Category Archives: Contemplation

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“There are places I’ll remember/ All my life though some have changed/ Some forever not for better/ Some have gone and some remain/ All these places have their moments/ With lovers and friends I still can recall/ Some are dead and some are living/ In my life I’ve loved them all…” –The Beatles

For the first time in a couple of years I went back to my college campus today.  I needed to sign some papers in the administration building and stopped by early in the afternoon.  Almost exactly three years ago I graduated.  It’s a bittersweet feeling being back.  I try not to think about my college life and self much.  When I do, I feel like Harry Potter.  He lived the school year in a world where he mattered, where he was a hero.  Then he returned to a world where he was neglected, humiliated and ignored.  College was my Hogwarts, a place where I was someone.  I was, as Ron Burgundy put it, “Kind of a big deal.”  Now, I live a life so different, so far from that that I hardly recognize it.  I am not a leader, not lauded for my efforts, not given responsibility.  I am not surrounded by friends, cramming my schedule full and forcing myself to make time to sleep.  I spend my days alone, bored, in quiet anonymity.

I walked through the ground floor of a building to get to my office destination.  As I opened the door, I quickly wondered if I would remember the way out of the labyrinthine classes and offices.  As soon as the thought entered my mind, my body took over.  Muscle memory led me through the halls, around corners.  I walked the buildings and pathways so many times, so naturally, that it was still ingrained in me.  My home of four years has changed significantly, new buildings sprouting up and faces all changed.  Despite the new terrain, it was the same.  The bookstore smelled exactly as it did when we wandered it between classes, despite all the new merchandise.  The quiet campus still held a calm and comfort that I found in my hundreds of hours sitting around it. 

All of the memories of who I was, of what I used to do, were hard to experience.  I remembered cramming for finals, frantically finishing assignments and meeting for half-hearted group projects.  I also remembered the people whom I loved, who loved me, and the time we spent there–the hours wasted in the coffee house, lounging on benches in the sun, strolling across the plazas.  It was comforting to know that a piece of me still felt at home, still belonged on that campus.  It also stung to see the new additions, the strange faces, and know that it is no longer my school. 

“Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”  –Saul Bellow

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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”

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