Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Tales

"Christmas is a necessity.  There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves."
 ~Eric Sevareid

Christmas Eve day came wrapped in a blue sky with a white cloudy bow, loosely trapping in the chilly sunshine that one imagines for Easter rather than Christmas. But we had a white Halloween, so it wasn't so hard to conceptualize that the holidays might be running ahead, at least weather wise. For me, it was less than a problem- I don't dream of white Christmas- I dream of bright Christmas.

I sat on the top bunk in a bedroom brimming with my childhood friend's, and her sister's too, where their parents had consolidated their young lives after both had relocated their residences to elsewhere, reading an essay that my friend had written in college to speak of who she was. (Sometime I will show it to you, but not today). As age packed the belongings she needed to bring to her current home, I breathed in the atmosphere - the familiarity of the house, and the understanding that I didn't know it anymore, and that in my adult life I likely would not know it at all. Growing up never seemed so bittersweet, sitting among someone else's memories, re-evaluating all the years that both she and I have endured.

Later, after she and I had parted ways, I met a few Christmas stragglers in the heart of New York city to have a small Havdallah service. Havdallah is the end of the Jewish Sabbath, the moment when the day of rest becomes the week. It is perhaps my favorite ritual- it is a blend of the special and the mundane, the point where we mark an end and beginning at the same time. It reminds me of my Savior, pouring His spirit into a body so that I may comprehend what He would mean to a lost world. In Havdallah, you extinguish a braided candle with a cup of wine, uniting the week and the Sabbath. In my life, I too have been extinguished- the old me was put out the minute I let my Messiah in, only it was the beginning, not the end, because in that moment the mundane fell away, and I became the special. So Christmas Eve seemed overly appropriate to hold a Havdallah. So we did. 

I spent the rest of the evening with the stragglers- a California man making a brand new life in NYC, a Brooklyn resident following her heart in Grad school, and her friend from home, a North Carolinian visitor, taking in the city. I haven't known any of them long, but they have all impacted my life already, and their names are already in my heart, a spot difficult to disintegrate. As we traveled together through a comedic rendition of Christmas, a late night diner feast, a Christmas of service, and the obligatory traditional Chinese food, I was inspired by them and the stories we shared, the strength that a group of young people learning how to live can hold when bonded together. We are not friends of convenience, the kind whose location or occupation require connection- we are friends who choose to get to know another, to open up and share. It's these choices that bring us together. 

I was inspired too, by Brenda, the waitress who brought out our diner delacacies. For 25 years, Brenda has served food to Brooklyn in a small location with many booths and happy owners. Day or night, she has been there to bring orders back and forth from the cooks to the tables. Brenda, in her white haired glory, has decided to go back to school. She doesn't know what she will do, but she knows she will go, because she is tired of serving food to strangers. She recommended a panini. The North Carolinian took it. I don't know if it tasted so good because of how it was prepared, or of how she sold it, painting the sandwich as if it were an American rarity. Maybe it is. Maybe good food is about the way that it's prepared and perceived, and who it is shared with. Maybe taste buds are easily tricked by anticipation. Maybe Brenda knows that. That's why she needs to go back to school. The world needs more people with experience to have a voice. We recommended she go in to communication. 

Christmas day brought us to a Senior Center, where we served food, took coats, and got to know people whose stories need to be told. I met one man who lived in New York all his life. His eyes sparkled as he described the days when Chelsea hosted picture shows and sledding competitions. He spoke of the streets as they used to be, and then, with a special affection, how much he loved some of the changes in them as well. He and I clapped, side by side, to the strains of "Jingle Bells" and the other tunes that floated around the lunch. One woman from New Jersey asked me if I would come back to see them all again. I told her I didn't know that I would. She said she would look for me anyone. I wonder what kind of faith she must have to believe that someone will come back to see her even if that person doesn't share such faith. She left, her pink hat slightly lopsided, and said to me "Let's do this again next year." I nodded, smiled, and tried not cry. 

The occupants of the Christmas brunch did not have families around them to spend their holiday with- I reflected on this as the bus took me back from New York to my small suburban street, where a small portion of my own family awaited my return for beef stew and my mother's shabbat soup- a food that consists of beans, noodles, a minestrone base, and tastes of rest itself. I sat with my father and mother, and my mother's mother, and laughed over the same stories I have heard time and time again. Sometimes they are old, but this time they were joyful- fun, easy, homely. A Christmas dinner to end a very full weekend it was indeed.

This Christmas, I found all the elements that I think the holiday should have- all the things that Jesus was born to teach us about. I found family and community. I found laughter and happiness. I found second chances and a chance to serve. I find that I love these things more than any gifts I've ever received. 

It wasn't white. I didn't watch a parade or a sports game. I didn't even spend the whole day in my pajamas. But I'll never forget this Christmas as the start of my own life. We are not children anymore- we are starting our own traditions. And my traditions will be themed around these things that ignited my weekend. 2000 years ago, my Messiah came, and for the last 23, I've been trying to figure out what makes Christmas feel exceptional. 

And this year, I found Christmas my own way. And it came wrapped in a blue sky, with a white cloudy bow.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Celebrating Miracles

"To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle."
~Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Ok, so heres the scoop- a long time ago, a band of brothers got their people together and beat their oppressors so they could take back their place of worship. And when the one ritual that was supposed to happen continuously proved to be impossible, a miracle happened, and gave us Jewish kids something so big to celebrate, that it needed eight nights.

I'm not going to recount the entire story of Chanukah here- the synopsis above is the best you're gonna get. (If you want more, google it). But I am going to talk about it. Because since Tuesday night, my people have been partying it up with Potato Latkes, driedles, gelt, and gifts. It's a good time of year to be alive.

This year, I think I've grown up a bit- I'm finding the "getting" part of the holiday far less exciting than the giving. I pride myself on knowing what I'm looking for, and how to get it (thank you, internet) before it's time to hand it over to those it was intended for. I'm loving the look of surprise and delight when people find something they wanted, even if they didn't know they wanted it, has made it's way into their lives. I like the feeling of knowing I got it right, and someone is very happy with what I've given them.

But that's not the best part.

If you've never played driedle, give it a try sometime. It's a four sided top, and whether it's for quarters, swedish fish, christmas mints, or the chocolate coins that we love so much, it's my favorite kind of gambling. The game relies on getting the right hebrew letter, and I've played hours of it with my family and friends. It's basically a bonding tool- less lengthy than monopoly, but just as intense.

By that's the most exciting commedity.

Chanukah has three distinct blessings- two that run for all eight nights, and one that happens only on the first night. These blessings thank and exalt God for giving us light, and for giving us reason to celebrate. They are sung to a beautiful melody, but in my family, we sing them in our own traditional way. We really get into it, emulating my father's tone deaf nature with vigor and love.

By that isn't my favorite part.

My favorite part, the best of the holiday, the excitement, for me, is the focus on miracles. See, Chanukah, when the presents and the games and the blessings are put away, is about miracles. About one where a lamp stayed lit much longer than it should have. About another where a rag-tag group of people who just wanted to worship become victorious. About a miraculous promise of a Messiah- one who was to come to be the ultimate light of the world for the Jewish people. (Somewhat ironically, that last one is the major miracle of Christmas for most Christians.)

Sometimes you get to see a father and his daughter, reunited after years of not speaking. And every now and then, a solider, or a patient, is released and gets to go home for the first time in a long time. And more than once, I've seen someone whose in too much debt to ever get out make their bills because of the generosity of a third party.

Chanukah, for me, always feels like a beginning. It comes around New Years, when the air is awake with resolutions and starts. The families all send cards and get together, and there's talk of seeing one another now more then before. And the practical gifts, (like the socks and the pjs) are new and fresh and ready to be worn down.

And this year, I'm seeing the beginning of a year of miracles. Things beyond my imagination are going to happen in the coming months- I can feel it. I can see it- it's already started. And I'm excited about what it might mean for this coming time.

Over 2000 years ago, a bunch of Jewish guys stood up for what they believed in, and today, we get to celebrate their victory. I wonder what kind of miracles will happen in 2012. And which ones I will be there to witness and feel, and even be part of.

And which ones will still be celebrated long after I'm a memory, because some miracles are always worth celebrating.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stressing the point

"God doesn't play dice with the inverse."
-Albert Einstien

I've been thinking about that incomparable little twit of the emotive world. You may know him- he's the stupid little minion that we always end up visiting with, no matter how much we detest his unfortunate whim's and desires. We find all kinds of ways to avoid him- yoga, vacations, bubble baths- anything to take the time that he wants to spend with us away from him. And yet somehow, despite all our modern world distractions, we never seem to get away forever- he always comes wheeling back in.

Have you figured it out yet? I'm talking about stress.

Stress and I have a long relationship- we've been close to each other for years. No matter how hard I work to avoid him, he seems to always seep back into my life. I suppose I might be predisposed for stress- I am, after all, a jewish woman, who lives in a fast paced place, who fills up a good deal of my time with obligations and business. Or maybe it's just that I am an overachiever who desires to have things go perfectly. One friend that I have insists that any stress we feel right now is related to the holiday season- she's got a countdown until the end of the stress days. Whatever the truth of the matter is, I'm working on overtime to avoid him at this point- even cutting out people and activities that might bring me closer to my old friend stress.

I believe that stress becomes bigger and more important in our lives when we feel helpless or overwhelmed with things that we can control or change, or things that we feel we should be able to control or change. We need to feel like we are on certain tracks when it comes to that which means something to us. It's a struggle to figure out where we really can make change and where we can't. And sometimes, when we make assumptions or take responsibility for something that doesn't actually fit into that category, we start to feel the achy, sweaty, unstoppable stress creep back up on us.

Of course, the things we think we have control over are much more numerous than those we actually do have control over. We want to be in charge of every element of our days, but life happens in it's own schedule, and takes no regard for our pleas for responsibility. Many times, I know that I am guilty of being stressed over things that,I reality, I cannot change and could not have foreseen or made any difference in. I can't control others who impact my life. I can't control the weather. I won't impact the bus schedule. I can't control the world around me.

But I can control my stress.

To be plagued by worry, to wonder about what might have been, to spend time dwelling on other endings, these are things that make us miss life. And let's face it- life is short enough as it is.

On a final note, I believe that God does everything for a reason. I am confident that His plan is bigger than me or my ideas. I know that He uses all things for the purpose of His will, and for the good of me, who loves him.

Dear stress- you can choke on that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Obligated to be me.

"All we are, we are. And every day is the start of something beautiful."
-Matt Nathenson

Little kids in school are always scheming about what they want to be when they grow up- sometimes it's a doctor, sometimes it's a fireman, sometimes it's an astronaut, sometimes it's a teacher. The dreams of little ones are endless at a young age, when the world is big, life goes on forever, and there are no such things as responsibilities and limitations. 

Of course, then we grow up. And the world turns out to be pretty small, life pretty short, and we feel defined by that which we can and cannot do.

See, as children, we are not concerned with the life surrounding our dreams. We don't realize that the people who impact us and are part of our lives have lives outside of where we see them. We don't realize that our babysitters go dancing on the weekends, or that the nurse in the doctors office lives at home with her husband and three kids. We don't understand the intricacies of a paycheck, the concept of tax, the escape of late night television. I don't know what age it is when we become aware that everyone else's worlds do not center around how they impact ours, and I don't know that it's even at that point that we understand that one day, our worlds have obligations all their own. 

I've been thinking lately about the obligations of someone in their 20's. As a college graduate, I'm supposed to be thinking about what my next steps are- will I get a job? Join the peace core? Become a slacker who lives in my parents basement and whines about the world and how it hates me? I'm still working on the answers to these questions. But I'm also still figuring out another question- one that I am much more focused on- who am I? 

Some people want to be defined by their work. Others want to be defined by their family lives. Some want their monetary status to be the first thing people think of when they hear their name. These definitions are the equivalency of those childhood aspirations- we want to be (fill in the blank). The difference is the understanding of how realistic these dreams are now. 

I am a writer; a singer; a philosopher and a dreamer; a poor but happy dancer; a working girl; a lover of rainy days; the daughter of two people who have made a life in a small town; a teacher for young people; a friend and confidant; a dog owner; an aunt to children not related by blood; a messianic Jew who believes that Jesus is the Messiah; a debater; a walker; a flight risk when it comes to running away and seeing the world, an editor that can't spell... I am so many things. I do not know which one defines me. 

And to be honest, I don't think I want to be defined by any one part. Because all of these things make up me and who I am, and all are interconnected. I wrote the songs I sing. I have learned to teach through the lessons I have learned by being a friend. And I learned to debate at a very young age by defending the faith that is extremely controversial. And when that faith presses on my heart, I start to write... it all comes full circle. 

As a child, I don't remember what I wanted to be. I don't know what aspirations I had before I started to understand the borders that surround life.I know that as an older teenager leading into college, I felt those borders had already defined my life and my path. But as a recent graduate, I've come to a different conclusion. 

Maybe we don't need to be so narrow minded as we were in children now that we know that life doesn't consist only of one thing. The elements that make us full people make us fun. I don't want to be defined by any one passion. Maybe I can just be defined by passion in general- I would love to be known as the kind of person with big dreams, big loves, and big aspirations. 

If I'm obligated only to that, I know I'll follow through.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Entitled to contentment

"I can't imagine going on when there are no more expectations."
Edith Evans

Being people, we start to develop pet peeves- those obnoxious habits that make us crazy, even if they really aren't very big in the grand scheme of things. I've got a number of these little aversions of my own- riders who clip their nails on the bus, women who talk about their love lives in the bathroom on their cell phones, any movie that has Kevin Bacon in it. These little grievances are enough to make me crazy by the end of the day.

But there is one that bugs me above all others- entitlement. 

In every element of my life, I run into people who feel that they deserve things they have not worked for. They believe that something in their lives, whether it be social class, education, ethnicity, public services they've contributed to, accomplishments they've made, or anything else that they believe to be honorable about themselves, gives them the right to special treatment. Without explanation, they want what they think they deserve, and if they have to explain why to you, it makes them very angry. And many of them throw tantrums if they don't get their way.

I shouldn't really say they- I should say we.

In life, we all feel that we are entitled to something. We feel that just by living the life we are living, we have certain rights that no one should be able to take away from us. I have been the person who doesn't understand why it isn't obvious to the person on the other end that they should do what I want because it's only logical (at least to me). I've gotten mad before, (not just disappointed, actually mad) over things I thought I deserved that I didn't get. And on occasion, I've even been so crazy, that I've figured out that I'm being a little bit out of my mind in what I'm demanding.

Even more so, I've gotten over-the-top about requests that I've made of God that He hasn't answered with a yes, or even a yes-right-now. I've gotten very angry about things that I thought I should have that He hasn't seen fit to give me. I've gotten upset over promises that I thought meant one thing, but really meant something else, and didn't play out the way I wanted. I've had a huge sense of entitlement when it comes to God.

But stopping to step back out of myself for a minute, I can see the bizarre nature that I've fallen into. So let me clear the air here first: God owes me nothing. I have done nothing to earn any of the good things He has put before me. And the blessings He has given me have had nothing to do with me- they are all in His own mercy and grace.

Let's backtrack a minute here: God has made numerous promises to us that He has ALWAYS kept. He's given me permission, when I am truly following, to expect many of these things, and He does follow through. But the key word is expect- I have to EXPECT these things, not feel entitled to them.

So what's the difference?

When we feel entitled to something, we think it's our own merit that has earned it for us. We believe that we deserve what's coming to us because we are, or have, or have done, or whatever it may be. But expecting is when someone tells us, and we believe that it will be so. It is usually not about what we do, but what we are waiting for. We want things, we believe they will come, and we are thrilled when they do come through.

When we receive what we are "entitled" to, we feel content- not elated, but pacified. When we receive what we've expected, and waited for, we feel satisfied and happy.

With life, we can expect many things. We can even be disappointed if those things don't come to pass. Not temper-tantrum mad, but a little let down. But the thing about expecting is that we can actually be grateful when they come to us. They are not our rights, but gifts given to us. And it's much easier to look at them with happiness, as blessings, when we think about them in this way.

I won't be my own pet peeve- I am learning not to feel entitled. For God's promises, for life, for anything. I want to see everything as a gift. I want to feel like I can expect great things, but not that I get them for what I've done. Because when you feel entitled, you miss out on the wonder of the good things. If we only get what we deserve, most of us can anticipate a life in which we are unhappy with what we're given.

The way I see it, those moments when something we've hoped for, and expected, happens... well those are the moments when we learn what happiness is- and how to share it with others. How much nicer is it to make someone happy when they don't feel they deserve it? It's the difference between making someone feel gratified and making someone feel good.

And God's promises are suddenly worth much more in their fulfillment.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Look of Devastation

A few months ago, Hurricane Irene blew in, causing major flooding on the street where my family and I live. The water came up the street in a matter of hours, rising onto the first floors in almost all the homes on the street before succeeding. The destruction was extensive- foundations collapsed, mold moved in, and many things were destroyed. In the aftermath, we were labeled as victims of the hurricane in the radio in and in the news.

I updated Facebook a few times after the hurricane with pictures of the gaping hole in the side of our house, as well as the water damage, and the garbage piles that littered the street. But those pictures were a minimal representation of what flood damage looks like. The water on the street, and the lines it leaves on the walls when it's gone- those are things that everyone expects to see. But they are not the true pictures of what the devastation of a flood looks like.

The real pictures of devastation look like this:

The wedding pictures, laid on tables, and in the driveways, and on the lawn, their colors bleeding together as their owners try to separate them in hopes they will dry, before all of them are destroyed.

Red condemnation notices scattered among the doors of the street.

The box of baby clothes, shoes, books, toys, and furniture, strewn on the top of the garbage pile, as the mother of a ten year old walks away, trying not to think about the memories she doesn't have anymore.

A shut-in's son, returning to the home where just days before, his mother was evacuated by boat, crying about how she'd lived in the house her entire life, to collect the last of her belongings to bring them to her in the nursing home where she now lives.

The do not enter signs placed at the top of the street, to keep scavengers and rubberneckers, curious to see what people have been through.

Month by Month contracts that the people sign, waiting on insurance to fix their homes, hoping that they'll only be out of their homes for a short time, even though they've already been out of them for weeks.

Large green and yellow dumpsters, being parked in front of houses where work is being done, filled to the brim with carpeting, furniture, and memories.

These are the pictures that I remember after the flood- not the actual water, but that which it left behind.

Don't worry though- there's more.

Because even though these are the pictures of devastation, they aren't the only pictures. No story only has one side. These images may be a clear representation of the victimization that we've been labeled with- but they aren't a clear representation of the people who live on my street.

When I think of these people, I see a picture of all the neighbors, people who have never gotten to know each other or spent any time together, huddled tightly, talking about how their rebuilding is going, and how they can help each other.

I see the baker down the street leaving boxes of muffins on the front porches of those who moved back in to their homes after a long night at work, just in time for breakfast.

I see the couple down the street, returning to a depressing home to find that their dog, who they thought had drowned, is alive and waiting for them to come home.

I see laundry baskets with detergent, bleach, toothbrushes, cereal, and other basics being left outside people's homes by local businesses who want to help out. And I see the stores in the area offering discounts for anyone whose been affected, from the little local shops to big stores that sell home furnishings. And I see those things being shared among the people they've been given to according to the needs of those around them- not just their own.

I see a woman who has lived down the street from me for the last fourteen years, whose name I didn't even know, sitting with my family at thanksgiving, telling us about working on Fulton Street on 911. I see her and her husband, with sons the same age as my sisters and I, going from strangers to friends during a holiday that has already meant a lot to my family. And I see the joy in all of us as we share turkey and stuffing, laughing and joking, knowing that tomorrow means more work on the house, but tonight is all about celebrating life and returning to traditions.

I see my father, this very afternoon, finishing the installation and painting of the new front door, yellow and white splotches on his work shirt as he puts in the finishing touches- the new lock- on the entrance that seemed so far away only a few weeks ago. There is pride on his face as we all stand back to admire his handy work, and the beauty of the door is not only in it's design, but in it's symbolism.

I don't know if you can see these pictures as well as I can. Next time, I'll have a camera, and all this will make a lot more sense. But for right now, let me explain this- we have been categorized, from those initial pictures, as victims. But we are not victims- we are survivors. We are the latter pictures, the people who are taking charge after the storm and making the changes.

The flood is over. The devastation was intense, but we've come out of it. And these pictures of rebuilding are placeholders for the pictures of the new lives that will come to be, sooner rather than later. Because survivors rebuild, recreate, and remember.

No water can wash that away.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Meeting the Past (for the future)

“You have to know the past to understand the present.”
Carl Sagan

Every single person comes from somewhere. There is some story, some tapestry of intricate details that makes up who you see- whether or not those details are apparent, they are there. As time moves, events occur, some within our control, and some outside of it. You may know this novel concept as something called "the past." 

I can think of many romantic ballads in which the singer expresses a lack of concern about a persons past. The Backstreet Boys made a lot money with the simple chorus of "I don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did, as long as you love me." The idea that love nullifies the past is appealing to many, as most people's pasts are a mix of good and bad, incredible and humiliating. And let's be honest- we are much more concerned with the negatives than the positives. 

Sometimes I think about the future, and who I will choose to spend my life with. I wonder about the guy that will become my husband, and what he is doing even now. While I'm in no rush to meet him, no rush to be married, I still wonder. Because I know that he too will have a past, and that he will have things that he will want to hide. Once upon a time, I fancied myself the kind of person who could ignore a persons past, live in the moment, and base all my opinions, and love, on that. 

But time has made me a little wiser, and I've come to a conclusion- I don't want to meet someone whose past I ignore. Our pasts meet us in the present- they help to shape us into who we become. Our reactions to things that have happened to us form who we become. The events that we choose, and the ones that just happen to us- they all have an impact on us. We may not see it at the moment, but these things are shaping who we will one day be. Which means that whoever he is, his past is shaping him even as I write this. 

And it's not just the romantic aspect. I want my friends to be able to have pasts too. I never want someone to feel like they have to hide what's made them who they are from me. Instead, I want to be the kind of person who hears someone's past, and understands how it has, and is, affecting them. I want to get to know people moving towards a future, but to understand why they have the certain quirks and qualities that make them unique. Because when we know one another based on who we've been, we know one another. 

By the way, the inverse is true too. I want people to know who I am based on what I've done and been through. Just now, I am learning how to open up to people about things that I have been through. It's a scary process, but it's kind of wonderful. Suddenly I feel secure in knowing that I can share who I am through what I've been through. And I'm learning that when I share my secrets, they become less scary, and I have less of a need to hide them.

Don't think that this means that I'll share everything from now on. I still think a little discernment is a good thing. But I want to be able to get close to people, and the only way it's going to happen is when there is mutual sharing going on. 

So I have a new kind of idea, at least one that is new to me; let's all get to know each other, let's stop ignoring the past, and let's get to know each other through understanding what shapes us. I am committed to learning it about others. And I hope there will be some that want to know it about me. 

One day I'll re-write the love song: "I want to know who you are, where you're from, what you've done, and that's why I love you." 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ambition of Desire

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

-Albert Einstein

Hope is a funny concept. Try describing it to someone if you don't believe me. Hope is this idea that no matter how dire, drastic, unfortunate, unhappy, ridiculous, or depressing a situation may be, there is a way out- a bridge back into normalcy or something better. Hope is not a matter of extremes- it is used in all contests, from the child who wishes for an outlandish gift for the holidays, to a family waiting for a missing member to return from their unknown whereabouts.

Hope is not an emotion, but it is also not a concept we need to lean. No one has to teach us to hope. But we have the ability to hold on to it or to release it at will. Sometimes hope is more than we can bear to have, but in others, it's the only thing that gets us through.

Do you see it? Hope is the kind of thing that can easily confuse.

I have hoped for many things in my young life. I have hoped for things that have come to pass- I hoped for friendships that have become real, for accomplishments that have come to pass, for bunk beds as a child and then for those same beds to disappear and for a room all to myself as a college student. I've hoped for healing for both myself and others, and I've seen it happen, many times in many ways.

I've also been known to drop hope when it's not working out. It's one of those utility relationships for me- "dear hope, you aren't really doing what I need you to right now. I'm kind of over you. Sorry- love, me". When it gets hard to hang on, because things are turning really ugly, I let it go- I'm really not willing to put in the effort.

But tonight, the air is overflowing with evening frost, and hope is seeping out with the chill. And it's not the usual kind of hope that comes in with despair or desire at their strong points- I am not feeling either of these at the moment. Instead it is a hope for things that are coming- I can smell then coming in on the wind. Whatever is around the corner is gonna be fantastic, incredible, and real.

And I can't help but thinking that if the hope is this strong intros moment of serene life, i can't help but wonder what I've missed out on by giving up in the past. I've always come
out alright in the end, but maybe it all could have been better if I'd held on a little longer.

My hope in the little things, I realize tonight, is reflective of a greater hope, a bigger one. My hope in the Messiah and all that He has promised me drives my very soul to understand such a crazy concept in the first place. It's a feeling I never want to part with again. It's so palpable tonight, it's all but walking besides me into the future, whatever it may be.

What an amazing thing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Even Ideas

“The mysteries of the seen and the unseen are all known, if the mind is kept centered and balanced.”
Sri Guru Granth Sahib 

I once dreamt about a daytime that overstayed it's welcome. The sun refused to go down, even as the hours got later and later. The weather was beautiful, the grass was green, and the sky was a warm and inviting blue.

But the world was chaos.

Friday morning, walking to the bus, I had a little bit of de ja vu. The sun was taking it's time to get it's wonderful colors into place, and for just a moment, I thought about a world in which the sun gave up on rising. And rather than feeling harried, I felt sad.

Imagine a world that is shrouded with darkness. Imagine if the only lights were those of our man made gadgets- if all walks were moonlit, if the sky stayed colored only dark blue, or sometimes black. Imagine a world where sunlit showers did not exist, where mornings were measured only by hours. Are you feeling the loss as heavily as I am?

And now flip it. Imagine the opposite. If you really think it through, you may be discouraged to find that a day with no nightfall is just as sad. Consider what it would be like to always have the light pressing on you. To never feel the natural rest that darkness brings. The stars would be a thing of the past. The comfort of evening would be a memory.

And sunrises and sunsets? A dream of an old world.
In life, we are given these balances. Many things we experience come in pairs, like night and day. We don't think about those things as balancing each other, but instead, we tend to choose the one that we feel better suits us, and we wish for it all the time.

But we forget that the balances stop us from drowning in the things we love. Those opposites give us rest from the things we love. They give us a chance to discover things we may fall in love with too. They cut the monotony of a static world short, and they give us a hope, even in the longest periods of sameness, for change.

The sun finally did appear that morning, and for that I am grateful. And when the sun went down that night, I was grateful too. For my life has these balances. They are what makes the world have the greatest and highest moments, because without the lows, the highs would be the static status of life. I think we would be so bored to live in a world without these opposites.

So I celebrate night, and I celebrate day. And all the other things that give life it's even flow. It's a life worth living. 

And for at least the moment, with all these even thoughts, I feel centered.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Extreme (Internal) Makeover

"I want to be beautiful, make you stand in awe, look inside my heart, and be amazed." 
-Bethany Dillion

What do you want to look like?

As a woman in America in 2011, I feel like this question is the highlight of so many conversations I have been involved in. In our mall, my co-workers and I are often floored by the appearances of young woman (and men, believe it or not) who walk through our doors. The images that they project are often too mature for their ages, and sometimes give behavioral implications that tare hard to escape from. Certain dress codes are often indicative of certain lifestyle patterns. And this group of people who really aren't old enough to have made the decisions about what paths they will follow are already projecting them for everyone to see.

For a long time I was overly troubled with what I look like. I was not an exception to the self-consciousness that today's society feeds on. There was a time in my life when I chose not to acknowledge or embrace it. Then another time when I got overly involved in my looks. And I learned a very interesting lesson in those times.

No matter what I looked like, the people who mattered still perceived me the same way.

Don't misunderstand. I am not so naive as to believe that we are not stereotyped and considered within the first moments of meeting someone as their eyes focus onto us. But those initial judgements do not rule the thoughts of the people who I want to know. And those first impression looks, while sometimes they may be good, and while other times may not have been so good, have rarely hindered me from connecting with someone that I wanted to know.

But I am still concerned with looks today. Not the outward ones- the inward ones.

I know what I want my life to look like. I want to be the kind of person who is warm and welcoming to those in need. I want to be funny, and make people feel good about themselves at the same time. I want to be capable of letting things roll of my shoulders and of being centered by the very Messiah who has given me the desire to be anything at all.

I need an internal make-over. These are the looks that matter.

I want the traits that people see to be the kind of person who is seen and perceived not by clothes or shoes or make up, but by the heart. I want people to know me by my actions, my mindsets, my openness. Which means that there are things that I need to learn to change. Because while I know what I want to look like, my internal mirror is shaking it's head gently and revealing things that need to change for me to look the way I want to.

Because these are the perceptions that make me, and share my life, and my savior in me. And if they aren't right, then I certainly do not look my best.

 It is a hard lesson to learn that people who truly dislike you do not dislike you because of your outward picture. Indeed, while it may hinder them from getting to know you, it is not the be all, end all. I'm not suggesting we all stop showering and start donning burlap sacks- instead, I am suggesting that while we should be ourselves, even in our dress codes, and be appropriate, that true dislike comes not from the outside appearance, but the perceptions of the inside.

So today, I am treating myself to a day of rest and relaxation inside my soul. All my worries can be dealt with in their time, but for the moment, I will focus on changing my heart to be peaceful with the peace that attracted me to the Lord in the first place. And this is just the beginning of making myself happy with my appearance- it may be a little challenging, but this is where it really matters. And in the end, I know that the Lord made me beautiful inside. Now it's time to let everyone else see it too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thoughts from Nature

This weekend, I was blessed enough to head out to a conference in PA and spend some time with my friends, with God, and with beautiful nature He has created.

More about it to come, but I thought I'd share this post I wrote while out there. It's a little long, but it comes full circle.

Hope you like it!

There is something about being alive that is truly wonderful. 
Before you jump to any conclusions about what I might be writing here, let me clarify a little- I don't mean just living- I mean alive. That feeling that we can only imagine Rose is feeling when she stands on the mast of the Titanic, the able bodied DiCaprio holding her tight while the wind flies through her air. Or the one that we know must be pouring out of Jekyll when he first discovers that he can actually split his personality, and that he may have just cured his father's insanity. Or even the one that we know that Elisha feels after  seeing his boss taken up to heaven in a blazing chariot. 
These moments are moments of being alive. 
I suppose it starts with the realization that we are breathing. That each gasp of air that fills our lungs is a gift and not a privilege. And then we go a step further and start to realize that each moment is also a gift. And then we start to realize that we are wasting a lot of gifts in misery, pain, sadness, and worst of all, apathy. 
I'm going to make a grammatical decision here and now. The opposite of joy is not sadness. It's apathy. Because joy is something that we feel even when our hearts are not always happy- we can be joyful in all kinds of times- times of heart break, times of happiness, times of wonderment, times of disillusionment, times of fitting in, and times when the entire world turns their backs on us, including those who were supposed to know us best. Because joy is a feeling of being alive even when these emotions are running into our veins on an extra strength drip. And the thing about being able to feel them is that it is also a gift. 
So let's come back to being alive then. Those moments mentioned above, they are all routed in joy. For Rose, it was joy in knowing that despite the turmoil churning in her spirit, she had a choice. She could choose to be in love, to leaver who she was behind forever. And for that moment while she stands, hair in the wind, love holding her up, she is free to let go and be real. Similar to Jekyll, who has given his entire life to find this cure. His bride-to-be is on the verge of leaving him behind, his funding is being cut off, his father is on his way to a certain death. And yet in the moment of discovery, his heart is freed from all that he knows is crumbling around him, and a hope has sprung inside him. 
Imagine, then, what our prophet friend must be feeling. Here is he, called to this position that pays nothing and makes people very unhappy. He is called to serve a God that he knows to be true, but whose reward system must have seemed a bit unbalanced and uncertain. But then! The moment of clarity! Watching Elijah being called home to the Lord in a Chariot of Fire, and realizing the truth in all that they worked for- it must have felt like Euphoria, even amongst the loss and fear that might have been circling through his heart. 
These moments are steeped in being alive. They are moments of joy. 
Have you gotten the idea here? Do you see my connection? I believe that being alive is experiencing the joy in life, no matter what is going on in your heart. I'm not saying that it isn't alright to be sad, or scared, or feel hurt or loss every now and then. But in all of these moments, if we let the pain rule everything, we will lose interest in that which makes us feel real. That which makes us feel alive.
I write today from a conference that I've been to only once before. The first time, I remember driving in with a friend of mine, looking at the beauty of the trees and leaves and grass and sky... and feeling nothing at all. The pain in my life, at that time, was too much for me, and I'd hid within it, cutting myself off from anything else I may have been wanting. And I'd lost the drive to appreciate anything else as a result. 
The next day, I went outside and sat down just to think. And I opened myself up, and let myself be cut by all that was hiding inside me. It was exceptionally painful, but you know what? It was also wonderful. I was free to take in the world around me. I was ready to let life resume. And after a while, all the bad stuff went away. I don't even remember what I was upset about or hurt by. But I remember the immense joy that came from removing it's hold on me, even today. 
I am alive today. I am joyful. All the pain that is in my heart will be only temporary. But this joy- this will last as long as my heart, and I, allow it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Poem Saga

Sometimes I like to go back and revisit what I've written in the past and share them with you, dear readers. I send out this one tonight in dedication to what I am becoming, and the past that I am starting to learn never lies dormant.

I have left this piece almost entirely how it was when I wrote it last year for a creative writing class. It's one of my favorites because for me, writing is about moving on. When I can write about something, I am leaving it behind.

I didn't leave this one entirely behind, though that is a story for a different entry. Until then, enjoy a little piece of how I crafted words just under a year ago. I dedicate this to those who inspired it, and to the artist I was, and the one I am becoming

The Last Poem (Or My First Experience With Mortification)

It was the last official poem I wrote- in rereading it later, I realized that it was so awful, I would need to seek professional help before writing a poem again, especially if I wanted to call it such. Oh, there have been song lyrics since, and cute messages in cards, but nothing that I would ever try to pass off as actual poetry. As a matter of fact, I have worked hard to keep my written talents as far from being associated with poetry as I possibly can. Because I am afraid that if anyone hears these two in conjunction, they will find it.
Because that last poem, that last awful expression of prose and my soul, is also the first time I was published.
At the time when I wrote it, I had just broken the heart of the first boy to ever care for me (with the exception of my father and my best friend, but that was a much different kind of thing). I was suffering from the melancholy and regret that comes from knowing that you’ve wounded a friend, a confidant, and an all over sweet soul. The guilt wasn’t so bad, most of the time, but it came spinning in with the scent of Macintosh Apples, the kind of smell they bottle up and sell as pillow sprays and car fresheners at Yankee Candle. The aroma sent me back to the first time we spent together, in the mall, smelling those candles and laughing, and despite my deep commitment to the idea of moving on, that he was the wrong guy, they always took me right back to his arms.
So I sat down and threw my feelings into verses, desperately trying to capture the emotions spinning around within my heart. And in what I believed to be a logical move, I submitted my work to a poetry contest, where the top three winners won monetary prizes, and the top 100 were published in a coffee table book.
The poem, I should warn you, is long gone. I read over it again, later that week, and knew with complete certainty that it was absolute dribble, and dumped it from my computer hard drive right then and there. My attempt to express myself was much less a doorway to my soul as it was a ridiculous replica of some of the great poets, only lacking the symbolism, life experience, and skill that they possessed. I vowed at that moment to leave the poetry world on the curb- it was a place I clearly didn’t belong.
But the people at the website, for some reason, felt otherwise. Maybe it was a dry season- maybe only 100 people actually submitted. Maybe one of the judges had already made the link between apples and lost love, and my submission brought him back to a time when he too was young. Or maybe they figured that I was young enough to want to buy anything that had my name inside, as the coffee table book was offered to me at a discounted, and yet still ridiculous price, but whatever the case was, they chose my poem to embody one of it’s pages. They sent me a letter proclaiming the good news.
“Congratulations!” it exclaimed. “Your poem has been selected!”
I thought I might die.
Here I was, an aspiring writer, being published for the worst thing I had ever created. The broken heartedness I had so carefully been trying to depict was now mine. I wondered how I would ever survive such tragedy that had befallen me. It was enough to push me into other hobbies, to try to draw the pen from my hand exclusively.
Oh, time has passed, and now I am back on the writing front. But I am mortified to think that maybe someone purchased this book, that maybe it is sitting on a coffee table somewhere, with the page next to mine dog-eared where the owner’s own work was published. Someone may have read this thing that I have created, this beast that is not only reminiscent of the first time I knowingly crushed a spirit, but of the writer who I so badly wanted to be. It’s enough to make me consider a penname, in reality, because I am afraid that one day I will write something truly poetic and profound, and someone will pick it up, and see it through tainted eyes.
“Isn’t this that girl who wrote the poem about the scent of apples wafting through the wind?” they will ask.
Perhaps it is a right of passage, a young writer’s mistake.
Or perhaps it is just proof that the pen is a powerful tool.
And maybe, just maybe, it is an understanding in my soul that some things can't be taken back, no matter how hard you try. That sometimes, once the words are out there, there is no making right what you've wronged.
Either way, it’s a carefully woven tale, one filled with irony, and tragedy, and deeper meaning.
How truly poetic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Risky Business (for Jim)

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."
-Ernest Hemmingway

We never know how long we have. We only know that we have a short time to get things done here on earth. Tonight, I write in memory of a man who used his time wisely, and who made a great impact in the time he was given. 

Last friday, I lost a dear friend named Jim, whose passing is a point of grief that I can not explain. He was the kind of man who always had a smile, a high five, or even a hug for anyone who needed it. He was calm and patient, and he was capable of doing things that others struggled with. He didn't know everything, but he wasn't afraid to learn, or to ask for an answer. He was the kind of person who knew how to make his own opportunities instead of being stuck in the ones he was handed. 

I will miss Jim being in my life. But I am already feeling an unexpected bravery from his example. In so many of our talks, he would talk about going for what he wanted, about taking chances. He knew how to take a risk, and he always encouraged me to take my own. It's something I can already see starting to push me. 

Lately I've been contemplating the meaning of life, of what's important and what isn't, of what's necessary and what's a lie that holds me down. I want to know who and where I am supposed to be, and I'm scared of squandering time getting there. I'm afraid of being too afraid to take risks. I don't let others in, and I don't get close. I don't go after things that I want if they seem too far away. I am afraid to fall on my face. And I'm already seeing what I've lost, in this reflection of my own time through the mirror of a life lost. The world is a little grayer in this sadness, but my short coming is crystal clear.

And so tonight, in honor of the memory of someone who lived to the fullest in every moment he had, I have resolved that I will take the risks that lie before me. I will take a chance on that which can hurt me, and give myself freely to the idea of change. I will not be limited in my walls of safety- the doors are open, and I'm freeing myself from them. I will not be scared to speak my mind, to tell those important to me how I feel, or what I need. 

Starting tonight, I am going into the risky game that is life with all my spirit. I want to live a life like Jim's, and I don't want to miss out on time. Life is too short to squander on safety. 

Goodnight Jim, and thank you for teaching me this. You will be so missed, but you live on in my heart, and so many others. And I won't be afraid anymore- you always told me not to be. Thank you for believing in me- in this time of missing you, I am finding the courage of believing in myself. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gratefully waiting

"Instant gratification is never soon enough."
-Meryl Streep

Last night I got into an abnormally long line to wait for a DC headed Megabus, just to find that traffic delays in New York City were making the running vehicles very late.

The people standing around me in line buzzed with chatter about the delays. I watched one young man approach one of the waiting workers and ask her for a number for customer service, so he could complain. She gave him the number, but warned him that their satisfaction department could not change the traffic pattern. He angrily stormed away.

Many others complained about their wait time of an hour or more, of the engagements they would be missing, and of how terrible it was to be stuck outside. Some glared angrily around at the workers, while others pouted quietly. A general unity seemed to form around the lines, as if the ridiculousness of the situation was a bonding factor between the heated personalities.

I watched quietly, considering the true craziness of the bus situation in my head. True, the bus had assigned me an appointed time that I had scheduled against. Yes, it was getting a little chilly, and my bag was starting to leave a small imprint on my shoulder. Yes, my shoes were a little wet from standing on the water soaked pavement that serves as a loading zone.

But the traffic patterns are out of anyones control. And I payed a very small fee to be able to ride in the first place, a fact for which I was very grateful, considering the short notice of the trip. In fact, I was happy to be able to be going at all, and a bus that was falling behind hardly seemed to a reason for an uprising.

More and more, I find that people today are not happy to have to wait for things. Lines are something that stores are trying to eliminate. Shipping gets faster and faster. Businesses open earlier and close later then they have in the past. Halloween shopping starts in September, and Christmas shopping starts the day after Halloween. The whole world is impatient to get what it is they want. They are more than anxious- they are demanding.

It's bad practice, of course, because the things in life that most matter do not work on a human time table. We do not control when it rains and when the sun shines. We do not choose when to fall in love and when to be done with it. We do not get to pick when we are born or when we will die. Many big factors are out of our control.

Maybe this is what causes people to make such demands of the inconsequential. Maybe we are all just afraid that since we don't get to choose the timing on the big things, if we can get the little things done, we will come out ahead. Maybe the control factor causes us to lose our patience when life slows us down, because we can slowly feel it being pulled away from us.

Whatever it is, it's catchy. First a few people complain, and then a few more jump in, and then a few more jump in, until everyone is tense. Even those of us in line who weren't complaining felt tense and cross when getting into our seats, causing everyone to jump at the driver when a few hours later, he informed us that he'd hit his driving limit and needed to switch with someone else.

Looking back, the situation almost seems comical, but it actually makes me sad. Waiting in line last night didn't have to be such a dramatic event- the weather was a little rainy and cold, but it wasn't a terrible night to be outside. Yes, the bus arrived late, but the seats were comfortable, and everyone had a nice trip to relax. And all destinations were eventually met, for less then it costs to go out for a nice dinner. There was a lot to be thankful for. And yet the general attitude was negative, a reflection that will likely cause the company to lose business and have to address the complaints of impatient people.

And I can't help but think that maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe the opposite of impatience isn't patience- maybe it's gratefullness.

Last night I saw what I don't want to be. No more impatience- from now on I'm going to try being grateful for what I'm given, even if I have to wait for it. Because I know that if I don't get my act together now, one day I'll be the kind of person who throws a tantrum about traffic. And really, in a life that's already based on uncertain timing, there can't be a greater waste than that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No news is news too

In a society of ever-sharing humans, there is a bombardment of information that tends to hit us on the head daily. We are an over stimulated people, forever being informed of what the media deems important for us to know. It's on TV, it's on the radio, it's on the newspaper you read over the shoulder of the person in front of you on the bus. It's reflected in bad sitcoms and political protests, in the music of the artists they play over the speakers at Starbucks, in the billboards that line city highways and inter passes. The news is everywhere, and the news is mandated by someone, somewhere, trying to decide where the truth of humanity lies. 

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun, so after the while, the news becomes old news. And after a while, old news turns into no-news- that unfortunate state where something is happening, but we aren't thinking about it anymore, because it's a weekday, so some hollywood couple is breaking up, some teenage starlet is doing something controversial, and Snookie is doing something stupid. 

Take War for example. When a war starts, it is the foreground of all news. It's everywhere, buzzing with the latest death counts and who is winning and what the point is. But after time passes, people don't want to hear about the war anymore. It becomes a back page story, then a footnote, until finally it's a filler for when there is no food poisoning scandal happening anywhere. It becomes no-news. 

But no-news is news too. Because it's happening, whether we know it or not. And I don't just mean on a global level. 

Let's domesticate this for a minute. No-news is the kind of thing that happens in relationships all the time, no matter what the parameters of them are. It's no-news when a parent decides not to tell their grown children that they are losing their house to debt because they don't want them to be a financial problem. It's no-news when a wife decides not to pass on to her husband that she's been feeling very ill lately because she knows that he has a merger at work. It's no-news when one best friend decides not to verbalize that they are struggling with things in their life because they are afraid their friend will become annoyed and walk away. This no-news issues may seem dramatic, but they happen. Daily. And most of us are part of them. 

Our world promotes the idea of self respect, self pride, and personal strength. We hold tight to the idea that success is not being a burden on anyone, and we strive, toil, and pray to make that goal. We want our independence from everyone else. We want to be the kind of people who never need to rely on anyone- who always have the choice to be no-news people.

But again, no-news is news too. And no matter how many times we answer "nothing" to the daily what's ups of life, there is always something going on. We are people, and we are dynamic, and things are always happening, whether they are old, or new, or just more than we know how to verbalize. 

Before anyone feels condemned, let me explain. I used to be the queen of no-news. I am the kind of person who is capable of internalizing all kinds of pains in my life and turning them into apathy. I've held more secrets then even I want to think about. I have mastered the art of sharing select details to pacify people's need to know me while holding tight to my own secrets. It's something I'm not particularly afraid to admit. And in my darkest moments, I'm even a little proud of my ability to hold it in. I've committed to changing that, and it's made a big difference, but it's still sometimes easier to just keep it to myself.

But in my life, I've met my matches. I know many others too who have mastered the art of no-news. We pat each other on the backs and give each other "space" in an attempt to respect the boundaries that we so understand. We know things are going on, but we know that the other person wants their silence. So we give in and accept the "nothings". And we keep each other close- it's a solid understanding. 

The problem with no-news is that you can only get away with it for so long before the effects start to manifest themselves. Eventually, the parent is going to lose that house, and there may not be another place to live. That wife is eventually going to have to deal with the effects of whatever is plaguing her, and the husband is going to find out, merger or not. Friends will eventually figure out that someones strains and stresses are happening- whether it's a slip of the tongue, or a problem that follows them around. And if the kids, or husband, or friends really do care, they're going to feel hurt that the other didn't let them in in the first place.

I'm beginning to wonder about the destructive behavior of holding things in, beginning to feel the full effects of it. Once, in high school, my class was instructed to write fortunes for fortune cookies. I wrote "He who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders walks slowest." Maybe I wasn't that far off. 

However, the comfort of no-news is that all of our troubles are not hidden from our wonderful maker. And He knows our struggles, not matter who we don't tell. And if we let Him in, he takes care of all our no-news, and our old news, and our big news, and our breaking news, and everything else. And often, if we asks, he puts others in our lives to share our news with too. 

So if anyone needs to share their no-news, I'm here to listen. And I challenge all of you to be the same, this week, this month, this year. Because no-news is news too, and we all have the ability to be there to listen to those we care about. So the next time someone tells you nothings up, and you know a little better, press a little further (Don't drive them nuts, but be available). The chance to share may be the beautiful beginning of a friendship you didn't anticipate, or something even btter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Great(er) Expectations

"So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?"
-Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail

We all have these expectations of what life is supposed to be. They start from childhood, from the first time that we pretend to have a house or a job, or be part of a social group. They aren't the same for most people- there are many details that create the stories of who we are to be that factor differently into every tale.

Expectations are a funny thing- they aren't always set by the person who they are laid out for- actually, by the time we all start to realize that things are expected of us, most of us have already been told what those things are by society, by our family structures, and by the people we most want to impress.

For some, that means schooling- the more education, the better. College, grad school, and then maybe second and third degrees. The more the knowledge, the better in life they are. For others, it's a family that is important- the more kids, the better. While society does have social norms that factor in depending on such things as location and income, there is a certain need to procreate that seeps through some people's vein with a certain venom, stinging the heart until there are little feet in the house. Still others, which we pretend don't exist, expect to be in gangs or groups of destruction because of their location or social status. Or even because of their family life... these expectations seem more dramatic, but are based out of desires for acceptance and survival- the same as all other life expectations.

I am at a point in my life where my friends and I are just starting to take hold of these social norms- we are just starting to understand the implications of such expectations, and how big of an impact they have had on things that we have already done, and are just starting to do. I don't know what to do with this knowledge, but I almost feel like Solomon penning about the dangers of knowledge in Ecclesiastes- the more I come to know, the less I realize I know at all.

For example, I know what is expected of me by my family, by my society, by my job, and by my friends. But I don't know what I would have done if those expectations had not been settled into place. I don't know what I would have taken hold of if my life had suddenly opened up to freedom and I had no one to expect anything of me. In Water For Elephants, the main character finds himself orphaned, homeless, and failing out of school. In desperation he jumps a train and joins the Circus, and that's where his life leads. It isn't easy, but it is a life that he loves and chooses, and accomplishes many things in.

Realistically, I would have never joined the circus (can't deal with clowns). But I don't know what I would have done. I have ideas sometimes- dreams that play through my mind about how things would have gone. But you can never be sure- a truth which is actually somewhat troubling. I wonder if these things that I have dreamed of doing are the life that would make me happiest. I wonder if I am disillusioned by what others want for me. I wonder if we all are just marking time on this earth (and no, I don't think I am the first to think these things, yet still, I think them all the same).

But I take comfort in what my mentor told me when I explained all this to her- God's expectations for us vary so differently. All He wants is our submission- our surrendering of our life to Him. It is one of the hardest things to do, and one of the easiest, at the same time, because it's the ability to let go of everything we've ever been for the freedom of what we might become. I am comforted to know that my earthly life is not in my hands, and that I will know what God expects from me when I start to realize His goals for my life. And that's a blessing, because those are the only expectations that once I fulfill them, will actually make me happy.

Donald Miller, one of my favorite authors, wrote a book about getting up and leaving life and expectation behind called "Through Painted Deserts". In his travels, he finds God and all that he can become in Him, and his world is rocked radically. And in his example I find truth- that when your heart is talking, you better tune out society and listen in, because the universe is siting before you, waiting.

It is my goal in life to find God and let him rock my world. No matter what it does to the expectations that those in my life set before me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Disposable people

"Someone out in nowhere land is listening tonight."
-Jeff Sack

I used to love paper dolls as a kid. They were less maintenance than regular dolls because you never had to brush their hair or clean their clothing. They were cheap enough that if they got ruined, buying new ones was only an allowance day away. They were compact enough to fit into any bag that was coming along for a car ride in large numbers- forget being limited by shape and size restrictions... I've got an entire party along with me. And they weren't the kind of dolls that you had to worry would feel neglected or unloved if you didn't have enough time to play with them again and again. They were paper- recyclables. They were disposable.

If you went to a public high school or got your degree from a college that requires you to meet in a classroom, you've probably experienced another phenomena that I like to call "disposable people." This is what happens when people find out that their might be a utility in making friends. The idea that every person is actually a being with feelings and a life story becomes secondary to the idea that every person has some kind of worth. And unfortunately, we grab on pretty quickly to those who most compliment the life style that we live- everyone has an ultimate goal in friendships. When those goals either come to pass or come to fail, we let the friendship go. We throw it away- we only wanted the benefits in the first place.

With Facebook and other social networking sites being a meeting ground, there is a huge craze going around- collect the most friends. This is where we decide to friend people we don't know, and have no intention of meeting, and really have no interest in talking to, because it makes us look like one of the popular kids. There is an unspoken popularity contest that goes on- somehow, the number of people who want to be involved in our virtual representations of life weaves itself into our self esteem. I don't care if I know all 2000 people- they all want to be my friend.

Across the united states, there are movements about bullying. Kids, and adults, for that matter, are being pushed around by those who are bigger, stronger, smarter, or more well-liked then they are. Recently, a study revealed that these antics were usually not about a specific dislike for the person on the receiving end, but instead, a growing necessity that the bullies feel to be liked. As though if they do not pick on the ones who are easy targets, they are less in themselves. It's a serious realization that the bully is a victim too- not of unusual cruelty of others, but of a self-dislike that is so strong, they need to have someone else seem weaker than them.

We all want to be liked, in one form or another, by someone somewhere. We all want to feel important- worth something. We want to know that we are needed in some capacity, and that if we fall down, that others will be there for us to pick us back up again.

But people don't save us from loneliness. We ourselves have to go through that alone. And if people are disposable, just paper dolls to us, then I don't want to play. Keep the party to yourself- I'll stay home and update my Facebook, where the people who actually do care about me can comment and react. I don't want to be the kind of person who makes friends because they are worth a utility to me. I want to make friends with people because I like them, because I connect with them, and because I want to share things with them. I don't want to feel my self worth through how others see me.

Maybe it's the rant of someone who never had 2000 friends. Or maybe it's just a general feeling from someone whose tired of seeing people thrown away. I'm tired of watching suicides of people on the news, tired of watching broken hearted people walk with their heads down, and tired of watching people that I actually care about fall apart over people who didn't matter in the first place. I find it to be a lesson that we all need to discover in ourselves, and not a problem that someone else needs to deal with, so here is my conclusion:

If we think of people as disposable, we will always be lonely.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

La'Shana Tovah!

"...In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a sabbath for you, a remembrance with shofar blasts, a holy convocation."
-Leviticus 16:24

Happy Jewish New Year!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me fill you in. Tonight marks the start of Rosh Hashana, a holiday in which we Jewish people celebrate the beginning of our new year. This year is 5772- the year of the latkah (or so I just declared it). It's gonna be a good one.

Rosh Hashana is a special holiday- it is a celebration of new beginnings, and a hope for new life. That hope lies, for most Jewish people, in the idea that tonight and for the next ten days, they have the chance to have their names written for another year in the Lambs Book of Life- God's document which discerns who gets into heaven and who doesn't. Many believe that their name is put in here based on how they've behaved this year- have they been good? Have they served God? The holiday marks the beginning of a ten day process, the time in which you have to get your name into the book. It ends with Yom Kippur, the day of mourning and atonement, in which many sacrifice food for a 24 hours period to show their sorrow. They will sit in their congregations for long services, recite special prayers, and hope that their sorrow and repentance does the trick and leaves their names in the book for another year, as it will be sealed on that last day.

For Messianic Jews, of course, this is a different kind of celebration. We believe that our faith in the Messiah- in Jesus, is what gets our names into that book. And no ten day period can get them out. There is no renewal clause. We only have to atone once- by confessing that we have sinned and we need the savior to take away what we've done. And that's that.

So each new Rosh Hashana is a chance for me to ask myself this question: What am I celebrating this year? What has God done that has shown me a little more of who I was, who He is, and who I am becoming in Him? And each self reflection is a time for me to see if I've come any farther in the last year.

Unfortunately, my self reflections aren't always very encouraging.

See, as we look at ourselves, not through our eyes, but through the eyes of our loving Father, we start to see ourselves for who we really are. We start to understand the darkness of our hearts, and the evil that lurks within us. We start to realize that we should have been a lot further than we are, that we've had more than enough time to make what we have work. It's almost a little depressing to reflect on ones self, especially when one knows all the deep dark secrets that one's soul holds.

Switchfoot, a popular band, has a song entitled "The Blues", in which lead singer Jon Foreman sings an emotional account of the sadness that can come with a new year. He talks about a number of different negative emotions that can come when reflecting back on time lost. "Is this the new year," he asks, "Or just another desperation?"

Sometimes it is easier to fall into the trap of how far we have fallen. It's even easier to push our own disappointments back and pretend that the things we have done in the last year are enough, even though we believe in our deep hearts that they aren't even close. But God sent the savior for this very reason- so that when our self reflection leaves us feeling like an old sock in a new drawer, we know that the time we spent has not been in vain- He is using us.

And so, this year, I will celebrate the New Year, not as a new beginning alone, but as a reminder that no time I have anymore is wasted, because the Savior lives in me, and is using me. And I will celebrate that I do not have to worry, because I have certainty that my name is in that book, and I don't' have to stress about it. I will celebrate the freedom that comes, not just with the new number at the end of the date, but with every day that I get to live in Messiah.

La'Shana Tovah, Tikvah Tenyu- May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

And on the end, forever.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hope, Love, and Magic

"To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live." 
~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Few books about children captivate me the way The Secret Garden does- maybe because few books so carefully capture the carefree love of adolescence. If you've never read it, you've missed out on the enchanting tale of a young girl who no one really loves being given the chance at a new start, and finding that life actually agrees with her when she discovers all that is really important in it. I warn you now, the rest of this entry is filled with small spoilers, so if you haven't read it and you think you might like to, stop reading now. 

The story starts long before Mary's time when a man named Archibald meets a woman named Lily, and they fall in love- they begin their life in a big house on the moors of England, with a brand new baby boy, and a garden with roses and other beautiful flowers and plants that mirrors only the beauty of Lily's life, attitude, and her most intriguing feature- her eyes. 

But when Lily dies in an accident in the garden, Archibald Craven starts to lock doors- the door to the garden that she once loved, the door to his own heart, and the door to his baby son, whose eyes are so like his mothers, that Archibald can only even look at him when he sleeps. 

10 years later, an outbreak in India causes the death of relations of Craven's, leaving behind only their own progeny, a little girl who no one has ever taken the time to get to know, who has never been outside, and who is very disagreeable and dislikable. And her own sour mood is the canvas on which the plot is inscribed- the story of her transformation, as well as the transformation of her cousin when she discovers him in the room where Craven has kept him. The story also revolves around another young boy, whose heart is so pure, and intent is so good, that the children believe him to be an angel.

I won't say more on it - if you want more of it, read the story, but I will say this- over and over and over again, the author brings in magic. The children believe that the "magic" is the cause of all their good fortune. Magic is how Mary ends up in the garden, despite it's unattainable state- it is how Dicken, the good hearted boy, attracts the animals and plants that seem to blossom in his presence. It is how Colin, the locked away child, learns how to live like a normal boy instead of an invalid. The magic is credited to all of the changes in the children's lives.

Let me give you my take on the magic that these children find based on how they are:

Mary, a little girl whose parents spent no time with her, who was raised by nannies commissioned to give her anything she required or requested, and who knows nothing of friendship, finds the magic after being introduced to some of the house people, and learning about who they are and where they come from. First with the maids, then with the gardener, and then with his friend the robin, she begins to see that she may want other people in her life- that she may like to hear them and what they have to say.

Colin, her cousin, has known all his life that he had no mother. His father refuses to be in the same room with him when he is awake. He has the guilt of a child who doesn't know what he's done wrong, and he is certain that he will eventually die, a fate that he has been waiting for all of his young life. He finds the magic when he discovers he has a cousin- a girl who will be his friend and set him straight, not just because she has to because of her job, but because she actually wants to know him. And then, he meets Dickon, and he sees something to aspire to- someone who believes that everything is possible. And suddenly, with the magic, everything becomes possible.

And finally, there is Dickon, who knew the magic was there all along. Dickon comes from a large family of brothers and sisters, and a mother who is a wise woman, and a wonderful care taker. Dickon never feels disliked or unaccepted. He doesn't struggle as the others do with the feelings of cold silence or loneliness. He believes in the magic all the time, because he has always know the magic, for as long as he's been alive.

Have you guessed my theory? The magic... it's love.

Love is what brings the three children together. Love is what creates the air of hope and purity- not romantic love, not forced love, but natural, unrelenting love that the children begin to feel for one another. They are just little ones playing in a garden, nurturing the earth. But they become a small family, a tight knit band of people who are changing daily. They begin to want to know each other, and then other people as well. They are honest with each other, and the share secrets and dreams and hopes and fears and thoughts. They are the embodiment of unconditional love.

The Secret Garden has made it's way into my heart because it reminds me of childhood. It reminds me of a time when things were simple and possible. It reminds me of late summer evenings sprinkled with fireflies, of early fall mornings gazing out the window at the trees, of fire lit evenings praying for snow, and of smiling spring afternoons, feeling the breeze sweep through the air with a severe speed. It reminds me of the times when if I was given my bit of earth, I could make something grow. I knew my fair share of Dickon's and Colin's, and Mary's too, and I have been all three to others- we all played a different role in everyone's own garden story. But we all knew how to love then- we all knew how to make magic.

However, before you lose hope, or think that maybe I have, let me tell you this one last piece of the story. Archibald Craven comes back into the end of the story. He has run away from his home, trying to separate himself from the memories of his past by secluding himself from his future. But one morning, he wakens to find a strange feeling of comfort. It's feeling that he doesn't understand, that he doesn't know why he is feeling, but he recognizes it. And it changes him too, despite the fact that he is so far from the magic. It seems that the magic is without borders. And the magic infest this man of great pain and dislike in a very simple way- in hope for the future.

Life is never without loss, sorrow, and disappointment. It impedes our chance to love one another as best we can- as children. But if we truly search for love, even just a little bit, within our hearts, it will find us. We can hope for it always, because it will come back for us when we need it most.

If we give in to the child-like magic that surrounds us, we can feel love again as if we would live forever, as if the whole world were possible, as if love would never leave.

One final thought- if God is love, and God is unconditional, and God is everywhere, then how easy is it to love if we just follow Him? He is the great example, the greatest source of love in my life... and when I really pay attention, He reminds me that I will live forever. That everything is possible, and that love, true love, never left me, and need never leave you- not even for a second.