Greetings from sunny orange Florida!
One of too-many-to-count golf courses
Okay, so I’m sitting in Panera Bread right now because I like their coffee and wi-fi. And people make fascinating studies for any decent writer. Now, I’m minding my own business, per usual, averting my glances from any chance of eye contact with others because I’m convinced they can tell I’m shy and a little insecure. The iPod is quietly shuffling tunes in the background as I divide my attention between Twitter, Facebook, CNN, Adam Young’s blog and a percolating idea for a post when an uncomfortable amount of teenagers decide to takeover ever available table, chair and booth around my own small booth and table in the corner of the back room. Suddenly, my musical world is shattered by:
“Ohmigosh did you hear what happened to….”
“Ugh! My Econ final was….”
“Are you serious?!”
“There’s not enough room….”
Imagine twenty teens talking (all at the same time, I might add) as if their friends are across the restaurant when really they are only a few inches away. Cell phones and flipping hair (from both males and females) abound. A boy and girl are touching and flirting as if they are not surrounded by their friends as well as strangers, and I’m surreptitiously ignoring them. Until a familiar face appears at the table next to mine.
Suddenly, this computer screen is the most enthralling thing I’ve seen, like, ever. I lean my head against the wall to recover from the dizzy that happens behind my eyes every time I see a person I kind of know outside of where I know them. In this particular case, the boy I recognize, who is a part of this large herd of pubescent creatures, is a friend of my cousin Rachel. He came to a couple of our weekly get-togethers of Glee-watching at Rachel’s house. We talked a little, but mostly he and Rachel discussed school while I looked from him to her, putting faces and settings to the names and scenarios they were verbally throwing back and forth without explanation. There was no need for clarification. They understood what they were talking about as they both go to the same school, run with the same crowds, have some of the same classes.
Anyway, now I’m praying he won’t recognize me. Maybe he didn’t see me blending with the wall in the corner. Or maybe he thinks he might know me but he’s too afraid of what his friends will think if he says ‘hi’ and I’m not who he thought. Whatever the case, I’m thinking if I just stare at the computer then he can’t even see me. Not making eye contact is the invisibility of the shy. I wonder if he’s waiting for me to say ‘hi’ first, but there is no way that is happening. I am unfamiliar to seeing him in this place and with these people, so I just keep quiet to avoid making a public spectacle of myself.
But why? Why do I care what people think of me? Is this a flaw in my personality? Should I be more extroverted so people view me as friendly and approachable? Is this introversion the reason why I can’t seem to find my soul mate? Did I meet him once but was too apprehensive to strike up a conversation?
These questions bombard my brain until it becomes easy to just shut down and drown them out with some Beach Boys and a 4-mile run. So, I convince myself that I’m just misunderstood by most, and being guarded is just protection against those who want to prey on my fragile emotions. Having a few close, trustworthy friends is better than giving away so much of myself to people who don’t really care until I’m a bitter, broken mess. Then I’m reminded of a particular Relient K song. You recite my words right back to me before I even speak; You let me know I am understood.
God created me and my personality. He knows, and can completely relate, to every internal or external struggle I can and will ever have. Sure, I would benefit from a complete character overhaul, but who wouldn’t? The point is this, my friends. Every individual has a say in who they are, but we can’t necessarily change how others view us. Be the person you are, the person God created you to be, and let Him worry about the rest. He knows my quirks and thought patterns and wants to meet me where I am because He is love. So, I’m letting Him. I’m surrendering control.
I can’t remember the first time I spent the weekend at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Perhaps I was four? Five? Old enough to sleep in the four-poster twin among the tiny blue paper flowers peeling from the walls in gradual curls. This was before the two extra rooms were built onto the kitchen for Great-Grandma to move in, and before they chopped down the apple and pear trees in the far corner of the backyard.
Matthew, of course, being the firstborn, had slept in this very bed many times before. I wonder if he also began on his back, eyes wide, clutching the flowered quilt under his chin as if it could save him from the heavy darkness. He never voiced his fears.
The nightlight was worse though. Instead of providing a false sense of safety, as it was intended to do, the amber ring of light illuminating the wallpaper cut through the pitch and allowed foreign shadows to gyrate across the room. I had to wait until the symmetrical spotlights crossed over the wall opposite the window — which was above my head — then pass over to the adjacent wall as the latest car drove by the house before I felt safe again. Sometimes I talked to Jesus until my eyelids dropped, and sometimes I sang myself to sleep.
My older brother and I shared a bedroom at home because our family of four recently became five, but the house only had three bedrooms. There was no way either of us was going to sleep in the same room as crying baby Jakob. My pink canopy bed sat parallel to the far wall, and Matthew’s queen, which was closer to the ground, was parallel to mine with a three or four foot gap in between. We must have thought Mom and Dad couldn’t hear us once they said goodnight and left the room because we threw off our covers and hopped from one bed to the other, giggling like mischievous leap frogs until one of our parents came back into the room and demanded we go to sleep. Other times Matthew and I made up conversations about nothing in particular or we traded stuffed animals, which were to us like the blanket to Linus in Charlie Brown. He gave me his favorite Dalmatian dog, and I let him sleep with my bear for the night. There was no nightlight in our room, but I do remember the moon shining through the window would cast a silver shadow on the end of Matthew’s bed.
Only one night at that house on Rickard Drive really sticks out in my mind. I like to think it’s because Matthew was there with me, but maybe that’s just me romanticizing my older brother. He couldn’t have been more than eight, which makes me six, the night the lights went out in Oswego, Illinois. We might have been watching TV, or eating dinner, or maybe we were doing both at the same time as was the tradition at Grandma and Grandpa’s because we weren’t allowed to at home. Whatever we were doing, though, all activity stopped when the lights flickered then went out. Complete darkness. Rain beat down on the roof as the wind whistled through unseen cracks in the windows and doors.
I helped Grandma light every candle we could find as the boys went in search of a high-powered flashlight, but I wasn’t scared of the dark. I wasn’t even scared of the impending shadows. Matthew was nearby. With the flashlight, Grandpa also brought a 5-gallon bucket full of water up from the basement like a magician pulling a white rabbit from his hat. I never did find out where the water came from, and neither Matthew or Grandpa explained. I suppose Grandma knew, but I never thought to ask. Somehow we passed the time, not knowing what time it really was, and I stuck to Matthew like gum on a shoe. He didn’t try to scrape me off. If I annoyed him that night, he never complained, so I soaked up his comfort to keep the shadows at bay.
I asked him once if he was ever afraid that night in the candle-lit dark. He looked at me the same way he had when I backed into his new motorcycle and sent it crashing into the door of his Cadillac. “What are you talking about?”
We all do stupid things. Such is the way of the human race. Sometimes it’s in the privacy of our own homes where no one is there to judge but God and ourselves. But sometimes our screw-ups are very public and maybe even a little dangerous….especially for those of us who have a tendency to be a show-off. Yes, I am talking about myself right now. I’ll admit it; I like attention and I can be reckless. However, I also have the most guilty of consciences to the point that I can beat myself up all on my own without someone pointing out (and/or judging) my flaws and missteps.
I’m not talking about personality quirks that might get on someone’s nerves but are, in the end, harmless. Leaving dirty underwear on the bedroom floor that your dog unabashedly rolls in or listening to music a little too loud in the house is just part of learning to live with other people. I’d even go so far as to say that people who incessantly complain about those types of mistakes need to get a life because they are probably just as quirky! When I say screw-ups, I mean:
-betraying the confidence of a friend
-cheating on your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse
-cutting off a friend while driving because you’re trying to show-off for some dumb and reckless reason
-lying to avoid punishment
-playing pranks on someone who doesn’t think it’s all that funny
-verbally slamming another person just to build yourself up
-having sex outside of marriage
-arguing with our parents/siblings simply because we disagree with their guidance, advice and/or opinions
This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure we could all add much more to it, but rehashing past wrongs is not what I’m doing here. Notice these are just momentary lapses in judgment; impulsive decisions that hurt those we love, whether it was intentional or not. And we are all guilty.
So why do we judge each other?
If I can be completely honest for just a moment….most of the things on that list come from personal experience (or should I say personal failings). And it scares me to death that there are kids and young adults in my sphere of influence that view me as some sort of role model. What are they going to think when they see me, a person they want to trust and imitate (though I don’t know why), stumble and fall flat on my face? Especially when my own peers just love to broadcast my flaws. But for what? To take the eyes off their own failures? For personal gratification? Just because they need something or someone to complain about? Let me tell you, no one likes a tattle-tale or a complainer!
Instead of being judgmental, let’s try love. That’s not to say we should gloss over everyone’s mistakes and mess-ups and pretend like everything is okay because it’s probably not. If you’ve been hurt by a friend, don’t keep it to yourself and harbor bitterness or go spreading lies and rumors about the person based off one error in their judgment. Maybe they didn’t even know they hurt you by their actions. Maybe they’ve already realized their mistake, learned from it, and will (hopefully) not repeat it. Instead, check yourself to make sure you’re not just getting worked up over nothing. Then pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the right words. Finally, tell your friend how they hurt you — not with a voice laced in anger and haughtiness — but in a private setting in which you both can be sincere with your words and genuine with your emotions.
Generally, throwing out “you did this” and “you did that” and “you”, “you”, “you” will make the other person defensive to the point they can internally justify their actions because now you’re being the jerk. That’s not talking. That’s placing blame. And in doing so, the accused will be even more alert to all of your flaws, and eager to draw them out, because all of us have skeletons in our closets capable of vindicating the wrongs of those we point the finger at. “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). As fallen, sinful humans we have no right to play God, who is so holy and perfect that He had to die in order to save us from eternal damnation.
God is as just as He is loving, and there will be consequences to our actions against one another whether they be immediate and clearly seen or delayed until we’re standing before Him. So I say, let’s not focus on each others’ faults and screw-ups, but rather on who we are in Christ. Romans 8 and Ephesians 2 state it much more clearly than I ever could. Please read those passages, if nothing else. Christ forgave the world of our heinous sins by dying on a cross and rising from the dead in order that we can and should forgive each other, too (Colossians 3:12-17). I pray that we strive to be more Christ-like everyday.
“And you can’t see past the blood on my hands/To see that you’ve been aptly damned to fail and fail again/Cause we’re all guilty of the same things/We think the thoughts whether or not we see them through/And I know that I have been forgiven/I just hope you can forgive me too….” –Relient K, “Forgiven”
Well, hi there!
It’s been awhile; please forgive my negligence. There was a week or so in there that can’t be accounted for on account I was abducted by aliens dressed in polyester driving a silver Lexus. They commandeered a ship and kept me adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for most of the time; a very affective form of mind control as there was no way to escape, but the food was spectacular. Anyway, that is beside the point.
We are smack in the middle of what is called the “holiday season.” Otherwise known as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, my birthday. A reflective time for sure as the year is coming to a close in order for another to begin, but it’s last Thursday that I would like to go back to. It was a wonderful day filled with family, turkey, football, wii-ing and yappy dogs at my house, but I couldn’t help but remember Thanksgivings past. When we would go to my grandparents house and Grandpa would have turkey, ham and “road kill” as meat choices. When us kids were strongly encouraged, but not forced, to eat our vegetables. When Dad, Uncle Tom, Grandpa, my two brothers and I would brave the chilly weather to launch model rockets in the backyard. When my Grandma was still alive.
It’s been three years, but all the traditions we used to have died with her. I know change is good, but it hurts, too. Still, I have been more than blessed, and this is what I held onto as Mom bustled about the kitchen preparing spinach dip and mashed potatoes and Dad got in the way while cooking the turkey. There is not a day that goes by in which we should not be giving thanks, but on this Thanksgiving day, when new traditions were made at my house, God gave me just a glimpse of a future I thought would turn out much differently. If I had my way I would have a job by now, I would have a significant other, I would still have my Grandma, I would not still be living at home….but thank God that’s not how life has turned out so far because then I would not have had the memories made on Thursday and Friday, I would not know my sister-in-law the same way I do now, and I would not still have a burning hope that God has grand plans for my future.
So, here is my list of thanks. Read it, or don’t, but I urge you to make a list of your own just as a reminder of God’s goodness.
1. God’s love, grace, faithfulness, *insert attribute here*. He is everything, and I am nothing.
2. Family. Sure, it’s a requisite for this list, but I am truly thankful for my parents, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. not just because they love me, but because they taught me about Jesus, were an example of love displayed, and put up with my antics.
3. Music. The best form of expression (whether it be self-expression or worship to God), bonding (“I love this song!” “Really? Me too!”), escape, emoting (kinda goes with expression), or way to just find a little joy. I can’t hardly put into words how much music has influenced who and what I am as a human being. I love to play it, sing it, write it, listen to it, fall asleep to it, and share it with loved ones. There is a song for everything!
4. Talented musicians. There is a lot of crap music in this world, but you don’t have to go far to find clever lyrics, crunchy melodies, minty harmonies and a nutty drum solo. Mix it up and you’ve got musical cocoa that is sure to delight and warm even the coldest of souls. Some of my favorite musicians, you ask? Matthew Thiessen (Relient K), Adam Young (Owl City), Freddie Mercury (Queen), Ryan Dunson (Rookie Of The Year), Steve Wick, Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen), Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (Plumb), David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Max Bemis (Say Anything), Pete Townshend (The Who), Jen Ledger (Skillet), George Harrison (The Beatles), Keith Moon (The Who), Neil Peart (Rush), Stephen Christian (Anberlin), Jack White (The White Stripes), Diana Ross, Zooey Deschanel (She & Him), TobyMac, Taylor Swift, Curt Smith (Tears For Fears)….obviously this list could go on for days, but I digress. I’m grateful God has gifted these people with their abilities, and that they have the courage to share with the rest of us.
5. Friends. Real ones. The kind that laugh even if you’re trying too hard to be funny, cry with you as your heart is breaking, tell you when you’re out of line, pray for and with you, and actually want to hear all the mundane details of your week just to feel like they were there with you. Y’all know who you are.
6. Sophie. The cutest Yorkshire Terrier on the planet. She’s my sunshine.
7. Four seasons. No, not the hotel or the band (although, both are wonderful things for sure). I am not a fan of cold weather, but I love that blustery winters become warm springs and hot summers become brisk autumns. With each season comes its pros and cons, and I would hate to miss a minute of it.
8. Intellect. Shallow? Maybe. However, it’s a blessing to have my own opinions about things and to be able to smartly discuss and/or debate with those who have the same or differing opinions. Also, the ability to learn and retain knowledge is a gift we oft taken for granted, I think. God has made me into a relatively smart, opinionated, responsible, functioning member of society, so who am I to take the credit for it?
9. Hockey! Specifically, the Chicago Blackhawks. Is there another sport in which large, muscular men on ice skates can body slam their opponents into the wall and not be penalized for it? I think not!
10. Humor. There is irony all around us, and those who can expose it to make people laugh is a beautiful gift. As a very wise man once said, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
11. Flannel sheets. Enough said. Soft and cozy to wrap up in on these cold winter nights. What a blessing!
12. Hot drinks on cold days. Actually, I’m thankful for hot drinks on any days, but I love how they can warm your veins when the chill sets in so deep that even thermal underwear and sweatpants can’t ward it off. What can I say, I’m cold-blooded.
13. Home. Not just the people, but the house itself. I’m grateful that I have a place to call home, a bed to sleep in, food to eat; we live in luxury compared to some.
14. Apple. You know, all that stuff that begins with i; iTunes, iPad, iPhone, iPod aka genius! The Macbook pro and I have been through some tough times as well as happy times together, and it faithfully stores my life without complaint.
15. 2000 Grand Am. My car. He gets me from point A to point B and doesn’t use up too much gas in the process. What more could a girl want?
Additions and other lists welcome.
Peace and blessin’s
Allow me to preface this piece with a little bit of explanation. Normally, I prefer the audience try to figure it out for themselves, but this song (just a poem now; will be a song when there’s music put to it) is personal, and has a unique beginning.
It began as an assignment, the final actually, for my Spiritual Formation 2 class. We had to write a worship form. Some wrote plays, some wrote prayers, some wrote entire sermons (the ambitious ones); I chose to write a song, as music ranks right up there with sleeping and breathing in my life, and this is what came out. It’s not meant to be sung in a church setting necessarily, rather it’s meant for a more mainstream audience with all their unique experiences, diverse backgrounds and range of perspectives and interpretations. Worship involves the whole of a person’s life. It is not confined to the church, to prayer or to a priest.
Sometimes, I think my prayers are ingenuine, even when they’re just inside my head. It’s so easy to pray following a formula rather than just conversing with God, our Father, the only One capable of unconditional love; do we really mean what we are saying? Are we really sorry for our sins? Have we fully grasped the concept of God’s forgiveness?
But to face a tragic situation that we can’t let go of because it either moved us closer to God or caused us to push Him away, to recognize that experience for what it is (or was), and to move on in faith and God’s grace: that is worship, too. Everything we do should be in worship to the One who created us. But let’s be real; that’s not how we live most of the time. We like the human perspective rather than concluding we’re not all that and a bag of potato chips.
I’ve spent too much time trying to get by on my own. Stupid pride. Pride causes too much stress because to rely on yourself means you’re the only one you can blame. However, surrendering my life to God, facing my personal demons, and living in faith rather than pride (i.e. humility) allows God to wrap His arms around me and pull me out of the pit I’ve been living in. To borrow a line from Pastor Tom Barron, “it’s not about me.” It took tragedy for that idea to fully ingrain itself inside my head. What will it take for you?
Remember when we thought these days were promised;
We’d talk about growing up and getting out.
The future was our oyster, but now the pearl is the past
Because I hit the gas, took the turn too fast.
I heard you scream when the glass caved in
A snowblind moment synchronized sirens out of time;
Erratic beating in your chest,
Don’t say it all works out for the best.
If this is the end, maybe I forgot the way to get back home.
You already forgave me, but still You want to save me;
Raise these bones, I know, You require better than this.
When prayer feels like sending words to outer space,
And again I forfeit faith for safety in the cage pride built
With insecurity, so they say;
The captain goes down with the ship
But when the world ends I know God’s not going down with it.
If this is the end, maybe I forgot the way to get back home.
You already forgave me, but still You want to save me;
Raise these bones, I know, You require better than this.