Sunday, January 30, 2011

Truth beats Self-Pity

I have a tendency toward self-pity; I don't know if you've noticed that. I really seemed to notice it tonight, when I was sitting in the auditorium that is my new church, waiting for the service to start, when the lights go down and no one passing by will notice that I've come to church alone. So God opened my eyes to this self-pity and I prayed that He would move my mind away from that, away from myself and move it to the bigness of Him, of His love, of His purpose. And then we started singing. And we sang songs about the wonder of God, about the sovereignty of God, about His strength and His presence as our fortress, our refuge. And the worship was uplifting, even if I was standing by myself singing, I wasn't singing alone (although that didn't occur to me until right now) ... the point was, I was singing. And what it was that I was singing was True. When the singing ended and the lights came up, we greeted those around us, and two of the four people I know at the church now (two of the four people I met at women's group on Thursday) were standing within greeting distance from me. And I was comforted. And the sermon was good, there were things in it for me to chew on ... like "God is more present in the goodbyes than the hellos" speaking of Joseph in the Old Testament ... And then we sang again, more Truth.

Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has given a couple of sermons about why we sing, and he always makes the point that sometimes we sing not because we feel like it, but because we want to feel like it; and sometimes we sing because we just need to have Truth come across our lips. And sometimes that's just enough, because that's where we are. And that's a little bit where I was tonight. And I can say now, from experience, that having Truth on your lips, really does make a difference in the things that are on your mind. I don't know which comes first, but I do know that they're related.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Love's Too Big For You

I have a confession to make: after sunset, I turn into a pumpkin. All my thinking generally becomes dark, maybe a little twisted and pretty morose. Most of the thoughts to follow surfaced after the sunset tonight. Also, I spent several hours in a car by myself today. Like 8+ hours. I still loved it all, but ... it might explain some things.

A friend of mine asked me over the summer how he could be a better friend.

Should someone ask you this question, unless they are asking about how they can be a good/better friend to you specifically ... DO NOT ANSWER IT! It's a trick. They don't mean it as a trick, but your ego means it as a trick. Although you (i.e. I) may feel you know all there is to know about being an awesome friend ... you (i.e. I) should not actually give voice to that particular feeling.

I, being ignorant of this self-destructive-ego-plot and tired and a wee bit prideful, answered his query as such: "You know what? I think you depend on your friends too much. You ask them to hold up too much of your identity. You need to find your strength in the Lord and not in your friends and not in yourself."

He walked out of the room. We haven't had a good conversation since then.

I could just slap myself for saying that. Perhaps it's true, but unless you are Jesus Christ Himself, you cannot say those things, especially not if (and I'm not saying he was) someone is asking you from a tender place of brokenness and vulnerability.

I realized tonight, that I was speaking to my friend of the speck in His eye looking through the lens of the plank in my own.

It struck me tonight that I am guilty of asking just as much, if not more, from my friends as that friend asks of his. I'm not saying it's bad to lean on your friends when you're down ... that's why God created us to live in community. Remember, it's not good for Man to be alone? That whole thing. But I am saying there are things that only Christ can do, that we sometimes ask other people to do.

Mine comes in this way: righteousness. I have been thinking for a long time that I am a bit of a legalist. And that I put my legalistic tendencies on my friends and acquaintances (as evidenced in my continual parting remark of "make good choices" ... it's cute and clever and funny for awhile, but eventually perhaps my friends just want to make whatever choices they want to make, even if they're not good ... and they should do that ... and I should still love them ... besides, who am I to know what is a good or bad choice? Some may be obvious, but most probably have a lot of gray areas.) And I strive pretty hard for righteousness, because I am a created rule-follower. Now, I'm more prone to break rules now than I used to be, but in general, if there are rules ... I follow them.
And for the most part, by God's grace, I do think that I strive pretty well toward righteousness. I screw up all the time, but I do pretty well.
But I think I ask, maybe not intentionally or obviously, the same sort of effort from my friends, and if they don't give that effort enough to satisfy me (because they don't want to, or they can't, or they don't understand, or value it, or they're too tired, or whatever) then I judge them (not always intentionally). This is a problem I think!

I don't think I do it intentionally almost ever, but I do not think I'm living in the marevlous light of Grace as much as I could be ... I sort of live in the shadows of Grace where I'm covered, but still mostly in charge of what's going on ... still sort of in control of my own thing ... expecting it of others as well.

Woe to my prideful heart!

I think I have been smothering my friends with my well-meaning, but slightly over-zealous love.

Sorry! I'll try to do better, to be better ... but wait, it's this trying that's the problem. Well, God and I will work on it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Just a few thoughts on the importance of Nurture through a couple of stories about the importance of the people with whom we surround ourselves.

This past weekend I finally was able to spend Christmas with my family. We just barely missed Epiphany by three days, so we were almost still in the technical Christmas season. But whatever the liturgical, lunar, or standard American calendar said, it was Christmas for us. And it even almost felt like it. As part of the weekend, we took a family trip to the movies. In Indiana they are starting to do this really cool thing where once a month a bank offers a free movie to families of autistic children. You have to sign up ahead of time and you have to be on a special eligible listy thing, so it's really only for these families. It's great for so many reasons.
1. It's free. And these families already spend so much money on treatments and medicines and special lifestyles that the idea of taking the whole family to a movie (especially with ticket prices the way they are!) can make any math-proficient parent balk. Even well off families balk at going to movies.

2. The volume is lowered and the lights are raised. Now, it's not a movie for deaf kids. You can still hear the movie, it's just not so eardrum-shatteringly loud. And the lights aren't up all the way, just enough to keep kids from freaking out. It's a very comfortable environment, and they take special care to make sure everything is adjusted properly before leaving us to enjoy our movie in relative peace.

3. (Speaking of relative peace) All the other kids in there are autistic or related to autistic children. If a kid stands up on his seat or decides to walk around the theater or screams at the screen, it's completely fine. None of the parents are judging the parents of the child; they completely understand. How freeing it must be for those parents. Can you imagine? I'm sure many of them don't ever get to leave the house because they're afraid of what sort of scene their beloved child is going to cause and the people just won't understand. They'll call her a bad mother, or they'll scare other kids, or whatever. But here. Here is safe. What a great great thing.

4. Build up a little community of like-minded, similarly-situated people.

5. Access to information about financial services (it's sponsored by a bank, after all) to aid with medical bills, or anticipating extra expenses, etc. etc. but that are relevant and practical.

My nephew isn't exactly autistic, but he is definitely special needs owing to a severe illness when he was very young. He's a SUPER awesome kid, as are his parents and his younger sister. And I'm so excited they get to do this every month. It only costs them the gas to get to the theater (which still can be a bit). And my parents join them, so here my niece and nephew get to spend quality time with their grandparents and everyone enjoys themselves.

Anyway, we went to see "Yogi Bear." And I learned a very important lesson about environment that day. Yogi Bear is not going to win any Academy Awards. I had very low expectations for it. And let me tell you ... I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If one is going to see a movie like Yogi Bear, and one is even a little less than excited about it, one should go see Yogi Bear with a theater of autistic children. It is not important to them how good the acting is, or the fact that the pie-in-the-face routine is the oldest in the book ... and the most clearly set up. The number of times the running gag is used is irrelevant; it's always funny. Every time. These kids laugh and respond and engage and enjoy themselves. That's what they're supposed to do. So instead of thinking about all the things I could be doing instead of sitting there "wasting my time" on such a "sub par" movie; I laughed and teared up at all the "right" places. And when it was over, it felt like time well spent. Worth every mile I put on the car to get there, to share that movie with those kids, and with my family.

My second story is: I watched a documentary about Isaac Stern tonight. And it was. So great! And it continued to cement in my head the importance of your surroundings. My roommate was downstairs practicing her little fingers off on the piano and that made me want to practice. Then I needed to work on reeds, so I put in this documentary and surrounded myself with this fantastic violinist, hearing his thoughts on music and life and how to balance and engage both and how he got where he did and his reflections on his experiences and lessons ... that made me want to work on reeds more, and I saw in him a person I'd like to be, and indeed a person I actually have the seeds to become. I saw similarities between the two of us. It was like finding a kindred spirit right there in this world class super-famous musician.

I find myself easily influenced by my surroundings and I suspect I'm not alone in that ... well, obviously not in my surroundings, else how would I be influenced?
A few of my coworkers curse fairly regularly to release tension at work, so I now curse more freely. Whatever. But when I'm home, we don't curse. So I don't curse. And it's not a concious decision, it's just the tone of the time. And when I work with one girl who sings a lot, I sing a lot. And when I work with the one who dances, I dance. And when I work with the one who judges, I judge. When I hang out with my musician friends, I geek out on music. When I hang out with my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I support and am supported in life. When I am around someone who deeply engages and thinks about life, I do the same.

I encourage you to look at your surroundings and see what there is in them that causes you to be there. What do you see in them that reflects who you want to become? What do you see in yourself that is reflecting your surroundings? As the Switchfoot song says "This is your life, are you who you want to be?" That's why I moved to Cleveland in the first place; I wasn't becoming the person I wanted to be, or rather I was becoming a person I didn't want to be ... and it would be foolish to think I continue to do the same things, but expect different results; something would have to change. So look at yourself, then look around you. This is your life, are you who you want to be? Are you surrounding yourself with people reflective of who you'd like to be? Or does something need to change? Some things we don't have control over. That's okay. See these things and acknowledge them, then see if you can do something to alter your reaction to them, because that you do always have control over ... technically.

Always watch children's movies with children. They're like vitamins for your innocence.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Have you ever had those moments, when you've just seen or heard or experienced something that you just know has completely changed you. But you have no idea when or how or why or what in particular it is that's changed. And you don't know how to process it.
It's like this thing that's happened has made you feel everything you could possibly feel at once, but there's so much to feel that instead you just don't feel anything at all. Like you're numb, except that you're experiencing everything.
I'm sitting here just like that. Feeling that, experiencing that. I would say that I want to make art like that, but that may be a privilege given only to those God really loves, and it may be a privilege you only ever get once in a lifetime, if you ever get it. And I would say I want to only experience art like that, but then I maybe really would become numb to it. So instead I'll just say that I'm thankful for this one thing.

I just watched the movie "Waitress." And it is now my intention to tell every single person I know, or meet, or see, or happen to pass by, to watch this movie. When I finally fall asleep and when I wake up in the morning, I will have probably forgotten this resolution which is unfortunate, but for now. Just let me say this:

Go watch this movie. Rent it. Buy it. It's totally worth it. If you buy it and hate it, I will buy it back from you. If I know you.

I wonder if Heaven feels like this only deeper and more real? You know, when all of your sins are removed, and your heart of stone is turned to a heart of flesh, and finally. Finally. Everything is as it should be, and there is no longer anything terribly horribly wrong with the world. Finally everything has been set to rights. This is probably a lot like what it feels like. Or this is maybe the closest on Earth I'll ever come.

I hope you like this movie. I'll feel terrible for talking like this if you don't. But if you don't, then I'll just be satisfied that this was God's own love letter to me, reminding me that my soul is not dead or asleep, just on a journey, making its way home, but it has not forgotten ... and nor should I.