Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was not invented by the Pilgrims.

I am one of thousands and thousands of women who have read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, and this is not the first time I have used her thoughts as springboards, and I awakened this morning with the book on my nightstand (actually on the floor next to the nightstand because the nightstand is already too crowded with books) thinking about what a posture of gratitude looks in my life.

Because thanksgiving is not just a day, an hour, a few minutes when we bow heads and join hands and say grace over the bounty–

–thanksgiving is a way of being, the posture of my heart, the shape of my mind, the inclination of my thoughts.

It wasn't until after I read One Thousand Gifts that I began to be aware of just how absolutely bursting the pages of the Psalms– my go-to book in Scripture– are with thanksgiving.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to You; You are my God; I will extol You. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!
 (Psalm 118: 1, 28-29)

A song bound fore and aft with thanksgiving.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. 
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever! 
(Psalm 30: 11-12)

And this rash, wild burst of thanks (give thanks forever? Holy hyperbole? I think not!) comes after a heartache plea for mercy: To You, O Lord, I cry; and to the Lord I plea for mercy: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!" 

The darkest moment, when life despairs and the head bows and then after the cry, the folded hands suppliant, out of the darkness comes such reckless declaration: I will give thanks to You forever!

Can I say as much? Can I declare like that? Whatever comes, Lord... no matter what... I will give thanks...?

I awakened thinking of the blessings innumerable: the house! (With room and to spare, to welcome in family and friends.) The Pilot! (Cocooned in blankets and well-deserved slumber beside me, this husband a means of grace a thousandfold over, his arm across me as I snuggle in.) The bounty! (We're brining the turkey and it steeps in broth and spices the way our lives are steeped in abundance.) Welling up, spilling over, gift upon gift, day after day that my eyes used to abundance forget to see and my heart forgets that it is all a gift and...
... a gift undeserved.

Ann's words whisper to me: When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift?

The lies of the world would have me believe that I am entitled, I am deserving, I have earned and all that comes to me is reward but that is the fastest way to the tight-fisted life, the grasping, the hoarding. Life gluttonous for more but never satisfied.

Ann quotes a Chesterton poem which for a while I taped next to my bed so I could read it at night:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?


Why indeed?

Who deserves any grace? Ann asks.

Thus the true Thanksgiving hymn is that which calls this grace for what it is: Amazing!! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch. Lost becomes found, and entitlement become humble kneeling and the hands uplifted.

Thanks becomes more than words but the daily life–

–every day–

forever.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rhapsody on The Final Final Paper

I can smell the freedom.

But you are in the way.

Dear Final Final, you are the Last.
The finally finality, the concluding conclusion. And how I wish to conclude you!


Of all the Finals that I have finally completed, you are infinitely
the worst.
You sneer and smirk like
 the rest did
 you deprive me of freedom
       of happiness
                 of contentment
                           like the rest did, but YOU!

                                                 You stand in the way of Peace.

You will be the termination of my term.
Beyond you lies
                           infinity,
                                 eternity–
all that speaks of health and wealth and wisdom,
outside of this brief span
of years and grades,
textbooks,
professors.

You haunt me
like a spectre;
 you rap upon my chamber door
and quoth you:
                  "Discuss the identities accepted and rejected by these four African writers..."
You are the dagger I see
before me in the dead of night
As I lay me down to sleep and
not to mention during the day when I'm doing the dishes.


Have pity upon me.

My brain died two weeks ago, and yet you still expect me
               to prod it into sentience when I feel like
                a somnambulist;
             you require finesse
          when all I can provide is
                      fumbling.
In short,
you want my brain to Work, when it lost all usefulness some days ago!

Have pity.

We can work together, you and I–
 I will help to appease you,
somehow I will scrape from the black goo of Academia words enough to satisfy you,
                               to fill you,
                                 to make you complete–
                                  I will!
                               I vow it!
                     I swear it to you on my transcript– only–
               be kind to me, dear Final Final–
 
be kind.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dance!

It has been very long since I wrote. I have been too busy tripping over my own feet.

Dance! says Sally Lloyd-Jones in the beginning of her new book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.

In the beginning, God sang everything into being– for the joy of it– and set the whole universe dancing.
God was in the center, at the heart of everything.
Like the dance of the planets before the sun– turning, spinning, circling, wheeling, revolving, orbiting around and around– God made everything in his world and in his universe and in his children's hearts to center around him– in a wonderful Dance of Joy!
It's the Dance you were born for.

I read that on the stay-at-home while sister and mother and nieces and nephew went to the zoo day, the husband-has-sinus-infection day, the brain-tired body-tired heart-tired day. The tiredness has been insidious in the last month; like a creeping weed, kudzu or poison-ivy, choking everything else. I opened the new book that my sister brought as a late-birthday present, and I read, and I began to cry.

I had lost the steps to the Dance.

There are lots of ways to lose them, but the fastest is to try to put myself at the center of the Dance.

The Pilot is fully immersed in training by now, which means very long days, and study-nights, and getting up in the morning dark. Time together is chopped– I feel resentment. If I were in charge of this Dance, the Air Force would value our time together more!

And I trip.

The end of college– I've reached the last circus-ring to cross, and I shuffle along grumbling about the the last set of hoops to jump through, the class I don't like, the teacher who doesn't care, the assignments that don't make sense. If I were in charge of this Dance, school would be about learning the things I want to learn!

And I trip.

Housework and planning meals. We eat a prodigious amount of food. And somehow the floors and the bathrooms keep getting dirty. Shouldn't housework come before hanging-out-with-friends? If I were in charge...

... and I trip.

Shouldn't I be happy? There is nothing really wrong, is there?
But my heart isn't singing and my feet aren't dancing. There is something wrong.


What if the planets put themselves at the center instead of the sun... We put ourselves in God's place... and now our hearts are out of step with God and the universe and each other and our own selves.


Child-simple. I read and I cried, because I wanted to dance again. I wanted my heart to be full of song, not grumbling and tiredness and selfishness. I want Joy– not fleeting height of emotion, not security from good circumstances, but Joy rich and thick and lasting, Joy that doesn't melt with the Pilot's long days or college circus-hoops or housework. Joy to know and believe and cling to, dig in with fingers and toes and clutch with my soul.

Well. Sally Lloyd-Jones said something about that, too. Sometimes I wish all theology was written in a style for children like this book is. It's so much easier for me to understand.

But God had a Plan.
And a Rescuer... Jesus would come to take the cataclysm of our sin into his own heart. 
And lead us back into the Dance of Joy.

Can I ever get away from it– this leading back to Jesus, always? Of course not– because every trip and miss-step is a Savior's gentle invitation to let Him lead me back to my proper place in the Dance. As long as I try to make myself the center, I cannot have Joy.

But if I step back and start following His lead–

John Piper explains it this way: God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is.

So the chopped-husband-time and the tiredness and the last-college-class and the housework and meals can be part of the dance: these things that swell resentment in me are part of a life, my life, the life that can dance beauty before a beautiful God. If I let myself. If I follow the steps, take the eyes of my heart off myself and onto the Leader of the Dance– who will dance with me into Joy everlasting. 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Blindfold Walking

Maybe the life of faith is a little bit like walking with a blindfold on–

When I was little my younger sister and I would play "blind" where one of us would close our eyes tight and take the hand of the other and be led around

faltering, hesitating steps, never sure when an unseen abyss might open at your feet and you would go tumbling in

your only guide the sister's hand, trusting she would keep you from smacking into walls, falling down stairs

until at last you'd open your eyes astonished: how did I get here?


Sometimes life opens up before us in long grand vistas, we see the road winding before us for miles and miles, we take in the view and breathe deeply and set off eagerly, keeping the mountains in sight

and sometimes the life view is like the art exhibit that my husband and I went in last month
a pitch-black room lined with mirrors 
and strands of tiny LED lights hanging from the ceiling
–flashing on and off in a sharp bewildering blink of lightning bugs–
till I didn't know which way was forward or backward 
and I thought I could be lost forever in the maze of pointy light

and sometimes the view is simply black, black as behind-your-eyelids or thick soft blindfold, not despair or tragedy but simply dark because you don't know where you're going and you have to trust your little sister is leading you except

it's God instead.





And all you can do is cling to the hand and trust that at some point the blindfold will come off and your eyes will see and marvel: that's how I got here!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Locked Living

NO SOLICITING! 

The sign was dark and angry behind the screen door. We exchanged nervous glances, and I pressed the doorbell again. The invitations were in my hand; behind the closed front door, a television was droning loudly.

The lock on the front door clicked, and the door swung open just a crack. An old man voice barked, "No soliciting!" If the sign could have spoken, it would have sounded just like this voice: brittle with impatience and crackly with anger.

"We're not!" I blurted, trying not to show how taken aback we felt.

"We're your next-door neighbors," my husband added.

A pause. The front door creaked open a few more inches and the old man's head lightened the darkness behind the screen door like a round moon with spectacles.

I held out the invitations like a feeble white flag. "We're not selling anything," I said. "We just wanted to invite you over... a dessert open house... to get to know our neighbors...if you can come..." I trailed off.

"That's all," my husband finished gently.

It was too dark to see if the pale moon-faced man was surprised or suspicious. "Sorry about that," he said reluctantly, as if making a conscious effort to extract the gruff tone from his voice. "We just get'em ringing the doorbell all the time..."

"We've had them too," said my husband.

(Them. What a strange way to refer to people.)

I was still holding out the invitation as if it were a milkbone and I was trying to coax a puppy out from under a bed. "Can I give you this invitation?" I asked awkwardly.

He hesitated. "I already locked everything up... just tuck it in the screen door and we'll get it tomorrow."

I was too surprised to do anything but comply. I slid the piece of cardstock between the screen and on of the decorative iron scrolls.

"Well," we said lamely, "have a goodnight."

The old man seemed to relent a little as we turned back down the walk. "You too," he called. We didn't understand what he said next. Was his tongue confused by remorse? "Thanks– love you guys!" And then the door shut. The Pilot and I exchanged puzzled glances. Love us? And yet you couldn't unlock your door to let in an invitation?

That image haunted me the rest of the evening: the stern sign, the face peering suspiciously round the locked screen door... the barriers. The walls. The ways even next-door neighbors seal themselves off from each other, locked in our own little fortresses of comfort and autonomy, rebuffs of anger or annoyance when anyone might dare challenge our supreme solitude.

Perhaps it haunted me all the more because I was unnerved by the possibility that, if I looked closer, might I find myself in one of those fortresses? I do not tell this story from a place of superiority. The Pilot and I had to give ourselves several stern talking-tos before we collected the moral impetus and motivation to walk outside our front door and make the rounds of the cul-de-sac. We still both look like we're freshmen in college; we both wondered what our neighbors would think of us. How far, far easier it would be to stay in our comfortable solitude! We are both introverts. We don't innately enjoy meeting new people. Small-talk takes a lot of effort for us. Our desire for comfort and security would never lead us outside our own little circle of friends where all is familiar and safe.

But that's not the life we're called to live. Quite plainly, we are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that's rather difficult if we don't even know our neighbors' names! I'm aware, of course, that inviting a bunch of (literal) neighbors over to come eat brownies and lemon poppyseed cake is not some kind of extreme act of selflessness and love. Maybe, though, it's a baby-step– a tiny movement out of that secure, comfortable life that our selfishness wants so badly, and a tiny, tiny movement towards the life of radical generosity, selflessness, and love for others which Jesus quite plainly tells us is the kind of life we are supposed to lead if we are to be like Him. Tiny, almost microscopic baby-steps that felt like huge difficult steps. Seriously. How lame that it took us six weeks to finally step outside and ring doorbells– and we weren't even trying to sell anything!

Or... maybe we are. Part of the motivation behind this cul-de-sac dessert is to spread a vision of community– the kind of community that every single human being needs, whether we acknowledge it or not. Westernized culture is all about individualism and how we don't need each other, even as study after article shows us that yes, in fact we do, we do very much. The Pilot and I are blessed in already having found community here, the kind of friends among whom there is no locks, no doors, no barriers; we are all part of each other's lives. We realize, too, that is not the experience for so many people around us. Maybe this tiny baby step can "sell" a tiny baby picture of community to our real-life literal neighbors... and just maybe, they'll ask for more.

I don't know if our next door neighbor will come to our dessert on Saturday night. The selfish part of me is afraid he will– afraid of the awkwardness that could ensue. The gospel-heart in me hopes that he will come, that no matter how awkward it might be, he will come out from behind his locks and doors and let someone in, if only for a couple of hours. My prayer for the Pilot and me and our family is that the image we will leave with those around us is and always will be one of open doors and welcoming lives.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Doing Justice

Almost exactly two years ago, my heart began to be awakened to ugliness.

All my life I've been surrounded by beauty. Colorado streaks beauty in vibrant, vivid splashes from a palette as endless as God's ability; beauty was natural, beauty was real, beauty mattered. Art, music, creativity, invention, all indispensable hues, intertwining, dancing, marrying and begetting more beauty.

Then ugliness came and ravaged a ragged gash in the landscape.

I wasn't completely unaware of ugliness. Even the most sheltered child in America has to be blind and deaf not to know that it exists, that in dark corners and questionable districts, the ugliness is lurking. The question is not whether it exists; rather, it is that when we leave childhood behind, do we choose to acknowledge the ugliness, or do we go on pretending that it doesn't exist, or ignoring its existence?

I did not choose, because, thankfully, two years ago, God did not leave choice up to me. He took the ugliness and with it He broke my heart. At the same time I was learning how to love the man who would become my husband, I began to learn how to care about a world that is systematically destroying itself with ugliness.

(It might be good to note that the word I am using, ugliness, is simply a metaphor for a concept that is considered very out-of-date in our culture: sin. I believe all forms of ugliness, both literal and metaphorical, to be a result of the effects of sin in the world. If you want to know where I believe sin came from, read Genesis 3.)

The ugly manifests itself in ways antithetical to the beauty, for its goal is to stamp out beauty, to consume it. Selfishness destroys love. Corruption and greed undermine honest work. Indulgence stifles gratitude. Abuse and violence shatter relationships, communities, countries. Indifference enables all the ugliness to continue unabated.

I think God is systematically destroying my indifference.

The first real sign was two years ago, when I started learning the statistics and stories of sex-trafficking around the world and in this country. Some of you may have read the posts in my old blog about this. Some of you may have noticed when I stopped writing about it. The fire flamed up, and then burnt low.   Thank God– He did not allow it to go out. At first the ugliness was all I could think of, but then I learned how to compartmentalize it. I never forgot, but the first glimpse lost its power. I don't know if my circumstantial excuses were valid or not: working, schooling, getting engaged, planning a wedding. Perhaps they were not valid.

After the Pilot got his assignment and I found out we'd be spending a year in Phoenix, I remembered the organization I had discovered in my initial burst of enthusiastic research: a Christian ministry called Streetlight USA, which is unique in that one of its main focuses is to provide long term care, healing, and complete rehabilitation for girls rescued out of sex slavery in the United States. Their campus is in Phoenix. I started wondering.

Last February, my heart broke again, but this time more easily, because the divinely-placed fault line was already there. I read an article about the increase in sex-trafficking because of the Super Bowl, and the Pilot found me in tears. I wrote this post because I wanted to write something, to do something. I didn't know what else to do. Life was busy. I had a new marriage and I was finishing school. We were going to move.

Then we moved here, and God started bombarding me with messages. My friend, challenging me to find out what my time in Phoenix is going to be about. Multiple sermons, speaking of putting hands and feet to what I say I believe is the truth, and taking the sacrificial love of Jesus to a world which is starving for it even as it tries to feed itself in the ugliness. The book that my friend and I are reading, Generous Justice, in which Tim Keller tells me that the extent to which I understand grace is the extent to which my life will overflow with acts of mercy and justice towards the poor of the world– the forgotten, the downtrodden, the hopeless, the weary. Conversation after conversation. Sometimes God speaks clearly and I knew that this wasn't going to stop.

It has become clear to me that girls in sex slavery are my burden. My heart is growing tender to many different types of the ravagings of sin in the world, but sex slavery stops me dead in my tracks, turns my thoughts off myself and my own comfort, and throws the gauntlet at my feet. Perhaps my motivation has only increased as a new wife, as I explore in wide-eyed wonder the garden of intimacy unlocked for me by marriage, and I am filled with wide-eyed horror that so many little girls have that ripped away from them, that what should be precious and beautiful becomes an instrument of torture in the hands of the men who violate them.

In my last post I wrote about living in the present, living intentionally. I realized, afterwards, that in this new season that the Pilot and I are entering, I am in a situation uncommon for people my age– I have only one class left in school, I do not have to work to support myself, and thus time and resources are there for me to serve in ways that other stages of life would not allow. With my husband's often-time ten to twelve hour workdays, I will have an abundance of days where I'll be by myself, with minimal responsibilities. I have realized that this stage is an opportunity which I do not want to waste.

So take these ramblings for what they are– a shy, nervous introduction to a new chapter in a life which is making the first halting attempt to reflect a Biblical picture of what the lives of Jesus-freaks like me should be: "He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). 

This issue is not all I intend to blog about. Life and faith still constantly tumble out new ideas for writing, ideas that are less sober, not heart-breaking. Sometimes, though, our hearts need to be broken, and then broken again. I invite you– I ask you, don't look away. Perhaps we can look together at the evils which are easier to ignore– look long, look hard, look honestly. And then maybe we can turn our looking into acting, our thinking into doing.

In my second post on this blog, I asked myself: "Can I listen to grace?"

Now I ask myself: "When Grace speaks, will I have the courage and obedience to act on what I hear?"


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Glory of the Present

Last night as the Pilot and I curled up on the couch for a pre-bedtime snuggle I said, "Do you ever find it difficult to believe that you are where you're at? That you blinked, and suddenly you're married and in this new stage of life?"

He doesn't find it difficult, apparently. But then, he has been grown up for longer than I have, and sometimes I wonder at how slippery the years have been! They didn't feel that way when I was small, of course. Then, the years were water buffaloes, lumbering, clumsy, blundering. And now they zoom by like the road-runner we saw crossing the street the other day, without even a cartoon "Beep beep!" for a warning.

I am terrible about living in the present. It is not a recent difficulty; the future has always seemed so much more interesting to me than the time I am in right now. I remember being in first grade thinking about how old and important I would be when I was in third grade. I was ten dreaming of thirteen, thirteen dreaming of sixteen, sixteen dreaming of eighteen.

Even now, the mental day-planner in my head is waving a checklist at me of errands and appointments, yoo-hooing for my attention, trying to drag my brain away from this blog post to the haircut tomorrow, the writing assignment due at the end of the week, even tonight's dinner. I have a count-down app on my iPhone so that I can always know to the second how far away important dates are (and yes, Christmas is one of them.) That's why we have calendars, isn't it, and day-planners and schedules and alarms and all those kinds of things, to help us keep the Future firmly planted at the forefront of our minds?

C.S. Lewis, of course, had something to say about that, and being the genius he was, he saw how much more effective it would be coming from the devil himself. Screwtape writes:

The humans live in time but our Enemy {God} destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity...
Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present... it is far better to make them live in the Future. 
To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too– just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow... He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it.  (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 15.)

As slippery as the days have been lately, (what!? we're in Arizona already? We've been married almost eight months already!?) nevertheless I am entering into a stage of life where the heart-thumping pace of day-to-day living has slowed into a more leisurely stroll. It has been literally years since I have been in a time like this. I began today the one last online class before I complete my college degree, and besides that and my domestic and marital pursuits of keeping a house in order and a husband well-fed, the foreseeable future holds a light schedule. People have asked me if I will get a job, and I tell them no, no I won't, at least not in Phoenix. I would rather read books (maybe write one), and volunteer, and practice piano, and spend time building friendships, and have fun with my husband on the weekends without having to worry about a work schedule getting in the way.

Which all sounds very delightful, but when I come to the point, can I take each hour as it comes,  can I resist the temptation to ignore the living breathing present for a phantasmic future which I create? When I push away today's tasks, pleasures, pains, and prayers for the sake of a tomorrow, a next week, a next month which I am not in control of anyway, is it just innocent "planning for the future", or am I falling for a devilish scheme to wean my heart away from the importance of the present in light of eternity?

We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present. 

What kind of gifts have been set before me that I have blindly pushed away in asking for tomorrow?

How to live intentionally? After all, "whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) I cannot do anything in the future, only in the present. Dare I to look for the glory of the present moment– where, as C.S. Lewis says, eternity touches time?

A good friend challenged me to pray and search out what this time in Arizona was going to be about spiritually, because the days do pass so quickly. Perhaps part of an answer to her challenge is to become a student of intentional living. Can I take advantage of the unusual freedom with which God is blessing this new stage of my life to slow down even more, to seek out what it looks like to live each day in the grace of His glory. Can I trust Him with the future so that I can live in the gift of the present?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From Humble Abode to Desert Domicile: Moving Part 2

This morning I sent the Pilot off for his first day of "school"– i.e. B-Course– i.e. F-16 training. The dreams and hard work of years and years are shimmering like mirages behind this sunny day. Deep down swells a wish that I had been there for more of it, like my friend who has known her husband almost her whole life and has walked with him every step of the long journey to this desert-land where the jets streak across the sky and our men's footsteps lead towards the flight-line. I have to remind myself that my story is different, and that the collision of the Pilot's life and mine, two years, four months, and thirteen days ago was no accident: guided by an unseen hand of the One who writes the story.

My dear friend Sarah, who was my maid of honor and a crucial player in that intersection of the Pilot's life and mine, said to me not long ago, "If I had told you five years ago that you would be married to an Air Force pilot, living in Texas, running, and doing yoga, you would be very offended." The move from Texas to Arizona notwithstanding, she is right. Thank God that I don't write my own story, since He writes them much better!

Three and a half weeks in, Arizona is quite new enough to be exciting, to make us remark upon the number of grocery stores and coffee shops and new places to go, and yet it is undoubtedly already Home. Perhaps this has less to do with the place itself (though being surrounded by mountains certainly helps!) and more to do with the fact that "Home is Wherever the Air Force Sends Us" as a picture in my friend Ashley's house so eloquently reminded me. We have a house, which we have named the Desert Domicile. At first I thought we should name it the Adobe Domicile, but it is not made of adobe, and the alliteration was too appealing. We rented Sebastian, our piano, even before all of our furniture and boxes arrived (because I refuse to be like Mrs. Elton in Emma and neglect my music any longer) and after everything did arrive we unpacked till we were drowning in brown paper and cardboard boxes. (I wished that I was small again so that I could make a series of tunnels and forts out of the huge boxes. I hope our future children do that!) Nothing was broken, nothing was lost– we had a brief concern about our Apple TV, which we thought the packers had misplaced (and I wondered if it was a divine sign to be interpreted that we ought to read more books) but was found in the bottom of our laundry hamper, along with the garden hose. I have three or four different supermarkets all within a couple miles of our house to choose from, and three novels I've never read before with my new library card, and a dentist appointment on Friday. Abundance upon blessing: the cup runneth over.

What am I to make of it? One thing I realized when the Pilot and I first moved into the Desert Domicile, before the movers brought our things and we had only what we'd brought with us in our vehicles, was how relatively little one needs to get along. It was inconvenient, yes, but we hardly suffered from the lack of the multitude of material possessions that the movers brought on their truck. I recalled all the pioneer stories I read growing up, and how packing up and moving your life from one place to another was a matter of choosing what things would fit into a wagon and leaving all the rest behind, forever! Materialism didn't have much place in the early days of America. Not that I have anything against possessions: I like glancing over at my tea-set on top of the bookshelf, and the books very carefully and meaningfully arranged (all Jane Austen together; same with Dorothy Sayers; small paperback classics on the bottom shelf). But where are my affections? Is there anything, materially speaking, that I can't live without? Many people say that the worst thing about military life is the constant moving, but if it helps me to re-evaluate constantly what is really important and what isn't, that is a blessing and not a bane.

A quote that I have adopted as a kind of motto for our military life is something G.K. Chesterton said: An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. This past move has contained its fair share of adventures, mostly small ones: I failed quite miserably at considering the broken air conditioner in our lodging the first night in Phoenix as anything but a quite intolerable inconvenience. But the Pilot and I found a house in two days, and moved into it two days later, and that was an adventure, and we enjoyed it. The next year will, I'm sure, contain all kinds of inconveniences of all shapes and sizes, and my hope is that I make the choice to see through the disguise into the adventure-blessings behind them. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Moving Part 1


First came the packers- Dustin and Chris, who were very nice. How many clothes does a person need? I had cram-jammed them into a suitcase and still they sprung out from corners and curled up in drawers.  There is nothing like packing up and carting everything from one place to the next to make you realize how absurdly bountiful your possessions are, how your cup runneth over with things and stuff and more things. The suitcase bulged with the supply I'd need for the meantimes, the times while we were still gypsies traveling and sleeping and traveling, and then Chris packed the rest. I was embarrassed to find out that he couldn't just leave it all in the drawers where I'd left it. Nice as he was, it was awkward that I'd left some slinky, lacy specimens haunting the drawers. (Something to remember for next time!) What a job it must be, as a packer, seeing all the preposterous amount of possessions that people fill up their lives with, and getting to touch and handle and wrap up in brown paper and hide away in blank cardboard boxes!

The Humble Abode, the Pilot said, had gotten a lot more humble. One day we threaded our way in and out of great towers of boxes– we still had a bed, and a couch, and a table, and chairs to sit on– and then, next day, it was all gone, leaving only blank walls, and the undesirable ability to now see just how many cricket corpses were tucked away in the corners and under surfaces that were no longer there. 

 I remarked to the Pilot, one morning, that I did not feel at all grown-up enough to be co-responsible for the moving with him. Moving is undoubtedly an extremely Grown Up thing to do, and I half-expected my parents to come and supervise and arrange for the little things like lunch, and tips for the packers, and things like that. But they didn't, and we did all that. There is no shortage of horror stories about moving with the Air Force– I have observed that telling them can be almost a competition, each participant listening and ready to one-down the opponent with a worse story of loss, breakage, or theft. The Pilot kindly sat me down and explained that our move was not going to be perfect, something would go wrong, but it was all just stuff, and eventually it would all work out.  It is very good to be married to someone like my husband when you are moving. 

People say that a drawback of Air Force life is the constant moving. I have decided it's better to look at the advantages. The most obvious is that you don't have to pay for it, and if you move anything yourself, the Air Force pays you! Also, there is no shortage of other Air Force wives who have done the same thing and understand it all. It is delightful to have friends who offer to house you and your husband when you have been left bereft of all your furniture and would otherwise have to sleep on the air mattress surrounded by dead crickets. That is what my friend Ashley did, and it was from her delightful guest bedroom that the Pilot and I oversaw the last odds and ends of our preparations, made appointments to look at houses, and prepared ourselves to shake the dust of Wichita Falls off our feet forever. 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

How I know I'm Not In Wichita Falls Any Longer


the palm tree sentinels, lining the roads, stately guards of the traffic

the cacti, like weird bristling many-armed mutants

the mountains in not two, not three, but all four directions. I have already learned how to tell them apart. And I know which way is west again.

I'm writing this in a Barnes & Noble, surrounded by books.

Chick-Fil-As, Chipotles, and Red Robins, oh my!

the shade works. In humid heat, the shade is broken. Here the shade has been mended and is thus functional.

We live in a stucco jungle.

landscaping everywhere. I didn't realize that suburbs in the desert could possibly be as pretty as they are where we live! They must have a Committee for Making Neighborhoods and Shopping Centers Nice to Look At.

The percentage of people I see who are obese has dropped dramatically.

Our thermostat is set to seventy-seven degrees... and that feels perfectly cool to us.

more than five libraries within a reasonable driving distance! I think I'll get cards for all of them!

Instead of T-38s like little sparrows zipping busily across the sky, it's the F-16s gliding like stately, fearsome hawks, and the Pilot cranes his neck to look at them and I beg him to look at the road every now and then too, the F-16s aren't going anywhere, and actually he'll be flying them in less than two months!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Crickets in the Microwave Vent and Other First-World Problems


Just in case you are not friends with me on Facebook and/or have not been paying attention to my periodic rants, you might not be aware that the Pilot and I have been suffering, by various degrees at various times over the past month, of a cricket invasion of the Humble Abode (our name for our two-bedroom apartment.) It began with me finding a single, mostly-dead cricket next to the Pilot's shorts on our bedroom floor. Horrified, I clapped a glass over the twitching insect so that the Pilot could dispose of it when he got home. I didn't even know what it was at the time. I had seen a cricket perhaps twice before in my whole life. To me, crickets were nothing more than a serene serenade on summer evenings that could escort me to dreamland.

Fast-forward to the present moment, and this very evening I declared passionately to my friend Ashley that I don't ever want to hear another cricket chirp again. The twitching cricket underneath the glass became four or five dead crickets in the entryway every morning, then six or seven spreading into our dining area and kitchen, then a dozen or so, and then they stopped being dead and started slinking through the cracks and crevices to invade our peace in all their hopping, squirming, wriggling, malevolent life.

I grew up reading A Pocketful of Cricket, a children's story-book about a little boy named Jay who finds a cricket that becomes his friend, and he keeps it in his pocket, and under a tea-strainer at night, and bounces on his bed with it, and takes it to school in his pocket. It's an adorable book. I highly recommend it– only keep in mind that that cute little black squiggle in the pictures is nothing like these jointy, leggy Orthoptera that give you the nastiest kind of shock when they fall out of your bathroom light fixture, or confront you perched on top of your laundry basket right next to your favorite sundress. One night I found a cricket antennae in our bed. My husband confessed that he had found a cricket there and killed it and tried to dispose of the remains so as not to freak me out. Out of appreciation for his kind efforts, I did my best not to freak out. But I did wash the sheets.

And now, there's one in our microwave. Or rather, it's somewhere in the microwave vents: who knows how or why it chose to hide there, but apparently the microwave fan doesn't bother it. It chirps every now and then as if to let us know it's still there. (By the way, I think chirp is the wrong word to be attached to the sound a cricket makes. It's far too sociable and cheerful a word; when you have crickets in your house, it strikes you as an irritating, monotonous sound, and threatening too in that it is a mating call and thus reminds you that these creatures want to reproduce and perpetually inflict themselves on you.)





I have now taken four rather melodramatic paragraphs to describe what is an extremely first-world problem. By this I mean problems that only people who live in first-world countries will encounter: countries where people can take it for granted that when they turn on their kitchen taps, the water that comes out won't kill them. Or that when they need toothpaste, they will have twenty-seven different kinds to choose from at Walmart or Target. (Or even that they can know that somewhere close by there is a Walmart or Target.) Another example of a first-world problem that the Pilot and I commonly encounter is our Netflix movie loading slowly because of the less-than-stellar connection our internet provider gives us. These are the kinds of problems that only people who don't have to think about where the next meal is going to come from have time to think about. Only people like us, who take for granted that we have a home with four walls (lots more than that, actually) and a roof and insulation and indoor plumbing and a firm believe that nothing can or at least should venture across our threshold without our approval, have time to worry about crickets.

This is the quandary I'm in: I can remind myself all day that my loathing of crickets in our home is a first-world problem, and I can be grateful that I don't have bigger things, such as malaria-laden mosquitoes or bacteria in the drinking water, to worry about. But I still hate the crickets. I still wish they would go away. They still make me start, freeze, and shudder when I come across one, and then either call the Pilot if he's home, or make a beeline for the bug spray or the nearest flip-flop, if he's not. At one point when the invasion was at its pinnacle, I told my husband rather petulantly that I didn't care if it was selfish to ask God to make the crickets disappear, I was going to anyway. I wish I could say that all the crickets in the state of Texas were instantly consumed into nothingness like little puffs of smoke. They weren't. Our cricket-in-house problem did ease up for about a week, and now, whether because of humidity or a second hatching or something, it's been worsening again. The Pilot went on a killing spree last night around the outside of our apartment, armed with a flashlight and bug spray, and I don't even want to open the front door because I know that there's a dozen mangled cricket carcasses strewn over the battlefield.

Is there any point to all of this?

Well– I have to believe that there is. Not just a silver lining in the cloud, not just a lesson, but a spiritual angle, a thread of grace. It sounds silly, I admit. Why bother looking for grace in cricket carcasses? Or in any obviously first-world problem?

It's because if there's one thing that I've been learning lately in this crazy up-and-down roller-coaster called life, it's that there's always a spiritual angle. Every circumstance is an opportunity to look for grace. If I ignore that opportunity, I am left with a string of happenstance, a jumble of meaningless events, but look for the hand of God even in something seemingly ridiculous like crickets and you can start seeing divine fingerprints all over the place.

So is there grace among the cricket-inspired shudders? How about this– this situation has given my husband repeated opportunities to love me and serve me by rescuing me from the crickets over and over. In fact I told him just how much it makes me feel loved when he dashes to dispose of a cricket without laughing at me or grumbling at my phobia. He is a perfect gentlemen about it. When we were dating we talked about dragon-slaying together; he never guessed he'd become the dauntless cricket-slayer!

Now, I'm ransacking my brain trying to come up with more examples of how the crickets are making me more sanctified or drawing me closer to God, and to be honest, I can't. I don't see that they're making me anything other than jumpy and undignified. But I can't help but be convinced that even something as silly and small (and gross) as crickets in the house can be used by the Creator of everything (including– sigh– crickets) for good.

God is always at work.

Even when I can't see it.

Even in something as weird and skin-prickling as crickets.

P.S. The first part of this post was written last night, to the sound of the cricket in the microwave vent. Later, I heard a rustling sound and looked into the kitchen to see a cricket skittering along the counter. The Pilot had just come in from the killing spree and the blood-wrath was still in his eyes. He vengefully smashed the cricket with my flip flop and I cleansed the counter with soap and water. I am choosing to believe that this was, in fact, the cricket that was in the microwave vent, since we have not heard it since. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fire

My hometown is on fire.

Every time I get on Facebook, my news feed flashes with pictures and updates. My last piano teacher, a beautiful lady who loves music and loves Jesus, has been evacuated from her home. The Flying W ranch is burned to the ground. Over 30,000 people have been evacuated.

The brain is numb. I am thankful that my parents, my older siblings and their families, all live on the east side of Colorado Springs; they are not in any danger. Something inside me wishes to be back there, to see the pluming, spewing smoke over my beloved mountains, to draw close to the kindling Colorado which has been my home for most of my life as if somehow being there could make a difference. I resent the fact that I am safe here in Texas with nothing to fear but an over-abundance of crickets, even while I am grateful for our safety.

I pray for rain. For rain, God! You are bigger than the inferno, and a word from You would open the floods of the skies. Why doesn't it stop?


The Pilot hugged me and whispered, "Let's pray," and we did, and I felt my heart pounding rebelliously, afraid to voice the words that flamed in my mind: Why don't You stop it?


"I don't understand," I said.

"I know," he said. "But God is good. Sometimes we have to trust."

Trusting is easy when life is smooth and placid. It is harder when I feel stretched, pulled taught, spread thin, frantically trying to stop up the holes in the boat that's leaking in the churning rapids. A move in four weeks for which we still have no orders, a dreaded twenty-page paper due for my least-favorite class, and the wildfires are spreading in the city that I love. Not to mention the crickets.


Really, God?


He says back to me, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." (1st Peter 4:12).

But I want to be surprised. I want to view all of this as very strange, as abnormal, as not part of the plan. I want to believe that I am entitled to a smooth, easy, fun, worry-free life. I want to believe that I am owed that.

He won't let me. "But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed."


It's what Ann Voskamp told me in One Thousand Gifts, it's what Beth Moore is telling me in her study of James that the other pilots' wives and I are going through, it's the Creator Himself who's telling me: "But- rejoice."


That isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when I look at the burning pictures.

Rejoice.

Find joy.

Give thanks.

He says will reveal His glory through all this. I don't know how. I want Him to reveal His glory by bringing a thunderous rainstorm to Colorado the like of which no one has ever seen, to quench the fires and save the mountains and the city from further destruction. I want Him to reveal His glory by making the orders magically appear on Nate's desk tomorrow morning. I want Him to reveal His glory by giving me a shot of divine inspiration for this paper so that it isn't difficult to write. I have very specific ideas in my head of how God should reveal His glory.

But then... so did everyone else, who couldn't believe that the Savior could come born into poverty and misery. So did Peter, who couldn't believe that Jesus could possibly be glorified through His crucifixion. All throughout history, God has been revealing His glory through the most unexpected things.

I don't understand.


I found a quote by Elisabeth Elliot which says: "God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to."

Even my vastest conjectures cannot put a boundary around what God is up to. He doesn't ask me to understand– only to trust.

On my bathroom mirror, months ago, I taped an index card on which I'd written a quote from Ann Voskamp: God is always good, and I am always loved.

"God is good," my husband said quietly to me.

His words are the grace that comes in and through the fire.  And God whispers, "Listen."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daddy Thoughts

Thanks to you, I know more about Abbot and Costello and the Marx Brothers than anyone else my age whom I've ever met. 

When my husband starts singing a random line of a song he heard years ago and never forgot, I laugh. I think of you. And I tell him, "You're just like my dad!"

I miss hearing you play the Beatles and Polka Varieties and "Oh How He Loves You And Me" on the piano in the evenings. Last night the Pilot was playing his guitar, and I asked him if he knew "Blackbird" and he didn't, never even heard it before, and not only was I flabbergasted that I knew a song he didn't, I thought way back years and years to you playing Blackbird on your guitar. You made music part of the language that your children still speak.  

After that first breakup I will never forget how you hugged me and prayed for me and for my heart and for my future husband. 

One of the reasons I realized I wanted to marry the Pilot was because he is passionate about what he does, and I grew up with a father who chose to do something he believed in and was passionate about even if it meant sometimes things were tight. 
 
One of my favorite pictures from the wedding is you walking me down the aisle and us grinning at each other.  

I was looking at Father's Day cards and I picked up one that said something about the countless hours and thousands of dollars a child costs and all the father gets is a Father's Day card, and I thought wryly that whoever wrote the card had missed the whole point. Because a father is someone who never looks at his kids and sees time and money spent. He looks at them and sees his kids whom he loves in a way that cannot be measured. In a time when good fathers seem to be an endangered species, I hear the stories and read the articles and the statistics and I thank God that I have you as my daddy.

So here's to many more years of Beatles tunes and musicals and you beating all of us kids at Finish Lines because you never forget a movie title or a song lyric. Here's to hundreds more grins and giggles and jokes. Thank you for the love you have always shown me and for the dad you've always been to me.

Happy Father's Day!


Friday, June 15, 2012

More Wichita Falls Discoveries

I was out with my friend Joy today, and we discussed the move to Phoenix, a thing which patiently sits like a billboard in the distance, waiting for me to get close enough to pay attention to it. Joy's husband and the Pilot are in the same class, both now and in Phoenix, and I am grateful for the feeling of camaraderie this brings. It is simply not real to me that I only have six weeks left here. Knowing it is like knowing facts about a country I've never been to: interesting enough, in its own way, but it has precious little to do with me. I wonder if even when we do move it will feel quite real.

Meantime, Joy introduced me to an antique flea market downtown that I have passed every time I go to the library, and never gone in. We were tea-cup hunting, specifically, for the tea-party that Angela and I are giving next week (a tea-cup white elephant was her idea and a charming one). Tea-cup hunting is much more enjoyable than hunting for the right brand of spinach, or buying your husband more khaki socks. If  I was thirty years older, and lived in a big house with lots of shelf space, I would collect tea-cups, all different kinds, and then I'd invite little girls over to have real tea parties with real teacups instead of the plastic ones that most little girls have to play with, and it wouldn't matter if any of them got broken because I would have so many. As it is, I live in a two bedroom apartment with very limited shelf space, so that even the beautiful tea-set that my friend Blythe gave me has to live on the kitchen counter (but at least I can look at it every day) and I don't know any little girls here. But obviously that doesn't stop me, or Angela, or Joy, from having tea-parties. There are some things girls never grow out of.

At the antique flea-market (The Corner Emporium it is called: Emporium is an important word that ought to be written with a curly font) I also found the priceless piece of literature you can see in the picture. Honestly, who wouldn't pay fifty cents to learn how to have model beauty, poise, and personality? John Robert Powers, the inimitable Wikipedia informs me, founded a prestigious modeling agency in 1923. Apparently he must also have been a quite a genius, since the table of contents promises to teach me "How to Become More Beautiful Every Year" and "How Your Hair Can Create the Illusion of Beauty" (I want to know why it has to be an illusion) and most importantly "How to Work the Miracle of Transforming Yourself." I want to know why I need to transform myself, since I'm pretty happy with how God made me, but if I find anything life-changing I'll let you know.



(I bought the ring-cup because it is labelled. I shall put it in the bathroom. I already have a little porcelain box where I put my rings when I'm in the kitchen, but I had to buy this one because it actually said what it's for, and I adore that in domestic articles. In a world where people rarely say what they mean, it's very comforting when sometimes inanimate objects say what they do.)

After antique-ing, Joy and I went next door to the 8th Street Coffee Shop, which, we learned, has only been open for three months, and which was most definitely not a chain. If there is one thing that Wichita Falls has a deplorable lack of, it's shops and restaurants and places to drink coffee that aren't Walmart and Texas Roadhouse and Starbucks. (Not that I have anything against Starbucks.) We pounced on the 8th Street Coffee Shop as if it were a hundred dollar bill lying in the street. The drinks were much as one might expect (though I saw something about a peanut-butter cup smoothie which will probably have to be further investigated) but the atmosphere was comfortable and intimate with a glorious riot of mismatching chairs and retro booths. I've already decided to go back to do homework, probably twice a week, until we leave–

–which apparently is in 41 days, which is preposterous because didn't I just get here?

Everyone who knows me well knows that my feelings for Wichita Falls are not exactly ones of fond attachment. It was a bit of a wrench to leave the fresh breezes galloping down from the mountains in Colorado last week and come back to 96 degrees and 70 percent humidity of the air slithering greasily up from Mexico. Yet somehow this town has miraculously transformed into home (I defy John Robert Powers to equal that transformation) and I can't quite believe that I'm leaving it soon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Marriage Thoughts III: Going Home

Before the Pilot and I were married, I just assumed that adjusting to a new life in Wichita Falls would be rather difficult. And when I found it easier than I expected, I assumed that going back to visit Colorado Springs would feel strange, like arriving on stage after the play is over and everyone has gone home.

The first three months of being married, I shied nervously away from referring to Colorado Springs as "home". Other girls I'd met would speak of going "home" to visit their families, and I would mentally hold up my little SHUN sign to keep myself from somehow catching the same mentality. Home is wherever the Pilot is, I told myself sternly. With him and nowhere else!

Then not too long ago, someone told me that being in the Air Force means you will have multiple homes. Thinking of where you grew up as "home" is not somehow disloyal to where you are now: it simply admits that our hearts are capable of loving old homes and new ones. I liked that.

This is the third time I've been back to Colorado since getting married, and I find that none of my fears of it being strange have any reality. The slip back into the old home is effortless; I know the rhythms of the current of life here, and being married doesn't change the ability to swim with it. There is only one thing that is changed, and that is cherishing the time more, because I know it's limited.

So now I don't mind it when new friends ask when I'm going home to visit my family, or when old friends say "welcome home"! I am home here, and next week I'll also go home, home to the man who makes it home, wherever we happen to be.



Monday, May 21, 2012

A Justification Of English Majors Who Don't Want To Be English Teachers

A few days ago I was checking out with my bounty of fruits and vegetables at the Market Fresh United Supermarket (the only place here to get really consistently yummy produce) and the cashier girl, after complimenting me on my sundress, asked me pleasantly what I was doing for the summer.

"School," I said, with the half-laugh. I am not used to being Grown Up. At the same time, it is extremely Grown Up not to have a summer vacation.

"What's your major?" she asked.

Rejoicing that at least she didn't think I was in high school doing remedial classes, I replied, "English," and she asked enthusiastically, "What grade do you want to teach?"

I felt my pleasant-making-small-talk-with-strangers politeness floating away like bubbles on a breeze. "I don't want to teach," I mumbled.

"Oh! I thought when you said English, you'd want to teach," she said breezily.

"No," I said, trying not to sound too brusque, and paid for my zucchini, and left.

Later at home I raved to the Pilot, as I am wont to do when I encounter yet another person who believes that apparently the only reason for the existence of English majors is so they can teach English in school, thereby creating a continuum of English majors who become English teachers injecting Englishy information into hapless elementary and high school students that has no reality or use outside the classroom.

What's an English major to do?

If people ever follow up my negative to their first inquiry about teaching with a "well, what do you want to do?" I always say, "I want to write." And then they say, "Like what?" and I say, "I'm really interested in creative nonfiction," at which point I usually get a blank stare and the conversation shifts.

After all, of what practical use is a lyric essay? Or a writing collage? Or a braided memoir?

But then, what practical use is any but the most technical of writing? Who really "needs" a novel? Or a poem? And then it's a rather swift slide into dismissal of the rest of the arts... because really, what's the practical, utilitarian use of a painting? Or sculpture? Or a play? Or music?

I just googled Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and at the very top tier, the "self-actualization" triangle at the top, mashed up with spontenaity, and morality, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, is the little bone thrown to English majors– creativity. I must be extremely self-actualized.

But isn't creativity everywhere? Is it really only limited to a few impressive self-actualized individuals?

My laptop sits on a desk– a gift from my parents-in-law– that is satin soft and cherry-colored, with shiny little handles and handle-plates on the three drawers. The legs have a slight, rounded curve as the bottoms curl up like paws on the ground. Someone had to design it, someone had to build it. It could have been ugly, but whoever made it took the time to make it beautiful.

In the daily pressures and stresses, creativity can be a song that helps to make life beautiful. You can live a perfectly useful life without ever having read– or written– a lyric essay. But I am an English major because I have a deep need– sometimes it even feels like a compulsion– to take an image, or a moment, or a story, and change it into twenty six letters of the alphabet on the page, and sometimes the form those letters take is a lyric essay.

Other people translate life into music or painting: I try to translate it into words. And that is why I am an English major, because by surrounding myself with authors and teachers and other students who are all doing or trying to do the same thing, I hope to learn to do it better. I am an English major because I believe that we are all living stories that intersect each other in mysterious ways, and by learning more about Story I learn more about Life. I am an English major because I am in love with words and the power and the beauty that they possess. I am an English major because I believe that we all speak multiple languages in our hearts and minds and mouths, and I like trying to untwist them. I am an English major because I believe that good writing makes life richer and more meaningful, the way spices make a soup more savory.

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art..." wrote C.S. Lewis, "it has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things which gives value to survival." He threw "art" in there for a good reason, I think; maybe in 1960 people didn't see the use of artists, including writers. For English is an art, the art of words, and what they mean, and how they can mean it, from the briefest nine-word poem to the greatest epic.

But what can you do with an English degree if you don't teach? is the question.

Revel! Revel in the words and the works. Revel in the scribbling. Revel in the questions and doubts and anxieties. Revel in the stacks of books on your nightstand and your coffee table and your floor. Revel in the way the sentences twist and squirm and finally flow out of your fingers. Revel in the thing that helps make your life– my life– beautiful... and maybe someday it will help to make someone else's life beautiful too.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother Words

You taught me how to read.

There are a million gifts that you gave me, being my mother, and yet when I saw a post on Facebook that prompted me to think of all the ways you've blessed me, that was the first that sprang to mind. 

A month ago, in class, one of the students led a Feminist Studies exercise and we were supposed to write down a woman whom we admired, and why we admired her. 

I wrote down you. 

And somehow, in some way, that was linked to you teaching me how to read, because you taught me how to read when it was supposed to be strangers, kindergarten or first-grade teachers, doing that, and instead it was you. The same way that it was you who taught Emily, and Eric, and Maggie, and Jeremy. 

I admire my mother, I wrote, because in a time when women were expected to put their children in day-care and go back to work, my mom chose to stay at home and raise her kids, and homeschool them before homeschooling was popular or even considered normal or valid. 

So the gifts, my mother, that you gave me, that all began with you teaching me how to read:

Words.
Storybooks before bedtime. (M. and J. and I scuffle to be the one who gets to "sit side Mommy!")
Making us read aloud. (Remember the Betsy and Eddie books, and you reading one page out loud and then me reading the other?)
Hours and hours at the library. (I stuffed my backpack so full of books I could scarcely drag it out to the van.)
History books that made history come alive with real people and stories, instead of reducing it to dates and dry facts. (The more people I meet who say they "hate history", the more I realize the time and effort and love it took for you to research and read so many books, so that your children would love history.)
Story-Bible reading every day with school. (Helping us understand... pointing us quietly to the God-love.)
Chapter books before bed as we got older. (Remember "By The Great Horn Spoon"? And "The Bronze Bow"? And all the Bonnie books?)
Books for our birthdays, under the Christmas tree, in our Easter baskets. (I think that if you'd had the budget for it you would have given us books at the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving too.)

And then, in all those words, came my own words... and I came to you, asking for another notebook, and you didn't intrude, you just let me scribble... and scribble... and scribble. Eighteen notebooks full. And then the computer files. (Thank you for forcing me to learn to type, much as I bucked and protested!) The fights with M. and J. because I was taking up too much computer time, writing. Remember the monthly journal entries, you teaching us editing and revising? And Mr. Pudewa and learning outlines (I kicked against those, too, but he was so funny I was won over). And Denise and the creative writing class at the library. Then my own journals, and the novel, and the short stories, and you watched, you never intruded, but you encouraged when I asked you for it, and you helped my love-affair with writing progress.

The love that wouldn't have begun if not for you. 

Everyone always asks me if I want to teach, since I'm an English major (the common belief being, apparently, that English majors only exist to teach English in schools and have no other practical use), and I always say no... no. Because they mean teach English in schools.

But perhaps I should start saying yes. 

Yes, I do. I want to teach my children how to read. Just like my mom taught me.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you for that gift. 

Happy Mother's Day!


Friday, May 4, 2012

In Praise of Children's Books

The Children's Literature class started on Tuesday!

Yesterday, shimmering through 97 degrees, I shouldered my book bag into the library and started ransacking the children's section. Old friends blinked up at me from long-ago bedtime readings, now mysteriously transported to a new library and my adult life.

Mr. Putter And Tabby Bake The CakeAmelia Bedelia. Nate the Great. Under the Lilacs.


And a few more that I had to surrender at the front desk, because I didn't know about a 15-book limit per card. "I use my husband's card," the librarian told me helpfully, and I agreed that certainly, this would be the best option.

The Pilot read to me Nate the Great last night while I cooked dinner.

A first assignment for the class: write an imaginary speech to a PTA audience, convincing them that reading to children is important.

It's rather tempting just to write four quotes.

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. - Albert Einstein.

Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. - G. K. Chesterton

No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty... - C. S. Lewis

... a children's story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children's story. - C.S. Lewis

I won't, of course. I'm obliged to put in some textbook jargon about children's cognitive and social development that is enhanced by reading, all just scientific blather that is much more neatly and meaningfully summed up by Messrs. Einstein, Chesterton, and Lewis.

The love I have for children's books is an old, comfortable, time-worn affection. Picking up a children's story and sprawling comfortably on the couch to read it is as enjoyable as eating a favorite meal; meeting the characters to re-live their stories is like reminiscing about old times with friends.
The banter between my brothers and sisters and me is littered with quotes from the stories that wove into our childhoods. Fruitcake is always going to "break a person's toe" (see Mr. Putter and Tabby.) The stories are a dialect of the language that we speak.

If you didn't grow up reading children's books, then don't lose any more time! Start making friends with  Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy immediately. Or Henry Huggins. Or Beezus and Ramona. Or Bilbo Baggins. Or whomever you really want to get to know!


For me the summer promises lots of hot weather, and lots of old friends. Perhaps you might like to join me?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chocolate Scones

I am wearing a sundress and there are chocolate scones in the oven.

The Pilot will text me in a little while, alphabet flung into the land of satellites to reassemble magically on my phone, and have me come pick him up, since the motorcycle didn't cooperate earlier today.

He is home.

My heart scurried like a rabbit as I watched him come through the gate into the tiny airport waiting room; I spotted him before he spotted me and admired how his hair had grown and how breezily good-looking he was. He didn't feel like my husband, not quite. It was months since the last re-enactment of the welcoming scene between us, and back then I was usually the lead player, the traveler returning (except I never knew whether I was going or returning, when I visited him in pilot training). But I recalled the fleeting sensation of knowing and yet not-knowing. It would happen early on in our relationship, this breathless, dancing little friction between us, anticipatory, like the minute before the first firework explodes, the feel of reacquainting ourselves with being together. I felt it again, except this time he was my husband, not my boyfriend or fiance.

We would sometimes speak, in the long phone conversations, as I lay on my bed and hunted down his voice with the desperation of missing him, how being in the Air Force, being obliged to be separate on regular occasions, might be good for us and our marriage. It is not simply an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" sort of mantra brought to flesh; rather the separation teaches the heart what it is missing and what ought not to be taken for granted, and those first faltering hoping moments of reunion teaches the soul that the beloved's soul is just as real and yet other, an almost unknown landscape with great vistas still to be explored. It is far too easy, in the daily swing of routine, to take each other for granted, and, to borrow a phrase from an article I read in this month's Poets and Writers, to adopt the idea that "everyone else's existence only supplement{s} my own." As I watched the Pilot walk toward me, I'm home grin on his face, my heart trembled in the knowledge that here was mystery embodied, coming to embrace me, the intricate world of another person whom I was taking home with me.

Perhaps one of the foundations of love is curiosity.

I have often read and been told that only until after you are married do you begin to realize how little you know this mystery you have partnered your life with, and in that reunion moment I realized it was true, and I smiled. You face the unknown with fear, or with excitement, joy. Does a cook try a new recipe because she is afraid of it? I baked chocolate scones because I love baking and because I have never had chocolate scones before and I want to know what they are like. A humble, domestic analogy– you may substitute chocolate scones with writing, or a piece of piano music, or anything you like, but how much more should my burning desire to know be extended to the infinitely complex human being who kisses me goodbye in the morning and falls asleep beside me at night? To be a lover is to be the explorer of the wilderness of another human heart. If love doesn't hold a certain measure of curiosity, won't we all end up taking each other for granted?



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shattering

I'm suffering from Acute Husband Deficiency.

One definition of "to miss" is "to notice the absence or loss of."

I can't help thinking that there's more than just noticing. I will notice when the butter is gone. This noticing will certainly cost me a pang– butter is butter– there will be a twinge of dismay, a mild irritation, a drop of sadness. Dear butter. What will I do without you?

But when I notice that my husband is gone, it's not as if I murmur, "Oh dear, look, the Pilot is gone. How vexing."


Noticing simply doesn't cover it. That would be like "noticing" the absence of one's hand. Or leg. "Dear me. Whatever has happened to my leg? It was there last time I noticed it."

Another definition says missing is "failing to encounter" something.

That's a better one, I think. I failed to encounter the Pilot this morning when my phone alarm went off so unreasonably early. The covers failed to encounter him leaving the cozy snuggle, and my arms failed to encounter him tugging me out of bed as he so often obliges me by doing (so that I don't have to tug myself out.) All day long I have drifted about to my various tasks and amusements and we simply haven't gotten in each other's way the way we're used to doing.

So perhaps marriage is a promise to permanently get in each other's way, and that's why when one fails to encounter one's spouse getting in one's way, it's such a disconcerting experience. One doesn't like it. One doesn't wish to be able to do whatever one likes without encountering a tangible reaction from one's spouse.

Yesterday, my most annoying classmate said that he's got lots of things he wants to do before marriage ties him down. By all means, then, I want to say to him, go out and do them. You'll have such a lot of fun without anyone else getting in your way, without anyone really caring what you do, or when you'll be home at night, or what you ate for dinner, or how you feel about your life. 


One way to think of marriage is inviting one person to intrude on our private landscape for the rest of our lives.

It's a terrible choice, really: you can either sacrifice all notions of autonomy to one person and consent not only to becoming part of someone else, but to having them become part of you, or you can spend your life trying to keep the intruders at bay. I honestly don't think there is a middle ground, because even if you never get married, you're either going to give yourself away to the people around you or you're going to try desperately to remain intact.

"Love anything," says C.S. Lewis, "and your heart will certainly be wrung and probably be broken."

The proof is in the shattering. I think I would like to submit that as another definition of "missing". Missing someone means you've allowed yourself to be fragmented, and the shards slice blood if you try to snatch them back.

I found a quote by Norman Cousins: "The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness."

Perhaps the only way not to be lonely is to be shattered. Am I really saved if I have not lost myself?



Monday, April 16, 2012

Who Are You?

I have a fascination with quizzes like this one

Despite the disorder of the thoughts in my head, as ideas tumble like books off shelves and sprawl face-down on the mind's floor, littering till I come and dust them off and put them back, there is an odd allure to the promise of classification, of order, of being neatly labelled and put on the correct shelf.

I love to see myself mapped, charted, plotted on the graph of existence, told this is where you stand, this is where you belong... dare I say the desire goes deeper, to be told- this is who you are.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and I sift through the pictures, trying to choose– trying to choose me. Where am I in the visual matrix of... shoes? Am I the pair of scuffed Converse All-Stars, rubber toes touching in a gesture of casual uncertainty, or the simple foam flip flops flung to the floor? Certainly I'm not the manicured toenails in strappy pink heels. I am trying to identify myself– no, to let someone else identify me– by which pair of shoes best represents me. American self-definition at its finest. I choose the flip-flops.

Facebook just changed again, and I spent twenty minutes exploring the "map" which I can use to show all the places I've been, the things I've done, complete with pictures! Here is Meredith's life, illustrated... come see who I am, in color! 

But who am I?

The Internet tailors itself now to my tastes, my preferences, my interests, gathering information about me at every click so that it can shower me with advertisements for all the things I might like. Amazon's algorithms recommend books I might enjoy. The university here recently sent me a survey to ask me how I think student organizations ought to be run on campus (I didn't have an opinion, but for a chance to win a free iPad? Sure, I'll fill in multiple choice answers!) And then this personality quiz, and the irony: As a Harmonizer, the expert quiz tells me, it's important to learn to trust your intuition and to know that everything will work out for the best... Your confidence and self-belief will continue to grow.

Hear the declaration– trust yourself, believe in yourself, develop yourself, but let us tell you who you are! You are a Harmonizer, and that means x, y, and z. Happy living! 

I live in a country that says "You can do whatever you want, you can be whoever you want" and we create our online profiles and our résumés and our school personalities and all the time our souls are starving to be told who we are, where do we stand, what is our meaning? I study writing as a process of making meanings, and in this age of abundance and materialism we desperately piece together our lives as a process of making identity (a touch of artistic culture there, a dash of spirituality there, sprinkle generously with bewitching style and fashion), yet we still fall back to online quizzes to tell us who we are.

There is a girl in my Renaissance literature class, and when we were discussing Renaissance concepts of love and beauty the other day she said, "When I see a girl with a cute guy, I'm only jealous if she's uglier than me. If she's prettier, then of course she deserves him." A beautifully simple philosophy for life. Being pretty means you deserve things, like cute guys, and not being pretty means you don't deserve them. What about self-esteem? screams pop psychology, but girls like my classmate know better. Have self-confidence, trust yourself to the moon and back, sweetheart, but by the way, make sure you're pretty or you're not worth anything. You want definition? You want identity? You got it!

Here is an experiment: which do you remember more vividly, the time that someone else told you that you were not valuable in some way, or all the times that you've told yourself that you are valuable? Which would you rather experience: telling yourself that you're beautiful (or smart, or valuable, insert whatever positive characteristic you like) or hear someone else telling you that you're beautiful?

We can craft ourselves, shape ourselves, mold ourselves, define ourselves into oblivion, and the soul-ache is still there. How many times do we need to hear "I love you!" from the person who loves us best? Why isn't once just enough? Why do we have "self-help" sections in the bookstore? Why do we need so much help believing in ourselves? 

What if... just perhaps... identity is something that cannot be self-crafted?


The Pilot's words draw close to me, from two nights ago when I clung to his voice in a moment of shattering when doubt closed in. Please tell me who I am, I pleaded, and into the black mess of my lies he spoke truth, You are my wife, you are my partner, you are my best friend, but more importantly, you're a child of God.

More importantly.


God wired us so that He told us who we were, and outside that relationship that said we were loved and valuable and beautiful, we didn't have any worth at all... what if a person isn't supposed to... have glory on his own, but rather get glory from the God who loves him? What if, in the same way the sun feeds plants, God's glory gives us life?... What if... we will be fulfilled when we are finally with God and, in His companionship, we know who we are? (emphasis mine)


                   ~ Donald Miller, Searching For God Knows What


What the Pilot said about me in relationship to him was true, but if that was where it stopped, then my importance is based on how good of a wife, how good of a partner, how good of a friend I am to him, and my identity hinges on that and when I stumble, when I fail miserably to be the wife and friend I long to be, then I am unmaking myself. But my husband didn't stop there, and he affirmed the identity that I cannot unmake, no matter how hard I fall and how deeply I fail: you're a child of God.

When the crises come, my own clutching attempts to self-define are inadequate. I am designed to have someone else tell me who I am, and if that isn't the Someone who created me then I will spend life trying to drown out the voices that say "be pretty or you're not worth anything" by the voices that say "you're pretty" but all the time I'll be wondering if the first voices aren't right, because if the authority to define me comes from other people then why shouldn't one voice be just as right as another?

Life words from other people are important, make no mistake. Affirmation is a gift that makes the soul sing. Yet if human voices are where we begin and end, we will become praise-hoarders, glory-gluttons, never able to be satiated with enough positive identity, desperate to hide our faults and display our virtues so that the people will think well of us. 

When the Pilot spoke to me in the dark of my night, he was not giving me identity me but rather helping me remember the identity I already have. We need our lovers, our friends, our families, not to define us but to remind us. The echo of Eden reverberates through the human soul, when Adam and Eve walked before God and were "naked and unashamed", because they were listening to His voice and no other tell them who they were. 

The lifeboat system of redemption seems so ugly in comparison to the love of God. We can trust our fate to a jury of peers in the lifeboat, we can work to accumulate wealth, buy beauty under a surgeon's knife, panic for our identities under the fickle friendship of culture, and still die in separation from the one voice we really needed to hear.
              ~ Donald Miller

Or we can listen.

Listen again. Let the Voice that spoke the stars into their dance and the oceans into their ebb and flow and the glory of the world into existence drown out all the other voices. Let the Love that created you define you. Let Him tell you who you are.