Sunday, May 13, 2012

What's in a name?

There's nothing like the veil of the night to force one's mind into submission.  And perhaps a little of its magic too, the stillness of its wrap, full base of noiseless sound, the tingling.

I'm tired.  To be more exact, I'm drained.  Of emotion, and energy, and even a little essence.  The words stick to my brain like scratch-and-sniffs...I'm slowly peeling them off, one by one, into the flow of what I've learned about sentences, nouns, verbs.

I used to think Kelly Clarkson was crazy, singing "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" as a way to convince herself that this was true, as a way to cope--wishful thinking.  I was under the impression that the only people who agree with her are the ones who've never felt like death, who've never experienced real pain, who've never had their heart broken and rebuilt like a stone, a shame...
But now I'm starting to think she's onto something.  I'm starting to think Life is more about death, about how much you can take before you fall, about how much you're willing to give.  Will you sacrifice it all?

My grandma asked me today what I write.
Creative non-fiction, I said.
Do you write about your brothers? she asked.

I thought about this for a while.
No, I responded.  Not really.
Well, she continued, that's probably good, because their story doesn't have an ending yet.  So, is it an autobiography?
No, I answered.

Only why do I feel like I can't write an ending?
Why do I feel as if there's no end to a story that doesn't exist entire, to a story I can't even own as mine?

This thought got me thinking about circles again, imperfect ones yes, but just the nature of the circle.  I think I've always thought wrongly about circles, because even though the shape doesn't end, you have to lift your pencil at some point.  Or do you?  Would you go crazy if you kept drawing lines over the old ones?  Perhaps.  What if the circle kept changing, though?  What if there is a mystery in the madness?
I'm warning you this isn't a very accurate metaphor.  For one, I don't know if I'm speaking about the metanarrative of life or about a specific story.  Although I have a pretty good idea it might be both.

Do stories truly end?  Well yes, the book ends, the chapters reach blank space, but not the best ones, not really.  We've all heard the cliched statements about how stories live on, legends.  The good ones do, though, whether or not the cliche transforms into something else, in your memory, in your emotions, in the lives of others.  And if this is true, then there must be something that conquers death.  There must be something that keeps the circle going.

...and with this, something comes to mind, a mystery--a name that people say sometimes, in vain.  This name knew pain.
So when I feel defeated at the end of the day, when I'm tempted to pity myself, I listen to the words in my soul which come to me the day long in silent whispers, tugging at me.  I know pain, but I don't.
This world is full of people being defeated by death everyday.  The ceasing of the will to fight for what's right, letting love die out because it demands so much, the walking dead are everywhere.

At the end of the day, I'm a fighter.  I know the name that conquers death.
All I can do is hope that you're standing next to me.
Faith that you are.
Hope that you will.
Love as our guide.

...I wouldn't be a very good blogger if I didn't answer the question that my title poses.  But then, you wouldn't be a very good reader if you didn't realize that I already have.

This ending is a little raw.  Like life.  Today, I'm okay with that.

For Beauty weighs on the thick night air, and I, in turn, experience Life for the taking.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One word

The image of a young boy playing with a boxed toy on the floor of the local Walmart has ingrained itself in my memory over the past few hours, and I think I'm starting to understand that this memory represents much more than what meets the eye.

"Summer feels different," I said to my best friend, over a Starbucks coffee on Tuesday afternoon.  There is this wide expanse of time stretching before us, but we fill it with books and papers and classes and all the other responsibilities that are foreign to us...what happened to the lazy summer days I remember?  The ones where my greatest concern was whether or not I would land the double back flip I'd been working on my friend's trampoline?  Or the grass stains that didn't want to come off my soccer socks?  It was not nostalgia forcing its way into my mind but a difference.  My best friend had jokingly said in her text, "Let the frolicking begin," but when did life deem necessary two girls drinking coffee in the middle of the afternoon, conversing over the past year's pains as tears stung our eyes in empathy, and then in sympathy?  Was this change from the frolicking of our youth good, or was it robbing us of something just beyond our reach?

I watched the boy adamantly.  He used his senses in tandem, touching the shiny truck, shaking the box by his ear, looking so fervently at the twist ties that held it in.  Sitting on the floor, he looked up at people passing by.  They smiled down, perhaps at his innocence or his lack of social awareness.  The "good old days" when things were easy and the wind blew the breeze and not the torrential rains.  The boy turned the box over in his hands, and in my peripheral I saw my mother turning a box of strawberries over in hers, psycho-analysis.  What changes between childhood and adulthood?

Well, for one, time.  I never have enough of it these days.  So much vies for attention that nothing ever gets it fully.  The boy, sitting on the dirty floor, could see nothing else but the toy.  I wondered what it would be like to have that focus again, that determination.  And I do, at times, only at times.
Yet, despite never having enough time, I have too much in the wrong ways.  Mondays and Thursdays are too far apart.  They are altogether too far apart.
Because I have to wait til Thursday to talk to you, or two weeks to see them, or a year to cross the Atlantic and be with the generations of my blood.  There are too many days in a week, and not enough hours in a day, and the tension we feel in between is suffocating.

But.  The boy, something was changing in his demeanor.  His patience turned to listlessness.  His eyes from intrigue to intensity.  And with his next action, my reverie was broken...

"Mommmm," he called, looking with longing beyond my field of vision.  My heart rose with the inflection of his small voice.  She came by, her cart full of corn, and reached out to touch the little hand of her precious boy.  He climbed happily from the floor and walked away from the abandoned toy.

I stood, stunned.  How preoccupied the boy had been and with one word, he was off the floor.  He walked in hand with someone who offered something back, never stopped to look back.  Maybe his short attention span worked to his advantage, or maybe at his young age, he already grasped something adults often forget.  He felt the difference, in the changing of textures, in the softness, and suddenly some decisions seemed simplified.  Suddenly I understood why God puts things in boxes and ties them down with string.  If He didn't, maybe we would never call out for what we actually desire.  Maybe we would sit, on the dirty floor, playing with a toy that offers nothing.  Maybe sometimes our adult troubles involve us doing this anyway, ignoring the ties, ignoring the people who have walked into our lives because we are afraid of the pain when the hand turns rough, afraid of no one answering the call, afraid of missing and of desire we can't control.

So it seems the bridge between childhood and adulthood isn't so far, if we know where our help comes from, if we value the truly valuable, if we exchange the fear that we have gained from years of broken hearts and failure with the faith of a child.
We, like the boy, have small voices.

And maybe, just maybe, the ones we love are listening.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Love defined

Have you ever looked up the definition of love in the dictionary?
The results may prove why our society is so screwed up.
i.e. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person
If this is all we have to work with, we should kiss marriage good-bye...literally.

I don't claim to be an expert on the emotion, the noun that makes life worth living...I'm only twenty.  I'm only twenty--God-willing I have much more to learn, but I know more than the dictionary, a book that's been around for much longer than me.  I don't care how many adjectives or adverbs are put before the word affection to make it sound stronger...

profoundly- "penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge"
tender- "soft or delicate in substance"
passionate- "having, compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling"

Now, I don't want to underestimate any of these descriptors.  I think they are all pivotal to getting at the core of love.  Someone who is profoundly passionate in a tender way is someone who is using both mind and emotion--two parts of a human person that are essential to figuring this word out.  But in some ways, this definition only renames with a synonym: love is affection, affection is love.  This is not sufficient.  This is divorce.

I know because I've loved.  Not well, might I add.  I love my family, my friends.  But the type that has brought me closest to that of Christ is romantic, only not culturally defined.  See, I don't think romantic comedies or skewed perceptions are the problem; no, we are the problem.  Our wills, our desires, our...very selves.

We are awarded for cherishing love in the emotion it stirs in us, in what we get back from a knowing smile, a gentle touch, responsive eyes.  These are the things that give us endurance and resilience when affection fails, when a lover changes his or her mind, when a heart grows cold.  They are not the things that define love, for if you walk out during a time of forced smiles, an absence of physical presence, or indifferent eyes, you have lost.  Not the person causing you pain.  No, it is you to blame.  If you can walk out then, you never let yourself love at all.  Walking out is not letting go--the former selfish and latter selfless, if it must be done.

This is the hard truth.  It is not a game for fools.  It is not a game, period.  The second you start thinking it is something you can win or lose, the forces working against what is good have gotten the best of you because love cannot be two opposing forces simultaneously.  It is only one--a force of will, a rooted commitment, so it cannot be a broken promise, a denial, a refusal.  It never fails, it does not fade.  But it must be malleable, wills one to change.

If you wait out the ebb and flow, if your commitment doesn't wane for fear of loss, if you are willing to change the worst parts of you, the ones most familiar to how you have defined yourself before, then you might be able to survive in this world.  I don't mean living day by day, I mean experiencing the depths of earth-shaking, life-altering love in the culmination of the day by days of life.

This is why the decision made in regard to who to spend life with is so vital to who one becomes.  Change is inevitable.  Hurt, even more so.  Passion is a must.  Fierce devotion all the more.  You cannot falter in the face of fear, abandon your beloved for the sake of selfishness.

I don't know about you, but I've come to test the timber of my heart.  I've come to see that nothing is for naught.  Sacrifice.  Servanthood.  Dying to self.

You will get tired.  Your love will run dry.  So what then?

Seek the Source.
Keep on loving.

And please, do the world a favor...don't settle for someone who has a profoundly tender, passionate affection for you.  Don't settle for less than love even if it breaks your heart, because a heart can mend.  A soul, dear friend, cannot...

Choose a fighter with a few battle scars, not the Shakespearian notion of the fairest, yet fearful, of affectionate friends.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Imperfect Circles

...I wrote half a novel last summer.

And at the end of the summer, after I had written all the painful things I had to write, put a cap on my pen and turned the sheets over, to rest untouched in my desk during sophomore year.  I was at peace with its incompleteness, which is actually much more (novel) than it sounds, for me anyway.  I don't leave things undone.  I didn't know how to finish it, though.  I was afraid to write about a healing that might not last.  I was too attached to my own heart, to my own story.  I didn't think it was up to me.  But now I know better.

In February, I started a new novel.  Only come to find out it was an extension of the old one.  The story was not complete, and what I realized last night, was that I have a mandate to finish it.  I know now that despite how this circle ends, whether or not the line meets where I desire it to, healing has been had.  So far, the circle is not one that was drawn with a geometric plastic but by a child, a parent leaning over perhaps, guiding her hand with fear and trembling against the weight of an unfamiliar, profane pencil.

Happiness is not a sign of healing, although it can be a consequence.  Most of the time, though, healing culminates in changed action, in a shifting of the heart.  Health, vigor, are felt with a fervor.  Despite how my novel finishes, I have this.  It is unchangeable, irrevocable.

The Lord giveth and taketh away, but He allows some things to remain.  We discover them when the dust blows up, when we dip our toes in the water that once shocked us with its cold indifference.  We acquire a surface of knowledge for the cold, learn to relax our bodies into it, close our eyes and feel the pressure of the invasive waters.

For it is only then that we realize His hovering over them.

He is the Muse of the frigid deep.  And the pencil becomes lighter with each new but utterly imperfect stretch of line.

Turns out it had been Divine the whole time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ode to College Students

My last few writing endeavors have been of a sober quality, and seeing as I probably won't be writing another for a while because I'm headed back home soon, I figured I would end the semester with an ode to college students (although not a poetic one)...

Yesterday I was delivered a 1,000...correction- 1,252 page fantasy book to read for the month of May--the sight, including the deliverer with his bookbag weighing almost half his own weight (hardly a dramatization), was the catalyst to my sentiments about finals week, a week filled with late nights, black coffee, piles and piles of books, spontaneous laughter, and the playing of motivational songs (Destiny's Child's Survivor, anyone?)  And as the deliverer walked away, books shuffling on his back, I smiled to myself.  Welcome to the war of the printed word.

We come to dinner after the first day needing sustenance, exchanging stories of lengthy exams or monotonous study sessions encaged in the same four white walls all the day long--so that's what fresh air feels like.  The flowers are magnificent, the gray sky encapsulated in splendor, the thinnest blade of grass precious--Back to the dorm.  But we'll have you know that finals week is more than a test of endurance.  This isn't about who finishes--we are all expected to.  This is about how we handle it...I must say that the idea of finals has always deeply confused me, a type of gratuitous evil even.  I look around at my fellow classmates, and I don't know whether to be proud or saddened.  Many speak of agony and lack of understanding.  What are we fighting for?  It might help to take a look at our equipment...

Laptops, everywhere.  Digitized faces splayed back in reflection.  Meticulous scrolling, concentrated focus.

Large packs with two straps.  X-rayed to contain more books than one could possibly read in the hours that encompass a semester.  Piles of pens and pencils, highlighters, the assortment.

Glasses.  Tired eyes.  Messy buns.  Sweat pants.  The attire of the physically and mentally exhausted.

So there you have it--a typical college student.  But you see, we aren't so typical.  Because in a week filled with stress and tests and malnutrition, we find each other, where we are.  We notice that the flowers are indeed way too beautiful to exist, yet they do.  They do, and when this week is over, when we go back to what some refer to as the mundane, I hope that we can remember what it was like--a week of time tension, where it seems to stand still but spirals forward simultaneously, a week of disequilibrium that seems to contain an overflow of information that our minuscule minds can never comprehend.

Although we appear to be fighting, word for word, we fight for more.

It takes a week like this for us to really feel the refreshment of the rain, to embrace how our plans change as we walk through it to our next destination.   I hope we remember our communal plea that life is more than the printed word.

And that sometimes the mundane is actually magnificent.

Monday, April 30, 2012

His

The hardest blogs to write are the ones that don't have a clear direction from the beginning, the ones where you don't actually have an idea about what's specifically on your mind, what you want to share with the public world.  But then, they are also the best ones, because isn't life like that?  No matter your religious affiliation, or excuse me not to offend some Christians, our relationship with God which some don't consider a religion...we don't have a clear direction either.  I don't, anyway.  And honestly, I don't think you're the exception.  Within the Christian community, we like to sugar coat a lot, make things taste better.  But the Christian life is a bitter one, like all the others, and we do ourselves an injustice by using Scripture as a band-aid.  Scripture is a sword.  It is a comfort in times of trouble, yes, but it is a comfort to kill.  Let me explain.

The process of sanctification is a grueling one.  It is not for the weak-hearted.  Oftentimes under the facades we find ourselves internally bleeding with no cessation.  Where is everyone?  Sometimes we don't even know indeed that we are bleeding, and not just bleeding....we are bleeding out.  Into a type of unconsciousness that leaves us less than alive.  I would say that God stops the bleeding, but this has not been my experience.  He is the loving Father, I don't deny, but He believes in His children.  He doesn't undermine our tolerance for pain or our ability to wrestle through disequilibrium.  He wants us to come to a point where we don't know how to live anymore, where our cognitive capacities aren't sufficient, where our love wears thin.  Then He introduces us to Life.  And we realize that as we bleed out completely, as we empty ourselves and are emptied, there is still blood.  This blood doesn't grow thin or run out.

So when I claim to be His, I don't expect to always feel like the Beloved.  I don't expect my circumstances to actualize like the perfection I establish in my mind.  Because if my life was like a sitcom, I would wonder what happened to the God I serve.  I don't expect to understand His ways, because if I did, then He would just be some idea I contrived to make myself happy--a wish fulfillment god.

These words are easy to write, but they aren't easy words.  Especially since in our culture, the people who live by nihilism are seen as the tough ones, the ones who aren't afraid to face reality.  What presuppositions led them to believe this philosophy of life is reality?  This takes a lot of unfounded faith.  But if you're not afraid to face meaninglessness, then you're probably denying your own humanity.  That to me is not tough at all.  That to me is foolishness.

What does any of this have to do with anything?  Well.  As I spend this study break writing, finals pleasantly waiting for me, or not waiting for me, based on how sadistic your picture of cumulative memory-grinding, two-hour long exams is and whether you find any humor in personifying them at all, I wonder what the Christian fight against culture has done to our picture of God.  I mean I hear talk about the watered down picture of God, the loving One rather than the just One, but what if our picture of Him isn't watered down?  What if it's just the wrong picture?  God is loving.  Always.  Whoever decided that love is a cop-out emotion has definitely never experienced it.

The love of a friend speaks hard truths when the timidity of strangers doesn't permit it.  The love of a parent disciplines a child when all the parent wants to do is hug and kiss and baby the child.  The love of a boyfriend or girlfriend does not accept a false front for the sake of keeping the boat in stable water (If you want to live in calm waters, don't ever be in relationship...you can handle that boat alone).  The love of a husband and wife is a refining love, always seeking to understand.  At the core of a beautiful marriage, a husband and wife leave all clothing at the door, because this will not do for love's unmasking.  Perhaps we can never know the truth of a person just as on this earth we never can experience the oneness of an essence.  Yet, although we may not know the entire truth that is a person, what we do get, the partial glimpses, might at times be uninterrupted pieces of their fragile heart.  Maybe we don't want to admit to this.  We would rather believe we are being disillusioned by falsity, for what we see is not what we want to see, or want to be.

Was I false to you?
Be true to yourself, be true to Him, whatever comes.
Sometimes that means admitting you have no screens left to hide behind.  You have nothing but you--a person foreign to yourself even, harboring this malady, this malaise.

Then the touch of another is the most intrusive feeling in the whole world.
Your insides are open, and you're drowning in your own blood, or so you think.
It takes the people around you, and as you're looking at them, sorrow in your eyes, you see their hands covered.  In the sticky, sweet aroma of Love.
It is not yours.  It is not theirs.  But you know the Fount, and as you both look to it, you see something stark, surprising beside you.

A pale face.  White, pure,
            like Richard Wilbur's laundry sheets:

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses, 
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are. 
Now they are rising together in calm swells 
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear 
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

...
From all that it is about to remember, 
From the punctual rape of every bless├Ęd day, 
And cries,
       “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry, 
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam 
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

...
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone, 
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating 
Of dark habits,
        keeping their difficult balance.”

We don't make ourselves beautiful.  To be honest, if you have never encountered your true self and been repulsed, struck down by your false perception and your lack of insight, then I would venture the bold statement that you've never encountered your true self.
Nevertheless, when--no if, you ever do have this meeting, if you're courageous enough to seek, you'll find that we don't make ourselves beautiful.  But this doesn't mean that we aren't.
This does not mean that it doesn't exist--beauty.
This does not mean that you are not, beautiful.
Beloved.
    

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Moments to minutes

Again, I find myself with no time to actually write this entry, but these thoughts have significantly lodged themselves into whichever part of the brain handles memories and emotion enough to shake me up.  Something urges me to make some meaning of them.  Hence, putting the chaos of synaptic connections into some type of order, into symbolic language.

As the last floor meeting of the year unfolded early last night, my mind began to wander.  Pink sheets, yellow and blue, were handed around the circle, but I was staring at the inside of my own mind.  My RA was talking about how we should be conscientious to find her only when we are fully ready to check out so we don't waste time, as time is hard to come by these days with the last homework assignments and tests being finished, finals to study for.  She said, my time is valuable like yours.
Like yours.
And when she prayed for us, she laid blessing over this coming week and over the summer, over people who are leaving Wheaton, who are never coming back.
Never coming back.
And I wondered which moments, which collection of minutes, had made them decide that Wheaton wasn't the place for them, that they would graduate elsewhere.  And which moments, which collection of minutes had made me decide that I would.

I have "wasted" enormous amounts of time in preoccupation, in worry over grades and upcoming assignments, impending doom, I mean due, dates, over broken relationships, premature endings, new beginnings.
New beginnings.
And I laugh at thinking any of this time was wasted outside of the anxiety surrounding.  Because time wasted means not thinking about these things.  It means living apart from your own heart.  It means turning your back to darkness when there's healing to be had, when if we just reach a little deeper into the pitch black, we will hit our hands against a single light particle that is slowly expanding, expanding so slowly that the naked eye cannot detect.  This is when we realize that it was never really pitch black at all.  Perception.

I have never thought about maturity as something palpable, but it is--not tangible, but palpable.  I can feel the way I respond to conflict now, the shift.  I don't claim to have reached the apex of maturity.  Dante's picture of will is much more accurate than maturity happening in our earthly bodies.  But I can feel the tightening of my own soul, the closing in on myself, and watch as the string of truth from my roommate's mouth dispels the pressure, as the breath of God through the Holy Spirit collides with the air.  Don't worry about metaphysical distinctions.  This isn't one.

So this two year compilation of moments is fraught with emotional angst, confusion, frustration, doubt, interspersed with joy, peace, patience, and some goodness.  It's not a weighing of the two, though, that makes Wheaton worth it.  It's not a pro-con list.  It is the deep connection that happens in the spirit of the search.
It is the promise that when we encounter ourselves, the depth of our depravity, that someone, anyone will be with us groping through the dark.

I learn to hold onto the fear of God.
This is my experience.  This is my compilation of moments.  This is...our, very human and exhaustively exclusive struggle.  The analog click ticks forward, circular.  The digital clock passes the seconds, the minutes.
The time is drawing nigh.
My time is valuable like yours, they are never coming back,
of minutes that made me decide that I would,
beginnings,
new beginnings,
at all, perception, distinctions,
this isn't one,
the search...
...will You be with us groping through the dark?
This is not a question, for this is not perception.  It is promise.
It is promise, children of God.
It is promise.