Gone Out

There are about six weeks left in this year, which is just nuts. Thanksgiving is next week, and yesterday we got our first real snow. A layer of white knitted the tree branches into delicate lace, while thick layers of white velvet draped on prickling pines. People complained. It was a great day.

This first snow filled me with a feeling of ridiculous hope. There was just something about the fact that something so beautiful can come from wind and cold, and that if that can happen, anything can.

These past few months, I’ve had a good season of writing. But I’ve decided I want to finish out the year being more thoughtful, more contemplative, than productive. I want the space to really notice the beauty and joy of these last few weeks, and to enjoy them without stress, without hurry.

There are some projects I’d like the space to to work on without an immediate need to share. And I want to get back in the habit of producing good work which I share because I love it, not producing just to share.

All this to say, I’m taking a blogging break for the rest of the year. It’s a little retreat, a self-conference. Have a lovely rest of 2018, as we look forward to the new year with joy.

Foolish Love

I really love Valentine’s Day. I know to some people it’s magical because of the roses and chocolates and candlelight, and for other people it’s repulsive because of those very things. But I love it, because it’s the one day everyone sets aside to love each other. We can gripe about the capitalistic plot to make us buy Hallmark cards, or the hypersexualized cultural atmosphere, or the overpriced chocolate, but we are missing the point when we do that. Holidays aren’t a dictation of our love; they’re a reminder for us to show it. They are a mark on the calendar that says, “This day is special from all other days. Go make it so.”

And this is why I love Valentine’s Day.

Now that my PSA is out of the way, I want to talk about God. Sorry if you feel a bait and switch. But lately I’ve felt very drawn to the concept of the love of God, which I find poignant given the time of year.

The Bible tells us that God speaks in a still, small voice. A whisper. Lately I’ve been trying to grow more quiet and still so I can hear the whisper. But I’m not very good at it. I don’t talk much, but my internal chatter is loud. So I ask God a question, and He answers, but it’s in a whisper, and like a deaf grandmother I shout, “I can’t hear you!” but then I let my mind chatter more, so when God answers again, I have to warble, “What?” And He refuses to play this game, so I have many painful days of feeling that God doesn’t speak to me at all, and then I finally get the hint and start to turn down the internal chatter notch by notch, and then I hear God. And geez, does He talk a lot.

God: “Let me tell you about how much I love you.”

Me: “Oh I already know all about that. I was homeschooled.”

God: “I know. So let me tell you about how much I love you.”

Me: “I told you; I know all about it. I asked Jesus into my heart when I was like seven.”

God: “So then I assume you know all about how you can’t do anything to make me love you more than I already do? And you can’t do a thing to make me love you less? And that when you feel most weak and ineffective, that’s when you are most resting in my love?”

Me: “Well I have to do a little. I mean, there’s the whole bootstrap mentality.”

God: “F–k the bootstrap mentality.”

I’ve never heard God actually say the F word, but sometimes there’s a sense of Him damning an idea so heartily that the only English equivalent is the F word. Sorry if that offends you. If I knew more languages, I could do better.

Because the truth is, I know very little about God’s love. Not despite my Christian upbringing, either. Often because of it. As Christians, we get very used to the basics of Christianity. Saved by grace through faith, yada yada yada. We move on very quickly, because the gospel is simple. Ridiculously simple. Too simple. It makes us feel better to start squabbling about details. What words are okay to say. What music to play at church. How short a skirt should be. Whether to let a woman talk to people about God.

Little by little, we turn salvation into the exact opposite of what it was meant to be: works-driven. And when you grow up in the church, or spend extensive time in the church, and learn that [good behavior]=[people being happy with you]=[you are loved], it’s incredibly easy to transfer that same equation to the love of God. You learn that doing well in your Christian school satisfies the Christian school’s values of excellence, so that must satisfy God too. You learn that following the rules satisfies your parents’ values of a godly family, so that must satisfy God too. You learn that voting a certain way satisfies the popular paradigm of faithful Christian politics, so it must satisfy God too.

On and on we go, subconsciously learning that God’s love depends, or is at least enriched, by our good behavior.

A few months ago, I had to quit a job we desperately needed, because of some anxiety issues. Despite the peace I felt in God calling me to other endeavors, I still felt riddled with guilt. When money was tight and opportunities were limited, I cried out to God, but my mind beat me down.

What right do you have to ask God anything? It taunted. God doesn’t owe you any help until you start pulling your own weight. You got yourself into this mess; get yourself out.

This is the voice of sinful, works-driven human nature. This is the voice of the success-driven culture. This is the voice of American capitalism. This is the voice of legalism. This is the voice of the devil.

This is not the voice of God.

God asks me, pointedly, if doing stuff is how I got my salvation (it isn’t). God asks me why I’m trying to work for the wages of a house servant when I have the inheritance of a daughter (Gal. 3). God loves me with an everlasting love, which is never contingent on my action or inaction (Jer. 31:3, Eph. 2:9-10). God damns, quite harshly, anyone who preaches a gospel different than one based on the love He gives because He wants to (Gal. 1:8-9).

F–k the bootstrap mentality, indeed.

It sounds too good to be true, because it is. That’s the point. If anyone tells you there’s more to it than that, they are wrong. If anyone tells you, “well according to this one verse we found here, we actually have to also—” they are wrong. If anyone tells you there are structures and dogma you must also adhere to, they are wrong. Run so far.

God’s love is a welcoming love. God doesn’t wait for us to get cleaned up before He lets us into the house. God does the cleaning afterward, and yes, that’s not always fun. Sometimes we have layers of gunk that have to get washed off with a sandblaster. Good times. But that comes later. God never stands in the doorway, barring our entrance, pointing to the outdoor shower. God has no outdoor showers. God lets us in and sits us down and gives us something to eat and sends us to bed and gives us rest, and He doesn’t get mad as us for sleeping in (Matt. 11:28-30).

God’s love is simple, rather juvenile. The Bible actually calls it “foolish” (1 Cor. 1:24-25). It’s a love that enjoys, not because it’s obligated to based on our merits, but because it wants to based on His nature.

And this is why I really love Valentine’s Day.

 

 

On Ukuleles

I’m not always good at asking for gifts. Someone says, “What do you want for Christmas?” and I’m like, “Um… stuff and things, please.”

But this past holiday season I planned ahead. I gave little lists to the various people who wanted them, and one of the presents I asked for was a thing I’d had tucked in my mind for a long time:

a ukulele.

I don’t know what drew me to the ukulele in particular. Maybe it’s because they’re small and only have four strings, although I did used to play the violin, which fits all those requirements. But a violin is much more labor-intensive; I appreciate the compact little ukulele, which you can pick up and strum with cheerful determination.

Sure enough, on Christmas morning an oddly-shaped package was labeled to me. It was my very own gorgeous little ukulele. I was so excited I spent three hours learning chords.

While I’m still rusty—though I do fancy myself a quick learner—the ukulele has already brought a lot of joy to me. There’s something about being able to sit down and make music, with no need to talk, no need to think really, and to be creative simply by showing up and letting your mind spill out into sound.

Sometimes as a writer, I want to be able to write without using any words, letting the repetition and flow of my mind create something without effort. But of course, this is the antithesis of writing. One must naturally exert effort, in order for the words to make any sense.

Playing the ukulele is my writing without words; my creativity finds a voice even when my words are knotted, and I can create something beautiful even when my mind is numb.

Magic in the Quiet

It’s less than a week til Christmas. Like any adult, I feel it’s come too soon, and yet somehow I feel it hasn’t really come at all.

Life is incredibly crazy this time of year, especially in America, and especially in the household of a grad student married to a college student. It’s all rushing and stress and deadlines, followed by lights and glitz and shopping and spending and music and advertisements and decorations. Everywhere, even when you open up a social media site to wish someone a happy holiday season, you are met with a damn advertisement. I don’t want to find ads for things (I really do want to buy) when I’m scrolling Pinterest for something to make for dinner, okay? In my day, we met materialism in the newspaper, where it belongs. Thank you very much.

This year, I’m more belligerent about all the hype. I love me some lights and good food and presents, but to me they miss the mark. People have been celebrating Christmas, specifically, for thousands of years. That’s incredibly powerful. It’s magical. Each ancient tradition carries meaning, and if you are a Christian yourself, it’s even more poignant. But all this commercialism is a slap in the face of thousands of years of precious tradition. The trimmings of our Christmas celebrations should be the just that, the trimmings, an outward enjoyment of the holiday, not the functions of the holiday itself.

I know I’m not saying anything new. I know my fellow believers have been crying to Keep Christ in CHRISTmas for decades now. But to be honest, we haven’t exactly preserved our traditions very well either. Campaigning to say “Merry CHRISTmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” also misses the mark. It does nothing to change the deeply-rooted consumerism in our culture, because this deeply-rooted consumerism is in the human heart itself, and we know this because Christians are just as guilty of overspending, overcrowding, and overrushing as people to whom the holiday means far less.

Our efforts to keep Christ in Christmas have become outward focused, trying to convince nonbelievers of something; when we should be of inward focused, celebrating the holiday because of what it means to our faith… which is, in fact, its true meaning. I think if we see it more this way, connecting, rebraiding, reknitting ourselves with each other, God, and the people who’ve come before us, we will be much less frazzled, much more filled, and more like Christ ourselves.

So, good introvert that I am, I find intense meaning in being inward focused. Christmas is not in the blazing lights and blaring music and nostalgia for a Bing Crosby-esque snowfall. Christmas is in the flame of a candle, the hush of snow, the printed words of a true legend we can’t get out of our heads.

And this isn’t to say we should burn our Christmas trees and eschew all gift giving. I mean, if that would help you, go for it (unless you are someone who was going to give me a present. DO NOT go for it). But these stoic approaches also miss the point. Christmas should be a time of feasting and giving and joy, because of the ancient traditions. You can’t have one without the other. Mainstream society gets it wrong when it triumphs celebration over spiritual tradition, and we get it just as wrong when we do it the other way around. There is an order, but both are important.

I know I am biased. I’m an introvert; I’m a grandma. But I keep coming back to the fact that the first Christmas was very quiet. Yet it was powerful enough, magical enough, to stick with us. So perhaps I’m not a complete fuddy-duddy. Perhaps we really should stop looking for magic in all the noise. Perhaps the magic is in the quiet.