The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 22

After these things God tested Abraham.

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God said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

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God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

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So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering,

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and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.

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So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

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He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

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Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

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So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound

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his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

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But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

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He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram

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and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven,and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.

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And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 21

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age,

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at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old,

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as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

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And she said, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

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The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

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When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.”

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And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.

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And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.

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She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.

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He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 18-19

TRIGGER WARNING: Incidences of sexual assault.

Because of these acts, this post will be less funny and more annotated than usual. It’s important to remember that the Bible describes a full range of human experience, including lot of things abominable before God (murder, cruelty, idolatry). Sexual assault is one of these things. If you are a survivor of any sexual harassment or assault what happened is not your fault, and I pray you have whatever support you need to live your fullest life. RAINN is a great resource for many.

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,

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seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

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Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

mr-smithMr. Abraham Goes To The Lord!

And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”

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Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place. The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground.

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He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

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But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house;and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.”

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NOTE: This passage has frequently been used to condemn homosexuality when, as you can read, it is almost certainly about the fact that the Sodomites are trying to rape strangers, rather than show them hospitality. I inserted an image from Deliverance because it is a really close pop culture analogue – a tale of men who assault other men not out of loving or consensual attraction but a desire for power, and a hatred for outsiders who they can exploit when they visit an unknown community. 

Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

TinaeyerollSerious side eye for Lot on this terrible solution. 

But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down.

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But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door. Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.”

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But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.”

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And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one? —and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.”

gtfoThird time’s the charm? Yes? No? Lot needs to learn to listen to angels.

Therefore the city was called Zoar. The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from theLord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

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But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

salt-n-pepaAnd lo, she gave unto us songs of praise and pushin’ it. J/K, but wouldn’t that have been a lot easier on her?

…Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters. And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.”

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So they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. On the next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Look, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger rose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father.

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The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab; he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and named him Ben-ammi; he is the ancestor of the Ammonites to this day.

Pro-tip: The Moabites and Ammonites are sometimes ok with, but often antagonists of the Israelites throughout the Biblical story. This very disturbing tale about Lot and his daughters might be meant to be disturbing, and explain in some way the perceived badness of the O.G. Axis of Evil. 

Without the Guilt

There’s one advertising phrase that always stops me when I see it. Maybe it’s because it’s on a lot of products marketed to women, maybe it’s because of my line of work, but it just always strikes me right in the gut.

It’s “without the guilt.” As in, “Frozen ice cream – without the guilt!” “Chocolate – without the guilt!” “Being alive and taking up space in the world – without the guilt!” (I may or may not have made up that last one).

It’s always on low fat foods to imply that every time you consume the full-calorie version, you are filled with joy but also overwhelming guilt, that you’re doing something wrong by having it. Now that there’s a low fat version, you get all the flavor with the added deliciousness of moral purity.

As a motto for food, I both get it and think it’s a little icky – the motivation for health should be health, not more wrapping up of food with feelings of sadness and inadequacy. But as a motto for religion – that’s where I find it most interesting.

Particularly in the U.S., particularly with Christianity, people tend to associate faith with either the piling on of guilt, or its cheap expiation. You’ve got the self-righteous Christians who because they go to church get to never question themselves and just point out the guilt in everybody else, and you’ve got the guilt and shame-racked Christians who spend a lot of time trying to make up for who they are, unable to feel any joy in existing. In both cases, those advocating for joining the faith and those advocating for leaving get to advertise their visions as “Life – without the guilt!”

But the reality, and the ideal Kingdom church, are a lot grayer. The resurrection and redemption of Jesus Christ don’t mean wallowing in or avoiding guilt for the everyday hurts we inflict on one another. They mean the ability to face our regrets honestly, knowing that we are made good, we sometimes do and/or feel bad, and there is always hope for things to get better with listening, community, and God.

And, discipleship to Christ hopefully leads down a path towards no shame (remember that?! back in the Garden, before stupid clothes?), in who we are or what we feel. We’re creation, we’re God’s children, we’re full of great stuff. But many of us are carrying around suitcases of shame not for things we’ve done that we’d now do differently, but for just existing – having bodies, being different from others, or our assumption of judgment or dislike from everyone we meet.

To my mind this kind of bitter self-hatred isn’t guilt at all. I’ts not the pin-pricking of conscience in response to a sense that we have pushed ourselves away from God or our fellow man. It’s the internalizing of society’s sickness, in not being able to see the beauty of what God has made.

So no, in my faith I haven’t found a life without the guilt. But what I have found in my relationship with God, in the imperfect and vulnerable community of the church, in the example of Jesus’s teachings, is a place to bring the guilt, make my amends (however clumsily), and watch it grow into something fruitful and healthy. I’m not afraid to admit my failings, because I no longer believe that eliminating all my failings is what a good life looks like. I have found a place to bring the shame, and have it touched with the tender hand of God’s love.

For each of us, the journey to making friends with our guilt & shame will be different. But I hope we don’t turn to either papering over it, or being convinced it’s the only thing about us that matters. There’s a lot of room in between, and that room is where an accountable, truthful, generous life is to be found.

Breaking the Cycle

Every week a large portion of churches in the world organize their worship of God around the same couple of Bible passages, picked by some learned folks to cover most of the Bible over a three-year cycle called the Revised Common Lectionary. Since I often preach them and always read ’em, I’m going to blog on the weekly passages regularly. If you have any questions about the RCL, this is a helpful resource.

My Mom once told me that her main parenting goal is to do a little better with us than was done with her. Perfect parenting is a myth, according to her – there’s too much you pass on without meaning to, too much that’s out of your control, too much you mess up before you learn better. But you can hope to build, just the tiniest bit, on whatever your parents gave to you, and hope to equip your kids to build a bit on whatever you managed.

The more dramatic version of this vision of parenting is “breaking the cycle” – noticing the patterns in our families that are deeply unhealthy, even if everything else is great, and choosing to be the first not to perpetuate them. This is the Dad who chooses not to use physical violence, the Mom who makes the effort never to berate, the Parent who actively reminds herself to not pressure the kids into her own dreams, because they see how poorly it’s worked out for everyone for generation after generation.

Jacob, the focus of this week’s Genesis Bible story, was the bearer and progenitor of a long legacy of sibling rivalry and cruelty. The whole thing started with Cain, who killed his older brother Abel. Several generations later we had Jacob’s Uncle Ishmael kicked out of the house into a desert in favor of his younger half-brother Isaac. And in this passage, Jacob is only at his Uncle Laban’s house at all because he stole his birthright and his blessing from his older twin brother Esau via Mom-assisted trickery. In a society where birth order and family trust mattered a lot, this is not a good look.

At first, it seems like sibling relations won’t be relevant or recognized in this story. Though older sister Leah has “tender eyes,” Jacob had fallen madly in love with Rachel at first sight, crying out of love for her, and asks for her hand in marriage. The seven years of labor he proposes to give in return seem like nothing. When Laban sneaks Leah in instead, having Jacob marry her against his will, and then extorts another 7 years of labor for baby sister because younger just don’t get to marry before big sisters, we could be forgiven for missing the re-occurrence of the theme in our consternation at the trickery.

But it is there – in a potentially cycle-breaking way. Though we can all agree that consensual, honest marriages would be better than this situation, by giving Jacob Leah when he expects Rachel Laban is honoring the tradition of elder over younger, securing protection for his gentle daughter in a difficult and patriarchal society, and doing it without making Leah and Rachel into enemies of each other.  He makes the choice to enforce different priorities than every previous generation.

This doesn’t change everything – no one would call the sibling relationships between Jacob & Leah & Rachel’s 12 (!) kids ideal. Joseph’s older brothers sell him into slavery, and some are willing to kill him. But they are better than what came before. Nobody dies. Everyone reconciles by the end. They restore their relationships and live in love and peace together by the end of their lives, an improvement over the uneasy detente of Jacob & Esau, the exile of Ishmael, and the death of Abel.

Things never get perfect. We are human after all. But things can get better, little bit by little bit. Whatever the worst thing is that has happened to us, or the thing we’ve done we most regret, it is something we can learn from, and use to do better next time. There’s nothing from which there can’t be recovery, and no pattern of unhealthiness in our lives or our families so ingrained that we can’t make the choice to upend it.

Be like Laban, and like Jacob. Not perfect, and sometimes not even like-able. But following God, paying attention, and doing what they can to grow just a little bit from whatever came before.

The Bible in GIFs: Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”

Meanwhile, Hagar: nobodyeverasked(Yes this movie is problematic. ‘Abject misery and forced labor’ gifs do not abound, so go with it.)                                                                                                      

And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.

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Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!”

dontlookatmelikethatdidmybackhurtyourknifeMy bias for Hagar may be showing

But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her,

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and she ran away from her.

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The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her…I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.”

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And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

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So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered. Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old.

Can a curated life be whole?

Yesterday actress Blake Lively’s new lifestyle magazine/store Preserve opened, to some (admittedly sarcastic) fanfare. I have no beef with the site – it seems pretty, and store-wise I’m not really the target audience so I have no business commenting on the products.

But I’ve been struck by a phrase Lively has been using to promote the site. She says that it will help readers live “a curated life.”

Curation is the watchword of a lot of social media and a lot of post-modern life generally. It means, basically, to select carefully and present with a thought to the total collection and its reception by others. It’s something I find myself unconsciously doing almost every time I pin, tweet, or post something. What would someone who scrolled through my profile think of me? What does this Home board say about who I am, what my taste is, what kind of life I want to lead/am leading?

Initially only relevant to galleries and museums, curation is now a concept that subtly drives a lot of our self-presentation online and off. In my line of work there’s even a pretty good book called Curating Worship, about thinking of worship as curated experiences rather than rituals or habits.

But the beauty and careful discernment that can come from curation present their own dangers for a fulfilling or spiritual life. At this point it’s a cliche to acknowledge that facebook is a pretty poor representation of ‘real’ life, leaving out many of the moments of failure, frustration, and boredom that actually characterize the everyday. No one instagrams their frozen meals, or pins the very sensible iron they have to save for on a tight budget. So when we look at others, we see only the good stuff, and tend to think the worse of our own petty and mixed lives.

But it’s not just the bad or the dull that we miss when we lead curated existences. It’s the surprising. A curated life or presence leaves no room for the shock and the beauty that come from completely outside of us, from the things that we would never think to choose, from the events that mess up every neat narrative we’ve written for ourselves but manage to make living the story we’re stuck with that much more enriching.

So here’s what I think. Do you want to feel whole? Then yes, embrace the vulnerability of posting your Pinterest fails and honestly expressing your darkness and doubts. But also make sure to invite surprises into your life. Force yourself to go to new places, sit with an object you initially had a distaste for, talk to a person who seems at odds with your values.

It is rarely the things we choose that have the most to teach us about what life is. To learn who we are we have to first learn the world as it is – bursting at the seems with un-understandable, un-curated, un-capturable chaos. In the midst of that chaos we find the most beautiful order – not any order we can curate but the order of creation, which will always disrupt whatever we seek to impose upon it.