Letters to Aglet #4: Take Notes

Dear Aglet,

Grandma Jo here. I can’t help it–every time I think of how the world might be when you’re growing up and I’m growing old, I wonder if you’ll still use pencil and paper or if everything will be typed onto a screen and stored in a cloud. That just sounds futuristic. Not that it doesn’t happen plenty now, but at least these days there are young dinosaurs like me who still do things the old-fashioned way. Well, sometimes.

Recently some classmates and I got in trouble with a professor for not having taken notes during a guest’s presentation. That got me thinking about why it’s even useful to take notes: why it is necessary that every member of my class jot down several lines of incomprehensible summary of the speaker’s life-story (wasting paper and KILLING TREES, aaaaah) when the reality is that probably none of us would keep whatever notes we took. All that paper would just be thrown away/recycled by those of us who care enough to make the effort.

Well, Professor argued, it would have looked professional. It would have shown that we cared. It might have indicated that we appreciated the time the speaker took to come talk to us. And it would have been a gesture of respect for his life-story.

SO, take notes, Aglet. Be professional. Take notes.

Also. When there is something that you want to remember, take notes.

Around the same time this whole professionalism-thing happened, I realized what a horrible note-taker I’ve been at church. I found all these bulletins with absolutely nothing on them, and then I found one–exactly one–with notes from a sermon that I had come back to again and again since the fall when it was preached. One, Aglet, out of two-and-a- half-years-worth that I might have had.

I remember admiring people who took notes during the sermon. Not when I was a kid, mind you–back then I just drew doodle and passed notes with my siblings. But when I was older and realized what a good thing it is to have a preacher who preaches God’s Word, then I would look over and think, hey, good for that person, writing this stuff down. I didn’t think about why they were writing it down until church changed and I was relying on my memory for things I’d learned and ways in which I’d grown. I didn’t have any specifics–I could maybe remember certain topics or passages my pastor had gone through, but most of what I had was a vague sense that, yeah, this man preached the Bible and I was thankful for it.

Except for this one sermon.

It’s on prayer, Aglet, and I’m not going to try to recreate the sermon for you (I can’t, anyway), but I’m going to write down on here some things that I remember because I took notes that Sunday. It’s more for me than for my future hypothetical grandkid, honestly.

It starts out like this:

The evidence of following Christ is bearing fruit, living in obedience to Christ (John 15:4-8). Jesus is the source of our bearing fruit.

And then I have written three wonderful Scriptures having to do with God’s assurance of keeping those he saves:

John 6:37. John 10:28. Romans 8:38-39.

Abiding in Christ is not the way we bear fruit. It’s the means by which God causes us to bear fruit.

What follows is a mixture of Bible passages and questions and applications and it seems that I personalized them somewhere along the way. So modify the pronouns accordingly, Aglet.

1. Be a woman of the Word (2 Peter 1:21)

-If it’s really God’s word, how does my treatment of it show my attitude toward God? (John 14:15; Deuteronomy 6:6)

-Let testimony about God drive me to worship God and live in Christ (Colossians 3:16)

And then I’d written:

“Oh God, help me delight diligently in Your Word.”

2. Be a woman of prayer

-Pray simply

-Pray humbly (Luke 12:32)

• God delights in giving us gifts because it glorifies His goodness.

• We come boldly only because of Christ.

-Pray expectantly (Job 38)

• When He doesn’t give what we want, how we pray demonstrates how trustworthy we believe God to be.

-Pray regularly

• We pray, not only when we need something, but because we find rest and love and satisfaction in Jesus.

The last thing I’d written down was something I’ve probably known most of my life, but that Sunday it pierced me like a lightning bolt and it was as if the news were brand new:

Christ called me before I wanted anything to do with Him, and claimed by His grace my wayward heart.

Write down the important things, Aglet. And don’t take for granted that you’ll always have a faithful pastor to teach and re-teach you the glorious Gospel. Don’t even take for granted that you’ll have weird, random letters on the internet penned by your weird, future, hypothetical grandparent.

Take notes, sonny.

Merry Christmas,

Your (increasingly strange) Grandma,

Jo

Advertisements

I Should Have Said It Louder

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be timid, as opposed to being naturally shy or introverted. So that’s what’s been in my head, especially the similarities I sometimes see between timidity and humility and this weird pretend self-confidence that turns out to be based in a feigned apathy.

…I just used a lot of words that may or may not make sense by the time I finish rambling–we’ll see.

I wrote some doggeral once about what it looks like to be timid–a different thing, I thought, then being a concerned person or even an insecure person. Here’s what I’d written:

 

I keep myself busy

With all the art required for

Endless exercises in timidity.

A teacher asks a question

I rack my brains for the answer

And then don’t say it. Ever.

I consciously keep it inside my mouth.

I am a silent smartypants.

It’s cheating, what I do sometimes in an attempt to make something prosey poetic. Just chop up the thoughts and put ’em on separate lines and you’ve got poetry, right?

Ha. No. Silly Jo.

Anyway, here’s one picture, anyway, of timidity: it’s knowing the answer to a question and then keeping it consciously inside your mouth. It’s deliberately not saying something.

Timidity means being a “silent smartypants.”

Timidity is being so afraid of other peoples’ thoughts about you that you sometimes keep quiet on matters about which you do, in fact, care deeply. You deny that part of yourself, and, chances are, you miss knowing someone else who cares deeply and who was simply waiting for another voice to speak up.

Sometimes I try to pass off my timidity as humility. I convince myself that the reason I don’t say the answers in class is because I don’t want to show off-no one likes a show-off.

There it is.

No one likes.

No one likes a know-it-all. And I want to be liked. More specifically, I want to be liked by the people I perceive as being cool, maybe even popular. I want to be highly regarded, highly thought-of, and what people think of me is frustratingly high in my subconscious list of priorities. Without even thinking of it, I daily perform for whatever audience I happen to be concerned with at the moment. I tailor my performance based on what I imagine they’ll like the most.

How can I make them like me the most?

The safest course is usually apathy. This is unfortunately what my most common perception of high school is: a place where you’re popular if you can convince people you don’t care. You’re cool if you don’t talk about anything; if you just do what’s required in classes and, aside from that, don’t get too invested what’s going on around you.

I could be very wrong about that. I observed high school from the outside, and so I don’t know if I’m being overly influenced by Disney’s atrocious/in-some-crazy-and-illogical-way-appealing high school dramas.

In some ways it makes perfect sense. Things are just so strange and uncomfortable for most of those middle-school and high school years that, of course, the ones who don’t open their mouths and let loose all the crazy thoughts bouncing around their heads are as a matter of course going to come off as cool, calm, and collected.

I think that’s when I learned it–that keeping quiet is a safe bet, generally. After a while, people get used to you being quiet and attribute it all to your natural introvertedness. And while nothing is required of you, nothing is really expected, either. And it gets increasingly hard to break the silence, to say things louder.

If this is coming across as critical of those who are naturally anxious or introverted or maybe just plain shy, I apologize. I’m a pretty timid person, often, but my point is that anyone–even extroverts–can be timid.

If being timid is having something to say or do, and then not saying or doing that thing because of fear of what others will think, then anyone can be timid.

I’m realizing that maybe a lot of people I think of as never having these problems of fearing others and overconsidering reputation probably do face the same sorts of fears. Maybe the ones who seem most confident and put together–who never seem to feel any uncomfortable passion about anything–maybe they are the ones struggling most with fear and timidity.

I just don’t think apathy comes naturally to humans. We are wired to care, and to care deeply. Apathy is a cultivated sin.

And I do think it’s a sin, or at least it can be a marker of some other sin. I need to unpack that more, maybe, for it to make sense what I’m thinking of. It’s kind of a rabbit-trail, though.

My main point is that, when people care deeply enough about something, they are going to speak up.

It can be an important something or a sillier something. Otherwise intelligent people care an awful lot about sports, and a certain nerd (yours truly) cares very much about the writings of a portly old man named Gilbert Keith.

When I see that someone cares an awful lot about something–and it might be important or silly, I don’t care–I’m somehow reassured that said person and I can be friends. Real friends, maybe, on more than a surface level. Because not caring about anything seems unnatural. It seems lonely. If you haven’t been called a nerd at least once in your life, and looked at yourself and thought, hey, yeah, you know that’s pretty accurate about This Particular Interest, then just consider. You are practically alone in the human population.

Every one is a nerd about something. And rightly so.

Revel in your nerdiness, in your capacity to care for more than survival. Humans have been given so many options for their priorities: as beautiful as the instinct of, say, Monarch butterflies, might seem, they lack some inherent freedom in choosing what to make their lives stand for. It’s a freedom that you have.

I don’t seem to be getting back to talking about timidity verses humility. I’ll try once more but if I can’t do it, then I’ll try again another time.

First, a story. Today in choir was audition day, and I had already determined not to try out for a solo. I had all kinds of reasons: I was out of practice/hadn’t sung all semester; I didn’t really want a solo anyway; and I didn’t need to prove my self to this choir of practical strangers. I felt so confident in my own abilities: Oh no, I thought, it’s not cause I’m scared. It’s not that I’m self-conscious about my voice. It’s only that I prefer to sing with family and close friends. I don’t feel the need to make an exhibition of myself to somehow prove that I’m brave.

Ha.

Choir starts: people audition, some sounding good, others…not so much. I start to get this self-satisfied feeling of hey-what-a-good-plan-it-was-not-to-audition-holy-cow-you-would-have-embarrassed-yourself-like-that-kid-over-there-just-now. Not a very holy feeling, if you know what I mean. Comparison, Envy start to hover around my shoulders, and Timidity keeps turning the pages for me.

So the next song starts, and it’s a solo I love and have loved for years. It’s one I would love to sing, except I know that I couldn’t sing it the way it needs to be sung. I get this picture in my head of what it might be like to audition for it.

Jo stands up confidently and smiles calmly at everyone. Jo sings through the solo winningly, bestowing a gracious, genuine, and down-to-earth air on all who listen. Jo finishes and sits down, perfectly content with just having tried the solo, perfectly content that someone else will sing just as well, or even better.

Ick.

Here’s what actually happens: I stand up, and the director doesn’t see me. There start to be these whispers about how he doesn’t see me–everyone’s nervous for me. I start to care, a little, and I start to think of how silly an idea this was. I shake it off, trying to reclaim that apathetic confidence–remember, Jo, you don’t care how you sound to others, you just wanna enjoy singing this song you love. It doesn’t work. I start to care more, and when the director signals for me to begin, I open my mouth and nothing of what comes out sounds how I thought it’d sound. It’s laughably bad.

It sounds like someone who’s terribly nervous and insecure, who is trying to audition purely to convince herself she’s brave, and who has some skills that regrettably don’t actually include auditioning in front of a choir of eighty people.

It sounds like me.

And I’m fine with me, mostly. I’m fine with that extra shot of humility the experience gave me. I sure as heck wasn’t as judgmental of the person near me who auditioned after I did. Rather, I kept thinking, how are you all so brave?

Way to go, friends. Way to try, even if you weren’t sure of the result.

Complete tangent, sorry.

Let me go back, briefly, to something that got said earlier: that, when people care deeply enough about something, they are going to speak up.

What’s gotten me thinking about this whole thing is some episodes in the book of Matthew. There are these places where Jesus works a miracle for some people, then instructs them not to tell anyone that he did it. So yeah, one of those places is Matthew 9:27-31: Jesus heals these two blind men, and “sternly warn[s] them” not to tell anyone, and the next verse says that “when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.”

I sort of get why Jesus is, at this point, not having people proclaim his miracles,but what I’m curious about is to what extent was the disobedience of those two formerly-blind guys excusable? I mean, if you were blind, and then a man healed you, I’d imagine it’d be hard to stay quiet.

If I’m a Christian, and I believe that “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see,” how is it that I can stay quiet? How on earth am I in any way apathetic about the Gospel? If I believe the Bible is true, how can I think of Jesus Christ and say, “meh, whatever.”

Here’s where I think apathy indicates sin. It seems like there’s something I value more than I value God and His word. At least that’s what I’m indicating by my willingness to keep quiet. So I’ve been asking myself what I’m ashamed of, and how I can possibly reconcile that with Romans 1:16.

Maybe I’m afraid of coming off as a smarty-pants.

Maybe I’m afraid of annoying people.

Maybe I’m afraid of not being liked.

Maybe I’m just afraid.

There’s a myriad of reasons to be afraid of the world if you don’t know Christ. If you do know Christ, there’s exactly this many reasons:

Zero.

After this long doozy of a ramble, I’d like to encourage you if you are a Christian that timidity is neither how we have to live nor is it how we ought to live. God replaced that spirit of timidity with one of “power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

If you aren’t a Christian, then I’d like to tell you what I’ve been learning about how Christ gives us freedom from fear and a glorious hope in which we can place our trust.

As always, thanks for reading:)

Things I tend to forget

Is joy a feeling? Is it the stirring in my heart at the sight of someone precious to me? Or is it something willed? Is joy the smile I consciously put on like another piece of clothing, choosing to wear it on days when nothing inclines me to that stirring in my soul? I know how to pretend joy—know all about that forced and cheery upper lip, stiff with one “It’ll be fine” after another. I am so tired, too, of all the constant self-criticism of “what do I really have to be sad about?”

I wish I never had time to ask that question, or that it never entered my mind in the first place. I think I am so busy asking that question, wallowing deeper and deeper in a mire of abstract self-critique and self-absorption—so absorbed in my worries that I never consider asking “What can  I thank God for? What can I rejoice in?”

Let’s be blessedly practical for a minute, here.

I am clearly told I should be anxious for nothing, but rather I am to present every request to God, with thanksgiving and in a spirit of prayer and supplication (Philippians 4:6;).

How familiar those words are.

Oh, Jo, when will you learn?

When will you learn that it does no good to hold on, whiteknuckled, to what you thought and what you wanted? It helps no one, least of all you. Yet I desire more than resignation; I would feel that stirring in my soul when I consider the will of God, whatever it looks like.

I want to be content in every situation in which God puts me, yes; but more than that, I yearn to be the sort of person who rejoices—really rejoices—in what she has been given. I’ve less of a use for Stoicism as a way of looking at the world. I crave hope.

I crave hope.

The willed kind of joy is the best I can come up with on my own—I know of no other source for real and lasting joy than in the person of Jesus Christ.

And I am so prone to forgetting.

Hey, friend, let’s remind each other. Thank you for reading.