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12/09/2010

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It's about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.


***

It's like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand.


***

I remembered about story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing. And I smiled. I'm not saying I was happy, but for some reason I smiled. It hurts now, but I'll love this memory, I thought to myself. And I do.


***

Job calls out to God, asking why God would let this happen.


God does not answer Job's question. It's as though God starts off his message to the world by explaining there are painful realities in life we cannot and will never understand. Instead, he appears to Job in a whirlwind and asks if Job knows who stops the waves on the shore of stores the snow in Wichita every winter. He asks Job who manages the constellations that reel through the night sky.


And that is essentially all God says to Job. God doesn't explain philosophically or even list its benefits. God says to Job, Job, I know what I am doing, and this whole thing isn't about you.


***

I didn't want to get well, because if I got well, nobody would come and save me anymore. And I didn't want to get well, because while I could not control my happiness, I could control my misery, and I would rather have had control than live in the tension of what if. A chance of hope is no pacifier against a sure tragedy.


But Victor Frankl whispered in my ear all the same. He said to me I was a tree in a story about a foster, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.






Some books are meant to be read. Other books are meant to read us. How a book functions depends on the person holding it and turning the pages. For now, this book is meant to read me.

12/08/2010

together we will rise out of our night minds

picture found here

Over the weekend, we finished all of our Christmas shopping. We spent the majority of time pursuing the toy and craft aisles at Hobby Lobby, selecting gifts we thought were equally cute and creative for children currently in foster care. The plan is to either attend the Christmas extravaganza at Oklahome Employees Credit Union tomorrow evening and enjoy free beer and wine and music or to drp the presents off at another time. However they are delivered, we are excited that we had the chance to assist gathering presents for children who might not have received gifts otherwise.

The rest of time was spent looking through the books on sale at Mardel. There were a few arguments and tension thrown into the mix as well. Arguments and tension about the same things there always are.

We've become ensnared in a pattern, and we are desperately trying to break out of it. I think it's a pattern many married couples fall into. A pattern of expectations, failed expectations, comparisons to each other and to other couples, and finally the busyness of life.

This pattern that we are in makes it difficult to have grace with one another. There is some grace, but it does not abound the way it should. Instead it comes with words of hurt and frustration and apologies. We have been talking so much, opening the lines of communication as wide as we can, that we are both sick of the words we say and the way we say them. I am tired of talking about it and am ready for our actions to speak loudly enough that words will not be necessary.

In the midst of this, I began reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. My husband is re-reading it for a second time. Our plan is to discuss it as we read it. I've been hesitant to read this book as I have never read Blue Like Jazz, though is on my list, but it seems like right now is the perfect time for me to dive into a book that talks about writing, stories, and how they relate to our lives.

I'm a writer, and one day, I hope my title of writer will pay the bills instead of the title being only a very part-time job. But even though I consider myself a writer, I don't commit myself to all that being a writer entails. I let days and week and sometimes month pass without revisiting my characters. Then I might spend two days churning out 20 pages only to return to months of silence. It's not fair to the story I am telling or to the characters who are allowing me to tell their story.

In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller describes God as the great author of all our stories. It's a comparison I have heard (and used) countless times, but the way Donald Miller talks about God as the author has me thinking.

When writing, the characters often times dictate the way the story goes. The author might know best, but the characters have minds of their own and want things to happen their way. The same is true for life. And lately, I'm becoming more and more aware of how much I veer away from the story God wants to tell through me. I discussed this with my husband last night, as we ate chilli, and it continues to resonate with me this morning.

God seems to be showing and telling us both what to do. In many ways, we clearly recognize the steps God is asking us to take. He wants us to follow a specific path in order to arrive at the place He has designed, but just like my characters often do, we're worried about taking those steps and wonder if our ideas are possibly better than His.

Donald Miller talks a lot about saying "no" to God. I'm good at saying "no" as well. I am also good at asking "are you sure" as well as taking my time to move towards the things He is calling me to, the things He clearly places on my heart. 

It's easy enough to talk about, to admit my shortcomings and the things I need to work on, but I still struggle with lifting my chin and taking that first step. Being aware of this inability or unwillingness (or whatever you want to call it) to take that first step angers me. I'm glad to see it but frustrated with the fear that continues to freeze me in place.

This fear keeps me from doing the things God calls me to. It also keeps me from living a life of adventure, a life of joy, a life of meaning. I don't expect life to be easy simply because I am no longer afraid. I think life might be more difficult because there will be more to lose. But my life would be worth reading about. It would be a life worth living. In the book, Donald Miller says that if something wouldn't be worth reading in a book than it probably isn't a life worth living. He says we're a character in God's story and that our characters should be rich and round.

I want that for my life. I want the cycles we are ensnared in to be positive driving forces. We know things need to change. This knowledge is an inciting action for our lives, and now it's up to us to decide what that action will be.

(title from "night minds" by missy higgins)

12/02/2010

looking for color in a shade of grey

picture found here
We spend our Wednesday nights at church, helping with the youth group. On Sunday nights, we open our house to the youth group and invite them over for fellowship and community. My husband and I also talk about the youth group, the kids who attend, our hopes for them, and etc. on the other five days of the week. Working with teenagers has always been a passion of mine. Even as a teenager, I dreamt of how when I was older I would offer my love and help to others. I just never thought about how hard it would be.

There was a stretch of about 10 months when I wanted nothing to do with children under the age of five, and I have just know gotten to a point where I once again find babies adorable and toddlers not annoying at all. In fact, I almost miss working with children on a daily basis. I never wanted nothing to do with teenagers, though. Teenagers are interesting. Their brains are ready to absorb, and while so much of their personalities are defined, there is so much room for growth. It's the growth that inspires me, that helps me to stay around even when I feel like nothing I do or say will make a difference.

Last night at youth group, though, I finally got to see some growth. Instead of worship and then a message, there was an open discussion. Everyone was invited to participate and offer criticism of the inner-workings of the youth group. Honest conversations were had about Jesus and Christianity. There wasn't one person (leader or teenager) not paying attention. The Holy Spirit was present and moving.

Sometimes I go to youth group with a grudge. I'm tired and worn out from a day of work. I feel like I'm not doing enough at home, at work, or in my spiritual walk. I'm tattered and feel I will always be tattered. Yesterday was one of those days. I was overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays and my disdain for them.

During the open discussion, I paid attention. I listened to the words being shared, but I also took a minute to walk away and spend time away from others. I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me, moving in me and changing things around yet again. The past several weeks I have asked for direction. I've also understood that, even though I did not want to, I was supposed to remain still. I'm not the most patient person, so I have not been the best at resting and waiting and not moving forward with my own plans.

But it was clear, yet again, last night that I need to continue to let go. My Achille's heel (as my husband has put it) is that I am a motivated individual. I am stubborn and strong and a fighter. It's good for many things but makes letting go of control more difficult. Not only do I need to let go of control for my own life but for other's as well. This was what was spoken to me last night, an honest picture of how my need for control does not help others but can stand in their way. I was heavy and burdened for the rest of the night, on the brink of tears and not understanding why I had to hear from God in the setting of youth group. It didn't fit with my plan, but I know His ways are so much better than my own.

I returned to the open discussion with my heart beating a little faster and lump forming in my throat. The conversation turned to Jesus as a man and the temptations he went through, the hard labor he endured. And the speaking to my heart started again.

I've tried to be optimistic, but I've failed. While it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown, giving into the exhaustion and frustration often seems so much easier than remaining positive. Letting my shoulders slump requires less work than reminding myself to sit or stand up straight, to smile, to not complain, to give thanks, to do all these things. But smiling and not complaining and giving thanks in all things is what I am called to do. It's one thing I've never done well on my own, and I know it's something I can only do through God.

I'm thankful that God is sovereign. I am thankful that God never forgets. I'm thankful that it hasn't snowed yet in Oklahoma. I'm thankful for two rambunctious dogs who like to cuddle at night. I'm thankful for a husband who works so hard. I'm thankful for a husband who loves me on my best and worst days (and every other day in between). I'm thankful for family who make me laugh and remind me of who I am. I'm thankful for time spent with friends. I'm thankful for a roommate who cleans our house (and has made it look better than ever). I'm thankful for good television shows and nights spent cuddled on the couch. I'm thankful that God blessed everyone with different personalities and talents. I'm thankful for a church that preaches the Gospel and stresses the importance of community. I'm thankful for the written word - both mine and others. I'm thankful for employment, for a house to live in, and food in the refrigerator. I'm thankful that I am learning about life, love, hope, joy, and what really matters - even though the lessons are hard. I'm thankful for the chance to serve in a youth group that teaches me, and I'm thankful for the teenagers of the youth group and that God uses that time to work in their lives as well as in mine.

There's so much more to be thankful for as well. My heart is full.

(title from "closer" by shawn mcdonald)

12/01/2010

hope you find your way

picture found here
December descended today, bringing with it cold air and the promise of Christmas. In years past, I would begin listening to nothing but Christmas music and excitedly decorating. During college, my roommate and I allowed Christmas to take over our apartment, and the decorations we purchased from Hobby Lobby sit in the hall closet. Last year, the decorations remained in the closet, and they will likely remain there this year as well.

I'm not sure what to think of Christmas or the holidays now. To a large extent, they are something for me to get through rather than enjoy. I spent two holiday seasons as a social worker, playing Santa Clause and delivering presents, and also two holiday seasons holding my breath that I would not receive any emergency phone calls over the four-day weekend for Thanksgiving and three-day weekend for Christmas.

This year I still plan on playing Santa Clause. We (my husband and I) decided to purchase presents for children in foster care rather than purchase gifts for one another. There's a part of me that would rather purchase gifts for the children in foster care rather than purchase gifts for anyone, but I'm not sure if we've decided to do that. I just feel burdened by the task of shopping and then wrapping gifts. Not because I don't love my family or have ideas (because I do...) but because I feel like so much of Christmas is lost when the buying and gifting of things becomes the primary focus rather than the primary focus being what Christmas truly means.

I know people are good at heart. I firmly believe that, but I also think the holidays can so easily bring out the worst in people - myself included. So many years were spent counting the gifts under the tree, comparing the number of gifts for myself versus the number of gifts for everyone else. I would strategically plan who would open what, trying my hand at opening the last gift. And most of the gifts I no longer recall. There are a few that stick out, but many have blended together and disappeared from my memory.

It's not just the gifts, though, but the blending of my life with my husband's. Marriage is a tricky thing as it is, but the descending of the holidays seems to make it trickier as our previous traditions crash together. This will be the third year we spend Christmas in Oklahoma. It is also our third year as a married couple on Christmas. And while I do get to see my family for part of the holiday season, it still hurts to know I won't be decorating the tree, attending church on Christmas Eve, or opening presents from Santa Clause with them and then eating eggs benedict the morning of Christmas Day. I also won't be there to witness my father passing out Christmas presents with his Santa Clause hat that reads "ho ho ho."

There are new traditions now in Oklahoma. Traditions of Christmas Eve at his grandmother's house and playing Dirty Santa. Though last year we never made it to Christmas Eve due to the blizzard. There are two playful puppies to buy presents for and Christmas movies to watch on Netflix. But I still can't seem to find the joy that once accompanied the holidays.

I talked some about my near dread of the holidays last night at Community Group, and my husband has heard more than enough about my lack of festive cheer. I'm hoping that I can soon find joy in the season, that I can rediscover some of the magic Christmas once held - like the Christmas Eves spent searching the sky Rudolph pulling the sleigh.

A large piece of me desperately wants to believe in Santa Clause and Christmas miracles. It's the piece of me that is waiting, with bated breath and hope, for good things to crash down and for our luck to be changed. I realize there is so much to be thankful for, that there are so many struggles we are not facing right now, but I still struggle with this nagging feeling that things just are not good, that we are not where we should be.

We've been in this holding pattern for months now, and it's wearing on me and on us. While it was easier to hope and pray and remind each other that something would happen in August, we are now at a point where we are tired of hoping for something better and tired of the disappointment. Maybe, just maybe, Christmas will provide us with a reason to not be tired. Maybe my bah humbug attitude will be met with ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future that sing of joy.

Maybe.

(title from "these friends of mine" by rosie thomas)

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