Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Old Habits: Do they (N)ever die?

Everyone has one.

Most of us have more than one.

You know what I'm talking about.  That sneaky, often dark, quiet habit that lurks around you, waiting for the opportune moment.

Everyone's got their own special brand of a habit they wish they didn't have.  No one talks about it: mostly because we wish we didn't have to.

Sometimes you can go for months without it even crossing your mind.  Then, out of the blue, it consumes you.  You succumb.  You enjoy it,  You are relieved...until you're not.  You come out of the reverie incredulous.  Again?! Where did that come from?  You waffle between resignation, frustration, guilt, and apathy.

Whatever.  This is normal...normal for me.  Ain't nothin' new.
Are you listening to yourself?  Self, don't resign to this.  You're better than this, and you know it.

3 years ago, I wrote about this.  Present day...yes, I still feel these things.  And yet, I still struggle.

Philippians 4:8-9:"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

Well, that's easier quoted than lived.

I can hear protests to this--in fact, I have protested this--saying: eh, it's just your thing.  Everyone's got one, it's human nature.  *Shrug*

SO?!  One of my favorite sayings from my dad is: "should be and is be are two different things."
Just because something is, doesn't mean it should be.  Just because this is normal, doesn't mean you need to resign yourself to it.  Surely we can break these habits.

Romans 7:21-25: "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."

2 Corinthians 12:7-10: "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger o Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, 'my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

So this is a good thing for me?

I get it when Paul says they keep him humble, he was doing all sorts of incredible things.  I'm a fairly normal graduate student: I'm not healing people.  I'm not doing anything fancy to bloat my ego (in fact I regularly need a boost in that department).

Again and again I am confronted with the thought that this is an opportunity.  What?  An opportunity for what?  To fall into an old crutch?  To resign myself to the same old, same old?

No.  It's an opportunity to ask for help.  It's an opportunity to step back and realize: hey, maybe this is happening because I'm trying to do something right.  Maybe this is a sign of other things in my life that are working.

Maybe, I need to recognize that side of things, meet the challenge head on, and be better than I have been.

The minute you resign yourself to not being better, to falling back into old habits, to not taking a step forward towards truth and a better self...that's the minute life wins.  Luckily, our lives are made up of lots of minutes...because life has beaten me for a lot of those.

But.  The next minute...that's a whole new battle, one that I haven't lost yet.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

I've always been fascinated by the character John the Baptist.  He's the crazy dude at the beginning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that ate bugs and honey and ran around in camelskin clothes.  He was born about 6 months before Jesus was born, by one of Jesus's parent's cousins.

In all 4 accounts, he is mentioned right at the beginning as the "voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" a quote from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  He is the man sent to warn people of the coming of Jesus, his Messiah.

"Prepare the way of the Lord."

This command is very heavy in my thoughts during this time of the year...every year.

The Western Church celebrates this time of year as a season of Advent:  meaning a season of preparation and expectant waiting for the [memorial of the] birth of Jesus.  It is a celebration of the beginning of Jesus's journey...and thus, the beginning of ours [Christians'].  According to the church calendar, Advent began last Sunday, on the 29th, with the first candle lit on the advent wreath: hope.  Typically, bits of Scripture regarding the bloodline of Jesus are read during the lighting.  Because of this tradition, I do not allow myself to be actively grouchy about the excitement of Christmas once Advent has begun.

Well...not aloud, anyway.

I've gone to craft stores twice this week to find candles for an advent wreath in my home, and other simple decorations (a plain pine garland?  Impossible to find without glitter and fake cranberries and snow).  Both times, I nearly got into multiple wrecks, I had to maneuver around crazy parking jobs, and I had to fight crowds to get in the door and down the appropriate aisles.
Once I reached my destination, in both Hobby Lobby and Michael's, I was accosted with pop covers of already pop-y Christmas songs, people disagreeing over ornamentation, empty shelves, disheveled half-full shelves, flashy figurines and santas, reindeer lists painted craftily on canvas, and SO MUCH GLITTER.  So much.  I didn't speak to anyone--not that I'm normally in the habit of speaking to strangers in craft stores--and yet I still found it hard to maintain a neutral facial expression.

It doesn't matter what aspect of Christmas we talk about, I can usually find something about which to be disdainful:
It's about giving!  Do you ever give without expecting anything, not even thanks, in return?
It's about family!  Ever had a Christmas family gathering without failed expectations?
It's about the decorations!  Glitter. 'Nuff said.
It's about Jesus's birth!  He was probably born earlier.  Also most of our decorations are things we took from the Pagan celebration of the winter solstice/birthday of the unconquered sun.

This does not make for pleasant, kind, graceful, uplifting conversations with...well...anyone.  So I do my best to keep it to myself.

Why then, share it here on the interwebs, for everyone to see the ugly internal dialogue I have with myself every December?
Because I hate it.  I hate that there is this much hatred within my heart for a season that brings people back to what is important to them.  I hate that I am the downer at the dinner table that spreads vitriol instead of good cheer.  I hate that my face does not reflect love and mercy when I see someone clutching handfuls of sparkling ornamentation for her home.  The rest of the world literally is on their best behavior during this season (we'll ignore the US shootings for now...subject for another time), why am I on my worst?

I need an attitude adjustment.

"Prepare the way of the Lord."

The intent of Advent is to prepare yourself, your home, your life, and your heart for the (symbolic) reception of the gift that is the birth of Jesus.  There is much preparation occurring all over Athens...as is evidenced by the forever-empty shelves in stores across town, and the forever-clogged streets.  We prepare for the coming of family, the exchange of gifts, the (hopefully) colder weather, the end of the year, the end of the year sales, the huge amounts of food we'll cook and consume...the list goes on.

Everywhere I turn I am bombarded by loud, gaudy, and commercialized gifts, sales, songs, stores, buildings, and parties.  All of those things are already against my natural inclinations...no matter what month it is.  All of those things are exponentially compounded in the month of December.  All of those things appear to me to be focused on a show that is a product of Christmas becoming a business.  The fact that any holiday can be so cheapened by--paradoxically--pouring millions of dollars into it repulses me.  The fact that our culture as a whole spends so much time with the outward signs that shout "hey look at us preparing for Christmas!" breaks my heart, because it shouldn't be about your outside.  It should be about your inside.

Jesus made it pretty clear in Matthew 6 that we are supposed to give, pray, and fast quietly so that it is a secret, not shout it from the roof or trumpet it in the streets.  Obviously, he wasn't talking about Christmas, because he wasn't quite that meta, but I would pose that his stance would be the same on this: he was pretty consistent.  This time of preparation should be about your own heart, and the hearts of those you love.  John the Baptist, that crazy, homeless, bug eating hippie, asks the most poignant question for this time of year...and for any time of year: are you ready?  Are you ready to receive the only gift perfect you'll ever receive?  Here I am, a voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.

Are you ready?  Am I ready?  Based on my grinchy attitude, I'd say "no, not yet."  So, I'm going to continue to sit in my decoration-less closet until I am.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Power in Vulnerability

Clearly, as is evidenced by my recent blog topics, I've been dealing with some heavy-hearted stuff lately.  Family health, personal growth, personal trials, and heartbreak make for deep, occasionally dark, posts.  Hate to do it to you again, but here's another one.

Laying your inner self open for the eyes of another is terrifying.  I've discussed this ad nauseam, I'm afraid.  However, just as your inner self is a complicated thing, so is the topic of vulnerability.

Dictionary.com defines vulnerability as such:


In some discussions (relationships in particular) vulnerability is regarded as a positive thing: it means you trust the other person enough to be open, honest, and true to yourself.  But, it makes me feel a little justified in being fearful, when I look at definition 1.  Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon.  AND definition 2.  Open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.  AND definition 3, even if it is discussing a building and not a person.  Open to assault, difficult to defend. 

None of these things particularly inspire me to become vulnerable...at all.  Self preservation is a very strong instinct across the entire animal kingdom:  we encounter this daily.  Physical exercise, sports, martial arts, the military, education, seat-belts in vehicles...all these things encourage us to be knowledgeable and physically able to preserve ourselves.  But then, in relationships, you are taught to do an about face:  let that person in, let them see the real you that you hide behind those walls.  For some, this is easier than others.  Some individuals do not have walls, they are fully themselves all the time, open to whatever life throws their way.  This works out well for some, and for some it yields lots of scars.  Some individuals have a maze inside, only the most determined can find the heart: this protects from lots of scars, but it also causes them to "miss out."  (On what, sometimes I am not sure.)

However, I have experienced another side of this dilemma: when you are presented with vulnerability by another.  When someone lays themselves bare before you, trusting you completely.  Being presented with this is often more frightening to me than becoming vulnerable myself.  This gives you great power.  Great.  Power.  Here, that overused Spiderman quote comes unbidden into my mind: "With great power comes great responsibility."  It rings true (as it always does).  When you are presented with this gift of a person's heart laid bare in their hands, you have been presented with a huge responsibility.  

"My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely." Song of Songs 2:14

Your heart, tender like a bird, is given to me with open hands, brought out from your hiding places among the rocks.  Hollow bones, fragile feathers, tiny feet: these deserve to be treated with gentle, compassionate hands.  

My hands sometimes are not gentle.  

One wrong move, the dove might lose a feather.  Not a huge deal.  Keep making mistakes though, and I can crush bone.  This, this is great power.  A power I do not relish.  A power I never wish to use for a strategic advantage, a power which I hesitate to accept at all.  Being vulnerable, myself, is one thing.  Accepting the vulnerability of another is entirely another.  A thing that frightens me to the point of freezing.  I have loved and I have severely hurt.  And while I do not run from the first, I am terrified of experiencing the second, ever again.  

Some tell me that I cannot hold the blame for that kind of hurt.  It's not my fault.  I hear those words, and I think they are somehow true, but it does not change the fact that it was my hands that broke that bird.  It does not change the fact that I--we all--have that capability to crush hearts when presented with vulnerability.  Is that the price of mutual openness?  I give you my heart, you give me yours, let's hope I don't squeeze it to death?  Maybe my opinion would be different, if I had my heart broken.  My track record, though, I'm the one who does the breaking.  This.  This gives me pause.  This arrests my step forward.  It is not that I lack the courage to jump: it is that I am afraid to catch another.  Afraid to bungle it, again.  

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:23

I suppose, though, you cannot refuse a gift.  Which, really, is how this kind of thing is presented.  You cannot force vulnerability.  You are presented with it, once you are trusted.  I suppose the giver knows you are imperfect, bound to bungle something, someday.  I suppose that is part of the weighing process:  do I roll over?  Do I trust that this person will respect, edify, challenge, protect, and love me?  Do I believe they will do their best to tread carefully, carrying this precious gift?  Yes?  
This is where trust, the trust I've spoken of before, comes in.  I have a perfect example to follow.  1 John, too long to quote here, lays this out quite clearly.  Lord help me emulate that perfect love.

"...And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:16-19

Friday, November 20, 2015

Trust

Why is that such a hard word to say?  It's 5 letters.  One syllable.  It's not like it's "antidisestablishmentarianism," or "zugunruhe," or for heaven's sake "Annaliese."

Why is it such a hard concept to internalize?  Shouldn't it be simple? Shouldn't it just be easy?  You can make a character judgement, and if they are upstanding, loyal, kind, and honest...can't you just trust them?

Why is it so hard to really trust in the process?  Trust in whatever it is that gets you through the day?  Has that thing ever let you down?  If it has...no wonder.  If it hasn't...why is it still so hard?

My God has never abandoned me.  My God has never, ever, left me without at least a tiny bird of hope in my soul.  And yet I doubt.  And yet I am afraid.  And yet I do not see--or understand--the end of the tunnel, for the road is long and dark.

"Courage, dear heart."

Trust.  Trust in the doctors.  Trust in the medication.  Trust in the Lord, that he knows the outcome and has planned it to show his great love.  Trust that everything is to work out as planned.

Trust that you are not alone.  Trust that there is a perfect, beautiful result to these trials you experience.  Trust the refining process, that it will yield a more beautiful, polished, you.

These words are beautiful.  They should bring hope to my soul.  They should fill me with a peace.  And yet I doubt.  I am afraid.

Even more, it breaks my heart to hear that someone else I have always trusted to lead me is struggling with this too.  Maybe not trust, so much as hope for a bright future.  Despair in the voice of someone you have always run to for comfort and strength...it. is...hard.

Sometimes roles reverse, I suppose.  Role reversal isn't always easy, or something that is desired.  How do you take the lead for someone that has always lead you in the way that is right?  How do you trust you will have the strength to be there?

"'I wish I were braver.'  'If you were any braver, you'd be a lioness.'"

This is where I start reciting what it is I know to be true.  I think that anyone in a difficult situation, should call upon their life truths.  What is it I know, in my heart of hearts to be true?  To be real?  To be trustworthy?  Maybe something in that list will spark a fire of trust once again.

I believe in a perfect end.  Not what I can envision, because I am not perfect.

I believe in a God who loves us more than I can conceptualize, and I can conceptualize a lot of love.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.

I believe that we are called to live for the truth, regardless of what kind of path it becomes.

I believe there is always hope for the future.  Always.  I have to, else I'd crawl into a hole today, and not come out.

I believe that...even when we cannot see the good in something, it is there.  Perhaps to be understood tomorrow, perhaps only by our succeeding generations.  But it is there.  And that has to be enough.

Romans 8:18-39: 

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”


37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A True Love, not a Blind Love

Some time ago, I wrote a blog on being a hopeful romantic...instead of being a hopeless one.  I re-read it this morning with some surprise at how similar my situation, and my opinions are.  My core group has pretty much all paired off.  That's not a complaint, merely an observation.  Sure, I wish I was done with the dating scene, but that is (probably) largely a function of the choices I've made along the way.  And let me tell you, some of those choices were too easy...and some were too hard.  I've broken hearts and experienced heartbreak.  It's not fun, or easy, or pretty to go through either side of that.  I continually ask myself why I put me into situations where we end up in pieces.  What do you learn by breaking hearts?  What do you accomplish, besides pain and torment?  What do you teach yourself or your partner?

The hopeful romantic in me yearns for the one, for the man I can wake up to from now until forever.  The man I can pour out my love to, because I have so much I want to give.  Years ago I had a friend tell me that he just wanted to find the one to love, because he has an ache inside him to shower her with the love he has, the love he has been given.  It took me a while to understand that, but I get it now.

I'm not looking for someone to treat me like a queen...although that is nice.  I'm not looking for someone to take care of me...I can take care of myself--says the fiercely independent woman.  I'm not looking for someone so that I am a "typical member of society"...I've never been "typical", and probably never will.

I'm looking for someone I can love; I'm not talking about the rosy-colored feelings, I'm talking about the action verb.  I long to be there for someone, to be there to listen to their opinions, to banter, to minister to, to adventure with.  I long for someone I can show just how valuable the are, and how important they are in this great wide world.

You know, one of my favorite things about Jesus's life is his constant love for those around him.  His mercy, compassion, and love for those he came in contact with is something I strive for daily.  I fail, often, and I am sometimes blinded by those same characteristics.  But, nonetheless, a marriage (by some world-views' standards) is modeled after the way He loved his people.  Ephesians 5:21-33 gives pretty detailed instructions on how married folks should treat each other.  She is asked to submit to him (we'll hold feminism off for another time, I've got other points to make here), trusting that he is leading her as he should, in what is right and pure.  He is asked to love her as Christ loved his people.  Let's be honest: this is a sacrificial love, Christ died for his people.

That's dedication.

But just after, it says he is to present her holy and blameless.  That's big.  That's a lot of respect for her.  He is to push her to be right, and strive for perfection, just as I believe she is to push him.  He is to respect her body, her mind, her spirit.  He is to keep her safe and whole: blameless in the eyes of the World and God.

I think that sometimes I get so lost in building others up, I forget that I am allowed to expect others to build me up.  Did not God create us all to minister to one another?  To build each other up?  It is a requirement for me to give all to minister to someone I love?  Well, not exactly.  I can give whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...but that does not include things like, my integrity, my body, my sense of self, my moral code...you get the picture.  In dating, there is a line.  A line, that in the thick of things, is hard to see, and easy to cross.  Particularly when you desire so much to share your love, and when you see the beauty in someone.  I get lost in making sure people I love know they are loved, valued, and respected for who they are: sometimes I forget to see if I am also respected, loved, and valued for who I am--and pushed to be a better, right-er version of myself.

This.  This is the hard part.  I confess that often, I have died to myself too much: not necessarily for Christ, but for others.

That is not the point...

It's taken me a long time to understand the difference.  In fact, I'm not sure I understood it until I just wrote it.  Christ died for us so that we might live with the hope of tomorrow, the hope of being redeemed for what we have done-or inevitably will do-that is apart from His will.  Christ did not die so that we who follow Him continue to die for others.  He did that.  We're covered.  To die to self is to die to the carnal self, not to give up yourself to people, but to give up yourself to God.  For His perfect purposes, not for peoples' imperfect ones.

The realist in me sort of gets this, but struggles with how to show love without giving up myself entirely.  What's the point?  Clearly I've failed at this many times.  Maybe I should just keep that big ole heart to myself.  Maybe it's just easier to be a friend, and to stay out of that whole love thing.  Get a dog.  Drive my dog and myself into the sunset and live alone, somewhere, out of my truck.  If I just stick with that, I can't hurt anyone else by getting in too deep only to realize it's not the forever kind of relationship.  I can't hurt myself by spreading myself too thin, giving up myself to prove...to prove what?  That I have love?  *Gibbs slap*  That's not the kind of love I'm supposed to be proving.

Then, what?  What kind of love am I to be proving?

I am reminded of my parents.  They are two of the most loving people I know.  They are kind, merciful, compassionate, gracious, forbearing, and quick to forgive (I imagine those last two qualities are what makes them such stellar parents...especially with two headstrong, free-spirited children).  But, when the time is right, they do not hesitate to tell me when I am wrong, when I am making mistakes, when I doing things outside of what they know I believe is right and true.  They love me enough to be merciful toward my faults...but they love me enough to expect better of me.  To expect me to always be seeking the truth, the right, the correct way.

That is a truer love than a blind one.  That is a truer love than one that accepts normalcy without expectations of perseverance, dignity, self preservation, and truth seeking.  It is a love not only of your character, but of your soul: a love that longs to see the soul be redeemed, cleansed, and perfected.

Maybe one day I'll figure it out, by the grace of God.
Maybe one day, I'll be where they are, able to give not a full love, but a true love.
In the mean time, I'm not ready, yet.  In the mean time, I'll keep my nose in the Book, feet on the ground...and arms out to those with whom I come into contact.
I might not be ready for the one, but I in the meantime, I can give a little bit of the love, the compassion of Christ to everyone.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Be Still, and Know that I am God


Be still, and know that I am God.

   I struggle with understanding what that means, sometimes.  I know you exist in my heart of hearts.  There is no question.  you mean more than that.  "God."  That word is capitalized.  Not "a god."  Just "God."  The great I AM.
   I am still, at the edge of this pond.  Quiet.  Listening for you.  I see where the Native Americans understood god to be Nature: nature is neither good, nor bad, it just is.  The trees can be nothing other than themselves.  It is not so with humans.  We can be whoever we choose to act as.  Therefore, I see why we seek that which is honest and true and unchanging . . . because we are not.  I see why so many of us run to the woods when we seek clarity; it is the clearest place, free from the burdens of pleasing society. free from the realization that you will let someone down.  You will falter.  It is here that we can gaze upon simple existence, and, for a time, escape the inevitability of the marred human life.
   It is here that the hole we have dug ourselves into, or are hiding in, or are trying to escape from, levels out and for a time disappears.  But.  It is also here that the reasons behind that hole being there become inescapable.  When faced with the honesty, the unashamed truth of nature, one cannot hide from the honesty of one's own life.
   My heart is unclothed in the woods.  I can cry, I can grin.  I can wring my hands in sorrow, or worry, or guilt, or anxiety here without fear of judgement by the honest trees or squirrels.  Even so, I come face to face with my own hypocrisy, my own dishonesty, my own imperfections.  That is me.  I cannot escape myself.

Be still, and know that I am God.

   The trees, in their honesty, cannot be here solely by disorderly, unknown, entropic chance.  If so, how does the forest work so much like a well oiled machine?  Ecologists recognize not merely a tree, or a stand of trees, but a system.  A system which they simultaneously affect and are affected by.  It is an interesting observation that the system did well on its own until imperfect humans began to alter it; as if we know, better than a tree, how to be a tree.  And yet, here we are, acting upon the land, as it is our duty.  In a sense, our mere existence necessitated our caretaking of this land, as a means of counteracting our own effect on it.  Funny cycle, that.
   It is indeed a testament to the power which keeps nature here, that even our best efforts cannot affect nature wholly.  It stands stalwart, though we may rail against it.

Be still, and know that I am God.

Be still, here in this landscape, and know that in spite of your own best--if imperfect--efforts, you are still loved.  You are still presented with the honesty of nature to reveal your faults, to comfort your soul, and to give you hope.  Hope that one day, when you stop trying, and just be my creation, you too, can stand stalwart in my presence and live, and know that you are loved.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Village

"It takes a village to raise a child."

Everyone has heard this saying, and everyone probably agrees.  I still want to talk about it...so just grin and bear the trite beginning, because I think there's some new goodness to be found in it.

I have a 16 month old godson.  He's the greatest.  He's happy-go-lucky and smart.  Everyone who meets him instantly loves him.  His parents are part of my "village" here in college, so we do many social events together.  They bring FJ with them often, which no one minds because he's already one of us, even at such a young age.  But it has really hit me at the last couple of events he's attended, that it doesn't matter where he is, he is always being looked after by everyone.  It's not just his parents that are trailing him around, it's everyone.  Whoever we meet or spend time with happily becomes part of the FJ "monitoring," not that he needs much, he's a fairly independent kid.

For instance, on Saturday night I had roughly 20 people in my house, and every time I saw FJ he was talking to or being held by someone else.  He "read" to people, he helped people grill, he helped them plug or unplug their various cell phones, and he definitely helped cook and eat all the food possible.  Not only does his parents bringing him to things enhance his social skills, it also gives them a chance to be blessed with an assurance that they aren't solely responsible for chasing after him.

Everyone helps, because he's one of us and we love him.

I'd like to suggest that it doesn't' only take a village to raise a child...it takes a village to just be.

This is where I insert another trite saying about how "I don't know who I'd be without my friends," but I legitimately mean it.  I have made many mistakes, taken wrong turns, fumbled through conflicts, but I manage to come through it by the grace of God and the love of my friends and family (those things are not mutually exclusive).  If it was just me out here in this Post-modern world, I wouldn't be able to pull through what I have already overcome.  It takes a village for emotional support, yes, but also sometimes just to make dinner come together.

Saturday was an Oktoberfest party.  I planned out pretzel bites, various dips, pumpernickel, potato salad, potato pancakes, chicken schnitzel, pork schnitzel, sauerkraut, bratwursts, kielbasa, two types of cheese strudel, apple pie, and black forest cake.  One cannot do that alone, especially if the food is going to taste good and be fresh.  I had wonderful friends bake the desserts and other baked goods, as my oven is temperamental and bakes unevenly.  
But I thought with careful planning I'd be able to handle the rest alone.

Wrong.

Thank the good Lord I had two amazing helpers ALL DAY Saturday, who were graciously at my beck and call.  They stood alongside me in the kitchen washing, peeling, slicing, dicing, tenderizing, boiling, mixing, whipping (as in, just with a whisk!), cleaning, organizing, and keeping me sane with simultaneously deep and hilarious conversation.

By 45 minutes before go-time we thought we had it handled...then a breaker went...in the kitchen.

The fridge, water heater, stove, and all the kitchen outlets went down.  We had 10 pounds of raw chicken and pork in sitting in the dead fridge waiting to be breaded and deep fried.  After much breaker flipping, nothing happened, and guests began arriving.  I was in full panic-mode.  But again, thank God I was surrounded by people who rose to the occasion.
Some of them moved the deep-fryer into the living room and began a relay system: a breader in the kitchen, a runner, and a fry cook.
Someone else managed to get the circuits working again.  Another guest started frying the potato pancakes without being asked: he just took it over.  It all came together: hot, fresh, delicious, authentic, and 100% a group effort.

It's humbling.
I had a grand plan to have everything done precisely by 7pm, when people were supposed to arrive.  I had friends show up early ready to help, and I had friends that were problem solvers when I was too absorbed with how this was not working out the way I had envisioned.

The rest of the evening was filled with glorious laughter, great food, conversation, dancing, and such a love among everyone that it was palpable in the air.  Mind you, this wasn't a village who'd known each other for decades.  Some of us had only known each other for 2 years, or 2 minutes.

But between the food, the kid, and the compassion for one another, what we experienced that night was something special.
It was a beautiful reminder that who we are is defined, yes, by what we do, but also with whom we do it.  I am who I am because of the influences in my life, for better of for worse.  Okay, just for the better. ;)

FJ will become who he is because of who he's with, and how they treat him.

I think if he's with this village, he'll turn out pretty okay.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Vulnerablility

I am the strong one.

That is a self-imposed title.  But if I look at my life, look at those I know and love, everyone else has something bigger going on than I do.  I'm not going to air laundry here, but that's just how it is.

Well, until this big thing happened in my own life.  But I've spent a while making myself be strong for everyone else, being the one who has it together so that if someone needs to talk to me, they can without fear of my interjections with my own sagas.  I've spent long enough that sometimes I'm not sure I know how to be broken anymore...I'm not sure I know how to let myself...be vulnerable.

Don't misunderstand, I haven't been burned by someone, well, ever.  Maybe once, but that blame isn't totally on the other party.  To be honest, I've probably done my share of the burning; I think my mission to be "strong" became a spirit of "I don't need anyone," somewhere along the line.
Pro-tip: those two are not the same.  They can sometimes feel the same, when you're the one emoting, but...I can bet they don't feel the same to everyone else.

So now here I am.  Broken, tired, and weak.  But the wrinkle is that currently, it's the inner layer that's broken.  Like a burned-out light bulb: you look at it, you shake it and you can hear the burnt filament, but the outer glass is fine.  A cursory glance probably won't tell you it's broken.

In my heart of hearts, I know I need to be totally broken to be rebuilt.  Yes, I get it.  Break me down to the raw building blocks, then put me back together.  But I've spent so long willing my blocks together, they are not falling down easily.  They haven't fallen down yet, not all of them, anyway.  I know how,  I guess.  The very thing (me) holding myself together is the thing that needs to let me go.
Ever tried that?  I've got news for you if you haven't: it ain't easy.  It's not fun.  It takes a whole lot of courage to go toddler-mode and knock those blocks down.  And frankly, I'm not feeling very child-like.

But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
   you are my God, do not delay.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Zugunruhe

October is only six days old, and yet it feels like an old friend greeting me with open arms.  With it comes orange leaves, crisp breezes, and Oktoberfest--Okay, so let's forgive the fact that the M√ľnchen festival is over...and just pretend that Oktoberfest actually happens in October--
Thoughts of that festival always bring me back to my own roots: Wien, Kaffee, topfenstrudel, sauerkraut, and so forth.  Thus awakens my adventuring spirit.  Crisp air, good food...these things are hard to experience inside an office.

I want to go to Vienna again!  The Alps!  I want to see the Rockies in the fall!  Big Sur! Yosemite! Colorado Springs!  Albuquerque!  Flagstaff! Boundary Waters! Black Hills! North Woods!  Everywhere!  Let me go!  Let me see new things, experience change! Oh to be a bird on the annual migration, able to cross the country and land someplace new, yet familiar!

I have found that often August and September are a mad rush of change, excitement, and preparation for October.  That is not to say that activity slows in October, it just settles into a familiar bustle.  The months preceding this one are hectic and jumbled: crammed full of planning, moving, new clothes, new books, new goals...You get restless.  You get tired of the way things are.  You yearn for a new place, a new space, a new season.  You re-arrange the living room.  You run off on a weekend excursion.  You get new art, maybe on your body, maybe for your house.  You make plans: some to keep, some to forget.  You rearrange the furniture...again.

Ecologists have a word for this in the animal kingdom.  It's Zugunruhe.



You see it in animals as they prepare to take off across the landscape.  They prepare for the change.  They get excited.  They bustle around.  They stay up later.  They eat more.  They make small moves out and about.  If they had clothes, they'd pack.  And unpack.  And repack.
The thing to notice about zugunruhe, is that it's not just a restlessness.  It's an excited preparation to make a change.  It's a readying of the body to embark on a journey.  It's purposeful restlessness.
This concept in itself is remarkable, given that the animals affected have such delicate metabolisms.

Even hummingbirds go through this.  Hummingbirds!  Tiny winged creatures that are perpetually hours away from starving to death!  They undertake this heightened activity, this restless preparation for the Big Change.

If they go through this every year, and make it, so can I.

What I have..it's not just wanderlust.  It's premeditation of an adventure that I know will lead to...well...if I knew, it wouldn't be a change, would it?  It's a great restlessness in my spirit that tells me it's time for a change for the better.  To move.  To take a risk.  To learn a new thing.  To see a new place.  To break that habit.  To make a change.

Have you felt that?  Have you had such a burden on your soul that things need to change?  It's inescapable.  It works its way into your dreams, your conversations, your quiet meditations.  It's October, and it's time.