Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Hungry

Last night after choir practice, I was hungry. I had missed dinner before leaving the house but had a large lunch, so I just wanted a snack. It’s a long way home from my rehearsal site, so I pulled up at a drive-through window to get something, and then slipped into the empty grocery store parking lot next door to eat it. (I’m too distractable to try to eat while I drive. Or to do anything other than driving while I drive.) I turned on the latest episode of one of my current set of podcasts to kill time.

It made me think about last year, in the last months of my old job. I escaped every day for lunch, not wanting to be in the place that hurt any more than I had to. I mostly went to fast-food places, because they were handy and for the physical comfort-value of junk food. At first I went inside and sat with a book and read, but later on I drew so far inside myself that I didn’t want even that little bit of contact or exposure to other people, to possible interaction. I used drive-through windows and parked in empty corners of parking lots and listened to podcasts, with familiar voices that felt a little friendly. This was a daily routine for months. It was physically unhealthy, financially unhealthy, socially unhealthy — but it was one of my broken ways of trying to keep myself together.

I thought about that last night, sitting in a dark empty parking lot with a snack before driving home. I thought about the sad, hurting person I had been then, and about how I never want to go back to being her again.

Advertisements

Thankfulness

Many students at my martial arts school are practicing the art of thankfulness, suggested by our fearless leader. Using Facebook as a medium, the challenge is to post something you’re thankful for, every day until the end of the year. So far a number of people have joined in, and I hope more will.

I’m watching what everyone else posts about — many good things, like family and friends and health and abundance. All good. I read those things in the midst of a tough, stressful week personally, and I’m trying to make a different choice: to be thankful for hardships, trouble, and the struggles my life consists of right now.

What? I imagine you saying. Thankful for hardship? Isn’t that what we need to be thankful in spite of?

I hear you, and I don’t completely disagree. I think we do need to be thankful in spite of hardships, sometimes; I think we need to practice focusing on the good things, a lot of the time. But I’m also serious about being thankful for those same hardships. Not in a masochistic “Ooh, please sir, may I have another” kind of way. I don’t suggest one needs to enjoy the pain of hard times, and I for one certainly don’t. But that’s a separate thing from thankfulness.

Think about it like this: when did you learn more, from times of struggle or times when everything was easy? When life was a fight or when it was all smooth sailing? Hardship is a tough teacher, but a good one. I can say very honestly that I’ve learned so much more from hard times than easy ones.

I’m not only talking about all-encompassing miserableness, either. When life is mostly great, except maybe for this one thing that is tough, the principle still stands. That one area of struggle has so much potential to teach you, and not just about the specific thing you’re struggling with. It can teach you important stuff about yourself (like, how do you react when faced with something tough? When you’re under stress? When you’re scared, frustrated, or angry?) It can teach you how to cope with hard stuff, how to tackle hard problems, how to break them down and strategize, how to look for help when necessary, how to not give up. All of those things are universal lessons, and we only get them by facing up to hard things.

I want to be very clear in saying that hard times hurt, and that’s no fun — I’m not at all glad for that, and I really hate to see people I love deal with that, even more than I hate dealing with it myself. I’m not thankful for the pain of the struggle. But for the effects of experiencing the struggle — the lessons, the internal sense of power, the will to be able to face anything — those are what I’m thankful for. That’s why I’m making a point of being thankful for hard times.

My “three-minute” story

On Sunday the pastor of my church taught about, among other things, defining and telling your own story about you and God, so when someone asks about God, you’re ready with an answer. Writing your own story ahead of time helps you to be clear and brief, good things when you’re trying to convey important things.

Gilbert challenged us all to write down our own stories and email them to him, and he would read them and comment. I thought about it, and decided I have this-here blog thing that I’m used to publishing to, and I don’t mind writing down stories about myself and putting them out into the world, with or without other people’s commentary, so I would do that instead. (I’m not sure if Gilbert has noticed yet or not that I’m a bit of a contrarian; I don’t always follow directions as given. The cat’s out of the bag now, I suppose.)

This isn’t very polished, but it’s honest and heartfelt, and it’s one of my own stories about me and God.

—————————-

Everything really changed when I started to understand that God is a person. Not a human person, but still a person. It helped me make sense of him. It helped me make sense of myself.

I can’t relate to a construct, or a philosophy, or a divine essence. But I know how to relate to people. I do that all the time.

At the beginning of 2011, my last job ended. I was scared and relieved, because being in that place and doing that work and feeling stuck, like nothing would change and I would keep being unhealthy and unhappy for a very long time. I wish I had been able to leave myself and a long time ago, but I couldn’t. I was too scared of trying something new and too disbelieving in myself. I missed my chance, and the unhappiness locked me into place. Hating life as it was, and hating the idea of change, and hating myself for being stuck in the middle and helpless.

What I couldn’t change, God changed. At the right time, that job ended, and I was spat out into the world, into the world I was scared of and a new process of change, like it or not. I didn’t know what would happen or what to do.

I wasn’t on my own, though. Last year, I see now, God was already prepping for my departure. In June, I met my martial arts school, a community of people who believe in me and are teaching me so much, about how to believe in myself and how to work constructively on becoming a better me. In November, I met my church, a group of people who are working on something so much bigger than themselves, who care about their city and care enormously about God’s ideas and intentions, and who are working hard and taking the risks of doing something new. Along the line I met the counselor who has helped me do so much good, hard work in learning to understand and accept myself, no matter what. I started writing and received so much encouragement from friends and family. So many people, so many pieces of my life this year that have helped with the process of change, and all of them gifts from God. I see the circumstances of how those meetings happened, and I know chance and coincidence doesn’t cover it. God had all of it in mind, long before I did.

Over the course of the past year, I have experienced so much that’s so hard — a lot of things that I can’t even bring myself to say yet. I have been terrified and shrieking-angry and despairing. But all of those moments and situations passed, and I’m still here — here and stronger for facing them.

But not for facing them alone. At every hard point, God was there, and whether I was howling or crying or moping, I have learned to do it with God, in and aware of his presence. He has reassured me and chastized me and pointed me toward the next thing to do, and no matter what, has always been here, like the best friends always are. I’m forgetful of him sometimes; he isn’t ever forgetful of me.

I don’t know where this story ends yet. I don’t have a new job, and in this minute when I am writing I am facing down another bout of scared despair. That’s what this week hold for me. I wish I could write the fairy-tale ending for you right now, primarily because I wish I could skip to the end myself. The hard middle bits of a fairy tale aren’t any fun.

But God is right here, still and always here. I am such a different person now than at the beginning of this year: stronger, wiser, braver. When this story started I couldn’t have faced a grasshopper, let alone a dragon. But I’ve got my eye on bigger game now. I can face dragons, now, face them and stare them down. Because I’m not alone. God is here, and no dragon stands a chance. If God wants me to face down dragons, he’ll teach me how and back me up and give me the strength to do it. No doubt. Because that’s who God is — that’s who I am learning God is. The best friend, the best teacher, the best general, the best mentor, the best counselor, the best listener, the best visionary, the best artist, the best encourager. All of those people-roles are God’s roles, first and best.

I want to change the world for the better, and God’s been working on that project for a long time already. He has ideas for where I fit in, and I can’t wait to see what he has in mind.

Five minutes

There’s something I keep noticing now and then, during my typical days at home. Just about every morning, I make myself at least one cup of tea. I set a timer for five minutes to let my tea steep, because if I don’t set a timer to remind me that I’m making tea, half the time I forget about it and it’s cold by the time I remember.

So I set my timer, and go off to do something else. Half the time I’m still surprised by my tea timer, but I’m starting to also be surprised by the number of things I’ve done since I started making tea. Sometimes I’m so far past where I was when I set the timer, it’s really astonishing.

When you start to notice what can happen in just five minutes, what you can literally do in five minutes’ worth of work, excuses about “I don’t have time to do that” start to sound really hollow. Don’t have time to write? Don’t have time to do some chore that I’m avoiding? Do I have five minutes?

Give it a try. Set a timer for just five minutes, and see what you can get done. Don’t even race around, just get to work like you always would. See if you’re as surprised as I am. And then think about what you could do in life, if you always remembered how much you can do in five minutes.

Goals and rewards

Something I’ve been playing with over the past two months is setting goals and rewards for myself, to make progress in specific areas of my life where I’m not happy with how things are now. It’s taken a little bit of tuning, but I’m making good progress now in some fitness goals and starting to apply some goals to my work situation.

There are a few key ideas about goals that I’ve learned from reading books and other resources, and a couple of things I’m figuring out that work for myself. One of the primary ones is that what gets tracked, improves. What doesn’t get tracked doesn’t change. The act of tracking what you really do is such a powerful force for making changes, because it forces you to be aware. We spend so much of our time unconscious to what we are really doing in life, because we are doing one thing while thinking about something else. If we make ourselves track a behavior, we make ourselves start to pay attention. Sometimes we automatically start making changes, just by paying attention.

Rewards are helpful for long-term goals, because the payoff can be so far away. I don’t think really hard personal changes happen without getting in touch with some deep, personal motivation; but even when one finds that driving, internal force toward change, giving oneself intermediate rewards can help one to move forward on days when one would rather not. Sometimes doing the work of change is just plain hard, and having a “cookie” dangling in front of us, not too far away, can really help.

I’m doing this with my fitness goals. My long-term intentions are to reduce my body-size (not to lose weight, which I’ll get to in a minute) and to be stronger and healthier. My primary focus right now is to exercise, and I’ve chosen walking and standing pushups as my exercises-of-choice.

So every morning I get on my treadmill, which tracks time and distance. I keep a small notebook right on the treadmill, and when I finish walking I write down the date, time, and distance. Likewise, I keep a notebook beside the spot where I do my pushups, and every day I record the total number I manage.

I’ve set up spreadsheets in Excel for each of these goals, to make the math easier, and every week or so I update the files with the latest data from my notebooks. The spreadsheets add in my new progress, and tell me how far I’ve gotten. When I hit specific numbers, I get a reward (also recorded right in the spreadsheet).

Some people attach deadlines to such goals — “do 1000 pushups by December 31,” or whatever. I’m avoiding deadlines specifically, because they can be a trap for my perfectionistic brain. If I set a goal of 1000 pushups by 12/31 and only score 996, I’m totally capable of declaring the whole thing an abject failure, ignoring all my progress and hard work. So there’s no date attached. Maybe I get to 1000 a day later, but I still win.

This for me is a really key point: I set up my goals so that the only way I can fail is to completely stop. As long as I keep doing the work, even if I have an off day or a string of them, eventually I’ll win.

The other thing that I’ve found is really key is to only set goals based on what I can directly control. I base my goals on literal, concrete, trackable actions. This is another tactic to avoid my terrible “I FAAAAAAAIIILED” impulse.

This is why I’m avoiding the subject of weight in my fitness goals. Sure, I hope that I can lose some weight, but what I really want is for my body to be smaller. Changing my weight isn’t what I’m actually most interested in.

But more than that, I can’t precisely control either the weight or the size of my body. I have no idea what goes on inside my body, not really; I know that if I exercise more and eat less, I’ll probably go in the direction I want. But I can’t totally control the process. I can’t change my body by flipping switches or hitting buttons; I can’t precisely dial in the results I want and expect to exactly hit them.

So I pass over what I can’t control, and set my goals based on what I can control. I can’t build a precise amount of muscle in my arms, but I can choose to keep doing pushups, which builds muscle. I can’t sculpt my waistline to a precise shape, but I can choose what I eat. Outside of body and fitness goals, I’m starting to use the same idea in my work life. I can’t totally control whether someone hires me for a freelance job, but I can decide to keep building my sample portfolio and entering bids for jobs. I set goals that keep me focused on doing the work I need to do, and trust that doing the work is what will get me where I want to be, in all kinds of areas. And when the real reward is far off, I give myself rewards along the way to encourage myself and keep me moving.

Goals and rewards are one of those areas with fundamental principles that apply to everyone, but where those principles can be put into practice in a thousand ways. Two of the fundamentals are to track your progress and to do the work. But it’s up to every individual person to find the specific ways to put these fundamentals to work, for them.

Unhopeful

Monday after Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and I’m unhopeful.  I have gratitude for a lot of things, but I’m not hopeful today about what the future holds.

Emotions are liars.  Sometimes they’re nice and all, but sometimes they’re horrible, greedy, manipulative things.  They always want to be nice, at any cost.  If you’re experiencing something that makes the feelings all go icky, they push on you really hard to get out.  Even if the experience is vital.

An unhopeful day gives me a chance to examine hopelessness.  I want to see what it is, what it may be, and how it’s not relevant to my intentions right now.  I want to learn how not to listen to it, because I think hopelessness is one of the biggest liars of all.

Tired

Today I am tired.  I’ve spent the last four days primarily hanging out with various parts of my family, including my high-energy niece and nephew, both of which want me to play with them at every possible opportunity.  I do my best to oblige, which means I’ve been on the go for much of the last four days.  Add that to being out of my normal routines and cycles, and to not having nearly as much time to myself as normal (even calm adults can be exhausting if you’re not used to sharing the same space as them all the time), and I’m a tired, tired girl.  It’s hard to hold on to any feeling of hope when tired, especially in the face of serious uncertainty.  My incomeless situation counts (does it ever count).

Hungry

I’ve eaten really well over this holiday weekend, but today I’m back to feeding myself, less richly and elaborately than for the several days prior.  As is often the case, I feel like I can’t be bothered.  Prepping and eating food is just a disinteresting chore today, and I’ve only taken half-hearted swings at it.

Part of my tiredness and unhopefulness is just the fact that I haven’t fed myself well yet today.  Body chemistry; what a concept.  That’s a problem with a simple solution (she says to herself, pointedly).

Lonely

I’ve spent the last four days around a lot of the people I love most in the world, and even if it gets noisy and rattling sometimes, it’s also really, really nice.  Even though it’s kind of a relief to have some peace and quiet today, it’s still kind of lonely.  Lonely never helps anything.

Scared

Being close to the end of the month, it’s time to deal with major bills.  Being the last Monday of the month and a morning when I happened to think of it, I started paying off those big bills.  Which is the most frightening thing right now.  It brings me inescapably nose-to-nose with the fact that I have little or no money coming in, and the reserves I have left have to go out.  Until they’re all gone, and then if I’m still not making any money, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Scary.  Very very scary and hard, and I cried about it this morning and howled and prayed for God to lead me out of my stupidity-induced situation and point me toward what he has in mind for me to do next.  I’m grateful (yes, really) to have enough money to cover my current obligations, but the scary is paramount today, and I don’t have the reserves to fight it off — or to get to work, which is how I’m going to get somewhere better.

What to do?

A set of hard problems today, and in the middle of them, I am very unhopeful indeed.  Thankfully, I know feelings are liars.  I feel unhopeful, but it’s not going to boss me around.

I’ve already had a decent nap today and spent a fair bit of time just staring into space, which sometimes is the best way to give my brain a rest.  I have eaten, just not everything I need (protein is my friend), and I can fix that with just a little bit of work.  I was thinking about skipping my usual Monday taiji class because of being so tired and drained, but … maybe I’ll go, if only because there are really awesome people at my school and there’s always a positive spirit in the place.

And scared?  I’m not letting scared beat me at bloody well anything.  Today is for taking care of myself, so that tomorrow I can get back to work and hit it hard.  I’m already doing the primary thing I need to do:  words are happening, in this post right here.  I’m writing.  Scared never gets to take that from me again.

Gideon

I’ve been reading the book of Judges lately, and just started reading the story of Gideon (Judges 6:11-24).  Mostly what I’ve always thought and been taught about Gideon is how he was a coward and fixated on his own lack of significance; there’s always been a sense about it of “Gideon was kind of a loser, but God used him anyway.”

Well, duh.  The more I read the bible, the more I see that the story is always “Fill-in-the-blank person is kind of a loser, but God used him or her anyway.”  I can say unequivocally the same thing about myself:  Cris has kind of acted like a loser a lot of the time, but God is her friend anyway and is helping her to be less and less of a loser the more she hangs out with him.

So I’m reading Gideon’s story from this perspective now, a more compassionate and humble view, and I see so much more than I used to.  I’m starting to see what Gideon did right, and how those actions were signs of why God chose Gideon to defend Israel.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?'”  (Judges 6:12-13)

There's this thing people do: when something is on your mind and you've been mulling it over a lot, whatever else people around you say or do, you tend to latch on to the parts that are related to what you've been thinking about.  You might even misinterpret things that sort of sound like the thing you've been thinking about, even if they actually weren't intended that way.  It's just how our brains work.  Whatever we soak our brains in is what tends to come back out.

When the angel greets Gideon, notice what he immediately says back.  He skips over the "mighty warrior" part and right away says "If the Lord is with us, where are his wonders?”  This is the response of a man who has been preoccupied with this question — if the Lord really is with us, why are we in deep trouble?  We have the stories about how the Lord supposedly helped our fathers, and supposedly promised to always help his people … so where is he?

Gideon isn’t only thinking about God’s presence, he’s thinking about God’s wonders.  He has listened to the stories of his people and knows that God often acts in impossible, miraculous ways.  He is wondering why God hasn’t worked the impossible to save them from Midian — and that’s exactly what God is about to do, via Gideon himself.  Gideon had a mindset that was in line with what God wanted to do.

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.  Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  (Judges 6:14-15)

Here’s one of the parts where I think Gideon is often scoffed at (and mostly, I’m guessing, by people who have never been in Gideon’s position).  God has just told him directly to go save his whole people from an enemy with impossibly superior numbers.  It was not unreasonable that Gideon experienced a moment of flabbergasted disbelief.

He did the right thing, though, by laying out his reaction in straightforward honesty before God.  The angel told him to go “in the strength you have” and save Israel, and he was saying, but I don’t have any strength.  I am a man of no standing in a family of little standing; there’s no reason for me to believe I can raise an army big enough to challenge the Midianites.

He is effectively saying, I don’t know how to do this.  It looks like you’re asking me to do the impossible, and I don’t know how to do that.  I don’t even know how to start.  That’s a valid question and a valid emotional response, and Gideon did the right thing by owning it.  He didn’t try to pretend he was something he wasn’t.  Gideon didn’t say “oh sure, God, piece of cake” when inside he was freaking out.  He was honest about the difficulties and God responded by honest reassurance — not telling him the whole plan, but reminding him of the most important part.  God was going to be with Gideon every step of the way, the God who worked wonders.  The Lord had done the impossible before, and through Gideon, he was about to do it again.

Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.  Please do not go away until I come back and bring an offering and set it before you.”

Here’s another point where we get impatient with Gideon, when he asks for signs from God to confirm what God wants him to do.  We may be dismissive of him, but God knew full well who he was asking to save Israel.  He knew Gideon was going to ask for reassurance and confirmation of God’s will at the beginning.  We may see Gideon as faithless or doubting with his need for signs, but God knew him better than us.  God is more loving and patient than us, and more in touch with reality.

I don’t even think it really was faithless of Gideon to ask God for a sign. Asking for confirmation from God of his intentions and commands isn’t necessarily a sign of faithlessness or untrust.  It can also be driven by a desire to please God — to make sure our own intentions and desires aren’t in the way, clouding up our hearing.  It can be a real, sincere act of faith to ask God for guidance and confirmation, in full belief that God is able to make his will known.

For Gideon, I don’t know what his full intentions were, but I have a feeling they were mixed — part fear, part desire to be sure it was God asking him to do this impossible thing.  So he asks God for a sign.  He continues to be honest and straightforward with God in the asking, and perhaps most important, he does it by means of making an offering.  Gideon doesn’t stand there and demand answers from God before he puts anything on the line; he puts something of his own on the line first.  No matter which way the answer went, Gideon willingly gave up something of his own to find out.  God honors him by receiving his offering, and gives Gideon something amazing back:  Gideon experiences a miracle, one of the wonders of God.  God draws fire from a rock to consume his offering, and Gideon is launched on his career as a warrior and leader of Israel.

Metaphor

This morning, Friday morning after Thanksgiving, I’m catching up on some chores. My trash needed to go out, giving me a reason to go outside and walk down the hill toward the river.

By chance, at the mid-morning time when I stepped outside, the November sun had swung round far enough to stand directly across the river from me. It’s a cold morning, and the sun climbing high enough to shine down on the river brought up clouds of fog in the valley. So this is what I faced, walking down the hill: glorious bright sun, illuminating huge billows of fog over the river, all brilliant white.

I can’t give you much detail of the scene, because I wanted to look at it and I couldn’t. The sun and all that fog were so intense I could only glance at them, and then immediately look away, eyes watering. I thought, this is how God is. So brilliant and so beautiful, and we want to look at him but we can’t, because he’s too much for us. Our eyes aren’t strong enough for it.

I walked down the hill and got rid of my trash and then turned around for home. And I walked very slowly up the hill, because the scene in front of me was lit in such a unique way by that bright sun and the filtering mist. The bare trees and few bushes still holding green leaves, the grass, the hill and my apartment building, a gorgeous blue sky, even my very ordinary car and the others in the lot, all lent such pure, clear color, slightly luminous, completely harmonious, calm, whole. And I thought, this is what God’s like too. He makes everything in the world clear and pure and real and better, when his light shines on it.

I came back indoors to continue my morning work. I have glasses right now with lenses of the sort that darken in response to strong light, and I never realize it until I enter dimmer light and suddenly can’t see. I walked around, squinting at things and trying to keep working while my glasses adjusted, and thought, this is like God too. Spend enough time looking at him, and the way you see everything else changes.

(It doesn’t change by making everything impossible to see, like wearing sunglasses indoors, though. That metaphor rather falls apart in the middle, I’m afraid. Still, two-and-a-half out of three ain’t bad!)

The answer

Every morning, somewhere in the midst of walking on the treadmill and getting breakfast and opening up my scribbeldy notebook to scribble some things, I try to make time to read something in the Bible and to pray.  (I don’t absolutely remember this every morning, but most of them I do.)  In the midst of reading and praying, I try to make a point of letting God have the last word by asking if there’s anything else he wants me to read, in addition to what I have been choosing for myself.  I remember this somewhat less frequently, but I do try.  Sometimes I feel a nudge toward a scripture reference, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I’m not sure.  Sometimes I wonder if my brain makes up scripture references because I want so badly to hear a special word from God.

Yesterday morning I nearly forgot, but then remembered just before I put my notebook away and turned off my Kindle.  I remembered to ask God if there was anything else he wanted me to read.  And I thought I felt a nudge to go and read the book of Jude.  Jude? I thought.  Seriously?

Jude is a tiny, tiny book, tucked in close to the very end of the Bible, and I’m certain I’ve read it before but I have no memory of it whatsoever.  I had no idea what was in it, no inkling why I would be sent there this morning, and was really wondering if my brain was just making it up.

Still.  It’s a tiny book, and it make me curious to remember it was there, and not have any idea what it’s about.  So I read it.

I have no great theological insights to report, but one verse pulled on my attention.  Jude 3:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

I don’t really have any theological insights to say at all about it, not even tiny obvious ones.  It wasn’t theology grabbing onto my eyeballs.  It was the little bit where Jude says he felt compelled to write about something.  Compelled to write.  I latched onto those words, because that’s how I’ve felt lately, and off and on for the last year.  Compelled to write.

I know very well it’s possible to read something, especially something in the Bible, and have it grab hold of one’s attention in this way, and then assume that God is telling you what you want to hear.  I know this, and I caught myself picking over these words, and I pushed them away.  Read to the end of the book, satisfied my curiosity, and was ready to move on.

And then I stopped again, because I know it’s just as possible to push something away that shouldn’t be.  Whether or not those words were guidance from God or made up out of my own head, they had my attention and there was a reason for it.

So I went back to those words, not looking for confirmation or rejection of any sort of imagined message from God, but to start a conversation with him about them.  I owned that they meant something to me, that I’ve had this on-again, off-again relationship for more than a year with the idea of being a writer, and that I really wished, once and for all, that God would tell me if that’s what he has in mind for me, so I can get on with it.  Or that he would tell me it’s not what he has in mind, so I can get over it.

I’ve been in this place a lot recently, feeling clueless about the path I’m on or what path I should be looking for next.  At this stage I really really wish for some clarity, and I don’t have it, and I don’t know how to find it.  At least, I feel like I don’t know.  That doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  I’m perfectly capable of believing I’m saying “Okay God, tell me what you want to tell me, no matter what it is” when what I’m actually saying is “LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” with my fingers stuck in my ears.  If the answer I’m getting isn’t the answer I want, sometimes I just keep asking, pretending I didn’t hear anything.  Sometimes I haven’t even heard the answer yet, I’m just afraid it’s going to be one I don’t like.  So I endlessly and incessantly keep asking, not letting God get a word in edgewise, to make sure I don’t hear something I don’t to hear but still feel like I’m doing my part by asking.

At this point, I don’t even really know what I want, as far as writing goes.  I don’t know if I want to pursue it as my life’s work or if I just want to be able to scribble some stuff on a blog when I feel like it.  I enjoy this work, but I’ve only ever done it when I wanted to, with no obligations.  Sometimes a hobby is better kept a hobby.  I just don’t know.

For the last while, though, I have this constant feeling that the answers I want about my path are going to come to me through writing — that I don’t know what I want to do or what I’m going to need to do, but regardless I need to keep writing about it, keep writing and writing, and the writing will lead me to my answers.  I don’t know if writing will be my answer, but I feel like it is the means by which I will find an answer, whatever it is.

So I’m writing.  I’m writing blog posts, I’m looking for ideas and places to contribute outside of my blog.  I’m looking for contract work and freelance assignments, and even if I don’t win any bids (even if I don’t actually make any bids), I’m going to start doing some of the work, just to see if I like it.  I’ll make up assignments for myself and build my portfolio with different kinds of sample pieces.  If I don’t have other tasks to do in a day, I’ll just write.  I’ll write whatever I can think of or whatever I can find to do for someone else.

I don’t know if it will lead anywhere, and I don’t know if it’s supposed to.  But I’ll find out what I think; I’ll find out if I enjoy it, if I can follow through with ideas and projects, if I can tackle different kinds of writing work successfully.  I’ll experience what I think I want to do:  I’ll try living like a writer, even though I’m not really one, and find out if it suits me or not.  I’ll continue my conversation with God about it as I go, and one way or the other, at some point, I’ll find my answer.

God made visible

In the middle of last week I spent most of a morning catching up with the recent news from Penn State University, one of the biggest universities in my part of the world and a deep part of the cultural heritage around here. Really terrible stories, about sexual assault of children and adults who somehow didn’t come to grips with the situation and stop it, and the many-years-later aftermath on lives and careers of some long-respected people. (I’m not going to write about it in any further detail; ask the internet and you’ll find as much to read as you can stand.)

Disturbing stuff. Really disturbing, and for several days it was hard to shake off thinking about it, if I got reminded (and I tried to not get reminded, because mulling over it all endlessly doesn’t do me or anyone else any good). In the end, the only thing that finally made me let go of it was to pray and put it all back into God’s hands — not just to acknowledge that he knows everything about it already, but to ask that somehow, in the impossible way in which he does this, that he will use these horrible things as seeds for good things to come. That he will take all the evil that has been done, and somehow use it for good. I don’t know how he does it; I could hardly imagine how he would be able to do it here, when all the news and everything I heard was unrelentingly bad. Nonetheless, that’s what I had to pray, and hang on to the truth of it, even though it felt hopeless.

I’m behind the news, but today a friend linked me to a video clip of the Penn State/Nebraska game from last weekend, in which one of Nebraska’s assistant coaches, Ron Brown, led both teams and nearly everyone on the sidelines in prayer before the game. It made me cry to watch it.

It was the first thing I’ve seen from this entire scandal that is hopeful or good — even just as a public reminder and acknowledgement that the current football team and a lot of staff at Penn State have nothing to do with the scandal, I think it was admirable. But it’s more than that.

Look at that crowd of people, gathered in the middle of a football field to pray. Look at all of them, and remember that bit of scripture where Jesus says he’s present wherever just two or three people come together in his name.

God made visible, in the middle of a football game. God made present, for thousands of gathered fans. God’s glory displayed, for hundreds of thousands of watchers-by-television. God’s name scattered across the media, across the internet, to countless people who need to see him — God who changes lives, who can heal people who would otherwise do harm and protect those who need to be protected. Millions of seeds of potential good, cast far and wide.

I am already hearing in my mind’s ear (is there such a thing? If there is a “mind’s eye,” then I suppose the mind can have an ear as well) someone reading this and saying “one pre-game prayer, big deal. It doesn’t make up for what happened.”

Of course it doesn’t make up for anything. Nothing that happens in the future will ever “make up for” anything evil which has happened in the past. People’s actions and choices don’t balance out like numbers and math. There is no real “accounting” for human history, not in that way.

But the fact that it doesn’t “make up for” anything doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. I can’t say it better right now than, of all things, a really good episode of a sci-fi TV show which I like very much:

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.

(emphasis mine; episode written by Richard Curtis)

A prayer at a football game, where a godly man stood up to speak the name of Jesus into a situation that needs Jesus badly, matters. God will make it matter. I have no doubt that he is already nurturing those scattered seeds, and will continue to do so, bringing good things up out of bad, in that impossible way which only he can do.