NYC Pro Tips

NYC feels like my hometown. Though I was born in TN and only lived in NYC for 3 years, I try to return at least 3 times each year to see my friends, visit my old church, and hang out with my City. Since I love it so much, I want you to love it too!

Sometimes it’s hard to love NYC as a tourist. Its rapid pace, intricate subway system, and unique street patterns (and the language associated with it) frustrate most visitors. On top of that, many tourists fear asking for help from locals, who seem abrupt and harsh.

I’d love to help debunk some myths and demystify some code language for you. Every bit of information should make things easier for you, making your trip less stressful and more enjoyable. I’ve compiled some helpful tips for you, as well as a list of my favorite spots to grab some a bite while you’re making your way around Manhattan.

CONTENTS
1. Overview
2. Navigation Tips
3. How to be a Lovable Tourist
4. Suggested Spots
5. Subways

1. OVERVIEW: 
NYC is made up of 5 smaller cities (aka “boroughs”): Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Manhattan is the part of NYC that most people think of and refer to as “the City.” Since I rarely visit the outer boroughs, I’ll only be dealing with things in the City. I’ve attached a map of Manhattan below.

nyc map2. NAVIGATION TIPS:
* Avenues run north to south
* Streets run east to west
* 20 street blocks = 1 mile
* 5 avenue blocks = 1 mile
* BUT none of those things apply below Houston St (the street just south of 1st Street, essentially making it a kind of “zero street”). The numbered grid system doesn’t exist below Houston Street.
* In NYC, Houston is pronounced “HOW-stun” not “HYEW-stun”
* Uptown = above 59th Street
* Downtown = below 34th Street
* Midtown = 34th to 59th Streets
* The east side / west side division occurs at 5th Ave
* When people list cross streets, the order is Street then Avenue. You’ll often hear things like “The coffee shop is on 10th between 3rd & 4th,” (i.e. 10th Street, between 3rd & 4th Avenues) or “It’s on 10th & 3rd” (i.e. on the corner of 10th Street and 3rd Avenue).
* If you drive, no right turns on red
* Don’t fall asleep on the subway, no matter how tired you are
* Take cabs or Uber after midnight
* Subway lines are referred to by number or letter, not color
* People say “uptown / downtown,” instead of “north / south”

3. HOW TO BE A LOVABLE TOURIST:
* Walk fast.
* Walk faster.
* When stopping to check a map or convene for a discussion, move against a wall. In NYC, the sidewalks are the main routes of transportation. If you stop spontaneously or walk slowly, it’s akin to slamming on your brakes or doing 35 mph on the Interstate.
* Don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Just know what you need and ask directly. People appreciate directness in NYC, and they love to help, but they don’t like to waste time beyond that.
* Many of the best things about NYC aren’t in a travel guide. Ask the locals what they recommend.
* If at all possible, avoid eating in Midtown (near Times Square). Prices are ridiculous. Actually, if you want to experience the “locals” NYC, it’s best to avoid Midtown altogether once you’ve done the obligatory trip to Times Square and Rockefeller Center. These areas are mostly full of tourists, and once you venture into the more neighborhood-like places (East Village, West Village, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, etc.), you’ll find there are less people, things slow down a bit, and the atmosphere is friendlier.
* As much as possible, eat local. Don’t waste your time in NYC eating at the Sbarro you can find in your local mall’s food court (but for twice the price). Opt for local coffee shops instead of Starbucks.
* Bodega (“bo-DAY-guh”): quick-stop corner shop (like a gas station, but without the gas). You’ll see these everywhere. They’re a great place to stop for water or gum or cheap flowers, but they won’t let you use their restroom.
* Use the public restroom at every restaurant, coffee shop, or museum you visit. Restrooms are hard to find, and you don’t want to be in a bind.
* Many places are cash only, so carry cash with you.
* Restaurants will not split the check (90% of the time), so decide who will pay, then everyone else can Venmo the money to that person, or pay them in cash.
* No free refills. Sorry. Just drink water and you’ll be fine! It’s usually free!
* Do NOT use street ATMs or the ones in bodegas. That’s a quick way to get your identity stolen. Instead, use the ones at bank branches.

4. SUGGESTED SPOTS:
I don’t list any actual restaurants here, because cuisine preferences and budgets vary widely from person to person. I also don’t list anything healthy, because you’re on vacation and probably don’t care. Here’s the best, most delicious trash food the city has to offer. You’ll be hard pressed to find things like this in most of America’s towns.

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Crif Dogs: Chihuahau + Tots

Best Hot Dog: Crif Dogs
113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009
(“St Marks Place” is essentially E. 8th Street, between 1st Ave and Ave A.) Get a “Chihuahua”. It’s a bacon-wrapped hot dog with guacamole and sour cream. I don’t understand why it’s so good. It just is. Lots of people like the tater tots. Tots are not my fave, but feel free to give ’em a go if you’re a totter. 

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Black Tap: Cookie Shake

– Bonkers Shake: Black Tap
529 Broome St.
There’s a line for these 1400 calorie, $15 shakes. Over the top and down the sides.

– Really Good Shake: Shake Shack
Madison Square Park (Madison Ave & E. 23rd St)
Get a “black and white”. This place recently franchised, so there may be a Shake Shack where you live. But still, if you wanna go to the flagship in a beautiful park, hit this one.


– Protein on the Go: 
Nuts 4 Nuts
If you see their orange umbrella cart on street corners (usually in tourist areas like Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Union Square, etc.), get a bag of almonds. The other nuts aren’t as awesome, but the almonds are top notch.

– European Dessert: 
Wafels & Dinges
Their truck is usually parked at Columbus Circle & Central Park South OR 5th Ave & Central Park South. Get the wafelini, spread with nutella and chocolate, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream. This is very important: DO NOT let them put the chocolate on top of the ice cream. It will harden and you will not enjoy it as much. Have them put it directly on the wafelini where it will stay warmed up a bit.

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Levain: CPB Cookie

– Best Cookie: Levain Bakery
164 W. 74th St, New York, NY 10023
Get the chocolate peanut butter cookie. The others are good, but the CPB is the hands-down winner. Give it a few minutes (3-ish) to set up. They make them fresh, and they’re a little TOO gooey until you let them cool a bit. Also, there will be a line. That’s okay. The longest I’ve ever had to wait (even with a very long line) was about 10-15 minutes and absolutely worth it. The cookie is $4 but weighs about a pound. By the way, forget Magnolia Bakery (where every tourist goes), because THIS is where the LOCALS go. Because they know. 🙂

– Cool Park: Highline Park
It’s an old, elevated train trestle now decked with landscaping, lawn chairs, and cart vendors. Bonus: cool views of the City!

5. SUBWAYS
This is easily the most confusing, defeating part of visiting a new city, especially if you’re not used to riding the train. Here are some pointers:

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What does this even mean?!?! Let me help.

– Train Lines: Each color shares the same train track, at least for a while. On each track, there are Local trains (these stop at every station) and Express trains (these only stop at major stations along the same route). For example: on the A/C/E line, the A is Express, while the C and E are Local. The C and E hit a lot of the same spots in Manhattan, but will eventually split off to go in different directions, so pay attention to which trains stop where. Express trains are typically faster, but they come less often. Check out this map to see more info.

– Train Directions: Each train line goes 2 directions (uptown/downtown or “crosstown”), and you want to make sure you’re heading the right direction, so if you’re wondering if you’ve chosen the right train platform for the direction you’re heading, just ask someone standing at the platform before the train arrives. “Is this the train to Times Square?”

Strangely, the train directions are sometimes listed by what’s at the end of the line, not by what’s next on the line. If you’re at Times Square and you’re heading downtown to the World Trade Center, the train will say “Brooklyn bound”, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to Brooklyn next — it just means that’s the direction the train is headed. Learning a bit about the outer borough layout will help.

– Google Maps: Download the app if you haven’t already. This is a great option if you don’t know which train to take. Choose the “public transportation” option, and it will even tell you how to walk to the train/subway station from where you’re standing!

– Phones: Some trains and stations have wifi, but others don’t. If you’re going underground for a while and don’t need your phone, put it on airplane mode, because the battery will drain faster than you can imagine.

That’s all for now! I hope you have a great time in NYC! Oh, and wear your comfiest shoes. No one cares what you look like. Just have fun!
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Ghosting, the Grinch, and the Gospel.

Tonight, at the top of the service, my pastor asked us to pray that God would enlarge our hearts, like the Psalmist wrote in 119:32.

In my seat near the back, between a stranger and a friend, I felt my body stiffen. “NO!” I thought, without pause, “I want my heart to shrink!” (Cue the Grinch jokes.)

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The pastor kept talking, but I wasn’t listening anymore. I was busy talking to God, defending my initial response. We’re in the age of minimalism and tiny houses and konmariing our apartments, so why not my heart too?

It felt like God was pressing me on why I was so resistant to the idea of an enlarged heart. I missed two-thirds of the sermon, pacing in thought and prayer, trying to chase away emotions and tears.

In the past 18 months, I’ve lost a sister to brain cancer, been through two heart surgeries, suffered accidental electrocution, persevered through fractured friendships and betrayals, had my heart broken, and learned that — despite other people’s frustration over the people I have loved in my life — I can’t seem to unlove them.

I don’t want an enlarged heart. I want less room for my heart to ache, less surface area for tears to saturate the soil, less opportunity for disappointment and disaster.

I want to follow C.S. Lewis’ advice:

“If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.”

But we all know that wasn’t advice, don’t we? It was a warning.

“… in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I thought in particular of one relationship that left me deeply wounded. My inclination will always be to cut and run — I’ll just “ghost” my way out of this place into one that doesn’t hurt so much. That’s when it felt like God prompted me with this thought: This relationship has been one of the greatest stimulants and catalysts in your relationship with Me, and you want to leave it behind because you got your feelings hurt?

My “casket of selfishness” indeed. I valued myself and my comfort more than the depth granted to me in my relationship with God.

—-

When I endured the accidental electrocution I mentioned earlier, it burned deep into my body, layers upon layers, the size of a grapefruit. It took nearly six months to heal. But even after it appeared healed and I was released from wound care visits, my body wasn’t the same. My doctor gave me shots with long needles, straight into the burn wound, and I didn’t feel a thing. A healthy body would’ve felt them. My nerves were dead though. They felt nothing.

It’s nice not to feel needles. But it’s not healthy.

—-

As my pastor neared the end of his sermon, I sat thinking about those needles and how convenient it was to avoid feeling them. But I don’t want to be someone who numbs and withdraws; I want to be vulnerable and to love well. So I told God:

I don’t want You to enlarge my heart.
But I want to want You to enlarge my heart.
Get me there.

Sometimes healing looks like feeling the pain. Maybe that’s why He told us to mourn with those who mourn — because we are supposed to feel it, and even to help others feel their own pain as well. Maybe that’s why Romans 5:3 lists “endurance” as the first fruit of suffering — because it’s going to take a while.

And if nothing else, there is this: I have stood on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, where Christ showed up to greet Peter after his threefold denial, fed him breakfast and commissioned him for ministry. And Christ’s love in the face of His great pain shows me a bit about how to love well in the face of my own.

Good Thursday

I didn’t do Lent this year for the first time in many years. In all honesty, I didn’t want to.

The past 15 months have been loss after loss in our family and in my life, and my heart was saying, enough already. There are gaping holes in every hour of my day that discipline me toward prayer and remembrance of Christ. So when I prayed to ask Him if I could have a pass on Lent this year, I was grateful it felt like His answer was Yes.

Thursday?
You may wonder about the title of this entry, because didn’t Christ die on a Friday? That is a conversation for another time, but I’ll tip my hand a bit: I don’t believe He did, because we know He rose on a Sunday, and you can’t get “3 days and 3 nights” (His own words from Matthew 12:40) from a death on Friday afternoon. It’s much debated (some even believe it was Wednesday), but I fall in the Thursday camp. The reason I draw attention to it here is this: suffering almost always lasts longer than we’ve scheduled.

It’s convenient for our culture to adhere to the Catholic church’s Good Friday model, to give us a day off work or school and have our 3-day weekend wrapped up nice and easy. But suffering and loss isn’t neat or convenient. In no way do I equate my suffering with Christ’s, but He’s allowed me to compare the two: “…that I may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…” — Philippians 3:10

Suffering is the uninvited guest who stays longer than we want, certainly longer than we’re prepared for. Suffering exhausts us. It lingers long enough for friends to grow calloused, hurry you toward healing, tell you all the ways to move forward. Long enough for your eyes to run dry of tears and your throat and head to ache from sobbing. Long enough for us to forget His promises and give in to despair — like His disciples after His death — unless we’re mindful that it’s all for good.

Good?
Loss and grief are two of the primary shapers of our hearts.

Can I tell you what’s happened to my heart in this space? I’ve withdrawn. I’m sure some portion of it has been unhealthy, but the majority of it has been so healing and godward. Before His death, Christ withdrew to pray with three of His closest friends. I’m learning to grieve unto the Lord, to wrestle with Him instead of complain to friends, to ask for His counsel and direction instead of only* theirs.

*The counsel of wise advisors is always a good idea, but not to the exclusion of His counsel. And my case, I had gathered too many cooks in my kitchen, some of whom replaced Him and some of whom (if you’ll indulge me to continue the analogy) couldn’t even chop carrots.

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This is the Garden of Gethsemane. The stone gate in the top right is the Eastern Gate. Here, as He prayed, Christ had full view of that gate — the one the Roman soldiers marched through, carrying their torches and swords, as they came to arrest Him. He could’ve run across the Mount Olives hilltop and escaped into the Judean desert, but He didn’t. He entered in, embracing the Father’s plan for the redemption of His suffering and our sin.

There’s been a narrowing and a deepening in my heart and my relationships. It has made me love and long for Christ more. The cause has been nothing but bad, but God in His sovereignty and love has made it result in nothing but good.

So, to the aching: As someone who sits in the ash heaps with you, scraping my flesh with pottery… I’m sorry. I pray your heart is able to grieve unto the Lord like David in Psalm 22. I don’t know when Sunday is scheduled for your situation, but the Sunday of your salvation — the one that matters most — is the only one worth anchoring your hope in.

And to the comfortable: IF you don’t long for Jesus like you want to, try to lose something, even on purpose. Try to cut off some comfort or pleasure you indulge in. Maybe extend Lent into your regular life and use the spaces to lean into Him, even when you don’t want to. It may serve to help you remember He’s where the joy is.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13

Open Heart Surgery, Part 3 of 4

Recovery

In my first entry of this series, I shared what I learned about surgery prep. In my second entry, I talked about my post-op experience. And in this entry, I’ll fill you in on what recovery is like.

RECOVERY LOCATION: My currently living situation has many stairs, so a family I’m friends with generously offered to let me recover at their stair-free home after I was discharged from the hospital. This was a great decision. I stayed there for 8 days. I got a cold at some point while I was staying there, and that probably delayed my departure by a few days. Without it, I might’ve been able to leave around Day 5 instead of Day 8.

img_5632SLEEP: Recovery is a strange few weeks. I’ve never found the “two steps forward, one step back” adage to be more true. There were hours when I felt so energetic I thought I’d crossed the last hurdle. Then I’d be in bed for 12 hours. Sleep was the hardest thing to adjust to, because it was entirely unpredictable. At times I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and at other times I couldn’t fall asleep, no matter what I tried. I was grateful I didn’t have to work for a few weeks, because a regular schedule seemed impossible to me. 

PAIN MEDS: For the most part I was able to get off my prescription pain meds almost immediately upon leaving the hospital. I took Aleve a few times a day, and that kept most of my pain at bay. However, my pain spiked on a couple of mornings, so I took a painkiller. And I was too uncomfortable to sleep on a few nights, so I took a muscle relaxer. It was impossible to predict when I’d need them, but I just didn’t need them all the time, so I used them on an as-needed basis. Overall the transition off the meds was fairly seamless.

APPETITE: My appetite took about a month to return, and until that point, I mostly preferred bland foods. Because of the doctor’s orders to stay high-protein, low-sodium, I ate a lot of greek yogurt, protein shakes, plain eggs, and oatmeal. I also kept a box of whole wheat crackers by my bed for when I woke up at night to take my meds (not good on an empty stomach). For some reason, people want to bring you a lot of sweets when you have a medical procedure. Of all the sweet foods I normally love, the only one that tasted good to me was Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.

I also got off the diuretics after 30 days. Prior to that, I was really thirsty all the time. I didn’t know I could’ve gotten off them sooner, or I would’ve opted for that.

SNEEZING: This hurts. It was far worse than coughing. I kept my “heart pillow” nearby. 

WALKING: My first walk was a loop around the cul-de-sac outside my recovery house. My doctor told me it’s not as important to add distance or speed as it is to add time. So every day, I’d aim for 5 more minutes in each walk. I was supposed to get up to 3 walks of up to 20 minutes each, then transition to 2 walks of up to 30 minutes each, then 1 walk of up to 60 minutes. I really pressed myself toward this, and I made it to the 60 minute walk within about 10 days from my discharge. For a while, I took my oxometer with me, to make sure I was breathing properly while I walked. The number should stay above 90.

STRANGER THINGS: Each day that passed presented some bizarre new side effect. One morning I woke to what sounded like pop rocks in my lungs every time I inhaled deeply. It scared me, but the doctor told me it was just the fluid working its way out. Frequently, I could hear bones popping loudly in my chest, and I feared I was dislocating my ribs. When I got a cold, I asked the doctor for suggested cold meds that wouldn’t have contraindications with my post-op meds … then, one of the things they recommended gave me a nosebleed. I wrote all these things down, along with the date they happened.

When I went for my post-op visit (3 weeks after surgery), I took my list, showed it to my surgeon, and he said: “If something causes you pain, call us. But if something is just strange, it’s probably just your body’s way of processing and adjusting to everything it’s been through.”

PVCs (Premature Ventricular Contractions): The first time I had these, they woke me from my sleep. I didn’t know what it was. I called my cardiologist first thing in the morning, and she asked me to come in on Monday (it was over the weekend).

Over the weekend, I had PVCs a few times. They happened for me exclusively when I was lying down, even if I wasn’t asleep. It was not a rapid heartbeat, but a powerful heartbeat, every 3 or 4 beats. If I sat upright after they started, it wasn’t as bad (though I could still feel it), but if I stayed lying down, I could hardly breathe and / or I coughed a lot.

When I saw my cardiologist, she said my heart sounded healthy, diagnosed the PVCs, and told me to take another dose of my beta blocker in the evenings, as prevention (I was already on a minimal dose in the morning). That solved the problem immediately.img_5680

GETTING OUT: Some of my best memories from recovery were when friends picked me up to get me out of the house. One friend took me to get a mani/pedi a week after I got out of the hospital. Then a week later, she took me to see a movie (at a theater!). Another friend invited me over for dinner at her house and made sure I had a ride. A neighbor didn’t just ask what groceries I might need, but took me out to the store to buy them. These were bright spots in my recovery, easily one of the most helpful things for me both physically and emotionally. 

DRIVING: I was released to drive at 3 weeks, but I can see why it wasn’t sooner. Turning my head and lifting my arm caused minor pain, so I kept my first few days of driving within a few miles.

SIX WEEKS: I went home after 8 days at the recovery house. Sleep continued to be the most difficult thing. Just when I thought I had a pattern down, it would change again. It took me 6 weeks post-op for this (and pretty much everything else) to get back to normal. Everyone kept saying “give it 6 weeks,” and I had no idea it was such a spot-on time frame.

By 8 weeks, I was running short distances. I did not opt to do my hospital’s Cardiac Rehab program (mostly because it was too far away), but I think I fared well in recovering without it, primarily because I’m the kind of person who will push myself. If it weren’t for that temperament, the Cardiac Rehab program would’ve been a necessity.

A NOTE ABOUT DEPRESSION: Studies vary on this, but on average 35% of people who endure open heart surgery will have some degree of depression afterward. I didn’t realize until after the fact that I actually experienced this. At the time, I didn’t recognize it. A lot of things contributed to that:

First, my body had gone through a major change and was still trying to make sense of it all, so a lot of my signals were off. On top of that, there’s the added physical and chemical changes I endured because of the medicines I needed to take. Finally — perhaps most notably — it’s incredibly isolating for an extrovert like me. Lots of people came to see me in the hospital, but visitors in recovery (and beyond) were few and far between. That was due in part to the fact that I was sleeping so much, and I was awake for long amounts of time during the middle of the night. But in addition to that, I couldn’t attend many social functions, and people assumed I wanted privacy.

If I could give myself advice, I’d say, “Ask for what you need. People don’t know.” And if I were giving my friends advice, I’d say, “Ask if you can come visit. Those emotional needs are often greater than soup or crackers.”

I’m 36 hours out from my 2nd open heart surgery as I write this. While I don’t necessarily look forward to it, I am grateful for the things I learned on my first OHS, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you as well!

Open Heart Surgery, Part 2 of 4

Post-Op (Hospital Stay)

In my first entry of this series, I shared what I learned about surgery prep. In this entry, I’ll talk about my post-op experience. It’s sobering to see the pictures of myself sedated and intubated, lying next to 20-some drips and machines keeping me alive. But it ultimately produces awe and gratitude, leading me to praise God for His provision through the knowledge of doctors and cardiac research pioneers.

Looking at this picture, it’s hard to believe I was walking a mile a day only 2 weeks later, and that I started running just 8 weeks post-op. God has been incredibly generous to me through all of this. I want to tell you about it:

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3 hours post-op, before they woke me up.

PAIN: Prior to my OHS (open heart surgery), my idea of post-op pain was focused entirely on my sternum. I imagined how terrible it would be to cough or sneeze. To my delight, coughing wasn’t bad at all (which is good, because they encourage coughing, to clear your lungs). Sneezing is a little more difficult because you can’t control the velocity. 😉

Without question, the things that caused me the most pain were the chest tubes (don’t google it). Fortunately, they’re short-lived. One of my nurses explained them to me: they are inserted during surgery to help drain fluid from your chest, and it’s nearly impossible to place them there without having them pinch a nerve, which usually refers pain to some part of your back. My back was in a good deal of pain, so much so that I barely noticed my sternum. The nurses said that scenario (back pain, not chest pain) was the norm.

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Don’t worry: I’m faking the pain here.

A certain amount of fluid has to drain before they could remove my chest tubes. While they were still in, I could only speak in a whisper because I couldn’t manage a deep enough breath to speak clearly. They warned me I might have a sore throat from the intubation, but that didn’t bother me at all.

My nurse promised my pain would diminish after the tubes were out, so I was willing to do whatever it took to expedite the process. He encouraged me to sit upright throughout the day and take a lot of short walks (around the nurses’ station), both of which encourage drainage. I did everything he said, requesting walks more frequently than they scheduled. They removed my chest tubes about 48 hours after my surgery, and it was a day/night difference in my back pain.

I may be an anomaly, but it didn’t hurt when they pulled my chest tubes. However, when they pulled my heart wires on the following day (about 72 hours after surgery), that was somewhat painful. Heart wires are sewn onto the heart in case it needs a “jump start” in the first few days after surgery. They, along with the chest tubes, come out of the chest through separate incisions below the sternum incision. In addition to my 6″ sternotomy scar, I have 3 other scars below it: 2 for the chest tubes and 1 for the heart wires, about 1/2″ each. They’re healing nicely and fading quickly.

AFIB:
Shortly after they pulled my chest tubes, I went into AFib (atrial fibrillation), which is a rapid fluttering heartbeat. It was painless, but fairly uncomfortable and annoying. They told me about 35% of patients experience it. Mine was a very mild version, lasting only about an hour, at which point they gave me medication that stopped it within 30 minutes or so. Because of this, they had to put me on another drip (amiodarone) to prevent it from happening again, then I had to take the pill form of that for a month after discharge. It didn’t happen again after that.

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Necessary: eye mask and ear plugs.

SLEEP: I did not sleep well in the hospital. They needed to wake me almost every hour for the first 2 nights, for medications and temperature checking and finger pricks, etc. I had a few nurses who fought for me to get sleep, doing all they could to push my tests further and further apart as I was healing, but even then it wasn’t until night 5 that I really slept in the hospital. I tried to take as many naps as possible during the day, which meant I needed to limit visitors, both in number and in duration.

ADVOCATE: My brother (a lawyer) gave me the best advice I’ve ever gotten for a hospital stay: always have someone in the room with you, 24-7. If you have one person who can stay the whole time, that’s optimal, because they’ll learn your rhythms and needs. On the other hand, they may end up sleep deprived just like you, so it might be better to have people trade out in shifts / days. Either way, this is a helpful article for caretakers and visitors.

While I almost always had the “call” button near me (I couldn’t reach it twice), there were many needs I experienced that would be taxing on a busy nurse in the ICU. For instance, I needed water and peppermints and shoulder rubs and to have my bed adjusted frequently. My sister Sonya stayed with me all week and was able to do these things for me without us having to call the nurse. When one of my monitors started beeping in the middle of the night, Sonya could determine whether the nurse needed to be called or whether my oxygen tube just needed adjusting.

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Pre-gaming in my hospital room. GO COWBOYS! (They won, by the way.)

One of the other things Sonya did that was extremely helpful: she wrote down everything (see #31 on that link) — every visitor, every gift and card, and most importantly, every medication and dosage amount, including the time I took it and the next time I would be able to take it. This became especially helpful after my pain meds were decreased to an “as needed” basis. Once, I went 14 hours without pain meds and became really irritable. I didn’t realize I could ask for them. After that, Sonya began to ask the nurses, “Do you have a set time to deliver this medication again? If not, how often can she request it?” Sometimes she even recorded the conversations with doctors and nurses (using an app on her phone), so she could rely on the information to be 100% accurate when she reviewed or applied it later.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Of the entire list of things from my first entry, Sonya was the single most important thing I brought with me into the hospital. Without her, I wouldn’t have been as happy and at peace in the hospital, and I wouldn’t have healed as quickly as I did.

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Kayla’s tattoo says “to bind up the brokenhearted.” Appropriate.

VISITORS: My hospital had no visitor restrictions, so we had to self-impose based on the suggestions of nurses. It was tiring to have people visit for long amounts of time, so if your friends ask how long they should stay, tell them what you need. For me, 30 minutes seemed to be my sweet spot. It’s also important to make sure your visitors are not sick at all and that they don’t bring potted plants (for some reason).

WATER + FOOD: One thing I wish I had done differently: I would’ve monitored my fluid intake and output. I likely would’ve been discharged 2 days earlier (5 days instead of 7) if I’d paid more attention to this. After surgery, I was very thirsty. All I wanted to do was drink water. Anesthesia robbed me of my appetite, so I didn’t want to eat, but I wanted to drink everything. Because of that, I gained 26 pounds during my first 4 days in the hospital (the average amount is 10-20 pounds). That’s when the doctors restricted my water intake, because the extra fluid was throwing off my potassium levels and putting me at greater risk for complications / heart failure. I started to use peppermints instead of water, because they kept my mouth from drying out when I couldn’t drink.

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Smoking the peace pipe (therapy)

THERAPY: The hospital staff set up various types of therapy each day during my stay. My first walk seemed so soon it felt cruel. At 5:00 a.m., about 16 hours after I got out of surgery, they woke me and made me stand up. Getting out of bed felt impossible. But with a nurse on each side holding me up and my IV tree dragging behind me, I took about 100 steps down the hallway and back to my room. After I returned from my walk, they sat me in a recliner, and I slept there most of the day. The only thing more exhausting than walking was showering.

Different therapists came in to work with me on walking, breathing, and movement. I set goals for myself and pushed past them to new goals, celebrating every milestone like it was a big deal (because it was). They aren’t fun exercises, but they’re worth it. This was probably one of the best things I did, and I believe it really sped my recovery. I did the breathing exercises as frequently as possible, because I was terrified of getting pneumonia (that’s what they serve to prevent), and it worked!

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FUN: I think fun should go wherever I go, even if it’s a hospital room. So I brought Dallas Cowboys face tattoos and a jersey for Sunday’s game, and I successfully convinced a few of my visitors and nurses to apply the tattoos too. I brought “beauty” masks and eye pads for us to wear one night. We tried to watch funny things on TV, etc. Sonya painted my nails. A nurse borrowed a wheel chair and took me on a “field trip” outside. A massage therapist friend came to give us massages. We added non-hospital type things to our agenda, and it made the time pass more quickly. By the last night, it felt like I was hanging out in a dorm room in college again, knowing all the nurses by name, having them pop in to say hello, etc. I really believe a person’s attitude can affect the speed of their healing, so I aimed to stay upbeat about the process and encouraging to my nurses and caregivers.

As strange as it may sound, and despite the discomfort, my most prominent memories of my time in the hospital are fond ones. I had great doctors and nurses, kind visitors, and a fun, attentive advocate staying with me. I couldn’t design a better experience, thanks to the great people in my life and at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. I pray this is the case for you too!

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7 days and 26 pounds (gained) later… ready for discharge!

Open Heart Surgery, Part 1 of 4

Pre-Op

A note about this series: I’ve written the first 3 blog entries for those who might undergo open heart surgery and those caring for them. I suppose you can also read it if you’re just curious, but it might not be interesting. 😉 Parts 1-3 offer practical information from my perspective, and Part 4 covers my surgery story, as well as its impact on me both physically and emotionally.

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Most people don’t have the luxury of scheduling their open heart surgery (OHS) in advance. However, mine was scheduled a couple of months in advance and I still felt somewhat clueless. These are a few things I wish I had known.

Some doctors and hospitals will give you prep info, but many just hand you a list upon discharge, telling you all the things you need to buy. In my case, I didn’t really feel like taking a shopping excursion 7 days after my OHS (when I was discharged). Thus, sections “B” and “C” below are mostly a shopping list.

If you’re a friend or family member of the OHS patient, people may ask you, “What can I do to help?” It can get pretty expensive to purchase all these things, so if you have people who want to help, this is a very practical way they can extend a helping hand. I suggest setting up an Amazon Wish List including the things I’ve listed below, so people can purchase the items and either bring / ship them to you directly.

A. BEFORE YOUR SURGERY:
– Arrange for someone to check your mail or have the post office pause delivery.
– Pre-pay all your bills for the next 6 weeks.
– Arrange for transportation to / from the hospital.
– Arrange for transportation until (and to) your follow-up visit. You won’t be allowed to drive until then (usually 4 weeks).
– Move all frequently used items in your house to waist-level. You don’t want to bend or reach up.
– Clean your house thoroughly. You’ll be more susceptible to illness and infection upon your return home.
– Arrange for one friend / family member to stay with you as an “advocate” during your entire time (24/7) in the hospital (more on this in post #2)
– Determine where you’ll recover. (Tips: You shouldn’t be alone for the first few weeks, and you won’t want to climb stairs.)
– Ask your doctor if they can give you copies of the discharge paperwork and pamphlets in advance. If they can’t (they may not have access to it), go directly to the hospital to ask for the advanced copies. This will help you prepare.
– Some of my friends set up something like “Take Them A Meal” to provide food for my family while they were staying at the hospital with me. This was incredibly helpful. You could extend it throughout your recovery time as well, but be aware that you’ll likely have a severe decrease in appetite, and most things won’t taste good. You might also be on a “healthy heart” diet, which would restrict the options for what types of food people would need to bring (usually low sodium, high protein, mild flavors).

B. DURING YOUR STAY AT THE HOSPITAL:
Peppermints – to prevent nausea and dry mouth; these were a mainstay for me.
Cough drops – to help with sore throat
Plastic water bottle / cup with lid + bendable straw – I couldn’t hold a cup up to my mouth, but I could get close enough with a spill-proof, straw-equipped, lightweight water bottle.
Essential oils + diffuser – I used Young Living’s frankincense and lavender.
Eye mask – it’s hard to sleep in the hospital, but this helped.
Ear plugs – the machines beeped all night, so my advocate (more info in post #2) and I both used these.
Lip balm – my lips were so dry after surgery, so I applied this constantly.
Moisturizer – the hospital might have some, but it probably won’t be awesome.
Muscle rub – my back and shoulders hurt far worse than my incision (they say that’s normal).
Clay heat / cold pack – as I mentioned, my back hurt a lot, and this clay pack lasts 4x longer than gel (ask your doctor / nurse to make sure you can use this, as it may affect your blood pressure).
Grabber – it hurt to extend my arms, so this helped in the first few weeks especially.
Loofah on a stick – showering is hard.
Dry shampoo – this helped me avoid washing my hair, which is the hardest part.
Shower cap – I needed a big, durable cap since I have a lot of hair. This one is the best!
Pajama shorts / pants (loose-fitting, drawstring) – I liked having something to put on under my hospital gown during my mandatory walks around the hallway. They need to be very loose so they don’t cut off your circulation, and you’ll likely gain weight from the fluids. I needed 1-2 sizes up from my normal size.
An advocate in the room with you at all times (#38 on this link) – I’ll cover this more in my 2nd post.

C. DURING RECOVERY (BUY IN ADVANCE!)
Button-up pajama shirts (as well as regular button-up shirts) – it’s easier than putting shirts on over your head.
Stretchy bras without underwires (for women) + bra extenders – because you may gain weight.
Slip-on shoes – it was hard to bend over to tie my shoes, but I needed comfortable walking shoes for the daily walks they encouraged (up to 20 min). These were perfect!
Paper plates / bowls / cups + plastic utensils – I did not feel like washing dishes.
Protein food options – they suggest protein for recovery, but I didn’t want much food, so this helped. I also ate Fage 0% plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and oatmeal.
Blood pressure cuff – this is the most accurate one I’ve found. They asked me to track it 2x daily for the first 4 weeks post-op, plus I need one for checking it regularly.
Oxometer – for testing my oxygen while walking, lying down, etc. They advised me to keep it above 90.
Scale – they had me weigh myself daily, and this travel sized one was great for recovery.
Cottonelle wipes – they may give you these in the hospital, but if not, you’ll have backups.
Shower stool – I’ll be honest with you: I never used this, but I can see why it’s helpful. Showering was the single most tiring thing I had to do. It felt like I’d run a marathon.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (Face & Body) – they suggested an unscented cleanser for face and body, and this was the brand my dermatologist recommended.
Unscented body wipes – for those days when I was too tired to shower.
Giraffe razor holder (for women) – this brilliant invention extended my razor-reach.
Lightweight folding bed tray – this kept my water, meds, peppermints, books, muscle rub, lip balm, eye mask, ear plugs, and cell phone all within my reach. It hurt to extend my arm to my bedside table.
Wedge pillow – I use this in both the horizontal and vertical positions, depending on my need at the time.
Chest pillow – they gave me a “heart pillow” at the hospital, but it wound up everywhere (the sink, the floor, etc.). I didn’t want to bring all those hospital germs home with me, so I replaced mine immediately. They’ll explain why this pillow is so important (it is).
Ibuprofen – I was able to get off my prescription pain meds pretty quickly, at which point I transitioned to ibuprofen 2-4 times a day for a few weeks.

I hope this helps! Can you think of anything I’m missing? If so, add it in the comments!

Disclaimer: These are just my preferences. You’ll want to consult with your doctor and health care professionals to see if your situation will be different than mine.

In Defense of Danger

My dad picks up hitchhikers. When I was a kid, I vividly recall watching him open the door for sweaty, ragged strangers, then spend every minute of the drive telling them about Jesus.

A few times a year, my mom takes mini-vacations to a cabin in the mountains, usually alone. Sometimes dad joins her for a few days, but she’s never been afraid to venture out on her own.

One of the greatest gifts my parents have given me is the freedom of fearlessness. There are many things I’m afraid of, but life and death aren’t among them. I’m grateful they didn’t teach me to cower or fear the unknown. They encouraged me — never pushed, just encouraged — to see what lay beyond what I’d witnessed.

When I was in third grade, they briefly considered sending me to a private school in Georgia, where I would live with an unmarried teacher in her 20’s. In high school, mom implored me to consider being an exchange student. “Don’t you want to see the world?!” she asked. “You should travel more!” Dad spent years telling me I should go to Israel and Palestine — war zones at the time — before I ever took him up on it.

FEAR
Fear is one the greatest obstacles of the discipleIt threatens to keep us from sharing the Gospel with family members, from venturing to lands unknown to advance the Kingdom, from speaking the truth to a brother or sister in sin, from obeying the radical promptings of the Spirit in moments where we’d rather stay comfortable and normal.

We’ve been invited into dangerous, beautiful things. Meanwhile, fear prompts us to protect ourselves, to hold onto what is “ours.” But nothing is really ours. Not today, not tomorrow, and certainly not yesterday. It’s all His. “From Him, through Him, to Him...” (Romans 11:36). I forget sometimes, though. When fear creeps up — that frantic feeling of nervousness — I try to identify what it is I’m trying to protect:

* If the thing that seems to be at stake is something shakeable or temporary (like my reputation or my rights or my comfort or my so-called safety), I ask Him to help me focus on the eternal things.
* If the thing that seems to be at stake is something unshakeable (like the Kingdom or the Gospel), then it’s not really at stake after all.

Either way, when fear rises up, the Truth calms my heart by reminding me what lasts. Then, being armed with the Truth, it emboldens me. I remind myself: what I perceive as danger may actually be an invitation to enter in. Nearly every beautiful memory I have, every joy I’ve experienced, has come as a result of facing some kind of danger or fear. Every person I admire in Scripture showed me how to do it — Abraham, Moses, Esther, Ruth, David, Paul, Peter, Elijah, Isaiah, Gideon, Lydia, Stephen, Uriah, Mary, Jesus …

The call of discipleship is a guarantee to lose things. It’s an invitation to come and die, perhaps even literally. It’s why I can hop a plane to Israel, to help people fall more in love with the Bible; news stories (albeit exaggerated and inaccurate ones) won’t keep me from doing that. It’s why I aim to boldly speak the truth to the people in D-Group, not having any idea what expressions will grace their faces when they watch the video I send out to all the groups each week. It’s why I plan to live and die for the Gospel.

But ultimately, the call of discipleship is a guarantee to gain the only lasting thing:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in Him…” – Philippians 3:7-9

There’s only one way to properly embrace the invitation of danger. It’s rooted in the only thing that outweighs fear: it looks like faith, it walks like hope, and it feels like love. And no matter what happens, it wins in the end. 

How to Measure Love

I woke at 1:05am, nearly a half hour before my alarm was set to rouse me. I’d been asleep for only two hours. Trying not to wake my hostess, I made a pour-over in the dark. I layered on (nearly) all the clothes in my suitcase, and topped that off with a borrowed hoodie before hailing a cab.

“Rockefeller,” I said, beaming.

“Ahh, trying to be on the TODAY Show! In this weather?” he asked, his wipers screeching across the windshield.

“Well, sort of? Coldplay is on the show in the morning. All the passes for the Plaza are already gone, so my only hope is to sleep on the sidewalk and try to get a spot in the back.”

The previous day, when I mentioned on Facebook that I was considering sleeping on the sidewalk, I expected people to reply with,”You’re crazy!” But to my surprise, every one of my friends encouraged me to do it. In fact, one friend replied, “I’ll be really disappointed if you don’t.”  Even my mom “liked” the post … about me sleeping on a New York City sidewalk in the rain.

My friends know I love Coldplay’s music. Something in them wanted me — and even expected me — to prove it, even if that meant suffering to see them.

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My spot in line at 2am.

I believe love can be measured by your willingness to inconvenience yourself. It may not be the truest measure or the only measure, but it’s certainly an obvious one.

I should acknowledge that there can be all kinds of unhealthy, codependent, idolatrous, or abusive scenarios that unfold from this notion, so it shouldn’t go unchecked. But in general, if you refuse to suffer for something, you probably don’t love it. If your schedule doesn’t somehow shift to accommodate that thing, it likely isn’t love. You might like it or enjoy it, but if your life isn’t somehow bent toward it, it’s unfair to call it love.

We’re just talking about music here, I know — not a person or a cause — but I don’t think that diminishes the point. Whatever brings you pleasure creates a willingness to suffer for that pleasure. This weekend I also saw people standing in line down the block, enduring a 4.5 hour wait in the cold, for a milkshake. Pleasure and love and passion move us to action.

I was explaining all this to my cab driver with a great deal of enthusiasm when a strange sentence came out of my mouth. “My friend said something really profound once: ‘the greatest love you can have for someone is to lay down your life for them.’” (In paraphrasing John 15:13, I’m not sure why I decided to refer to Jesus as “my friend” but it just happened.)

“I like that,” my driver said.

“Yeah, and then He did it. He actually did what He said.” The GOSPEL. He proved His love.

And He continues to. Even beyond His death and resurrection, evidence of His love saturates my days:

– My friend Lindsey woke early to drive me to the airport for my trip to NYC.
– My friend Caroline gave up a room in her home to let me stay there.
– My friend Jonathan stayed up all night to come stand in line with me at Coldplay so I didn’t have to wait alone.

All these little signs of their love are also signs of The Father’s love. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)

I am drenched in God’s love for me. The question that logically follows is: Do I love Him? Where do I inconvenience myself for Him? Where do I bend my schedule to fit Him and His priorities into it? Where do I sacrifice or suffer? What am I willing to give up for the sake of the Gospel?

It’s an important question for me to ask, but the answer will likely be difficult to determine. Because even in the measuring, the beauty of the truth, surely, is this: When you love something, the bending and yielding often doesn’t feel like sacrifice. It feels a lot like joy.

“… for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross ….” – Hebrews 12:2

He’s where the joy is. All of it. “In Your presence there is fullness of joy….” (Psalm 16:11). Coldplay, without even trying, points me to it and to Him. They are near the top of the list of “things that stir my affections for God.” And I love how the Father used this experience of me chasing joy in Christ to make me love Christ all the more. How beautiful.

In case you’re wondering, it’s worth missing sleep for. 

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I took this shot just as they came out on the stage.

——-

Postlude: If you’re curious what happened after the cab driver dropped me off …

I lined up behind a dozen others who were already there, our backs to the steel barricade. I unfolded my New York Times and laid it out to be my sleeping mat. Within seconds, the rain soaked through it, black ink smearing across the pages. I shivered and drank my coffee.

Around 3am, I asked a stranger for directions to a restroom, and he pointed me to a 24-hour deli two blocks away. On my way back, I stopped to thank him and he struck up a conversation with me. His name was Mark and he worked with Coldplay. He’d been with them nearly 10 years. We talked for another hour as he introduced me to some new friends and we talked about music and I got to check out their guitars. OVERJOYED.

Then I went back to my spot in line as the rain intensified and the temperature dropped. An hour later, when the 1,000+ people with fan passes piled into the plaza, I managed to find a spot at the back, but a sea of umbrellas filled my view.

Then, right before they took the stage, my phone rang. It was Mark. “Look to your right,” he said. Past the people and the barricades, he motioned for me. He pulled me from the back of the crowd, moved the barricades, pushed past the security, then positioned me right on the edge of the stage. WHAT?

It may sound like a small thing to you, especially if you don’t love Coldplay, but it kept giving me eyes for something far beyond Coldplay. I stood there thinking about the Gospel: He chases down those of low position, pulls them from the midst of their nothingness, and escorts them to the King’s table.

“For you I’d bleed myself dry … ” Chris Martin sang.

And he sang of love, but he sang of Christ, who did, literally. There we were, face to face, covered in rain and tears of joy. Only The Lord.

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This is one of my favorite shots I took during the show. This was during “Clocks.” After their set ended, they started playing this one, and NBC stopped them and told them not to play it, because they were already over their time. “No, we’re just going to play it for the fans,” Chris said. “They’ve been out here all night in the rain and the cold. You don’t have to record it, but we’re going to play it.”

 

Under Every Hero’s Cape

In the past 7 years, I’ve lived in 5 homes across 3 states — from a shared 250 square foot apartment in Manhattan’s East Village to a sprawling 5 bedroom ranch house in suburban Texas. I’ve gone from blonde haired and blue eyed back to brown haired and brown eyed. And while I once spent 300 days a year on tour, I now spend most of my days doing the deep ministry of day-to-day discipleship through D-Group. My life has shifted in ways I never imagined.

Of all the changes, the one that changed me most wasn’t dramatic. It didn’t involve a moving truck or four hours in the stylist’s chair. It was subtle and life altering all at once: I learned how to read the Bible. (I say that with a great deal of pause, because I certainly don’t know all I’ll someday know, and I’ll never know all there is to know, but I do know more than I once knew.)

For most of my life, I looked for myself in the Scriptures. I wanted to know what verses would encourage me, shape me, give me rules to live by. Which texts were most frequently quoted? Which ones should I highlight in my Bible? Surely those were the very best ones to help me figure out God’s will for my life.

I treated the Bible like it was a book about me. It was like insisting my boyfriend always wear mirrored aviator sunglasses — denying myself the opportunity to look deep into his eyes or learn the nuances of his expressions, because I preferred staring at my own reflection. 

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Justin Timberlake pegged my perspective when he sang: “You reflect me, I love that about you….” (although he somehow managed to make that sound romantic instead of arrogant).  I used God to feed my narcissism and called it the pursuit of holiness. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for me in the Bible and started looking for Jesus that I actually grew in relationship with Him. Because I started seeing Him EVERYWHERE.

Here’s a brief example from Luke 10:25-37, illustrating the difference in what I used to read and what I read now:

——-

The Good Samaritan: ME VERSION
Content:
This is a story about a person who helps others, even if that person is their enemy.

Theme:
I should help people, even if they are my enemies. I can be like the hero of this story. (I focused mainly on the last verse, “You go, and do likewise.”)

The Good Samaritan: GOD VERSION
Content:
The Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews, rejected for being a “half breed” of impure lineage, sounds a lot like Jesus.
v.31-32 – The Samaritan did the opposite of the religious officials. Jesus did this too. He was known for exposing the piety of the religious rulers of His day. (Matt 23:27)
v.33 – The Samaritan had compassion. This trait was one of the defining marks of Jesus. (Matt 9:36, Matt 14:14, Mark 6:34, Luke 7:13)
v.34 – The Samaritan went to the wounded man. Jesus pursues the wounded. (Mark 2:17, Luke 19:10) 
v.34 – The Samaritan bound up his wounds. Jesus does that too! (Psalm 147:3, Isaiah 61:1)
v.34 – The Samaritan poured out oil and wine on the man. In Scripture, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and wine is symbolic of Christ’s blood. These are things Christ made possible for us. (John 15:26, Luke 22:20)
v.35 – The Samaritan put him on his own animal. This sounds like Christ carrying us through the burden of what He took on in His own flesh. (1 Peter 2:24)
v.35 – The Samaritan took him to an inn and cared for him. Historians record that, for early believers, an “inn” was a symbol of the church, open to all for care.
v.35 – The next day, the Samaritan took out 2 denarii (2 days’ wages) and gave them to the innkeeper. The one day of his own sacrifice plus the 2 days of wages =  3 days of provision for the wounded traveler. Sound familiar? The cross, the tomb …
v.35 – The Samaritan said, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Christ promises full provision for our care (1 Peter 5:7). And He promises to return (John 14:3).

Theme:
Before Jesus ever tells us what to “do” in verse 37, He has shown us who He is. HE is the hero of this story. I can’t do anything good in my own strength. But I find hope in fixing my eyes on Christ and the beauty of who He is, knowing He has already accomplished this. I am both challenged and strengthened to meet whatever challenges of love and compassion I face.

——-

Under every cape of everything we long to be and will certainly fall short of, CHRIST IS. (Luke 24:27) Knowing God does inform how I live, but when I treat Scripture as a handbook to prop up my own self worth and glory, I deny the beauty and joy of relationship with the real hero. It becomes nothing more than a self-help book.

I feel the distinction in my bones. It’s the difference between asking Siri to give me directions to my destination OR getting in the passenger’s seat to ride there with a friend who knows the way. If my goal is just a destination, either option seems to work fine. But if my goal is relationship, only one option suffices. (Phil 3:10)

One thing that has helped me read Scripture is asking these questions as I read:

– What does this passage reveal about God’s character?
– What does He love?
– What does He hate?
– What motivates Him to do what He does?

Yes, there’s a time for application; we can’t be just “hearers of the Word” and not doers of the Word. (James 1:22) But in order to do well, we must see it as done(John 19:30) 

I want to spend my life getting to know Him, because as John Piper says, “I will become what I behold.” (2 Cor 3:18) And if I know anything about our Hero, I know this: He’s where the JOY is! (John 15:11)

What things have helped you in getting to know Him better or learning how to read Scripture?

 

Delicious.

I have this friend (yes, just a friend … seriously) who absolutely delights me. Tonight we talked on the phone (which I hate) for nearly two hours as he told me some stories from his week. Maybe it’s because he’s a man and they communicate differently, but when he talks, I feel like I can never get quite enough details to satisfy me. I press him with question after question, aiming to understand the nuances.

“I realize I want to process this before I tell you,” he said, “because I want to make it sound nice first so I can ‘sell’ it to you.” He paused. “How gross is that?!”

“You don’t have to sell me on anything. You don’t have to impress me,” I said. “In fact, you have the freedom to completely screw up, and you won’t lose any ground with me. I’m bought in on this friendship already. Will you just tell me your story? Please?”

Out of a desire to truly know my friend, I pushed for more information, even the parts that may be ugly or devoid of beautiful articulation.

Do you have a friend like that? Someone you want to come to a masterful knowledge of? Or maybe for you it’s a book series you can’t stop re-reading, or a true crime show you obsess over in an effort to solve it (Making a Murderer, anyone?), or a set of Housewives you feel emotionally connected to because of how much you’ve observed their lives?

Whatever intrigues us taps into our deeper efforts. It beckons our time and attention. We rearrange our schedules, stay up late, and drive out of our way to gain more of a thing we love. We’ll even experience it over and over again with no variation, just because we love it. 

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Sure, he’s being sarcastic. But I’m not. 🙂

“No verse of Scripture yields its meaning to lazy people.” – Arthur W. Pink

This Arthur W. Pink quote reminds me that the effort spent in knowing my friend should pale in comparison to the effort spent knowing my God. As the mornings find me laid out with His pages – even if they happen to be the ones I’ve read most in my life and feel like I know well – I always ask Him:

“Please teach me something new about You today. I want to know more about You, because there is always more to know and everything I find helps me see more of how beautiful You are.”

I press Him for more information. I may be full, but I’m still eating out of sheer delight! Because He is, for lack of a better word, delicious

He is a depth I cannot plumb, a height I cannot ascend to, a spectrum my peripheral vision can’t reach the edges of. AND YET … I can know more: I can go deeper, reach higher, see further.

Day by day, little by little, I’m mining for gold in His Word, and I never come up empty. I’m amassing a fortune, you guys. And it’s worth far more than it cost me in time and effort.

  • Do you lack the desire to read His Word? We’ve all been there. I may even be there again tomorrow. I have no guarantees. But I do know this: He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known, and you will find no greater joy than knowing Him. If you don’t have that desire, will you ask Him for it? He gives it. Will you ask Him to change your heart? He can. He changes hearts all day long.
  • Do you feel too busy to make time for Him? Ask Him to carve out time in your schedule for Himself, then yield where He presses.
  • Do you doubt your ability to understand what He says? Keep reading. Ask Him for ears to hear and eyes to see.
  • Do you feel guilty when you do read the Word? Covered in shame? Don’t look for yourself in the story; you will despair if you look for yourself. Look for Him. What does He love? What does He hate? What motivates Him to do what He does?

This is the drum I will beat until the day I die: devour the Word of God like it is the most valuable thing on earth (because it is). Let your eyes fall on every word, every comma, every space. You can read it cover to cover in a year, in just 12 minutes a day. And there’s no better time to start than now! In fact, here’s a link to my favorite reading plan.*

What are you waiting for? IT’S WHERE THE JOY IS!**

* Bonus: If you want people to walk through the Bible with you, join us in D-Group

* Fair Warning: As you come to know Him more through reading His Word, you cannot help but want to become like Him. You’ll find yourself changing, feeling strange convictions about things that never bothered you about yourself before. You cannot behold Him and remain the same. But if you’re anything like me, that’s probably encouraging.