Sunday, July 25, 2010

So Long: A Letter to My Timid Heart

Dear Friend,

I scarce know how to begin a letter that is so hideously tardy. Forgive me, for we have not had a decent conversation in many moons. It is not that I have forgotten you, nor that I am without time to converse, but rather there is something that I have yet to tell you. But please, before I dispel my news may I diverge on a memoir of our happy friendship of past?

Was it infancy, the first time we met? For I cannot for the life of me recall our initial introduction! We’ve spent most our lives together; you were always one to accompany me, to comfort me and to offer to me your opinion, of which I have always held to be as good as gold. Daily we chatted and you consoled my every fear saying, “It’s just fine to stay where you are.” No doubt I would have been a mess without you—unsure and unconfident. Oh, Timid Heart—you rescued me! Daily you protected me from harm, from releasing the turbulent waters, which are my true feelings. Daily you protected me from danger, from the daunting height, which are my esteemed goals. If not for you, I might have drowned in embarrassment and criticism; the reward of any who dare beyond what is safe. Timid Heart, what a savior you… had been.

We spent endless hours together, so much in fact, that we became to some people, one in the same. It was hard to tell where I began and you ended, our traits, our fears, our personalities were startlingly identical. Countless the times I heard hushed whispers at my back saying, “Does she ever speak?” or “Why is she so timid?” Timid Heart, we were of such a kindred spirit, that to describe me, one had only to describe you! So, I became Shy. By this name I was introduced, identified, and satisfied, to be—a shadow of my best friend, a mere attribute of the one with whom I spent the most time.

But I, Shy, began to get attention; to my classmates it was somewhat remarkable how very few words really did proceed from my mouth. They approached me, my very own face, with…with questions. “Why are you so quiet?” or “What are you thinking about?” This scrutiny I could not bear, something needed to be done! But like a loyal lab, you came back to me, and you saved me once again. I told you passionately, “I want to disappear!” You answered, very cleverly, “It is not the crayon of dullest color that is over passed by the hand of fate, but the one who most resembles the Crayola to his left and to his right.” I looked to my right and to my left, with hard-pressed, examining eyes. Slowly I began to comment and compliment other’s attire, mannerisms and hobbies and slowly the questions stopped, my fear subsided and I was given a new name, Sweet.

This was by far the superior of my two names, for not only was I well liked… I was well hidden. This name brought on no hard questions, nor judgmental snickers, only smiles and hugs and sweet comments in return. It was a dream of a life. Well… except for those times when lonely thoughts crept in, and lonely feelings turned ‘round, and lonely tears slipped out. Come to think of it, I was not unaccustomed to falling asleep atop a damp pillowcase. But when the inner turbulence subsided, your motherly voice hummed my well known lullaby, “Sleep well tonight my dear, you really need’nt fear, while fools their tears they do expose, while their mangled insides undoubtedly shows, you wisely take heed that no one knows.”

After awhile, I, Sweet, grew in popularity. My presence was desired by many-a-audience and I was obliged and delighted to perform what they most wanted, a string of well-crafted and personalized compliments. While I spoke I believed I was sincere, but alone I doubted myself; I wanted so badly to believe that I lived up to my name. At least twenty people a year would sooth my wayward soul when signing my yearbook, “You are the sweetest person I know.” Phew, surly I could not deceive so many people.

Of whom do you really care? A whisper. What unwelcome Voice speaks so interruptingly, so intimately? I did not know, I did not care, I shook it off, and like a spider on a sleeve I wanted nothing to do with it. What was that all about? Of course I cared about other people, my friends. Did you really like her red blouse? Of course. Did you really think his comment comical? Yes... Did you really feel sorry for her after you listen to her cry? I don’t want to talk about! And I didn’t. You, Timid Heart were proud of me for warding of this Voice, and so was I. But time passed and the Voice increased in frequency and in volume. I felt uncomfortable; I was itching in my skin. This was not the first time this unrest had settled upon me; I had felt it before. As Shy, I began to loose control on my life, and I felt a deep urgency to call out for help, it was like I was swallowing a trumpet and gasping to keep from bursting forth! When I did let emotion slip, it was to you, dear Timid Heart. But here I was again, struggling to suppress an instrument that so badly wanted to sound. The tension built up, my grip loosened and… and…

“I am a girl of unclean lips! You are right! I care only for myself, and I do not think her red blouse is cute, nor his comments witty. I tried so hard to care that she was crying, but all I could think about was what she thought of me! I am wrong, urg… and I lie. I have tried my whole life to find out who I was. I thought I was Shy, I thought I was Sweet, but I now know am Sinner!” This night I cried out, much to your distress, Timid Heart, and heartily against your orders, I cried out to the Voice. We both sat trembling in our boots; my head was bowed to hide guilty tears from the invisible Judge, my knees curled up to shield whatever blow was to come. But then I heard it, or more like, felt it… the softest, gentlest whisper… Laura. You held my hand Timid Heart, and I trembled from head to foot. Laura, I have made a way. Something in His voice made me let go of your hand, I saw you shrink back in abandonment. But He knew my name; called me by name… never once in our years of friendship did you ever call me by my name. You gave me names, names of captivity, names that flowed off the tongue and promised protection, but provided only poison. While you shielded me from my true nature, He called me out for who I was, while you coved up my mangled insides, He eagerly embraced them, and while you encouraged my hurting tears, He wiped each of them with sympathy, knowing the weight and the reason for each drop.

Up ‘til that moment I never knew truth. I am Laura, not because I am what I am, but because the Voice spoke me into existence. I am Laura, not because I am strong, or good, or pure, but because the Voice has the power to make me so. I am Laura, a follower of this strong, yet gentle Voice.

Timid Heart, I can speak to you no more. So long.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Not What You Expect

I say, a person is only as good a writer as the place he chooses to write. There’s a reason you see more pens scribbling in moleskins at coffee shops, than circus arenas. Atmosphere matters and it made all the difference today. All week, I’d felt like a wandering bassoon with no schedule and no drive, my eyelids slipping half a second before I even cracked open the cover page, but today… I found my spot. I found a home in an aged armchair. It’s back reached high enough to enclose me from the rest of the room, creating a little world in which I could enjoy my instant coffee and lone cowboy cookie. I smiled at the quaintness of it all, chin on my knees and journal in hand.

It was here that my brain was free to think, and my thoughts were free to correlate, and my correlations were free to solidify in ink. So, what follows my dear friends is the result of a suitable surrounding.

It this was this article that inspired the pen flow:

It has it’s cliché moments, but the argument has some kick to it—some kick that got a piece of my behind this morning. Beth Spraul explains that chick-flicks have an effect on women similar to that of pornography on men: both foster destructive expectations of the other sex. Chick-flicks can encourage women to value material expectations in a man—(does he dress well? Is he a man of character… that is tall and handsome? Do others find him attractive… fun…cool?) while overshadowing what really counts in a man. This article is good, even when taken at face value, but to refrain from examining it in the broader picture would be like leaving the center of a warm sour dough roll uneaten (that’d be foolish).

If you took the time to read the article from the link above, and felt some sort of stab in the heart there is a significant and ancient root to your wince. The source had it’s birth way before your time, for you are not the first generation nor the first people group to put material preferences before qualities that truly matter, qualities that God would value. The Jews (God’s chosen people) of the ancient world awaited their Messiah, the coming of a Savior. This Messiah was Jesus Christ. Prophets foretold the way in which this Redeemer would come, however, most Jews took their own preferences and added them to the mix. They desired a Savior, but of a certain style, a specific type. The Jews believed this Messiah would come as a king (which He is), a king with power (which He has) and regal status (which He denied). Jesus had all the power and authority of God, yet resisted the outward display of these qualities, and instead embraced servitude. The Jews, much like many Christian singles today, demanded the display of holiness instead of raw, humble godliness.

Did they believe he would be handsome? Did they believe he would wear the finest of clothes? Did they hope he would sit on a throne and wear a crown? Did they desire him to save them from the Romans? They awaited a king that they would feel comfortable following, a king they would be proud to show off—but they found something different. They heard a carpenter say he is the Son of God. They marveled at the authority in his voice, but they looked down upon his position in society and squirmed upon hearing his provocative statements. The one the Jews had so long awaited, the one the prophets spoke of had finally come, but because of their material ideals, he was rejected.

He, Jesus, was NOT what they had expected. He was someone who washed others nasty feet, he was someone who worked on the Sabbath, he was someone who pointed out people’s faults, dined with sinners and sick people. He was not someone they were willing to worship. Gosh, what would people say of those who called a no name carpenter, Savior? How embarrassing would it be to wait generation, after generation, after generation for a Messiah who was born in a stable to very normal human parents? He was someone they would be embarrassed to show off to others, to bring home to the parents. He was different. He was radical. He didn’t care about social norms; he didn’t care about clothes—how embarrassing. They wished to be saved, but by someone who would enhance their reputation, yet Jesus said you must first lose your life to truly find it.

Still, he loved them—He came to proclaim His Father’s love to those awaiting him (Jews) and to those who were not (Gentiles). Any anyone willing to lay down his or her worldly point of view and proclaim him the Son of God, even though a humble servant—found the prize, received the gift. Only those gutsy enough to follow a plain and provocative carpenter find a Savior.

So, when we think of dating, when we think of a future spouse, we must search our hearts. Do we seek godly qualities or are you tainted with the expectations of what a godly woman or man looks like. For the Jews were influenced by what they thought a holy—Messiah would look like. These Jews did not recognize their material point of view, to them it only made sense that the Messiah would look like a king (because God had power and so do kings). Perhaps Christians have done the same—“godly girls wear clean-cut shirts and guys, chill plaid ones—because to be godly means to be classy.” That is a blatant example but there are more subtle ones too, “godly guys are smart and quick witted and godly girls have pretty smiles and friendly personalities.” Hum…how many Christians have missed real gems? Let us not mistake the visage of godliness, for true godliness.

The truly humble, like Jesus, are uncovered one way, by the fruit that they bear, by the way that they live. For what book did Jesus write? None. He need not explain his holiness; his power, his humility, and his love in writing… for his life actions were ample evidence of his divinity! Who, says the bible cannot apply to all areas of life? The gospel (the good news of a Savior for our sins) has shown us a template for how to approach dating! Look for one who’s humility and godliness is revealed in action, for from this approach God promises a gem!

So, let us find our armchairs then! Our places in which our minds can mediate on the Truth that is able to saturate and sanctify every corner of our lives.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Out My Kitchen Window

The bitter morning air crept into the corners of my pea coat and threatened to make every part of me as cold as the concrete my keds treaded upon, but I didn’t care. I had finished my final! I walked slowly with relief, smiling at the rosy cheeks that rushed passed me on their hurried way to the library. Poor things, they still had finals to come. Outside, the chill softened all noise, so deciphering any chatter on campus was impossible until the point of our crossing on the sidewalk, and even then I could only catch a few words. One of the phrases I happened to catch was, “Out my kitchen window…” It came from a humbly dressed lady with a pleasant face and an even more pleasant voice. I would guess she’s a professor, one who takes great delight in classic literature, her flower garden and a warm cup of coffee. However, it was not the visage of the women that stuck with me, it was her words.

“Out my kitchen window…”

The phrase kept me company all the walk home. I thought the words very lovely, and the more I pondered them the warmer my heart became. Do you not think it one of the most pleasant phrases you’ve ever heard? Perhaps I think so, because of the value of my own childhood kitchen window. The surrounding winter scenery now became a still canvas to project old warm memories upon, the first a vision of a simple and quaint glass fixture, my kitchen window. I envisioned its white trim and unpolished, weather-torn surface sitting in front of the worn out sink; over looking a portion of the backyard. The door step to this kitchen window was a place for my dad to watch his favorite one-eyed bird perch on the feeder, a place for my mom to glance at her blooming pansies hanging in the flower box my dad crafted for her, and for me it was a place that captured what was dearest to me. It is a portal of hope and thankfulness. In the morning it brought to me-- light. Long rays would reach between the neighbor’s roofs, pass through the branches of the Bradford Pears across the street, weave around the cracks in the wooden fence and finally force their way to exposure beyond the edges of the blinds. Every morning that I took the time to notice this golden gift, I would find hope in the view of a dim room transforming into glory as I slowly lifted the cheap blinds. The morning view from this humble window, embodied hope of a new day, hope of people yet to see and conversations yet to have. So, to me a kitchen window is hope.

My day would go on, I would see the people I hoped to see and have the conversations that I envisioned to have while standing in front of the golden portal that morning, yet it would not be too long until I was before this portal again, but not at morning time. During the day or maybe creeping toward sunset I would find myself peering through the glass lens again, not on a planned routine mind you, at random something beyond the kitchen would catch my eye. Perhaps I might see my mom grabbing the hose to water the flowers, or I might see my sisters crouching behind the A.C. unit (one of the favored hide and seek hideouts). I always expected them to look over and see me starring at them, but they never did. That is the beauty of a kitchen widow, a place to watch a beautiful scene unfold, while remaining unnoticed. As moments like these were captured, I was flooded with thoughts of thankfulness. I was thankful for the merry tune I could hear my mom humming, thankful for the shriek of my sister upon being discovered from her sneaky hideaway. So to me a kitchen window is thankfulness as well.

A kitchen window is a live picture frame of what means most in your life. Therefore, a kitchen window does not have to be a window at all; it can be any place that you quietly observe and absorb that which warms your heart. So, to a poor grandmother in Africa, a kitchen window may be the open pathway of her one room hut, from which she can happily watch her grandkids kick up the red dirt as they chase each other in circles and melodious laughter. For a doctor in Korea, it may be the doorframe from which he watches his dream come true, to see lives saved in the emergency room. The list is limitless and endless. The window’s frame, whatever size it comes in or through whichever situation it comes through, captures a snapshot of life, just like that of a photograph. But the snapshot captured by a kitchen window is far superior. A photo can hold a certain likeness of that which warms your heart, but a kitchen window captures the precious moment of the present. You can let yourself fully enjoy the view because it is reality of the now.

So when I think of “out of my kitchen window…” I think of hope in golden light, thankfulness in distant laughter and smiles all around the world.

My kitchen window will change from year to year, from decade to decade, but I do not fear loosing it, for where there is hope, I will find my kitchen window. Whether in this country or that, with these people or those, in sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth, on this side of heaven or the other, my hope will still be found.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Lesson In Giving

Full of turkey, thankfulness and a bit of anxiety about the week to come, I was headed back to school. Thanksgiving break was nice while it lasted but my traveling buddy, Elizabeth and I were now discussing what the next three weeks was going to require of us. As we continued to travel, Elizabeth complimented the fleece jacket I was wearing. It is a forest green Patagona fleece, made for comfort and locking in the heat. No one was using it at the house, so I was happy to claim it as mine.

Elizabeth said that she wants to ask for one for Christmas. The zip down ones bother her and she loves the way mine has one giant pocket up front like a sweat shirt (I love them too because you can hold hands with yourself in the pocket to keep your hands even warmer). I knew how expensive this gift was going to be for her parents. A creeping thought made its way to the forefront of my mind... What if you gave Elizabeth your fleece? No... I thought, I really like this fleece and this is the first one that fits me well. I need it really; all my other jackets are getting out of date and worn. Not to mention that the color even fits my personality. Can't you picture Elizabeth's reaction when receiving it? ... I can. I imagined myself handing her this item of value to me, a big bow hugging the pillow-like shape, and I placed it in her hands. Her eyes opened wide, and with an expression of excitement and wonderment, she hugged me; a big smile on her face and a warm feeling in the pit of her heart. Yep, I was going to give it to her. Now it was only a question of when and how creatively could I do it! It was strange, I was itching to give it to her now! I half wanted to yank it off me and hand it to her right then. I had decided in my heart what I was going to give and I desired to give it!

I had given clothes away before, but none had seemed as significant. This forest green fleece meant something to me, therefore it meant something to me to give it up. It was love that compelled me. There was a stronger desire to see my friend encouraged, than to see myself contented. This gift was not only an offering of love, but a sacrifice of something. The fleece would have been cool, inwardly I knew that I'd hoped for complements from friends. Therefore, the giving was also a laying down or letting go of my desire to uphold my reputation. That is why it was significant. I lost something that I cannot even keep forever anyway, to gain something that has been promised to me forever, namely... love, peace and joy.

After reflecting on this internal dilemma, I found a parallel. God once gave a gift, a gift that meant everything to him and it was his Son. I now more clearly understand the phrase, "What joy and sorrow meet.." When I gave the fleece, there was a bit of remorse, for it was a loss to me, but there was JOY in thinking about the recipient. If I felt these conflicting emotions, how much more so did God? When God gave up Christ to die on the cross, there was sorrow in seeing his pain, but there was joy in envisioning the recipients. As an awkward, lonely eighth-grader I accepted this gift. Tears running down, knees on the ground and hands lifted high, I thanked Him! For so long I had said no to the gift that God had decided in his heart to give to me. What if Elizabeth had said, "No thanks, I will buy my own." Oh, how that would have pierced my heart, and to know that I had for so long pierced the Creator's heart. It's a shame. Forgiveness of sin and a right relationship with God is a free gift, one intended to bless the recipient.

Tis' truly more blessed to give than to receive.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Leaves of Life

I was on a walk. With ipod in and walking shoes on, the smooth cement path sent me through a tunnel of autumn trees and I was thinking. Thinking about the recent deaths around me, no one I was really close with but the sheer number of those who had passed threw me into a contemplative mood.

Then I thought about the trees lining my right and my left and I smiled as the sun danced on the multi-colored leaves and the wind whipped them to and fro. Suddenly, my two thoughts merged—was it the music? My mood? I don’t know but I looked at the tree directly ahead of me and I saw life, colorful leaves and strong roots… then I saw death, leaves snatched by the wind and swaying to the ground. These leaves became human lives and this gave me a whole new perspective of my outdoor venture. My eyes captured one, lone, brown leaf making its way down to its death, and it made me sad. I thought… somewhere, someone is dying, their life, like a weathered and worn leaf has left its peak, green stage and has ended. How sad the other leaves must be, those who had been a part of his branch, they watch him fall and can do nothing to stop the inevitable. But they moved on, living, swaying—even if lonely.

My horizon expanded and I saw from my periphery all the hundreds of leaves falling; it was overwhelming. Each one of them representing a life in my eyes, some were torn away before their due time because of a gust of wind and some falling—seemingly on their own free will. My heart was very heavy, witnessing all the deaths around me, knowing that this is happening around the world. Some trees I realized were so bare, war torn and empty—I thought for a brief moment about the countries in which many lives are lost, in such a mass quantity. Why, when there was such a full tree to its immediate right? And what is the significance of a single leaf, if it can be taken in a moment to join the pile of the dead?

A gust from behind quickened my steps forward for a moment and I realized something. I am a leaf. Never was I more aware of the unpredictability and power of the Wind, nor the frailness of my own body. I felt that at any moment I might be swept away. Suddenly every breath was precious to me, the fact that my feet were moving was a gift, my sight a blessing and the autumn smell seemed so rich. Life is worth living, worth enjoying, not because this is our destiny… to wave in the wind as a frail leaf, it is worth living because we were not created to be leaves at all. We live in a tent now, but soon, maybe sooner than we hope, you could be offered a home.