Our Little Work at the Edges of the Stars

For the past few months, I’ve been participating in women’s leadership school with my church. Each week we have readings and teaching on different topics — the Trinity, evangelism, friendship, etc. This past week was focused on the Sabbath. You may remember that I’ve blogged before about my growing love for keeping the Sabbath, which is decidedly my favorite commandment, though I’ve only come to appreciate it in the past few years. [Maybe having a favorite commandment is weird, but I love this one because I have a terrible tendency to picture God as one who tsk-tsks me about all the work I haven’t finished yet. (This is primarily because I tend to tsk-tsk myself about all the work I haven’t finished yet, and then I attribute it to him.) The Sabbath commandment reminds me that the call of God is not a call to work harder.]

Last week, in prep for teaching on the Sabbath, we read a chapter of Andy Crouch’s book Playing God. One sentence struck me in such a way that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I found myself rereading it each morning this week before starting my day:

I made this image to use as my computer wallpaper this week. (The background is taken from the Hubble photo of Andromeda!)   To download the full version for your computer, click here!

I made this image to use as my computer wallpaper this week. (The background is taken from the Hubble photo of Andromeda!) To download the full version for your computer, click here!

“At the edges of the vast fields of stars we do our little work, sowing what we could never have provided for ourselves and harvesting what we have not sown.”

What a sentence. 

It reminded me of two things — first, of a Hubble Space Telescope photo I’d seen circulating on the Internet a couple of months ago. At 1.5 billion pixels, the composite photo was heralded as the largest ever pieced together. It showed what Crouch had described: a vast field of stars — literally 100 million of them — a chunk of Andromeda, the galaxy next door. (Apparently we can photograph Andromeda because it is a mere 2.5 million light-years away.) Though enormous, it is tiny in the scheme of things — one of more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe. 100 BILLION.

Second, the sentence reminded me of Isaiah 40, which I used to read over and over again in grad school. (When you’re seeing the world wrong, Isaiah 40 will correct you, and if you’re stressed, you’re seeing the world wrong, so naturally grad school lent itself to this chapter.) Here's a snippet, but you kind of have to read the whole chapter to get the full effect:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? …. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

I can’t wrap my head around the idea that there is a being big enough to call forth 100 million stars by name — just in that one snippet of one neighbor galaxy. Or, crazier still, that there are 100 billion other galaxies that we know of whose stars he also calls forth by name. When I think about it, I feel positively microscopic. Infinitesimal.

It’s tempting to call this sense of my own smallness disorienting. Give me a glimpse at another galaxy, and suddenly I lose my frame of reference. But, in truth, I think it’s the opposite. Recognizing the vastness of the universe is actually reorienting. It causes me to realize I’ve been seeing things all wrong. When my perspective is corrected, I realize I’m far smaller than I like to pretend. When my perspective is corrected, I feel compelled to get down on my knees, to get down in the dust where I belong.

Until now I’ve loved the Sabbath for its reminder of the gospel truth that my work isn’t that important. Everything that ever really needed to get done got done — 2,000 years ago. It’s okay — nay, good! — to take a day off specifically to rest in the completed work of Christ. It’s okay if the laundry waits until Monday. The Lord’s got stuff under control. The world will keep spinning even if my washing machine doesn’t.

But I think I’m only now beginning to realize that the gospel changes more than just the significance of my work. It changes the scope of my work and the purpose of my work, too. What is huge to me is tiny to the Lord. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to him; it just means that it’s not daunting to him. The projects that seem so overwhelming to me, so beyond what I am capable of, are dust in the dust in the dust of his hands. I do my little work at the edges of his vast fields of stars, and just the act of working — of using the gifts he’s given me — is glorifying to him.

I got the crazy idea a few months ago to write a book — not for the sake of writing a book (that sounds miserable) but because a book had started to write itself in my head without my consent. While I was still in the I-kind-of-want-to-do-this-but-don’t-think-I-have-what-it-takes stage, other people who didn’t even know about the book in my brain started telling me to write a book about the very topic I couldn’t shake. So I started writing it. Even though I’m working full-time. Even though it feels like a freaking huge undertaking.

(I’m almost hesitant even to mention my fetus of a book on the Internet. I’ve read both that you should never tell people that you’re writing a book because then they’ll see you fail and that you should always tell people you’re writing a book because the accountability will force you to finish. So I won’t tell you a lot, but I will tell you that I’m working on it and that that’s part of the reason I have been less present on this blog as of late. Oh, also, it’s nonfiction, and, no, it’s not about grammar. I’ve talked to a fair number of people about this book in real life, so it’s not exactly a secret, but this is all the info the Internet gets for now.)

Here’s the thing, though, about me and book-writing: I feel compulsion and fear in equal measure. On one hand, I want to write this book. I think maybe I’m supposed to write it — or at least supposed to try. On the other hand, I don’t think I have what it takes. I could potentially spend years researching and reading and writing and, one day down the road, realize I’ve gotten myself in way over my head. Nothing about this undertaking feels like a sure thing.

This week, though, as I thought about the true scope and purpose of my work, I found myself worrying less about how this project will turn out. I found myself focusing instead on two things: first, that a book is not big to the God who spoke 100 billion galaxies into existence and calls their stars by name, and, second, that God never asked me for a book in the first place. He never looked at me and asked me for results or a finished product of any kind. He only asked me to be faithful with the gifts that he has blessed me with, to steward the seeds and the land that he has lent to me.

If I base my willingness to be faithful on the likelihood that my faithfulness will result in fruitfulness, I’m not being faithful at all. So I will write. I will spend my early mornings working on what may, in a few years, turn into a book or what may, in a few years, end up on an extra hard drive in a desk drawer, never to be printed, bound, or read. And I will trust that the willingness to use my gifts is honoring to God. I will trust that he is glorified by my little work at the edges of his vast fields of stars, even though he doesn’t need my crops.

Pulling a Moses

One of my favorite classes in college was Understanding Old Testament. The class was a gen. ed. requirement, so I registered for it out of compliance rather than interest. I took it second semester freshman year, and I have two primary memories from the class. One is of holing myself up in a Kresge "study room" — which, now that I think about it, was basically just a cinderblock closet — to write a paper on Job. I stayed in there for 12 hours straight, only leaving for bathroom breaks and to get a takeout box from the caf. (I wish I could go back in time and tell freshman Kate to chill out.)

The other memory is of studying for the final exam. My precious iBook pooped out the Saturday before finals, so my mom drove to Asbury to lend me her iBook. I remember that she had almost no music in her iTunes library, but she did have The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, so I played it on repeat all week as I studied.

Somewhere in the middle of listening (and re-listening) to that soundtrack and reading (and rereading) my Old Testament notes, I realized that I was just like the Israelites. That's why I loved that class, really: because it made me realize that I was just like the Israelites.This was in some ways, of course, a disheartening realization. (The Israelites, after all, did a lot of stupid stuff. And then they would shape up briefly. And then they would do stupid stuff again.) But it was simultaneously an encouraging realization. Because I saw how faithful God was to the rebellious, wayward, ungrateful Israelites and, by extension, to me.

I've been feeling a lot like the Israelites lately. Actually, I've been feeling a lot like one Israelite, good ol' Moses, the Prince of Egypt himself.

It seems presumptuous to say I feel like Moses. I'm not like leading people out of captivity or anything. But I have a tendency to act the way that Moses did when God showed up in that burning bush.

If you haven't read the story lately, let me summarize* it for you:

Basically Moses is chilling with some flocks in the wilderness, and he sees this burning bush, so he goes over to it and realizes that God is talking to him out of it. And God is like, "My people are suffering in Egypt. I've chosen you, Moses, to go talk to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of there."

Then God promises to go with Moses. And then God tells Moses how he'll do all these wonders. And then God turns Moses' staff into a snake.

And Moses — who at this point should be like, "Whatever you say, Lord" — is like, "But I am not eloquent."

!!!

That's what he says to the God who just talked to him out of a burning bush. He asks God to send somebody else.

And God, following up with the best comeback of all time, is like, "WHO MAKES MOUTHS TO BEGIN WITH, MOSES?" And then he sends Moses anyway (with his brother's help and despite repeated protest).

*Don't smite me for this paraphrase, readers.

This was not exactly one of Moses' finer moments, but this is the moment in which I most resemble him. "But I am not eloquent," I say to God, over and over again, switching out "eloquence" for a hundred other traits or abilities in a hundred other situations. Denying my own "eloquence," etc., might sound humble, but it's really the opposite. It shows that I think my success is dependent on my own abilities.

Right now I see this in the worry I've felt about the master's project I'll be working on next semester. As indicated by my last post, prepping for this project has had me way too stressed out. It feels like such a huge undertaking, one on which so much is resting. I look at it, and I look back at God and say, "But I am not capable. SEND SOMEBODY ELSE."

Even as God has started to bring project plans into place, I have found new things to think I must complete in my own power. The semester is reaching the point when everything hits at once. (You know how it is: projects in every class, presentations on the horizon, and a dozen meetings scheduled for this week alone). My to-do list feels like a physical weight upon on my chest. I look at it, and I look back at God and say again, "But I am not capable. SEND SOMEBODY ELSE."

And God's response is, of course, "WHO MAKES MOUTHS TO BEGIN WITH, MOSES?" Which, when applied to my situation, sounds like, "Who got you into Mizzou to begin with, Kate?"

Who let you find out about Mizzou's program in the first place? Who made sure you had time off work to go visit? Who got you accepted? Who got you an assistantship? Who provided you with community when you got there, Kate? You didn't think it was you, did you?

Did you?

If you asked me, I would say that I didn't. I would say that God led me to Mizzou, got me in, provided for me once I arrived. I would say that he'd proved his faithfulness a thousand times in the past year since I began. But when I freak out like I do and worry about my own incompetence, I show just how much I think my success has been and will continue to be dependent on my own abilities.

If I really thought I'd gotten where I was due to God's sovereignty, then I wouldn't question my ability to do what's ahead of me. Because it wouldn't be about my ability.

I wish that being able to acknowledge this tendency/problem/pride of mine would make it go away. I wish I could wake up tomorrow and take a look at my to-do list and say, "Wow, that is long. Good thing it's all in God's hands and not mine." I expect, however, that I will wake up tomorrow and feel the same way that I felt today — overwhelmed and tired. I expect that I will look at my to-do list and decide to caffeinate myself and attempt to check a few items off it and eventually just call my mom and cry.

I am realizing that even overcoming this is something that I cannot do in my own power. I cannot through my own abilities make myself stop relying on my own abilities. That is up to the mercy of a God who's been showing mercy since the days of the Israelites. That is the thought that I will cling to tomorrow.

Things I've been meaning to blog about.

1. I hate it when TV/movie characters kiss right after they have woken up.

Worst time to kiss ever. Some of you are probably like, "Kate, how do you know?" And that is a pretty good question. But, in my opinion, the fact that there's a famous musical called Kiss Me, Kate entitles me to be the kissing police. And I say: Go brush your teeth.

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The above screencap was taken from the most recent episode of The Lying Game, which I attempted to watch — at Gwen's urging — in the J-Lib today. I don't normally watch television shows in the library, but I had just finished a test and wanted to reward myself. I cut my show-watching short, HOWEVER, when that kiss started to happen. I was like, "Gwen, I cannot watch people kiss in the library." Twenty minutes later when Gwen was still trying to get me to watch the show, totes adorbs undergrad boy sitting next to her said, "I don't think anyone would be embarrassed if you watched people kissing in the library." ! ! !

p.s. I make no apologies about my love of a select few ABC Family dramas.

2. Mizzou invented homecoming.

Did y'all know that? It's on Wikipedia and everything. I became a Mizzou student just in time to experience their centennial homecoming celebration, which I consider pretty good timing on my part.

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Here I am pre-homecoming parade with Gwen, Melissa, Mollie, Whitney and Jessica. Yes, you should read their blogs, and, yes, journalism school is weaning me off the Oxford comma.

3. Speaking of Missouri friends, I have them.

I haven't posted many pics of them on here, but we do fun things like Wednesday lunches and Thursday small group and apple-picking and shopping and Orange-Leafing and birthday partying and House Dec-seeing. Oh, and lots of grad school workload commiserating. (Do you like how I started that sentence with regular nouns and then switched to all gerunds? My brain. It is dead. It is throwing parallel structure to the wayside.) These friends are what I am most grateful for about my new life.

4. Speaking of Missouri friends, I have no guy friends.

That is a slight exaggeration. I have approximately 1.8 guy friends in Missouri, and that number results from the fact that I know approximately four guys in Missouri but know them, on average, only about 45% as much as you need to know a guy before you can call him a friend. I've always been that girl who hates hanging out with guys, but I'm really beginning to miss male company. I especially missed it a week and a half ago when I needed new brake pads and had no idea what to do. I especially especially missed it a couple of weeks before that when I broke the mini-blinds in my shower and had no idea how to fix them.

5. There's a window in my shower.

Yeah, the one I shower in. And the blinds in said shower broke. And by broke, I mean snapped in two at the top and fell out completely. Not having a father or brother or other male friend to call for help with my blinds, I resorted to covering the window with various household goods. First I made a barrier of shampoo and conditioner bottles on the windowsill. That lasted for two weeks or so. Then I replaced the bottles with two giant strips of aluminum foil, which I taped to the tile around the glass. That lasted for two days or so. Then my roommate Scotch-taped the blinds apparatus and put it back up like a champ. I guess I didn't need a man after all, just a roommate and some Scotch tape. (Never ever let that become my mantra.)

6. I've started saying "y'all" more since I moved here.

I think this is part of the reason why Mizzou is probably switching to the SEC. They can't handle all my southern-ness.

7. This picture is the background on my computer.

It has been such a comforting reminder to me lately when I've been stressed about schoolwork.

via

8. My grad school workload is leaving my life in disarray.

Exhibit A: Monday's cereal bowl sitting on my desk. Exhibit B: My clean clothes still in the laundry basket two weeks after I washed them. Exhibit C: The tape on those mini-blinds I told you about. I realize this is not a very blogger-y statement to make. Bloggers say things like, "Look at my wonderful crafts. Look at my hipster husband. Look at my vintage dresses. My life is so pulled together." My life does not feel pulled together these days. I do not make crafts for my hipster husband whilst wearing vintage dresses. But I do dry my hair on a fairly regular basis, so that's something.

9. Spotify is my new best friend.

Lately I've been listening to lots of George Winston, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Blake Stratton. Weird combo, I know. When I'm stressed about homework, I all about some Bethany Dillon, Jimmy Needham, Robbie Seay Band and Jenny & Tyler. Are y'all on Spotify yet? It is seriously my favorite new internet thing since Twitter. Who Whom are you listening to?

Go listen to this on Spotify ASAP.

10. I went running the other day. 

It was the seven-year anniversary of my stopping running due to injury. Seven years. I can't believe it. I wanted to blog that day. I wanted to provide a little two-years-later update since my last major post on the topic. But I found myself swamped with schoolwork and unable to carve out the time. I did carve out the time, however, to go for a little mini-run, and it was wonderful. I wanted to test my legs and see how they'd hold up. They held up well, and I was even comfortably sore in a nice muscle-y, non-injury way for a couple of days afterward. I have made so so so so much progress in the last year. Maybe more progress in the last year than in the six years that preceded it. I will try to get that all out in blog form soon.

View from my mini-run. Not even kidding. Approximately two minutes from campus.

11. It was sunny last week, but it has been gloomy this week.

It is putting me in a funk. Don't let my oh-so-pale skin fool you — I need sunshine to function!

12. This sentence was in one of my class readings this week.

Do not attempt to read it. It will hurt your brain. I just wanted you to see how long and ridiculous it is. 201 words. Not cool, author. Not cool.

13. My mom and sister are coming tomorrow.

And by tomorrow, I mean today! Woohoo! I'm so excited.

Insert joke about how they are matching here.

14. On that note, it is my bedtime.

I have a tendency to forget.

"But now, this is what the Lord says—

he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:

'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.'"

Isaiah 43:1-3