the only English speaker at the Spanish congregation. When I was one of few white kids in my high school. When my cousins took us to a soul food restaurant in Las Vegas and all eyes turned on me and my sister. But at grandma’s church? I was in my element. I didn’t notice.

What’s my point? Well, certainly not that my grandma’s church should be condemned for it’s caucasian constituency. No. I just think it’s worth reminding you that you have prejudices, no matter who you are. You have prejudices, and you probably also tend to view the world from your own perspective. So whether it’s someone with a different color of skin or a different shade of doctrine, next time you’re judging or ignoring or just plain writing them off, pause for a moment.

Over these past few months, I’ve seen a lot of posts by a lot of people with a lot of opinions about racial and political topics. So, my second point is that, for a Christian, your freedom of speech is freedom to speak for Christ. Your purpose on this earth is to live for Christ, and living for Christ also includes using your words to glorify Him, too. Freedom to speak for a Christ who chose to appear in a Middle Eastern body and who probably didn’t have piercing green eyes. A Christ who, when asked about his political views, chose to avoid giving any answer that would detract from His gospel. A Christ who united a zealot and a tax collector, who united Jews and Gentiles. Basically, if your politics are screaming louder than our Savior’s gospel, your priorities need their own inversion table. If your bad news is distracting people from the good news, there are bigger issues afoot. I’m not trying to minimize any realities or injustices, I just think it’s worth taking the time to reflect on how your personal agenda fits into His.

Oh, and happy Christmas, Harry. My gift to you is an assortment of awkward pictures form my Thanksgiving holiday: