Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Thousand Reasons: Canto VIII {a new start}

I find myself facing the keyboard with much apprehension… something that is not entirely normal for me.
You see, I have been away from this place for too long. Not the keyboard, just this application of it. I have been less consistent toward writing in general, the past six months, but in this specifically I have come to a standstill: my list of Thank-you’s.
At first it was not with intention. It was simply me: inconsistent and forgetful. But it became something else, as the weeks dragged on. Every time I tried to put myself together for a blog post or to even touch the little notebook I write my first draft in, I stopped. I did not think about it too much. I simply passed it over, letting it slip as I began, piece by piece, to let so many things slide.
This week I’m here, but it’s a little different. God willing, we will get to seven gratitudes at the end. To the point. But, I find I cannot put them down alone—cannot restart this discipline without first being honest. I cannot be grateful until I face the thing fully: what has kept me from here.
At first it was because I was not happy. It is hard to be grateful when you are not happy. I tried and failed to think of things to add to the Canto's list, and after a while I just stopped thinking. Part of me doesn’t want to talk about it, but the rest of me knows God and I have been wrestling over it for too long. He has had to drag me too much on this road of teaching me to be honest.
You see, I lie a great deal; it’s a habit.
I lie to strangers all the time. I smile; I act respectful—composed. All that while inside my head I am an unhappy, fearful, clumsy mess. I think we all do that. We cannot say everything we think.
I also lie to acquaintances: people I don’t know well yet. I am slow to trust people with truth. So I laugh my way through all small talk, engaging in conversation while I struggle to listen fully past the buzzing in my head—all the thoughts that try to snag my attention. There are responses I cannot give to people I do not know, because I am not brave enough. If you ask that question I will smile and nod, because anything else would make the space between us an uncomfortable one. And I love, above far too many things, to be comfortable.
And then there are the lies I tell to the people I love. That circle is one I like to keep small, but God and the persistent presence of good people is always making bigger. But, yes, I lie to them. Because on those days, the dark, heavy days, I prefer to smile. Partially because I am afraid: I don’t want them to see because I really, really care what they think and I don’t want them to think less of me. Because we are all, always, less than what the people who love us think we are. God is demanding better of me in this area, forcing me step by step to tell the truth. I have told some of you different pieces: how it hurts, how I am helpless, how I am afraid. But progress is slow, and I am still so very, very afraid of talking about myself too much—of burdening my beloved friends and family past what they can bear. But all that makes me sound a little noble, doesn’t it?
*Insert a laugh here*
I’m not. Just scared, and lazy. Because I really, really hate uncomfortable conversations. We’ve been there before, you and I, but I don’t want to go there today, because it is so very, very exhausting. See? Here I am: little and lazy. Yes, I know it’s less than what you thought. I’m sorry. But at the same time I am not, because there is being born in me a very stubborn, angry streak that is so very sick of apologizing. But then, perhaps that was always there. I did consider myself a rather angry child.
But see, that is not all the lies I tell. I deceive deeper than that. I lie to myself, every day. Lots of ways. I tell myself I am fine. There is nothing wrong. I tell myself I am the worst off. Everything is messed up. Yes, I know that’s a contradiction. But self-pity is a warm, comfortable place, and I do so love to sink into it. I tell myself this whole mess is someone else’s fault. There’s something inside my head that is so very desperate to find someone else to blame. Perhaps it is the devil, inside my head telling lies. 
"Maybe it's not your fault."
"Maybe it was God, making you this weak, frightened, helpless thing."
"Or maybe there’s something you can’t remember: a repressed memory that explains everything wrong with you."
I want so bad for there the be a reason for everything—a reason that is not my fault. So I lie every day, feeding thoughts that don’t even speak directly, whispering so far back in my mind I cannot trace them. And then I lie again, telling myself I can sort out the truth of the matter if I walk the road of my mind with intention, adventuring into my thoughts until they become familiar and make sense.
If you have not guessed already, I have a gift for analyzing myself to death.
And I have started to feel the repercussions of it. There is a heavy sort of sadness that falls over me, sometimes, when I find myself in a room alone. I’ve tried to name that feeling, given it a lot of titles that are not quite right. But recently I found myself an image that made sense.

“When we believe that with enough effort, enough organization, 
or enough commitment, we can fix things that are broken, we set 
ourselves in God’s place. And when we do, we reap stress, restlessness, 
and anxiety. Instead of submitting to His yoke, we break it and run wild, 
trampling the very ground we are meant to cultivate.” 
-Hannah Anderson*

Now, that might sound a bit too energetic for a heavy feeling, but you have not seen what else it does to me: how I move just to move and push myself through half my days. How I sometimes feel mad, driven past sanity by pure self-loathing, confusion, and the need for everything to make sense. How I can clinch my fists so tightly I engrave pain into my palms with my fingernails because I am suddenly, without good reason, so very, very angry. In these I can see the image of trampling: of a temper tantrum.
And the heavy feeling comes when I grow still, when I look at the trampled earth and ask God why why why why, as if He had done it. As if He were not, constantly, begging me to let Him make it better. As if He were not already making it better. I think He is, but I do not always believe it. And I have always been terribly impatient.
You see, I think the Messiah complex Anderson was talking about may be my affliction. But I have a Self-Messiah Complex. I want so very much for my messes to be just my problem—to be something I can handle myself. I am prideful, in so many, many ways. Reading this book, I felt a clear image form in my mind: myself yoked to a bag of stones. Some of the rocks are heavier than others, and they all have different labels. Independence. Addiction. Sorrow. Perfectionism. Lonliness. Fear. Bitterness. Too-personal-to-talk-about. Etcetera, etcetera.
And I’m throwing myself against this yoke, comically digging trenches with my legs as the burden refuses to budge. I simultaneously do not understand and understand too well what Anderson is trying to tell me, when she talks about how Christ is standing right there, waiting with a new yoke.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…”
And I am split down the middle, half too-tired-to-want-anything-else and half too-stupid-to-admit-I-can’t.

“It’s understandable that we fear the yoke. 
We fear the loss of control. We fear surrender. 
Be we must also understand that without the 
protection of the good master, we are not safe. 
From the manipulation of other masters. From 
expectations of society. From ourselves.”**

And here I stand in the ruts of my making, looking up at my God with fear. But I have been here before. I know already, personally, what the hymnist meant.
“Was Grace that taught my heart to fear, and Grace my fears relieved.”
I know it—the terror of a righteous, beautiful God. And I have also tasted it intimately: the relief when you let Him have His way. I’m not sure why I keep coming back here, keep trying to take over. It is probably just human nature, or just who I am. But I know what happens here, when I hand my yoke to Him and take the one He offers.
“How precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed.”
And when I touch this yoke I feel that: feel again what I felt when I was six years old, Forgiven and Accepted for the first time. At that time I felt something intangible fall off me, felt like my heart had been given wings. God willing, those wings have grown over the years, sprouted out my pack and become the Spirit that shields me. I know I have battered them, along the way. I think those wings may be broken now, battered in gashes and fractured bones. I did that myself. Because I am a creature of habit, and I always crawl back to the way I was: creep away from God.
But I find I am less and less afraid of getting too far away, as the years go by and God pulls me right back to His chest with an embrace, time and time again. That is why I can sing and mean it, when I sing these words:
“Here’s my heart, Lord. Take it. Seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.”
I am not sure what to call the yoke God gives in exchange for the mine. Perhaps it is ignorance, not having to know all the answers. Or maybe it is simply Grace, enough for a lifetime. I only know I want to hold on to it this time, and hope that I learn how to do that by the Spirit, not my weak self. And I pray that the bandages God has put on my wings do their work—that the wounds will heal in time, even if relapses tend to make me tear the wrappings off.
And I also pray He makes me grateful, even if I am not consistently happy.
So here they are: seven things I’m grateful for this week.

{57} For imagery, God’s way of placing pictures in the mind that make sense.

{58} For those writers You have already set to paper, Elyon***, and how those faithful saints have found ways to say the things we all struggle with. Thank You, for giving them the words.

{59} For birds. I hear one singing now, and it is painfully beautiful. Nostalgic. Heavenly.

{60} For flowers, and that those outside my door are finally blooming. God willing, I’ll become responsible enough to water them. I feel that must be a metaphor, for something.

{61} For a new roommate. That I am able to live side by side another human soul again.

{62} For health, no matter how hard it can be to find.

{63} For food, the wonders of Your creation that makes even simple survival act enjoyable, and tasty.

*Hannah Anderson is the author of Humble Roots, a book I've been reading with a reading group at my church recently, and I highly recommend it. It is all about how much of our day to day stress stems from pride, and it is an enjoyable and challenging read.
**Another quote from Hannah Anderson in the same book.
***I think I've already mentioned this, but just to clarify: Elyon is my personal name for God. I was introduced to it through a book series I love and later realized it is actually one of the Hebrew names for God, and over the years I have found myself calling Him that when I trying hardest to face Him honestly. It is something like my own version of "Abba."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Thousand Reasons: Canto VII {Holiday Special}

Mornings are a great time to examine yourself. Today I find myself a procrastinator, from a mixture of not trying and not feeling. So I've buckled myself in and am putting up another Canto, after far too long an absence. This one is longer, a pile created over the holidays and too long letting myself lag.

{43} For the willingness of Heaven. I had a fairly obvious revelation, while singing a Christmas Hymn. It occurred to me what the angels must have known, to declare "Peace on earth, good will to men." The Incarnation itself doesn't merit "peace on earth." The angels must have known what came next: the sacrifice. The Beloved of Heaven had to die.
      They knew, and yet they sung praise.
      I can't help but wonder if any of them were crying.

{44} Thank You for hot mugs of teathe warmer of the hands, throat, and insides: gentle warrior against the winter chill.

{45} Thank You, Elyon, for embraces: the easiest language to speak and hear amidst darkness and thorns.
       "I'm here. You're not alone in this. And that, at least, is something."

{46} For strategy gamesa place to sit back and chance your minds against each other in the safe, merry realm of good sport.

{47} Thank God for His goodnessto be always the Deity sitting by our side. Not because He is small, but because He is good. The only God and terrifying in His Holy right, but right beside us all the same, with that smile none dare look upon.
       "Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he's not safe, but he is good."*

{48} For Christmas lights, which twinkle in the tree branches like little advent fairies.

{49} Thank God for the ability of vicarious experience through readingthe gift of human imagination that can soak in a story and feel with its characters. There is nothing quite like the racing pulse, warm fuzzies, or ache of another's feelings. Real or fiction. Whether is is Mary mother of Christ or Orual**, they seep into our consciousness and never completely leave, even when the book is closed. And we are never quite the same.

{50} For Advent: the season to remind how waiting makes things all the sweeter.

{51} For giftsthe chance to give and receive them.

{52} Praise Him for the cozy fireside feel: an atmosphere that lulls anxieties to sleep with crackling flames. And how that calm is further soothed by stories, that ancient fireside tradition carried on through words on a page or read aloud.

{53} Thank God for Christmas stories. That particular genre plays so well in the air being read aloud, and has a tendency to contradict the condemnation of man which is our healthy medicine for pride the rest of the year. We might overdose on it, if not for such tales of reprieve.

{54} Thank You, Elyon, for childrenlittle bundles of opportunity. They are our chance to see again the world through eyes not yet grim or bitterly disillusioned. Through their excitement we can see the reminder of our own childhood ecstasies, back when presents under the tree were a sort of magic, regardless of whether parents or a fat old saint conjured them.

{55} Thank Heaven for New Yearsdays to start over and begin again.

{56} For promises to self: chances to dream with conviction.

*C.S. Lewis, speaking through Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

**Another C.S. Lewis reference :) Opual is the main character in his book Till We Have Faces, and since my first time through that particular book I have continued to find her one of the most relatable characters in all of literature.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Thousand Reasons: Canto VI

Last week/end I had the rare pleasure of vacationing with my family. We rented a house in Door County Wisconsin and soaked in the glorious colors of autumn. So, naturally, most the things I found to be grateful for are in the singular category that comes from the outdoors and time with my quirky, wonderful family.

{36} Thank God for retreat: the chance to pull away from the day to day anxieties and say, at least for a while, "Later. Today, God willing, shall be a day of rest."

{37} Thank you for uncontrollable amusementthe times it is all so funny we simply cannot stop laughing. That unstoppable, bubbling force reminds me of so many dear things, not least of them the days of jumping on mattresses and not wanting to go to bed, when Father's warm arms embraced children squealing with laughter. There was always a particular gleam in his eye, when he gave his own rather childish grin.
       "Uh-oh. Someone's giggle box got opened."

{38} For the curvy, criss-crossed natured of our liveshow we are doomed to not always walk alongside family and friends as we may like, but that the intersections of our life paths are so much the dearer for that: a precious chance to reminisce, re-acquaint, and swap stories of our own individual adventures.

{39} Thank You, Elyon, for a family saturated in Your Love, a church made up of kin, sharpening each other with familial love in its highest form: strengthened by Agape.

{40} For the feeling of riding on waterno matter the vesseland how climbing into a boat and taking up an oar always feels like the start of an adventure.

{41} Thank You, God, that, in the words of Madeleine L'Engle:
             "The great artists keep us from frozenness, from smugness, from thinking that the           truth is in us, rather than in God, in Christ our Lord. They help us to know that we are         often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties, that it is all right to be like the         small child, who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why?"*

{42} Praise God for things to look forward totimes when we can feel like children again, asking ourselves even though we already know the answer: "Is it time yet?"

*This quote is another from the delightful Madeleine L'Engle book I've been slowly savoring my way through: Walking on Water .

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Thousand Reasons: Canto V

{29} For hot showers on cold daysabsolutely delightful.

{30} Thank You, God, for tastes: those preferences which can cause such immediate connections. I love the lively energy of that realizing moment: "Ah, you like _____ too?" What a God, to create a world of so many little things to bind man together.

{31} For critiquethe nerve-racking but necessary sharpening of talentthe chance to grow.

{32} Thank You for re-acquainting: those precious chances to meet again with old friends, after the separation of time and years, and see, "Here are the bits of you that are just the same as I have always loved, and here is the rest which is just a bit different. But don't worry; I shall love those too, once I know them, because I love you, and we are all always changing. If you don't see my differences yet, give it a few hours, or minutes. They'll show."

{33} For cold floors, which contrast so wondrously to warm blankets and hot drinks, making them infinitely more pleasant.

{34} Thank God for the pre-sunrise. I laid under the stars this morning and experienced, perhaps for the first timeor maybe simply the first time with eyes truly grateful to seethe change from stars to dawn. That black-blue sky started to fade at the eastern edge, turning a dark, murky violet. My heart constricted in rapture at that which I can only describe as magical, watching the sky's eastern corner fade from violet to lavender, illuminating the fringes of wispy clouds in maroon, pinkish colors that put the ugly, false pinks to shame. And I could not stop watching until the stars had winked out, one by one, swallowed up by the sky's edges as they changed from lavender to the lightest of grey-blues, and from that to an only slightly tinted white.
Thank you, Elyon.

{35} For inspiration. That little muse reaches straight through the slum of day to day, mortal life and stirs the immortal soul, calling with a smile. 
"I know you are there. Now, wake up."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Thousand Reasons: Canto IV

{22} For smiles, in all their various looks and purposes.

{23} Thank God for milestonesNot only those little laughable ones, where we grin at our mid-week existence and whisper "hump DAY"* to lighten the air of day to day. But also the dearer, one-time markers: the graduation we were not sure we would reach with our sanity intact, moments of realizing how many years you two have been blessed to be friends, and the bittersweet anniversaries of escaped addiction"Ah, how the withdrawals of the soul hurt, but it is a sign, a dear, sweet sign that I am getting better." Thank you for this milemarker, Elyon. Please give me the grace to make it to the next one. 

{24} Thank You, Lord, for the chance to measure the world in smaller steps. There is nothing quite like holding the hands of a toddling child, thinking how far you've gone before you look behind and see the littleness of the distance. But the distance is not little; we have just grown too big, measuring miles by cars instead of our feet. Oh for the days when dogs were horses to our eyes, horses elephants, and elephants too huge to be anything but monsters.

{25} For community: the circle of friends to surround ourselves with in a reminder that these lives of ours are not a solitary existence.

{26} For lyricsthe creativity with which you have blessed men and angels. How the well-written word takes root in the human soul when carried by melody, lodging in place where it may give man's heart wings on the day he needs them most.

{27} Thank you, Elyon, for Your wondrous persistence in the pursuit of Your peoplehow You do not let us fall without a fight, even when we would fall to the influence of our own wicked selves.

{28} Praise God for purpose: the quickening of the blood that says, "Here and now, at least, I am doing exactly what I am supposed to."

*In case anyone doesn't know it or just needs a daily dose: 
   Sorry, even after years, I still find this hilarious.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Thousand Reasons: Canto III

{15} Thank God for warm atmospherescozy nooks to curl up with a drink and some idle purpose of your choosing.

{16} For relaxationthe ability to simply lay back, loosen the muscles, and do no more than be still and comfortable, even if only for a while.

{17} For life-mates: those whom we share our day to day with, surrounded by the warm, unpressured atmosphere of familiarity. 

{18} Thank You for moonlight, and the manner in which it illuminates everything in a cold, enchanting glow. Its reflection on the dark water seems almost magical: a call for mermaids and sirens to rise of the depthsor sea monsters, perhaps. Funny how all beauty seems to bear the possibility of the frightening, no doubt a reflection of its Creator.

{19} For the words of the ancients, preserved on pages through time. Thanks for all, of courseAristotle, Caedmon, etcetera, etceterabut especially for those people of God preserved in His Word. It is strangely beautiful, how I may read the words of David and think, "ah, good... he felt it too. This distress is not new. It is ancient, even." And there is something soothing in having the unknown ancients made known as brothers in arms.

{20} Thank You for lineage, the passing for mother to daughter, father to son. It is so simple, and yet so thrilling: standing with your mother in the kitchen, asking questions and soaking in knowledge. I felt a warmth spread to the very tips of my toes, thinking of how some of her vast wisdom was gained from her mother, and her mother before that, all the way back to the first woman who learned to preserve the food her family needed in a jar. It's these times which make me feel what a shame it is that the just struggle for women's rights has given so many a bad taste for the kitchen. For it is here and so many other "sexist" settings that we have our dearest, oldest right of womanhood: to learn from our mothers.

{21} I thank God for stories about nothing.* After so much time straining to understand the intricacies driving the action in this movie or that novel, it is refreshing, from time to time, to stumble upon a story about nothing in particular. Before realizing I find myself asking, "Where is the plot?", almost frustrated. But then it comes to me"Ah, there is no plot. It isn't really about anything, just life. And, you know, I don't really mind in the slightest."

*If anyone is curious, the book I'm currently reading in this category is The Little White Bird by J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. If you want to laugh and read about nothing in particular in the life of a quirky, humorous author, I would highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Thousand Reasons: Canto II

Life taught me again how hectic it can be. So here are the seven "gratitudes" I've managed the last two weeks, and God forgive me for not making the time to be more grateful.

Canto II

{8} I thank God, almost regularly, for discussion. The mental sharpening of iron on iron is exercise for the brain that has no equal. To be forced to put your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs into words is the best way to know what you think and believe. And the discussions I thank God for are those where the other minds at work share an understanding, not of "Let me convince you to think my way," but, "Let us stumble together with words and concepts until we both know better what you and I think."

{9} Thanks be to God that "I have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult."* 

{10} For the ability to forget--that these moments of of corruption need not stay vivid forever. Praise be to God that the devil's "Ah, but look what you did yesterday" simply doesn't hurt the same when it is "Ah, but look what you did __ days ago." We forget a bit how the guilt tasted.  And there is a bit of danger in that, of course. If we forget past guilt we can become proud and stumble again. But man can corrupt all gifts, and there's wonder in this one too--in how God himself hears our regret and says, "What mistake? You confessed before, and I've forgotten it already, silly. Certainly, I know all, but there are things we need not remember forever, you and I."

{11}I thank God we live in a world of broad horizons. Oh the joy of those days we glimpse them, when God throws back the scales from our eyes and says, "Look and all these possibilities and choices before you. What are you quivering for, child? They aren't meant to frighten or burden you! Stop fretting over 'just right' and step forward. You aren't a machine, needing just the right design. You are an explorer, and there's a whole new world to be discovered here."

{12} For bedhead--a chance to be roused from morning stupor with a chance to laugh at yourself, which is always a better start than taking yourself too seriously.

{13} Elyon,** You have my thanks for the eyes of childhood: that perception which makes everything seem larger and more full of wonder. There are few things so warming to the heart as a child looking upon something you've done for them--some slapdash project you were hardly even trying for--and then looking back at you with those bright, wonder-filled eyes and saying in a tone hushed by awe, "Can you teach me how to do that?"

{14} For campfires--the earthy, wholesome scent of wood smoke and the dancing light of an open flame. I love how the flickering movements are a performance in an of themselves in the dark, darting about in a primal, wild show that men have watched under the stars for centuries. Oh the beauty of the sparks' flight, cascading upward as if you join the galaxies and make stars of their own.

* This is a quote which I believed, until just now, was said by Winnie the Pooh or some other Milne character. But in my research to find out which stuffed character actually said it, I discovered it isn't a Milne quote at all, and isn't even originally said that way. However, I love that word choice, and it isn't one i constructed, so I left it on quotations marks :)

**"Elyon" is one of the Hebrew names for God. It translates to something like "the most high God." Probably due to my love for foreign and magical sounding words, I developed a love for it some years ago and use it fairly often. It's come to feel like my own personal name for him, something like a nickname but not near as flippant as that. I'm not really sure how to explain what it means to me, except to say that I call God by that name in my happiest and darkest moments, when I am feeling most sincere.