(Accidental) Summer Hiatus

September again. I read two books out of the four on my reading list–the Wilberforce biography and My Antonia.

My Antonia was lovely: I read it during a weekend when just my dad and I were home, and I did nothing else, really, except talk some and cook some and play the piano. Willa Cather painted a couple of her characters so well that I feel I’ve known them in real life: Jim’s grandfather with his crinkly white beard and piercing blue eyes, and solemn kindness; Jim’s grandmother, walking slightly bent but with alertness and a determined step. Mr. Shimerda, gazing worshipfully at the Christmas tree with haunting, sorrowful gaze, and Antonia.

Antonia is almost like the landscape, itself a character in the story. Honest, open, kind–and terribly vulnerable, Antonia doesn’t really change, though others around her do. Jim changes, and when he visits Antonia and her children, you see how he appreciates the constancy of Antonia, certain as the prairie sun, setting wide and orange on the red grass. She hasn’t changed, not really.

Read the book for sunsets and sadness and for Antonia, because I’m not Willa Cather and I can’t summarize how she writes.

The Wilberforce book was good and inspiring because of William Wilberforce and what he made his life stand for, but Metaxas did the thing again where he went off a bit too long on his own metaphors. But I would probably do the same thing, so I still recommend the book.

In other news, my garden is full of weeds, and the blueberry bushes I was nurturing are utterly dead. I quit Twitter and haven’t missed it in the slightest. I visited yesterday with some people who knew me when I was an infant, and I took communion in the pews where I sat as a five-year-old, in awe at the grown-ups around me murmuring the Lord’s Prayer in reverant harmony.

My dear friend asked me to marry him, which means that someday maybe I’ll get to write that letter to Aglet about “How I Met Your (Future Hypothetical) Grandfather,” after all:)

I hope to get back to writing something regularly, regardless of how many read it.
Thank you for reading.
<><Jo

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“Sometimes a Light Surprises”

Today I ran as far as I could, trying to rid myself of how overwhelmed I was feeling.
I can’t run that far, friends.

My response to dealing with one hard thing is to become anxious about all the other potential hard things awaiting me. And I can pretend all I want that I’ve conquered worry and fear and anxiety. It’s just not true.

Today, as many times before, there came a point when I was exhausted from running. Exhausted from trying to stuff my fears back down into myself; trying to deal with everything quietly and on my own; trying to excuse my worrying as only an unfortunate habit.

Every time I reach this point, Phillipians 4:6-7 runs through my head, over and over. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

It sounds so easy. Just stop being anxious, Jo. Tomorrow will worry about itself. You know this.

Sometimes it seems like it’s the very things we know best with our heads that are hardest to keep solidly in our hearts.

Take a look at a hymn written by William Cowper (1731-1800), who also wrote “There Is a Fountain” and other great hymns:

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens,
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

Isn’t it an encouraging hymn? Listen again to these words: “Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say, ‘Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.'”

That Cowper guy, he must have really known about worrying and what the biblical response ought to be. Well, yes, you might say that, but let’s look closer.

William Cowper was friends with John Newton–even wrote hymns with him–and there are accounts of their interaction. Cowper struggled with depression for much of his adult life, at one point even attempting suicide. John Newton encouraged him through these times, but Cowper thought that he had committed an unforgivable sin in trying to take his own life.

Eventually, he stopped attending church, although he remained close friends with Newton until his death in 1800. Several hymns written in the latter part of his life attest that William Cowper still trusted in Christ, but did he ever get rid of his depression?

William Cowper, struggling with depression, penned these words: “Yet God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice, for while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.”

Was he relieved from all worries and cares in his life? Or did he just pretend he wasn’t struggling? Likely neither was the case. Not until William Cowper met his Savior face-to-face, was he relieved of his crippling depression. We can see from his hymns that he knew the right answer, and I think that he probably returned again and again to the comfort he found in Scripture.

What can we say about dealing with depression, or anxiety, or worry, plain-and-simple? Can we fix ourselves by somehow having enough faith, or by pasting on a smile and pretending we’re not anxious?

Here’s a better question: what are we to do with our anxiety and cares, when they come? We don’t ignore them, or think God won’t listen because well, here we are again, worrying about that same old thing, worrying about a new thing altogether, not having learned the lesson from last time.

God listens, friend. Go to Him. Tell Him. 

Do you know that He meets the poor in spirit right here, wherever they’ve stopped running because they’re exhausted from handling everything on their own? My weakness, your weakness, William Cowper’s weakness–all these are opportunities to learn more and more what God’s peace is like.

And no, in this life we may never stop dealing with worry or even depression–but the point is that God is able to draw us to Himself even through tough moments when we are vulnerable and overwhelmed.

He inspired William Cowper to write a powerfully encouraging hymn, all the more powerful because the author proved in his heart (again and again) what he knew with his head.

 

Thanks for reading! Reach out in the comments or through email if you’ve got thoughts on this topic and want to have a conversation. I’d like to be praying with you:)

The Bad Content/Good Literature Problem (and vice versa)

Have you ever been reading a book and realized “holy cow, this is kind of a bad book,” and not been able to finish it? I have, plenty.

What makes a bad book? Offensive content or sloppy writing? In English classes, professors drill it into you that a “bad book” must mean the latter–it’s just not written well. Maybe most people agree that good literature means it (whatever it may be) is communicated with excellence, or that there is something expressed in an artful way.

They don’t actually ever agree on a formula, but that’s why there’s still an English major. We like to discuss.

I read plenty of material in English classes that had horrible content–I mean, pretty dang wretched–but certain poems or novels were in the anthologies because they were good literature. Shakespeare, John Donne, Robert Herrick–they all wrote beautifully, but more often than not the subject matter wasn’t exactly edifying (looking at you, Robert Herrick a la “The Vine”).

How come we can excuse inappropriate content if it’s presented artfully, but a book that’s badly-written gets dismissed immediately, even if its content is admirable?

This is opening like five cans of worms all at once, and I know I don’t have all the answers to the questions I’m asking. I’m genuinely asking for some perspective on what makes something worth reading–whether you’re more motivated to read a book that will help you or a book that will entertain you. I want to know whether you would choose a better-written book with salacious content or, all things being equal, a not-so-eloquent book that has great themes and characters but nothing in it you couldn’t comfortably read aloud to your grandmother.

WHY DO WE HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN GOOD CONTENT and GOOD WRITING?

AAAAAH.

I need to clarify something. I am of the opinion that children don’t need to read about grown-up things until they’re grown up. I am also of the opinion that grown-ups may choose to read what suits them. I think that there is some content inappropriate for some people that’s fine for others, and here’s the key thing: I think there are some stories that require less-savory details to be included, because stories should be in some way true to life, and there are parts of life that are less-savory.

I’m not arguing for censorship, or making every piece of literature the Bible. But I am frustrated that in order to write a good novel, some writers feel they must include some explicit scene or language, even if it isn’t needed for the story. It makes me mad as a hopeful writer to be told any stories I write can’t be good literature unless they include certain “realistic” elements, as if a book must be as heavy-handed as a movie in telling the reader what’s happening elsewhere.

am arguing for imagination, and for a sense of reserve when telling a story. I think, although I don’t know for certain, that a good story-teller is like a painter in that there should always be something more there than at first meets the eye. There is more in a good impression given to a reader, than in a thousand actions described.

And then I start thinking about the fact that there are such things as “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and I just really think the printing press should have been destroyed after all.

I mean really. 

To be continued, maybe, if I get mad again.

Write, Jo, Write

Ever feel like you don’t have anything to say, actually? I do. Right now, I feel that. I have been reading blog after blog which talk about how to get people to read my words, but none of them tells me how to write words that are worth reading.

So much has already been written–adding more words can feel like shouting into the whirlwind. Unless I know why I’m writing, it’s hard to feel motivated to just add something. But that’s what I’m doing, anyway. I’ve heard that, to be a writer, you have to write.

OH.

Is that all I’m missing? Self-discipline? Is it really just a matter of setting aside the time and doing it?

Probably five times since the New Year, I’ve started out writing about Thomas Hardy and optimism and the Darkling Thrush, and I’ve only gotten a sentence in every time.

It’s a great post (I hope), but it’s in my head–just stuck there–and driving me crazy.

Dear writers reading this–let’s start writing, okay? Let’s keep writing, but let’s remember why. What is it you need to say?

So write something imperfect (like this mess of a blog update), and then write something better afterward. Stay tuned for Thomas Hardy:)

Human for the Holidays

It’s a kitschy title, I’ll admit.  I’ve just been thinking about how these holidays will be a little different for me than previous Christmases, when I had four weeks of a break from school. This year, because God has blessed me with gainful employment, I get one day off, and I’m trying to think of how to make the most of it when it gets here.

So here’s my list of reminders starting now, December 6, that you are welcome to join me in, if you’d like to. They are reminders to be human, and to engage people around me well, rather than be absorbed by a screen. They’re activities I think are peculiarly human things to do, and they’re things to do at your leisure (ie, if no one immediately signs up to climb a mountain with you, don’t get discouraged and go by yourself and get mauled by a bear–or worse, not go at all). If you think of more ideas, or things you plan to do this Christmas, please share them in a comment!

Week One:

-Make a coffee date with a friend. Don’t check the phone. Listen:)

-Arrange to meet that one friend who always sends ugly pictures back and forth with you on Snapchat. Sit facing one another. See who can make the silliest face. Laugh together:)

-Wake up really early, bundle up, and take a brisk walk. Don’t put earbuds in. Just listen.

-Have tea-time promptly at 4 o’clock with a dear friend. Have cookies and tea (or hot chocolate). Chat about the weather and your health. Each of you recite your favorite poem.

Week Two:

-Find three or more friends and have game night (board games/pictionary/charades/anything) but leave your phones in the other room. Pretend you’re in a theater: you can’t text the friends who didn’t come until the game night’s done.

-Read a (good) book cover-to-cover. Warn anyone who persistently contacts you that you’re unavailable for the next two hours, but that you’ll talk to them soon. REEEAAADD.

-Knit a thneed. If you don’t know how to knit, ask a friend to teach you.

-Make a homemade loaf of bread. If possible, do this with your mother. Eat the bread with homemade butter (actually SUPER easy to make) OR blackberry jam. Or anything you want.

Week Three:

-Wrap presents/clean your room/do your homework/wash the dishes: do anything you need to do, but if possible, without checking your phone throughout.

-Play video games with your kid sister (or brother) but DON’T check your phone during it. Just play. Lose, win, it doesn’t matter, just keep mashing the button and focusing on being with the person you’re with.

-Go OUTSIDE and play football, or baseball, or tag, or blind man’s bluff (not sure how to play that last one) with your family or your neighbors or your friends. Preferably a mixture of all three.

-Make a fancy dinner for your parents and serve it on fancy dishes with a fancy candle on the table. [CLEAN ALL DISHES AFTERWARD. ALL DISHES. EVERYWHERE. EVER.]

-Sing carols all day. Go caroling at night. Have apple cider waiting when you get back.

-Watch a Christmas movie–but leave your phone somewhere else and text people later.

CHRISTMAS DAY:

As much as is possible, wherever you are Christmas day, be all there. Yes, wish EVERYONE happy Christmas and call friends and far-away family and do these things, but be with people, and don’t distract yourself with Facebook or Twitter or things that, at least the memories of which, aren’t going to be with you when you’re your parents’ age and older.

Sincerely, Jo:)

 

Stir-Crazy

Some days, when I don’t understand what I’m doing, or when my eyes are glazing over from scanning the computer screen, or when I have no clue how to answer the question someone just asked, I remember that I, in fact, set my own hours, and that sitting numbly at my desk isn’t going to help anyone or anything, so I take a pause to try to remember why I do things in the first place.

They can’t be long pauses, I realize, or I’ll never get anything done, but it’s like in college, when it’s late and you’re staring at a paper and you can’t possibly think of anything to write, and the better thing would really be to go to sleep and work the next day, refreshed. There will eventually come a midnight, I know from experience, when waiting is not an option, and you must push through and turn in something.

My sister, when she’s stressed, likes to bake cookies (and she’s great at it). I make pizza.

I go into the kitchen and start tossing stuff into a bowl. I hardly ever measure anything. I prefer to approximate in cooking, which is probably why I can’t make cookies very well. You’ve got to be exact when baking desserts. Probably you have to be just as exact with pizza and I just don’t know it.

I like to experiment. Tonight I’m making spinach pizza (mostly because there’s a bunch of spinach in the fridge we’re supposed to eat up before it goes bad), but I hope to make the most exquisite, most delicious alfredo sauce to go on it, without measuring a thing.

It’s really a terrible plan. Sometimes I wonder how God created the world–did he just toss stuff around haphazardly–as in, “hmm, how about some light?” Or “I think I want to see what an ocean would look like.”

I doubt it. I don’t think God’s capricious like that, or stir-crazy like I happen to be. I think God knows exactly what He’s doing and what it’ll be like when He’s done.

I, on the other hand, still refuse to be precise when creating things, and yet have the audacity to imagine myself years from now running a pizzeria called “Mama Jo’s.”

Quality control? Psh, no. Every pizza will have its own unique character, spurred on by the restlessness of its equally imperfect maker.

Try to Remember

I haven’t seen the musical “The Fantasticks,” but I love a song from it, called “Try to Remember.” It’s calm and sweet and reminiscent, and I think you should give it a listen:)

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

I’m writing for a few reasons–one is that it’s September, finally. And that is worth reveling in, just by itself. The -ember months (including the very loveliest, October) have a way of waking me up inside; in fact, I’m half-convinced I’m doing a sort of sleep-walk/hibernation the rest of the year. The air dries out and a breeze comes down the trees, and the breeze is bringing fall. And it smells like smoke and cinnamon and hope and yearning.

Another reason I’m writing is to inform the blogging world that I got a job, which is weird. Because I can’t just take the job and shut up–I have to do some soul-searching and agonizing before I turn into corporate-brained robot Jo. That’s not what I meant. What I mean is that, well, I wasn’t gonna get a job this year (see The Plan for that particular bit of soul-searching). I was going to read and read and read, and relish just being with my family, and take all the opportunities that would never come once I settled down to whatever-the-future-might-hold. I wasn’t going to worry; I was going to let next year worry about itself.

I was going to be a lily.

So while I’m very thankful for this job, I feel in some way that I’ve failed by doing anything so crude as being employed. (See what an absolute idiot I can be? I can regret anything.) Enough of the regret. Enough enough enough.

The job, if you were wondering, is medical writing/editing. So I do a lot of scanning long documents for numbers and split infinitives. If I describe it any more, you might think it’s the most boringest thing ever, but that is NOT the point I’m trying to make. The point is I get to use what I’ve learned (about sentence structure and the use of semicolons) and I get to help very smart people communicate even better. Because I’m not terribly smart, scientifically, but when I understand what I’m reading, it’s fascinating.

So my job involves detective work: (1) because scientists like to hide their identity with a bunch of passive voice; and (2) because I have to look up every third word in my newly acquired medical dictionary.

And there’s a third aspect to medical writing–it’s a game Mary Poppins might call “Well begun is half done,” or “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

“In the most delightful way.”

I see if I can make it interesting–whatever “it” may happen to be. I just see if I can be intrigued, and sometimes, God grants me a curiosity about things I never would have expected to be interested in.

Not that reading an essay by E.B. White still isn’t vastly preferable (I love that how that man wrote), but today, for example, I found myself staring at a diagram of a human cell, feeling a steadily rising excitement at the prospect of defining “ribosome” or “reticular.” I like learning (or re-learning, in this case). Words make me laugh, words like “glucocorticoid.” It sounds hilarious.

Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing–either with this blog or with this job. I do know that I’d kind of forgotten what I wanted to write about, or how I wanted to write, so being reminded of the importance of communication has been lovely. The very idea that literature is valuable and science article abstracts are valuable–this has me wanting to go read Poe’s “Sonnet: to Science.” I’m not seeing the dichotomy between literature and science–or at least, I’m not seeing that the conflict has to be there.

I’m thinking of Robert Herrick and his ode to a woman’s breast and how I blushed when we read it in class, hearing the speaker describe, quite beautifully, quite unscientifically, the appearance of his lover’s body. There’s a wonder there, about the way things are, and the sort of delight that, at least in the abstract, I share. Of course, people are more than only their physical bodies, but the physical is there, and it’s funny and intricate and weird.

I think it’s when I forget that, behind the diagrams and clinical descriptions, there’s a design and a Designer, that science ever could become boring to me. It’s when I forget that the same things are signified by literary words and scientific terminology that the definition of amino acids as “building blocks of protein” fails to delight. Think carefully–of what is meant by building blocks, of what your experience of a building block is, and suddenly the picture is there.

In my mind, there’s a nursery with toys strewn around, and a very solemn and holy baby picking out the perfect little protein block to place on the next one, and so forth until a cell, an organism, a human has been knit together in the womb.

Language is lovely.

Science is lovely, if you can just remember there’s something beyond the physical that gives reason and meaning to existence. The idea that the heart pumps blood without my remembering or my telling it to pump–in a way, to my unscientific mind, inexplicable. If it can lead you to wonder at something other than yourself, it has promise, I’m thinking.

I don’t even know about this whole blog post. Better go and read E.B. White, or the rest of this Septembery song:

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
And dreams were kept beside your pillow
Try to remember when life was so tender
And love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know snow will follow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
The fire of September that made us mellow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember and follow

Turk’s Cap

[Lately, I’ve been working through some things I haven’t dealt with before, but I’ve known people who have lived their lives within the framework of anxiety. So, that said, I am offering something that touches a topic I haven’t thought through as much as others have. There’s a lot I don’t know, so I ask for patience while reading this whatever-it-is. I’m hoping it’s helpful, not hurtful. Here goes.]

 

Turk’s cap, brilliantly crimson,
Perfectly formed, set against green–
It could be Christmas if it weren’t
High summer.

White moths and big tadpoles,
Hummingbirds relishing the shade
Of my father’s butterfly weed.

I wasn’t always anxious–I remember,
I’ve thought of myself as brave,
Plucky
Stouthearted
(at least I’ve wanted to be).

Maybe anxieties can be developed
Same as allergies.
You’re free, then one day, later in life, you aren’t.
You feel constrained
Helpless
Absolutely idiotic
Quite possibly you are insane.

You know the right answer even before the tears come:
Don’t worry
Do NOT fret (don’t you dare!)
God is good.

And God is so good.
But you still might cry.

What is wrong with me?  you shudder.

Nothing.
Not a damn thing
Except being human like everyone else.

Tears need no reasons;
Anxiety asks no one’s permission
Before it attacks.

Here is something
Reminding me I am not invincible.
Huge emotions besieging all my cool logic
Sometimes winning
Or subsiding,
Only forcing a few leaks from my eyes
Randomly.

I am small
and helpless.

You are great and good.

Hide me til it passes over.

About Writing

There’s a Remington manual typewriter over there on my desk that I rediscovered in my closet the other week and dusted off in the naïve hope that it would get me writing. It hasn’t helped. If anything, it’s hindered me, taking up the desk space where I might otherwise put my laptop. There isn’t any ribbon and it weighs all of twenty pounds, if not more, so bringing it in here was a miserably futile move. I was wrong to think that an old-fashioned tool, purely by virtue of being old, will motivate me to write something I wasn’t writing with the newer tool (laptop) or the older still (pen and notepad). It’s like the notion that the latest technology will somehow inspire more creativity merely because it’s this year’s model. Stupidhead, Jo.

Sometimes I just have to start something, even if I am not completely sure it’s worth much. I have no idea who would read this stuff, for example, but it’s something I need to write. Sometimes I think it’s the stuff probably no one will read that’s most important to write down.

At the risk of sounding like the self-absorbed, yet self-satisfied, yet self-doubting person I am, I am not sure I can actually write worth a flip. I’m not even sure anymore that I have anything to say. And if I do have something to say, I’m not sure it’s anything worth hearing. But I’ve said for so long that I must write, that I think I must try. It’s the last thing I knew with certainty I needed to do. And whether I feel the urgency now or whether it’s faded, I keep remembering that strong, strong urgency to communicate something I could never articulate audibly, but came closer to expressing on paper. There is, or at least there was, something in me that needed to write.

I wanted to write something that would help a person understand he was not alone, even when it seems like no one around him understands or agrees with what drives him at his core. I wanted to write to the twelve-year-old girl who witnesses bullying or gossip at school or at church, and who knows she ought to speak up, but who doubts that anyone will listen. Or perhaps she is afraid of what others think—cripplingly afraid of being unpopular, even if she’s for standing for what’s right. What that girl does there, at age twelve—how she decides to respond—that is going to shape her, and it seems likely that when she is twenty-five, deciding how to act in a new, professional environment, that decision she made a decade before will influence how she acts around the water cooler.

There are things I wish I’d been reminded of when I was twelve, and eight, and fifteen—things maybe I did know, but I wish someone had told me again. I know my parents were there to encourage me to be kind and to do the right thing, even when it meant standing alone, but that’s not true for a lot of kids. And it helps, sometimes, to see things in the light of another story, a book you can be engrossed in, identifying with the protagonist, seeing where he or she is tested, and where he’s victorious, and where she fails. The reader can see redemption and forgiveness when failure happens and the twelve-year old in the story cows to society’s pressure to act cool and strive for popularity above all else.

Children see everything adults see, it seems like, even if they don’t have the tools yet to interpret what they’re seeing. Some things they shouldn’t have to see. It’s a wrong world, and all the beautiful sunsets and waterfalls and butterflies can’t quite make up for the feeling of losing a friend, or being rejected, or watching other people watch bullying without intervening. If a child is engaged with the world around him, he or she is going to deal with many of the same decisions adults face: do I tell the truth when it costs me something; do I defend the helpless; do I stand up for what’s right, and when I do, how do I speak with compassion to everyone involved? Do I listen to this gossip and do I join in, or do I change this conversation before it hurts someone (because it will)?

Maybe I forget that children are just shorter people—they aren’t some alien species that turns into humanity upon puberty or upon leaving adolescence. They are humanity—but still untamed. Kids are wild people who need to be trained in what it means to be human. If the adults in a generation decide that the only things that matter are food and sex and entertainment and getting what you want, that’s all they have to teach the children of the next generation. But they will continue to be wild. If, however, you hold that humanity is different from baboons or dogs or fish—if you believe there is both human dignity and human depravity; that men and women have the capacity for doing great, good things, and astoundingly evil things; that there is something called a soul that no physician can see or repair; that the soul has hunger pains, longing for something that nothing on earth can satisfy, not food or sex or unlimited entertainment—then you will have something more to teach the coming generations.

So I’m wondering if I could write something that would help a young person understand, at the important age of twelve, that feeling lonely in the middle of a crowded room doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you or that you will never have friends.

I’m talking about writing about close, strong friends who love each other faithfully and sacrificially, rather than superficial friendships that may look attractive but have no depth.

About the act of seeing the world clearly—not glancing back and forth at every glittering distraction—but delighting in mountain and molehill alike. The goodness of learning and training your mind and joining in the conversations that have been going on since the beginning, and the joy of noticing small wonders like smiling and music and the color of other peoples’ eyes and, all at once, understanding the wideness of the world’s horizon and its simultaneous smallness, looking at the pinpricks of starlight that aren’t icy cold, after all, and realizing how curious it is that we live on anything so wonderful and strange as Earth, and finally, finally, asking how such things have possibly come to be.

Who made this?

So we start somewhere, with a blog post, maybe, or a conversation in real life. And in the meantime we mow the yard and paint the house and work a job or two. Maybe the key is to try something, to stay motivated by a worthwhile cause while at the same time, somehow, finding contentment in the here and now.

Prosey Poesy

This post was supposed to be a smarty-pants book review of Eric Metaxas’s If You Can Keep It, but I got about halfway through and got annoyed by what I was writing, so I’m taking a break on that particular ramble.

Instead, here are two sort-of poems. They’re lazy poems, rough poems, slapped-down-on-paper poems which I really should heavily edit before putting them anywhere people can read them. The second one isn’t even finished yet. But since when do I edit things I write? I’ll get to them in a minute.

Last semester, I read a lot of Flannery O’Connor’s works, both fiction and non-fiction. I even wrote a smarty-pants paper about disability in her life and in her short stories. It’s a topic I probably had no business writing about, but it got me thinking a lot about the Christian response to suffering. Long story short, O’Connor seemed to agree with this guy named Pere Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher/priest who wrote about what he called “passive dimishments,” or suffering that cannot be avoided or escaped, but must be endured. This sort of suffering, for the Christian, is to be accepted (Flannery wrote that she hoped to accept suffering in her own life “if possible, with joy”).

Important note: when a miserable situation occurs and a person can mitigate his suffering, he should do whatever he can not to suffer–just in case you were thinking this was starting to sound like grim fatalism. Passive diminishments are different in that they are instances where there is not really an option for improvement, so the options are either to accept reality or to be doubly miserable, refusing to learn and grow from the (perhaps undeserved) “diminishment.”

Anyway, I started thinking about my own life, and how I haven’t suffered at all to speak of, but other people have, and I may someday soon. In another post on here I wrote about the future in terms of a Story, in which the characters may not know the impending plot twist, but the Author does and, if he is a good author, will write the story so that even surprising events are somehow right and meaningful in the end. [Click here for that ramble: On Wanting to Know]

In that frame, as you might expect, I was thinking of how God as the Author of creation knows his plans for his people–Psalm 139 uses similarly literary language, saying “…in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” It’s a comforting thought if you know God as a merciful, mighty Father whose plans are perfectly right and good.

And yet it’s kind of scary at the same time. I can say til my face turns blue that I trust that what the future holds will be meaningful and worth-while, but when something actually arises that is too hard for me to handle, how am I going to respond? Last week I was sick off and on for several days and I was so impatient to be well and up and around–doing something useful–finally realizing in the middle of the last round of sickness that I hadn’t done a dandy job of honoring God in the middle of feeling crummy.

And other people have ailments far more serious than the stomach bug.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking of–that episodes of the stomach bug and even the persistent, eternal common cold can prepare us for some harder thing in the future, if we’re willing to accept those things we cannot avoid as being given by a good God for a good purpose in the future. I’m not saying the bad things that happen are good in themselves, just that nothing God gives is, or ever can be, pointless.

I’d like to hear your thoughts if you want to share them. Here’s the poem:

Forbearance

I want my works to justify;
I wish my words expressed me.
In suffering I’d like to rise
And rejoice in times that test me.

But I can hardly keep the faith
Through little trials that come.
Complaint and doubt bestrew the way:
I choose the hard road home.

I haven’t suffered much, and still
I tend to worry and despair
That some thing waits unseen, unknown
For which the present should prepare.

And since I have not suffered well,
But struggle to accept
The daily, inconvenient Given—
God’s promise made and kept—

How can I, then, expect to be
A martyr or a saint
When daunting grace draws near to me
And my weak soul grows faint?

I curse this inability
To say with grace some worthwhile thing:
Moses-like, I have a tongue
Unfit to praise my God, my King.

My rhymes are forced, as are my works,
And dead: they have no power
To justify or plead my case
When comes the darkling hour.

Then bless, my soul, this living hope
Which cannot be defeated:
My Intercessor, Savior, Friend
Who, long ago, entreated

Me to come to Him, when I
Was sick with fear
And, casting doubt aside, has granted
Love and cheer.

Cheer that stays through charcoal dusk
And crows aloud at morning;
Love that wonders at all things
And gives herself, an offering.

An offering of praise and thanks—
A quiet, glad assurance
That all is grace, that God is good—
I learn from this forbearance.

And here’s the prosey excerpt thing:

The man of acts says he is pierced by a great thorn—
I believe it. Scholars consider what Paul meant
And what shape the thorn might have taken.
I think it is enough to know there was a thorn,
Even in the side of one so earnestly following his Lord.
Enough to wonder at the curious way God governs,
Giving weaknesses as if they are gifts, and planning
For His children paths utterly unpredictable to human hearts.
Blessings that do not look like blessings
Til seen with new eyes.

Thanks for reading.