Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Lesson For Today

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.
-Thomas Sowell 

The impacts of our actions are often lost on us. 

The way that I see it, it's a limited perspective issue. We are only able to see our actions in light of how other people's actions affect us. We emulate the actions that we think would cause a desired reaction in someone based on what would cause the same reaction in us. For example, if I want to tick off my sister, I do something that would really get my goat. Or if I want to make someone's day, I show up with flowers, because that would be something that would really make me feel loved. We act based on our own ideas. 

But there is a whole gamut of things that people experience when we act that we don't even see. They translate our actions in their own perspective. Whatever they think is nice or harsh or wonderful peppers their understanding of whatever it is we've done. They then retaliate in their own way... you get the idea. 

The longer that we get to know people, however, the more we start to understand their thinking. We start to see their perspective outside of our own. If you don't believe me, try playing apples to apples with people that you know really well. It's a totally different (and better) game then it is with strangers. We learn to emulate how others think. This sort of skill makes us great gift givers- we are able to consider what the other person really wants, and therefore, we can work accordingly. 

Still, today I was reminded that our actions impact many around us- not just those who know us and know where we come from, or that we know well enough to understand the meaning of our actions. 

One of the women who often comes into the place where I work dropped off a little token of thanks for me and some of the other's who have helped her in this year. I was a little taken back by the gesture, because the only thing I've really ever done for her is stopped to say hi when I see her in our store. She's a sweet person with a great heart, and she always asks about my sister, whom she also knows, and so I make it a point to say hello and wish her well whenever possible. And even that small token of nothingness that I never really considered anything at all made enough of an impact on her that she remembered me. 

Later on, I saw her again, and thanked her. She told me that she just wanted to appreciate how even though I don't do work that often directly impacts her, she sees me go out of my way to be friendly and ask about her. That little thing to me, that I didn't even think twice about, made her feel very cared about. 

Little did she know what her gesture did for me on a dreary New Years Eve. Today started out a little rough. I was not having a good hair day. Some recent asthma issues (which do not help with sleeping) have turned into a small but still-unfun case of bronchitis. Our work load was a little ridiculous for a holiday when I got to my desk. And the worst was just before my little gift arrived; I had been screamed about by an angry person on the phone who did not like the answer that I had given him. I was very much looking forward to the solitude that going home was going to offer. I wanted a break from people. 

But her actions caused me to pause- they reminded me that sometimes things are not so absolute. They reminded me that my screaming customer may not have seen his behavior as hurtful, because to him it didn't seem personal. And mostly, they reminded me that not all people should be lumped into the uncharitable feelings I had based on that one interaction. 

And she thought she was just doing something nice for someone who always smiled at her...

I'm not big on New Years. I think every day should be a new beginning. After all, even the bible tells us that each day has new worries of it's own. But I think each one also holds a lesson, and today's lesson was that everyone reads things differently.  We have to value that all that we do is held in someone's eyes with great meaning. We have a purpose to someone, at all times. It's a great challenge to be our best at all times so that all may see us well. 

It's a good thought to start tomorrow, and a great one to think through while the rest of the world celebrates a new year.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus.. the billboard.

If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.
-Emile Zola 

I spent a good part of the early afternoon today staring out the window of an Amtrak train, listening to some of my favorite music and allowing my mind to wander wherever it wanted to go. Most of the scenery was pretty static- trees and fields and water; pretty, but less than thought provoking. And then suddenly, down the tracks, there was a billboard. In bright red letters, it shouted one word- JESUS. Beneath, there was some very tiny writing and a drawing of a house that I couldn't quite make out as the train raced by.

The billboard broke me out of whatever mental cloud I was on. I couldn't help but wonder what the sign was trying to say. I suppose it was meant to represent the big man Himself, that the creators of the billboard felt that just by seeing the name, people would be touched and changed. But surely proclaiming from the mountaintops requires a little more work, doesn't it? After all, most people do not question the existence of Jesus- they believe in His life, and even His crucifixion- it's the claims of messiahship that really throw people off kilter.

It got me wondering what we are actually saying to people when we tell them that we believe in Jesus. Much of the population in America considers themselves to be christians. They know the story of Jesus (sort of), but it doesn't affect much of their every day lives. To some it means church on Christmas and Easter, or wakes when there is a death in the family. To others it is a religion that their parents took part in when they were younger. To even others, Jesus is just one of the teachers who had the right idea- peace and love and all that stuff. But while many know of Jesus, not as many actually know Jesus.

I am usually pretty forward about how I believe. I find it to be a bit of a conversation starter sometimes, and other times, an explanation for a behavior or idea that I hold. But I have to wonder if people really know what I mean when I refer to my faith. Do they understand that my life has been transformed by truth? Do they know that I actually mentally ask myself what Jesus would want me to do when I have to make decisions? Do they know that I pray? Do they know that I memorize the bible and quote it back to myself in times of trouble because it's actually comforting to me?

Most importantly, do they know that is the most important thing that I am?

Faith without works is dead- this we know. It's not that salvation requires our action; it's the need for a savior because we could never live up that shows us where Jesus fits in the first place. It's that we have to show Him to a world that doesn't really know Him. They maybe know His name. But it isn't enough.

 I want to be more than a billboard with just a word on it. I want to be a whole picture of the transformation and joy that comes with being forgiven, and I want other people to see it and wonder how they too can feel the same. I want to spark controversy by what I have to say, to be thought provoking, and to make Jesus known through who I am.

And I want to mindful of this picture I am at all times.  So that I might cause people to ponder through their own beliefs and wonder about how Jesus might change them. Not just to those I know, but to everyone who passes me as they speed by on their own journey through life.

For me, it seems, the billboard served a great purpose after all.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trust Or Preservation

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I'd like to propose an experiment. I think we should plant two actors in NYC as homeless people. Let's give one a sign that says "Need money for food" and another a sign that says "Need money for beer" and see who makes more. As much as I hate to admit this, my money is on the beer guy. Literally. I am more likely to give money to a cause I totally understand than one that I am skeptical of, even if the first has more potential for good.

We are a people who do not like to feel deceived. We appreciate honesty because we live in a fear that we are constantly being lied to. We don't believe people more often than we do. If they tell us about something incredible that happened to them, we doubt. When they tell us things that seem a little outlandish, we laugh them off. When they compliment us and say something that we aren't sure we believe about ourselves, we throw it away, believing that they are merely speaking flattery or out of obligation.

And when someone says something blunt to us, we categorize their words as "refreshing".

Maybe it dates back to childhood. Or maybe it's a deep issue of insecurity. I don't really know what causes us to wonder if people are ever honest. Or worse, to assume that they are not. But we are guilty of it all the time.

We are a people of trust issues.

In a self portrait, I would love to paint myself as the type of person who has compassion. But how can we have compassion if we do not trust people? How can we feel true and sincere empathy for the struggles of someone's life if we don't think that the things they tell us are true? If someone paints a picture of a life event, but we think it to be exaggerated, how can we really feel for them and what they went through?

I suppose this is why the emphasis on integrity and genuineness are so relevant. In building up a soulful relationship, we need to be able to believe and to see and to love, and we cannot do that properly when we cannot hear each story with the innocence of a child.

I'd like to blame this problem on the people that are dishonest, but I must be honest here- in the cases in my life where this is true, I'm pretty sure the problem is not those who have lied, have broken my trust, have told a tall tale or two. The problem is me. I doubt because I have been hurt by the lies of others in the past. And I don't trust myself not to make the poor judgement call of befriending a liar again. So I give no one the benefit of the doubt. It's an internal struggle, the way I see it. We can never be truly close to someone, even the most genuine of people, if we don't learn to let ourselves believe. To hope for the best and not worry about the rest. To give to the person who might actually need food before the person who has found that perception is reality. We cannot truly give of ourselves before we give up our issues with pretenses.

Maybe this is why self-preservation is so lonely.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Change in Perspective

You must understand that seeing is believing, but also know that believing is seeing.
-Denis Waitley

Watching the news does nothing but depress me.

Today's edition on every station covered a local story where a man was shot to death during a car-jacking. Evidence suggests that the man struggled with the carjackers before being shot. The events leading up to his death include him walking around his car to open the door for his wife and help her in. It is plausible to believe that his struggle with the attackers was more about a concern for her safety than for his car.

We will never know his intentions. But still, I have grieved for him today. I have listened to those around me clucked and chatted about these events, and have heard countless iterations of "It's just getting worse and worse," and "what a horrible world we live in," and "There are some terrible people out there."

And it's heartbreaking.

I get really caught up in these tragedies- not just for the loss of life, but for the people have lost just a little more faith in humanity. I used to have a very hard time seeing the good in the world, because there was so much negativity that surrounded us all. There is a media theory that suggests that because we have access to so many horrific news story, we live our lives with more fear than necessary. For example, we have seen so many stories of women walking alone in big cities and getting mugged that we believe that its inevitable, when in reality most women will never be mugged... we see it, we feel it-we start to see it as unescapable.

At my low point today, considering these things, I opened Facebook and started scrolling through my news feed. I came across a link to a page for a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, and saw that he has raised over 6000 dollars to help pay for his treatment. Something in me sparked, and I remembered a page for a stranger, a girl named Laura, that I was on last month. Laura needed surgery for a very painful condition, and she had no medical insurance. Her friends, and their friends, and their friends, gave what they could to help support this girl. Her doctors had mercy on her. She had her surgery. And then a second after complications. And money is still coming in to help her pay for these things. These donations come in increments of all sizes, some as small as five dollars. But people, many people, are giving whatever they can to help her.

I made a joking comment the other day to someone about how all my friends were either college students or poor. He asked me if that wasn't the story of our generation. We are the children of a recession, of a breaking economy, and a lack of jobs mixed with an overdose of passion. But all these people with no money are coming together to remember that life is worth more than what we don't have... it's really just amazing.

My heart is hurting for the family of the young man killed last night. It is hurting for the families on the news today suffering from different tragedies. It is hurting for a world that seems to be sinking.

But it's not broken. Actually, it is hopeful for a new generation. I believe the lower we sink, the more opportunity we have to show ourselves strong, to reach out and help one another. I believe that there is a chance for greatness in every single one of us- after all, aren't we designed by a Wonderful Maker who instills part of Himself into us?

I will focus on these positive things- I will start to ask what we can do to make these kind of changes. I am uplifted that my heart has changed, that \ the hardship is not all I can see. I will stop watching the news, and start focusing on the incredible things happening, not just in my corner, but all over the world. Life is very short, and very uncertain, but we are given much. And it's meant to be shared.

In the midst of the horrors of life, we are given great opportunity to show what we are made of. And when we work with what we have, even if it's only a little, it makes a big difference.

If you would like to give a little also:
Sean's page
Laura's page

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear Friends- Take Gas Money

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-Albert Camus

I am one of those rare people who are over the age of 25 but do not drive.

When most people hear this, they make one of three assumptions. Either A)I've lost my licesnse because of too many tickets or accidents or other infractions, B)I have some medical issue that induces some kind of effect that won't allow me to drive, or C)I can't afford it. In reality, none of these assumptions are quite right- I have vision issues that make me nervous about the prospect of getting behind the wheel. Fortunately, I live in a place that has excellent public transportation that gets me to most of the daily places I need to be. And for the rest, I have wonderful friends who I feel very safe getting into the car with.

But sometimes I wish they would take more gas money.

Don't get me wrong, it's great to be driven around when it's needed. Actually, I'm even luckier than most, because they often offer to take me places so I don't have to ask. And many times, when I'm going out, I'm going with them anyway. My younger sister tells me she doesn't see the point in taking cash from me if she was going somewhere anyway. And even when I argue that if I drove, sometimes we'd take my wheels, all too often, she shakes her head and pushes my cash away.

It makes me wonder if we've all been raised to be too polite. We are taught to give and give and give even when we are already stretched, and while I am grateful for that lesson (and I will write about that at another time), we are also taught not to take. It is instilled in us that we are to be independent, stand alone creatures, who are able to create what we need all our own. We are told in the same breath that it's good to give away what we have, but it's underrated to collect.

We don't want to benefit from anyone else's excess. We don't want to receive what we so clearly should have already have. If someone else can create it, we can create it too. I get the sentiment.

But I think we take it too far.

Sometimes I feel like we have gotten to the point in society where we feel like receiving is going to strain our friendships. I think we are afraid that if we take something when someone who loves us offers it, then we are forever going to feel awkward around them. Or we don't want to put them out or feel like they've been strained in any way. It's a carefully constructed plot in which we make sure we are almost always, if not entirely always, the givers, not the other way around.

The problem is that giving has to be a two way street, because if it really is more blessed to give than receive, then someone has to be doing the receiving. When we give to one another, and I don't mean to charity, I mean to the people close and special to us, we are showing that we also want to put in the effort. We want to meet in the middle. We don't want to be lavished upon- we want the partnership that is supposed to accompany companionship.

I don't just mean stuff, either. Friendship is supposed to be based on exchanges. It's not much of a friendship if only one person does the sharing. We need to give a little of ourselves over to make something sturdy. We have to take turns being the comforter and the comforted when the chips are down. We need to sometimes initiate plans, and sometimes accept invitations. We must sometimes be the one giving bad news- and sometimes we must be ready to receive it. It's all about balances. Otherwise, only one person actually has a friend- it's one sided.

I am not implying that my friendships are one-sided, in case any of my friends are reading this. I am blessed to say that I have a lot of people in my life who engage in these back-and-forths. I love them and trust them and know that if I needed them, they would be there for me. And often I make sure that they know that I want to be there for them as well.

We stand together, trusting one another with the details of our lives, and I believe we have created really solid relationships- not one sided at all, but reciprocal. Built together. And built to last. These relationships have all begun somewhere, over a cup of coffee or some froyo or even just a few moments of conversations. But they all began with both parties working together.

Dear Friends, take gas money. Take the little offerings that the important people in your life give you. It's not about putting them out. It's about taking steps to ensure that your relationships are balanced. Don't take for granted any of the small exchanges, even in the beginning. The littlest gestures often give a big start to real friendships.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Melodius Lessons

Details create the big picture.
-Sanford Weill

Recently I found myself arguing over song lyrics- specifically if they could stand alone, or if, for the most part, the depended on the background chords, a great melody, and a singer with soul. And while the prideful lyricist in me wanted to prove that good lyrics could work independently, by the end of the conversation, I had to concede to the musician in me, that with a few exceptions, most words depend on their background. However, I was able to concisely prove that bad lyrics could ruin a whole song.

I had this same conversation about movie scripts not too long ago.

I am a writer, first and foremost. I like to believe that the pen, the tool known to be mightier than the sword, is mightier than anything else as well and can rise above all challenges and expectations. But the truth about good writing is that it lives in a bigger picture. It relies on a medium, and a voice, and even a reader or listener who can process and anticipate it's meanings. Even spelling out something for someone is not useful if that person cannot comprehend it- there is always something that writing relies on if it's going to reach others. Writing is part of a team, a small part of a bigger picture.

But make no mistake- writing is more than important in the grand scheme. It's essential. Think of how a bad piece of fruit spoils a bunch. It's the same concept as poor writing- a bad script can make a movie a very difficult thing to sell. If the story line and the dialogue is not realistic, everything has to work overtime to get past it. If a song has words that offend a listener, they make block it out for good, no matter how great the rest of the music. Sure, there are times when we can look past the bad writing and still get into the medium, but the truest greats have to be catchy on all levels.

And it's the same with people.

We don't always like to fit into a group, or to have to rely on others to make ourselves great. We want to be shining stars, standing alone against the world's sky of blackness. We hope that we alone are good and worthy of adoration without needing other people to talk us up or give us credibility or credence. And we don't want the others in our life to be the reason that people judge us- we want to be so incredible that no one cares about how we spend our time on a Saturday night. The media works in overdrive to try to perpetuate that this is the life of a celebrity, but it's simply not true- they always need sources to prove their point. People always need sources to be able to believe they know who we are.

It's an even bigger issue in the church. It's hard enough to be a strong hearted Christian in a secular world where our lives are often misunderstood and thought of as old fashioned. But the people who spread their own dislikes and difficulties under the religious paradigm make it almost impossible without introducing ourselves to the world as followers and not getting a million questions of why, or a heavy sigh, or a skeptical look. We want our own faith to stand out and speak so loud that it negates everything that other's have ever said on first meeting. But that's just not how it works.

We were created and designed from the very beginning to need other people and other things. Even the most introverted person, at one point or another, is going to need others to help them get to where they want to be. We rely on the help of our world to create ourselves, and while we may like to be soloists or hope to stand out above all others, we will always need other people. And the other people in our lives do define who we become.

I am constantly coming to terms with this. Deep down, I love the idea of being part of something bigger than myself. I love that our lives are shaped and formed by what happens to us. Knowledge becomes wisdom after experience. But there is still a very surface part of me that wishes I could stand alone. That all that happens to me could feel less intrusive. That I could rise above all the other people around me and be special. But even if I could do all of that, I would still not be truly independent. Because I would always be shaped and formed by the Creator, who made me to begin with.

I am the lyrics. I plan to be the clearest, most beautifully poetic lines I can possibly be. I don't want to ruin the song for anyone- I want to draw the listener in. But I need to be mindful of those around me and what kind of music they are making. At the end of the day, all that I surround myself with is going to make up the music that is my life. One day, I will close my eyes for the last time and it will play quietly over the movement of my soul.

I can't wait to hear it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgivikah Reflections

Dichotomies make me very happy. So you can imagine the joy that I found this year in Thanksgivikah.

If you don't know, Thanksgivikah was the once-in-a-lifetime experience that just passed us by, where Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanukah came wrapped together in one neat shiny end-of-November package. It was a beautiful creation that inspired many a sad advertising campaign, including William Sonoma's "Latke and Vodka party", and Delish.com's "Challah Pumpkin stuffing" recipe. For the more traditional Jews who like to do their own cooking (like my family), it means we knock out turkey, brisket, and over 400 potato latkes in one action packed weekend. Not a bad break, if you ask me.

But in my mind, the whole thing is a contradiction.

See, Thanksgiving, at least to me, is the holiday in which we sit down and give thanks for all that we have. And I don't mean the material, I mean the blessings- our family, our health, the things that we've done and seen, the people who have impacted us. It's the dinner where we celebrate the life that we have, the goodness of the Lord and all He has given us, and the things that we often take for granted. We celebrate the day to day- the average- the things we almost have come to consider mundane. 

And then comes Chanukah, which is a celebration of miracles (at least at it's core). We are meant to remember that even when the odds were against the people of God, He fought on our side and provided, and we won. We were given a chance when no chance was plausible, and we came out victorious against all odds. Twice (once by defeating our enemies, and once by having our offering of the oil be not only accepted, but extended throughout the time when we needed it most. Read more about Chanukah if you are a little lost). We thank God for all the amazement that He has given to us throughout the years, and we even give one another gifts to celebrate the goodness of life's unexpected pleasures.

See what I mean? One that celebrates normalcy. One that celebrates the unexpected. Dichotomy.

So I really liked Thanksgivikah. I really liked the idea of putting both of the celebrations together. I really like the idea of being thankful, both for everything good that I already have, and every good thing that I have never even expected. It feels hopeful. As if anything is possible, and happiness is abundant and all around.

But of course, it led me to wonder why the holidays had to line up for me to start thinking about these things. Why do we wait for the special days to consider what we have? With all the goes on in the country we live in, we risk losing the meaning in a swamp of consumerism and craziness. It's very easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of all that goes on and forget the moments of contemplation that remind us of the point. And don't get me wrong, I like the idea of having a day to celebrate the all we've got and are given, but I want to be celebrating all the time. And I don't want to miss out on one because both days feel together.

I think that my point is this; there are a lot of things in life that shine through and give us comfort, joy, and happiness. I want to see them in their moments instead of seeing them all at once. I want to be thankful at all times, both for the ordinary and the extraordinary. And I see great potential for this in the future.

I'm just thankful that the two holidays came together to remind me of this truth.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Time is (back) on my side

"Life can get so complicated. All I could ever manage was twenty four hours in a day. I believe I'd have lost my mind if I went on worrying about the minutes..." 
-The Rain Catchers, Jean Thesman

I am one of those people who likes to fill in all of my time.

I love the feeling of accomplishment I have when I get things done. I sleep better when I go to bed at night knowing that my checklist is fully filled in. That I have left no stone unturned. It doesn't necessarily make me happy, but I feel pretty good about being on track. I get a little crazy about it, actually.

And I get very frustrated when my schedule doesn't fall into place.

We don't like to think about things we haven't done. We measure our days in terms of productivity and accomplishment: "What did I get done today? How does it fit into my grand plan for life? Did I move towards the goals I think I need to have?" We get worked up when the answers to these simple questions seem uncertain. Or when they feel like negatives. Sometimes even sleep or food or other daily obligations can seem to be obstacles in getting to the end. I mean, even God rested, but sometimes I just have to get whatever-this-is finished.

The problem with this deep seeded disappointment is what we miss when we are busy obsessing about all the things we haven't done. Like the blessings each day bring. Or the wonder that is the distractions that stopped us from getting on with our plans in the first place. It's true, sometimes they are nothing more than too much time relaxing, or playing games, or even just giving in to pure exhaustion. But even those things can be just what we need when life gets busy.

Last week was rough for me. I had a lot I needed to work on waiting for me. Blog by wednesday, get my lesson plans done by saturday, start my new testament reading plan, finish the book on Job I've been reading, design business cards, get back to the four-days-at-the-gym routine... there were more, but I think you get the idea. A million goals.

Not one accomplished.

But upon reflection, last week was not a waste of time at all. No, I didn't finish my book on Job, but I did finish a fiction novel that gave me some perspective I was missing. I didn't get to the gym enough, but I had an awesome time of bonding with a close friend. My lesson plans didn't get finished, but I gained some real life experience that will do more for my writing style than even writing ever would. There was so much good that came out of my life last week... and instead of enjoying it, I was busy falling into the stress of the lie that my own plan was the only way to go. I needed to be reminded that my plan wasn't even the important one. God's was.

And last week fell right into His design.

This new week has begun, and I have to tell you, it's only Monday, and I am well on my way to getting done everything I missed last week, plus the list that I have for this one. But I am thankful for the healthy reminder that ultimately, the grand scheme is out of my hands. I talk about wanting to be all that God wants me to be, and only what He wants me to be, and it reminds me that I have to get in line with His will 100%. That may include giving up things that have shaped my view of what my life needs to look like. But so be it- when we fully commit, we sign that deal.

Thankfully, God doesn't waste time. He doesn't have hours in a day that are uncounted for. He doesn't take a few minutes to "rest His eyes". He doesn't hide away when the moments get overwhelming; actually, He doesn't even get overwhelmed with His to do list. And He has a lot to be accountable for. But every moment is considered by God.

And He does it all without an administrative assistant.

From now on, I want to measure my moments only in God's time. I want to be reminded that everything we do has a purpose and a path. The only way to waste time is to mourn over it, and to fight against it. All the moments we are given are a gift.

I won't squander it by stressing over it anymore.

Friday, November 22, 2013

An Unusual Affection (for an unusual character)

"I always liked strange characters."
-Tim Burton

I didn't want to like Death, but it was inevitable.

Before you all get freaked out, I am talking about Death, the narrator of "The Book Thief", a young adult read that has just been released into theaters. A friend recommended it while I was describing the excellence of the demon narrator in C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters." He warned me that story was told from the perspective of Death himself, and I picked it up expecting an unlikeably angry and sadistic character. But he isn't written as such; Instead, he is portrayed as a calm voice, seemingly tired and a little sad. He weaves the story in a way that makes the reader understand the beauty of life from the perspective of the one who separates it. I didn't want to like him, of course, but he really is a compelling character.

I am an avid reader. All my life I have been taken in by stories, feeling myself fall into the fantasy world that words capture. I can't sit through too many movies, based on a short attention span, but a book is different- it requires your eyes and your mind to align and work together, and suddenly, your other senses are feeling all the same things the characters are. You are living in their world, hearing their thoughts and actions and hopes and fears, and until something breaks the spell... it's a wonderful thing. And since you become so intimate with these characters, you start to develop feelings and emotions toward them- some you fall in love with, and some you can't stand. I find that the more I read and get to know these personalities, the less I can control how I feel about them. Even when the writer finds the character wholly unlikeable (if you read interviews, you find which characters were favored, and which where despised), I sometimes find myself with a conflicting opinions.

I don't know when, but somewhere along the line, I stopped choosing which characters I like. They started to choose me.

There is a painting called "Charles Dickens in his Study" made by Robert William Buss. In it, the great writer is surrounded by a number of his characters, swirling around his head. His eyes are closed, and he is leaning in a chair. I feel for him, because I wonder what his characters are saying to him. Does he love them? Hate them? Want them to shut up so he can focus on their antagonists? I imagine they speak to him very loudly. I just wish I knew what he would say back.

In our lives, we are all parts of the great story written by a grand Creator. He loves us all equally and greatly, but He didn't make us to like all the others. We live in a world where the term "enemies" is a reality. One of my missions in life is to love everyone, and it's hard.

And it doesn't mean I have to like them.

But I wonder what it is that draws us to people. Why do we regard them? What connection is that we can make with even the most unsettling of souls that causes us to relate? I wonder sometimes if there is a formula for making friends (and it's a joke they've even made on television shows, so I know it isn't just me). It would have to be an individual formula.

Something in us + something in them = bonding. 

I just don't know what it is.

As for myself, I find that I appreciate honest people more than kind people or socially intelligent people. But I don't know why this value strikes me. How does the scale work? What is the top quality? Is it consistent? Does it change with age?

I have no answers.

But I think, now, in light of this new affiliation to a charter such as Death, that maybe it's better we can't deduce what makes us attracted to others. Perhaps, as with many other formulas, it would narrow down our vision and box us in. We might never be able to get past our own ideas of why we should be friends, and that would hinder us from making new realizations about others, and in turn, about ourselves and who we are. We don't get to choose who we like, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's what stops us from discrimination internally, and helps us to recognize the good in others. And maybe, just maybe, it makes us a little more human.

DICKENS IN HIS STUDY

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A tribute to Lennon (and all the dreamers)

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one
-John Lennon, Imagine

Above my bed hangs a large picture of the John Lennon Memorial that sits in Central Park (pictured below). The stone homage is a large reminder of the message of peace that Lennon wrote into one of his most famous pieces. It drives my mother (and many other people) a little crazy, because the song, in an attempt to draw a picture of a new world, suggests imagining that there is no God and no religion as one of the ways to abolish conflict and separation. 

I do not, as you probably anticipated, want to imagine a world where there is no God, nor do I believe that such a world would be a peaceful place. However, Lennon's refrain strikes something deeply in me. When all the world dreams together, we can start to make a difference. 

I am a dreamer. The worst kind of dreamer. I can zone out in the middle of almost any setting and start re-writing the human story in my head. I can imagine rallies against hatred, and small gestures changing the course of a life. I mentally construct scenarios in which something fantastic happens as a result of the inconsequential details of life. And I long for these things to happen on the day-to-day. 

But the execution is a struggle. 

People are a bit narrow-minded by nature. We have this idea of how the world works, and we cannot imagine the greatness or the vastness it truly entails. We worry about little changes- small term things that won't affect the end of our story greatly- on a daily basis. When we think of big change, or of impacting people on a grand scale, it makes us queasy. When we have an idea that we think might be earth shattering, we are frustrated that other's are not already on the same page with us. We don't see ourselves as the catalysts of major twists in the story, and often, when we can see it, it depresses us. 

When it becomes my turn to stand up for something I believe in, or something that I believe is important, I want to be ready, to be willing, and to be able to go without regard for cost or outcome.. I want to be the kind of person who contributes to something huge- I don't really have a desire to be remembered, but I want to be part of a movement that goes down in history. 

I want to be the kind of person who lives as big as I dream. 

Recently I attended a messianic non-ference called "Grassroots." It is the love child of like minded people who want to see what God can do when they put aside their differences and just spend time together. Being there was a beautiful experience for me, not just because of what was said by the speakers or the time spent worshiping together, but because there was a grand sense of belonging that came from sharing hearts. I sat with a woman named Dorothy (read what she writes here) who told me how she was learning to listen, and it struck me that others might be learning the same lessons that I am. The dream that Grassroots embodied became a reality for me in that moment. We covered a lot of ground over dinner, from how to serve people properly to how to live each day. And something about just finding our similarities connected us. 

Maybe you are dreaming of something on a grand scale. Maybe you share my picture of a worldwide movement of peace, harmony, and truth. (And love- for me, it's always love). Or maybe you are dreaming of something smaller; a kind of life you want to live, a relationship you want to have, an accomplishment that you want to see. Whatever it is, I believe we are all dreamers, waiting on the hope of something that we have not yet seen happen. Which is also, incidentally, the definition of faith.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

Be faithful. Keep dreaming. Let's get a little closer to creating something new.

Strawberry Fields, Central Park- The John Lennon memorial

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bigger Love

It's alarming how quickly we forget that nothing's bigger than love. 
~My Favorite Highway

I don't love the right way. 

Forget romantic love for just a second, because that is an entirely different conversation. I'm talking about the day-to-day love, the kind that slips into conversation pretty regularly: "Oh, haven't you met (enter name of person you met last friday here)? She's great! I love her!" It's almost grotesque how easily our emotions become attached to other human beings. 

And that's all good, but it's not enough. Because we learn to love based on the goodness we see in a person. We put on rose colored goggles the first time we meet them based on the things that draw us in the first place. And then, when some time has passed and new things have been revealed, we weigh their bad qualities against those things when we liked. The conversation starts to sound like "Oh, well I know she can be a little racist, but she's great with kids!" or some equally ridiculous statement that justifies our affinity for our friends. 

And this is the key- justice.

Charles Swindall says it well in his study on Job: 
"There is something deeply satisfying about justice. We love it when right is rewarded and wrong is punished. The old axiom, 'Justice is truth in action' explains our love for it; what is fair finally occurs." 

Sometimes we love justice much more than we love people. We like to see our scales balance out with what we think is right, and it takes control of our thoughts, especially when it comes to figuring out how to love people. And the worst part is that when we do find someone that we can love despite all the things we can't stand, we feel accomplished. Proud. As if we are super human for being able to get out of own heads and assess them honestly and still come out feeling good things towards them. As if we've done something right. 

Ideally, we would learn the truth about what is just, and as a result,  maybe we could continue to hold the good and the bad up in the light. Of course, before we can even begin to make these assessments, we would have to understand the whole picture- the whys and hows and whats that make people who they are, and even more so, what they are perceived to be. To be honest with you, it sounds terribly tiring to me to have to look at the big picture for everyone... I think I have a better solution.

I want to love all people without justice. Leave the fairness up to the God who created the system in the first place, and love unconditionally instead. Find the fondness for their faults that I find for what I perceive to be their greatest qualities. I want them to feel grace overwhelm them. I want to see beyond the pleasing part of the picture and love people wholly. And I want to do it without pride, because let's face it, the accomplishment isn't in learning to love someone, it's in getting away from my own twisted self long enough to realize it's not up to me to implement rulings or fairness or even mercy on anyone else's life. I haven't even mastered it in my own. And the only one I want residing over me is God.

And  God is love. 
And so love speaks truth. 
And justice is truth in action.

It is not an easy thing to forgo justice for entire love. But it's the way I want to love- the way I want to be loved, too. I don't want someone assessing my good and bad- I want them to see me in all that I am and still want to spend time with me.  Do unto others rings loudly in my ears. I'm telling you, I've been loving wrong.

Maybe we can all learn together. Maybe we can support each other until we have stopped loving people "as long as" or "because". And maybe in this, we'll remember what a catalyst of great change love can be, and we'll see change in the world around us. It's a thought that makes me feel hopeful for humanity, really. 

Starting now, I am committed to learning how to love properly.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beginning

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
~Lao-tzu

Life is full of beginnings- of defining moments where change stops being a thought and starts being the new way to live. Some of these beginnings are chosen, some are handed over, and some are hard to stomach. But each of these beginnings is a step in shaping us into something new we will become.

This is a new beginning for Red Sky At Mourning- a new look and feel, a new outline, but most importantly, a new heart for the writer. A year ago, when I stopped writing these messages to you, readers, I was dealing with two major life changes that had lead me to question who I was and what I was sharing.

The first major life change had happened almost a year before, when our home was flooded and part of our foundation destroyed in hurricane Irene. The devastation that is brought on by watching part of your home wash away while you are paddled out on a little life raft is hard to describe. I had spent the year cleaning and rebuilding the life I had known before, desperately clinging to the hope that normal would return. And just when the anxiety that rainstorms had begun to bring began to subside, we found ourselves facing yet another hurricane season, and my heart was starting to feel a little faint. 

The second major change took me from a little faint to broken. A good friend of mine fell down, hit his head, and passed away suddenly. The rocky world as I knew it became a sudden place of sadness. Life started to feel overwhelmingly short, and hard to fathom. And though I clung strong to the Creator, I felt very small and a little lost. 

And so these two major changes made me realize that I needed to stop writing for a while so I could take some time to learn. I wanted to get closer with God and what He had for me, but I also wanted to get reacquainted with myself, not just as a writer, but as a whole person. I wanted to be strengthened and changed and made new through the knowledge of the Lord, who I was starting to realize, was very very awesome in the midst of a terrifyingly chaotic world. And I was once again on a raft in the middle of the flood waters, but instead of feeling sorry or hurt, I was learning strength and trust.

I came back to you now with another new beginning- this time for Red Sky, for the hopes that I had when I first started writing back in 2011. In my time away, I have learned three invaluable lessons that I believe will shape this next stage of my heart as I pour it out on to these webpages. 

Lesson 1: Much of what we do and who we are is shaped by fear. We can almost always look back on mistakes we've made and ask ourselves, "what was I afraid of?" We can do the same for others. It is the first step to understanding what makes a person up. 

Lesson 2: Understanding a person is essential to loving them wholeheartedly. When we see someone in their entirety, and love them the same way, we open up the opportunity for changes in ourselves, and in each other, that may have never have seemed possible. 

Lesson 3: Even things that don't seem possible are easily attainable for God. (You may have known this already, but I needed some prompting). The world boxes God unintentionally- we limit Him without even knowing that is what we are doing. I have learned that the remedy for this is only to ask Him to make my heart and His match- to make us have the same desires, the same eyes, and the same hope. This frightening lesson was the one that most prompted me to come back to you, readers, and start new. 

Red Sky has a new look, a simpler look, and I hope it will hold new messages that will touch both your heart and mine. All the older entries are still in the archives for anyone who might like to look back as well- as for me, I am looking forward.

And I am looking forward to sharing my heart with you again.