A thirty-two year old homeschool graduate who once promised her mother she didn't need to learn grammar because she'd never be an author is hopelessly a writer at heart. I'm a Christian who loves to ask thoughtful questions, and who finds thought-provoking material in unlikely sources. A lady in waiting, I'm the oldest of six children still living at home, pursuing the efficient acquisition of knowledge through books and practice.
My grandma always wears a brooch when she wears a blazer. She wears earrings every day. Almost everything she eats gets salted. Buffets are some of her favorite places to eat, along with Village Inn. She loves fried chicken and chocolate cake. Dogs eagerly jump up in her lap. Electronics baffle her. She recycles greeting cards. In fact, all over her room you can find creative little innovations – the kind that work whether they look pretty or not. But there are also many things she has around just because they are pretty: Kleenex box covers, music boxes. When we were little, she would sit at her table and color pictures with us; I used to think she was condescending but now I think she really likes to color. For years she has listened to books on tape, now on MP3. A day before her 18th birthday she married my grandpa, together parenting their two sons and one daughter, all born in Kansas. She knows about wheat farming, mail routes, watering gardens, and driving in the evening in the country hoping to spot some deer. Every glass at her table gets a couple ice cubes before dinner is served. The Price is Right gets turned on every day, and she likes to know the temperature outside. When joining others in their interests, she dives in, trying to look the part and keeping notes even on the names of referees at sporting events. Her memory isn’t very good, and both of her knees are bad. Her laugh, though, will always be wonderful.
First we are hoping for the return of our Bridegroom, Jesus, the establishment of His kingdom, and the fulfillment of our salvation. This future is promised and sure, but not realized – often not even observable on its way. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen. So much of what we do until His return is based on what we can’t see. We love the brethren, whom we can see. We hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. Our feasts remember Him and anticipate the wedding feast we will share with Him. He has left us gifts and we use them. Purity is important in a Bride, so we try to be always ready to meet Him adorned with good works and holy. These are the acts of hope.
Many of us are hoping for the salvation of friends and family. We labor for it. We petition for it. And we recognize that it is God who brings it about. This isn’t a detached hope; we are eager, invested, agonizing as we plead for those who are lost in spiritual darkness and death. The answer to our hope is glorious: redemption and reunion and our Lord’s increased joy.
In singleness we wait for a spouse and children, in hope. God has led me to not just bide my time, but to really desire these good gifts. I can’t acquire the kind of husband I would need to glorify God, by myself. God is abundantly able. So I wait, dreaming of the day when God brings completion to my hopes and I begin a new life, picturing the new life we Christians will share with Christ when He returns for us.
God has entrusted orphans to His people, charging us to care for them. These needy children wait for homes and families, and we walk in hope that they will be adopted soon. Some of my friends are eager to receive the blessing of an adopted son or daughter into their family. While they know that God must move the mountains it takes to bring these children home, they seek Him for the next step they should take in this process. They begin loving these little ones to prepare for the day that they might be their own.
Others are hoping for God to grow their families by blessing them with conception and healthy births. They ask God for babies, get excited about names and interactions and discipleship and teaching and growing. Months too early they begin collecting children’s books and decorating nurseries.
Having kids is an abundant source for more hopes. Parents hope for their children to grow into men and women who zealously pursue God. They pray for long, strong lives. When their children stray from the truth, they fervently intercede for their repentance.
We gently and lovingly confront sin, hoping for the offending Christian to be restored to submission to God and fellowship with those of us who walk in the light of His grace and power and leading.
In all sorts of things we pray for what we don’t have, our hope in the good-gift-giving Father who hears all of our requests with love and wisdom. Sometimes He has told us what to pray for, and our hope should be enthusiastically confident that we have whatever we ask (as it is asked in faith according to His revealed will). And sometimes we lay our hearts before Him, begging that He will grant our desires or turn them to what pleases Him.
It’s a month and a half to Easter. Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. I’ve never celebrated it. The holy-day marks the beginning of Lent. I never participated in Lent either. I think it is something about dying. Dying is something I’m not good at. I’m not good at grieving death. Maybe if I died, I would be.
A friend related a conversation with her cousin this week, where he said that it is harder to surrender things after you’ve lost them than before. You recognize that all is gift. Gifts don’t by right belong to us. And that God has the right to take them back. That maybe He gave them to us to be material for sacrifice. You die to what you thought were your rights, your expectations. And then, when loss comes, you are already dead to the clinging, dead to the owing. The loss is still real. And you can grieve it.
The Resurrection teaches us that before the hope of life-again comes death. Maybe if I learned to die, so I could learn to grieve, I would learn to hope. Maybe hope means nothing if it doesn’t embrace death to self.
I am not surrendered, and I feel it, all this tightness that won't relax. I don't know what I should do, is my excuse to not surrender. Do I surrender to something that God allowed but didn't want? Or did He want it? How can I know? And while I don't know, can't I surrender to this gift-life that God has made for me? I jerk back again, familiar tightening as my heart pulls back from the pain. Take this pain as a gift? Surrender to this God who hurts me?
Love is certainly not all about getting. I think this as I ponder the way I love others, and the ways I feel alone. And when I chose to love these friends, I knew there would be pain, and I decided to give love, to sacrifice. Love doesn't demand a return. God loved me this way, this self-giving whether I love Him well or not. And it hasn't occurred to me that I must choose to love God, to give love, to sacrifice, to be wounded by Him because I love. I felt that loving a lack-less God would not cost. If love is not all about getting, and all I do is get from God, then I am not loving.
The invitation is there, and I'm wrestling on the edge. I don't know what loving God looks like. I don't know what it will cost, to show love to a God who has anything He wants. It is, the Scriptures say, a fearful thing to fall into these hands. And I am afraid. Who says love ever has to know before it gives, how much? I grieve that I don't love Him. I plead that He will give me a passion for His glory. I ask for His mercy, though I don't know what that means.
My mercy-pleas hope that He will remember that I am but dust. Maybe then He will expect no more of me than dust, go easy on me, be gentle and shallow. Such is not the salvation I want, the redemption that inspires my faith. It is to God's credit that He has chosen to transform dust. I hope I will remember I am dust, so I will trust Him who is the treasure in this earthen vessel. The treasure transforms the vessel. I am born of the Spirit, set with the Son of God in heavenly places, heir of the lack-less God. Would I want to be left as dust? Do I despise His mercy so much as to deny its work? Would I deprive the God I love of the joy of seeing His sacrifice accomplish its intent? Though I doubt, He is faithful, unable to deny Himself His well-purified Bride.
Surrender isn't what I expected. Maybe I thought it would mean being sent, and employed - maybe I thought surrender was more getting of what I want: the satisfaction of a meaningful adventure-life. And maybe surrender is letting go of the things that I actually care about. Maybe I thought I would choose what to lose, that it would be this me-exalting expression of my love: that I choose to leave behind chocolate or bookshelves or the world I have known, all to prove I love God. God doesn't need me to prove my love; I won't impress Him. He knows if I actually love. Getting credit for my love is not what love's about.
And maybe I've been there before, surrendered, loving, content, sincerely yielded to His whatever will. Maybe that was before I knew Him this well and saw how little I really know Him. What do I need to know about God to love Him? What do I do with this back-of-my-mind taunt that it is foolish to love a God who isn't good, who isn't just, who isn't faithful? I argue loudly that the only begotten Son dying an excruciating death was not a ruse. I remind my back-of-the-mind-me that I know I am not wise or all knowing. I'm doing what is right, to fight the lies and doubts. But all of it is reaching to understand first, before I surrender.
More than one friend this week has quoted to me Jim Elliot’s famous admonition: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I decided that it would be wicked to wait to surrender. I cannot keep my control or my pride anyway, praise YHWH! And in giving these things, I have received release and joy. Thanks is the exercise of continual surrender, and over the past few days I have taken refuge in thanking God for the painful things. His mercy endures forever.
I forget sometimes that it is ok to be quiet, to sit in quiet. There is a baby softly crying right now, upstairs, and I'm waiting to see whether she'll fall back asleep on her own. But I have to listen for the next noise she will make, and she may not make any. Meanwhile, it is mostly quiet. I let the music end. There is white noise coming from the baby monitor. A clock ticks. A train whistle sounds in the distance. Cars go by, but a few streets over. My fingernails click against the keyboard. And I am quiet. How much you can hear when you are willing to be still.
This week at the prayer meeting I attend we were talking about what it means to hear God's voice. When Philip heard the angel of the Lord, and the Spirit, speaking to him in Acts 8, what had he been doing? Was he busy doing something else God had told him to do? Or was he doing something he thought was not wicked, but not really directed by God? Was he eager to be used by God and so praying for God to give him a direction? And if you do something like that, how long should you wait? What if you decided to be still until God spoke, and He took longer than you expected? What if you gave up waiting on Him, went on to some good task, and missed Him telling you to randomly take the desert road?
Another thing we were talking about was how we can make our own noise, or dive into distractions, keeping us from hearing God. If we never take the time to pray or sing praise songs, if we fill ourselves with TV and news and work and hobbies, we aren't giving God much of a chance. And He deserves more than a chance (even though He can break through without chances).
Waiting is hard, especially when God is quiet. I, at least, start to doubt that He will ever speak, or that He has ever spoken. Reminders come that there are things that I want God to do, and I start thinking that I could do them - if only He would give me orders. Or maybe all I need is permission. Or maybe I'll just do them myself anyway. And suddenly instead of God's servant waiting, God's servant is taking over. And I realize that I had been waiting for God to be my servant, not for Him to be my Master.
There's another side to patient waiting, though. Rest. Peace. Presence. When we are still, we are not busy. (And I don't think you can argue that God has called us to constant busyness.) If we trust that He will work when His good time has arrived, we can have peace: confidence and hope and the absence of that tight anxiety that makes you feel as though you are straining even when you are not moving. His presence is filling the silence when we draw near to Him. Maybe He wants us to enjoy Him, instead of just running around trying to earn His love. His love is a gift, His work in us is grace, and when He is not employing us, that is also grace.
Lately I've been learning to remember in the waiting. Remember God's prior faithfulness. Remember that He has truly led me here. Remember that He promises to hear me. This remembering builds faith. It brings thanks. It intentionally focuses me so that I can have peace. It directs my faith to true things, to God's real ways. And it lets me be aware of His nearness.
Most times it is hard to thank God for waiting. Maybe it's because I need to do it better.
I used to wonder why parents and teachers and snobby kids a year ahead of me in school insisted against “ain’t.” We used to chant to an offender, “Ain’t ain’t a word, ‘cause it ain’t in the dictionary.” We lived in Texas, where they have their own brand of contractions and substitutions and pronunciations. This probably resulted from the cultural blend of Mexican Spanish, rogue English, and a bit of patriotism to boot. Some slang words were enshrined in Country Western Music, a segment of the arts arguably as qualified as Shakespeare to introduce expressions (and evidence says that Shakespeare did a lot of word-inventing). For the most part, I imagine parents and teachers were doing a more mature version of our parroting chant: they just repeated what they’d been told was good and right.
As I’ve grown up, and denouncing slang has become less and less popular, I’ve formed some ideas about why it’s so bad. What I have identified is: association, exclusion, comprehension, and preservation.
If you go to slang dictionaries like “Urban Dictionary” online, you will find some unsavory histories of words we use. Prisoners and gangs will start to use a word differently than everyone in the outside world. Maybe they’ll use it as a vivid metaphorical reference to some coarse or irreverent thing. Or they can use it with a sort of morbid sarcasm where what is dreadful to decent people is celebrated by them. As the usage of the word spreads (and why it may spread I’ll discuss in a following section), the original vulgarity is dulled because the new speakers don’t realize the origin. This happens with respectable poetic quotes as well, so we shouldn’t be surprised. It is sloppy to make the mistake whether the origin is noble or base. However, parents don’t usually want their children to have a lot in common with criminals and gangs, so they discourage language associated with them and derived from their lifestyles.
Most of us have had experience with inside jokes. A few people in the room know a story no one else does, and someone mentions it, and they all laugh while you feel left out and clueless. Slang, especially when it starts, is like that. People begin to use a word in a way that most people won’t recognize or understand. They can’t go look it up in the dictionary. There’s no history of literature by which to decipher the code in which the other individual is talking. This could be intentionally deceptive on their part, like parents spelling words in front of their young children – or the individual using slang may be so unfamiliar with cultures outside his own that he doesn’t realize how specialized his speech is. Slang uses words that already belong to English – words that have a meaning to most people. It may not even be immediately apparent to either of you that misunderstanding is taking place.
Unlike learning a second language, where there are grammars and translation dictionaries and classes to take, picking up this exclusive language involves a sort of immersion. You have to find out what that speaker is feeling and thinking, what experiences have built his past, to determine what he means when he uses a word that you and the rest of the world know means something he does not mean. While I am an advocate for relationship and community, I value the ability to skip these elementary steps of familiarization to move on to benefiting each other by what you know, by being able to express feelings of approval or displeasure, the ability to share an experience side by side and know there is commonality because you can communicate it. Language is a wonderful tool for these things, a tool being undercut by the prevalent use of slang.
Finally there is preservation. This point may not carry as much weight with most people, but I believe it is important. A conservative language is one that has access not only to the ideas in one’s own society, but also to far-distant and different cultures: geographically, socio-economically, and even over time. Imagine if you didn’t have to learn Old English or endure the mediation of a translator to enjoy Beowulf. What if the Bible read by the Puritans still made sense to us today? As our language evolves, isn’t it possible that we are gradually losing the wisdom and values of the past, constantly innovating and evolving our identities and beliefs? Aren’t our people crying out for peace, for stability, for the ability to commit to something and have it mean something? Do we want to feel so isolated and lonely?
I’m not advocating that we all learn Old English now, or go back to the King’s English spoken by the colonists of the United States hundreds of years ago – though I support members of our present population studying the expressions of the past so that we can keep hold of what those ancestors have to offer us today. I am not going to militate against poetry, or to fight new words for new inventions and discoveries. If you use the word “nice” to mean “friendly,” I probably won’t think too much about whether you actually meant “precise” and “orderly” as a man used to mean when he used that word. I will keep in mind that “might” has to do with strength and ability at least as much as “can” when mothers ridiculously correct their children from saying “Can I?” to “May I?” My fascination for words and their meanings and histories will continue to hone my vocabulary, my ability to communicate with strength and economy. And I suspect that when my children are tempted to adopt the street language of their days, I’ll join the ranks of parents past by discouraging the use of slang.
My back is sore and I might blame my posture just because I don’t have many other theories on what’s wrong. For a minute or two I remember to sit up straight, but my friends say my version of straight isn’t really.
I’ve been thinking about friendships, and how people love me even though I’m not perfect and even though I keep (quite unjustly) expecting them to get fed up and abandon me. I write these long emails that I don’t edit and then I can’t help but criticize simple grammar mistakes other writers or speakers make. I love editing, but I almost never edit my blogs, preferring for whatever readers there are to receive a gushing of my mind or imagination. It’s those things on my blog, rarely my heart, and a good thing, because my heart doesn’t make sense to me so much of the time. But the emails are feelings, and I kind of want people to take my feelings seriously even though I don’t – or at least, I do sometimes, but somehow I know which ones are important and which ones are very temporary and friends have little ways of knowing that and sometimes they’re right and I’m wrong, knowing that even if I don’t want to, I should get over certain feelings sooner rather than later.
I’m glad for friends who don’t let me get away with things, who know my faults and remind me of them. Sometimes I feel torn down when they don’t balance the list with things I’m good at. I am incredibly bad at balancing my comments to people, myself. But what an incredible testimony of their love for me, that they’re my friends even though they could recite the list.
Or maybe I could blame something else for the knots in my back, muscles not meant to be hard, tightened against showing emotion – tightened against feeling it, maybe. I have realized lately that I am terrible at relaxing. I’m not very good at rejoicing, either. And because those things come hard, real grieving doesn’t come easily either. I’m always torn between bearing my own burdens (often meaning not dealing with them) and with troubling friends to help me. I want to be honest. And I want people to have a good opinion of me. (A lot of times these things are at all out war in me… The real me has a lot of sanctification left to experience, and enjoys a lot of grace from others exposed to her.)
But I don’t want to be all about tearing myself down, and the past several months I’ve been strongly tempted to focus on all the “reasons” for things not to go well in my life, as though grace has no part to play. The truth is God has worked in me, and done great things. I’m begging Him to open my eyes to His work in my life, so that I can praise Him and walk further in those ways.
He has led me to trust Him in ways I never imagined. When I was at the end of myself, He put people in my way who needed to hear the comforting sound of truth, and He spoke it through me. There have been moments where this personality trait of clearly seeing what needs to be done or said or the outstanding questions to be asked have been exactly what my friends needed. God has given me so much time to pray, and often taken away my desire to do anything else. Thanks has fallen simply from my spirit – not easily yet for deeply hard things, but for happy things and small gifts. I have been able to ask for help and able to pursue those who need help yet won’t ask. There are a whole slew of questions I’ve found recently about how to live the Christian life and how God works, but it’s a step forward, knowing what to search out.
This day is an ok day to not chase answers. I’ll sit back against a heating pad, and reach for my battery-operated massager, and pray in deep breaths the things that are on the surface of my heart.
My brother says there are songs for almost every experience, every emotion. Most of them just express well what you feel. Psalms, he says, does a great job of identifying where you’re at so that you can take it somewhere: offer it to God, learn, move to a new place of trust and worship. But something I have been thinking this week is that there aren’t always songs. Or I don’t know them. My experiences are rather complex right now, and I am dissatisfied with every song on my playlist. I’m still listening to a few, though, just because I want to hear truth. So in a way, I’m taking the second half of the Psalms and just begging them to drag me out of this perplexity – not that I believe the remedy I am looking for is as simple as a list of well-written songs. It’s going to be a process.
The other night I was discussing this with a friend, how I’ll realize that I’ve failed in my friendships somehow, and what I want to do is call up my friends and meet them in two hours and act the opposite and apologize and explain and generally fix everything instantly. Repentance isn’t really like that. I can’t entirely undo the way I’ve acted. And one burst of being good isn’t worth nearly as much as treating my friends well every day here on out. I can’t fix my friendships all in a day, and I can’t restore my reputation like that either. (One thing I realized while talking with my friend is that this impulse is partially driven by pride. I am not quite as eager to do right by my friends as I am in a hurry to ensure they have a good impression of me.)
And long ago I realized that friendships aren’t built in a day. They aren’t even necessarily built in a series of intense interviews. Sometimes you build friendships by giving a smile when they’re having a hard day, and that’s all. You can drop a single line of encouragement. Observe them doing something they enjoy – doing it with them, but without a lot of conversation. I have to be content with the interaction that comes, even if it isn’t the “baring of our souls and the telling of the most appalling secrets.”
On the other hand, I’m always after being a better friend, how to make the most of the time that we’re given, how to clearly and concisely communicate who I am and what I hope for them.
Two parts: Being real and moving towards an unrealized ideal.