Monthly Archives: March 2010

Puzzle Logic

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“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order– and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.” –Douglas Hostadter

Today was a gorgeous day in America’s Finest City.  Actually, the past week has been amazing.  The sun has been out in all its glory and has drawn the flowers from their hiding places.  Greens stretch across hills and parks, broken only by bright patches of yellow, pink and clean white.  So, with all of this surrounding me, I laid down on my floor and started a jigsaw puzzle. 

I definitely could, and probably should, have spent some quality time outside today.  After running errands and changing plans, I stretched like a cat in the sun that spilled across my living room and opened up a puzzle that I bought months ago.  I haven’t put one together since I was a child, but I wanted something to show for my afternoon of laziness.  Sifting through the pieces, pulling out the misshapen fractions, I felt a sense of calm begin to melt over me.

The past few days have been filled with anxiety and frustration.  I have felt something akin to depression set in, weighing me down.  Simple errands that, a week ago, were filled with a peace and mild contentment take more effort and cause more frustration than one might believe.  It was as if a dark cloud slowly moved in and settled inside me, blocking out light and clarity.  I’m still in whatever funk has found me, but the sadness stayed at bay for a while today.  Something peaceful and light cleaned out my mind as I began to link pieces together.

My delight in this puzzle is completely unexpected.  I sped through the border and began to sort out the trickier inner pieces.  The chaos, disorder and mess of the pieces did not phase me.  I like order, neatness, logic.  I want my markers in the order of the light spectrum.  I organize greeting cards by occasion, January through December.  Jumbled things typically cause my muscles to tighten and mind to panic.  I cannot shop at Ross.  But today, the disorder was not only acceptable, it was welcoming.  It begged to be organized, to be completed.  I had a difficult time getting very far.  As a perfectionist, I veer away from things I cannot excel at.  This did not happen either.  I simply left it to continue later.  No fear or frustration, simply a sense of starting something that would take time to finish.

There is a power in putting together a puzzle, and a poetry.  While I did not design the picture, nor cut the pieces, I am creating.  I am taking brokenness and making a whole.  From the chaos, order emerges.  But it’s more than order.  It’s completion.  The puzzle can only go together one way.  It can only fit just so.  There is a secret to unlock.  Puzzles are great because you can’t have an advantage.  Sure, some people see the whole easier, but all in all, it’s an equalizer.  When I am finished, I will take the puzzle apart and put it back in its box.  If I began it again the next day, I would not be at an advantage.  I won’t remember which pieces go together, they won’t tumble out of the box in the same order.  It’s a clean slate. 

It’s refreshing to dwell in the disorder.  I don’t do this in my life.  Ever.  However, here, it is okay.  I sat and sifted through pieces, not puting any two together, and did not worry.  I took time to see the pieces.  They look similar at a distance.  Sure, some have indentations, other protrusions.  On a closer examination, they are nuanced.  The pieces really are all different, in picture and shape. 

The metaphor is clear and nevertheless powerful.  Without any one piece, exactly the way it is, the complete is impossible.  No piece can take the place of another.  It takes time to find the spot it was made for, patience and vision, but once you see where it goes, it slips in effortlessly.  You don’t force a piece into place.  You can search and work, but mostly it hits you, in a moment of clarity, exactly where it belongs.  Slowly, as pieces find their home, the chaos melts into a whole, into order.  It becomes clear that the chaos was not real to begin with.  The order was always there.  It simply takes time to see the bigger picture.

“There are no extra pieces in the universe.  Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”  –Deepak Chopra

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“You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life…”

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As I mentioned before, I am not a “music person.”  I am enjoying music more and more as I get older, and I am finding more value in it, but I’m still not that person.  A friend asked me this week to make a list of ten or fifteen songs that have made me who I am, that I couldn’t live without.  There are few songs that I would go crazy if I were deprived of, but there are more than I realized that have shaped and changed me.  At the very least, they make up a soundtrack, marking important times and moments in my life.  Interestingly, as I started thinking about them, a number are linked to movies that I love.  Picking movies that change me or that I couldn’t give up is much harder because I have a much stronger connection to some of them.  Go figure that their songs are on my list.

So here is some of my list.  This is not concrete and will undoubtedly change over time, if not immediately.  These are my songs:

*”Slip Sliding Away,” Paul Simon: My father sang this song to me as a child when he put me to bed.  There were others that he sang, others that I listened to on my cassette player, but this is my bedtime song.  I know it in no other context.  It will always be my dad’s song.  The lyrics are so sorrowful, so beautiful.  I wonder, looking back, if it was just a song that he loved, or one that epitomized those nights.  Was it just another song, or a reminder to savor the warm nights before homework, television, sleepovers and moving out?

*”Faith,” Limp Bizkit: I vividly remember this cover from my junior high days.  It was a time when my parents forbid MTV and VH1, when I snuck home with my best friend and watched TRL in my room.  It was harsh and slightly vulgar, it was nothing that I had ever listened to before and the first time I really understood music as rebellion. 

*”Fix You,” Coldplay: I gave a presentation in college about Jesus healing out biggest, most paralyzing wounds.  It was about complete healing and the invitation to be made whole.  It was a talk that was a profound learning experience for me and a revelation about God’s relationship with His children.  It touched a lot of people and really was an important message.  The talk concluded with this song, begging the question of allowing ourselves to be fixed.  It was so unexpected and so powerful that, no matter how many times I hear it or in what context, I’m brought back to that night and invitation to know wholeness. 

*”We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel: The song, in and of itself, is fascinating and full of energy.  Why this song really stays with me, and gives me chills, has more to do with seeing it live.  The first musical I saw was Movin’ Out, which sparked a love for broadway and musical theater.  This song comes near the midpoint of the play, but the theatrics of it were amazing.  The lights flashing and the representation of war on stage was like nothing I had seen.  It was a visceral example of the power of music, the story it tells. 

*”24,” Switchfoot: Without question, this is my favorite band.  There are so many of their songs that have touched me, challenged me, opened my eyes, and brought me joy.  I choose this one for its simplicity and beauty.  While it is not their most famous, it is one of the most personal. 

*”Part of Your World,” The Little Mermaid: I am not sure how many times I have watched this film.  I cannot even estimate how many times my parents watched me stand on our hearth and sing this at the top of my lungs.  I sometimes operate under the dillusion that I can sing.  I took voice lessons in junior high school that ended with me refusing to learn piano scales and quitting.  This song stands out as one that, as early as I can remember, instilled a love of singing.  Now it’s only in my car or shower, but singing brings out something joyful, something alive in me that I love. 

“The News,” Jack Johnson: Here is another beloved artist whose songs could fill this entire list.  I love his work and could choose any one, but this song sticks with me for a few reasons.  Aside from his lullaby voice and beautiful guitar, this song is haunting.  The images of death being ignored, of flippant disregard for the tragedy of everyday life are chilling.  I have heard the protest songs of the sixties, the music of social change.  I do not intend to take anything away from those, but they are too far removed from my time to really hit me hard.  This one, a song for my media-saturated generation, makes such a plea for empathy and humanity.

“The Luckiest,” Ben Folds: I first heard this song my freshman year in college.  My RA played it for me and I fell in love.  It is such a sweet, pure love song.  The music is beautiful and the images are unique.  While I am a sucker for love songs of almost any kind, this was refreshing.  It strayed from clichés and reached to find the words to describe a unique bond.  As a writer, I admire it.

*”Time of Your Life,” Green Day: As over-played as this song is come graduation, I will never tire of it.  Aside from being background music for the Seinfeld finale, which was and is my favorite show, it marked one of my hardest goodbyes.  The night before I left home for college, one my best friends came over to say goodbye.  We stood on my front porch talking for a minute and just as he was ready to leave, a car pulled up across the street and opened its door.  Blaring from the speaker was this song.  It was right out of a movie and made everything a little harder and a little easier.  It was meant to be, but it was meant to be special.

Because this is getting to be quite a long process, here are a few current favorites, simply for listening pleasure: “Konstantine,” Something Corporate, “Ungodly Hour,” The Fray, “Hey Soul Sister,” Train, and “Beautiful Mess,” Jason Mraz.  Even as I think about these songs, they seem incomplete.  There are so many others that I love, that bring up important memories.  I realize that a number of them are, as I said, songs tied to movies or other things, not songs standing on their own.  I don’t really think that lessens their importance.  I also realize that this list is very heavy on male artists.  This is a relatively recent development, and it does not mean that there aren’t songs by women that are important to me or that are enjoyable.  It just means that right now, in this moment, these are my list.  When I wake up tomorrow, I’m sure it will have changed.  It’s an interesting challenge, though, to make your own list.  It may prove that we’re all more “music people” than we may think. 

“All deep things are song.  It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls!”  –Thomas Carlyle

“I am only one, but still I am one”

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“I don’t say he’s a great man.  Willie Loman never made a lot of money.  His name was never in the paper.  He’s not the finest character that ever lived.  But he’s a human being… so attention must be paid.  He’s not allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”  –Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

I love the new CBS television show “Undercover Boss.”  I have only watched a handful of the episodes that have aired, but there is something so moving about the show.  Leaders of vast businesses disguise themselves, which is somewhat unnecessary, and perform everyday duties at different levels in their company.  The show presumes that, while learning how to improve productivity and profits, they see what life is like for those they employ.  Almost every show follows this format: boss “slums” it by not shaving and changing their name.  They presume that they know how to do the work and laugh at bit when they are not as adept as they thought.  Then they get sore.  They see just how demanding the work their employees perform is and they see how little praise and recognition they get.  They hear the stories of those who work hard to eek out a life, then they reveal themselves as changed people.  Each boss does something huge and personal for the people they met and grew to love and something small to change the company based on their experience.

Despite my love for the show, I recommend it to everyone with one caveat: I don’t think it’s fair that they only help the handful of people they met.  It’s nice and touching, but for the rest of the nameless cogs in the company, it does nothing.  That is, until I watched the show tonight. 

Here I digress: this week I sent in my first census.  I have been counted under my parents’ household twice before, but this was the first time I sent one of my own in.  The commercials on television tout the importance of being counted and the implications that the census has on our lives, but it really was a remarkable experience.  I was somewhat disappointed by how simple and superficial the questions were: name, age, sex, race.  There was nothing to it.  Still, for some reason, I felt something exciting, something big when I filled it out and mailed it in.  I count.  I am on record.  I am important enough to take note of.  And I wasn’t a number.  Since high school I have been a number.  Well, I guess, since the day I was born, Social Security has seen me as a number.  I was a four-digit high school number, seven-digit college number and now a seven-digit work number.  All of this and yet, to the US Government, I am me.  There is something so personal about the clinical, standardized form. 

That digression leads to me being a little more forgiving of “Undercover Boss.”  Yes, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of employees who get nothing out of the show.  Tonight, the boss gave one man $10,000 to help pay for his wedding.  The part of me that is wired to want things to be fair dies a little bit.  Then there is the part of me that just mailed in her census.  That man, his story, his life touched his boss.  He became a part of his CEO’s story.  And he, in turn, became a part of his employee’s story.  It is intensely personal.  I fell into the same trap that I’m caught in everyday: a business isn’t a massive group, it’s individuals.  Yes, there are many, many others who will never benefit from this new perspective the CEO gained.  Then there are some, people with names and stories and families, that are effected for that precise reason: they are people with lives and hearts. 

This is the essence of why the show works.  People matter.  The work they do matters.  When the CEO of 7-11 went and made coffee, he saw how huge the job is.  He understood that sitting in the corporate boardroom does not keep the company running any more than the hourly associates who change coffee filters.  Working for a large retail company, I may be more moved by the show than others because I am on the nameless end of the deal.  I have managers that are in my store weekly who do not know my name.  I do not know who my CEO is any more than they know me.  To walk into our store, they wouldn’t need a disguise.  They may as well operate a million miles away from us.  There is such a huge disconnect, such an ugly separation from them and us

I’m sure that Karl Marx would have plenty to say about my alienation and discontent.  One a more personal level, beyond production and goods, so much of what we crave is to be known, to be noticed.  We want to be more than a number, to be a person.  A person is more than a name, it’s a whole being– all our joys and fears, our needs and gifts.  We want to count.  Jesus assured His followers of the importance they held, that their lives mattered to God.  They would be risking their lives, but there would be providence.  He reminded them that, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).  We want to know that someone notices us, the big and the small things.  Sure, I want my boss to know my name.  I also want my friends to know that my eyes are hazel, not brown.  We want to matter enough for someone to pay attention.  The idea that something as insignificant and ever-changing as the number of our hairs is noticed is humbling and comforting in a world where I rarely feel noticed.  One of the most quoted, most beautiful Psalms has the writer proclaiming “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalms 139:13).  Our Creator knows us that intimately, that closely.  He has known us forever.  While this is incredibly moving and beautiful, we still want others to see us too.  I still want people to see me.  It’s nice to think that in a country that stretches out over more than 3 million square miles, I mean something.  In fact, I mean just as much as any star in Hollywood or politician on Capitol Hill.  I am important enough to count.   

“You’re waiting tables and parking cars/ You’ve been selling cell phones at the shopping mall/ And you began to believe that all you are is material/ It’s nonsensical…” –Switchfoot, “4:12”

Not-So-Small Talk

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“And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are–are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan.  “But there I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name.  This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”  —C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately, but this short article I read tonight confirmed my instincts: shallow is unsatisfying. 

I have struggled since graduating college with making friends that I truly and deeply connect with.  The people I met in school were not superior or smarter or deeper because they were college kids.  They did tend to be people working at understanding and  living out their lives with God at the center.  They were struggling with doubts and insecurities and disappointments, but they had a certain lense that they saw the world through: Christ.  Even those who did not believe the same things I do seemed to be open to looking, to seeking to know what it is that gives this life meaning.  This is not to say that the people I’ve met since don’t have this same drive, because I think, deep down, we all do.  It simply doesn’t come up.

I love movies.  I love television.  I like to shop and am trying to learn how to cook.  I read the news on occasion and have minimal knowledge of video games, sports and geography.  This can make for conversations that stretch far beyond the weather, which is always gorgeous, but at some point they stop satisfying.  At some point, something about the talks I had with people about God and our purpose in life, justice and passion, doubt and excitement as we began to understand more, they seemed to leave me full.  I was grounded and stretched in my own ideas and thought, challenged to put what I learned and discovered into practice.  I spent four years thinking about who my Creator and Redeemer is, who I am, what we have to do with each other, and my place among the rest of the world.  Big stuff, at times, but the stuff that fuels me.

The people I enjoy spending time with the most are those who venture into these heavier realms.  I know that I won’t always agree with what others think, and that religion is a personal, sensitive subject.  But it’s not even all about doctrine and ritual.  It’s the core questions that stir deep in all of us: who am I, really?  What am I doing with my life?  What is the point of all of this?  Those are huge questions with a million smaller questions hiding inside them.  I don’t mean to say that every conversation needs to result in a complete examination of one’s soul, but at times, it’s nice to leave the world of gossip and pleasantries behind.

I miss the talks that I used to have.  Very few people today talk with me about my passions, my gifts.  No one really asks what I have and want to offer the world.  No one asks my thoughts on social justice or forgiveness or joy.  I miss those times of really being asked questions, of dialogue that made me see myself and the other person in bigger ways.  As I think about this longing for deep conversation, I realize that the talks aren’t  necessarily even what I miss.

I miss God.  I miss having people share in my journey to know Him.  I miss being asked how I feel about Him and reminded how He feels about me.  I know that I can and should go to church to fill this void.  It somehow does not feel the same, though, without those close friends who knew me well enough to really dig into my life.  I just know that I love my friends from high school and my childhood.  No one will know me in quite the same way as those people who watched me learn ride a bike and drive, read and wear makeup.  I love the friends I have made recently.  They remind me what it is to have fun and enjoy living in the moment.  However, I haven’t loved people, loved God, loved myself, the way that I did in college.  I haven’t known what it is to be truly happy, loving, passionate, peaceful and generous like I did then.  I miss those days of seeking God’s intentions and desires for me and my life.  I recently have felt, as strong as the sun on my shoulders, the call of God to know Him again.  It may be sparked by the books I have read or the music I have played, but I feel a slow fire starting to kindle the passion I had for scripture, for prayer and for God’s heart for this world.  My heart has ached for the discipline of learning about Him, loving Him and others.  I want to be the person I was when I cared more about ministry than school or social status.  It’s scary when I think of how far I have pulled from that life, how little I think about the one who constantly seeks me.  It’s also a relief to know that at my core, in the deepest, most authentic part of me, I am still seeking Him.

 

“But everything inside you knows/ There’s more than what you’ve heard/ There’s so much more than empty conversations/ Filled with empty words/ And you’re on fire/ When He’s near you/ You’re on fire/ When He speaks/ You’re on fire/ Burning at these mysteries…”  –Switchfoot, “On Fire”

“Just Friends”

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“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part gets in the way.”

“That’s not true.  I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.” 

“You only think you do.”

“You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?”

“No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.  He always wants to have sex with her.”

“So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?” 

“No, you pretty much want to nail ’em too.”  —When Harry Met Sally

The past few days this idea has been everywhere.  I turned on the Today Show this morning and heard all the reasons why men and women cannot really be friends.  It was an interesting discussion because it assumed that at least one of the two involved was in a relationship already.  The “experts” talked a lot about trust and crossing boundaries and sharing things with a “friend” that you would not share with your significant other.  Perhaps because of the audience demographic, the segment ignored the dynamic of two single friends of the opposite sex.  Then tonight, in a very different realm of television, Family Guy talked about Brian’s attraction to Lois, and his unrequited feelings led him into therapy.  And incontinence. 

It’s such a fascinating relationship and everyone has an opinion on the topic.  I think that most opinions depend heavily on whether or not a person has fallen hard for a friend or not.  However, the fact that a guy or girl hasn’t had feelings for a friend does not mean that they have not been the object of secret affections.  It’s really interesting to look at.  I’m sure that there is plenty of sociological or psychological studies that have examined these interactions and feelings.  It would be interesting to know just how many co-ed friendships cross the platonic line.  I would think a study on this would be near impossible, however, because how often do we risk the friendship and admit the feelings?

I wonder when all of this starts.  And when it all ends.  I know that for a few of my childhood years I felt more comfortable with and enjoyed the company of boys more than girls.  I remember the first friend that I realized I wanted more than friendship from was probably around seventh grade.  I’ve crossed that dangerous line time and again since that formative year.  It really is a point of no return for most friendships.  I have liked guys that I then pursue a friendship with, and had friends that I had feelings for, but I never feel quite the same once the feelings subside.  Does it kick in at different times for everyone?  I can’t imagine that there is anyone that hasn’t felt the pain of knowing that “friends” just isn’t quite enough. 

There is something unique to the male-female dynamic that is different from any other relationship.  Whether there is romance at stake or not, my friendships with guys are nothing like my friendships with girls.  I love the book Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller.  The book has so much to offer and opens up so many fascinating thoughts and ideas about why we are the way we are.  One of the things that Miller looks at in-depth is love, with attention to romantic love.  He writes beautifully about how man was not meant to be alone.  God saw that he needed someone around, he need help and companionship.  And then he waited.  He named animals and that wasn’t good enough.  Nothing would do but a woman, made of the same stuff as man, a piece of himself.  She was the same, but separate and different.  She was what man needed.  I’m sure that I should see this as proof for heterosexuality, or providence to keep humanity going.  And I guess it could be those things.  I think, however, that God knew that guys need girls.  There is just an innate need, a hole that is filled, by companionship with someone of the opposite sex.  We are not meant to be alone.  However, as a girl, I was also meant to complete and complement a guy.  Some might think that it’s insulting or demeaning that Eve was made from a piece of Adam, not on her own, to be his companion, to meet his need.  I think that is one of the most beautiful parts.  Yes, she was made for his solace and pleasure, but she was made because nothing else would do.  Women were created to be loved and to love.  Perhaps it’s maternal instincts or antiquated gender roles, but I think that is such an awesome honor.  God’s plan for me, for my gender, is love and friendship.

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”  —Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I assume a big part of the problem is that we all like attention.  We want to feel loved, feel validated, feel special.  When we find someone who makes us feel alive and adored, we don’t let them go.  Friends do this, build us up into our best selves.  This attention creeps into the parts of our minds that spend too much time making things complicated.  We like feeling special.  The way we feel about ourselves becomes connected with the way we feel about the friend.  Then it all gets messy and lovey. 

All of this culminates in the ultimate question: if men and women can never really just be friends, do you sacrifice the love for friendship, or risk the friendship for love?  I always opt for the former, but I also tend to ask my self the torturous “what if…” a lot.  There really is a choice to be made.  You can’t be “just friends” and “more than friends” at the same time.  Which do you choose?  How do you choose?  How much do you risk and how much can you stand to lose? 

“How long can I go on like this, wishing to kiss you/ Before I rightly explode?/And this double life I lead isn’t healthy for me, in fact it makes me nervous/ If I get caught I could be risking it all/ Well, baby there’s a lot that I miss in case I’m wrong/ And all I really want to do is love you/ A kind much closer than friends use/ But I still can’t say it after all we’ve been through…”  –Jason Mraz, “If It Kills Me”

For All the World to See

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“Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” –Jack London

For quite a few years now, I have been fascinated with tattoos.  It started with a love of the TLC reality show Miami Ink and the slightly less engaging Inked on A&E.  For someone who does not pretend to know anything at all about art, it is simply astounding what can be done on a person’s skin.  The details, the beautiful pictures created with ink and needle will never fail to amaze me.  And while all of the artwork was incredible to see, the stories behind the tattoos were even more interesting.  People choose to alter their bodies permanently for so many different reasons!  Some do it for the sake of the art, others for shock, to belong, to stand out, to remember, to celebrate, to mourn and display.  It is so interesting to listen to what it is that each person is choosing to record for the rest of the world to see. 

For close to five years I have seriously considered getting a tattoo.  I had an image, small and simple, that was incredibly meaningful to me.  When I look back through the notes I took in college, the little cross is drawn on almost every margin in my notebooks.  There are plenty of other things that I have seen or thought about that I think would be cool or pretty or unique to get, but this one stuck with me over the years.  After this long, one would think that I would feel confident enough to actually get it, to commit to it.  One would be wrong.

A friend of mine has been talking about changing one’s name lately.  We talked about whether it would be disrespectful to your parents, who named you before anyone knew you, to decide to put aside the identity they chose.  It’s an interesting thought.  A name is just a name, and a person is who they are no matter what you call them.  Still, somehow, it seems like a name can change you.  You are so many things, but one of them is your name.  I mention this because the same idea crosses my mind with respect to tattoos.  Especially in a religious community, there is an aspect of it that feels like changing what God created.  It’s saying that the beauty of being formed in His image is not enough, that I am not enough just as I am.  I know not everyone thinks this far into body art, but it’s something that I’ve heard before.  This is aside from the Levitical prohibition against tattoos, which many people have opinions about in today’s society.

I don’t really think that God sees me getting some ink as an affront to Him.  I don’t think that what I want, an image of my faith, defiles the body He gave me.  I don’t even really worry about reactions and judgement from others, especially with the prevalence of tattoos today.  I do worry about regrets.  Constantly.  No matter how much I think about my tattoo, that little voice that always seems to whisper, “What if…?” speaks up.  What if it doesn’t look like I would expect?  What if I wish later in life that I hadn’t done it?  What if, as I age, it looks worse and worse?  What if it hurts a LOT worse than I think?  What if I don’t get one and really regret it later? 

I analyze everything so much, running over and over every possibility, dwelling mostly on the worst, that I tend to be overly cautious.  I talk myself out of things, and rarely into things, much too easily and stubbornly.  I want to take a risk and be rash.  I want to be young and make a quick decision.  I want a good story to tell.  Sometimes, I just want to not be me.  I want to know what it’s like to not think things through, to forget about consequences.  I don’t want to be responsible and reserved and just do.  I sincerely doubt that I will get up the courage and bravado to get my tattoo.  I hope that I’m wrong, but I know me and know that I’m right.  A leopard can’t change its spots.  But maybe this girl will work up the courage to slip into the skin of a braver person, leaving a scar that lasts forever.

Until I give up my love of the body art, I have come to really enjoy looking at the masterpieces that others’ proudly wear.  The nerd in me is obsessed with this site, www.contrariewise.org, devoted to literary-themed tattoos!

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”  –Elbert Hubbard

The Un-celebrated Birthday

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“There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents… and only one for birthday presents, you know.” –Lewis Caroll

I have found a perplexing phenomenon among my friends: they do all that they can to avoid celebrating their birthdays.  While we are entering our mid-twenties, which is a bit disheartening, it’s not that we are too old to want to talk about our age.  I miss being in college, wonder what happened to the past three years, but I am not avoiding my age.  I don’t know what it is that causes this problem with birthdays.  For that matter, I don’t even know what the problem is.  It could be the ambivalence we all feel about aging and facing our own mortality.  It could be embarrassment when people throw parties and have waiters sing.  It could be wanting to appear cool because no one else wants a big celebration, so they have to fit in.  I really can’t make sense of it.

I love birthdays!  There are few things more worthy of celebration.  I firmly believe that a birthday can, and should, be stretched for a full two weeks: the week prior to and the week following the actual day are fair to claim.  I had a friend in college who celebrated her birthday month, and I love her for it.  It’s a day that is yours, specifically and intimately.  You entered this world on your birthday.  After months of waiting and preparing, your parents welcomed you, literally labored to meet you.  You share the day with them, but it is yours.  It is a day to recognize what your life has been, what it will and can be.  Perhaps this is the depressing point that causes some to shirk the day, but I think it’s the hopeful, beautiful part.  It’s a time to revel in the love that others feel for you, the beautiful uniqueness that is only you.  Presents are always a plus, and who doesn’t love cake? We live in a world that does all that it can to bring us down, instill fear and blend us into faceless demographics.  We are reminded on a regular basis that, by and large, we are not special.  One day each year, that message is erased.  We are special.  We are something to celebrate, simply for being alive.  The act of living, to being who we are for another year, that is enough to warrant a party!

Today is my uncle’s birthday.  I hesitated for a moment and almost said “was” his birthday.  The reality is, despite the fact that he died, this will always be his day.  He won’t be blowing out candles or opening gifts.  I did not send him a card and my mom will not call him.  All of that is irrelevant.  This is still his day.  We are all still thinking about him, about who he was and the years that he lived.  We are celebrating all that he was, even if it is without him.  Your birthday does not stop being your birthday just because you also had a deathday.  He was born.  He was David, a part of the world, of my family, of me, and that will always be worth celebrating.   

“This is the start/ This is your heart/ This is the day you were born/ This is the sun/ These are your lungs/ This is the day you were born… These are the scars/ Deep in your heart/ This is the place you were born/ And this is the hole/ Where most of your soul/ Comes ripping out from the places you’ve been torn/ And it is always, always, always yours…” –Switchfoot, Always

“Survived the madman’s dream…”

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke

I cannot place the beginning of my fascination, for lack of a better word, but I am captivated by stories of the Holocaust.  I understand that this is a somewhat disturbing statement that, at best, requires a caveat, but it’s nearly impossible for me not to read an article or watch a show that I stumble upon about the subject.  There are two things that simply boggle my mind with respect to the horror. 

The first, and perhaps greatest thing that intrigues me is that is happened, plain and simple.  I was chilled the first time I watched footage of the infamous Milgram experiments to show the power of authority and peer pressure.  (For a rundown, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.)  I know, that on a much more mundane and miniscule scale I have gone along with my peers and failed to question authorities that I may not agree with.  I can see how good, honest men and women were swept up in the Nazi movement– to an extent.  There comes a point, however, that I like to believe my humanity would kick in.  I think that I would draw a line and stop my obedience before it got too far, if I were involved.  But I cannot say this for sure.  There is such an unimaginable darkness to the actions of Nazi soldiers, but there is a part of me that really can comprehend how it got so out of control.  Especially when it came to protecting their lives.  This does not make the whole reality of the hell that developed any less astounding.  And it happened fifty years ago.  Not centuries past, in barbaric times.  My Grandmothers were alive to see these days.  This is what I cannot wrap my mind around. 

“The children of Israel survived the madman’s dream…”

In honor of those lost, on behalf of those who live on. That we may never forget, and never allow this again.

The second thing that simply astounds me with respect to the Holocaust are the superhuman acts of bravery that took place.  The amount of hope and determination and strength that it took to endure the torture is beyond what any human could be expected to muster.  People are simply amazing.  Stories of survivors, stories of those who protected, stories of those who remember.  It is so inspiring.  That is the paradox of the Holocaust: it was literally the darkest period of human interaction, and the most glorious.  People slaughtered others with indifference at best, hatred at worst.  And people survived hell, proving that “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it  (C.C. Scott).”

My interest has not extended to everything on the subject.  In fact, there are many great stories and accounts that I have not yet encountered.  However, I would highly recommend the following films, simply for the inspiration they have given me: Everything Is Illuminated (based on the acclaimed novel), Life Is Beautiful (who wouldn’t recommend this one?), Paperclips (a moving documentary about children learning about the Holocaust), Forgiving Dr. Mengele (an unbelievable documentary on a survivor’s decision to live a life of forgiveness) and The Children of Chabannes (about schools smuggling children to safety).  There are so many others, more than I have seen, but these are phenomenal and I highly recommend them. 

I know that there was not a whole lot of reflection or insight in this entry.  It was not poetic or eloquent.  But after visiting the memorial this weekend,  this is on my mind, my heart, so here it is.

“I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. Like you say, inside out. Jonathan, in this way, I will always be along the side of your life. And you will always be along the side of mine.”  —Everything Is Illuminated

To Trust Or Not To Trust, That Is the Question…

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“But the lion told me I must undress first… So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place.  And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully… It was a most lovely feeling.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Lately I have thought a lot about trusting other people.  The nightly news would have us believe that no one can be trusted.  Ever.  I do not think that I am nearly that cynical, but I have realized that I am perhaps not as quick to trust others as I once thought.  I lend quickly and easily.  I do not worry too much about being repaid or having items returned to me, which at times leads to losses.  But as soon as I am asked to trust another person with more than the material, with something deeper, it takes a lot for me to have faith in others. 

Much of my fears stem from personal insecurity and self-consciousness.  That is a given.  I realized this in college.  While involved in ministry, we talked about being open and honest a lot.  In order to have a relationship with God, while He does not need us to tell Him anything, we have to be willing to open up about everything.  We have to bring Him our fears and shortcomings and all the dark things we work hard to hide from everyone, perhaps even ourselves.  This openness with an invisible God is difficult enough, but it extends to our community as well.  It is impossible to be authentic, to work through faith and doubt together without honesty.  We cannot help each other through struggles without being open about our own.  There is truth to all of this, and a freedom too.  Secrets, shame, hidden fears weigh us down in ways we cannot understand until we release them.  However, there is also a huge danger.

“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if he spoke– ‘You will have to let me undress you.’  I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now…  The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This image of Eustace being cleaned by Aslan is one of the most remarkable, salient descriptions of a baptism.  I was reading it recently and was reminded of the tradition of washing feet.  When Jesus does this for His disciples, it is far more than an act of cleanliness.  We talked many times of the symbolism, of the Teacher and Savior stooping down to do servants’ work.  He lowered Himself to serve His followers, literally touching the dirtiest, roughest parts of them and washing it clean.  When done well, the act of following in His footsteps and washing each others’ feet is one of the most touching, beautiful things I’ve witnessed.

I have no issues with washing the feet of another.  I do not hesitate to serve, to cleanse the feet of those I lead.  I don’t mind talking with people about their struggles or hardships, reserving judgement and keeping an open heart and mind.  But I have always been far harder on myself than others.  I hate allowing others to touch my feet.  I know that they are ugly and rough and cringe at the idea of someone touching them.  I feel wholly unworthy.  I talked about this intense discomfort with a friend one night when we were discussing the story in scripture.  It is so hard for me to imagine someone seeing how bad my feet can get, how dark my thoughts can be, how hateful my heart has been, and not reject me.  Letting someone into those ugly dirty places is showing them every reason they should reject me.   I simply cannot do it.

I can talk superficially about struggles I may have.  I do not feign perfection.  I can scrape away some of my own facade and shed a few layers of skin.  I admit that I struggle with insecurity, that I have a hard time really even understanding the meaning of “self-esteem.”  I worry about my family and the struggles that seemed to emerge as I grew older.  I constantly fight a deep feeling of loneliness.  But the real demons I fight, the dark things that haunt me, those are the ones that lay deep beneath layers that I don’t know if I’ll ever peel back.  I may want to, and try to, but the fear of being that vulnerable and open is too great.  I do plenty of things that make it hard for me to make friends without showing people the really damaged parts of me.  There is just too much risk involved in honesty sometimes.

I hope that I can work on this.  I hope someday that I am comfortable in knowing that, no matter who rejects me, I am loved beyond comprehension by my Creator.  I hope that that knowledge is enough.  I hope that I can trust people as much as they deserve.  A part of me thinks that what I have to share is not as messy as I think, that my friends can handle the truth.  A bigger part of me is scared to find out if that’s true.  I’ve come close to complete openness, with a very few people.  Close isn’t quite there, but someday, with someone, I hope that I’ll get there.  Perhaps it will take God’s grace to peel it all away, to get back to the real me inside.  I can only take comfort in knowing that, when I eventually give in, when I let it all go, the pain will be liberating enough to be bearable.

“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.”  –Lemony Snicket