Thursday, November 26, 2009

Insert cliche race analogy here

When will this aching end?

When you get done what you need to get done.

When will I get it all done?

When you stop wasting time with little nothings.

Is there an end in sight?

It doesn't matter. Just keep going.

I have a pathetic little story. Very little story. During the Manchester Thanksgiving Road Race today, I started strong, at the very front of the pack of unseeded runners. The thrill of sudden movement, the comfort of the cold air against my steadily warming face, and the competitive edge of weaving in front of those working at a slower pace. I love the sprint!

But at the one mile mark, the course narrows and the crowd collectively slows. Why are my calves burning, I wonder, only to take my eyes off my feet to see the steady incline. That persists the entire second mile. I halt, not bothering with the steady slogging jog of the people around me, knowing my power walk will take me just as fast, and give me a chance to catch my breath. So I walk. For a mile.

By the third mile and through the fourth the course has leveled and now the downhill has come, and I'm sprinting again, letting gravity pull me down the hill. But my motivation flags when I can't catch my breath and the thick pack of people is moving too slowly for me to set my own pace. I alternate jogging and walking, feeling frustrated that I can't operate at my highest potential, irked that my own mistakes and the people around me have set limits on how I run this race.

I plod on, trying not to think now that I am in a race, trying to think about the essays I have to write or about what we might be having for lunch besides turkey. "Less than a mile, less than a mile," calls a lumberjack man with cup of beer. We round the corner and I can see the flag that I know isn't far from the finish line. The crowd thins and I begin sprinting again, my fastest pace of the race. I know the end is coming.

But I'm getting dizzy from my shallow breathing and a sharp pain in my side makes me slow to a walk. I can't inhale without the stitch in my side protesting. Cynically I stare at the television cameras. Yeah, I'm walking in a crowd full of joggers, what's it to ya? I can see the blurry numbers of the timer counting up over the finish line. "You could run. It's not that far, why finish walking when you could run?" But I don't need to. I don't care about my time, so why run just for show when my side is hurting?

The race is over, and twin thoughts spring to mind. "You walked nearly half of it, that was pathetic." And, "That was fun, can't wait for next year!" I'm glad it's over, and glad I did it.

My life right now is normal, I have nothing to complain about. But internally, it feels like a road race, when I hit the hills and the long stretches after a sprint I can't motivate myself to up the pace, to endure the proverbial cramps in my side and just keep breathing. Instead I can only wait for the race to be over, dully watching the finish line get closer and closer, caring and not caring if all I need to do is done by then.

I sprinted the Gatsby essay, and I'm really quite proud. I jogged the BU application essay and the result needs to be scrapped and started over. I'm assessing how much ground needs to be covered in the final stretch and I'm willing myself to sprint again, and it just doesn't seem worth it. But the thrill of business is such a tease: I'm intoxicated by the feeling of being full, doing what I like to do, while the payoff is so elusive and stress threatens to wreck my confidence.

But it doesn't matter. I just need to keep going.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Matthew 7:1

I had a blast judging today. It was a wonderful feeling to sit in a cold metal chair with no nervous churning in my stomach and watch. Not idly, but watch with an open mind. Not having to think, "That's a good argument, but this would be better." Not having to think, "Oh dear, what will I say in response to that?" When I normally watch a round, I put myself in the competitor's position. But today, I was in the judge's position. All I had to do was listen to what I was told. And comment on it. And of course I was at home passing out criticism.

So, my brother is getting older. He's developing facets of his personality that I just didn't see when he was drooly high-maintenance toddler or a brooding and video games obsessed seven year old. And while I adore my little brother and think he's fantastic, I'm also highly critical of him, always telling him to stand up straight or say please and thank you. I love him, and I want him to be above reproach. I see this so clearly now in my mom, every time she challenges me with her disapproval -- she is disappointed in me because she loves me, and she knows I can be better.

But sometimes I forget this kind of thing is limited in its effectiveness outside the family model. Sometimes it's not just my brother that's the target of my "love-motivated criticism" but my friends get some flak, too. The careless muttered piracy warnings or the over-dramatized rebukes must sound so much like nagging, so hypocritical. I want watch the people I love be refined into their restored image in Christ . . . and somehow I think pointing out the room for improvement will make that happen? I forget that criticism is only encouragement when it's rooted in love. [And I forget that whole bit about sanctification not coming to fruition on this earth. That significant bit.]

While my family understands that I love them, and that I will always love them, and that my criticism is born of this love . . . I can't expect everyone to understand this.

I think, sometimes friends are people we can be human with. Rest in our humanity and how inherently cracked and flawed and not enough we are. And yes, people provide a motivation to pursue righteousness, but those aren't the kind of expectations that produce anything God can use unless they're mixed portion for portion with a Spirit-filled love. That sounds cliche. Terribly cliche. But how else can I describe it? I think, sometimes the best encouragement is less about what you could do better or what you've done well, and more about I understand. Forgive me. I'm figuring out how to love you like I ought to.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comfort Food

I've been sitting in front of my computer for an eternity, after spending Monday catching up on NaNoWriMo, and Tuesday writing college application essays. [Speaking of which, isn't "Are we alone?" the best personal statement prompt ever?] I was finally waning at eleven last night, and instead of falling directly into bed, I made a stop at my book shelf first.

Understand, I have stacks of books to read. My lit class is working through The Great Gatsby and I'm wrapping up my gender studies exploration with The Feminine Mystique. Mr. Rehmke's sent me a stack of books that I'm supposed to get back to him about, and I have some other classics beside that I need to read to make my book quota for the year. The stack of books next to my bed that have yet to be read is shameful.

And yet, I stopped at my book shelf and grabbed my sad paperback copy of Anne of the Island. The book really is a mess, obnoxious dog-ears, split spine, broken binding and all -- Maggie got her hands on it and destroyed it like she destroys all my books, not that I'm bitter or anything. I don't normally like to read a book more than twice, but I pick up Anne of the Island when I can't be enticed to read anything else and am in desperate need of some literary therapy.

I'm reading it with new eyes, it feels like, thanks to Dr. Thomas C. Foster and NaNoWriMo. The book must be about fifty-thousand words, and I'm wondering if there's anything I can steal from Lucy Montgomery to make my plot less structurally pathetic. [I'm thirty-thousand words in and only twenty-four hours have passed in the story. There's been too much drama for one day. Not to mention excessively stale narration.] Also, Montgomery was a veritable master at tone and imagery.

I'm not sure what I like best about Anne of the Island. Or any of the Anne books. I don't find much kinship in Anne's personality or circumstances, although we do share an INFP connection. There's just something winning about the characters and their stories and the overly flowery [yet somehow not pretentious] prose. That feels silly and excessively girly. Oh well.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Or I'm just a sucker for catchy songs

You guys, I've been on the most wicked, deplorable Jars of Clay kick recently.

I saw them in concert two years ago, and I was kind of irked because they did a Christmas song [nuff said!] and during "Dead Man (Carry Me)" the lead singer was rolling around on the ground, and it was all very uncomfortable to watch. And some Jars of Clay lyrics are just, "Really, man? For cereal?"

Their song "Closer", while an amazing song to novel to, makes me shudder every time I hear the line "If you hemorrhage I'll stitch" because, ew, and I roll my eyes at "You’re the L and the V, I’m the O and the E" because that line is so overwrought it's surprising The Plain White Tees haven't picked it up.

But their lyrics have do have some pearls:

"You never minded giving us the stars, then showing us how blind and unaware of you we are." -Unforgetful You

"Tearful confessions have watered down and broken down the chance for unrequited love to finally reach its wall." -Collide

"I'm doing way too much thinking and it's tearing me apart." -Hand

"I admit that I've loved these chains and crawling around this cage sometimes has its advantages." -Grace

"Deny myself, deny my heart, deny your hand, deny your help and you offer me eternity, but why should I buy that?" -Sinking

"So steal my heart and take the pain, take the selfish, take the weak, and all the things I cannot hide. Take the beauty, take my tears, take my world apart." -Worlds Apart

I love that their songs are honest, and depressing, and genuine. Discouragement is real, and they don't pretend it isn't, and so often they sing songs that articulate exactly what I'm feeling. They sing the truth, and it's refreshing, and in itself that's encouraging.

"Love Song for a Savior" may be a trite, overplayed product of the CCM movement, but I don't care. He is more than the laughter or the stars in the heavens, He is as close a heartbeat or a song on our lips. And someday we'll trust Him and learn how to see Him.

It seems too easy to call You "Savior," and not close enough to call You "God," so as I sit and think of words I can mention to show my devotion, I want to fall in love with You.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dollar dropping like a lead ballon

Why is love a currency, that it means more the less we say it? That we give love in exchange for love, that love corresponds with gifts and service? Why does love imply cost and value and worth? Why are the well-loved wealthy in spirit, why are those who give love away the richest of all? Why, why is love like a currency, and why do we buy and sell love every day?

There are hardly any leaves on the trees anymore, and I'm staring out the window wondering what it would matter if I could embrace the world with an exponential love . . .