Letter #7: Heading West

Dear Aglet,

I’m heading west with my parents and a sister–it’s my turn to drive and I find myself completely Hyped. Up. on caffeine, mentally penning a letter to you, my dear, future, hypothetical grandchild.

You might be tempted to think it’s because I’m bored by the treeless terrain of the Texas panhandle. Most people where I live say there’s nothing here.

But I find the nothing beautiful.

I love being able to see to the horizon, feeling how the land goes on for so long. And as the sky expands, growing bigger and bluer and wider, I feel my soul expand in a way I can’t explain, quite. I start feeling more hopeful, maybe, more at ease, than when my view of the heavens is restricted by the tall pine trees.

Not that I don’t like trees–I do like them (just ask my college president)–and I’m glad to be where I am, generally, but every now and then, it’s nice to go west and stretch a little.

I’ve inherited it from my dad, I think: the restlessness that occasionally comes and can’t be shaken off or distracted. Herman Melville prescribed for this rising of the spleen a good long sea voyage, but for my family, the cure is going west until the wonderfully desolate land meets the sky. Perhaps the two cures are not very different–both satisfy the urge to see far on all sides. Both calm, at least for a time, the crawling feeling of confinement.

I used to dream of living out here, of having a ranch near Saint Jo, Texas, where I’d live, hermit-like, in a small yellow house with a little dog named Joe Gargery and a big sheepdog named Chesterton (“Chester,” for short). The dream is still appealing, especially when I feel the impatience of loving imperfect people or the ensuing, awful realization of my own glaring flaws. Then the independent spirit comes upon me and I want to be off where uncertainty is gone and I can see with clarity.

I crave certainty, Aglet.

But when I am told what to do, or how to do it, I resent it like the wretch I am, and I prefer the former ambiguity. At least control my own indecision.

Paul, in his letters, said he’d learned the secret of being content in any situation. I think I’ve learned the opposite–I manage to be restless and discontent any time, any place. But I wouldn’t call it a secret or a gift.

Slowly, very slowly, maybe I’m learning that I’ve had many plans and many dreams, but that happiness doesn’t depend on them turning out perfectly, or even coming true at all. That’s not to say I should suppress all my desires and ambitions, more that I should be wary of where I hang my hope, and my heart, and my happiness.

I find myself in my early twenties and I’m thinking about what I want my life to be like, about what would possibly fulfill me, and I sense that the stakes of living a worthwhile life are at once terribly high and wonderfully low.

If I think that this is all there is, I ought to scramble to get all I want and make all the happiness I can, even if it only lasts for a little bit.

If I think there’s something else, though–something beyond this world and this life–it at once raises the stakes and lowers them. I would have more of an urgency to do what’s worth doing, regardless of how exciting it feels at the time, knowing that my source of satisfaction is in Christ. It would mean I could choose what I do and be motivated by more than simply what makes the most money, and yet my job wouldn’t be what fulfilled me.

And it would mean that your future, hypothetical grandfather (my “Mr. Mister”) needn’t be a flawless sort of Mr. Darcy in order for us to love one another or find joy together. It would mean, even, that I might never meet Mr. Mister and my life would still have meaning and fulfillment. I might go on great adventures and weather awful sorrows.

Anything might happen, or nothing.

Life would still be a gift.

Sometimes tears come in the loveliest of situations, reminding me that this isn’t all there is; that I haven’t experienced perfect joy yet; that there is a longing that won’t be quite answered by anyone or anything, wherever I live. Even the open horizon becomes monotonous, and I grow bored with the same mountains that astonish me. My capacity for gratitude is smaller than I want it to be, and my appetite for wonder is really pretty dull.

It’s curious that such a yearning could be a comfort, or that a desolate place could be beautiful. Strange, that horizons bring hope, or that feeling so small could bring joy.

Love, your caffeinated grandma,



Music and Graduation

Waiting to graduate is like waiting for a train to actually come into the station, when it’s still a mile out and creeping along. You can see the bright light, you can hear it whistling, and the bar at the railroad crossing has just lowered and is flashing and dinging like mad. Exciting times–but hard not to rush these last few weeks. Motivation has made herself pretty scarce these days.

I wrote that a month ago as the beginning of some unfinished blog post. I think I’ll leave it unfinished. It certainly felt true at the time, but today the graduation train is closer to the station and I don’t feel so impatient. I feel downright sentimental about that train. And while I’m still glad to be finishing college, I don’t feel as much like getting the heck out of Dodge as I did a month ago.

It’s kind of like how, when I was a kid living in the country, I wanted to live in a neighborhood, with a cute, normal house instead of a crazy in-construction mobile home. But when we moved to said cute, normal house, I yearned more than anything for the freedom and space of the country. I’m not exactly digging in my heels to stay in college forever, but I feel really glad for every second I’ve spent here.

Tonight I went to a choir concert, the 200th or so of all the concerts I’ve been required to attend as a music major. Just a few days ago, I tossed that figure out as a complaint–“ugh, look at all the music stuff I’ve had to go to since they wouldn’t let me quit music!” But oh goodness, tonight I looked up at all the lovely faces of new friends and old friends and started bawling like a baby.

Not literally bawling. My eyes just started leaking, and I tried to shield my face from my friend sitting next to me, even though we’ve known each other since the first day of freshman year. Every song was more beautiful than the last, and I praised God for the wonderful, gorgeous gift of music. I was smiling, too, but mostly through these crazy tears because I am so thankful I had to go to those 200 concerts, if only so that I’d be there tonight.

Most of the things I complain about are precious gifts that I’m failing to recognize as such. Having to go listen to music as homework is one of those, I guess.

Last night I played in a concert–an extremely loud, raucous, steel drum concert–where I got to play an African drum, a Snapple bottle, and a chicken waterer, among other things. Oh, the fun I’ve had in that group! Looking back, it was a big factor in reminding me why I liked music in the first place. It brought some of the fun back into it. Sharing music with others to bring them joy is a lovely privilege that I’ve enjoyed for four whole years.

Tomorrow is my last piano lesson–maybe ever. That’s a hard thing to think about. My parents have ensured that music lessons have been available to me almost every week of my life since third grade. I’ve had a rocky relationship with some of my teachers–and especially with the reality of practicing–but dear God, thank You for the lessons.

Thank You for teachers who encouraged me to play well in order to make music, not in order to live up to their personal expectations of what I ought to be.

That last part sounds bitter, but it’s not. I learned a great deal from all my teachers, but I guess I’m especially grateful for those who recognized that music is best when it’s enjoyed, both by the listener and the performer. I know that excellence ought to be striven for in everything, but I think that the joy people derive from music is the most precious thing about it, even if we’re talking about a two-year-old banging on a cooking pot with a wooden spoon.

If I could learn how to present music–my study of it, my listening of it, all of it–to the Lord in recognition that He’s the one who made it, how much more value it would have! I was listening to a sermon earlier about how it’s often the “good and precious gifts” we’re given that we’re also tempted to make into idols–into things that we treat as more valuable than God. It’s the same everywhere–those wild surges of joy we feel when we experience something we really love; those tears I shed when I was moved by the music; the delight we see in seeing someone smile–all of these we’re tempted to think of as being the best it can be.

But these are only glimpses.

I hope that the glimpses of joy you see will remind you of the coming Joy that’s in Christ.

Thanks for reading:)


Things I’m Thankful For

Every year of college, I’ve written a prayer for that particular year that I feel captures some of the essential things that happened that shaped me more into me as I ought to be. The essential things, I mean, that, if I’m not careful, I forget to thank God for. So there’s a freshman prayer of thanks, and a sophomore prayer, and a junior prayer. And I’m working, at the moment, on my senior prayer of thanks. Which is crazy to me. Four years goes by fast

So here are some things that happened recently that I’m thankful for.

A conversation I didn’t think I needed to have with an old, dear friend–several of these conversations, in fact, with several such friends–that came at the sweetest time and helped me clarify my very confused and frustrated thoughts.

A hilarious talent show, an apple pie, and my family just being my family.

Going to a football game with my sisters and remembering why I like football, lame English major though I often am. Playing backyard football with my sister and niece, and being tackled into a gigantic leaf pile, after which my niece proceeded to bounce around on top of me (flagrant personal foul). And then just lying there looking up at the trees beginning to change color, and feeling glad to be an aunt and a sister.

While being rambunctious with the niece, I got a slight cut on the inside of my finger, and my dad, for the first time since I was 12 or so, watched meticulously as I washed it, dried it. Then he put the ointment on the scratch, unwrapped the bandage, and put it on my finger. In that moment, I remembered what it feels like to be a daughter, with a dad who takes care of her, and I thanked God for the moment.

I’m realizing as I write this that life doesn’t always look as pretty as the things I’ve just written about. I am in the middle of making decisions I don’t really know how to make, where both alternatives promise to hurt, at least for a while. I’ve listened to other people and the things that make them hurt, and it makes me at once angry and terribly sad.

I have a hard time keeping joy in the midst of tragedy. Sometimes, I can’t feel happy. I have a hard time trusting that things will turn out okay, someday. Better than okay, really. I assent to God’s providence with my head, and then sometimes I simply am not content with how the world works. I murmur. Restlessness consumes my thoughts, and I mope around, as if this life weren’t a gift.

Life is a gift.

Let’s thank the Giver.