Friday, April 30, 2010

Ivan Ilyich lived a lie

Do you know how fast an hour passes? How you barely touch ten minutes? Do you know where the time goes: do you grasp it, do you count it? Too much time for waiting, too little time for doing.

What is this brief sojourn? A moment spent anxiously glancing at our watches, anticipating His arrival, anticipating relief. A lifetime spent learning and doing, choosing every day where our treasure is.

If living is waiting then living is wearying. If living is learning then living is overwhelming. If living is doing then we're all doing just fine. If living is choosing then may we choose that which is life indeed.

What is this life? One part contented waiting, one part vivacious working, we bide our time with "Your kingdom coming" -- we know this means "now" as much as "soon." Take hold of that which is truly life!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"If you wanna be foolish you can go do it alone"

Sometimes I dislike writing. I've been attempting to write about Virginia Woolf for the past two days, and I can't, I can't. Her world is so far removed from mine. She lived a funny and tragic life. Stringing words together on the subject seems wrong.

In other news, I've made another great music discovery. Gratis Nicole McLernon. "You're WELCOME."

Was it Andrew who tried to convince me that piano rock was a genre? I still don't believe him. But, if piano rock is at least a subset of "alternative" singer/songwriter music, Wakey!Wakey! fits the label better than Seabird does. At any rate, I loved what I heard so much that I impulsively bought the whole album before listening to it. And it was WORTH it. Comparable to fun., this band is probably all I'm going to be listening to for the next month.

I actually know next to nothing about this band. Really. It's some tall, skinny straight guy who's really musical. I don't know. That seems to be the definition of most of the music I like. Failure.

But really, I promise, their sound is new and fresh and unique -- it doesn't sound like everything else, and that's why I like it. The instrumentation is really varied, with plenty of synth, and piano, and guitar, and violins. At some times it's old people polka music, and other times it's frantic crazy Panic at the Disco-esque arrangement. Their sound is rhythmic, the melodies are unexpected, and it's the farthest thing ever from "stripped down" -- this is anti-folk music at its epitome. They use a lot of vocal instrumentation, too. Which I usually find tacky when anyone other than Regina Spektor uses it, but, their whistling and "ooh"-ing, it works. And, I do, I'm picked about male vocalists, but I do, I like his voice.

Lyrically, well, they're less impressive than Sleeping At Last. But, of course, that's comparing them to an impossible standard. Lyrically, I'm not excessively impressed, but they're not bankrupt either. "Car Crash" is a beautiful song lyrically, the highlight perhaps being, "Just because you're full of yourself doesn't mean I'm not full of you." I love the line in "Almost Everything" where it says, "So you miss the feeling when you step outside and your mind comes all untied and then you open up your eyes and you don't feel lonely anymore." On the other hand, they're mostly soppy spurned love songs. And of course, "Got It All Wrong" has an ugly word in it.

But I'm kind of obsessed. Enough to mention them to you here. Try it, you'll like it.

Hah, and a jewel I snagged from my dad's XM radio perusing habits: Valerie - Steve Winwood

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"I am a whore, I do confess"

I don't understand forgiveness. I suppose that's the point.

I read that Francine Rivers book, the one based off of Hosea. It helped me understand forgiveness a little. It was good, but I suppose I like Hosea better.

In the House of Heroes song "Voices" there's an excerpt from a sermon, I can't figure out where it's from, but he says, "Your greatest sin is not whatever it is that you did in your life, that keeps hounding you -- Your greatest sin in not believing God's word when He says you're forgiven! Your greatest sin is unbelief. You want to repent of something, friend? Stop repenting of sins you've already repented of, and repent of your unbelief."

And I suppose, I'm writing this to confess in James 5:16 disclosure, that sometimes I don't really believe that I'm forgiven. Sometimes I think I need to be miserable for a few months before I can attempt to live like I'm free again. I try and break it down all so clinically, with formulae and a step-by-step process. This mysterious thing of repenting. I worry that if I don't do it right I won't be forgiven, that I won't be sanctified. Sometimes I don't believe in sanctification, or that, God can do it to me.

How foolish and easily deceived am I, to allow my guilt to separate me from my God. How blind to suppose in my bitterness that perfection was unattainable when it is already mine in His resurrection! I am a whore, I do confess: fickle, distracted, thoughtless. I'm sorry, for not trusting You to change me, for not believing in the depth of Your mercy. I'm sorry for my stubbornness, for clinging to my shame and not Your promises. All my debts were cast on Thee, I must and shall go free. Is this what forgiveness means? Heal me, heal me of my unbelief.

"Let us pursue obedience to the LORD and we shall become obedient. His appearance is as sure as daybreak, and He will come to us like rain that refreshes the earth." [Hosea 6:3]

Monday, April 26, 2010

My hope is in divine discontent

I went to the supermarket with my dad today, to stop at the bank and to get some on-sale ice cream for the strawberries we cut up yesterday. The car smelled like gasoline and springtime and the factory and cologne, and we talked about politics and talk radio on the way there. My bank statement reminded me that I keep forgetting to tithe. It's raining now. It didn't rain when I was babysitting earlier, and I was glad, because instead I got to push her on the swings and teach her knock-knock jokes. I couldn't remember any, so we sang songs instead.

I wonder, if I just keep writing about little nothings, maybe something true will come out.

I want to write things that are true. But every time I examine myself or my past from where I am now, I'm very afraid that what I'm saying is trite and cheap and a waste. Or, simply untrue. Because I don't know myself, never have and never will.

I'm writing instead about Virginia Woolf, in a tacky exposé with Word 2005's gaudy WordArt headings. She wrote the most terrible suicide note to her husband, who, despite what some base biographical criticism alludes to, was very good to her.

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.

Isn't that terrible? It has a certain grace to it, a subtle deprecation and a flair of martyrdom. But it's also full of hollow compliments and artificial apologies. So direct, and so condescending, but still artfully sentimental. It was a different time then, of course. I don't know much about her husband, or much about Woolf, which I guess makes it a good thing that I'm writing about her, learning more about her. Perhaps I shouldn't have started with her Wikipedia article.

I am, slightly afraid. I love Lily Briscoe. I think, I am Lily Briscoe, maybe not in her essentials, but in her most outward and shallow trappings. They say that Lily Briscoe was Woolf's "Mary Sue" character. I feel such an inexplicable admiration for Virginia Woolf, with her absurdist cynicism and feminist insistences. And so the more I learn, the more I love Woolf, the more I discover that she was a fearsome woman, and what does that say about me for admiring her so? I felt similarly after finishing I Capture the Castle, that this person I identified with turned out to be so monstrous.

But for all I know I am nothing like Lily Briscoe. Or Virginia Woolf.

I watched a Youtube video today about being yourself. It was nice and positive and encouraging, and I allowed myself to suspend my disbelief and wonder, what if it's true? What if you just need to accept who you are, and that's the key to limitless confidence and wisdom and sanctification? When I suspend disbelief, I go all out, you see. But no, it's all lies, nearly all of it is.

Forget the fact that I'm tall with frizzy brown hair, poor hearing and eyesight, and back problems. Forget that I laugh too much and too loudly, that I frown too often and am decidedly melancholy. That stuff doesn't matter. Trappings of my personage; that's not who I am. What's important is my character, and my soul. I would say, that's all that matters. Really matters. In my self-referential scheme of things that matter. Bah, semantics. If my soul were beautiful, I could withstand anything. Anything. I'm misting over in bitterness of the perfection that I can so clearly picture but never ever see in real life. I must accept the fact that I am sin-full.

But if being myself means not fussing over the fact that I am prideful and lazy and self-absorbed and fearful, then I want nothing to do with being myself. I should very much like to be someone, anyone else. I want not to feel badly about my flaws, to throw up my hands helplessly and say, "This is who I am. Yeah, I'm terrible. That's okay." It's not okay. I'm supposed to change. I'm supposed to want to change. I do want to change. But it's a slow, painful, tedious process. And so it sounds tempting sometimes, to "accept yourself and all your flaws and live life loud!" Oh, optimism. I hate you.

I don't mean to be so jaded. There is hope, I know that. God has been and will be so good to me. But oh, there are so many lies that make my heart hurt when I realize they aren't true. How can I content myself to be myself when myself is what I know it to be? Oh, Jesus, how did You bear it all?

Oh, I hadn't meant to sit here extroverting nothing of import for so long. Eyes wide open all the time just like a drug store, in the city where she walks the streets at night, time keeps ticking like the ocean through a sieve. Hi. Hello. I hope you are well.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Iron Sharpens Iron

The benefit of being distant is that, when the rug of your perception gets pulled out from the feet of your mind your balance doesn't get that upset. [Wow. The land of awkward metaphors is a scary place.] I'm talking about who I trust and how much I invest and how to be above the influence. I'm talking about being sheltered and sheltering myself.

So I guess my response is to just do more of the same. More distance. More severing. Okay. I knew it. I felt it coming. There was a warning bell that saved me from doing stupid things. Things I never got around to saying, things I couldn't bring myself to do. And I didn't understand why, but I'm thankful they happened. Or didn't happen. God was protecting me, and now I've emerged the bombing with very little shell shock. That is to say, I don't feel as though I did anything wrong, just that I perhaps came too close to doing something wrong too many times, and I don't want to be reckless anymore.

Not that it was a big deal or anything. Teens are stupid. Sorry, we are. And we're self-centered, we don't realize how the things we do must look to other people, and, we play with fire and get mad at fire regulations. You know. My one hope is that I'll outgrow this silly teenaged angst! and look back on my inner tensions in amusement! So drama sucks our blood like deer ticks. It's not fatal. We grow up. Most of us escape unscathed, and think back amused to our stupid teenaged days when we made foolish decisions and "ran with the wrong crowd."

But of course, it's just better to do things this way. To not delude myself, to grow closer to my sisters and honor my parents, and stop being so naive. To the pure, everything is pure . . . but that doesn't really work for those of unclean of us. I will take the shelter of my family over the tempting of my friends any day. I'm hoping to cut out some heart-ache by just doing as I'm told. And, I guess I'm not good at being subtle about it, but, directness wins over tact with the people I love. So there you go.

I wonder if I will regret posting this post. I wonder if I ought to post it at all. But, I find peace in trying to be real. And these questions, perhaps you will understand, and mutually edify me, and manage to sift through my cryptic and confusing judgments. Maybe you will be able to evaluate the heart of what I'm saying so clumsily. Or many this post is just so nonsensical it will be ignored, like it ought to. I am too self-indulgent for my own good, I think. But there must be some good in being able to admit that? Oh, the straws I grasp at!

Snip snip. [The sound of me cutting a few ties that should never have existed.] [I don't entirely understand, but I am persuaded that this is right.] [Story of my LIFE.]

Andrew reminded me that ignoring things is the enemy of closure, and, while I hate closure, a lot of people like it, so, this is your closure. This is my snap reaction. This is my not ignoring the exhortation of those who know better than me. This is my opening my mouth and proving myself a fool. But now you know, what's in my head. And now that it's out . . . oh, I can sleep in relative peace tonight. [Nope, nope, there's that school-related ulcer. I have issues, guys. Oh, the whole subscription . . . !] [I'm Florence from "The Odd Couple", I really really am.] [I just want to do right.]

Oh! And, I feel as though I ought to counter-balance my careless venting with a disclaimer: I'm not talking about you. Even if I am, I'm not. I'm sorry for using the word "you" so carelessly. I speak generally of the tension I've always felt, ever since I was ten years old and sat in my closet after church with tears on my face praying for a soul friend. It's such a delicate balance, isn't all of it? God and family and church and coworkers and friends and circle of influence. People are so wonderful. I just want to do right. By putting my trust where I ought to put it. And only He can tell me where that is. I'm reminding myself. This is me reminding myself.

What can I say? I love you. You are necessary. God is good. The end.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is it too early to start anticipating summer?


Scholarships. New York. Nationals. Boston. Babysitting.

Actually hanging out with my church girls. Instant messaging Gangsta K until she's sick of me.

Buying a car to get to URI. Getting kicked out of Ignite, saying hello to C&C.

My summers fill up without even trying, with all of my favorite things. Summer TV, missions trips, late nights with people I love. Flip flops and trampolines. Family worship month, beach days, weddings. Reading.

Best laid plans of mice and men, prepare to fall to pieces. But each summer is always better than the last.

Two months, but the time's a-flying.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

1 Thessalonians 5:24

Last weekend I was in Indiana for the American Legion Oratorical Competition. The bare facts are these: I wrote my speech the week before the state competition. It was not memorized for the state competition so I gave it largely ad lib. I was the only one to show up to the state competition, so I qualified to the national competition despite my embarrassing performance. I wrote my four assigned topics a week before the national competition. At the time of our check-in Friday afternoon, my prepared oration was memorized only in the most fragile sense and my assigned topics were not even sketchily memorized. I stayed up late Friday night and woke up early Saturday morning, struggling to memorize my prepared oration cold. I was stressed out.

And then the competition started. By some stroke of grace, I drew last in the panel. I sat in the holding room reciting my speech to myself over and over and over again. While the speech did not go as smoothly as it might have if I were actually prepared, it went just a'ight. I was almost looking forward to the assigned topic: though my speeches for those were entirely unmemorized, I felt decidedly more comfortable giving them impromptu-style than struggling to recall a script without flubbing. That is, until anxiety took over and I realized I couldn't remember most of the content I had planned. My mind was struggling even to remember what the text of the Fifth Amendment was. [You guys, grand juries are culturally irrelevant, I'm not even kidding.]

Once in the prep room, another stroke of grace was awarded me: they had drawn my favorite topic, Article 5, the sole assigned topic I had partially memorized, could easily articulate, and had just practiced in the holding room. Like a flood the content came back to me, and I shocked the proctor by being the only contestant to scratch out my entire outline on the paper provided. I entered the contest room with confidence, gave a speech I was proud of, did not go overtime, and left the room crumpling inside of myself with relief. I performed leagues better than I did last year, but more than being satisfied that I had done my best, I was nearly sick with gratitude that it was all over. As expected I did not advance, and I was satisfied both that God loved me and that there was a measure of justice in this world. Once back at the hotel room, my mom read me this:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

I was in pain. Oh, I was. I couldn't control my tears Friday night, anxiety ate away in me every mile closer to Indianapolis. I woke up Saturday morning with a stress settled in the lines on my forehead, and as I attempted to accept the compliments on my performance I felt crushed even by the suggestion I had the potential to advance. Through all this I could do nothing but try to endure it, because I had brought this misery upon myself. And, when my mom read this Scripture to me, she impressed upon me the importance of not getting drunk on relief and forgetting the lesson the pain was supposed to teach. That He promises to produce righteousness and peace in those who are trained by the pain of discipline. But only in those who are trained. "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."

In one sense, I don't entirely understand how God's discipline works. I wonder if I'm taking this passage out of context, mistaking the consequences of my own sin for the instruction of God. But at the same time, I can only praise Him for cutting at my conscience -- is it not a wonder that I even cared that I was ill-prepared? Is it not God's mercy that I regretted my negligence and desired to do my best? A small part of me wished for a sudden sickness, a fire alarm, a plane crash -- anything to remove me from the competition. But somehow I took my medicine like a big girl, reciting words until they buzzed back in my ears. When I was punished two weeks ago, I guess grounded in essence, I loved it. These have been wonderful times, straining under the weight of my mallet but gleefully watching my laziness be crushed. Kind of like the gym. I can't stand another ten minutes on the elliptical, oh, but I love it. Yes, it's a kind of sick self-help masquerading as masochism. Except not like that at all.

But oh, it's hard, and intentional, and painful! It requires resolve and mine is shoddy. It requires attentiveness and mine is always slipping. I am so weak! But I am thankful! for a God who disciplines me. Who has not given up on me. Who will stop at nothing to get my attention. Who is my very strength.

And yet even this morsel of understanding is incomplete, tinged with the bitter smell of what I still do not understand. Oh, friends, when did it happen? When did I lose all the most important pieces of myself? "Who are you that tells me I'm just a trace of the person I once was, I just can't tell if you're telling the truth or a lie, but still I control this nightmare, when I call it answers, but I can't tell it when to come and when to stay." I was too tired, and this is what I became. All that comes from waiting. Logic is the flimsiest thing I have ever leaned on.

And so, I end this Ebenezer with a little melancholy and a few questions, but also with a permeating hope. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

Listening to: "Prove Me Wrong", "Piece of Glass" and "Hold the Light" by Caedmon's Call

Monday, April 12, 2010

NCFCA: Seven years in review

For entirely self-indulgent posterity, here is some documentation of my involvement with a forensics league that did more than any other high school activity to shape who I am and what I care about. (How's that for scary?) Here is my history in NCFCA.

"Rabbit Hill" by Robert Lawson, OI

I was twelve and really nervous, met a lot of nice people, got inspired, and I caught the bug.

"Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw, DUO
The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, OrI
Florence Nightingale, OO

I was thirteen and all I remember about this year is 1) visiting the Fellowship, 2) it snowing, and 3) signing up for two speeches the night before. You can imagine how that went.

"The Art of Being Persuasive", DUO
"The Princess and the Kiss", OI
Robert E. Lee, OO

TP: medical malpractice year

I was fourteen and I broke for the first time ever. I qualified for Nationals and felt so terrible about it that I didn't even want to go.

"The Last Leaf" by O. Henry, DI
"The Butter Battle Book" by Dr. Suess, OI
The Futility of Wealth, ThI
Sanctity of Life, OO

LD: overvalued democracy year

I was fifteen, knew everyone in the league, and placed in sweeps for the first time.

"The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls, DI
"Frog" by Vivian Vand Velde, HI
Judges 4 - 5, the story of Deborah, OI
A Different Kind of Recycling, PERS
The Beijing Olympics, OO

LD: isolationism year

I was sixteen, got my first first place, and went to my very favorite tournament of all time: the Virginia Open at Regent University.

More than a Piece of Paper, OO
"Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti, OI
"Cinder Elephant" by Jane Yolen, HI
Lessons I Learned in the Dark, DI

LD: idealism and pragmatism year.

I was seventeen, stretched my limits with four weird speeches, and got my only first place debate ranking.

"The Choice" by Claire Luckham, DUO
"The Odd Couple" by Neil Simon, HI
Floss to Save Your Life, PERS

TP: environmental policy reform year.

I was eighteen, and it was my very last year.

When I first started, I was terrible. All the kids in my club would break and I would get straight fifth and belows. In TP I had a straight 3-3 record, and when I started LD it dropped to 0-6. But randomly, I really liked it. Speaking and debating. I neglected a lot of my real schoolwork a lot of the time to work on speech and debate. And eventually, with some practice and mentoring, I got a little better at it. And my friends were happy, because they no longer had to feel awkward when they broke and I didn't, because finally I was breaking, too.

The first time I qualified for Nationals, I felt sick about it. I didn't want to go, and I didn't want to talk about it, I was so ashamed because I felt like I didn't deserve it. And my mom had to explain to me that only rarely do we deserve what we get, that qualifying was a God-thing, and that I needed to square my shoulders and make the best of it. In retrospect I can't believe she took me and my siblings all the way to Purcellville, VA for that one speech.

Do you know, my second round I made the mistake of waiting in the room for my turn, and what's more, the girl who went right before me, directly before me, she did the same exact piece? I was a mess, I was so nervous. I never got my ballots from that Nationals, we left early and whoever collected my ballots for me lost them, and I never saw them. But clearly someone in the room needed to hear that story. Needed to hear it twice. It sounds silly, and mystical, but, I was then resolved, that every speech I gave needed to have a point.

This is why apologetics is my favorite event of all time. Something that forces me to know my faith and explain it concisely. The first year, especially, through my laborious prep I was forced to see doctrine and illustrations and devotional implications everywhere I turned. Research spilled over from the class into my life, seeing truth everywhere in a whole new way. I read Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology cover to cover; it was a pain, but I'm the better for it. I could probably write a solitary blog post solely on what I've learned from apologetics. But I love to be handed six minutes to dwell on truth.

We shell out money for these platforms, we pay a hefty price for three sets of three people to listen to what we have to say for ten minutes. We might as well have something worth saying. And now that I see how meaningless these seven years were, I'm so glad that none of those speeches were a waste of time. That every word I labored to memorize was worth saying.

Not sure I can say the same for debate. Bleck. But where speech failed to breed in me any sort of refinement on the platform, debate taught me actual skills. Speech you might do for years and years and only learn a little. Debate is baptism by fire. Most good speakers were first debaters. [And I guess, those who excel in speech without any debate involvement, are naturals.] Debate forced me to do what I hate: think fast and talk directly. I still have so much learn, this skill still needs so much refinement, but I am boundlessly grateful for the jumpstart NCFCA gave me here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Though we're strangers still I love you"

Tell me things.

Tell me your name.

Tell me your nationality.

Tell me your nicknames when you were a kid.

Tell me where you got that backpack and how much it was, and was it easy to rig the suitcase handle when everyone else thought it was beyond repair?

Tell me about your husband.

Tell me your health issues, and about that time you went to the hospital, tell me about your first baby, your daughter, how is she?

Tell me if you want more soda or not. Shower gel? An extra blanket?

Tell me your favorite color.

Tell me where you're from.

Tell me what makes you tick, what makes you cry, tell me when to take you seriously.

Tell me, tell me your heart: it's what mine is aching to hear. And I will thank you, thank you for blessing me.