September 2016

Defining Belief

A friend of mine who’s been reading my blog sent me an email recently. She reminded me that it’s not always easy to live what you believe when you’re wondering what you believe. “Have you figured that part out?” she asked.

It’s uncomfortable to admit, but I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve looked at my life and thought, “I’m not sure what I believe.” If I’m honest, those moments of doubt came when my life didn’t look the way I wanted, expected, or planned. It’s uncomfortable to be a relatively successful adult, perceived to have it all together, but inwardly sense a disconnect between the life I’m living and what I thought I believed.

I think most of us sense that disconnect but we don’t know what to do with it. It takes courage to ask, what do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live? Just that first question seems daunting. Defining what I believe sounds like a course in theology – exhausting and way over my head.

Sometimes it’s easier to just ignore it – to find a distraction that offers an escape. But more and more I’m learning that those moments I want to escape are the exact moments I need to step back and examine what I believe. It’s a difficult proposition in the noise of my daily life, and that’s why I so easily slip into believing what I live. I’m more likely to step back and consider what I believe when life isn’t going the way I want or expect.

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Tragedy has a silence that quiets the excess and provides a singular focus. When Richard died, defining belief wasn’t just deciding whether I still believed in God or not, or whether I believed God was good, or what I thought this problem of pain meant about the faith in Jesus I proclaimed. Those questions mattered but they weren’t prescriptive for what my life would look like on the other side of my grief. Figuring out what I believed was a series of questions, taking inventory of the life I had lived until that hard day, the life that I had planned to live if we had gotten married, and the life I wanted to life in spite of his death.

One of my first decisions to live what I believe came about a week after the funeral. Two of my close friends were getting married. I wanted to celebrate with them, but I afraid, too. Every time I thought about attending the wedding, I circled back to a few key truths: I believed in love, and the depth of my grief at the time was evidence that I had known love. I believed in facing my fears so that I am not hostage to fear. I believed attending their wedding was an act of faith. I’m not sure my family or many of my friends understood my decision at the time, but I attended that wedding. Thanks to absurd traffic on I-95 south, I walked in at the last minute, sneaking into the back pew just before the bride came down the aisle.

As part of the ceremony the couple had chosen a hymn that I knew, but the words had fresh meaning for me that day:

O love that will not let me go…

O joy you seek me through the pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee,

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

and know the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

The decision to live what I believe and attend that wedding etched deep truth into my heart in a way that is only possible when we take the time to define what we believe and allow it to be prescriptive for our lives.

Choosing to live what I believe not only guides me in the moment, but it directs me for the uncertain path ahead. By choosing to attend that first wedding, I wasn’t afraid to attend another one. I denied fear the power to take root in my heart. I acknowledged that seeing friends get married could be difficult, but I chose to prioritize what I believed over what I might feel. The unexpected reward was learning not only could I handle what I feared, I could even enjoy it. The very event that could have brought me even more grief brought me joy, and birthed a deep hope that someday I would fall in love again and be married.

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Over the years, defining what I believe became a habit I adopted whenever life doesn’t go the way I expected. Just as tragedy has a silence that allows for soul-searching, the detours of life tend to stop me in my tracks and cause me to really look at what I believe and what I’m living. (Please note, the military life is full of detours and unexpected turns. My favorite meme points out that if military life had a GPS, it would be constantly “recalculating route.”)

More and more in the last couple years though, I’ve begun realizing that defining what I believe is applicable for all of my life – not just the detours. Over lunch with my talkative preschooler: I believe being present in the moment is important, so I’m listening to stories about the imaginary dogs under the table (instead of saying, “hurry up and eat!”) After a long week of sleepless nights and antibiotics: I believe making time to date my husband strengthens our marriage (instead of escaping with a book or turning on the TV to zone out.) Waiting to hear where we’ll move next: I believe that God has a plan for our lives, that He directs our paths, and I believe He is trustworthy, so I choose to wait patiently, expectantly, and hopeful for the journey ahead (instead of anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.)

Taking the time to define what I believe allows those truths to become prescriptive for how I live. It’s a practical approach to applying the same deep faith that guided me in tragedy to my every day life.

In nearly every situation, every relationship, every decision, I can pause and ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” Taking inventory helps me define what I believe and what I’m living. What do I care about? Where and how do I spend my time? What guides and directs my decisions? What influences my thoughts and actions?

While it may be uncomfortable to identify the disconnect between what I believe and what I’m living, it’s in that gap where I can most change my life. Recognizing the disconnect inspires me to rediscover my faith, to reaffirm what I believe, and to realign my life with what it true. And the handful of times that I’ve stopped long enough to explore the disconnect, the reward was worth the effort.

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United By Grace

I don’t know about you, but discussing politics (or even daring to urge people to vote this year) feels a bit like wading into a minefield with no way of knowing which topics might unleash the fever pitch emotions that accompany lightning rod issues in our country today. But there are moments in American history where the polarity inherent within politics has been set aside – moments where pundits no longer talk about red states and blue states, and we find strength in the simple truth that we are the United States of America.

 

September 11th was one of those moments.  Fifteen years ago, there was no red or blue – it was simply red, white AND blue.

Red White AND Blue

I remember standing at a candlelit vigil at the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by Hill staffers. It was dark, but tiny lights danced in the reflecting pool. The warm glow illuminated the faces gathered to mourn the Americans lost just across the bridge at the Pentagon, in the towers of New York, and in a field in Pennsylvania. Fear still shadowed the faces around me. The call to evacuate still echoed in our ears, and like many Americans, the images of tragedy haunted us even as we shut our eyes to pray.

 

That night was the first of many moments following September 11th where I saw Republicans and Democrats stand side by side, united in their identity as Americans.

 

The stories of September 11th remind us that the best of America is in the character of our citizens. In response to great tragedy, we saw courage and compassion. In response to great grief, we prayed. Across the country, shared pain built communities bonded by loss and motivated by love. We saw “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

 

This weekend we remembered the heroes of that Tuesday morning. We read stories about the man with the red bandanna and recalled the bravery of those aboard Flight 93. We honor their sacrifice by remembering. Their stories remind us: in the midst of their fear, they were calmed by their faith. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me.”

 

My faith tells me that what was meant for tragedy, God uses for greatness. What was intended to harm, strengthens. My own experience confirms that while tragedy grows distant in time, it remains vivid in memory. But distance does not diminish the strength I found in that hard time.  It inspires me again to live in response to the grace I received.

distance doesn't diminish strength

More and more, the grace I received is teaching me to pause and look at my life and ask myself – what do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live? If I skirt these questions, I risk accepting a life defined by what I live, rather than what I believe.

 

As we remember the heroes of September 11th, the tragedy is once again vivid in our memory. But so is the grace we received.  Our nation’s leaders found common ground in their shared resolve to protect our homeland, to preserve our way of life, and to live what we believe as Americans. We believe in freedom. We believe in justice. We believe in the dignity of every human life.

 

Fifteen years later, the kind of unity that followed September 11th, 2001, seems impossible to find. But the need for patriotic grace, is just as great.

 

“What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace – a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them. That acknowledges that the small things that divide us are not worthy of the moment; that agrees that the things that can be done to ease the stresses we feel as a nation should be encouraged, while those that encourage our cohesion as a nation should be supported.”

 

Peggy Noonan authored these words eight years ago in her book, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now. I’ve been re-reading it lately.  It’s a short book, filled with the kind of thoughtfulness I appreciate.  These days, her call for patriotic grace seems just as relevant.

 

All weekend we’ve remembered the tragedy of that beautiful Tuesday morning in September. My prayer is that this fall we’ll honor the memory of those lost by living what we believe. May we collectively ask ourselves, and our leaders, what do you believe? Are we living it? Or are we believing what we live? May we strive to live in our own lives the kind of grace we long for “in national life: forgiveness and grace; maturity and wisdom.” And may we remember to pray for those elected to lead – this is the kind of election where we remind ourselves, and teach our children, to pray for our leaders, whether we like them or not.

 

What do I believe? Psalm 27:13-14 * Psalm 23 * Galatians 6:9

Galatians 6:9

Politics is not a spectator sport

I grew up as an Air Force brat and spent most of my first sixteen years living on a military base, so my exposure to true politics was minimal. In high school we moved to Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C., where I initially decided politics was best observed from afar – a business best left to those with louder voices.

DC at Night by Brady

Decades later, the election of 2016 threatens to push many of us to the same conclusion – we want no part in the drama unfolding between two leaders who seem adept at capitalizing on conflict. Nearly every news article or media talking head is quick to judge His bombast or Her failures, each example cited as proof that the choice of 2016 is the lesser of two evils. Perhaps, some argue, it’s better not to vote. So it’s not surprising that pollsters and political junkies have begun to project that the 2016 winner of the White House will be the candidate with the least “unfavorables.”

 

The problem inherent in this narrative is that politics is not a spectator sport.  And it’s not just about two unfavorable Presidential candidates.

 

Politics in the United States of America is about people – about you and me, our families, our friends, and our neighbors. Our government – at the federal, state, and local levels – was designed by our founders to be government by us, for us. And when we choose to observe from a distance, we’re forfeiting that gift – disregarding the exact freedoms that so many members of our military fight to protect on our behalf.

 

Whether or not you like the choices, the election of 2016 will not be any more palatable if you plug your ears, turn off the TV, or choose not to vote.

 

To be candid, I considered that idea for a few weeks this summer. Here’s where I ultimately ended up: choosing not to vote means I’ve accepted the idea that neither of the two unfavorable candidates deserve my vote, and therefore I should withhold my vote.  But whether they do or do not deserve my vote isn’t why I vote.

 

I vote because I’m an American. I vote because my husband, my father, both my grandfathers, and more friends than I can count, put on the uniform of the United States military and vowed to protect and defend a country built upon the concept of citizens exercising their right to vote. I vote because I believe the best democracy includes all the voices – not just the loudest voices.  And when I choose not to vote, my voice is missing from the chorus that makes us the United States of America.

I Vote Because

I vote because I’ve seen our democracy up close – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and even after seeing that, I believe my vote matters. But what if your candidate isn’t elected, Katye, does your vote really matter? Yes. You vote by absentee, they don’t count those unless the polls are close, so does your vote really matter? Yes. Exercising my right to vote is less about whether I like the candidates and more about living what I believe.

 

More and more, I’m learning to pause and look at my life and ask myself – what do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live? In my endeavor to live what I believe, I’m applying the exact questions guided my life and my faith after tragedy to my daily life, to the areas that give me greatest pause in my faith. God is still God in the mundane, but if I skirt the hard questions, I risk accepting a gospel built on the life I’m living, rather than what I believe.

 

After working for nearly a decade on the frontlines of government and politics in Washington, D.C., I married into the military and found myself in a community where political discussions were few and far between. In the silence, I discovered a newfound appreciation for the faith required to live what you believe while in uniform. Whether or not their candidate is elected in November, every member of our military will salute the new President on January 20, 2017. I’m grateful for the wisdom offered in their silent salutes to the Commander in Chief. Their dedication and commitment reflects respect and appreciation for the freedoms they serve to defend. Their example provides an important lesson for living what I believe in regards to government and politics.

 

Living what I believe means stepping off the sidelines. Living what I believe means accepting the privileges afforded to me as a citizen in this democracy. Living what I believe means participating in the government of my community, my state, and my nation by voting for the individuals who will govern.

 

Living what I believe recognizes that the election of 2016 and the ballot I cast is about more than choosing Him or Her for President. It’s about the men and women on the school board who will decide the policies for my girls schools; it’s about the mayor and city council who set a budget and spend my tax dollars to maintain the roads I drive; and it’s about the Members of Congress who set the budget for our military. The men and women elected in 2016 to fill these roles will be tasked with decisions that directly affect my family and me.

 

 

My faith tells me that God created each of us, uniquely and perfectly, and we are called to work that only we can do. I’m not called to be a spectator, simply observing the life around me. The absence of my voice – whether in my writing, in my community, or on a ballot – is a silence no one else can fill.

Great Expectations

Our house has been brimming with expectation for weeks: a birthday, the very first day of preschool, the first day of Kindergarten, the return of college football. These are big milestones in Casa Riselli. And as dinner conversation turns from what to wear on the first day to whether the Tennessee outfits fit for Game Day, I can’t help but smile. Who could imagine football jerseys and little orange dresses would teach me volumes about living what I believe?

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Not too long ago, during a not-quite-so-fabulous Tennessee football season, I was struck with a profound thought as I watched my husband’s disappointment: His disappointment is relative to his expectations, and because of his expectation are high, his hopes for a win are equally high every week – regardless of their record.

 

Admittedly, my investment in Tennessee football has been cursory, and as long as I’ve been following Tennessee football, their record hasn’t been stellar, so my expectations don’t include undefeated seasons, SEC Championships, or a National Title. But his memories of championship teams underscore the greatness Vol fans expect every season. When his team wins, the joy is profound and we celebrate with endless toddler renditions of Rocky Top. When his team loses, there’s a range of emotions that may or may not include a remote control flying across the family room. (Disclaimer: My girls both sing UVA’s Good Ole Song along with Rocky Top. Thankfully, orange is a common denominator. Wahoowa!)

 

One week his enthusiasm and hope for a win against a top-ranked SEC team made me pause. I couldn’t think of a single thing that made me that excited. Nor could I imagine truly hoping for and expecting the lower ranked team to pull out a win. I manage my expectations. I don’t get my hopes up. I don’t want to be disappointed. And I miss out on the fun in life. Managing my expectations means I give power to the fear of disappointment, and I become a master at avoiding the exact situations that could bring me joy.

 

More and more, I’m learning to pause and look at my life and ask myself – what do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live? On that particular Saturday afternoon, football and toddlers twirling in orange dresses caused me to evaluate what I believe about hope, and whether my life reflects the hope I claim to have in my faith.

 

When I’m believing what I live, I subscribe to the idea that this is all there is, that there’s nothing more to expect, and that I should not get my hopes up. The surest sign that I’m believing what I live is my hesitation to hope. Believing what I ive equates hope with the probability of pain rather than the possibility of joy.

 

I believe there’s an important link between expectation and hope. I don’t think you can have one without the other. And managing my expectations creates a habit of minimizing hope and stifling the joy it offers.

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As a military brat and a military spouse, I’ve heard more than a few military-minded folks quip, “hope is not a course of action.” But the more I look at what my faith teaches me about hope, the more I’ve come realize that hope is the best course of action in all circumstances. Hope isn’t passive – hope is an active approach to the life before me, firmly rooted in the truth of what I believe.

 

Living what I believe invites expectation because there’s no shortage of hope. Scripture promises, and my own experiences confirm, that hope is like the morning light, reminding me of God’s unfailing love and new mercies each day. Hope anticipates, hope looks for, hope waits for, hope sees, hope receives, and hope celebrates. Hope is an anchor for my soul, holding me firmly even amid the swells of disappointment.

 

And right there is the profound truth about hope that freed me from managing my expectations. Living what I believe means recognizing that the possibility of disappointment doesn’t outweigh the probability of joy. Living what I believe embraces hope even in the face of disappointment and finds joy. Living what I believe expects goodness in the land of the living.

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I want to live what I believe. I want to pursue hope in all circumstances, expect goodness, and find joy. Those are habits of faith that come with repetition and practice. So I started with college football. This year Casa Riselli expects goodness. Regardless of whether the Vols are undefeated, I’m pretty sure those little orange dresses will bring great joy.

 

What do I believe?  Romans 5:3-5 * Psalm 143:8 * Psalm 27:13-14 * Hebrews 6:19