Monday, January 25, 2010

The Strings Songs, Part I

A term brashly borrow from John Green's Paper Towns, the strings are what attach our emotions and our aspirations, the things that connect the heart with the body and the soul and the mind. And I think for most people, the thing that tugs on the strings most often is music. You must know some songs like that. I have some songs like that. This is part one.

The first time I ever heard this song, Kate's boyfriend was playing guitar for a group of people outside his mirror for the first time, and this explosive personality was suddenly so shy, and I realized just how vulnerable music-making is. The risk inherent in personal expression through art. I've also always connected this song with the moment I realized Kate was going away to college. It's funny, that the actual song has so little to do with Kate, but that it reminds me of her without fail, and it's one of my favorite songs of all time, so, I think of her often. Beyond that, it's just an excellent song, a lyrical story with a catching melody. Proof something good came out of the 90's.

One of the Youtube commenters on this video has it right for once, "It never fails to uplift this weary heart." I have these bouts of intense confusion where I feel incapacitated and unable to sort anything to rights, and whenever that happens, I turn on this song. It reminds me that God is God and of Him I am sure. All understanding and revelation comes from Him, all cures to confusion, and I'm not expected to sort it out on my own. My duty is merely to trust. There is nothing lovelier than the "ah-hah" moment where, "The sky is clear as my mind is now, I was a long, long way off." I love this song for telling me it's okay to be happy, even when I don't understand.

I used to get so irritated over the tiniest little things, hung up on insignificant details, so angry over things that didn't matter . . . and, I know I promised not to say "I used to" because to an extent this is still one of my vices, but I associate this song with the freedom from that feeling. Also, this song reminds me of such a funny stage in my development, a limbo period in my life when I first entered youth group and started GCT and wasn't even involved in NCFCA yet, when I was a total nerd on a ZOEgirl forum, which, by the way, a certain NCFCAer was a part of, too! And now I think of the crowded, deafening darkness of the Paradise Rock club in Boston, sighing at the awkwardness of encores, willing Switchfoot to play "Daisy" and being convinced that there's no way they would, just as the opening chords started humming through the speakers!

This is less laden with pictorial memories, and more intense self-indulgent feelings. Sitting on the hammock in Hannah's backyard singing at the top of our lungs, "I am a bird, wearing a brown polyester shiiiiiirt!" Collectively pondering over the process of getting older. Nursing my Peter Pan complex. And while I think I've come to terms with that fact that this stage in my life will inevitably end, and that growing up will be bittersweet, this song evokes a powerful and weird feeling from when I was so melancholy about getting older. It's a song that reminds me of the summertime, of that satisfying pit in my stomach of nostalgia and anticipation, and the thrill of mix CDs.

For all the times I fail and for all the times I don't understand, there is tremendous praise and comfort in the fact that this, too, shall be made right. For so long I've been asking, "Why me?" To quote the Louisiana Hannah, "I don't say I'm blessed just to sound good." There is so much that is unfair, and I feel so guilty that I am so, so blessed. But all that is a lie and all that is confusion and all that is wrong, this too shall be made right. Emily a.k.a. "Mom" was the first person to show me how to live with anticipation for the end of this world, seeing everything in the scope of eternity, when the righting of all wrongs will bring glory to the King. This is such a simple little song, but it takes such a bitter subject and shows just how much joy is laden in the most horrible realities.

In an instant I can taste cherry flavored zinc lozenges and smell the wind on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and feel the marble floor of Regent University's library and hear Michael commenting, "This is such a bar pick up song!" I think of sitting outside of a Starbucks next to the river walk in Colorado, I think of walking through the wet autumn air in Irvington, and standing barefoot on the grass in Reading, I think of pacing in circles to my iPod in those wretched orange and black halls in Fitchburg, I think of ridiculous Nationals after-parties, I think of early morning and late night car rides with their sunrises and anticipation and traffic jams and contentedness. It's my quintessential NCFCA memories song, a song that marries a plethora of experiences with a confusing jumble of internalized happiness.

I'm not sure how to conclude this self-indulgent list, part one. I find so much joy in feeling, and especially in remembering.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"I love this place enough to have no doubt."

I love the city.

When I tell adults this, they look at me sorrowfully in their wisdom of experience, almost pitying my youthful enthusiasm that promises to be crushed by time. They tell me I've never lived in the city, which is quite true, and that I would probably appreciate the city less after living in it. They tell me the glossy glass and brownstone facades of Providence and Boston and San Francisco and Washington, DC are not the real city scene, and I'm in love with the idea of the city. All of which might very well be true.

But by the same token, it was not the financial district of San Francisco that inspired my admiration, or the grassy quaintness of Victoria Row, but rather the disgusting old hotels and sketchy internet cafes in the Tenderloin. It feels like I've walked all over DC's carefully planned grid system, and while I was falling for the historical monuments I was also roused by the briskly timed crosswalks and concrete parking garages. As much as the East Side and picturesque Brown campus excites me, I'm equally enthralled by the gaudy yellow color of the Providence Rescue Mission. And I love every block of Boston as much as the next, especially the musty smell of the crowded train stations.

Still, it's true that my experience with the city is limited. While I'm no stranger to public transit or navigating street maps, I've never even been to the Big Apple. Currently I live in the suburbs. I don't really spend much time in the city right now. And even though I've wandered around the dangerous parts of the Tenderloin and South Providence, I am terrible naive about danger. But I'm also big into the sovereignty of God, so, I don't put much stock in those sort of environmental fears. Still, I'm not terribly "street smart". The only thing I can foresee as being a nuisance if I were ever to actually live in the city for an extended period of time is, people throwing their trash on the ground. That would really tick me off. Also, there are no woods in the city. This might be a problem.

But I don't know. I don't think my infatuation with the city is fleeting. Those things others find inherently obnoxious are the very things I appreciate so much. Things like homeless people and public transit and the loudness and busyness of it all. I love the feeling that civilization is happening, and constantly being surrounded by people and society. I love stony-faced people on the street who pretend to ignore everything around them: I think I would be good at that. I love the telephone poles covered in staples and I love walking everywhere and I love all the cheap food in well-represented variety and I love the smokey smell of construction sites and machinery and I love all the different buildings and I love what I've seen thus far.

So maybe life will give me occasion to find out if I really love the city or not.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We are all amputees [a drabble in 300 words]

She is dancing, if you could call it dancing, and she is chanting loudly within her soul in a voice you can hear in your ears if you listen closely, but her words are deafening if you listen with your heart. Her arms are over her head and wobbling like spaghetti, and her palms are pressed against the sky, as she is chanting, chanting, "Oh, how I love to be whole!" There's a one-two-three, one-two-three to her light side-stepping, and her skirt is swishing around her knees, while she is enveloped in her waltz that is made beautiful by content if not by form.

Your heart is splintering as you watch, listen and watch. You see in her arms the fractures that never healed, you see the shiny scars on her skin. You see the chips in her expression, and the flaws in her features. You see her brokenness and you feel broken for the soul who delights in wholeness while ignoring the cracks that mar her countenance. But she dances, if you could call it dancing, through the pain and through your pity, and the gloaming is thrashed by the radiance of her face while she chants, "Oh, how I love to be whole!"

She halts her reverie and grabs your hand, with a touch that is urgent and light and cracked. She compares the fractures palm to palm, and she traces the matching scars like she's seen them before, and her mile-deep eyes find your mind, melting into your fear and love and questions. With an accuracy that wavers and a sincerity that trembles, she tells you the joy-streaked truth: "In His love we are made complete." And your soul accordions around the words as your breaks stop aching and you grasp the source of her elation.

The mending has already begun.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Romans 11:36

I think each time we see God's love, we get a little smaller. A little more humbled, a little more repentant, a little more united in our hearts. And I think each time we see God's love we love Him back a little more. A little more obedient, a little more sanctified, a little more overjoyed by our calling. I'm not certain exactly how it works, but His love is compelling.

But sometimes I don't feel loved by God. Intellectually, I know I am. And I know feelings are fleeting, and an inaccurate gauge of reality. But most of the time, I think I assume God's love is there, and I never actually bother to look for it. I think if I bothered to open my eyes and thank Him for the ways He's loved me, I would be astounded. And so I think I might love God more if I bothered to ask every day, where did I see God's love?

I know God loves me because of the cross. But I think I also know God loves me because of the sound of the rain hitting the deck, and my dad's good-night hug, and the freeing feeling of a full tank of gas on the drive home. Those things are wonderful because GOD is wonderful. Praise Habit is one of my favorites of those Christian devotional type books, and I love Crowder's concept of finding God in the little things. Is it silly, or even sacrilegious, that I think of God every time I eat Nutella? I don't think so. To love Him more, and praise Him more, and know Him more.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

But I'm not, so I'm not.

If I were a month, I would be September.

If I were a day of the week, I would be Thursday.

If I were a time of the day, I would be dusk.

If I were a planet, I would be Mercury.

If I were a sea animal, I would be a barnacle.

If I were a piece of furniture, I would be a piano bench.

If I were a liquid, I would be gasoline.

If I were a gemstone, I would be jade.

If I were a kind of weather, I would be a cirrus intortus.

If I were a color, I would be navy.

If I were an emotion, I would be curious.

If I were a fruit, I would be a kiwi.

If I were an element, I would be Mg 12.

If I were a food, I would be soup.

If I were a material, I would be teflon.

If I were a taste, I would be umami.

If I were a scent, I would be fresh-from-the-factory new car smell.

If I were an animal, I would be a giraffe.

If I were a song, I would be repetitive but catchy.

But I am me, and strangely, "me" so much more difficult to characterize.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I'm occasionally afraid of people. Because I'm self-centered. Every time I meet a new person, I am desperate to make a good impression, to be charming and pleasant and likable. I want to be liked. Actually, I tell myself I want to be a blessing and a positive impact, but my wish for their well-being is probably more of a wish for their admiration that I would wish such a thing. So maybe in a way it's better that I am more often socially awkward than the "blessing" I strive to be.

Anyway. Some of the time I'm awkward around people. I'm too self-aware, too loud and obnoxious, too forced in my attempts to be sincere. [Irony.] And so, when I say I'm afraid of people, I'm really afraid of failure. Of feeling foolish. Of not being the blessing I'm supposed to be.

But this is only some of the time. Other times I am enraptured with humanity. Other times it's easy. Effortless. I meet new people and we get along just swell. The encounter ends and I feel blessed. And content. And, centered? Balanced. At peace. I find myself happy at having successfully engaged in communion, even if the interaction was limited to our team owning on Mario Kart or a conversation on the merits of certain primetime network television shows.

And the difference between these two poles of interaction is God. It feels wrong to say it with such certainty, but that's what it is. Certainly. The closer I am to God, the more effortless it is for me to be closer to people. Or in more sacrilegious terms, the closer I am to God, the better my social skills. You say, obviously. I am amused by how slow-witted I am. Constantly relearning the same lessons over and over again.

But I mention all this not to talk about the nature of community, but to provide an example of another fundamental "duh" lesson.

I got this tee-shirt when I was in Vermont this summer, which, you know, is a big deal. Because I never buy tee-shirts, not even for a good cause, which this happened to be! It's my favorite tee-shirt, even though my mom mentioned the design kind of looks like bird poop. It says "MOVE: for in Him we live and move and breathe." I have a special place in my heart for Acts 17:28. This is why it's my favorite tee-shirt.

Existence outside of dependency on the Spirit of God is laborious. It is hard. It makes me do things I hate doing: speaking sharply at my sister, working lazily at my to-do list, seeping in self-centeredness, and inhibiting any ability to connect with a person. It is so difficult and unpleasant and socially awkward to live that way. But when I get lost in dependency on Him [this strange thing, this abiding], I am able to actually live, and move, and breathe. I am able to work diligently at my to-do list, I am able to be patient with my sister, I am able to lose sight of myself for a split second, and I am able love people beyond my awkward social graces. In Him. "God did this so men would seek Him and reach out for Him and find Him."

It's just so much easier that way. And I don't mean to say, "Abide in Jesus and things will go your way." Because the prosperity gospel is a lie that's destroying the church. But I do mean that He is all and He is everything. That which you lack is easily accessed in Him. It's okay that I don't have enough wisdom or love or patience, because He has enough, and when I live&move&breath in Him this burden is truly easy. How can I frame this familiar thought in the same fresh way it fell on me?

Self-sufficiency is a lie. Dependency is so much easier.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ambition & Apathy

Hamlet: O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Guildenstern: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow.

Rozencrantz: I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.

[Act II, Scene II, Lines 270 - 278]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"I've never been so happy to hear the French!"

Hurley: How exactly does something like this happen?
Danielle: Are you on the same island as I am?

I wasn't a huge LOST fan from the beginning. I didn't start watching until the middle of season four, during the writers' strike. Sarah and I blew through the previous seasons in two or months; I had an addiction that was definitely time-consuming. I had previously been a huge fan of the Discovery Channel Kids rip-off show "Flight 29 DWN" and I was already really into survival-type stories and conspiracy theories, so it was just my kind of show. Things got even more fascinating in later seasons with the sociological and scientific implications of the story.

And then last January season five came and nothing made sense. A side plot was created and resolved over the entire season without shedding any real light on the over-arching story. Tons of characters died. The characters that were alive got super annoying. The entire season was pointless. The script was terrible, the acting was pretty bad, and the entire season was a waste of time.

But you know what, I am faithful! LOST is starting again in February. The last season. I have waited a year for this and I am so there. I have faith that it's going to be worth it!

In his Sunday school message yesterday, Michael turned to his notes and muttered, "I'm lost . . ." And I turned excitedly toward my friend at the word "LOST" only to realize he wasn't alluding to the television show. Clearly, I have a recognitive defect here. No matter how bad LOST was, I have faith it'll get better. I don't dwell on the dark days of season five, but remember the happy days of season three. I can make this relationship work. And after season six, it'll all be over for good . . .

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2 Thessalonians 3:13

I'm thinking about important things.

I'm not sure what questions I ought to be asking. I'm not sure what changes I ought to be making. But I think it's time for moving.

I used to have a small collection of personal resolutions, rules for myself, almost mini-challenges. After some practice, implementing my mottos became effortless, and things like "always sit front and center" became habitual for me. So I stopped remembering. And in turn. I've stopped smiling at strangers when I go out. I've stopped talking to newcomers at church and classes. I've stopped engaging people, and in the process I mindlessly forgot love God, love people. A self-obsessed soul turned evermore inwards.

I think we wait sometimes, for a lightning bolt or an earth-shattering moment. We wait to get our brains scrambled by something amazing, after which event we will see everything clearly. And why shouldn't it work that way? But maybe, we forget the converse: why should it work that way? And by "we" I mean "me" . . .

I have been distant and I have been removed and I have neglected to be disciplined because I was muddled and confused and waiting. In waiting for absolution I forgot that my sins are erased. In waiting for clarity I forgot I knew the answer. I have grown tired, so weary of being faithful to the only thing that could give me joy. A love for people that is energizing and never exhausted.

My mom was remembering with me an old friend of our family, and problems that had befallen their family because of a mindset they had adopted. And I asked her, "If God is sovereign, why doesn't He just intervene and show them how wrong they were? God saved us from ourselves when He opened our eyes to salvation, why doesn't He save them from themselves now?" And she explained the truth in a way I had never considered before. How obedience is the root of sanctification, how it's not about lightning bolts and magic wands, but how God softens our hearts by showing us our black hearts and giving a life that has already been lived perfectly. How only our stubbornness and self-absorption make us tired and confused.

So now I'm remembering. That I'm whole. That I'm guiltless. That in Christ I have the power and ability to stop being lazy and not become weary of doing right. I'm remembering that it's not about me.

So may peace rain down from Heaven like little pieces of the sky, little keepers of the promise, falling on these souls this drought has dried.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I, I, I went to Tokyo, only in my dreams because they're all I know.

I don't understand why the US doesn't have a presumed consent policy for organ donation. Social contract, yo. It just makes sense. It wouldn't solve the tremendous shortage, to be sure, but in this instance one can honestly say that every little bit helps.

I'm so tired of being not enough. I should like to be what I'm supposed to be, I'd like to live like a "new creation" and I can't, or, I'm not, and I'm weary of making the same mistakes again. And again. And again. "Our matchless Father comes to us, and He says, 'Do you love me?'"

I think it's funny that Google brags about how quickly the search was generated. Also, Google is genuinely starting to worry on me. I'm realizing how much of my life is saved in their servers, and how many intangible shreds of data would disappear if they crashed. Of course, when the world ends, it won't matter.

And life goes on, but it's hard to remember that, because at some times you feel more alive than at others.

Oh, I feel so sad and simple when the day is gone . . .