Light

I grew up under the rather Puritanical mindset and teaching that life is miserable, and you had better just start getting used to that now. In classical fashion, my first growth beyond that mindset was rebellion against the bitterness and anger that so filled the people who accepted that mindset. Being angry at anger doesn’t solve anything, but sometimes it is our first step in waking up.

It’s still a struggle for me, though. That’s why I’m writing here under pseudonym. The people I grew up with would still be quick to tear all of this apart as “too optimistic” and “naive” and even “delusional.” Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes I think people stay in the darkness because it seems safer. If we already expect the worst, we can’t be let down. And so they proclaim this darkness as “truth,” but it’s a self confirming bias. If you only take note of all the horrible and dark things that happen, than it certainly seems like “truth” is that life is made up only out of horrible dark things. These dark-livings then loudly proclaim that they have the truth, that everyone else is too childish to deal with. Maybe. Maybe not.

Even if we were to grant the dark-livings that they have the truth, or a portion of it, even, there is still this: But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. And truth didn’t make the list. And if you put truth in the same category of fathoming all mysteries and knowledge (which I think is how the dark-livings are using the word truth, in that instance), then it gets the slam that it’s worth nothing without love. And love, we have plastered everywhere to the point that further words on it are at the moment rather unmeaningful, ought to be casting out the darkness.

But setting aside that worn path, what about faith and hope? The dark-livings would say that “if in this life only we have hope, we of all men are to be most pitied!” clearly implies that there’s NO hope for this life. It’s only in the ever-after that that there is hope, or fruit from faithfulness.

And there I part. There are a lot of hard and horrible things in life, and that I do not argue with at all. But they abide. Faith, hope and love. Now AND later. Some times you read about or witness or go through yourself some hard and horrible things that seem to be so pointless and endless. Other times, hard and horrible things and yet you can see the faith and hope and love shining through the absolute shit (in it’s literal meaning). If we are not the ones called to faith and hope in middle of all the darkness, who is?

So Faith is here. Hope is here. That is still hard for me to understand. I don’t think that hope means getting everything you want. But it has to mean something. And I think of the pillar of light leading the Israelites. Not everything was light. But there was that pillar, and it was bright. You have to have faith, though, or else you won’t follow it. The pillar of light goes wandering off, and you stay put, gritting your teeth for the darkness, now that the light is gone.

I’m not trying to imply there aren’t times when it seems like all goes dark and the veil is rent, and that is all. What I am saying is, when we do see light, do we shield ourselves from it, and from what it might mean? Or do we follow the light in faith and hope?

It’s easy to say the second. Not so easy when you have lived or seen others live through being so happy to see what looks like light, and then having their hopes dashed. What do you say? My faith is better than yours, so the hope that I have won’t be disappointed? That’s why this is such a hard topic for me to write about. How can you claim hope for yourself when you know other people have hoped and seen no fruit from that hoping?

And that’s where the anger and the bitterness come from. I understand that a little better now that I did before. But I still don’t think it’s right. We are no where called to be angry and bitter. So understandable or not, we have to reject the mindsets that inevitably lead us there: they aren’t really truth, in it’s ultimate sense. They can’t be.

Understanding the hurt that can and does exist can make us more fearful and doubtful of both faith and hope and even love. Yet even a fool can see that the greatest faith and hope and love is that which has withstood the greatest fears and the deepest darkness. So it cannot be naivete that causes us to stumble after the light, but rather courage.

I read the works of Emily P. Freeman once, and to paraphrase, she was putting forth that sometimes God uses both our human limits and our deep-seated desires to guide us, to actually lead us into what He had prepared for us to do. This both at once had the sense of being very liberating and a ring of truth, and also, completely against everything I have ever known. You fight and wrestle with human limitations. You are always called upward and onward toward more. You are never enough and must always keep striving. And you should put to death any of your desires for pleasant things, which you wouldn’t get anyways, and besides you don’t really need them, and besides, it’s probably just your fallen nature seeking after things you shouldn’t really be wanting anyhow.

Not that there’s any bitterness there at all or anything.

Ok, lots.

The thing is, it seems to me, a lot of darkness-living people are doing a lot more gritting of their teeth than they are praying. Not even asking for things is different than respecting the authority of God to have a better understanding than you of what is good. The darkness-living winds up being a lot more like the un-prodigal son, who is mad he never got to have party, even though he never asked. Or like the miserly servant who refused to do anything with his talent because it would all be taken away from him anyway.

And asking is different than setting an ultimatum. One of the most wondrous passages I’ve ever read is when it says that those who seek Him will find Him. And it seems to me that if we are finding Him, then we are finding His will. And it seems to me that part of seeking is asking. So if you have this desire in your heart, how do you know if it something you should be following up on or not, unless you ask?

And if you keep asking for clarity and direction and understanding and discernment, and the same thoughts keep coming up again and again, at what point do you allow that maybe the desire is the answer?

I don’t know the answer to that. But it does seem to me that the important step there is the seeking and the praying about it. Only you won’t ever do that if every time the thing that you want pops up, you stuff it back down because it’s obviously too good to be true. And if you accept the teaching that life is all about not having what you want and always learning to live with doing things you don’t like and are hard for you, then you don’t ask.

I have sometimes seen this line of thinking shortened down to “the desire is the answer.” That I do not mean. That implies that you wouldn’t be wanting anything, unless it was God’s will to give it to you, and I don’t agree with that at all. But what I have found is that instead of feeling frustrated and angry when the minute I get a free moment, my thoughts invariably fall toward some of the same old familiar topics and themes, what I should really do is take it seriously. Think about it. Pray about it, very specifically. And be at peace that if it stays, you keep praying about it. And if it goes, you got another kind of answer.

But it staying is a kind of an answer. You can’t really in good conscience pretend something isn’t important when the same thing keeps coming up over the course of your whole life. Even if it is what looks good to you. It’s real. It’s important. It deserves prayer. It shouldn’t be dismissed. It should be treated with faith and with hope even more than it should be treated with logic and rational thought and emotion. God is still leading, sometimes with a pillar of cloud, and sometimes with a pillar of light.

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Working and Waiting

For Christmas, I decided I wanted to paint a picture for my card. I’ve not really painted much, and most of what I have painted, I’ve not been very happy with. I’ve dabbled, occasionally, in plain pencil drawing — more often tracing over the outline from a photo and then practicing paying attention to shading. And people have told me, maybe more often than I realize, that I showed artistic leanings that just needed to be developed, and that I should taking drawing and such more seriously. But it’s work, and I don’t have time for work, so I mostly did nothing.

Anyhow, the Christmas card — since I had this idea in my head, very vividly, I decided I had to take this project seriously. So I did what I’ve seen described a million times before. I folded my reference photo in to a grid, and then drew a grid on my watercolor paper. Then I looked at each grid individually, and tried to represent what was in there. I was running out of time, so I only had two sessions to paint it — once for the general idea, and then again to build on details.

And you know what? The thing came out fantastic. I kind of didn’t even recognize it as my own handwork. Because when I actually applied some discipline to my efforts instead of slap-dash hurried attempts, well, who knew? I actually had some sort of talent buried in there after all.

Lately I have been thinking about my writing. Well, not really thinking about it, as much as finding it is on my mind, but having no clearly defined thoughts on the matter. The thing is, I’ve never really thought about my writing before. I’ve always just done slap-dash hurried attempts, and never really gone back to edit or refine. Never really did base planning work. It served it’s purpose in the moment, and it was good enough for me, but I’ve never really tried to apply discipline to it.

In the last few days, especially, I’ve been stumbling over half-birthed poems I’ve scribbled down places. Kind of tantalizing, but also the epitome of not really knowing what I’m doing. I need to find some sort of online course that walks you through the basics of poetry, of meter, of how to do on purpose that which I’ve only sort of felt around in the dark and taken a gut guess at.

The thing is, I don’t have anything at the moment that I desperately want to say. This is perhaps even one of the roots of my worrying over my writing — it’s not like me to feel at a loss of words, which I have for months. But I can’t escape the feeling that, like my painting, if I just applied some actual effort and discipline, I would be a good deal more impressed by what was revealed. And also, another disquieting feeling — that writing slap-dash wouldn’t be satisfying anymore. That it served it’s purpose, for it’s time, and will likely continue to serve in some kind of role. But that it’s no longer enough of a challenge to be amusing. That now I have to be writing “on purpose” to get that same feeling of satisfaction.

It’s a bit of the chicken-or-the-egg problem, though. First I feel like I need to have a topic (and perhaps an audience) important enough to deserve a little extra effort. For my painting, it was a Christmas card. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But it does have to be more than a passing whim. One would think if the corollary were just a Christmas card, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a topic worthy of effort. But I feel like I have nothing important to say, and my mind feels pitifully blank.

I don’t know where I will wind up with all of this, of course, but I feel like the prodding is getting more frequent and more meaningful. You have something here. You ought not ignore it. Put some discipline into it.

Okay. I will. But for now, I think still at the spot of waiting for the idea that’s worth the work.

 

 

Music That Rings True

Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,
See him dying on the tree
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected,
yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He
Tis the long Expected prophet
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord
By His Son God has now spoken
Tis the true and faithful Word

Sometimes we have to say things. Out loud. We might all know them, we might all think we believe them, but it is almost in the saying of them that they become real.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

And so often I catch myself thinking, “It’s not fair!” But I don’t think that phrase means what I think it means.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the WORD, the LORD’S ANOINTED,
Son of Man and Son of God.

We were speaking of sin and righteousness this afternoon–the excuses we make for sin, and the severity of God’s righteousness. It is one thing to feel offended that God’s righteousness is too much for us to bear; it’s another to consider what that means for God.

Here we have a firm foundation;
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

But I feel confounded. I feel confounded all the time.

While singing is often when I am most meditating on and speaking the truth. This comes as a bit of a surprise to me, as people tend to hold up as “godly examples” spending much time in prayer or reading the Bible. And those things are important. But it is one thing for me to read that He is a Good, Good Father, and it is another thing for me to affirm it out loud.

I’m scared, sometimes by the smallest and silliest of things. I’m scared when it seems like I’ve lost my voice for writing. I’m scared, when I see my own bars I’ve set that I just can’t clear. I’m scared by relationships that seem to be drifting further and further apart. I’m scared by my perceived inability to make a real difference in anything, and that fear is invincible to the comments of others. I’m scared of my apparent invisibility as I move through life.

But those things don’t really matter. I mean, of course they do; but they don’t. They’re so fleeting. Their relative weight is so small. What do I have to offer? Nothing, really. What does He have to offer? Everything, really.

Next, I find out

Once upon a time, I had time to think and time to write what I was thinking. I look forward to getting back to that place, but I also wonder how my thinking and writing has changed since then. Even when I’m not writing in the expected sense of “somewhat visibly,” I am writing, all the time. Some people wake up to a cup of coffee; I wake up to writing two pages in a spiral bound notebook.

It’s not great literature. It reads like you might expect from someone who is still waking up. Half the time it’s probably a rehashing of all the swirling to-do lists in my head. Always, the same themes get visited and re-visited and done to death. And growth is slow. I never felt different between one birthday and another, and yet in five years time can barely recognize the person I used to be.

The last seven years have been an incredible catalyst of change and growth, in big ways and small ways, and as I see — on the horizon — some sort of chance for the dust to settle a little bit, I think I am also scared. Scared, a little, to see who I am now. I was too busy changing and growing to understand what kind of changing and growing was happening, and so now, when things start to settle, I feel like I will be rediscovering who I am.

That sounds stupid. Not to you, maybe. To me. Because I’ve always felt like “not knowing who you are” is more (to my intellectual mind) a problem with not have the courage to own who you are. How can you not know who you are? You are who you are. You are you. What are you expecting to find?

I don’t know exactly how my thinking on this has changed, and by that I mean, I’m not sure what my current conclusions are. One of the most bizarre things from being sick, really sick, is this strange feeling I have now of only “inhabiting” my body, and not being “one” with my body. Previously, my body and me were pretty much inseparable. Me and it, it and me, you don’t get one without getting the other. But when I was at my most sick, things became more and more surreal, and I felt more and more often like I was watching my body in the third person. “Me” is still me, and yet this body thing, it’s very peculiar; it’s malfunctioning. “Me” isn’t malfunctioning, but the body I drive around is. How odd. How strange.

It lingers a little. And I begin to realize other ways in which I have been rather indiscriminatory between “me” and just the things really close to “me.” I like to characterize myself as a bossy older sister, but as I come back home again and again, I find that “thing” to be slipping away. We’re all older. And I don’t want to boss. And half the time it seems like my younger siblings know better than I do, anyhow.

My stories are more grounded. I don’t mean I don’t still tell myself stories, but it’s getting harder and harder to find the romance in them. At one point in my life, I could make being a college student sound glamorous to myself. I’ve seen enough of school to make me puke, and I just can’t squeeze any glamor out of it. The less you know about things, the more softly you paint them, and in more gentle colors. Traveling half across the country is both easier than you think, and also, less adventuresome. Not because I did adventure, but because, what do you know, you have to respond to your car breaking down on a one way road up mountainside, with wildfires raging through the state, the exact same way that you, well, respond to a broken faucet. There is a good deal less romance than you might think, and even a good deal less adrenaline, and a good deal more of trying to figure out the next reasonable little step to take.

It makes life somehow a good deal more accessible and also a good deal more boring. Before you get out there and muddle around, you can pretend how interesting and exciting it must be. After you muddled for a bit, you realize that where ever you go, you still bring you. And that shapes your experiences about as much or more as your experiences shape you.

But going through a lot of stuff that you just have to grit your teeth and wade through, because that is what you have to do, because that is life, also leaves you with much more defined ideas of what you do and do not like. The imaginative brush has been hardened, and there’s less of a fantasizing about what you might liked to and how you suppose something would be marvelous. When the dreaminess starts to get stripped away, you’re left with more of a concrete list of Wants and DO NOT WANTS.

Yet the clearing away of the ambiguity starts to also unveil another problem: it’s harder to just take what comes, or to just “go along.” And then I begin to discover that things that I thought were “me” were really just things that were happening in close proximity around “me” and I was just “going along.” And if that’s not really “me” then where do I go now? What do I do now? There is less ambiguity about me, but more ambiguity about where I really belong in the world. Where’s my place?

And some of the frustration is realizing that I have been through a lot, and it has changed me, and I’m not quite sure how yet. I’m still unpacking, literally and figuratively. Part of it is realizing, rather suddenly, really, how the people I’ve been the closest to haven’t been on this journey. Hardly at all. Not only have a grown in ways that they haven’t come along with, but they have quite likely grown in other directions. Unbridgeable? No. But it doesn’t mean we fit together the way we have before, or that we ever will again. Sometimes this is good growth, but it doesn’t make it any less scary.

People ask me what comes next, and I’m kind of afraid to talk about what I hope does come next. Because I don’t want to “go along;” that’s a brutal kind of hard. What I want is something that would undoubtedly still be hard, but it would be “Me.” And that makes it better, even if it doesn’t make it easier. But you kind of get two choices: Go Along or Fight Against. And fighting against is hard. It’s hard to swim against the subtle and pervasive expectations of All The Reasonable People, in their various camps. But it’s also hard to choke out the parts of you that have survived the crucible, the things that are now known to be Me.

That might seem straight forward enough, but it’s not. Because woven and tangled into that is realization that some of the Wants are just tendrils of trying to escape the Don’t Wants, and those two are not in actuality the same thing. There is a certain aspect of wanting to live honestly, and in that sense I mean not trying to be something you’re not. But there’s also a certain aspect of, I don’t like This; what is Not This? It’s hard to sort out.

Life Takes Courage. Always.

Also, vulnerability, honesty, humility, compassion, discernment, integrity. And these things seem like cliché, because everyone says them, but unfortunately people mostly act like they would be “good” accessories to have. Not basic necessities needed for day to day survival. Yes, I did say survival. Without those things, we self-destruct. Where ever I go, whatever I do, it never seems like I have enough of those things.

And I leave that there as the ending, not because it’s an answer to the question. But it is a truth that co-exists with the uncertainty, and sometimes that is where you have to start.