practice

[Creepily, this thing I wrote a few years ago showed up as an unpublished post – WITH THE TITLE THAT LATER BECAME THE TITLE OF MY BLOG GO FIGURE – that I had saved and then never got up the courage (or never remembered) to publish. I don’t feel all of these things exactly anymore, but a lot of it is the same, which is kind of disappointing given that years have passed, but also comforting in the sense that my own writing spoke to me… So, since I now feel somewhat removed from it and can honestly say that I don’t exactly remember what I was thinking and feeling about when I first wrote it, I’m feeling confident enough to post it. It is also much better than anything I have written thus far this summer, and it makes me feel good about myself to publish something personal and deeper and such. Ok, preface over.]

It feels like every time I sit down to write something to potentially turn into a blog post, it doesn’t come out honestly anymore. It comes out like a perfectly manufactured parcel of writing that I know could be “successful” with the few people who read it and enjoy it, and maybe even helpful.

But how do I write genuinely about positive things, about faith, when I’ve been feeling like a completely inadequate heap of trash, like…most of the time?
How do I climb out of this self-pity pile?
How do I get back to the place of loving and not feeling shame at every turn?
Why is the hardest thing to feel God’s love? To feel that he approves, accepts, and even loves…even likes me? It makes no sense, and so I choose not to live in the truth. I live under the rule of the lie of insufficiency. I live in the darkness of his disapproval, of his hatred of me. The disbelief in even the possibility of being loved by a being so completely good. An absence of peace in my heart, and the impossibility of joy because I’m in a place so devoid of light.

This is the trap filled with mirrors. This is the quintessential fun house. The name betrays, and the mirrors distort, and it is impossible to escape, as the shrill laughter becomes shrieking and you can’t see yourself clearly, and running is stumbling and the maze only leads you deeper in.
This is not reality. This is just the fun house at the circus, where you begin to feel you’ll never get home, and all you can see is warped. Evil is real, but instead of the truth, it holds a fun house mirror up to your soul.

It is so detrimental, so so dangerous to live in the darkness of those lies. We must be compelled by the story of our loving, kind, generous, and saving God, whose power reigns over our lives. Our faith must look like complete trust, total abandonment of everything that could keep us from the truth. We have to overcome doubts about ourselves, and see through lies about our God. He sees our hearts, but he sees through them to Jesus, to his Holy Spirit living there. And how can we not sigh and laugh and bubble up with joyous relief. And how can we keep from sharing?

It really is as simple…and simultaneously difficult…as practice, isn’t it? Practice. Doing the same thing over and over and over until you know what you’re doing. But here, practice never makes perfect. Practice makes person. ha. [hahaha]
Growth doesn’t mean always learning something different. It means actually internalizing and living what I have learned and believed. God’s commands have not changed, and they aren’t going to. So what can we do but keep believing in him? Keep following, keep practicing this faith. It starts again every day – in the morning when his mercies are new.

Rejoice and be thankful! As you walk with me through this day, practice trusting and thanking Me all along the way. Trust is the channel through which My Peace flows into you. Thankfulness lifts you up above your circumstances. I do My greatest works through people with grateful, trusting hearts. Rather than planning and evaluating, practice trusting and thanking Me continually. This is a paradigm shift that will revolutionize your life.”  – from Jesus Calling

I have so much in my life to be thankful for, all the time. Last night, I went to see the Silver Pages play in Lincoln (the fact that I even got to do that!) and some of the best lyrics stuck with me… (hopefully I get them right)

“Night will turn to day,
and your church will say,
‘Take your bride away,’
when your kingdom comes!

Sorrow will be erased,
pain will wash away,
and we will see your face,
when your kingdom comes!”

Filled me up with layers of hope. When we were driving away, Hanna reminded me of the transformative power of music. It really can change my attitude and my mind. He can use it to renew my heart. Singing is mysterious and compelling. I always sing with the feeling that I have the absolute worst singing skills, and that self-consciousness inhibits true worship. I have been trying so hard to forget about myself and just sing to Jesus, and when that happens, I can stop hearing my voice, and hear his instead.

These are the lyrics to one of my favorite worship songs, “How Can I Keep From Singing.” Just seems fitting now:

“My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die
The Lord my Savior liveth
What though the darkness gather round
Songs in the night He giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin
I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?”

Life is not supposed to be pancakes all the time, and even good things bring hard decisions, but God is always with us. Just because things get murky and the way is a little dark up ahead, we can’t forget that we are being protected, and we are loved, and that that changes everything. The way I live has to reflect that knowledge if I really believe it.

Goodness, all of these song lyrics coming to my brain today…I hope they are equally moving to you:

“Let no one caught in sin remain
inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
and run to him who showed great love
and bled for us.

Freely you bled for us.

Christ is risen from the dead
trampling over death by death.
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave.”

Yes!

On an entirely different note, I am thinking about experimenting with some different kinds of writing in the next few blog posts. I have had more time to post over the past couple months, and I think I could try some new things. I love writing, and I write fiction sometimes, but I never post any of that. I’ve posted a couple random poems that just encompassed the same thoughts I talked about in the accompanying posts, but that has only happened twice, to be exact. So, just expect some different things hopefully soon. I’m saying this now so that I have to do it. 🙂 I can’t go back on my word. [LOL OH PAST EMILY YOU HAVE NO IDEA]

[Yeah, that fun house mirror thing – so real. Also, my favorite version of “How Can I Keep from Singing” is by Ike Ndolo – check it out. My next post will be about that book I said I was still reading last time. Sometime this week, still. Trying to get that sweet content out there. Nope. Nevermind. I will figure out how to write again. I’m vexed by having all the time in the world and ideas that won’t form themselves into coherent sentences.]

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the summer of Write

I came to
I came to in the library,

where every book stared back at me,
like it was I who had disturbed them.

I did come to the library this afternoon, to work on this blog post which will be the most official thing that I’ve written since we’ve been in Indianapolis for a little over a week, aside from a few embarrassing poems (worse than that one up there for sure). By the way, the downtown library in Indianapolis is kind of amazing. It’s beautiful inside and out, just like books. 😉

I did intend to write about the first two books I’ve read since being here. I brought 16 (17? 20? Who cares?) books with me for the summer, with a tentative plan to read them all, and I’m probably not going to finish them all if I’m really serious about the writing goals I also want to reach, but I have TIME so much time, and that is not SO much better than having no time, but it is better.

The point is, I didn’t bring those two books with me (to this library this afternoon). I brought the one I’m still reading, which is worth writing about, but I haven’t finished it yet. So, I guess I’m just going to write a little bit about the books anyway because what else?

The first is called Tinkers, and it was written by Paul Harding. It caught my eye one day with a white cover and…well, I’ll include pictures at some point. It had a Pulitzer Prize circle on it and a quote from Marilynne Robinson. (Either one of those things by itself would have been enough.) It’s about a dying man (George) – a tinker, someone who mends “utensils”, slang in this case for horologist. (Lots about horology lately what with S-Town.)

It gets a little too real about what it might be like to have your family members awkwardly caring for you as you rest on your hospital bed in the living room and don’t move or have meaningful conversations about anything. It jumps into flashbacks that sometimes are not flashbacks from George’s memory just flashes from the past and sometimes flashes into the first-person perspective of his father as a young man. It’s jarring at first as some books are until you figure out how they’re going to come at you, but then it makes sense.

It’s a bit heartbreaking in offshoots about the cruelty of a mother who isn’t sure whether she loves her husband and children and the bitterness that comes out of fear and a heart that won’t communicate. It doesn’t ask you to fully sympathize with any particular character, and George seems to be more of an anchor to remind you where you stand in time than a real person you’re getting to know (possibly making some sort of statement about time *wink*). I got whiffs of profundity, whiffs of boredom. It’s the understanding of life that makes it profound, but is it the sense of reality that makes it meaningful? I think I found it more profoundly sad, and I don’t want my life to end up anything like it.

After that (though it was really short), I needed something I could digest quickly. I read Someday, Someday Maybe (not sure if there’s a second comma but meh), written by Lauren Graham. The Lauren Graham who wrote Talking as Fast as I Can and played Lorelai in Gilmore Girls and Sarah Braverman in Parenthood. She’s pretty great. This was indeed a novel (I thought you might ask). The book was devoured in two days in the way that those of you familiar with Sarah Dessen might recognize with a closed-mouth smile. It was sweet, insightful in a sense, and the story was predictable in a comforting way, like watching You’ve Got Mail for the 1000000th time.

I find that I don’t have a whole lot more to say, so maybe that’s it for today and we go for it with some harder-hitting real-life writing tomorrow?
I also just discovered a post that I saved a long time ago on here – seriously, it must have been at least three years ago – that reminded me once again that my past self has consistently been more mature than my present self. Does that sound like something to worry about? I feel like I was born a 30 year old, and so maybe now I am 55 and starting to forget things? haha jk but really

 

Recommendations: Well, yes I’d recommend the books…but only if they sound remotely good to you.
Also, Deb Talan’s new album, Lucky Girl (!)
Deb Talan is half of The Weepies, and she is the half whose solo music sounds like The Weepies. And she is wonderful. yes.

every breath that comes before (with lots of parentheses)

It’s a crazy week. It has been a crazy week. It’s the end and the beginning of another one (so not really crazy just normal) and I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay attention. Life is a lot about paying attention. PAY ATTENTION is what I yell at other drivers. It’s what I mutter to myself as I hear news about the country. It’s what I think when I hear a question that has already been answered. I’m usually paying scrupulous attention to everything. Hyper-observant. Can’t stand it when I have to slow down a conversation for tedious explanations of what I think you should know. This is my presumption and arrogance, I know.

But sometimes I zone out. It’s when I get overwhelmed and I can’t engage anymore. My brain shuts off. It’s all or nothing. If I can’t pay full attention, I can’t even. And I’m at that point right now when I’m in danger of zoning out of life for a day or two, unless I write it out.

So many different waves crossing through my mind, which current to jump into? Are they the same river? Goodness gracious.
At least it isn’t dry anymore.

There’s a song by The Oh Hellos that begins, “No, I am not afraid to die / It’s every breath that comes before,” and that is pretty much my life. That’s my struggle. Fear is maybe my fatal flaw? It clouds everything I do, every interaction with other humans, every thought about the future, every idea about how I should live and what I should do with the living I’m given. I’m not afraid to die (generally), but I am afraid to live.

On Thursday night, my Intercultural City Ministry class visited the president of Latinos en Axion at one of the churches where the group meets. His story was incredible, from living on the U.S./Mexico border to escaping an endangered life there to helping immigrants from Latin American countries make a life here in the U.S. He has so many stories to tell, and many of them just made me feel a sense of hopelessness. But his attitude was one I’m coming to recognize. It shows up in people who have seen some of the darkest parts of life in this world, and it’s the sense of inexplicable hope and enduring joy that sustains their continued work for justice.

After visiting with him for awhile, we walked over to a coffee shop to talk more with our professor. He asked for our thoughts on the idea of being a “chaplain to the powerful,” a concept from one of the books we are reading. I’ve been around enough conversations with people doing work or ministry in different areas of social justice to know that someone will inevitably ask them the question, “What can I do? How can I get involved? What does that mean for me?” These are good questions that reflect a positive response and a desire to contribute. But sometimes they just reveal that we want to be told exactly what to do, rather than letting the ambiguity motivate us toward creative action. Anyway, when someone asked the director of Latinos en Axion a question along these lines, his response began with talk to other people in places of power, and talk to your representatives. This is a common response as well – go back to where you came from, and change people’s minds. Go talk to your family and see what they think, and tell them what you’ve discovered. Once you get woke, stay woke. Spread it around.

I talked later about how this idea of speaking truth to power is usually the last thing I want to hear in these scenarios. I see the people with their boots-on-the-ground and their passion and their relationships, and I think that seems amazing. I want to know how to get from where I am (A) to where they are (B). But what I keep hearing is that I have a responsibility to those people with less power, privilege, and opportunity, who suffer injustice and oppression. Those people I care so much about. If I really care, won’t I advocate for them with people I know hold harmful beliefs? Won’t I try to change some minds? What do I have privilege for?

The phrase the director repeated over and over that night was, “Every head is a different world.” Our minds are tricky and sly. They like to think for themselves and about themselves, and they’re stubborn. Our hearts can be softened, and we can learn to be sensitive toward one another as we come to understand each other. We might know the truth, but “every head is a different world,” and surely some people come to mind.

The following night, my group for the same class (which consists of me and a married couple in the program) went to do part of our project together. We went to the “feeding ministry” of the church we are working to get to know. It’s a meal-serving ministry to the community on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. The church is an African American Baptist church with two locations in St. Louis. We met some lovely people, and afterward met with the director of a nonprofit that runs out of the church. This man (Rev. and probably Dr.) was a wealth of knowledge and stories. We barely got a question in edgewise in this “interview.” And we left after about two hours with a few answers and brains full of unknown names, places, and tendrils of stories trying to hang on to memory. (It was awesome.)

One of the most convicting and true things he said was…well, I’ll have to paraphrase: You’ll have to put yourself in harm’s way to help people. It’s going to happen. You cannot be afraid and help people at the same time.

((( You cannot be afraid and help people at the same time. )))

It just rang in my ears.

This Sunday morning (today), we were planning to visit the church. The service times are 8:00 and 11:00, and I needed to go early, but my partners were planning to go at 11:00, so I went by myself. My church background consists of going pretty much every Sunday of my life to a Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran church with a primarily white congregation and pretty mellow-liturgical-everything. This was a primarily black church (mine was truly the only white face I saw) with a more responsive and active congregation. It was lovely, and everyone there was so kind. (I even have a privileged experience as a minority amongst people who probably know exactly what it feels like to be the only one with their skin in a sea of people and are often treated worse for it.) Digress, Emily.

Suffice it to say I’m a little relationally spent. All of my people energy is gone, and I’m not ready for the week.

My devotional book on the Psalms had me in numbers 42 and 43 this week – two of my absolute favorites, especially 42.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (42:5 & 11 and 43:5)

This back and forth is the turn that I have to force my heart to make every day. Yes, you get downcast and disturbed. But ask yourself why. You have almighty God, so you have hope, and you have a reason to be thankful every day. I’m not so good at this, which is why I need to hear it. What can I say to my soul in those downcast moments? How can I praise with a sense of true delight – not just out of the duty and imperative: praise him! It’s always a task to stop merely listening to the running monologue of my heart’s discouragement and to start speaking truth. You have to know the truth by heart to speak it on impact.

I breathe in (fear) I breathe out (downcast)
Quickly and my heart keeping time
You can’t help anyone let alone yourself
Hope in God hope in God why can’t you

I breathe in (truth) I breathe out (death)

I breathe in (hope) I breathe out (praise)

[Nod to national poetry month (I heard?), haven’t done that in at least a year, clearly.]
These instances, these conversations, and these thoughts are swirling and making me wonder what’s about to happen. There is a sense of impending decision, like maybe I’m on the cusp of figuring something out. But no epiphanies today.

See past the recommendations to listen to the Oh Hellos song.

Recommendations:
Ok, guys. Since I don’t blog super often, I’m making up for lost time here. 🙂

Podcast: “Missing Richard Simmons” (I’ve heard the whole thing, 6 episodes.) Yeah I know he’s fine and all that jazz, so if you’re cynical and think this podcast is stupid then I don’t want you to listen to it anyway. JK maybe you should give it a chance.
Podcast: “S-town” (I’ve only heard the first one, but I’ll be finishing it.)
(I listen to podcasts whenever I’m in the car now, because I’m in the car for about an hour a day. Makes it easy to burn through episodes.)
Album: Listen to the River, by The Collection (And their first album if you haven’t heard it!)
Book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker (FIRST IN A SERIES which is very important information that I did not have at time of reading LOL)

justice = social concern

Lots of things I feel like I need to write about. That’s always the case. It’s how I most accurately process, because the words don’t come out of my mouth right. It really does feel like everyone’s a writer. It feels like they’re all posing. And it really feels like I am because really all I have to my name is a lifetime of teachers telling me I’m really good, and a bachelor’s degree in English. But I don’t have any material to show you right now. I don’t have a record of writing in my spare time. I’m pretty neurotic and kind of the worst and I can’t make myself do things. Stubborn, let’s say.

There is so much going on politically. I do feel like I’m in an echo chamber…though maybe not – it’s just that I’m not in regular contact with people who feel very differently about all that is going on…at least, not the kind of contact that includes talking about politics. It’s difficult.

All of my interactions are fraught with insecurity and the idea that I’m not interesting. I was at a gathering of (really cool) (friendly) (nice) (fun) people from school and some of their spouses. In general it was pretty cool. They don’t really know me, and signs show they’re not trying to. I asked one of them how she was doing and she basically said pretty good and turned the conversation. That’s that. Am I just not interesting to talk to with? No good conversation, no good personality? That’s generally how other people make me feel.

Trump supporters say that his actions targeted at keeping out refugees/immigrants/ANYONE from seven majority-Muslim countries are there to keep out the bad people and let in only the good people. (I know it’s been blocked, but gosh look at what’s happened.) That is completely arbitrary and terrible. It also ignores the FACTS (the actual facts, not the alternative ones) that terrorist attacks in the United States are SO rare, and not perpetrated by people who are in this country as refugees or immigrants. The idea that everyone from seven countries is just “BAD” assumes quite a lot. The idea that there’s not an “extreme vetting” process in existence is ludicrous. It is NOT easy for people to come to this country, as immigrants or refugees. Not to mention…can you IMAGINE walking into a refugee camp? Just visualize for a second. Go to the internet if you need some help. It’s not a mystery what life looks like there. Imagine walking in and telling a family they pose too great a threat to American life to be allowed, and they’re just going to have to make it work somewhere else, like maybe in the camp? Mmm. Yeah. Sounds great. I’m pretty sure that would go fine.

People don’t take the time to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. It’s SO SIMPLE. Like, how many times in life did teachers and parents tell us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes? Did anyone else ever hear that? That’s like…my favorite thing about life. I LIKE imagining other people complexly, as John Green always says.

Recommendation #1: “Dear Hank and John” podcast episode #79: “Tiny Useless Pelvises (That Are Still There)”

I’ve possibly taken in more information than I can process and write about. That is probable, actually. From endless podcasts to unlimited NPR news to class lectures to reading all of the things.

Currently listening to Auld Lang Syne in a coffee shop watching a girl and guy press their palms together in the air in what is maybe a more affectionate version of a high-five. It’s a great song…

One of my classes this semester is called Intercultural City Ministry. It’s somewhere between urban ministry-urban planning-racial reconciliation-ministering to the poor-issues of justice in the city-how does social justice work in/with the church. It’s all the reasons I’m studying in this program. The first day of classes was a Thursday, which is the day this class happens (from 6:15-9:00). The Wednesday night before, our professor emailed us to let us know the class would be meeting at a church on the other side of town from the seminary (about 30 mins.)…probably something everyone should have known several weeks earlier…or at least whenever registration happened. I was pretty upset to find out about the change of location with such short notice because it interfered with all of my plans. Even though it is much closer to my house and allows me to go home in the afternoon, and to have a short drive home when I’ll be tired. In the moment, I was angry.

I made an appointment to talk to an advisor about dropping the class. I strongly considered boycotting on that first night. But I went. I sucked it up and gave it a chance. And I got over my anger pretty much right away. It’s a small class. It’s in a less intimidating room than any place on campus. The content is tailor-made for my heart. The professors are passionate, and they want us to care deeply. I was almost in tears by the time I left, because it was the first time in any class since we’ve been here that I felt the tug in my heart saying, “Yes, this is it.” I was almost in tears when I got home because I realized the devil was all over the place trying to prevent me from going that night, or at all. People have talked about feeling spiritually attacked, and professors remind us of the reality that the enemy does not want us to be studying theology to go out on mission. But I hadn’t felt anything that real or that clear until that night.

We have been reading a book called The Great Reversal, by David O. Moberg, and if I could quote all five chapters I’ve read, I would just do that. Its subtitle is Reconciling Evangelism and Social Concern. It was written in the seventies, but it’s uncannily timely. Moberg speaks to the issue of Christians who want to remain politically uninvolved or “neutral,” which is a ridiculous impossibility. They inevitably get over-involved when it comes to issues they see as particularly moral. All signs point to the reality that once you meet people with an experience different from your own, you will understand something about life that only they can teach you. You will understand the need for things you previously saw as unnecessary or stupid, because you know someone who can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or has tried but because of injustices inherent in the system has been pushed back down.

There are some distinct and tragic divides along essentially conservative/liberal lines. Personal/social. Spiritual/Secular. What have you. “Each group reads different parts of the Bible; when it stumbled into the other’s domain, it provided a different interpretive schema…Christians became either evangelistic or socially involved, not both” (page 34). Evangelicals really do lack social concern – concern for justice, which is ALL OVER the Bible. The whole Bible. The Old Testament law shows us God’s heart for the vulnerable. The New Testament shows Jesus’ radical commitment to the poor. There are people who leave the church because they see it as inward-focused, with justice as an optional ministry. This is incredibly wrong. As our professor put it…people leaving the church because it isn’t concerned about justice is about the same as people leaving the church because it’s not preaching the Bible anymore. People should be leaving the church only if they no longer believe in God.

The last chapter I read was so helpful in articulating so much of why I’m angry with right-wing conservative Christians who so identify when it comes to politics. “Actually it is impossible not to take sides in a democratic society; neutrality supports the side of whoever wins in the struggle for power. Sometimes that side may be consistent with Christian values; more often it will support vested interests sustained by wealth, power, and privileged position. ‘Neutral’ Christians thereby indirectly communicate that they believe those vested interests are morally right in social controversies” (Moberg, 87). “No vote on positive efforts to bring about reforms in society constitutes a ‘No’ vote; no vote on candidates for public office is the equivalent of casting a ballot for the winner, whoever he may be. The aphorism, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,’ clearly applies to the question of alleged neutrality on political issues. To be neutral usually is to give one’s support to evil” (88).

I have a lot more processing to do (and more reading!) but when I write my paper on the place of social justice in the church, I’ll put it out here. Right now, just thinking so much and appreciating this book SO much.

And feeling anxious to just write, and I just wrote, and still feeling like it’s not enough. Feeling like I just want a friend who just wants a friend. Who has time and space and not ten thousand other friends and doesn’t care if I’m married and wants to talk about real things. Too much too soon? (lol opposite of too little too late).

ALL over the place, y’all.

Recommendation #2: that book.

snippet

So many things to chase…to write about. There is too much to process, sometimes. I was trying to ease back in to real life and real time, only to get an influx of too much news at once. And that was just in listening to 20 minutes of NPR radio this morning. I found myself becoming angry at the things I was hearing. But did I stop? Nope. I went on to catch up on the NPR Politics Podcast, which actually exists to keep me from participating in the consumption of the 24-hour news cycle by summarizing and quickly analyzing recent events. Except I listened to three of them and was surprised when I started to feel gloomy and desperate.

I watched a series of videos last night. Michelle Obama was standing behind her portrait with Jimmy Fallon as people said thank you to her, and they were overcome when she came out and gave them hugs. Stephen Colbert was giving a monologue making cathartic jokes about crazy things that are way too real these days. Hank Green was talking about the anniversary of 10 years on YouTube – all the channels and causes he has started (*cough*VidCon) or been a part of. I laughed at pictures of George W. Bush struggling with his poncho at the inauguration and ultimately smirking at himself, which was just great. I haven’t been able to watch Obama’s farewell address all the way through (too soon it’s not over it can’t be over), nor have I watched Trump’s inauguration speech. I will definitely watch the former. Mere clips of Trump’s speech have been enough to make my blood feel a little warmer (as in not-blood-boiling-but-not-not-on-its-way).

Recently, I have been surrounding myself with more means of grace. I finally purchased a devotional book for myself to go through each day, because my aspirations to Just Read the Bible and Pray weren’t super effective, and I honestly was feeling empty and dry. Since we have been back in St. Louis, I’ve started doing this almost each day, trying to write my prayers in a loose formula suggested by the author. I’ve found myself able to be honest, so much more honest, not praying in a way that covers all the bases without actually digging in to my heart. This has been changing things already, and I think I knew it would, but it is difficult for me to grab hold of myself and sit me down to do what I need to do.

When we were in Nebraska, a friend of mine told me some about a book she had just read that was impactful and helpful and good, highly recommended. The next day, I got a text from a new friend at our church – the wife of one of the pastors of our church wanted to start a group to read that same book. So I’m sitting here with it, just in the first chapter but looking forward to the process. The quote at the beginning of the first chapter is what I’m talking about: “The kind of life that makes one feel empty and shallow and superficial, that makes one dread to read and dread to think, can’t be good for one, can it? It can’t be the kind of life one was meant to live.” – Willa Cather

I think I’m going to start tutoring with a nonprofit that runs through our church. We have been getting together with friends, and I’ve been pursuing time with individual ladies that I have been wanting to get to know but have been held back by some combination of fear and the thought that it’s not my job to pursue all the relationships I have all the time anymore. But maybe I’m just leaving the place where that feels too exhausting. Things are really lookin’ up…positivity, baby. It’s the time for courage – in my life, and pretty much as a person in this nation that is embarrassed to be a person under this administration.

This is a short just get-it-out-there post, because practice is the name of the game. And the blog, evidently. My 30 minutes to work on this is up, and it’s time for dinner!

Recommendations:
This is George Bush and his poncho.

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/20/510850745/-meme-of-the-week-george-w-bush-battles-poncho-at-inauguration-and-loses

and this is Hank, who is great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU4ygz-vTQY

hope/fear/year

Faith and fear are interlinked but opposite. Hope is certainty, though it toes the line with doubt. I found myself swimming in the sticky web of these ideas all year (2016) long – tired, frantic, and unsure what to do with myself.

I wonder if I will always be trying to catch up…to myself or life or whatever I should be processing. I have been mindless or falling into doing whatever. Forgotten the process of intentional friendship with conversation and good questions – something at which I once considered myself adept. Forgotten what it is to ask God for help and to surrender control and the anxious searching in order to put hope and trust where it belongs – the only place the chaos can ever rest. Forgotten to live for others before myself.

End-or-beginning-of-year conversations, posts, and blogs are sentimental, tiresome, and helpful. New year’s resolutions have become something we consider trite, and we joke about the inevitable giving up and inability to follow through of all the people who join the gym in January. I know this, but I also enjoy reading and hearing about the reflections people have – I admire the people who can distill themes and lessons from their year, or who can set something before themselves for the year to come, something to intentionally learn.

In my fear and uncertainty, I haven’t been paying attention very well to what I should be learning and how I might grow through life circumstances and everyday experiences. What has been the theme of my year, then? Fear? Transition? Uncertainty? Self-loathing?

What do I feel compelled toward?
Obedience. Joyfulness. Kindness. Faith. Hope. Courage. Daring. Engagement.

It’s easy to feel defeated – these are lifelong pursuits, and you can’t just learn one and then keep it forever in a year’s time. I forget that it’s okay for a phase of life to last more than just one year, or a few months even. It takes as long as it takes, really. Patience and waiting…maybe that’s something.

But I have traditionally enjoyed and followed through on new year’s resolutions or goals for the year, when they have been manageable and really desirable and when a moment of failure isn’t allowed to ruin the whole thing. A year of no soft drinks. A year (for the most part) of no meat.

I went back through my Instagram pictures from this year – kind of superficial, maybe, but I try to capture real life moments I want to remember. Isn’t that one point of social media? It’s not all stupid.

The first four months were my last working for RUF. Our Winter Conference in Colorado, Spring Break serving in Chicago, and Summer Conference in Florida were the highlights. I started noticing strangeness in my heartbeat, and started investigating – anxiety, palpitations, more questions. Nick released his second CD, Sunflower.

In June, we moved to St. Louis. Nick started class immediately, and I spent most of my time job-searching and trying to get used to this life. I started working at Anthropologie, and I stopped at the beginning of September, when I started nannying instead. Nick went for a tour with his friend Paul before the crazy semester started. Pretty much everything felt overwhelming and stressful – possibly because we weren’t getting enough sleep and because part of being in a new place (for me) is insecurity, restlessness, and sadness.

I’m still processing the election. I’m still trying to figure out how to be gracious & compassionate in my heart and with my thoughts toward people I think just don’t understand the gravity of what’s happening. This has been teaching me difficult things about myself. I can so easily turn bitter, judgmental, and unwilling to listen. I’m working on calming down enough to open my eyes and see what’s going on. I was very interested in the election as far as it was in my power to stop Donald Trump (not much/at all). Right now, I am just sitting in shock and waiting to see whether I get drafted into the next world war, get killed by a nuclear weapon, or simply end up living peacefully though the phase in which our country is the laughingstock of the rest of the developed world (or so I think it must be?). Personal withdrawal wasn’t an option before, but I really wish it could be now. And I don’t even hope for things to go well. I hope things fall apart, because it would give folks a sense of the reality that who we vote for matters…and I need to feel that principle is valid, too…Still processing this stuff obviously – and it might take me a few years. I’m just in shock from catching a little bit of his press conference on the radio and wondering whether he understands the reality we live in or anything about how civilized life works/

Being home with family (mostly this applies to extended family) makes me realize how isolated we can become during the majority of the year. And then, for one or two days, we are supposed to come together and these are the people we should love to spend our holidays with, feel close with, and buy gifts for. It’s a strange feeling, and I know communication needs to happen more. Though it goes both ways, I feel a sense of responsibility or guilt…but it obviously isn’t just me that’s failing to keep in touch. I wonder if it would be easier to talk about the issues in our lives – and our world – if we knew each other better. Hmmm??? Hah.

I’m wondering why humans hang on to things so hard for so long. We hang on to relationships, we let past offenses and blunders influence our view of others for such an unreasonable amount of time. Sometimes I don’t feel like a human. I feel like an Observer, from Fringe. But then I realize I have a human heart, and I’m not completely numb. This goes in waves, in and out.

I feel more awkward than ever – less able to pull my weight as a friend, and definitely exhausted by the process of making new friends, even though there are many people coming into my life that I so enjoy. I just want it to be figured out. I don’t do the friend-shopping thing. I sort of know from the beginning who I feel I can dive-in with…and I just want them to figure out whether I’m one of those people for them, or not, immediately. I can’t invest in many people, and it hurts when I try with someone who doesn’t ultimately want to try with me. And I’m not that interesting on first-impression, so when people stick around after that, it’s usually a good sign. Not sure why I’m talking about this.

Not sure if this was a year (2016) of growth or resistance.
On the first of the year (2017), I found myself listening to a sermon with more attention than I’ve given for a while. Christ asks us not to be anxious, and his love promises to hang on to us and not let go. The call on our lives is to turn to God, repent, and believe in the good news that Jesus has been faithful for our sake; believe that the kingdom of God is both here and coming; surrender our lives and seek the good of others; trust what Jesus said is good news.

The sermon was an all-encompassing summary of the Biblical storyline, a reminder of the call to live as followers of Christ. I’ve been reminded over and over in two specific classes of the importance of obedience. The importance of how we respond to God’s work in our lives.

I find the desire to be vulnerable much more often than I find the ability. There’s the gap. Don’t know how to be my real self, especially when I am in limbo. Picture me blurry around the edges. But that’s what I have to start with.

I haven’t put myself out there to pursue cosmic answers because I have been afraid that it won’t actually turn out all right and I won’t actually be okay. Always thinking about my own interests.

My mind is twisty.
But I think it will be okay. For the first time in a long time, I am feeling optimism. I am feeling that hope might be okay.

“Every hope left in your heart is waitin’ on what you’ll do
With doubt.” (“Don’t Doubt,” Blind Pilot)

 

My current recommendations…because just one is not enough:
And Then Like Lions, the album by Blind Pilot
Tapestry, the album by Carole King
La La Land, the movie written and directed by Damien Chazelle

inklings of thoughts of things

Went to a book club tonight – my first ever, actually.
Good things: Talking about Yaa Gyasi’s book Homegoing. Talking about the parallels between the stories of African Americans in the United States across generations – stories from the past that mirror stories from the present and the danger and continued oppression they experience today. Choosing women we relate to the most while also feeling like I can’t actually say that I relate to any of their stories which are much more traumatic than my life.

Difficult things: Still feeling like people don’t understand me. I just want to know what people are assuming about me, so maybe I can try to overcome that in the process of relationship, making more accurate first impressions…not to be manipulative, but to start from a better place, rather than having to make up for lost ground. Or maybe everyone else is seeing what’s real and I’m actually wrong about myself…probably not. There’s a lot going on in my mind constantly. Incessantly.

We had an apt discussion of idols in my “covenant group” which is a small group consisting of some of the folks in my degree program’s fellowship. I struggle with approval much more than I’ve ever realized (or cared to admit).

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about since…basically my first class of seminary:
Some people – probably all people, at different times – hold knowledge of subjects like they hold knowledge of their own personal lives…like it’s private knowledge. In a way that generally assumes the ignorance of others. People ask questions and make comments and give knowing nods that suggest their idea of the breadth of their knowledge. I want to let them know that they aren’t the first or the last people to have knowledge of any given subject. But of course this impulse comes to me because I want to feel intelligent and informed, and to be known as such…especially when I truly care about the subject.

But I think it’s so arrogant to approach others as if you have the information, and they’ve never heard it before. Better to assume everyone is on the same level until proven otherwise. I’ve struggled to enjoy the company here, for these reasons. I’m making assumptions, and probably exaggerated ones, but it’s hard to turn off my radar when I’m usually very perceptive about people. I wish I could perceive my own arrogance in the moment, or understand when others perceive me that way and correct it.

Maybe this is why I have so many fictional friends in books and shows. Or why I cling so tightly to the truest friends in my life that live hours away but still take the time to talk on the phone and share real stories and share real love. It’s easy to forget that even these things aren’t supposed to be my comfort. My identity is rooted in Christ. It is not conditioned upon my relationships or my knowledge. I’m forgetful.

With each post, I want to recommend one thing! Until I run out of things, I guess… 🙂 Things like TV shows, podcasts, articles, books, etc. Tonight, I recommend the NPR Politics Podcast. Only TRULY relevant (in its current form) for several more days, but also truly wonderful and I want it to continue forever. Political reporters of various emphases/strengths get together and have a jolly time discussing the most recent political news – covering what we want to hear about in an intentionally nonpartisan way. Loving it.