Adventure in Sensitivity as Strength

The table’s have turned.

I asked quite a few men (more than appear here, but frankly, I got too impatient and too excited to share with you*) in my life to define a couple of words. Sensitivity. Strength. What the words mean to them, and shoot me a picture. A picture that they felt expresses strength or that they’re proud of.  Some included a description with that photo. Some defined both words. Some are so simple and beautiful. Some are longer and academic. All are lovingly thought out. Some weren’t given them at once to define, so don’t think as some as more anything. I didn’t push, because I’m thrilled with what they’ve given me, what they’re giving you. I’ve cried a few times just reading through these. I’ve done a tiny bit of editing because foster parents have hard lives, but mostly you’re getting the raw thoughts of a bunch of pretty damn incredible men.

*Thank you to those who shared with me. For being vulnerable. Thank you to those who wanted to, but are bad with deadlines.

11296570_669709526119_1134630683_oNigel Berry

“With an attempt to avoid waxing poetic, I might describe sensitivity as an open posture to foreign feelings. Reflected in my photo with my oldest daughter, the sensitivity emerges as I enter into her joy and experience of love. Maintaining a posture of sensitivity can be truly life giving! But it is costly. Not everything is baby giggles and rainbows with sensitivity. It threatens pride,status, and cultural expectations to be a sensitive man. Other times, it invites us into the pain of others. I think that being sensitive, when explored, is discovered to present a lot of risk. I think fear stifles sensitivity.

Strength, to me, always centers around motion – the ability to move or to resist movement. That’s why “strength” can simultaneously be both a positive or a negative depending on the context. ”

IMG_1011Dan Schwartz

“Honestly, I don’t think of sensitivity much. Which is weird, I’m either in/over that stage in life where you stop to think about who you are and what you believe and what values are important to you. I’m not sure I’ve ever really personally defined sensitivity, so here goes.

Sensitivity to me would be the ability to be aware of another’s emotions, mood, feelings, etc., without them being directly communicated.

Strength, now, that’s a little easier. I believe strength is the ability to exert.
Strength matters deeply to me and how I live my life. Strength to me isn’t about how strong I am, but my ability to give myself to make others stronger.

In one sentence strength is pulling two toddlers in a wagon up and down a steep driveway for a half hour while the baby you’re carrying is mastering the art of pulling out your beard and chest hair at the same time.”

edit_7996_bwJohn Cessna

“I really like this headshot I have. It’s calm, confident, and honest, without feeling like I have to be an over the top clown. There’s balance, an easy ability to be comfortable in your own skin in that:

Sensitivity to me is understanding another person (or group of people’s) emotional reasoning and motivations without letting it affect your own mindset and emotional space. It’s the ability to remove your own identity from another person’s.”

IMG_3289Stephen Miliken

“Sensitivity starts with awareness and ends with action-oriented care. To grow in sensitivity means first to grow in awareness of the world around you and in you. The more you learn about both of those things, the more your sensitivities are expanded. And, in a perfect world, the more you are aware of something, the more opportunity you have to care for it, to change because of it, to do something in response to it. They say that higher education develops a person’s “feminine qualities,” their appreciation for art and for many other nuances of the world. I think it’s better explained that education brings new things about ourselves and the world into awareness. And from that point on we either have to deny what we now know about it or we can choose to embrace what we know and do something about it – we care.

Strength is the other side of discipline, its result. Be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, as we practices the disciplines related to each, our strength increases. At a more basic level, strength is about dealing with burden, again whether that is physical weight, or emotional and mental weight. When I think of strength, the first thing that comes to mind is strength of character and magnanimity. For me, the most important strength to have is strength of character, or integrity. This is about doing what is right against all odds, even in the face of personal loss.

And here’s the cool thing, the more you grow in sensitivity – awareness of self and world – the more opportunity you have to grow in strength (of character), they go hand-in-hand. How will you respond to what you now know? Caring about people, places and things takes a tremendous amount of strength of all kinds.”

11209579_669228604889_7677640343676459584_nJeff Blossom
“Sensitivity is being open enough to observe the world around you, to see people in the moment as they are, and to listen to both of those things. It is difficult for me to quiet my mind or life enough to be observant, and also difficult to be present enough to truly see, listen and respond. Sensitivity isn’t just an instinct; it is a practice. I really think it’s just a combination of observance and empathy, or at least the attempt at empathy.It’s strength as support as opposed to force.”

664359_596874328417_8405642997537344301_oTim Keaton

“Sensitivity: Knowing what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.

Strength: Doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.”

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Dustin McDowell 

“In my life right now, everything is about family. My job, my downtime, my everything is my family. Unlike most people though, my family is not my own. As a foster parent, it is my job to be sensitive to the needs of the kids we take in. It is my job to not track down and beat the shit out parents who have no taken patience and time with their children, to understand them and gently care for them. It is my job to be sensitive to the fact that I have to hold it together if children we bring into our home to keep safe doesn’t feel understand just how safe they are. On top of this, it is my job to be sensitive enough to be able to cry with my wife and love these kids for the days, weeks, or months we have them before sending them back home. I’m like the Dobby of foster care. At the moment, I’d like to think that I can be as sensitive as my wife needs me, but some days I’m not strong enough to be unselfish. Most days I am, but not always. Lucky for me though, I have an awesome, understanding wife who knows that the situation we chose to be in isn’t always the easiest.”

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Ted Stavrou

“To have sensitivity is to have a willingness to appreciate other peoples’ perspectives without the need to impose your own on them. It requires patience and outward perceptiveness. There’s peace in not thinking you have all the answers, or even need them.

Strength to me is more inward; it’s a willingness to look inside yourself and discover your own values and what makes you tick, and despite any fear or pride, go ahead and be vulnerable anyway.

There are those who try to make people think like themselves and coerce others to accept their values, while others keep themselves to themselves, even putting on masks to avoid conflict or pain. Still worse, I suppose, are those who don’t care at all. Those paths all end in resentment, pride and ultimately, isolation. I think true strength and sensitivity work hand-in-hand to bring people closer together. Without love as an ultimate motivation, you can’t really possess either. Of course, there are times where love seems more like madness, but it’s really all that matters to me in the end.”

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Steve Edinger

“To me, sensitivity means awareness of what others around me are going through, whether positive or negative. In addition to that awareness, it also means thoughtfully considering how to appropriately respond to the feelings and needs of others.

Strength can mean so many things that it is tough to come up with a concise, non-rambling definition. I think that, first and foremost, strength is almost synonymous with perseverance, or a willingness to endure difficulties of all sorts. Second, confidence balanced with a willingness to accept and learn from criticism is also an important aspect of strength. That is, confidence in one’s abilities, worldview, and general self-worth is important. However, overconfidence to the point that one is unwilling to listen and learn from the perspectives of others isn’t strength, it is hubris. Finally, I believe strength can be defined as a willingness to show compassion and care for others, regardless of cost to self. An individual who tears others down to achieve for him or herself may indeed be successful at getting ahead, but has not shown strength. Instead, a truly strong person would have the confidence to know that showing compassion and building others up is more important than gaining success solely for oneself. Strength means recognizing that life is not a zero-sum game, and that my success does not need to be predicated on the failure of others.”

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Joey Spiegel

“For me sensitivity means creating space in my heart for others, which is not an easy task nor is it my modus operandi. It’s about believing people when they tell me how/what they feel rather than imposing my projections on to them. I think strength is similar in that it is about creating or finding a safe place for yourself and others; a place where vulnerability is allowed. There is no strength in subjecting others to your will. I think there is strength in welcoming others though, because that is where you are tested and refined as a human. This is weird to write but that’s all I got!”

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Stephen Webster

“Sensitivity I think primarily manifests itself as an awareness of the feelings of others. It is an understanding that other people’s needs and desires are as important as my own. It is a decision to validate other people – their thoughts, their dreams, their words through a courteous ,conscientious, attentive posture toward them.”

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Patrick Harding

“I attached a photo of me playing last night. I don’t know that it expresses either strength or pride. But performing always scares me, and I feel vulnerable…exposed. Something about that feels good.

Sensitivity: To seek understanding first before seeking to be understood.

Have you ever been in an argument with someone? An argument where both parties are seeking justification of their own actions rather than seeking reconciliation? I find that’s usually why I get into arguments in the first place.

Have you ever played a piece of music, given a sermon on a passage, performed a play, or read a book? Whenever I do something like this, something where I’m interpreting, I always come to it bringing prejudices. So much so, that whatever comes out was far less about what was intended, and far more about who I am, and cannot escape being.

Do we marginalize people? Have you ever posted heavy-handed articles on Facebook about a community you’re not a part of? Whose struggles you do not endure? Do you cringe when you see someone different than you?

I dunno. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I assure you that isn’t my intention. But in all these cases, I think that we are just trying to force things into our mess. We all carry so much baggage, and it’s terribly unfair to try to make someone else carry it. I mean, come on. They have their own.

And finally to define strength, which is tough. Because I don’t know that any of us have it…not really, anyway.

Oftentimes, when I hear that word, I muster up images of armor-clad warriors, or of brave people fighting against the current. I realize, though, that I’ve only ever been strong or brave when Jesus was strong or brave for me…when I have my armor stripped of me, when I shiver in fear and admit that I need carrying. I have no strength in me. Just need. And that’s okay…though I often need to remake my peace with that fact.

Society often tells us to be strong, to hunker down, grit teeth, and march forward…and I get it. It’s probably more acceptable than saying “Go ahead. Collapse.” And there’s probably times when that’s true. But everything falls, eventually. And when I do, I find that something else rebuilds me.”

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Joseph Schwartz

“Sensitivity is not a word in my daily vocabulary, and not a trait that I place a higher value on than any other. I think it’s important to offer sincere sensitivity when it’s needed, and to me maybe the sincerity itself is more important. I am sort of an introvert and selfish by nature, and my own quest for sensitivity has been more focused on not being insensitive than being actively sensitive. My experience has also been that we don’t always know what need – sometimes reading between the lines is necessary/beneficial.”

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Jonny Rice
“Maybe sensitivity is allowing other people’s perceptions and beliefs to take priority over my own. It’s got to start with listening. And then meditating. And then listening some more. And maybe trying not to have a strong opinion on stuff you haven’t experienced first-hand. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how women and people of color just see the world so differently than I do. And that maybe I should just listen (and stop trying to force a conversation) when they’re speaking truthfully and from the heart. The world is not a real scary place for me. But it is a scary place for a lot of other people who don’t look like me. If I can be more sensitive to what they’re going through, maybe (just maybe) I can learn something from them, about how not to make the world scarier for them. It’s not something I’ve figured out. So I’m still listening, as best I can.

And maybe strength has something to do with it. I don’t know. We tend to define strength along really gendered terms. Strength is male. Strength is soldiers. Strength is drones. Strength is cops in helmets and riot gear. I’m tired of that. I really am. That doesn’t mesh with the Jesus of the Gospels. Christ was murdered for being poor, and brown, and preaching about turning the political state inside out. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.” His father’s kingdom was a radical departure from a strong and independent kingdom of Israel that the those in power had been hoping for. That didn’t sit well with some, I guess. So they killed him. Remember “hands up, don’t shoot?” Submission as an act of political protest? Surrender as an act of defiance? How about we define strength by starting there, and see where that leads?”

11647256_670276993909_1715729535_nJoel Reichenbach

“Sensitivity to me is to be considerate; to consider others. The way I experience sensitivity is how others consider me, and how I consider others around me. I find myself greatly affected when someone considers my thoughts and feelings. To know that someone has made space for who I am in a conversation or situation lets me know that I am welcome. I am also affected when others’ thoughts and feelings are not a part of the conversation. Who we are are is important, and who others are is important. It weighs heavy on me to me to make space for others. I aim (and miss quite frequently) to know others and be known by others. We all have value — being sensitive to making that value known and experienced is an important responsibility.” .

792319_10153188699380193_1750994539_o (1) Isaac Becker

 “Sensitivity to me is when someone puts another person’s interests ahead of themselves and allows the other person to be vulnerable without taking advantage of their vulnerability”

Adventure in Redemption Tales

They’re remarkable. They’re the most beautiful stories that exist to tell. Stories that take completely hideous, shattered pieces and put them back together even better than before. It’s beautiful. More over, they’re important. No. They’re essential.

I have a few favorite redemption stories.

Severus Snape: Harry Potter.

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We go on a journey with Snape for 7 books. Arguably, Snape’s story in the series is just as important, if not more. The thing that saves Harry in the first place is love, and the thing that gets him through every year is love. Snape makes some pretty horrible life decisions, following the Dark Lord being a key one. And honestly, Snape is redeemed the moment he turns to Dumbledore for help, but we don’t see that until the end of his life. We see the actions of a man so ravaged by heartache he won’t or can’t let us see beyond that. And in a few tears we learn the truth about Snape. That his redemption came with great pain, as all redemptions do. A lot of Snape’s was self-inflicted. Most of it. Grace is a terribly hard thing to accept. Dumbledore offered it to him, but Snape chose to hide his true intentions. I won’t get into why that too is selfishness, but to some degree that choice took away the pride of it. I can’t say this enough. Grace is a terrible hard thing to accept. Wizard or not.

Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader: Star Wars

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Regardless of your opinions on episodes 1 through 3, what you’re looking at is a six movie series about one story. One. Story. The fall and redemption of one man. Innocent kid. Noble ambitions, and then. Guys, darkness is so tempting. It’s so, so tempting to just give in. To want power. To crave accolades. I get it. I really do, and then once you’re in that mess it’s even harder to get out of it. An addiction, to anything, is always with you, and it rested with little Anakin until the end of his life. Until he made one final push in his last moments and sought redemption. Darkness is so tempting.

William the Bloody/Spike: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Spike is a monster. I mean that literally. Spike is a vampire, who spends centuries killing people. And like Anakin he started out a sweet guy. Just taking care of his mom, writing horrible poems, being the butt of all of the jokes. He kills not one, but two slayers. He spends the better part of 7 seasons trying to kill Buffy too. At the end of season 6 Spike snaps. He tries to rape Buffy, and when he realizes what he’s done he leaves. Seemingly forever. He goes through a series of trials, cleansings, for one purpose. Vamps don’t have souls. Well, now two do. Angel and Spike. And Spike paid for his. When it was back, it ate him from the inside. Because knowing the truth makes the whole world a lot harder to take. Ultimately, Spike’s soul saved us all. Knowing the truth makes the whole world a lot harder to take.

Edmund Pevensie: The Chronicles of Narnia

edmund

This one is my favorite. Edmund did not start out a sweet kid. At all. He was a brat and a bully. He deliberately betrayed his family. Not like “hm, ok this is fine.” No. Edmund was all “yeah. they’re dumb. I can be king. I’m outtie, and they’re done.” (Pretty sure that’s a direct quote). Ya know what’s worse about Edmund? He knows. Even as things get worse, he knows. AND he knows how he could get out of it. BUT HE DOESN’T DO IT!! He just keeps on saying “yeah, no thanks. Ol’ Pete’s a know-it-all and Susan is a snot and Lucy is funny looking. I’m not gonna deal with them anymore.” And Edmund is STILL welcomed back into the fold, AND his king says “yeah, you’re supposed to die. I’ll take care of it.” Which Edmund assumes means negotiate. Oh Aslan negotiated. He negotiated himself right onto that stone table for ONE kid. One punk-ass kid. One punk-ass kid who grew up to be a kind king and a grateful and wise man.

In 1999 on the floor of a huge room of a lodge on a winter retreat, curled up in a ball next to Katelyn Knuth, Hayley Johnson was also redeemed. She continued to make horrible mistakes. She continues to make horrible mistakes. And every day she struggles to look at the world and live in it knowing the truth. Why even bother staying knowing it’s only going to get darker here and there’s light she can live in? Darkness is so tempting. Every day darkness is tempting. And some times she gives into it. Every day, every hour is a struggle to accept grace. But without it she’d be lost. Without it she’d be dead. Without I am lost. Without I’d be dead.

Adventure in Moleskine

I’ve always been dreadful at filling notebooks completely. I don’t do a lot of things well in that way. But once in college I filled an entire journal. I forced myself to write in it every day. It was bleak. The end result was bleak.

But something about a Moleskine, this Moleksine, has made me faithful. It’s the second one I’ve ever filled completely. Almost two full years (short by a mere two weeks), and as it has come to the end of its journey, I offer you several of the trinkets in it that stick out to me. May they serve you as they serve me.

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This Sunday I crack open my Moleskine with the sketch of Smaug on the cover, and a new adventure shall begin. A Moleskine befitting Resurrection Sunday.

Adventure in Strength

strength

(some times, even I don’t understand my neighborhood)

Let’s be clear. I’m a weak lady. People are far too generous when they tell me they think I’m strong. I’m here to tell you that I am not. Not really. I’m a persistent person. I’m an independent person. Ya know what? I’m well-practiced. Let’s call it that. Can we?

I am not strong. I am easily manipulated, particularly through guilt. I am quick to relinquish power. I have multiple times found myself in dangerous situations and thought, “yeah. Of course, this is happening. And this will be how I die. That’s fine.” I survive, because I’m supposed to. Not because of anything I’m doing. Every day that I am alive is not because I woke up and said, “Ah yes, I shall live on.” I never make that decision. That decision makes me. No. That’s dumb. And not true.

Here’s what it is. Here is why I continue on.

A few years ago, I finally started to get the wherewithal to recognize that I needed prayer. not just “oooh stuff is bad. I need prayer.” I mean, okay, that’s where it came from, but soon I started recognizing that that was something I needed all of the time. So I started asking for it, and would in return offer prayer for those individuals as well.

*That has value. Please, don’t misunderstand me on this. Having others pray for you is important. Praying for others is important. These are intrinsic to strengthening the body of Christ.*

What I didn’t learn, or learn to embrace and then practice, until about a year ago was one very important thing. Hear me. Please. It is not selfish to pray for yourself. It is imperative. Open communication with the Father about your needs, fears, pains, victories. All of it. Let me tell you, from my own personal experience though, having others pray for me to understand and have peace, strength, be surrounded by hope? Is virtually useless if I am not also admitting to God that I need those things. It’s one thing to say to a friend “I am broken here. Please pray for me that it can be repaired.” It is something else entirely to say to a friend “please pray with me in this brokenness.” AND to take that brokenness and say “Father, I know it’s broken. Help me fix it. Fix it.” It’s easy to admit to those who don’t already know and can’t fully understand “oh this is broken.” One, because you don’t ever have to be completely honest in that. Two, because they can’t fully comprehend it with you. It’s hard to admit to the one who actually gets it and already knows, but wants to hear you say “I know you know, but hear me out.”

Ultimately, it’s taking actual responsibility for your head and your heart, your spirit. Anything else is really shirking that responsibility. Not always. I know that. Some times it is impossible. It is impossible to say what you need to say to God. Some times all that comes out is a string of expletives that would not only make you sound like you just murdered a pirate, but also probably embarrass your mother that you even knew all of those words. He wants those too.

Pray is our greatest strength. Christ is my only strength.

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Adventure in Restructuring Revisited

Truth is, I wrote this a March ago, and I’m not at all sure why I never posted it. It’s nothing special. It’s not important, but it doesn’t seem right for it to keep sitting here. Finished.

Until last night I had not slept since Thursday night. Some of that was my own doing, some of it can be blamed on my brain (I call it Brian). One night off will upset my whole schedule.

What I came to realize is that I slept hard Sunday to Thursday. Hard. One night I got a little sad, pretty sad, so I went to bed and I slept 11 1/2 hours. I don’t even feel bad about it. I was processing my week with a friend, and I realized I was granted so very much sleep last week to prepare me for this sleepless weekend. Because the truth is Friday night I needed to be awake. I needed to not take a moment to myself. Some Friday nights I wanted to stay up late, most Friday nights I want to be in bed by 9, with every intention of waking up early on Saturday, a whole day free.

This particular Friday night I stayed up after midnight with a friend. And as I attempted to restlessly to sleep, my phone rang around 2 a.m. The thing about 2 a.m. phone calls is that they are either someone very drunk or someone very hurt. I don’t always answer them. I usually know which it’ll be based on the name. Friday night I had to answer. And I’m glad I did. I’d have stayed on that phone as long as I needed to. And while my friend in crisis had to go, I had to stay. I had to stay up. My brain wanted me to be the one to save her. My brain was convinced I could be. But the longer I stayed up. The longer I prayed–for her, for Joel, for Thailand, for any number of things–I was reminded I am not sufficient. I. Am. Not.

I know, full well, if I had driven to see that friend in the middle of the night it would have been appreciated on both sides (had I even been capable of that), but the truth is I would have been going because I could. Because I believed I could save her. Not only is that not my job, it is not something I’m capable of doing. And it’s very much in my nature to save people. I cannot do this. I can help where I’m needed and where I’m sent, but I am no one’s savior. I have to step back, a lot, to remind myself that not a damn thing in my life is about me.

Thankfully, I am increasingly surrounded by people who don’t let me stay stagnant, who don’t let good enough suffice. I am surrounded by people who actively push me to be better, to do better, but I’m also surrounded by people whose existence in my life draws me, compels me to be and do better. To live boldly.

I’m not there. I’m shit at it. But I’m getting there. I’m improving.

Adventure in Sufficiency

BBCGumpasI don’t know if it’s a common title for a foreign governor, but I do know that once in the BBC’s Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader that Prince Caspian calls Governor Gumpas “your sufficiency,” which always makes me laugh. “Your perfectly adequate, I suppose, ness.” “Your we’ll take what we can get ity.” “Your the best we can come up with cy.”

It’s always been funny to me, because Gumpas isn’t sufficient. He’s a horrible governor. He’s actually a pretty terrible human.

Today though I was talking to a friend, and I said something that made me cry as it left me. So perhaps I needed to hear, and definitely acknowledge it, more than she did. “His grace is SUFFICIENT,” I said. I said it in all caps like that. And I think that’s what hit me.

I talk myself out of the grace I’ve been given a lot. How my mistakes are just going to tear that apart. As if God’s got sheets and sheets of us that as soon as we screw up he just tears it in two. And he’s God so those halves are pretty exact. That’s not how it works though. If I had the capability to screw up grace, then I’d have the capability of redeeming myself too. I very much do not. Woof, if I did. Yikes. Like mega yikes.

Real talk: I’m a pretty big ol’ sinner. I know. Calm down. It’s true though. And try as I might there’s not a lot I can do to fix that. I dare say, there’s nothing I can do. And I tried. I tried a bunch. I still try. All of the time. If I just get rid of this thing or stop this then ta-da! Salvation. Cue sad trumpet noise. Because I’ve already got there. In spades. And I just forget. Like a bunch I forget. All the time I forget.

I can’t save me. You can’t save me. And I can’t save you.

His grace is sufficient. Sufficient.

Adventure in No One is Alone

Recently, I had the opportunity to–well, to be fair, I’ve had a lot of opportunities, but recently I had the opportunity to sit down with two dear friends.

That night we went to see (me for the second time) to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. There’s something intoxicating about seeing a band of friends working together to produce something important to them for the fun of doing it. It’s inspiring. In my opinion, it makes the end product all the more powerful.

That being said, after the movie we went out for a drink to sit and chat. After some awkward shuffling around small talk we began talking about survival. My friend David turned his glass in his hand before he began asking me some very probing questions, as only David can. Things I hadn’t thought about or things I didn’t want to think about, but there they were. And some times one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to be really honest with your friends.

One of the most valuable things that came from the night, outside of reinforcing how valuable these two people are to me, was perhaps the realization or awareness or maybe refresher that no one is alone. Not in Christ. That’s sort of the point of the Church. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity.”

As it is, there are people all around us who yearn to remind us that we are alone. Surrounded by people you’re alone. Safely in a relationship, you’re alone. You. Are. Not. Alone. It’s the devil’s game to make you think you are. I’ll say it. When Luna Lovegood says to Harry, “Well if I were You-Know-Who, I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it’s just you alone you’re not as much of a threat,” she’s not wrong. Why would Satan want us believing we could all be united in Christ? Spoiler: He wouldn’t. When depression has you resigned to your bed, you’re not alone. You’re just not. Someone is on your side.

 

Unrelated, this is my new roommate.photo (72)

 

She wants you to pray for Joel.

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She also wants you to see Starcrossed.

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Adventure in a Thrill of Hope

Here’s my oblogatory Christmas post. (See what I did there? You’re welcome.)

tardis in snow

Confession: I love Christmas. I love crisp cold air. I love snow falling on puppy noses. I love the colored lights all over. I love wrapping paper and ribbons. I love buying things for other people. I love Christmas desserts. I love the holiday specials. I love sitting around the tree and the TV watching Die Hard or Muppet Family Christmas. I love it all. I even have come to appreciate the annual family drama. I like tradition. What can I say?

There’s not a lot about Christmas I don’t like. If I’m really honest. From the kooky specials or songs (save for a few) to the traditional carols and hymns.

On Sunday I was at service with my parents. It was a simple service. Mom directed a choir, which Dad was in. People’s gifts were utilized. If spoken word poetry was a gift it was up there. Recitations. Monologues. Songs. Children. All of it. With a simple message. John 8:12. “I am the light of the world.” The glory of God, which was so overwhelming when Moses saw but a passing glimpse of the tail end of it he had to wear a veil over his face for the rest of his life, because it was too much for anyone else to look at. When Christ says “I am the light of the world” it’s during a festival about the hope of restoring among the people that dwelling of God’s glory. And while that alone is pretty staggering, it caught me when we were singing “O Holy Night,” which granted, is a pretty song, but has never really been that significant to me.

The line that struck was just four words, and in closer listening it became more affecting, but all it took was

A thrill of hope.

a THRILL of hope.

There aren’t many things in life that thrill me. If I’m honest, which I try to be. I’m just not easily thrilled, which come Christmas or birthdays makes me a dreadful person to give to. Experiences don’t thrill me. But hope. Restoring hope, giving hope. That. That is thrilling.

Then looking at that whole verse:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Millennia we’re sitting here screwing up. Missing the mark over and over, waiting. Long. Pining. That’s the perfect word. “Pining.” Until suddenly Jesus. And now? My soul feels worth. It’s like the one basic things humans are pining for. Worth. And there it is. Causing…a thrill of hope. A certainty. Because that’s what hope is. It isn’t wishful thinking. It’s a certainty. A thrill of hope that causes a weary and worn world to rejoice. Because? Look out, son, it’s a brand new start. I’ll say it, because Tony said it on Sunday. It’s a “new hope.” It’s not a certainty that some day the Messiah will come. For us it’s that he has come, and he’s coming back. One hope begets another.

His power and glory evermore proclaim!

Adventure in Becoming Okay

I hesitate to say it publicly. I don’t want to somehow condemn myself, but I thought you might be interested to know. I’ve only said it to a few friends lately, but over the last month or so the damnedest thing has been happening. I dare say I’m becoming healthy. Mentally and emotionally well.

Almost two months ago now I started a new job. I’ve been working as a team leader at a local frogurt shop. The self-serve kind. It was just a series of opened doors. I went to church with my parents, and some old family friends were there. And we just asked “Do you have a job?” They own this yogurt place and Ty instantly said “Yes. Just apply.” By the end of service he came back up to me and said “Be there at 8 tomorrow. Your life is your interview.” 25 years. Longest interview ever, but totally worth it.

I work with mostly high school students. Everyone there is at least three years younger than I, but it doesn’t matter. I love them. Even the ones I want to punch. They’re funny. They’re so chill. No one is terribly dramatic. They’re just cool, and I love working with them.

My job is growing. Almost daily Ty sends me something new to work on. I get to use my pop culture knowledge on projects. And I’m doing some writing for our product descriptions. Is it a lot of money? No. It’s not. But my heart is calm. My sleep is returning. I worry about nothing.

I don’t spend a lot of time with people away from work, and I think that’s what I’ve been needing. I don’t feel compelled to entertain or appease anyone. I’m not trying to live up to anyone’s expectations. Sure there are people I miss, and I’ve made some exceptions, but mostly, I work and I watch TV and I sleep. It’s sort of perfect. All I have to focus on is God and my brain getting better. And my brain is getting better.

These crushing emotions I’ve been feeling for the last two or more years are not so crushing anymore. Sure they’ll wave in, but they don’t stay as long. I haven’t unnecessarily burst into tears in a month, and that’s sort of a big deal for me.

In about a month I’m looking to go to Chicago for a weekend to see some of the people I’ve been truly missing in my life. My heart has been pining for them. A whole weekend of seeing some of the funniest women I know. I really can’t wait. And seeing them in capacities I’ve never been able to see them before. In their homes. In their married lives. With their children. In their city. I’m excited, and I hope it works out. Because my heart could stand be surrounded by 10 hilarious women for 72 hours. (And some cool dudes if I can manage it) Sadly I find myself thinking, “But I want more of them. 10 isn’t enough. I want every funny woman I know in one room for 72 hours. Probably five with survive, but it’ll be hilarious while we last.” But I won’t get greedy. I’m grateful for what I’m getting.

Oh that I could see all of these women.

 

Adventure in Trains, Dreams and Figuring it all out

I know it’s been a while, and I’ll explain soon enough.

I’ve been having these dreams. None of them are the same, but they all involve trips on a train. It’s me and a friend, though I can never remember who it was when I wake up, are taking a train to a different place every night. Every night we wait for the train to show up and we board. We find seats in our car, where we’re always with the same four people. There are other people, but four other strangers are always in the train car with us. We travel to wherever we’re going. Every night is a new trip. Last night we were waiting in a train station. The train station had a church. We went to the service for the church, but were late. We had to leave the service early to catch the train and got in the queue. But shortly after I realized I’d forgotten my pillow in the church, but not to fear. Because one of the strangers comes up behind me and says, “I thought this looked familiar,” and he hands me my dinosaur-clad pillow. It’s all just very strange, and I’m trying to suss out what it means. And if I let me imagination take even the tiniest step, I have to assume I’ve been dream-sharing.

Now to the figuring things. On a very personal level I’m struggling. I feel like I’m straining to hear God, to hear direction or even feel a tiny nudge. And in my unemployment I’m getting impatient. What’s worse is I feel like any sense of discernment is being shaken, and I don’t feel like I’m actually getting in support as far as not just finding a job, but finding the place God wants me. I’m starting to feel very defeated. More over, various people, close and not so, are prodding for me to be writing things. Things here, things on my own, things to make me a “writer,” whatever the hell that is. But it’s distracting. It doesn’t feel beneficial. Because what’s happening is this. Either God is using people to push me, but Satan is distracting my mind from being able to write things. Or Satan is pushing me toward my pride to write, and God is silencing my brain so I can’t write. Either way I’m frozen. I was asked to join a writers group with a specific intent, and every time I get an e-mail about the topic of the week that topic is instantly completely inaccessible to me. As if I’d never even heard of those ideas before.

And on a personal, but also broader level, where’s the line? At what point do we stop behaving exactly like those who do not know Christ and pursue something else? And I’m not going to mask the details. I’m going to be candid, and it’s because I don’t see a point in being vague. It’s confusing.

Last night I went to a bar in Huntington to see my friends’ band play. When I arrived music was already happening. People were gathering. A horde of women was sitting in a mass in front of me. And while the concert itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, the post-concert was. Sadly, out of the ordinary for my heart and brain, but I don’t think for those involved. I’ve no qualms with dancing. What I do find troublesome is public dry humping on a “dance floor.” Grinding is super weird and intensely sexual. “Oh here’s a stranger. Let’s nearly bone for a while, until I get bored and find another stranger.” It’s unsettling. People I love. People I RESPECT. And it begs the question, what about this conceivably shows any sort of turning from our old ways to pursuing Christ? I mean, I guess if you were sharing your testimony while you seduced someone from on top of a speaker? Or shared the gospel as you helped some stranger get off by rubbing your ass on him? No. I’m afraid I don’t get it. In the same way that I don’t understand people who claim they’re pacifists, but have bare-knuckle boxing matches in their basements. In the same way I don’t understand alcoholics in bars.

Let’s look at the idea of alcoholics at bars. Let’s say I’ve come to understand I’m an alcoholic. that my life is in total disrepair. I can’t function without alcohol, but I’m not functioning because of alcohol. I am rock bottom. I start going to AA. I go to rehab. I’m getting myself clean. So to avoid that I’m not going to a bar. Right?

So let’s then look at Christianity. Let’s say your driven by male attention, and you find that you do get more fulfillment from pursuing a relationship with Christ than whatever form of male attention you can get. You try to take compliments at face value. You avoid dating. You straddle legs with a stranger on a dance floor. Right? Same thing right?

I understand that we’re all prone to errors, and we shouldn’t live hiding our sins. We shouldn’t be presenting ourselves as better than we are, because we’re all broken. We’re all messes. It seems though that that’s something completely other than what I saw yesterday. I felt sick. I feel sick. And I know some of the arguments I’ll hear. I’ve heard them before. I just don’t feel like what we’re instructed to do is continue living exactly as we always have. Once we make the choice to pursue Christ and live our lives for him, our own satisfaction and gratification have not one damn thing to do with that. And that being helpful or service aren’t enough. I know we’re forgiven, but it’s not fire insurance. It’s not a do whatever the hell you want card. If we’re truly trying to live for Christ. If we’re loving God first, then shouldn’t our lives reflect that? That’s always been my understanding, and I don’t see how that does. And a one time thing, a caught up in the moment lapse, I get it. My understanding though is that this is not a one time thing. And it’s also just one example.

I have my things too. I really like TV and should spend a lot more time doing other things, serving, studying, all sorts of things. And maybe it isn’t “hurting my witness,” but if I’m honest I don’t think I’m helping it. Yes, it’s something I can use, but I don’t want it to be who I am. Because it’s not. I’m a child of God, but it feels a lot more like I’ve been nannied by the television. And while in the privacy of my home, it isn’t different. I’m loving television instead of people. I’m loving television instead of God. Except for the part where it is. Where I’m causing myself to stumble. I’m really just heart-broken. It changes how I see people. And instantly I just felt judgmental. Then I had to wrestle. Am I? Or am I just working towards regaining my discernment?

If I’m a manager at McDonald’s, the way to explain to those under me that they should be on time for work is not to be consistently 15 minutes late. It’s to show up on time, or more likely, early. And YES, they will know we are Christians by our love. But if I start stabbing people because I feel like killing, that’s not going to be showing anyone that I’m a Christian. Or if I start lying because I just don’t feel like telling the truth, that’s probably not the best plan either. And then what’s the line. Yes, it does depend on the individual. To a degree.

I’ll just leave it at this.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Gives his Holy Spirit to you. Why monkey around with that? And what about perpetuating our sins and not even attempting to live differently from our pasts is setting us apart, making us holy, sanctifying us?