Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reader's Digest

Classes have officially begun and I've closed the book on winter break. I went back to school heavy-hearted and whining self-indulgently, missing the balance and freedom winter break had bequeathed to my life. One of the greatest things about break that I'll miss the most during the semester is all the books I was able to inhale. I've missed reading. But I managed to cover some ground this January, and it is immortalized below.

One of the books I procured at Urbana for only a dollar, this story describes memoir-style how the author lost his faith at Urbana. Not a resounding commercial for the conference. What it's actually about is his struggle with doubt through his college years, and how his undiagnosed clinical depression complicated and informed his doubts. If you've ever been depressed, or known someone who was depressed, or want to be able to understand the individuals you have yet to meet who face depression, this book is a good place to start. The doubts he discusses resonated with me so much, and though the book starts with a bleak (gut-stabbing, terrorizing . . .) outlook, it culminates in real and honest encouragement. It's a page-turner, not because his story is dramatic or unusual, but because he is able to speak to candidly on a topic very few have addressed.

This was a young adult murder mystery novel my sister got from the library on a whim. It was lame. I mention this for posterity. I spent like five whole days of my winter break on this book. 

The most expensive book I got at Urbana for a whopping five bucks, this charmingly sarcastic make-your-own-adventure-style how-to book explains what loving others in God's name practically looks like. What I love about this book how she speaks to the tension between first world living and God's calling, and how to fit kingdom living in with midterms and errands. Wherever your circumstances find you, there's a chapter in this book for you: men or women, introverts or extroverts, rural residents or city dwellers, students or investment bankers. She paints an accessible vision of the vibrance of the gospel, and everyone should read this book. If you couldn't come to Urbana, it is your best substitute. If you did come to Urbana, it will help you funnel all that inspiration into action. This stuff is where it's at, people. Let me know if you want to borrow it.

It was by sheer kismet that this novel ended up in my possession, thanks to an awesome student from our youth group. (I wish I could say it was a perk of being a youth leader, it's not, it's a side effect of awesome people, THANK YOU ELIZABETH!) While I'm no die-heard John Green fan, he always tackles existential dilemmas very well, and this latest novel was no exception. I didn't like it quite as much as Paper Towns, but I credit this more to the fact that cancer is a reality more distanced from my life. Speaking of which, I would not recommend reading a book about lung cancer while suffering from bronchitis. I felt like I couldn't breathe the whole time. 

Oh Virginia, I want to be you, minus your fake marriage and unceremonious suicide. But I feel like a major hypocrite here, because though I love To the Lighthouse with an ardent passion, my exposure to her other writings has been minimal if not nonexistent. So winter break was the perfect time to correct this. And lo, though I read her with lover's eyes, she once again proves herself the literary genius she has been lauded to be! And what ho for feminism, she has unfortunately fanned the fires that were arguably dampened by my forays with a feminist interpretation of Dickinson from last semester's literary acoustic class. True, this extended essay is not fiction, so that's kind of rough, but I'm glad her cleverness is not limited to a single genre.

I can't look at my dresser without feeling a certain level of forlornness, from the charming linguistics book I keep saying I'm going to finish and make Michael read (ugh, I swear, I'm almost done, you'll really like it!) to the hefty volume of spy-memoir my dad remarks on every time I crock open a different book. So many books to read, so little time to read them. But I can table them all on account of the stimulating ideas I've been promised to encounter through my courses. They better follow through on those promises; they cost enough. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


I've been awake since 6am on December 31st. For those keeping track, that's 39 hours and counting. To be entirely accurate, there have likely been patches of lost consciousness in there along the way. I marveled that the day's travels through subways, concourses, flights, terminals, and car rides flew by so quickly, and this is due largely to my body's ability desperate attempts to halt functioning and initiate the REM cycle. Still, I'm dizzy from the blurry signals my eyes are sending to my brain, I'm speaking slowly, and I don't know quite where to begin my re-entry process from the Urbana Student Missions Conference.

Tomorrow class begins, and normal life returns. And so my heart must process and purge now, before its passion is anesthetized by the comfortable routine of activity. 

To obey is better than to fear. On the plane ride from Providence to Newark I was wracked with fear. You can ask the nine year old girl in the row in front of me, she stared at me with disbelief and horror as tears streamed down my cheeks with each bit of turbulence. I was tense in my seat and in absolute misery, under the control of my (irrational?) terror. Catching the Newark to St. Louis flight involved much running and stress and some crying to TSA agents, and I was spent when I finally sank into my sick. I was too tired to be afraid. 

I spent the first full day of Urbana unwittingly mimicking this pattern. Hyperventilating each time I looked at the long list of seminars and exhibitors and prayer ministries and worship experiences and panel discussions and student lounges, I wondered how I could possibly make the most of this expensive trip. I sat in the general session quaking with fear that my selfishness and laziness would subsume my desire for obedience, that I would never be able to authentically respond to any of the invitations presented during the week. I was consumed by (and still fight) the fear of not being powerfully, profoundly changed. 

The book of Luke is filled with invitations, hard challenges of obedience. Let down your nets, follow Him, be fishers of men. Come down from that tree, repay those you've cheated with interest. Go out, take nothing with you, stay in the homes of those you meet, proclaim the kingdom. Deny your home, deny your family, leave everything. Seek and save the lost. Repent. The charge Jesus has for those who seek to follow Him no small order of half-hearted devotion. It is all-in, go-hard, drop-dead sacrifice. Comprehensive surrender. 

. . . I mean, yikes. Never mind the fear latent in a hunk of metal soaring thousands of feet above the ground through inclement weather and turbulence. Fear of flying is trivial compared to the commissioning of an all-powerful holy Savior. Fear is asking my coworkers to grab froyo with me, fear is hosting a Luke study with my friends who aren't believers, fear is cold-calling missions agencies looking for opportunities to minister to immigrants. Fear is showing up on a foreigner's doorstep and presumptuously asking if there's anything you can do for them. I CAN'T DO THIS STUFF GUYS. I CAN'T. The truth of this overwhelms me. A fuller revelation of my slavery to fear incapacitated my heart.

But oh, the light broke through. I love Him, and how could I not? How tenderly He seeks the one who was lost, how willingly He bore the wrath I deserved, how faithfully He stands before the Father to advocate on my behalf. He picked this trash from the gutter and in loving me He gave me real worth. He is a beautiful Jesus, and in the face of this Love I am compelled to love Him back. Is it not better to rejoice in my salvation, to act upon His promptings, to stride forward boldly in His callings than to cower in a cage of my own devising? Is it not better to go and do, because He says so, and because He is good? Why waste time tense in my seat when I am free to relax and enjoy the ride? It is not that the sacrifice is not difficult, but rather that the honor is so much greater. To obey is better than to fear. 

"How can I stand here with You and not be moved by You? Would You tell me, how could it be any better than this?"