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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good night, Friend

After the first couple footfalls hit the prairie path yesterday, I should have known that I, we, were in for an adventure.  Part of me was eager for exactly this, the unplanned nature of it, to get away from my own thoughts, to actually see the sun's slant through purple flowers, the playfulness of school-aged boys running up and down the length of lush green grass in a yard where they had grown.  See, the temptation is to make this blog nostalgic in nature, letting it ooze with emotion.  But I dare not fall, because what I mean to say holds way more weight than nostalgia, holds my heart.

I sit here in Caribou feeling like a real writer, carving out time for just this purpose.  The road ahead is long, treacherous even, and I think on it with a chai latte in hand.  More than my single path though, I think of the people I've met along the way, the ones who are soon to leave, or whose presence in my life is changing for better or worse as we speak.  Fear threatens to incapacitate me, as I sit here, drinking my latte.  First world problems?  No, for life cannot be summed up in a hierarchy of problems, comparisons of whose are worse, whose are life-altering.  All problems are life-altering; we just remain unaware, living our lives, sipping our lattes, as the world spins madly on.  Yes, I did steal that last line from a Weepies' lyric.

Back to the prairie path...Maggie and I began our journey on a well-beaten path.  We knew the way to town, by heart, with our eyes closed.  The unfamiliar lake called out, enticing, asking us to step off the path so comfortable underfoot.  Then ensued a beautiful stroll around the lake--the water still, subtle, unmoving as we passed.  Neighborhoods outlined the streets, the uneven sidewalks thrown up by tree roots and time.

And then we were lost.  I mean grandly lost.  Direction became irrelevant as we headed left, up, south, east.  Nothing behind the word anymore.  Meandering across the streets, we embraced the feeling, of not knowing.  The trees overhead promised refuge from the sun, but no technology could point us back to Wheaton.  We had no phone in tow, no internet.  No watch.  Timelessness.  This was a somewhat scary feeling but precious, for we walked together, carrying the fire.  Carrying the fire, we walked, we ran.

My friend James is leaving Wheaton.  This is his last semester.  And I'm guessing he feels somewhat like the lost duo from the prairie path, meandering, trying to find his way in a land unyielding.  Only unlike Maggie and I, he goes physically alone into the unknown.  So James, I wanted to use this blog as a tribute to you, to who you've been in my life, to who you will be.
I have never met anyone quite like you, someone who I felt picked my life up by the middle and lugged it forward, over your shoulder like a fireman, unwilling to let go.  Constantly supportive, unconventionally honest.  Your eyes speak of adventure, of a life filled with more than books, more than schedules, more than artificial.  Being around you has made me realize that we experience God in different ways, different ways that are important to distinguish, because if we don't, we miss the heart of God.  I see the Lord in the commonplace, the everyday, in a cup of coffee, in a smile hidden beneath a tear-stricken face.  God shows up for you in the mountains, a stronghold amidst a rock cliff, a security hold like a standing belayer.  And I praise Him for being so vast yet so all-encompassing.  We meet Him most strongly along varying paths in our road, confusing times, the more shallow or the deep woods.
The other day when we ended a bittersweet conversation, you signed off "good night, friend."  Friend.  We should meditate on that word more often.  James, because of you, this word means redemption to me.  Loyalty.  A sacredness. The heart-wrenching confusion that threatened to strip me of all things good freshman year swallowed up that word for me because of its misuse, its deliberate abuse.  You are my friend.  The crossroads where we met was covered in dead trees, the path tangled by entrapments and threats from the whispering woods.  And when I look back to that time of my life, I only see a couple men of Christ.  One of them was you, with a green jacket and an orange backpack.  Smiling.  Present.

I promise that this picture of you is a memory, a perception of reality that isn't quite right.  However, the night we spent reading through Matthew, crying out to our Savior, is more than a memory.  It is forever engrained, etched into my cognitive capacities.  Because the Lord was among us.  And I'm nothing but grateful.

As you look toward the future, the next step of the present with fear and trembling, place these emotions not into the air of the cold woods or the tallest mountain but into the upturned hands of Christ.  When your soul becomes weary, burdened with the weight of the world, return to Authority, the ferocious and tender Son of Man.

The last thing I have to say, James, is most important.  Ironically, it's not even mine to say, not original, and you've heard it before.  But I need you to remember it when you can't seem to remember anything else.  I need you to remember as you go, when you look up at the starry sky and feel so small, insignificant, this you need to know--

                               not all who wander are lost.

And just for the sake of coherent endings, completion of circles, Maggie and I eventually found our way back to Wheaton.  More is at stake for you.  But then, you wouldn't have it any other way.  That, my friend, is heart.  Thank you for showing it to a world, a wilderness with nothing left save the dark.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sleepless Nights


The second my blog turns into a journal, I have to resign as a blogger.  As if it's a career or something.  I don't journal.  Except for one area of my life, one in which I will never disclose on an open forum.  But.  That being said, perhaps my thoughts on this late, sleepless night may cause something in your heart to awaken, to truth, to something your heart is not ready to come to terms with, if it's anything like mine.

I'm exhausted.  Physically, and these days spiritually/emotionally--no use in distinguishing the latter two; they are one in the same.  Never used to be, but I'd like to think that as I mature, my spirituality will encompass all aspects of self, including the physical.  I just haven't fully enveloped myself in that yet.  This is beside the point.  The point is that I'm exhausted and that I'm embracing it.  Because I've come to a place where being tired and being weary are good things.  In my weakness, I am more willing to seek wisdom, more open to being renewed by strength.  And more willing to be okay with myself as I am without becoming complacent about my sin.  I never used to have a problem in regard to being okay with myself, but I think it's an important thing to wrestle to the ground.  Which is saying a lot--I hate wrestling. Watching guys on top of each other makes me sort of uncomfortable.  But in all seriousness, the reason it is so important to squirm within your own skin is that your senses are hyper-aware of what is being said around you.  When we become outward focused, we become our best selves.

I recently read a blog that intimidated me because the writing was solid, smooth, and the writer, who I had never before experienced in this way, he was honest.  He was courageous.  And I found myself critical of my own writing, the vast differences between my prose and my blog style, if it is even cohesive enough to call a style.  I was intimidated by his thoughts and the fact that he was sharing them with whoever took the time to read.  

Then I had a conversation with my roommate about life, love, trust.  An uncertainty arose in my chest, one that threatened to make me curl in on myself.  However, I have spent a year learning how to uncurl myself, and I know now that this position should only ever be taken in the present arms of God.  I wanted to write about this uncertainty, how it made me feel, how it made a pain rise up out of the depths, a memory.  I couldn't, though, write about it.  Because it still haunts me.  Late at night when I want nothing else but to forget, I remember.  I remember that the people who love me are patient; they help me uncurl.  They don't expect me to do it myself.  And the ones who have hurt me, hmm, don't dare try.  I live daily, love frequently, trust rarely.  I trust rarely.

I can't write about the memory to just anyone.  I share it in words to my roommate.  I allude to it with my mother.  But only God can see through my faulty attempts to express it, to let it out, to uncage it.  In my exhaustion, I feel it most heavily and know not the force with which it has created havoc in the sinewy parts I can't see.

But I'm afraid you can see it.  And that when you realize you do, that you always have, you'll walk away.  This is my deepest fear.  You did once, you did, so this time, what is making you stay?  It's not me.  This time I let you be, you're free.  But if you go, don't come back to me.

And the memory, the tree of life, remains unnamed in each of us.  All in separate ways, waiting to be discovered.  You might not like what is uncovered.  But it is true, yea, it is you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Disorientation

So for the past couple days, I have been experiencing elevated amounts of disorientation, the kind where you wake up and have to remind yourself where you are, what day it is, why it is the time that it is, and why for the life of you the bed you lie in is ten feet off the ground.  Oh, you have a roommate, that's why.  But honestly, it's been jarring to be polite.  The last time I had bouts of this was more then a year ago, when a deep sadness left me stranded apart from my own heart.  These moments of confusion are strange and have seemed to be a kind of physical manifestation of the state of internal affairs...caused by unbelievable blessings or lingering sadness:

  Such as a childhood friend, like a sister, being receptive to the Gospel after 15 years of exposure,
the reality that the school year is coming to a close, and your best friend will no longer be your roommate and you will miss her dearly,
that the huge burden you have been treading through all school year has unexpectedly turned into blessing,
the realization that each moment is measured by what it contains, by your posture toward God.
Most importantly, that any of these things can change from true to false in an instant, for time is tenable and all that it contains, borrowed.  Makes us gratuitous for all.  But more than that.  Makes us fall to our knees for each pass of beauty.

I don't know what the actual psychological, or maybe more accurately physiological cause of this disorientation is, what my brain is doing in response to my environment, to my experiences as of late, that is causing such jolts of awareness.  All I know is that I am having them and that I can't help thinking, maybe God wants us to be like this with him--admittedly unknowing, receptive, confused, compliant.  Maybe He expects us to allow His Love this type of hold on our lives, so much so that we pause to thank Him for a pile of purple flowers when we turn the corner, that we cognitively recognize His grace in someone's smile, on their face.

His Nature is impressive, why do we come to expect it?
His Love is safe, why do we see it as a threat?
His will is perfect, why do we doubt it?
His grace is sufficient, why do we tell Him it's not enough?
His ways are mysterious, why do we say we know what He's doing?
He conquered death, why do we still insist on trying to find Life apart from Him?

Because we know not what we do.  And we know Him not.
And we refuse to remain in disorientation.
It's uncomfortable.  It's uncontrollable.
But when I wake up like this, there is one thing I never forget.
It is written on my arm.
I laugh, for the peace of it.  For the joy.
I am His.  The beloved.  Forever.
And this, it is the most disorienting knowledge of our collective, collateral existence.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Peace

I really don't have time to be writing this, but I think sometimes those are the best times to write.  Because you say what you mean to say exactly the way you want to say it.

I was actually about to close my computer when a thought found its way into my mind and stuck itself to one of my favorite verses, Philippians 4: 4-7--"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.  Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Peace.  I have always thought of peace as a type of emotion, I "feel" at peace.  But as my stomach has been in a nervous state for the past few days and friends keep telling me to rest in the Lord, I keep finding myself thinking but you don't understand.  Because my emotions are anything but peaceful.  Yet.  I smile when I think about God's peace.  It is SO MUCH bigger than the facade of feeling someone might call peace.  Yes, I am intuitive, and sometimes I do feel senses that I know are from all that is good.  One can have assurance, however, when your stomach is turning over on itself, when the future is so uncertain you could cry, when you don't know how to handle your own emotion.  God's peace isn't just emotional.  It's cognitive.  It's real.  And it can change your life.  So amidst all of this, I call upon the only Deliverer, the One from which all clarity comes.

My emotion may be messy momentarily, even for the long hall, but the assurance runs deep.  That I bring to the Lord my deepest desires and rely not on my own understanding but receive freedom from the violence of my warring flesh and spirit.  This my friends, is Power, Power of truth, nobility, and whatever is praiseworthy.  Including pure and passionate emotion.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Desire--be pained

It's been one of those days, one of those days where you own up to having desires that will never be actualized and that you hate that you have the desires at all.  It's been one of those days where you look back on your individual past and wish it wasn't yours, you look to the future and are afraid of what is to come and sit wondering why the present feels like an oppressive fog in the midst of both, closing in around you.  It's been one of those days where suddenly the impact of every human life dawns on you and part of you wishes this wasn't so because then you couldn't screw someone up.  It's been one of those days where homework seems trivial, and it's time to write a blog post, to settle into your own thoughts for a while.

Desire.  It is such a packed word, a word that essentially describes who we are.  And as I ponder my own desires, I'm in awe about how much I don't know about myself, about how fluctuating my emotions are.  I think we so often misplace our desires, make them something that we are not at our core okay with.  We rush to claim our desire as truth, but it doesn't all come from us as we are bombarded with the pressures of what others want for us or by a past goodness or by cultural influences, always enticing.  We should strive to be people of integrity, throwing off desire that is rationally unjustified and embodying that which breathes true life into our lungs.  This is a dying to self process.  It is pain.

The past.  Is selfish.  Events, tears, mistakes, haunt us, promising future resentment.  It lunges at us unaware, and we find ourselves grappling for a new experience to be rid of it.  Mmm, but the past is a blessing.  God uses our pasts to point us to purpose, to reveal to us our own hearts, and we do ourselves a disservice not to reflect on it.  This too is pain.

The future.  Is huge.  Grossly unknown, vastly open.  It is terrifying, and our desires trick us into thinking we presently know what is ours, what will be, what is best for us, what is best for others.  The truth, I don't know.  I am afraid.  And the presence of looming darkness threatens in the pain of the shaded light.

Influence.  You have a role in each of these aspects of someone's life.  Words that you had no idea were being used for God's glory were, and words you didn't mean to tear down, to break someone's heart, were used for just that purpose.  Your span of influence is wide, and you can't see it.  You matter to someone.  But I think primarily it's important to know that you influence yourself more than you know.  And from this, you taint the world with your perceptions.  This is humbling.  It can knock you off your feet.  It can scrape the air from your lungs in a whopping pound of pain and Life.

I don't claim to know the truth about any of these things extensively.  Actually, I write about them because I wish to know more.  I wish to know how I can learn how to be here, now, free.  It's funny though, because as I sit here, I know what Freedom looks like although I've never seen It.  I know the voice of Freedom in the wilderness, the promise, the covenant, although I've never heard It.  Although I have been led astray by my own heart, mistaken the feeling of slavery as the feeling of Freedom, I have learned to discern the purity of It amidst the yoke of burden.

And sometimes when I'm really quiet, I know that I am a child.  When my soul is still, I surrender.  For that small span of time, those days disappear.  Pain is not an ending but a catheter.  My heart desires--a passionate desire, is fully and irrevocably and tenderly actualized.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Brave Souls all around me

I sit here on a Saturday night thinking back on this weekend, and so many things are screaming at me to shout at once that I don't know how I will sort them all out in my head.  Honestly, it's already too late for that because I had this idea earlier on Wednesday or Thursday I don't know which, and I can't remember it for the life of me.  Epiphanies come at the most unfortunate times for me, times when I don't have a pen or a notebook, times when my mind is throwing sentences at me that I'll never remember later.  But I've come to realize that the times aren't really what are unfortunate, it's the state of myself when my epiphanies encounter me.  Usually I'm sitting in self-pity, doubting my abilities as a writer, telling myself I'm foolish for even wanting to be one.

But then.  Then I pick up "Meditations of a Movable Chair" by Andre Dubus, and I KNOW that I am a writer and that I can't deny it forever.  It's always other people who point me back to my calling, and they don't even know it...

The first one was my brother.  His birthday was this week, and he's far away, in LA.  But I got to celebrate him alone, talking with my mom, and really thinking about who he is, who he's become so far. And I can't help thinking, how brave, how very brave.  Both of them really, just got up and left for LA one snowy day and they're making their way.  I thought, when would I have the guts to do that, to stop following the status quo?  I don't know.

The second was Ashley, my brother's old high school friend who came by to visit.  She's going back to school, culinary school.  Because she doesn't want to live her life doing something she doesn't want to do, to be stuck in this podunk town with the nearest Walmart twenty minutes away.  I looked at her and said, "How cool."  And I felt a sense of life, of urgency, of youth, flood my veins.

Then my best friend Jessica.  Choosing between schools for radiology.  She talked about how choosing the one in Cedar Rapids was safer.  She already has living and a job after all.  But then she started talking about Chicago, and her eyes lit up.  Not just for the excitement of a change of pace but for a life not yet realized, of something bigger than what she had for herself.  For new experience, hmm, for life.

I was reading Dubus's vignettes, and I wanted to jump around the room, to run like a giddy child, because this is my passion.  And everyone should feel like this about something in their lives.  About multiple things, as I realized I feel the same way about relationships and students.  I will fight through fights with people I love because I believe in them, I will fight for the education of my students because I believe in them, I will fight to be a writer against all odds because I believe that stories matter.  And the reason I believe this is true because mine does, matter I mean.  And the reason it does is because God said so.

All of these brave souls believe in something transcendent, in something bigger than they can see.  Some would say it's foolishness.  I say it's faith.  And faith is the most beautiful adjective ever realized.