Wednesday, August 1, 2012

God's Love: Providing in the Wilderness

7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium.
 8  The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9  When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.

Numbers 11:7-9

Thinking about the American family unit, there is a big emphasis on provision. American courts are set up to make sure that if a parent leaves a child behind, there are legal rulings that make sure that there is financial stability for the little one until they are old enough to provide for themselves. The american dream hinges on the concept of giving your kids more than you had. We work hard to make sure that our families can survive, and do a little better. People are providers. It’s part of how we show love.

The same goes for God.

The God of love that we think of provides for our needs. He gives us our “daily bread” (if you’ve never heard this term, it’s christianese for the concept of God sustaining us on the day to day). We believe that He gives us help with emotions, with hard situations, with basic needs like food or water... God provides.

This provision starts even in the beginning, but I’m always more impressed by the clarity of the example of the manna in the wilderness. If you don’t know the story, don’t worry, I’ll spell it out.

The wilderness was not a good place for the Israelites. After leaving Exodus, they weren’t happy to find that they would have to travel in order to get to the promise land. They were hot, tired, unhappy, and angry with both Moses and God for dragging them out. Several times they provoke God to destroy them- several times, Moses pleads for them and they are saved (but there are plagues). Let me reiterate- the wilderness was not a good place for the Israelites.

It was also not a good place for food. Not much grows in the desert, if you couldn’t guess. And even as a people coming out of a working civilization, Israel was not prepared to forge for food among their sandy travels. So there was a bit of a gap in the sustenance thing- the people needed to eat.

But even in the midst of the arguments with God, He did not let the people starve. God provided manna, which is described above, as a nutritional thing for the people. As a matter of fact, it came daily, so that every man was good until his full. God told the people to take it day by day, to not collect extra except on the sabbath, and to trust that He would provide. And he continued to until the people reached the land of milk and honey.

Manna was not dependent on God’s happiness with the people. He did not only send it when Israel was in his favor. As a matter of fact, Israel makes trouble based on the gift. But that is another story. The point here is that the God of provision, the God who cared for those He loves, did not start after the death on the hill. It started much earlier, and can be proven again and again with these wafer like cakes that fell at Sinai.

Even in the desert, God saw it fit to give to the people. He did not expect them to find it on their own, or to work hard to survive. He sent the food right to them, with the morning dew. It’s a form of love that we know- provision for those who we care for, even when they make us crazy. And it’s another good example of the fact that God has always been a God of love, even when the people’s hearts were not right before Him.

Because even in the desert of the worst times, God sent daily bread.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

God's Love: Pharaoh's hard heart

If we're going to discuss the loving nature of God in the old testament is not an easy task, lack of theology studies aside. These things that I am about to write are my own ideas, and I would encourage you to form your own opinions. I would also encourage you to remember that I am working on the premise that these things are part of a true text, and while I don't claim you must agree with me to understand, it wouldn't be bad if you familiarized yourself with the texts as well.

"And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. 3But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I smultiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5The Egyptians tshall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7:1-5

One of my favorite examples of God's love is celebrated every year with food, wine, and a four hour ceremony in the middle of spring. We call it Passover, and it tells the story of how God heard his people in distress, and freed them from the bondage they were living in. But I'm not going to talk about what God did by freeing the people.

I'm going to talk about what God did through the hardened heart of Pharaoh.

Let me give you the brief version. God sent Moses, who had been raised in the palace, out into a new country after an unfortunate incident in which Moses murders an Egyptian. He gives him a wife, a family, and a good job tending sheep. And then one day, God sends Moses back to Egypt to enlist his brother's help in getting Pharaoh to let the people go. But despite a number of signs and wonders, Pharaoh says no to letting the people leave. 

Ten times.

As a child, I often questioned the validity of God's decision to let Pharaoh say no again and again. If God wants it done, it's going to get done. Why play games with the people?

But if you look at the verse above, God makes his intentions very clear. His intention in allowing Pharaoh's heart to stay cold is about reaching out and letting everyone see His greatness. His wonders increased in magnification and wonder each time Pharaoh held on to the people, starting small with turning the water to blood, and ending with the finale of the death of the first born. The story even talks about the magicians being able to recreate some of the earlier plagues, as a security for Pharaoh, who even in his hardness was not completely convinced God wasn't the driving force.

I know that it's hard to see the love in a story that ends where people lose their oldest children, but let me see if I can break it down for you the way I see it. The earlier plagues grew in both mystery and difficulty- in the end, Pharaoh even claimed to give in to get Moses to rebuke the plagues just to get them to stop. Before the original pass over, Pharaoh recognized that the "God of Moses" was a real force to be up against. His hardness of heart was grounded in the fact that he saw God, and ignored Him.

But thanks to Pharaoh's defiance, other people were able to recognize God and His power. As a result, many Egyptians were able to have their homes passed over and their children's lives spared (see exodus for the ritual needed to avoid the plague.) Many of those same Egyptians even left with the Jewish people, and were saved from the drowning fate that befell the monarch and his people when they tried to recapture the Jewish people. 

God had the option to just remove the people- to take them out of the hands of slavery in a moment. He could have struck down all of Egypt and let His people take the land. He could have just made Pharaoh say yes and let Israel walk easily out. But instead He choose to reveal Himself, to the generation of children that were already His, and to the population of their captors. Furthermore, as Israel travels once they're out of the land of Egypt, other nations hear of their reputation, and some even tremble and stop themselves from falling to a fate like that of the Land that was once most powerful. 

Later, in the books of the prophets, God reveals that the plan is to make Israel a light to all the nations, and the fulfillment happens when the Jewish people reject Jesus.

God's plans are never contingency plans- He knows, and has known from the beginning. It's a desire for all people to come to Him, a love for all nations rather than just a chosen people, that drives him to make an example of Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus. The choice to fear and respect Him is suddenly offered to all people- anyone who heeds Him. While God does eventually have vengeance on those who disobey, he offers a repentance chance first. 

A very loving thing indeed for a people who needed to see first hand. And for a people who are often to stubborn to see the need for their own sorrow, unless they understand the might of the God they think about. It’s interesting that God would use such a powerful figure to start the issue of His Sovereignty, but would consistently bring it to a personal level for the people that He loves, in all times and generations. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012


If you read my last post, you’ll know that I was hoping to have a few posts up here about God, and who He is, specifically to say that He is both a God of love and vengeance in both the old testament and new. You will also know that I’d set a goal to have the first post up last thursday. 

Even if you didn’t read it, you can probably guess it didn’t go up. 

As I have been struggling to begin this series, I’ve realized that more importantly than proving examples to begin, it may be more important to start with some definitions. What do I mean when I say God is loving? And what do I mean by vengeful? What does the greater world mean by it? 

So let’s start there. 

Love, obviously, looks like different things to different people. Even God’s love in it’s consistency has changed over time- each story in the bible shows a difference side to God and who He is, and what it means for us who believe in Him. But there are three things that God does over and over again to show us that He cares for us. These three include:

A)Revealing Himself- From walking in the garden with Adam to the visions in John’s revelations, God is never one to hide. He shows His love and power so that others may believe in Him. He reveals who He is and what He is over and over so that we may understand him. The idea is that in seeing, we as people can believe in Him, so that we might try to comprehend what He does and what it means. And so the first step in loving us is God’s ability and willingness to let us see him. 

B)Giving- God’s love is not limited to a feeling; some of the old testament examples will really show a generous side to God that we may not think of. Most christians live under the premise that everything we have belongs to God, so everything is a gift. And some of those gifts are small, but many more are great, and furthermore, life-changing. God shows us His love in what He gives.

C)Mercy and Grace- These should sound familiar to anyone whose ever been within 10 feet of a church. God’s mercy and grace are qualities that make Him different from other God’s that we are exposed to. We consider God to be loving because He has mercy on us, even when we don’t deserve it. The easiest of all three to comprehend, this is where most people see God as loving. 
These three categories, while not the only way God loves, will cover all of the things that I will post as examples. By understanding these, we can understand what it means to say that we have a loving God, and how He’s been showing us the whole time.

The vengeful side of God is a little easier to understand, although vengeful doesn’t always translate the way we’d like it too. When we use this word to describe God, we don’t mean a petty competition. God’s vengeance is payment for the disobedience in the world, and for the disbelief of His greatness that makes leaders fall away. It is the justice system that is often nullified by the grace and mercy part of love, and the part where God, in His ultimateness, exhibits his power. God’s vengeance is the (deserved) wrath that comes from being all-mighty. And while it’s most commonly known for it’s use to annihilate groups of old testament people, it doesn’t stop at there. And it doesn’t always mean groups of people either- sometimes, it’s personal.

This series that I’m working on is going to apply more to people who already know God, or know about God, but I invite everyone to read it. if you aren’t a believer, I hope that you’ll muddle through anyway. It will give participation value to your next conversation with those crazy christian friends of yours, although I hope that these writings will make them seem just a little less crazy. 

But now that we’ve laid the definitions out, I feel more confident in begging to write my thoughts. Understanding this view point will help you understand the examples. 

I hope you’ll all read along.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Introduction to something new

Dear Readers,

There are a lot of questions people ask me when they find out that I am a young, decently adjusted, (relatively) sane person, who has actually chosen to follow Jesus with my life. Granted, before the questions, there is a certain amount of gawking, stammering, nervous laughter, and/or re-evaluation of the statements I made about myself above. Then there's usually an inventory of what kind of limits this might place on my life (I'll leave these to your imagination). But once all the dust has settled, and people start to come to terms with my life decision, there are questions, some of which I have answers to, some of which I don't. But either way, I love the questions, because they give me the opportunity to share a little bit of truth, without the wikipedia crazies giving their opinions first.

One questions that's coming up a lot lately is about how I can believe in two Gods- the vengeful menace of the old testament, who used death and destruction to get a quick means to end, and the loving, hippie like God of the new testament, who talks about life, and peace, and happiness. I can understand the confusion that people might feel about this- the first few times God was explained to me,  I didn't really get it either. I remember feeling concerned that people wanted me to follow this guy who was capable of wiping out entire groups of people because they got in His way...

The old testament is a scary book. 

But in reality, when you spend a little bit of time reading the bible, you start to realize the truth- the God of the both testaments- He's the same guy. The loving, peaceful side does come out in the first set of books- amidst some of the harshness of the stories, there are clear cut examples of God's love and His hope to spread that love, and peace, to his people. And in the New Testament, God is not all about loving one another and making people happy. He's a mixed bag. 

I'm making a pretty big assessment here, and I know you're sitting there, hoping that I'll back them up. And I will. This is the introduction to a series of posts I hope to get up with examples of both. I hope to show both sides of God in both places, and to unify the idea of who he is in the end. I'll use things like the story of the Exodus, the story of Joseph, and some of the laws provided to the people when they first settle into the promised land to show how much God loved the people, even then. (Feel free to read up in advance). And I'll use some of the assertions Jesus made, some of the frustration that Paul expresses in his letters, and the life of some of the apostles to show that God is always waging a war for those He loves. 

I'm excited about the implications of this- hopefully I'll have the first installment up this week. I hope you'll read along. 

One more thing- if you have any questions you'd like answers to, please feel free to comment them to me. I'm happy to address anything I know the answers to, and to find answers to anything else. 

Here's to some learning, some thought provoking discussion, and to a chance for me to get some answers out onto a (web)page. 

The blogger

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Experiencing Life (For Writing, of course)

“Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.” 
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

I have decided that I am not equipped to write a story about Ireland. 
Now granted, there were no immediate plans to write a story about Ireland. It’s not a setting I’m even a little comfortable with. I know very little of the history, even less of the modern culture, and nothing at all about future plans and politics. I don’t understand what it looks like to live on any side of any town. To be honest, I wouldn’t even be able to write in the accent- I can’t even imitate it. 
Writer’s always feel best writing what they know. Even in science fiction, a good writer becomes familiar with their concepts and settings before really breaking down into their characters and plot twists. Without knowledge of the world you write about, there is very little consistency. It’s impossible to put in a place if you have no idea what it looks like or how it operates or what kinds of things could go on there. 
And even in completely made up stories with made up worlds, there are always hints of some kind of modern reality- there are human emotions, communities (or lack of communities) built in, and all kinds of other things that allow the reader to dive in next to these figments of the penners imagination.
In order for the reader to really be able to identify, however, the author has got to know what they are talking about. 
When my best friend read “The Hunger Games,” series, the first observation she offered was not about the story, but about Suzanne Collins herself. My friend was convinced that Collins had experienced soul gripping, heart wrenching, unexpected loss, all by the way that she wrote the scenes of her main character. It was an assessment that I heard repeated over and over as others got through the books. But they too, were those who had gone through terrible unexpected tragedy, and knew the signs. They identified the character. They knew her accuracy, because she knew what she wrote. 
So as a writer, I wouldn’t write about a far away country I don’t know, because anyone who has ever been there or lived that life would know, immediately, I was a fraud. Even if I read up on the country, got to know everything the internet had to offer, it wouldn’t be the same because I’d never been part of it. 
Not such a problem with Ireland, really. But as you can imagine, it was much worse when I couldn’t write relationship conflict while trying to finish a short story this weekend. 
My short story is a chronicle of a person’s decision to help someone they love despite the fact that it means cutting some of their major ties to them. It’s a little weepy, a lot of girly, and was actually starting to get really fun to write. That is, it was fun until I got to the part where the big fight, the cause of the climax, occurs. And suddenly, I was unsure of how to proceed. 
This, of course, led to some serious self reflection. How could I not know conflict? I have conflicts with people on a regular basis. Granted, most of them are surface, basic little things that need to be brought up and brought forward so that corrections can be made by both parties and life can move on. And even the deeper ones are generally anticipated- it’s rare that people get constructively critized if they aren’t willing to listen, so most of the conflict that I actually approach is when both people are ready to talk it out. I admit, I am a bit of an avoider, but for the most part, I’m pretty good at addressing the problems and working towards a solution. So I do know conflict. 
I considered that maybe it was the relationship part that was throwing me. But ask any of my exes, and they’ll tell you about some of the worst fights that we had. They’ll tell you that I am, at times, irrational, illogical, stubborn, and a little harsh in wording. (They would tell you this, by the way, because they know me). They’ll tell you about this one time when we argued about something stupid, this one conversation we had that changed things for the better, another that made things worse. My close friends can do the same thing, if you’d rather. So I do know conflict in relationships. 
But then- the AHA! moment. I do know these kind of conflicts. I have been part of them. But had I really experienced them? Had I let the true weight of the moment sink from shoulders into my heart? Had I taken the time to memorize the pain and the hardship, as well as the joy in the solution? Or had I blown the whole thing off when it was over, because of the things it made me feel? 
I realized I was going to need to really pull out some of those memories if I wanted success here. I was going to have to feel those things again. To remember the really hard things. To feel the same pains that were supposed to go away with the breaks in friendships, in romances. It was in me- I had to pull it out. 

So I dug really deep back into my past and brought up some of the moments where I cared most about someone, and needed them to understand my heart when they weren’t expecting it. And I wrote my conflict scene. 
It still needs a little work. 
But those things I’ve been letting myself feel again have been on my mind. I’m wondering how much of my writing will be better if I let myself in to my soul again. I have all these things I want to put down on paper, but I have to be able to remember what I know .
I think part of growing up is realizing that everything that happens in our lives is a learning moment. Even the worst of mistakes, the saddest, scariest downs of our lives, are preparing us for something, whether it be writing a story, or even repeating a part of our pasts. If we let ourselves in to even the rawest of those emotions, we can use them and find strength in them. If we brush them off, they just follow us around, and we get nothing to show.
So in an effort to be a better writer, I am committed to letting myself be part of what is happening in my life when it’s happening, even if it’s painful. I will give myself the advantage of living the moment so the digging part won’t be so hard in the future, so that future conflict will not need so much work. I will be part of my own feelings even when it really sucks for the moment, because it may help someone else identify with my story later, and maybe, in that identification, not feel alone. And I am committed to making the world a less lonely place, keyboard and mouse in hand. 
Oh, and maybe I’ll visit Ireland. You know, just for the experience. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to Ruin a Manicure (Or the Problem WIth Can't)

"It's good to take a longer view and think, What would I really like to do if I had no limitations whatsoever?"
Laurie Anderson

Let me explain to you how the home manicure works: 
Step 1: Clean nails, clip cuticles, soak (if desired) and apply new polish. Preferably two coats of the color and a clear top coat.
Step 2: Wait 





And wait some more. 

If that looks a little painful to read, just try to imagine what the process of sitting there waiting is like. 

Here's the thing. I don't have the patience to wait. For anything. I may have graduated college, but I am still working (a year later, mind you) on getting out of the mentality that I have time. Despite an excessive lack of papers and work to do, I still can't manage to wrap my mind around the idea that I don't have to stress about every moment. That I have enough time to breathe, to eat, to sleep a normal 7 hours. That I can stay up a little later to wait Switchfoot on Letterman because I can catch up tomorrow. It's unfathomable that time tables and deadlines may actually have a little leeway. 

This inability to comprehend my current situation leaves me, more often than not, in peril. Suddenly, the littlest tasks seem looming, like there will never be enough time. I admit to sometimes melting into a puddle of reruns; I forgo the few things that need to get checked of my to-do list for my own well-being, and skip out to the wonderful world of Friends. 

But tell me that i have t sit still, for like half an hour, so the last 20 minutes of work that I put into painting my nails just right won't be wasted, and suddenly I have all the energy in the world. There are letters to write, desks to organize, clothes to fold. There are stories pouring out and begging to be written. There are books that I've just realized I've neglected. And they all need to be done now, wet nails and all. 

There's something in me that thrives on the pressures of being told "You cannot". I hate that. My own lackadaisical attitude towards things becomes suddenly determined when someone tells me that I can't do something. It's as if hearing that it would be a mistake has challenged me to have to try, and prove that I can be successful. A few summers ago, the asthmatic in my got frustrated when the doctor reminded me, just once more, that running was a no-no. I spent a good month and a half training myself to run all the way up and down my street- everyday, I got up half an  hour early, and spent a painfully breathless hour trying to convince my lungs that this motion my legs was into was a good thing. And at the end of my 90 day trial, I could get three-quarters of the way back to the house without feeling like i needed to curl into a ball. 

So apparently, I could run. It was just gonna take a few years to work up to any measurable distance. 

So when I paint my hands, and I tell myself (diplomatically, of course) that it would be best to spend my time waiting for them to dry watching television, or listening to a podcast, or laying on my bed and staring at the wall, the rest of me fights right back with a list of things that I HAVE to get done. It's one of those arguments that you have with yourself that you just won't win. Almost every manicure has given in to the pressures of cleaning, of playing games, of getting work done that isn't due, ever. As a matter of fact, I will admit that I am typing this with a fresh coat that may not be entirely dry.

We do not like to know our limitations because they make us feel weak. It's one thing to be lazy, to know that we have the potential to do great things, but hey, there's a new Modern Family that just needs to take precedence tonight. When we think we have a choice, we are coated in the goodness of control. If I wanted to, I would. That sort of thing.

But limitations are a good thing. They keep us grounded. They remind us that we aren't going to feel satisfied, or well, after eating an entire box of cookies in one sitting. That we cannot stay up for 72 hours, sleep for 8, and then be ready to go again. That heels are never going to feel like clouds.And that sometimes, even if you train for a month and a half, it can always rain for a week, and you are going to have to start all over again (hence why the running project ended when it did). 

And if we look at them right, limitations should be motivation, not just to strive or what we can't do, but to work on what we can. When we are reminded that there are impossibilities, it should make us grateful for all the possibles. Especially when we realize that there are other people who can't do what we can. I can't run. Maybe someone else can run, but they can't love. I can love. Being able to run suddenly seems like silly ambition.

I'm not saying I can't learn to sit still while the color dries on my fingers. That may be one of those things to strive for. But it's good to remember why my limitations upset me so much. And to be mindful of them so I can my head where it needs to be. Because patience is not just about waiting for something until it happens. Sometimes it's about accepting what is and what isn't until it's possible to make change.   

I am learning that accepting where I am and what I can do is a big deal. That this kind of self acceptance makes days happier, brighter, faster, and more fun. By accepting who I am and what I can do, I can make a difference. Just sitting around trying to fix what I can is a painful, slow, and boring process.

Sometimes it feels a little like watching paint dry.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My American Dream

"Your success depends on what you do yourself, with your own means."
- P. T. Barnum

My father subscribes to a small publication known as "Invention and Technology" (although don't get me wrong, if he didn't get it, I probably would). It's a magazine that invests its articles in new things that are coming, in the history of what has already been, and in the celebration of new movements. My favorite articles are the ones that go back in time a bit though, and capture the nostalgic whims of an artist who took something that already existed, and made it better.

I was reading one such article today. The piece outlined five men who took objects that hadn't been perfected, like the shopping cart and the tennis racket, and made them useable for society with minor modifications. Each designer was highlighted for their sketches, made in down moments, when they thought about something in their lives, and how it needed improving. Their efforts may not have given them famous names (with the exception of Mr. Tupper, who created tupperware), but their work has changed how we live and operate in the consistent tasks of life.

Considering these men's work, I noticed a trend. The man who worked out the shoe measuring device (the one that gives you height and width in one shot) knew the shoe business because his father owned a shoe store. The guy who worked out the shopping cart had a friend with a grocery store. These guys knew their trades. They were working for the good of something they were familiar with, something they understood. As a result, they were able to better create things that would make the world a little easier.

On Friday night, I had dinner with my father, his father, and a man that the worked with when they owned grocery stores. There were others of us at the table, but the conversation rarely strayed from the good old days- from who used to know their products, from what the shelves look like in stores today, and from what it was like to work with a team of grocers who loved what they did. To the people around us, it must have sounded crazy to hear these men talk with such passion, about such an everyday occurrence like a supermarket. But to them, it was talk of the dream, of the golden age, and of who they used to be.

During that dinner, I was thrown back to a smaller America- pre some of the technology that I use on all the time (including this venue which I write this to you now). I got a crystal clear shot of the world when people didn't have to find themselves in corporate America. They had jobs that contributed to their lives- they loved what they did, and they lived what they loved. I was touched by those moments of sincerity that we lack so much today. We all work in jobs, but they are separate from who we are. Don't get me wrong, I know that there are still people who are married to their work, but it's such a negative connotation.

It's almost as though the problem is that it's rare that we feel like we are working for the good of others. Many people who have jobs that take up a lot of their time are luxury workers- they don't feel any greater good coming out of what they do. Most people want to feel like they've made some sort of contribution to greater cause. And instead they find themselves making some contribution to the consumerism thats causing uprising, upheaval, and unhappiness in America.

I spent a little time the other day talking to a friend who has made it his mission to spread love and understanding to America. I asked home (sincerely, I promise) how he planned to do that. Think about it- it's not that easy to figure out how to positively touch people's lives. Maybe it was easier when life was all about figuring out a skill, getting to know how to do it right, and then having employees, other co-workers, , and friends who shared in the dream. Maybe knowing how to do something- knowing a trade of some sort, made people feel like they had worth, and that let them show others their own worth. Maybe the American dream was about making friends and plans and a life that benefited others through simplicity, before mechanical technology made networking all about staying ahead, and jobs all about providing things that people don't need, and left us in a recession that people can't stop spending through.

Or maybe I'm off in my own little world here.

Either way, I'm longing to learn how to do something old fashioned, and to do it well. I'm wishing for a simpler world where I could spend my life engrained in a service of some sort that people really needed, surrounded by people who just really want to make some good. I feel like I want to live a life surrounded by good memories, by hard work, and by the hope of a day when I can sit and reminisce about the good old days.

I think maybe I need to start my own commune somewhere. Or maybe I just need to figure out who else feels this way, and we can open our own grocery store. Either way, it's my own version of the American Dream I guess.

And maybe I'm already in the middle of something great, and you just don't see it until it's a long time past. So for now, I'll just keep myself in check, and find something to do that makes me feel worthwhile, and lets others feel that way too.

Or maybe I just need to subscribe to other magazines.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ride to Freedom

"Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery."
-Wayne Dyer

There is something about being stuck in a car that I find free.

I see the obvious dichotomy here- being constricted is not usually where a person feels most unchained. Specifically since when I say in the car, I mean stuck in my seat, surrounded by a blanket and a number of suitcases with my parents, my sister, and our little white dog. There's not a lot of room to move, but it's in the constriction of my quarters that I find myself feeling least claustrophobic. 

First of all, in the car, even though I'm in a small seat, the world is moving around me at 40, 50, 60 mph- passing by with such quickness that I cannot capture small snapshots even with my mind. It's a blur that makes me realize all the things that have been plaguing me- questions of existence, of purpose, of love, of the undying needs of my heart. It's as if with the speed of the world increasing, the speed of my life is decreasing, and suddenly I am capable of making well intentioned analyses of all that is going on. 

Throw in the fact that this most recent car ride included about 22 hours of driving in 2 days, and we've arrived at the moment where you start to really question my sanity. 

For me, a little road trip was a much needed break for all that was dragging me down. Lately, the burdens of life have been a bit more than my shoulders can carry. It seems like every new ambition is merely another distraction from the older goals. I take them out every few weeks to polish them off, but it doesn't make them get used. My time management skills do not allow me a lot of additional moments to get things  done- adding anything in often leads to the loss of sleep or time to eat, and eventually even that runs out. 

But sitting in the car, watching the world fly around me, a priority list came well in to view. What was most important? What was most exciting? What was on my list because I truly believed it might impress someone else? It all fell into clearer levels as the miles became hours on the the open road. 

I won't lie- I am increasingly impressed by writers who give up everything to jump out on to the open road- to follow their aspirations to whatever paths it will lead them down. It's as if it takes losing everything to find the door into your soul- you've got to open up and let yourself in. We fall into such heavy patterns with what we have, and become held down by it. But on the road, I understood. I found great amounts of joy in realizing that the true question was not about what I wanted to do, or what I wanted to have. Prioritizing is all about slowing down, and asking ourselves not what we want to achieve,
but instead, by asking ourselves if the world fell away, what would we want to do? What is the simplest desires of our heart? And what do they mean for us when we still have everything in tact? 

Don't get me wrong- I understand that life is full of things we don't want to do, and that at one point or another, we are going to have to continue something we used to love and now hate. I understand that there are responsibilities in life. I understand that achievement is part of what we need to keep us going. We can't spend all day in our cars being driven while we ponder life and meaning.

But for just a moment, it was me, and the sky, and the road, and my thoughts, and I was soaring through the depths of myself, realizing what was holding me back and what needed to be done. And in those hours on my road, I let the wheels rock me to an easier mode of development, to a hope of things that one day, I might feel differently on, but for right no,  I was seeing clearly. And in the perception of that clarity, I felt released from some of the biggest things that were holding me back, like the chains strapping the baggage to my shoulder had fallen away. I left it behind me on the open road for other cars to run over, as I snuggled down in my seat underneath the blanket. 

Freedom never felt so cozy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Non-linear living

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." 
-Henry David Thoreau

A little over a week ago, I was walking towards a car, tripped over a step, fell down, and managed to do some damage to my ankle. Nothing major- some torn ligaments, a few unhappy bruises, and just enough pain to start a small Advil addiction that I cannot wait to withdraw from. The slight injury has not kept me out of work for as much as an hour, and aside from a few extra hours of hanging around the house than normal, hasn't stopped me much at all.

But I'm a writer, so of course, it's got me thinking. 

I didn't expect to fall and hurt myself on a random Saturday. The falling isn't such a big shock- I'm not the most balanced person, and I'm a little scattered, which is sometimes conducive to finding myself sitting on my butt in the subway, or on the sidewalk, or in a particularly speedy elevator. And I've been falling for the better part of my 24 years, so I'm usually a bit more graceful and flexible. I usually get right back up again. 

But this time I did some damage. And I realized that in a second, everything can change. 

It's a bit dramatic- I mean, really, I changed very little. I got myself a good excuse to spend some time laying around doing nothing- doctor's orders of course. The doctor also mentioned that if I had hi-tops, they might help to be a little supportive, so I took this as a prescription that I could fill with some new converse sneakers (blue with pink interior, thank you very much). But maybe it's all the extra time I have to reflect. Or maybe it's the haze of modern medication (which I using on a sparing basis). But whatever it is, it reminded me nothing is certain. 

Lately I've been wondering about why we settle down. We work in time and space, in money and stability. We aspire for homes and jobs and kids and all the things that society tells us is important, and while they are good (and somewhat necessary for the survival of man kind), sometimes they aren't realistic. At least, not at all times in life, and not in this systematic fashion that we design- God does not have to work in lines. He works in interests- what is best for us at any given moment. And it is not always what society subscribes to as fundamentally important. 

Because life is unpredictable. What we think of as certain, as foreseeable, as always true, is nothing more than a moment in time. It's a peak of the sunset, a particularly wonderful stanza of a symphony, a good sale on something that you've always wanted. If you don't grab it, you'll miss it. And there's no promise it will come around again, or it will ever be this good. We consider the inverse a lot more clearly, always telling ourselves that a dark moment will end, that things will get better, that we will return to some sort of normal.

Nothing, I'm sure, you haven't heard before. But here's the kicker for me. These moments of beauty- they aren't linear either. We don't have good moments, then bad moments, then good ones again. Everything happens together. And we get so caught up in one or the other, that we then lose sight of it's partner. We feel our lives are so dark, that we don't notice all the wonderful and beautiful things happening at the same time. And in the midst of the really good, we are not mindful of the bad, not watching to see what's happening, not looking out for the step that is standing right before us. The one that is going to trip us, leave us flat on our face, with twisted ligaments and a lot of pain, on a random Saturday while walking to the car. 

And now, my friends, you've gotten a bit of my mental journey. 

Dear readers, I hope that the good in life is always bigger than the bad, but that you are mindful of what is going on at all times. I hope that you can always seen the sunset peaks, hear the music, shop the sales. And I hope you never hurt your ankle, because it can be quite obnoxious after a while to be stuck in bed, and if you're anything like me, you'll get tired of it and end up overdoing it before the week is even over. 

But mostly, I hope you're crazy enough to over think and over appreciate whatever God has in store for you at all times. Because one door opening doesn't mean that another is closed forever- it just means it's closed for now. And life doesn't always happen the way we want, because it doesn't work the way we think it should. We don't get to plan it. It goes on despite our feelings. 

And if we enjoy every moment of it, we never miss out on it. And then we never feel bad about the new changes- they become adventures, new stories, each with a full story behind them. And to a writer, that is what we call the good life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hunger Games Mania (Ode to the young)

"It is what we think we know that keeps us from learning," 
-Chester Barnard

I confess: I had a week of nightmares about The Hunger Games.

If you haven’t actually seen The Hunger Games, or you’re living under a rock, I should warn you that some spoiler alerts may be hiding out in the writing below. I give you permission to stop reading now.

For everyone else, let me start here: I saw the movie without reading the books on a wednesday morning with a good friend; at 11:00 in the morning, mind you, when two other humans sat in the massive theatre and the sound was far too loud without the din of breathing from the empty chairs. Afterwords, captivated by the story, I dived into all three novels, which I was done with in five days.

So naturally, it was Wednesday night when the dreams started. Real horror filled stories where I am characters in the story, or I am myself, and it is my own group of friends who are playing against me, or I am watching my own friends play the games. I had them for a full week before they subsided back to my regularly scheduled nightmare.

When I confessed this to the group of teenagers I sometimes teach on Saturday’s, they were not sympathetic. One fourteen year old rolled her eyes and informed me that she has been waiting for these movies for years. The rest of them looked at me with pitiful glances before moving on to other topics.They did not see the story line as anything to settle on, and they did not understand why I was dwelling on it. 

I did, however, find sympathy in one of my closest friends, who experienced The Hunger games in the same way I did. Nightmares, less then a week of reading, and the same emotional obsession had overcome her life. We ended up praying together for a break in the hold that the story was having over us. And yes, eventually things turned back to normal. 

But I’m still impressed by how much Suzanne Collins was able to break into my life. 

And I’m also mystified by the reaction that I had to these books which young girls and boys are reading with no issues. They love the story lines, the characters, and the sacrifices that Katniss makes for those she cares about. They love the romance element, and the craftiness that some of the characters use in order to win. I wondered for a while if today’s kids were somehow more blood thirsty then when I was younger, but came to the realization that though these stories revolve around a game where everyone is meant to kill one another, the deaths are only a focal point in the fact that they get you one step closer to the main characters surviving. Maybe kids just want a character to root for. The good guy to win. The sacrifices that are made to mean something- all things that I would have jumped on when I was fifteen. 

I remember my favorite character from that time in my life- his name was Luke, and he was a teen that the family took in on the TV show “Growing Pains.” He got into a lot of trouble and made a lot of big messes, but underneath his rough exterior, it was impossible to believe that he wasn’t amazing and good hearted. I loved him because I saw good in him that wasn’t at the surface yet, but that I believed would one day over take the bad-boy exterior, and make him the kind of future man that I dreamed of. I loved Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World for the same reason. I wanted so badly to believe that these people were going to turn out okay (which in their respective television shows, they pretty much did). 

But now, re-watching those old shows, I know better. I recognize that in real life, at least for the most part, those boys turn into the kind of men who I avoid- jerks who think they can get away with anything and are invincible. I have seen the real life repercussions of the past, and I know more now.

I attribute my reaction to the hunger games to this “knowing better.” I understand the effect of the tragedies that befall Katniss. I know what it feels like to lose important things, important people. My friend, the one who shared my obsession, says that Collins must have experienced and extreme loss in a sudden way, because of how she describes how Katniss behaves after some of the events- she recognizes the symptoms, because she went through them in her own sudden, extreme tragedy. We, the newly recognized adults, are feeling the pain of this story in our own lives, because we understand what they really mean. But our teenage counter parts didn’t know- didn’t fear these things because they had yet to experience them. 

I understand now what it means to go back to being a child- to believe like one, to love like one, to wonder like one. I wonder if it’s ever attainable again, or if we just have to move on with the knowledge under our belt that we can’t live in the past, and hope that one day we can achieve it. I wonder if I’m destined to be attracted to the Abed’s of the world now (community reference- look it up)- the emotionally unattainable kind, who is safe, sweet, and the kind of person you never fall fully in love with, which means you never fully lose. 

In a Hootie and the Blowfish song called innocence, the words ring true- “I’m stuck up here with you/ I never thought we’d get this high/ I used to be afraid of falling/ Now I’ll spread my wings and I will fly.” Maybe one day I will fly again, or at least try, ignoring the things that I think I know. Because knowing more does not equal knowing better. It just means having been through more that I am afraid will repeat. 

In the meantime, maybe I’ll stop reading teenager books for a while. Or at least wait until I can afford to stay awake for a long time afterwards.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting to know Brother K

On a sunny Tuesday in March, I find myself sitting in an Astoria apartment across from two guys in their 20’s, who are trying to describe a book to me that I have never heard of.

This is the just the beginning of what turns out to be one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever conducted- and the topic is the musical stylings of Brother K.

Brother K, made up primarily of Lucas Kwong and Garrett Fiddler, is a New York based music project that’s been up and running since August of last year (although the musical chemistry started last May, when Garrett jumped in to filming on Lucas’s music video, Payroll. The two musicians met through the church they both were a part of while during their separate terms attending Yale for BAs in english literature. After the filming, and a few experimental open mic performances, both could see working together as a plausible musical future.

So after Garrett spent the summer in Africa, he came to New York to join Lucas, who is working on his doctorate at Columbia University. It was the beginning of some intense music.

“He was like “Yeah, I’d still like to come back to the city and make merry... So make merry we did,” Lucas says.

And so started a tour of the under cover scenes that New York, and other major cities on the west coast are famous for.

If you've never heard Brother K perform, it's hard to classify the sound that they've created in a few words. Somewhere between a passion for poetic lyrics and intense chord progressions, their music aims to create a sense of captivation on both the emotions and the mind, inducing a desire to listen and to act at the same time.

"We want to sound like a revival tent meeting breaking out in the middle of a bar, or a bar fight breaking out in the middle of a revival meeting,” Lucas tells me.

Garrett jumps in and explains what kind of advantage having literary based degrees gives them on expressing themselves through well placed lyrics.

“You’ve seen a lot of different people writing poetry. You’ve studied a lot of it, and you’ve been around it a lot too,” he says.

Of course, a big part of what Brother K projects comes out of it’s band members.

Lucas describes himself as being raised in “a socialist paradise, where he developed an early addiction to playing guitar, and reading books with no pictures.” To the average viewer, he’s a bit of a goofball with a vocabulary that allows him to articulate what he’s thinking at any given moment. But put a guitar in his hand, and he transforms into a new person, trying to change the world with his songs. Raised on the Beatles, who he calls the “Alpha and Omega of rock,” and influenced by Radiohead, Johnny Cash, and Duke Ellington, his creative ideas about music have lead him through his fair share of bands and solo projects. But in all the things he’s been part of, he hasn’t lost sight of what he’d like to see music do.

“My vision is to revisit that moment when rock music had the element of folks concerned with imagery and that kind of thing,” he says.

Which makes Garrett, a fellow jokester (the band he performed with before meeting Lucas was called The Flying Burning Sharks), with a matching amount of passion for music, a good fit. Garrett, who was influenced by Switchfoot, The White Strips, Mumford and Sons, and the early work of both Skillet and Audio Adrenaline, calls himself the one with “a higher tolerance for sappiness.” He’s recently started working on a few pieces to contribute to Brother K’s already developed selection, mostly comprised of songs Lucas wrote before the two started working together, and has been bringing his own spin to that which is already written.

Watching the two of them together, trying to explain why they would name a musical group after a book called the Brother’s Karamazov (although Lucas admits that the K could also stand for Kwong, his last name) is more than enough to illustrate the chemistry that is taking the band big places.

But no group is without it’s issues, and for Brother K, holding a drummer is a big issue. Throughout their time together, they have yet to find a drummer who hangs around for more than a few sets (although they have some great fill-in drummers when they are in a pinch). Though they haven’t found “that special someone” yet to to fill the void, Lucas praises the different guys who have played with them for their talent and dedication to their art.

Even so, Brother K has been stirring up some big discussion with their recent shows. With their collaborative efforts, they are starting to see great results and reviews from the people who listen to their work. They’ve played enough shows to start earning requests for favorites from the audience. And they’ve started to develop their own favorites as well.
Garrett’s eyes light up as he says that his favorite is “Only Child”, a heavy song with chilling vocals about the love of God. He talks about some of the fun things he gets to do in the song, including using a piece of equipment called a whammy pedal. “It’s our closing number for performances, and it’s got this great range of dynamics, where it’s got a feel of suppressed strength in the first two verses and chorus’s, and then it really opens up and just comes out big, and hits hard towards the bridge and the ending.”

“It’s the climax of our show,” Lucas adds.

And despite the christian overtones of “Only Child” and some of the other songs that Brother K is known for, such as “Hem of Your Robe”, which is a crowd favorite (and my personal one as well), both Lucas and Garrett take their music to be universal, not written for any one people group, but instead written from the emotions and insights that occur in a persons life.  Lucas explains that while he wouldn’t classify his music by other things that are part of him, they have an influence on what he writes, because they are part of who he is.

Brother K embodies the kind of things new bands dream of- both on a musical rarity that combines passion and melody, and on the stories told by two New York musicians, invested in making music hat reaches out to the masses. Music is not rare in New York City, but a love for the stage like the one Lucas and Garrett portray is, and it sets them apart.

I finish the interview by asking the guys what inspires them to keep writing and performing. Garrett tells me that when everything is stripped back and it’s just lyrics, he gets caught up in the moment and the music.

For Lucas, it’s when the audience is engaged.

“When that happens,” he says, “well that’s inspiring, because you know... something is happening.”

Find out more about Brother K at their website Or see them live on April 28th at Sidewalk Cafe in NYC. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Scotch, Cigars, and Creation

Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.
-Albert Einstein 

Nothing screams theology as loud as cigars and scotch.

If you were raised in the traditional church, you may disagree with me. As a matter of fact, there are several pieces of art whose content revolve around the concept that good Christians don't drink or smoke or play cards or do anything remotely fun. I like to refer to this as "footloose syndrome," and I think that many of us run into it today. 

Let me explain something that I think a lot of people who live in "reality" miss. Most believers do not feel that alcohol or tobacco are particularly evil (health risks and such not withstanding). In fact, for most of us, it's not the substance itself that causes the issue. It is a)the reason that people are using those substances, and b)what they do when they've gone overboard, that causes the trepidation that cause most modern people of faith to avoid the game all together.

But I was raised in the camp that says alcohol is okay in moderation, when it's a social event- (not an escape from life). And smoking the occasional cigar, or pipe is fine, as long as there's no addiction issue to worry about in the aftermath. I don't smoke,but I do drink occasionally, and usually these occasions find me in a large group of people who want to talk about God.

And so some of the best theological discussions that I've had have been outside the confines of footloose syndrome, over a glass of Rose. I think there is a simple explanation for this; If you want to talk about the philosophy of the world, of life, love and why, then you can catch me at any time. But if you want to talk about my core belief system, about the God who rules over my life, you better be ready to settle in. Get comfortable. We are going to be here for a while.

For a while after I turned 21, I went out drinking with friends like it was something to prove. Living with a faith that is often considered archaic can do that to the heart- we go and participate in activities that will make us fun and exciting like we have something to prove. "Sure I've got Jesus, but that doesn't mean I can't do eight shots of tequila or anything. It just means that I don't have to do it to forget my problems." As if my friends will see this and suddenly repent on the spot. In case you didn't catch on, that's a misguided falsity. And in case you were wondering, yes, Christians get hang-overs too.

Which is maybe why I prefer my alcohol on front porches, sitting with my brothers and sisters from church, sharing my thoughts on first Peter or Paul's greatest statement. Because there is a certain accountability about being there, in that moment, over those talks, that's going to keep my motivations pure and my mind where it needs to be, focusing on what it needs to think about. When we sit together in the midst of conversation about the creator, we aren't playing the world's game,but instead focusing on that which we are dedicated to, even in the midst of these activities which have caused the world brokenness for centuries.

If you are a believer, and you feel a strong conviction against these things, I encourage you to hold fast to that, but to also let your friends know, so that we can have theological milkshakes, or fruit snacks, or something else. But for anyone who reads this, please understand that if I am having a drink, it is not to impress you, my earthly friends. Instead, it is a tribute to the creator of universe, who brought forth fruit on the vine. And if you're not a believer, be warned- drinking, much like almost anything else, makes me want to talk about Him and what He means to me.

Cheers to that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

For the love of Passion

Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
My life is never boring- my friends are artists.

I don’t know if I can express to you what that looks like. Mostly it takes place in sketchy dives- coat closets turned into music spaces, comedic lounges, studios for photos, performance spaces for drama,  or poetry havens. They have hours from late at night to early morning, and sound systems that were originally run by the same people who told the Beatles they would never amount to anything. And the illumination is never optimal- apparently the underground movement is not something that you want to see under good lighting. And while my friends are all talented (and I don’t just say that because they are my friends, but because they actually are an exceptional group to begin with), not all the people who are also participating in the shows that they are in have put in the equal amount of preparation, time, or quite frankly, thought, into their own work. Let’s just say that I have seen a number of stand-up acts that have failed to be as funny as my two year old niece, in five minutes or less. And I have heard a number of “musicians” who make the same kind of music that I hear in the nightmares I have where the clowns are chasing me. A lot of these acts just aren’t pretty. 

But if you have artist friends like I do, you know that these things are worth the squeeze into the seat next to the guy who hasn’t showered since Christmas. Because if you’re friends are like mine, they are the kind of people that make you want to get on board with whatever they are doing. They have the passion. 

Passion is always a funny thing for me- it’s one of those concepts that everyone uses but has trouble describing in detail because no one really knows how to describe it- either you feel it, or you don’t. And my friends are feeling it, about a lot of different things. 

Here is my take on it- passion is that feeling you get when your soul is so caught up in something, that suddenly eating and breathing and sleeping feel a bit futile. You are willing to put aside all the things that usually make you happy just to get some time to pursue whatever it is you are feeling this strongly about. And you’re suddenly willing to disappoint everyone in your world, even the people whose opinions matter most, to achieve excellence in this, your passion.

Want an example? Let me tell you about my friends Lucas and Garrett, who make up a musical outfit known as Brother K. Both Yale graduates with English degrees (Garrett has a bachelors, Lucas has a masters), these guys are funny, sweet, and goofy. But put a guitar (or keyboard, or drum stick) into either of their hands, and suddenly the world spins only for music. Their songs, which I still struggle to put into a genre, express their hearts, both in the stories their words weave, and in the chord progressions that express emotion better than many people do in general. Gone is the lackadaisical attitude that most guys in their 20’s posses- it’s been replaced with these melodic cries of the heart, pouring out to those who get a chance to listen. Recently I did an interview with them (expect it, it’s coming), and took some pictures at one of their band rehearsals, and I actually had to ask Lucas to look up so I could get a shot of his face, because his focus is rarely on the audience and what they are hearing- instead it’s on the instrument in his hand, the words in his mouth, the song that God has given him.  It might explain how he’s ended up in a small apartment in Queens living with too many  roommates. See what I mean? Passion. 

I’ve got my own passions too. If you haven’t figured out that one of them is writing, then either you aren’t reading, or I really need to work on my blog, because it’s not coming across. And if you read the post directly before this one, you may get the into that I’m really into music, and you’d be right. But as a Messianic  Jew, my biggest passion is the Savior, and all He’s done for me. My heart beats for the fact that God would send a part of Himself to go through a horrible and painful death, that He loves me enough to give me a second chance at life, and that He’s given me the freedom to believe it. It makes the air feel gentle. It makes anything that excludes it feel pointless. And trust me, it disappoints many people who know me. I’ve made unpopular decisions based on my belief. I’ve made life changing choices that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. It factors into everything. It’s what I live for. 

Passion is funny though, because if you don’t maintain it, it starts to fall to the wayside. You let go, and before you know it, it’s five years, ten years, twenty years later, and you find yourself missing it, but no longer part of it. It takes work, effort, toil- it’s not just something you have. It’s something you’re given, and if you don’t take care of it, it’s gone. Which leaves you feeling like eating, breathing, and sleeping are just processes to get you through the day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been given a life to live, and I want it to be full of passion. Which is how I end up at these dives in the middle of the night, watching people try to find a way to share theirs with a world of people who sometimes look down on following your heart. Watching, listening, and thinking that one day, these people are going to be someone everyone knows, but for now, I know that they are pretty great.

Maybe I’m a dreamer. Or maybe I’m just passionate about passion. Either way, I plan to follow it until the end.

Like I said, my life is never boring.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Living-sweet Symphony

There is a hallway that connects one of the busiest subways in New York, Times Square 42nd Street, and the bus terminal that takes New Jersey people back and forth from city life. A frequented of this underground passageway, which I have mostly un-affectionately named the death tunnel (for its size is not at all proportionate to the general overcrowded rush of occupants, and I am a little-more-than-slightly claustrophobic) is something I take alternate routes to avoid whenever possible. But on the days where there just isn't time for my ridiculous whims, I take a deep breath, pick up the pace, and keep my eyes cast on the wall closest to me until I reach the other side.

And on one of those walls, mapped out in multi-colored mosaic tile, is a man, swinging a young child up in the air around him, playing one of those party favor horns in his mouth. This small depiction of a moment embraces me- the warm colors, the happy smiles, and the undeniably joyful music that I can hear as it flies by me in my rush to catch a bus.

Maybe it is my upbringing, or maybe it's just my soul that puts music into everything. I hear the calming strains of a keyboard in the city skyline, the lights drifting past me with a sweet elegance. I hear the deep intensity of a tuba as a secret is confided. The swells of a sunset evacuate my soul as I watch the colors fade in the evening sky, leaving behind a cool flute solo as blue settles over the world.

It's the same in relationships. All people who spends a little time in my life becomes a melodic solo,  with a unique sound which resonates in the back of my mind.  Each is a series of notes, writing and rewriting themselves situationally, reflecting the sharps and flats that occur in whatever it is we are building - whether it be a spat with a friend, an honest moment with one of my sisters, or the first kiss of a current suitor, the music box plays on.

The funny thing about hearing music in everything, though, is that you start to hear everything in music. The association is uncanny- “Linus and Lucy” plays, and I’m thrown into a warm summer breeze, sitting next to the pond in the park. Savage Garden’s “I don’t know you anymore” comes on to my ipod, and I’m suddenly looking at the inside of the gym that I worked at in it’s last final months of life, remembering the ache of closing the doors for the last time. Relient K’s jazzy rendition of “Sleigh Bells” gets me right back into the routine I learned in the college gym course I took. It’s an awesome thing, to be able to be thrown back so easily into the memories of where I’ve been.

But as you probably guessed, it doesn’t stop at things that have happened. A few strains of certain songs, and I’m watching the faces of people, both past and present, as if they were standing in front of me. I’ve known love, loss, happiness, and pain with an accompaniment on the side. Switchfoot’s “Only Hope” will always belong to Jordan, the first person to pass away in my young life- a more recent loss, Jim, will always have claim on Adele’s “Someone like you.” On the flip side, Fleetwood Mac singing “Landslide” is a memory of my mother, trying to bring sleep to her children’s eyes. And “Proud Mary” is still the only song my grandfather will dance too.

Of course, real life never happens in black and white. Not every person gets a song with their face on. And some people, well, they get more than just one. They get an artist or theme or cd, whether it be broadway girl duets (those belong to my childhood best friend, because we always said we’d sing them together), anything by the Monkee’s (my sisters... you should hear us sing “I’m gonna buy me a dog”) or the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz (that one is dedicated to all the people who survived preforming that show with me).

And sometimes, when something is still fresh in my mind, I can’t pinpoint the song that it needs to go with. To give you an overly personal example, I’ve recently drifted away from a friend I love a great deal. Life has brought us to points where it’s too hard to keep up, and even if it weren’t, it’s time for a little distance. But even though it’s just the way of life, it still breaks my heart, just a little bit. And sometimes, I can’t think of the words to comfort myself, so I just listen to my favorite songs that describe how I feel, and how to deal, and how it’s okay to be a little blue when moving on. He is my sad song, a haunting strain that hasn’t solidified or resolved in my head, that I wait on the completion of.

I think you get the idea. My life is one big soundtrack, switching tracks in and out. Some play over and over again, some get skipped frequently, and some get cut from the ultimate record all together. But they are my songs that fill my mind, and I am the one who understands their meaning.

Once, I wrote a sitcom episode for a friends birthday, complete with soundtrack and cues written in. It felt natural to give a tone to the events of the plot with a little diddy. And I wonder about the grand creator, up above, composing my cues and adding in the interludes. I wonder why He choose to let ,me hear these underlying songs. But mostly, as I rush through the hallway, slowing only for a second to look at my glass-tiled friend, I wonder what song He is playing about my current journey, and which one He’ll use to get me home.

Monday, March 5, 2012

For the love of stuff

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”


I recently acquired a shoe rack that hangs over the back of my closet door. It holds 36 pairs of shoes. (12 shelves, 3 pairs on each shelf). It's a bit of a tight squeeze, but I needed it because my other hanging shoe holder only held 20 pairs, and I was using a pink laundry basket in the bottom of my closet to hold the overflow.

I may have a shoe problem.

I think, maybe, it's a stuff problem in general. You see, the 36 pairs of shoes are not that mind-blowing for most, (I am, after all, a girl, who lives in a state that actually experiences all four seasons), but they are a little new for me. Always the minimalist, I've prided myself for living in a very small space with enough stuff to survive off of, and maybe just a little extra nonsense here and there. But I've maintained my image by going through my room every six months or so, and donating 3 or 4 trash bags of things that I really don't need or wear or want.

So last week, after acquiring my shoe rack, as well as a special hanger for ties and belts, and an ottoman that matches the big desk chair that hangs out in the center of my room, I was ready for a massive cleaning. I started early, putting each shoe in it's proper place. Then I moved on to the clothes in the closet, pulling each down so I could assess them and rehang. Then I moved on to my drawers. Rearranged the bookshelf space. Cleaned all the overhang from college and old New Yorkers I hadn't finished off my desk. I worked my way around my bedroom until everything had been taken from where it belonged and placed neatly in a new home, although in some cases, that new home was only feet from where it had started.

At the end of my three day excursion, my bedroom looked incredibly neat. But I was a little taken back- all I had to donate was a little box, with a few shirts and belts, and some childhood books.

Something in the back of my mind gnawed at me- why was this all I had? What was I holding on to that I really didn't need? There must be more to give away, more that I didn't need... I was getting a little too comfortable with my stuff.

So of course, I opened first to my shoe rack. There they all were, laying neatly in rows- my favorite boots on the bottom, my brown flats in the middle, next to the black felt heels that I had bought years ago and still loved. My sneakers for work sat neatly in rows closer to the top (they are not as seemly as my other shoes). I looked through all of them, and realized I didn't want to part with them because I actually wear them all.

And suddenly the picture became clear. I didn't have more to donate, because for the first time in a long time, I was using everything that I had. I hadn't made a lot of senseless purchases in the year before- everything sitting before me would be missed if it was gone.

As someone who once prided herself on needing very little, I confess to you that I'm living a different dream right now. Most minimalists don't have 34 pairs of shoes. But I've decided that if everything I have is important to me, if nothing is wasted or collecting dust, then I am alright with having it. Especially if it still fits in this little room I live in. Maybe the point isn't about not having a lot of things- it's about not having extra things, that you could do without, but are just filling holes.

I am so blessed to have all that I do. And I am happy to be using my blessings. I'd rather have a full closet of things that I wear than I have a half closet of things that I want to let go of. I'd rather utilize all that I have than have less just because I was playing a numbers game. Meaningless gestures like that lead to amazon shopping sprees for close that end up in august's donation bags.

Still, if your looking for shoes, women's size 8, I might have some you can borrow...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Birthday Thoughts

"Birthdays are good for you. Statics show that the people who have the most live the longest."
~Reverend Larry Lorenzoni

On february sixth, two thousand and twelve, I turned 24 years old. Not a fantastical birthday, by any means- you still don't have the right to rent a car, but you've already been bequeathed the right to buy cigarettes and to gamble. Alcohol is no longer new and exciting- it's an old story. 24 is, from the outside, just another normal year- and a normal year sounded more appealing to the 23 year old me than anything else.

Every year on the corresponding weekend to my birthday, I find myself driving up to into the mountains, heading to a small retreat center where a small group of messianic kids are looking forward to a weekend of decent food, good lessons, and great friends. Once upon a time, I was a camper, spending time with my friends and finding myself feeling accepted for just a few days. It was enough to get me to the summer, where trips with my friends who believed that same way I did. And now, as a counselor, I have the opportunity to show the same kind of acceptance to the kids who are coming for the same reasons I was, and honestly, it's a highlight of my year.

But the retreat means more to me now that I work at it, because it's been a place of self-reflection. Coming up to my birthday, I am always a wreck of emotions and questions- self discovery not unlike that which I addressed in my new years post (feel free to journey back and see what I mean). But going to Wonderful Winter Weekend (the retreat) is more than a vacation- it's a chance to step out of myself and become my alter ego. I am Skittlez, the fun counselor who gets to often teach the teens their bible lessons and run drama games as an all camp activity. Skittlez has no life outside of camp- she lives for kids, bunk beds, pudding pies with graham cracker crusts, and worship music. She's impartial to my job, my drama, and my life.

Which makes her the greatest of evaluators. Because she's not affiliated to any of it.

Normally, I go through a process of transitioning from myself to my alter-ego. The prep work involves a change of mindset, the ability to let go of the bothersome things happening in my world, the exhausting process of not getting enough sleep and learning not to be cranky... it's all involved. I start the night before the trip, trying to convince myself that I am no longer me. I try to slide out of my life into a place of goodness and joy. But it never quite works.

Until the year before I turned 24. Because this year, there was no transition. Suddenly, I was Skittlez. And I didn't have anything to lose. There was nothing to hide, nothing to analyze. There was no life that I wanted to escape from. I molded into myself- it was a simplistic change of name. My heart stayed the same.

My campers noticed the change- I've worked with them for a long time. And they have changed a lot too- they have grown from bubbly little girls, to akward pre-teens, to anxious young teens,  and finally into beautiful young women who know how to get ready in the morning, how to pack, and how to walk to meals without my help. They go to bed without being told six times. They put greens on their plates at meals with no prompting. The danger is that now, they are old enough to know when I am faking a smile. But this year, there was nothing to fake. We had a great weekend, my girls and I- I was in a good place, and they didn't need a counselor in the same way, so I mostly got to be a friend.

It was the midst of these girls and their capability that the evaluation started. I started to look back over all that has gone on, from when I started working with them up until that very weekend. And I realized that in the grand scheme of life, 23 had been a hard year, filled with a lot of different problems and tragedies that I was not ready for. I'd gone through more than I'd been able to remember.

But somehow it had all slipped off me- there was no drama, no problems, no exhaustion. There was no mindset to change- I was already filled with joy and happiness. And Skittlez got to have a whole weekend of easy happiness with the campers without needing to fight off the life waiting for her at home. There wasn't issues lingering behind me. There was only the future spinning ahead, and suddenly, the feelings of acceptance and warmth that I so want to be transferring to my girls was back on me again, blanketing me in warmth. A new year was coming, and I was comfortable and ready.

It's a bit of a bi-polar story, really. But aren't all birthdays? They are the change from one year of our life into the next. We transition from one kind of year to another- big to small, bad to good, dramatic to chill (that was the change from 22-23). And hit in the face with 24, I realized my seemingly normal year was going to be anything but, because no matter what happens in the next 12 months, my attitude will have gone from serene to whatever comes next. I hope it's passionate, really. I think I'm ready for that mindset.

But whatever it turns out to be, it's going to be great. And that alone is fantastical.