Late Thoughts

So, there’s this story I love, from a series of King Arthur tales by Gerald Morris–maybe you know it. It’s about Perceval/Parcifal/Parzival. There are many many variants of spelling for this particular knight’s name, so I’m just going to pick one and stick with it. In the story, Parsifal is yet un-knighted, and he’s going about the country with his page, looking for a worthy deed by which to prove himself. He’s questing for a quest. As am I, incidentally.

Parsifal, in the rendition I’m familiar with, is an innocent–he was raised by his mother far from civilization, and as a result, has no so-called civilized manners. He asks sort of impolite questions and gets himself into trouble as a result of his ignorance. But he has a kind and true heart.

One day, he comes to a castle where he and his page are welcomed in to a feast. It’s a strange feast, featuring weird rituals and an oddly-shaped dish that, when placed before the guests, gives each guest exactly what it was they most desired to eat. All of this is really neat to Parsifal, and what he wants most is to ask what’s going on. But his page has told him over and over that it’s not polite to ask questions.

There’s a king in this castle, as there very often are in castles, only this king is wounded terribly. He’s at the feast, but there’s obviously something wrong with him–his face is “full of anguish.” Again, Parsifal would like to know the king’s story–what’s wrong with him and how Parsifal can help–but he’s afraid of being rude. So he stays silent.

In the morning, the castle has disappeared and the truth is revealed: the magical dish was, in fact, the Holy Grail, and the king was someone who, had Parsifal only asked, could have given him answers about Parsifal’s purpose in life. If Parsifal had only asked a question, the king would have been healed. 


i wish we asked better questions. Me. I wish asked better questions. I wish that, instead of entering a room and instantly homing in on how feel and how ought to react and blah blah blah, I could forget me and focus on learning about someone else.

There is so much more to people than we can tell, or than we will ever know. I mean, think of how much there is to you that you feel people could never see from the surface, or that you feel people will never truly understand. And then consider that every human walking past you has probably felt the same feeling. It’s wonderful and awful at the same time.

I’ve been wondering lately why I blog, why I write things. It’s not like I’m sharing recipes or cool pinterest-y crafts or anything like that. I just…ramble. And yeah, it’s an outlet, sure. I say sometimes that I’m just trying to reassure people who might need the reassurance that they are not alone in a particular thought or struggle.

It goes the other way too, though. I’m trying to reassure myself that I’m not alone–that someone is interested in what I have to say. And as much as I protest that this isn’t the Confessions of a Girl Named Jo, who do I think I’m kidding?

I want to be known. And I want to know others well, not just surface-level.

I don’t think I’m alone in that.

I think that quite a bit of what we post on the internet stems from this deep, deep desire to be known, with all the quirky, good and not-so-good parts of our personalities. It’s so, so easy to define our worth by what others think, by how well we feel others know us–by how much we feel they care about us.

It’s disillusioning, then, to think that no human is ever gonna fulfill us in the way we crave. No amount of attention or popularity is going to fill the hole we have, and as much as we might try to know people, there will still be depths to them that only their Creator can know and love. I tend to think of the end of 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” I know that the passage has to do with a whole lot more than what I’m referencing it for here, but I love it because it reassures us that the frustrating limitations we have now won’t always be–that even though there is much we can’t understand now, that won’t always be the case.

I’ve been reading several peoples’ blogs today, and I love it so much. Give me someone’s blog any day over their Twitter feed. If social media things were at a party, Instagram would be the cool pretty girls comparing tans, Facebook would be the everyman in the middle of the room, and Twitter would be those obnoxious loud guys competing for who’s most popular. Bloggers would be in the corner talking quietly. Or maybe they’d be at home, blogging.

Tangent, sorry. Sweeping generalizations, sorry.

I love reading people’s blogs. It’s like listening to people talk about things they really care about, which is one of my favorite things ever to do. I want to listen to people say in person what they say in their blogs. And here’s where I might finally get back to the story of Parsifal. See, I’m pretty durn good at listening, but I’m so bad at asking.

For one thing, I often don’t talk. I’ve gone a whole day without saying one word, just to see if I could do it. I wait for other people to talk. I say I like hearing other people’s stories, but often I’m so concerned with my feelings and my discomfort that I indicate something else with my actions.

Oh, help us, God, to talk about things that matter and that we care about. Help us ask deeper questions, even if we’ve been told that questions are impertinent. When I get to know a person, I want to know what makes them them. I want to be the person who helps draw others out, who cares enough about knowing and loving others well that I’m not considering myself anymore.

 

Give us wisdom and courage to care for what You care for.

Advertisements

Dear Jo–Keep This for Next Time

If you look at the word count for this post, you’ll notice that it’s ridiculously long. That’s cause all of it was written before. It’s not so much a blog post as a bookmark for myself, so I can easily go back and find the places where I learned a lesson about anxiety or worry.

I learn those lessons over and over–which maybe implies I never truly learned them in the first place. This collection of fragments and thoughts will, I hope, remind me that, regardless of how I feel about a bewildering or frustrating situation, the conclusion is still the same. Feel free to skim through, or not, as you will.

My prayer is that these words are worth while and encouraging.

<><Jo

April 2016

I’m seeing what I value enough to invest time in. It’s not always what Id like it to be. I tend to go in cycles, where all will be well and I’m rejoicing in the life God’s given me, to a place of uncertainty and discomfort, where I’m forced to go back to the Psalms and seek God’s comfort. Like I said, it’s a cycle, so as soon as I’m back on track, emotionally, I forget what just went down and I imagine I’m fine without God. I become complacent with the comfortable way in which I know Him.

March 2016

How do I pursue a knowledge of God when that’s not something I always want to do? How do I want something I don’t always want?

In other words, it’s not a one-sided thing, where God tells us to seek Him and then sits by as we flail around, sort of trying and sort of not caring to try. He seeks us, and it’s only by His seeking us that we are able to seek Him at all. And it’s only by His working in us that we are able to desire to seek Him at all. 

I talk a lot about fear and worry on this blog. And when I say I struggle with envy, I mean, you name it, I’ve coveted it. I’m constantly fighting thoughts of comparison with other people–even other peoples’ relationships with God.

Maybe the thing I want most is to know a secret. The secret I’m talking about it in Philippians 4, where Paul says he has “learned the secret of being content.” I’ve come back to this particular chapter time after time, with his encouragement to “rejoice in the Lord always.” I guess I’m contradicting myself again when I say that there are two things I want most: to know what is that I want, and to know how to be content (which is another way of saying I want not to wantanything other than what God gives me).

This is where God’s grace comes in, because I see a little in these moments what I would be without Him working in my life. Envious? Yes. Fearful? Yes. Infuriatingly perfectionist? Selfish? Impatient? All of these describe what I’d be without Christ, and what I’m sometimes tempted to revert to. They’re quiet sins, and I can sometimes disguise them so other people don’t see them. But I know that I can’t ever be content on my own–I’ll always be chasing after unattainable and confused dreams.

February 2016

I watched the streetlamps come on across the street at Henderson, and suddenly, my home-town felt sweet and happy, and the George Bailey mood of frustration that had hung over me all the last week lifted, a little. See, it’s easy for me to think that I need to figure everything out about my future and my responsibilities and all that right now and if I’m not careful, everything comes together and my thoughts are something along the lines of, “Gee, Jo–if you mess this up, or do the wrong thing here, man, you are letting down everybody. The world depends on you doing the perfect thing. All the time.”

Ridiculous. But very me.

Does what I do matter? Yeah, I think so. I have people in my life who are watching to see what decisions I make, whether or not they are wise and humble or whether my actions are kind, not self-absorbed. Sure it matters what conclusions I come to, and how I act on my beliefs, and it matters what I’m concerning my thoughts with.

It’s just that I am not the main character in the story. I’m not, and neither is anyone else I know of. I play a part, and I hope to play it as well as I can, but the world, I don’t think, does not depend on me knowing exactly what to do next. That’s comforting to me, and at the same time a little humbling, because I sure act like this world revolves around the (mis)adventures of a girl named Jo.

December 2015

“Cozy and Lovely and Purr-fect”

September 2015

Don’t be anxious.

[To be read in the manner of a little old college student in a small dorm room staring at her next assignment; or in the manner of a young graduate starting out in a big, bewildering world wondering what on earth is next; or, in the manner of a helpless, hopeless human looking for Someone truly good to just hold her.]

Father, help! How can my mind be in so many places at once, worrying about so many things at the same time. How can I feel so crazy and helpless, when on the surface, nothing is wrong with my life? 

Help me give all these things to you. 

In everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…

Thanks, God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses  all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

August

I tend to learn the same lessons, over and over again—and usually they have to do with turning over my anxieties to God and trusting Him fully. It’s only after I’ve come to the end of Jo’s ability to handle things and completely wrecked ship that I see how much I’ve fallen back into old habits, such as storing up worries and harboring negative, untrue thoughts that don’t honor God in the slightest. I lag behind God’s perfect will, preferring to suffer in my own stubborn silence than push myself to be nearer Him.

I start thinking, whether consciously or not, that I’m fine without God—that I have things under control, and I can get there (wherever “there” might be) by myself. And I really, really can’t.

Now, this might be where this whole analogy thing starts sounding cheesy, but one day this summer I looked back at the little girl wandering on her own, with no interest whatsoever at my outstretched hand, and good grief, I got chills.

Cause God has had His hands stretched back for us since we first let go. Back before we were interested in anything He had to offer, and back before we knew enough to want to simply be near Him. His patience is remarkable, and His love for us is incomparable and everlasting and perfect.

What happened this summer, part 1 (yay–a series!)

That weekend, (the one where I bawled my eyes out on the phone with my mom), God used my co-counselors to encourage me while, at the same time, kind of calling me out on the worries I’d been letting consume me. They reinforced the beautiful truths that God is in control of all things; that His plans for us are good; and that no one was at Sky Ranch on accident or by mistake. When I started focusing on negative thoughts, my mind was distracted from the purpose He had for me. Funnily enough, the verse we were memorizing together was Psalm 23:7: “For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.” We had a time with that verse, trying to get in firmly in our minds–but it helped, so much, to realize the power of my own thought habits. [It was also slightly terrifying:)]

I don’t really want to come across as saying “positive thinking will make everything better!!” I think a certain kind of optimism cheapens the reality of a broken world, and I am not for glossing over some deeply unjust things, just so we can perpetually have smiles on our faces. What I have learned is that, when we are pursuing God’s purpose and obeying Him, Satan will try to distract us, in any way he can. This summer, he used my personality, along with self-doubt and fear and worries, to try and distract me from being fully engaged in my situation.

I’m not saying being introverted is bad. Not at all! Being quieter and thoughtful can be such a positive trait in me–and I know that, in several instances this summer, God used me and the way He designed me to speak to others. What’s crazy is that, if we’re not careful, we can start to define ourselves by what’s most comfortable to us.

For me, what’s hard is feeling I belong. And it’s all too easy to retreat from an uncomfortable situation and be alone with my thoughts (which are sometimes good, sometimes worth nothing), rather than stay and trust that God has me in that uncomfy situation for a purpose. Maybe He needed an quieter voice there, or someone who can listen.

All told, it’s a wonderful, freeing knowledge to know that God didn’t make anyone wrong; that yes, we are given different personalities, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses; and that I am called to follow Him even into situations that are scary for me–situations where I feel inadequate and out-of-place–trusting that He holds all things.

April 2015

Tomorrow

March 2015

I think people’s lives are stories; and I embrace the idea that all of life is part of a larger Story, with many parts and a great many characters, and one Author. That book hasn’t ended yet (if it has an ending at all), and neither have our individual stories. Still, I sometimes want nothing more than to see how the ending plays out. I want to look ahead and see how this or another event turns out. What happens to this character? Is he here when the final chapter ends? Is she? Are we still in each other’s stories a couple chapters from now? How will the decision I made today play out when I’m twenty-five? Or thirty-seven? Or will it matter at all?

See, there’s where I get scared. I go from wanting to be at tomorrow already, to never wanting tomorrow to arrive. I wish I knew the secret to thriving in today. Not worrying about tomorrow, not fearing it, not dreading that which I don’t know, but waiting in a patient expectation that whatever comes will be for good. I hope that, when I get there, I don’t feel betrayed by the Author for not warning me ahead of time. I wish I were better at trusting that, like in the Annestories, when hard times comes, I’ll have had a whole set of experiences—a whole life—to prepare me for them.

February 2015

Although I really believe one way of honoring God is to use your talents or gifts wholeheartedly and without apathy, I’m realizing how many times my actions are motivated by pride. Somebody asked me, the other day, what motivates my “sweet” behavior (this person obviously has never seen me having a pity party in a locked room with a piano in the corner). I gave a pretty durn good (righteous) answer. But the honest truth is that mostly, I just want to be liked. I want to be remembered—I want to be known as perfect.

And what I’m learning is, one, that it’s exhausting trying to be perfect, and two, that I’m kind of missing the point. I never was, nor will I ever be, perfect on my own. One of the poems I was reading (“The Holdfast” by George Herbert) illustrated this key part of the Christian faith that explains humanity’s tendency toward perfectionism (and therefore frustration). We are capable of nothing without God’s grace. Nothing. But since He has offered us grace, then we praise. Now we sing and give glory to our Creator and live without fear and rejoice in all things. We have been invited to rest in Jesus Christ.

On Loneliness

January 2015

There’s a certain mood I get into sometimes—more than simple introversion (which only requires time alone to “recharge”)—when I am annoyed by just about every person I see. The person doesn’t have to have done anything wrong in the slightest; in fact, it’s usually the most unsuspecting and innocent people who are the subjects of my silent annoyance and unspoken wrath. I apologize, truly. Sometimes I get into a rage against everything, and everyone, including myself. I am first on the list of people I want to get away from. Jo Horton? I would like her to crawl into a hole and disappear from sight for about ten years, until everyone forgets the silly thing she happened to just have said or done.

The emotion I said I felt when I started writing this is leaving me, thank goodness. Occasions like this make me very thankful that God doesn’t grant my thoughts or un-thoughtful wishes. I’m glad God knows what I want better than I know.

Things like this blog post are not pretty or nice for me to write—I feel more hesitant to publish this because it makes it more clear that Jo ain’t perfect after all (surprise, surprise!). For some of you, it might seem like I’m over-thinking things—after all, I didn’t really hurt anyone with my (unjustly) impatient thoughts. I didn’t “sin.” Maybe it’s natural to feel a little misanthropic every now and then. It’s certainly more comforting to think so.

It’s not something I should remain in, however. As a Christian, I’m responsible to God for even my thoughts: at the risk of taking a verse out of context [yikes!], Christians are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, if you’d like to check my theology—if I did take things out of context, come tell me:) I’m even more certain of this idea when reading Philippians 4:8, where the author provides a handy list of how we are to think:  

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Some Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

November 2014

Today’s Story

August 2014

I suppose this blog is mainly a response to my activity on Facebook, where I don’t say much, but I watch other people say stuff. It’s uncomfortably similar to how things go in real life, where I observe others but rarely interject my opinions. The things I do say seem ridiculous immediately after I say them, and I want to shrivel up and disappear from sight. This is not who I want to be.

I want to say something worthwhile and then not care about what I think others are thinking of me. I don’t want to be ashamed of my words–up to now I have avoided being embarrassed by my words by simply not saying all that much–I want to find out what I’m trying to say, and then say it. 

So this blog is me, Jo, talking to you (but especially to myself), practicing getting my thoughts out of my head. In this first post, I predict the future: one day soon I will succeed in communicating a thought or two that should have stayed in my head, that isn’t really worth my while or yours. I apologize in advance–I see myself, on that day, wishing desperately I could recall my words and turn them back into harmless, invisible thoughts. But that’s not really what I want.

Everything worthwhile is tangled up with risk.

Thanks for reading:)

 

Hymns and Knitting and Fanny Crosby

Here’s a simile that has almost nothing to do with the actual content of this post: I think like I knit. Very Slowly. I connect things that maybe shouldn’t be connected yet, and sometimes skip a couple of steps out of carelessness, until my mind is just a little bit gnarled up in knots. At that point, just like in knitting, I slowly unravel what’s been accomplished, to see where I went wrong. And boy, is it painful to take out all that work I did. It’s worth it, though, because, often, going back is the only way I can move forward.

So this is me, unraveling the knots my brain is currently in, all because I read some article by a guy named Russell Moore about social media and hymns and envy. If you have the time, please read it—it’s good, and it probably won’t do bad things to your mind:

Why Social Media (and the Church) is Making You Sad

It references things that’ve been on my mind anyway, and those things made me think of other things, which made me think of other things, and, well, this is shaping up to be quite rambly. Sorry about that.

For those of you who didn’t read the article, it’s about social media envy; how, with everyone posting the cleverest, beautifullest, loveliest bits of their lives on Facebook and such things, all of the normal people (which turns out to be all of us) are feeling kinda blue. Even if we recognize that Instagram isn’t the whole story, people are still prone to envy. Lots of people have studied this, and lots of people see it without having to study it scientifically. Why is this worth getting your proverbial knickers in a twist, Jo?

The author claims that we in the church are guilty of the same, white-washing tactics within our worship services:

“Our worship songs are typically celebrative, in both lyrical content and musical expression. In the last generation, a mournful song about crucifixion was pepped up with a jingly-sounding chorus, “It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!” This isn’t just a Greatest Generation revivalist problem either. Even those ubiquitous contemporary worship songs that come straight out of the Psalms tend to focus on psalms of ascent or psalms of joyful exuberance, not psalms of lament (and certainly not imprecatory psalms!).”

[I looked up “imprecatory,” to see if it means what I thought it might mean. It’s an adjective derived from the verb ‘imprecate,’ which means “to invoke or call down (evil or curses,) as upon a person.” Ohhhhhh.]

That makes sense. This seems true. I’ve wondered myself what to do with those psalms asking God to curse the speaker’s enemies through those colorful and vengeful means. I mean, do I pray this? Or is it in here in case I ever become king and have enemies plotting to kill me all the time? Generally, I go Frank Perretti and classify my enemies as the sins I struggle with; as the aspects of my human nature that truly are wretched. I don’t want those parts of the old Jo anymore.

I don’t know what else to do with those psalms, except to appreciate that, if I were in that extreme situation, there would be plenty in the Bible that would apply and be able to comfort me. It’s that idea that there’s something in God’s Word to speak to anyone; it’s relevant in all situations.

So why, the author asks, why do we ignore all that range of emotions and hard situations the Psalmists, and Job, and other writers decidedly confront head-on? Everything has to be happy, and the author isn’t a fan of what he calls “this sense of forced cheeriness…seen in the ad hoc “liturgy” of most evangelical churches in the greeting and the dismissal. As the service begins a grinning pastor or worship leader chirps, “It’s great to see you today!” or “We’re glad you’re here!” As the service closes the same toothy visage says, “See you next Sunday! Have a great week!”

Well, ouch. What do you want us to do, mister? Frown at each other and say “have a wretched week”—the author does consider it—? [Honestly, you should just go back up and read the article—it’s worth your time.] No, but rather than try to rephrase what he says, I’m just going to quote the article for you.

 I suspect many people in our pews look around them and think the others have the kind of happiness we keep promising, and wonder why it’s passed them by.

By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all.

The gospel speaks a different word though. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). In the kingdom, we receive comfort in a very different way than we’re taught to in American culture. We receive comfort not by, on the one hand, whining in our sense of entitlement or, on the other hand, pretending as though we’re happy. We are comforted when we see our sin, our brokenness, our desperate circumstances, and we grieve, we weep, we cry out for deliverance.

Yes.

The knitting was going along splendidly, and I was nodding along and slowly but surely making good connections with my thoughts, when suddenly something I had read jerked me forward, and then I was skipping steps all over the place and getting really, really confused.

The Gospel is glad, Good news, isn’t it? So why shouldn’t we rejoice when we gather? I thought of the biography of Fanny Crosby I’d started reading, in which her differing experiences with worship services are contrasted:

In the first, “there were no organ and no hymns, as such, in the ‘Southeast Church.’ Like the early Puritans, the theologians of the era did not believe in hymns of human composition; they would use only the Psalms, which were “dictated” to David directly from God. Most of the music consisted of Psalms chanted in plainsong with, now and then, their metrical paraphrase by Isaac Watts, who lived and wrote a century earlier.”

In the second, “North Salem, as in Southeast, a great emphasis was placed on an emotional conversion experience, without which one should dread to die. There was a great emphasis on mortality and the certainty of hell for the unrepentant. Numerous hymns told of careless sinners, who were overtaken by sudden death and were lost.”

I’m somehow doubtful that this is what the article is advocating. At any rate, Fanny Crosby wasn’t impressed, preferring “the Methodists’ warm and lively services and their fervent and comparatively cheerful hymn singing.” She was shaped by her later experiences within charismatic revivals, which the biographer describes as being full of “frenzied worshipers” and “frenzied elders…laying hands upon her hand and roaring prayers for her conversion…”

Now, if Fanny Crosby and I were having tea, I don’t know how much we would have agreed on, in discussions about Christian denominations—I imagine we’d probably avoid the subject. But I love her hymns, and I love hymns written by Isaac Watts. But both extremes—the purely somber, sober services and the “frenzied” services centered around the experience of “getting happy,” both of those sound remarkably unattractive to me. They sound, well, like extremes.

Ok, so maybe there’s a balance. Maybe the confessional times of repentance are more for private devotion, while the joyful encouragement is for times of fellowship.

Maybe not. Maybe I just said that without believing it. I need confession, and I think maybe there’s not enough of it in the church. Like the author of the initial article says,

“Maybe what we need in our churches is more tears, more failure, more confession of sin, more prayers of desperation that are too deep for words.Maybe then the lonely and the guilty and the desperate among us will see that the gospel has come not for the happy, but for the brokenhearted; not for the well, but for the sick; not for the found, but for the lost.”

I’m rapidly getting to the point where I’ve forgotten what I was going to say, and I’m only talking until I can remember it. Maybe I better close it out for now. I’m thinking of my tendency to separate things out into extremes and go to one or the other. I’m thinking that a certain kind of sorrow doesn’t really conflict with a certain kind of joy; that maybe sobriety is inextricably bound to the deep gladness that comes with remembering who we are and who God is. If you made it through this headache of a post, I’d love to hear your thoughts—they may be as rambly as you like. I won’t mind:)