Finding God in the No Man’s Land

I’m not proud to admit it: I’ve become ostrich-like when it comes to the news. Whenever there’s political or social turmoil, I want to bury myself in the sand.

This isn’t because I don’t want to be informed, or I don’t want things to change, or that I prefer to look at the world through a rose-colored monocle. It’s because I’m just overwhelmed. I’m tired of violence and pain, tired of media, tired of Facebook debates.

I’m tired of the little light bulbs of random opinions, each shining a different color, until the air is ablaze with blinding, dizzying, vitriolic reactions. I’m tired of the arguments being wrung out like clothes in a washing machine, twisted and stretched and flung round and round.

I’m a peacemaker by nature, which I think is why I get so especially exhausted. I’m naturally inclined to see both sides, to try to find common ground, to reach compromise. I dwell in the no man’s land.

So when something like, say, a shooting happens, when children die because they happened to be in school, when a highschooler is so riddled with nihilism he commits homicide, I am pained not only by the event itself but by the tsunami of reactions that inevitably arrives. Two discernable sides emerge, as if on cue, and tragedy instantly becomes politicized. I find something to agree with in every side, threads of cause and effect in every opinion, a common ground in every argument. And I feel sick.

It happens over and over again, every time this happens, in many similar things that happen. The opinions ping back and forth: should we pass stricter gun laws? Should we pass looser gun laws? Would this happen if kids could pray in school? Would this happen if no one prayed at all? But the talk doesn’t accomplish anything, at least where it really matters.

I’ve been pondering these things, and I’ve been trying to figure out what the Christian response should be. Sadly, Christians can be found on both sides of any given argument, both sides of the culture war. But the more I think and pray on the subject (I don’t think thoughts and prayers are completely worthless), the more I become convinced: Christians are not to fight in the culture war at all. God calls us to be peacemakers.

God calls us to the no man’s land.

I find a worrying trend for Christians in conservative circles to focus on protecting our political rights above all else, even at the cost of our credibility and our witness. I wonder if maybe God calls us to be citizens of His kingdom first, to give up our earthly rights in order to better show love to the people who need it. I wonder if maybe our allegiance should not be to the flag of the United States of America, but to Jesus, first. Always.

We are called to be above the petty squabbles of the political sphere, because Jesus made it very clear that His kingdom is not dependent on the systems of the world. We are called, instead, to love, to make disciples, to be known for how we cherish each other (John 18:28-40, 13:34, 35).

This realization has taken a long time to retool my brain. I’ve dwelt and prayed and meditated on its implications for a long time. And the more I do, the more I become convinced that our Christian response to socio-political issues should never be to dig in and root down in our preconceived cultural ideals. Rather, we need to cling to Jesus, because He is the only truth we are guaranteed. We need to think about the ways we took on the values of Americanism and the world at large, and how we baptized those values until they became woven into our religious belief. We need to let God unravel these ideals, little by little, until we hold them loosely, as we should.

We will never affect change by voting for a “Christian” president or lobbying for “moral” laws. We will never maintain peace by clinging to our rights or hearkening back to the “good old days.” Rather, we maintain peace in the no man’s land, getting down where it is ugly and messy, and loving the casualties of war who need it most. And maybe this means we give up our earthly rights so we can love better. Maybe it means switching political parties or belonging to no political party at all. Maybe true, sacrificial love is the only way to stop the violent cycle.

And maybe that’s the point.

Steward’s Song

gabbys awesomest“Tend the garden,” He said.
But did He really say?
What is the garden?
Who is my neighbor?

This garden infested
with dangers, toils and snares,
sorrow and misery,
pestilence and disease.

This garden cannot be
what He intends us to tend.
What is the garden?
Who is my neighbor?

This world is not my home;
We’re all just passing through.

These words we’ll sing
to cover the crying
decaying and dying
in the untended garden.

 

(Photo Credit: Gabrielle Allman)

Forest Paths

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Forest Paths

Every day
I cut my path through the forest.
Some days
I cut miles and miles of new terrain,
and others
I barely make it a foot.
But I have a good compass,
and I’ll come to whatever glades and hills,
rocks and water,
highlands and lowlands
that my path is meant to cross.

There are others
who’ve cut great highways,
deep muddy ruts
scarring the once-green earth,
traveled by pilgrims
who were meant to cut their own paths,
but didn’t,
meant to follow their own compasses,
but didn’t.
They were fearful.
They were pious.

Sometimes
the great rut-makers
and rut-walkers
scorn my simple path
because it is not safe,
not logical,
and definitely not well-traveled.
They cannot see
that their own road
is wider and deeper and more twisting
than it was ever meant to be.

They have forgotten their compasses,
in favor of what was once a good direction
for one
or a few.
And now they think
it is the only good way.
They cannot understand
the thrill of the wilderness,
the beauty of pain,
and the joy of the small voice
when you’ve got a good compass.

On Children’s Tales

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I have a reading list. All writers ought to, I’m told.

And for a while, this was a stressful thing. My reading list was a thing to conquer. I still had yet to tackle classics that my peers had been hotly debating since middle school. My giant to-do list yawned before me, standing between me and literary literacy. For a while I stopped reading altogether, or did so haltingly, guiltily.

But all writers ought to read, so I’m told.

So I went to the library. And on a whim, among the stacks containing the sum of human knowledge and experience, I picked out children’s books.

ccbbIt started with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the movie of which I’d watched to oblivion as a child. I can now say with smug surety that although the plot of the book is far better, the movie does have the best songs. Also, Dick van Dyke.

Then I checked out “Folktales from around the World.” This was a thicker volume, one I didn’t get to finish. But I did read a truly horrifying tale called “Blue Beard.” “Blue Beard” is the kind of story that either French parents told their children to squelch curiosity, or that French husbands told their wives to squelch independent thought. Maybe both. (Google it.)

tlpThe Little Prince was sweet and beautiful and disconcerting. The whole world is in that story; every line is packed with meaning. Like a haiku. Like orange juice concentrate.

Inkheart, my beloved Inkheart, was cozy and wonderful and profound. It’s a book about loving books, which makes you love books as you love the book.

A Little Princess, my main jam. As a kid I had the black and white illustrated version, which I painstakingly colored with crayons. It’s deliciously Victorian and deliciously hopeful. It makes me want to be six again, wearing flowered dresses and tying my curls with ribbon.

This pint-sized reading list made me fall back in love with reading. Of course, I’ve recently read some amazing, good, deep grownup books as well, but children’s books have a magic about them that adult literature is too audacious to allow. As I was reading, I worried that others might not understand this. A few times I found myself hiding my book choices as I walked to and from the library, worried that my children’s books were not sophisticated enough to deem me a serious reader.

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Well, screw that. Because any piece of writing can be serious if you’re serious when you read it. The nutrition facts on a bottle of ketchup can be just as profound as the Odyssey. (More so, actually, because I’ve been way more serious about my ketchup choices than I ever was about reading the Odyssey.) Books written for children take humanity and melt it into little Jolly Rancher-like pieces that are bright and sweet and take time to really savor. (Except children’s books are much better because they don’t give you tooth decay.)

little princess.jpgBut the best thing about kiddie lit is it reminds you to wonder at the world, to marvel at light and beauty and the simplicity of truth, and to hope for the good things always triumphing, no matter how bleak it may seem.

The things you read about in children’s stories are more poignant as an adult, because they allow you to eat the bite-sized morsels of truth with a much larger appetite. The crumbs all come together to make a meal much more complete. The childlike joy in the meal couples with an adult-like appreciation of its nutrition. (Sorry for all the food metaphors.)

This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18: “…unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Adult Christians try really hard to attain this kind of childlike faith. We strive to see God as a loving Father. We force ourselves to throw off the cares of the world. We scour our Bibles and exhaust our small group studies in an attempt to be more childlike.

In this way, we create a very ambitious “reading list” out of life. It’s a list not created out of a spirit of joy and wonder, but one of stress and begrudging piety. We read our list—we live our lives—haltingly, guiltily. It’s a thing to conquer, something to hotly debate with the people around us.

But maybe it’s more simple than we think. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe all it takes is to throw out all the adultlike self-help crap we clog our brains with. Maybe sometimes we don’t need yet another platitude, another prescription for good living. Maybe we just need to pick up a good children’s story.

Try it. What’s the worst thing that could happen; you learn how to slay a dragon? At the very least, that’s practical. At the very most, it’s a step towards childlike faith.

 

 

 

Avoiding Mid-Life Crisis

Today’s post sounds pretty informative, until you remember that I’m only in my twenties. Sorry about that. 

  
I’m bad at waking up early. I do all the tricks: drink water before bed, put my alarm on the other side of the room, keep the curtains drawn back as best I can. But somehow I’m still always rushing. I wake with the alarm, bring it back to bed with me, and fall asleep with it. 

Sometimes I wake with minutes to get ready, and I start crying “oh no, oh no, oh no!” And I wander around the room wringing my hands and lamenting my life. Alex calls these moments my midlife crises. 

“Let’s go to bed early,” he’ll say, “so you don’t have a midlife crisis tomorrow.” Good advice, if a little odd. But sometimes it still doesn’t work. Sometimes my brain decides to stay comotose until twenty minutes before class. Sometimes I forget to pack a lunch or brew coffee. Sometimes we’re running to school, slipping on ice and bounding over roads, racing the bells that chime the hour. 

Sometimes I get home so utterly exhausted I want to do nothing, when I have everything to do. I start to cry and wring my hands again, hating and loving and lamenting.

These are the moments that make me a volatile person. I never thought myself someone with a short temper, but maybe instead I have short nerves. Neither of those is good, and I wish I’d caught it sooner. Alex waits for the storm to pass, and I realize that none of this is worth a storm. Nothing is worth treating the people I love this way. 

So I give myself permission to make little decisions to avoid midlife crisis. I take ownership of my days. I decide not to go to this one class today, or to be a little late to this other thing so I can have dinner with my husband. Even a year ago I’d be wracked with guilt for playing hooky. But nothing is worth being Crazy Lady. 

The biggest challenge, of course, is taking ownership of myself, of reminding myself to nourish what is most important and to remember what isn’t. It means being independent of my circumstances and choosing to be myself, whole, calm, and strong, even when a hundred crazed outside voices tell me otherwise. 

I’m still working on all this, of course. But recognizing that I must is a start. It’s a start I hadn’t made before. 

Call in the next ten minutes, and you too can avoid mid-life crisis!

Thick Skin

“You need thick skin to survive in this world.”

“What if I don’t have it?”

“You’ll have to grow it.”

“What if I can’t?”

“You’ll have to.”

“What if my skin is delicate, almost translucent? What if no matter how much I try, a bruise is always more painful, a wound always more deep? What if I always cry when someone shouts? What if I can’t help it?”

“You’ll have to learn to handle it.”

“What if every beauty is more dazzling, every joy more intense? What if every word carries immense weight and every glance tells a story? What if the sticks that build a house talk and soak in memories like sponges? Is there any good that can come of all that?”

“None.”

“How do you know?”

“Because life doesn’t work that way.”

“Maybe it does! Maybe it’s meant to!”

“Calm down. You’re too sensitive. You need thick skin to survive in this world.”

 

I Read Harry Potter (and I didn’t tell my mom)

Exactly a year ago today, I made a big confession.

Hannah Kennedy

Well, I told her after I’d finished reading all seven books.

I wanted to formulate my own opinion on the subject so I could appropriately make my case.

I was afraid, you see. I was afraid that there would be an argument or I’d get grounded or disowned.

The funny thing is, I’m 20, in college, I have a job and a driver’s license, and I’m getting married in June. So really, I am allowed to do pretty much whatever I want unless it’s illegal. And my parents are very friendly, reasonable people.

So why was I so afraid to tell them that I had read Harry Potter?

Despite what you might think, I did not grow up in an extremist right-wing, legalistic religious commune where we dressed in white and sang Amazing Grace every two hours. I did, however, grow up in a conservative, Christian, homeschooling household (which, depending on who…

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6 Things I’ve Learned from Being Married in College

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As you know if you’ve read this blog in the past few months, I got married last June. My husband and I, however, are both still in college. I have less than a year to go for my Bachelor’s degree while he has over two.

Married college students are a rare sight. I know a few classmates who are in the same boat, but it’s unusual in our culture. Unfortunately, young marrieds are largely ignored or even chided as culture embraces young  unhindered singleness. While I agree that the single college years can be incredibly fulfilling, today I want to share six things that can be learned from being a young married student.

 

1. Life is Not the Same for Everyone.

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Our society has road-mapped life to a T. Go to college, get a job, get married to your soulmate. But this is neither fair nor realistic. For as vocal as we are about individuality, why do we allow such a cookie-cutter life schedule to be imposed upon us?

I’ve learned that there’s not one life plan or lifestyle that’s inherently perfect. What’s a good choice for me isn’t a good choice for the next person. It’s okay to come to a point in your life where you decide that it’s the right time for something, not popular opinion. For us, it was getting married. We didn’t have everything planned, but we knew we loved each other and wanted to marry each other. It was the next logical step for us, and we took it.

 

2. Love is Not the Same for Everyone.

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Our generation has this grandiose view of love in which you meet someone who gives you perpetual butterflies and after much angst you finally decide to marry them and live happily ever after. Cue harps and singing birds.

For us – and for a lot of people – love is simpler and stronger, bolstered by a deep friendship, commitment to shared convictions, and a healthy dose of Mike and Ike’s and Netflix.

Marriage, although it does radically change your life, does not signal the heavenly end of your life. You are still you, with your same faults and hopes and dreams, and so is your spouse. Life goes on.

Just because our life might not look like everyone says it should doesn’t mean something’s wrong with us, nor does it mean our life is less valuable. It simply means we have to figure out what marriage looks like for us in our unique situation.

 

3. I Need People So I Can Be Myself.

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In our hyper-individualized society, admitting you need people is considered overly dependent, especially if you are a woman saying it of a man. We say things like “I just need to find myself” or “I need to love myself before I can love others”. While these attitudes may have a place, I think when taken too far they create isolation and selfishness.

The truth is that I cannot be a whole, well-rounded person without other people. Other people shape me, sharpen me, and soften me into an ever-better version of myself. This is especially helpful if, like me, you have trouble being yourself.

In marriage, having another person to show you a different perspective in life is rejuvenating. Now I have a built-in best friend who loves me unconditionally and encourages me to be myself. He shows me how to push myself and embrace life, and now I get out and try new things more as a married person than I ever did while single. I have the courage to explore the world because I know at the end of the day I will come home to my favorite person and we will talk about our discoveries together.

 

4. College is not designed for married couples.

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This is a fact of life, one I’ve noted with resigned disappointment. The undergraduate system as it is now takes for granted that its students are unattached to anything but itself. It takes for granted that I live on campus and don’t need to clean up a house at the end of the day or that I will eat my meals in the dining hall instead of running home to cook. It demands that you be there for events, practices, and trips at the drop of a hat when you are trying to build a separate, independent life as a married adult.

That’s just the way it is, and acknowledging that puts us in a better place to work out how we juggle our various responsibilities as a couple. It gives us the chance to learn how to draw boundaries, manage our time, and to consciously make our relationship a top priority.

 

5. Money Will be Tight, and That’s Okay.

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This is not a fun lesson, but in a way it’s kind of liberating. When you’re newlyweds in college, you just don’t have a lot of money. That’s what deters a lot of people because again, as a society we expect to have the lifestyle of forty-year-olds – complete with a house, car, and picket fence – as soon as we receive our college degrees. People don’t want to get married until they have a decent job and have paid off a decent amount of college loan.

For us though, getting married streamlined everything. His money and my money became our money, his savings and my savings our savings, his debt and my debt our debt. Instead of striving as individuals to make it financially, we can come alongside each other and work together toward a common goal. That helps us to stay responsible and accountable to each other and to learn together that life’s meaning is derived from relationships, not possessions.

We live simply, but comfortably, and we are sustained in ways we don’t fully understand. People have told us we’re lucky to be able to live so independently, and they ask how we do it. Honestly, we can’t answer. Each week, each month we find ourselves provided for by God in ways we never expected. We could try to be more logical and worry about it, or we could just live in peace in His provision. So we do the latter.

 

6. It’s totally worth it.

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I’ll be honest; I was a little terrified when we got married. Vowing to commit the rest of your life to someone else is huge. But each day I grow in certainty that this was absolutely the best decision to make at this time in my life. I feel like I was born to be married. I love putting together a cozy home and cooking yummy food (apparently I’m pretty good) and sharing my life with the kindest, goofiest guy I know.

When people ask what it’s like being married in college, I most often say “it’s really fun!”, which is an odd way to put it. But it honestly is. You can’t live a life of fake martial arts face-offs, stuffed animal obsessions, and Disney movie character impressions and not have fun.

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And I know, as I’ve always known, that married life isn’t always fun. There are hurt feelings and misunderstandings and pet peeves and tears. Ironically, we seem to most hurt the people we most love. But it’s that amazing ongoing lesson of Christ’s love, that picture of God and His people that marriage is meant to sketch, that keeps our perspective steady. We respect and love each other as people, which allows us to love each other as a couple much more fully.

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Obviously I wouldn’t encourage someone to go out and get married for the heck of it. But if you are at a point where you feel ready and yet society is squeezing you with its worries and expectations, know that you aren’t alone.

Getting married young isn’t for everyone. Staying single isn’t for everyone either. And that’s the point. There should never be pressure one way or the other, whether marriage is better or singleness is better. There should never be rolled eyes and raised brows. There should only be encouragement and respect in the myriad ways God chooses to plot out our lives.

Which, I suppose, is the seventh thing I’ve learned.