Thursday, September 30, 2010

"God is in the rain"

It's a quiet morning in the office. And it's been raining for four days, our city making national headlines, 21.28 inches of water that have fallen already. For tomorrow they've forecasted sunshine, the rain finally stopping sometime late tonight as another system stalls above us. But I'm in no hurry. Let it rain.

I was thinking about the rest of it, the part before about all the tension washing away, and while I'm content to think it through with metaphors, I find that the reality is whenever I walk back inside it's still there, that even two feet of rain doesn't help when I'm not out in it. I feel like Don Miller:

"Will we be forever in fleshing this out? . . . I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this alter of dying and dying again."

Relationships are so hard, and I'm afraid I'm not naturally good at them. Maybe none of us are--I don't mean to say whether we are, only this tension or brokenness or sin, whatever name you give it, rears its head in these small spaces between people. And maybe the promixity gives it better hold. But it is hard to love my sister, it is hard to love my brother.

And then I come back to the metaphor, to the rain: words like wash--you see? It is true, and it has all been washed away, I am free from this. Words like Paul's in his letter to the Romans: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." But also: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."

These words are true. I could stand outside in the downpour and scrub until my skin turned raw and red, till even the water on my skin burned and still I wouldn't be able to do it myself. Here I can hardly help thinking of Eustace the boy-dragon in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But then, all the water running off me, I realize it already has been washed off--not by me--and what's left is that I must go back inside and practice this loving, this forgiveness, or it miscarries.

I want to love well. And then, sometimes, I don't--I'd rather be angry. I'd rather say: you were wrong, and you don't deserve this, all the while fully admitting these same things about myself. I was wrong too, I don't deserve this either, but it's easy to be angry. And it's hard, even after forgiving someone, to keep coasting on that momentum. But then we weren't meant to, and it's got to be again and again, every day.

One more quote, by Brian Andreas, and I can hear my beautiful roommate saying it to me, reminding me: "How many people can you love before it's too much she said & I said I didn't think there was any real limit as long as you didn't care if they loved you back." It's easy when it's easy, and it's hard when it's hard.

What's left? Well. It's still raining, harder than it was earlier. And I still don't want it to stop, not quite yet anyway, but I do want to go outside in it, for reasons entirely different than Monday's. The rain can't do it and even the metaphor forces me to see the reality more clearly, but the rain reminds me. Don Miller again: ". . . we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this great gravity that drew Him, unto us."

Monday, September 27, 2010

rain and joy

Today it rained and rained and rained. I woke up last night, rain against the glass and thunder shaking the blinds. I wanted to watch it but I was warm and listened for a minute as I fell back to sleep, thanking God for the lightning, the thunder. Funny how much more naturally I find myself thanking God when I'm half asleep.

Alicia and I went to the store this morning in the middle of one of the downpours, everything gray and under water. The sky let go. And we let go, too. I rolled my pants up and took off my shoes and we ran across the parking lot, funny little knee-high bounds in the water up to our shins. By the time we left the store, it was nearly to our knees.

It hasn't rained in so long here and it's been badly needed. It's started back up again and all I want to do is go stand in it, run and jump and laugh and let it wash everything away. Tension runs off, swept into the current and you'll never catch it. I'm surprised again and again by how much I love this city, how it can storm and I realize how beautiful it is all over again. Even in the middle of a parking lot, nothing green or expansing for miles. Just rain and joy.

Thrice's song In Exile is playing now, and how appropriate. But even as there's a storm or a mountain, even as my heart longs to be home some days, I find that I love this place too. If it's just a 'glimmer in a shadowy mirror' now, and through it my heart is filled to bursting, I can hardly imagine standing in front of the real thing. The way the rain is washing the tension away, there it will be stripped away, replaced by awe and worship.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

letters from the county jail

I got a letter from my brother a few days ago. He wished me a happy birthday, said he hadn't forgotten. I'd written him about a week before that, telling him all the things you say in letters, that are better articulated on paper, and then I folded him an origami dinosaur. When I do things with my hands, anything using fine motor skills, I become completely absorbed in it, very focused. It's a trait I share with Josh. When he was little he had to go to an occupational therapist because he was developmentally delayed in regard to his fine motor skills. When he wrote--and still today--it required every bit of concentration, and somewhere along the way I began to imitate it, picked up the habit.

It's been cooling down some here--not much, but enough to make the mornings and evenings suggestive of a coming Fall. And I've been walking everywhere. To campus, to work, all across town. After I got his letter from the mailbox, I read it at a picnic table and then I walked. For the last week my brother has been associated with long, late afternoon, end of summer light, the sort of light that hangs in the air.

The thing about all this movement is it's freeing me up to think about one thing without all the distractions. If my hands and arms are completely engaged by the task of cutting perfectly straight lines or untangling beads, my mind is left to move however and wherever, but more intentionally. My brother is the opposite: by concentrating on the physical task at hand, he can quiet his mind in ways I've never been able to.

And so all this walking, all this movement, keeps my mind on a boy who, right now, I know in letters. His handwriting, wobbly like he hasn't got much control of it, is the same as it always was, only smaller. Funny the inverse: he's the same as he always was, only bigger. And I feel like I can only know him through the screen of paper, like when we were kids, only the screen then was made of something our mom left behind.

I'm thinking of an essay by Tim O'Brien. I can't remember what it's called, but he's talking about a little girl he loved when he was a little boy, a girl who had (I think) a tumor. And when he writes about her, or about himself, writing out memories he'd imagined those years ago, he says he realizes it is as Tim, writing to save Timmy's life with a story. And the origami, like paper cranes, a thousand paper dinosaurs. My brother wants me to write him a story about when we were kids, about all the things he remembers. And I feel like Tim O'Brien, writing to save his life, writing hoping that when I put the pen down and look up I'll see the big Josh with all the things I hoped he might have, all the hope in the world embodied in what he could have been, what he could still be. There are so many things I can't do for him, things he must do. But I can write. To him, for him, movement that doesn't stop.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

embracing the white american in me (or at least reconciling with it)

Something I've been thinking some about lately is the whole idea of being okay with being American. I was talking to someone I know recently, mostly about her experience in India and mine in Romania, what coming back was like, and I mentioned how when I first came back from Colombia I hated 'America,' didn't want to be American or have anything to do with anything American. I have since reconciled with it (well, most days) and she said she was still working on it. And since then I've been thinking about the whole process.

On the one hand, there are still plenty of things about this culture and my government that frustrate me, things with which I want no association. But there are things about Christianity that make me feel the same way--there are plenty of people who never become Christians for this reason, but I'm not going to denounce what I believe because other people represent it badly. Among other reasons, it would just be bad logic. The analogy here isn't perfect. I don't believe in 'America' (usually prefer to say the United States, being so close to South America--I don't think the distinction will be as important from Europe) the way I believe in God, nor am I a follower of the US in the sense of being a follower of Jesus. And of course American is such a broad idea anyway. In some ways I identify more as Southern and, as they say, this is the mixing bowl/salad bowl/melting pot. But there are absolutely ways I'm very American and I could list them but they don't really further the point.

And on the other, it's very easy to go somewhere and come back hating all things American (or non-American, depending on your experience), but there is an attitude I've noticed with it--both in myself and in others--that's akin to people who are really stuck up about English humor vs. American humor (not saying having a preference makes you stuck up--it's the attitude with which you go about it), or people who like only books that are considered literature or are in the classic canon vs. fantasy or popular fiction or whatever. This, I would like to say, does only appear to be part of it and there are legitimate reasons for disliking or not agreeing with some aspects of our culture, but I feel like this is an attitude it often swings to before (hopefully) leveling out. STIM would call it red-lining. And that was absolutely me.

Combine all this with a now more-resolved issue of identity to be called: ethnic envy. I came to college confused as heck. Grew up in the rural, white South. Lived with a black family for a few years. Found out a couple years ago that, while I have no claim to the culture, I'm ''ethnically'' half-French (whatever that means, but to be more precise, of the Mediterranean variety)--this sort of thing has led to lots of questions over the years and a few conversations with strangers that began in some other language. But as the answer comes from a whole history that was absent for twenty years and I knew nothing about it/could only speculate until two years ago, it feels a little illegitimate.

And on top of all this, a love of 'culture' which seems to exclude me simply by the virtue of being a white American (the important word, of course, being seems). I've seen related, similar things happen to my roommate: a half-Colombian who is light skinned and light eyed, who ''doesn't look Hispanic." Or a friend from middle school who is ethnically Korean, second generation, and only speaks English, and here the identity issue comes. So what you come to the surface with (or at least I did) is a predisposition toward dropping my own 'non-culture' in favor of ones I like better or maybe identify with more strongly. But the fact is, regardless of what my country does and how I feel about it, I am a white American and there is value in that. Or better, it stands equally with others in its own way of pointing us to our true country. Does that make sense?

I went to Romania with all of this. And I don't remember when exactly, but early on in the trip one of my friends and I were having a conversation and she said something to the effect of it being no accident that she was born in Romania, is Romanian, and that there was a reason God did it that way. I found out later that she was making an entirely different point saying it, but what I understood, what stuck with me led to this. I am American not by some accident, it being as worth as much as being born anywhere/anything else. And he'll use that as surely as he'll use the abilities he gave me.

And when I step outside of the issues of politics and policies and maybe of certain cultural values, I see that it becomes something like a little kid wishing she had brown hair instead of red (although to be fair, I think it it's at least as much an internal thing as external). And in our values, once we start to examine what are ours because they are our culture's/family's/religion's, I think we do have some freedom to choose. The issue then is stereotyping, and carrying the stamp of something you don't want to be represented by and by no means is that limited to whiteness nor is it easily prevented. The remaining response is to represent Christ well from whatever the background and know that those things aren't mutually exclusive. In Romania I'll learn things and bring things.


Friday, September 17, 2010

growing upward (and out of oneself)

I've been reading Surprised By Joy the last few days, and yesterday morning I woke up and finished it, and a day and a half later I'm still reeling. I'd started this book twice before, and now, having read to the end I'll say that this is by far my favorite of C. S. Lewis' nonfiction. The joy he's talking about is probably best summarized by another quote (I've posted here before, a while ago) from The Weight of Glory:

"When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as the 'journey homeward to the habitual self.' You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We are mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been welcomed, accepted, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can. 'Nobody marks us.' ... The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longings to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret."

It's more like longing than what we typically think of when we hear the word joy. But what really struck me wasn't his description of his experience with joy, or even that he had experienced it--surely we've all felt it, that yearning, that feeling of being on the edge of something so tremendous, and in any case I couldn't do it justice by describing it. If you know it, you'll know my describing it won't do much unless it brings you to the place where you meet joy (which probably isn't reading my blog--here I want to quit writing and climb a mountain, maybe read Life of Pi on its peak).

What struck me was this: he found himself pursuing the feeling that brush with joy gave him--inevitably this led him to God, the ultimate source of this joy. But before he understood that, he was running after the feeling it left behind. If I remember, the illustration is the place where the water rushes back to the ocean, a picture of the something left in the wake versus the thing that leaves the wake. And I feel like C. S. Lewis has caught me square in the act, red-handed as I can be.

And it's exactly what I've been doing. Hoping it cools down so I can go outside and 'get that feeling' but the brighter, clear light of Fall, or walking down by the ocean at night, the coolness and the lights, and then I could write about it. Before, I'd suddenly be overwhelmed--not because I was looking to be--and now it isn't about the way those things are beautiful, it's about the way that beauty might make me feel. And it completely misses the point, cheapens it, and meanwhile everything gets spoiled by the introspection.

If this leads me to frustration over lack of so-called 'inspiration,' or whatever it might be called, and if I'm worried that I don't write things that I feel deeply, that stir something like it in other people, I think, what am I doing? And I've missed it completely, I've zoomed in too closely, and that on the wrong thing. It's like trying to conjure up the passion for evangelism without caring to really know God. So. Time to step back, scrap all the pieces I'm trying to fit together, all these bits like junk metal I'm trying to melt into gold. Don't I realize even if I make gold it's still only reflecting light? Can't I just see that the light is beautiful, that it's warm, that it grows us upward out of darkness? (Meanwhile spreading outward, not inward.)

I hope this makes sense. There's another part toward the end of the book where he talks about the conversion to Christianity bringing us out of ourselves, and it's like a whole other layer of salvation for the introverted among us. By the way, I realize that writing about all of this kind of defeats the purpose and this sort of thing is probably best done in a notebook no one else sees, but I hope it's helpful. Surprised By Joy has already been helpful for me--actually, you should just read that. It's wonderful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


"It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. 'Іοϋλίαν ποθω*--and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased....And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible--how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it."
--C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

*Oh, I desire too much!

Monday, September 13, 2010


"Faith relaxes in the vision you have seen and turns the timetable over to God. After all, a promise is a promise."
--Larry Stockstill, via a friend

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I finally finally finally finished The Last Battle. It was hard to get through for the first half and then I misplaced it for a while. I read through the last half or so this weekend and I could barely put it down. Not my favorite, but thinking about it the part that's stuck with me is about Emeth. In the book, he is from another country besides Narnia and has grown up serving the god Tash, seeking after him his whole life. At the center of the book is the plot an Ape takes to set up a false Aslan (puts a lion skin on him and tells everyone he's the real Aslan), and as part of that they say that Aslan and Tash are the same god by different names. Emeth, hoping to find the Tash he's always been looking for, goes where they've told him he is and meets Aslan.
"[Aslan said], Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yes I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."
Love this. I was so scared at first, afraid that it was going to say something like all roads lead to God. However, what C. S. Lewis did say reminded me a lot of what Rob Bell says: "I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." Now, I know this is a very slippery slope, one that with a little bit of off-kilter logic can turn this into something that defends the all roads lead to God deal. And I've said before that I've always been a little hesitant with Rob Bell's stuff. But I do love what this gets at, and the way C. S. Lewis says it drives it home. I've tried to restate it for fifteen minutes now, but it's no use. And C. S. Lewis says it a hundred times better anyway.

This gives me hope. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what I mean, but it has something to do with Emeth's desire for wisdom and understanding, in the way he sought what was true. The word that comes to mind here is earnest, maybe sincere. And of course honesty and truth can be synonymous with sincerity. It's what he said: "For all find what they truly seek." And Jeremiah, too: "
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (29:13)

Monday, September 6, 2010

boys? we don't need no stinkin' boys

I went to Charlotte for the first time this weekend, mainly to do some support raising stuff, but it was a lovely few days. We met up with a few of friends of my friend and spent Saturday night hanging out at an outdoor mall and then we drove into the suburbs, climbed on a playground and talked in the dark under the chill. It felt like high school in so many ways, the good way and the kind that makes you glad you're not sixteen any longer. It was strange because these were the same people I hung out with in high school, the exact sort, and while on the one hand it was looking back on myself six years, on the other I felt old, a little out of place. In terms of supporting myself, I've felt like an adult for years, and it seems while I can jump back in well enough and still act my age, there is a gap bigger than I might have supposed. It was a good time. And it was weird. And it kept the people-watching, INTP analyzer in my head busy for hours.

On the way back home we had some car trouble. Now, neither of us are strangers to cars acting whack. Kaila wanted to show me where she went to school and we were driving around on some gravel and when we got back onto asphalt we bottomed out really badly. So we stopped, looked under the car, made sure nothing was leaking or hanging off, said we'd stop if it started making crazy noises, and kept driving.

Well. We made it to the other side of the school before crazy noises did indeed start being made, so we stopped again, popped the hood, made a few calls (yes, her dad did come out). At first we figured it was a belt--sounded like it, and the sound was timed exactly with it. But then we realized there was basically no oil in it, so we put some in, went to Target and then put some more in. By the time we were at Target her dad had left and a husband carrying his little girl and his wife behind him came up and offered to help, which was super nice, but we were pretty pleased with ourselves. Felt slightly masculine carrying the empty oil bottles back to the trash can, but more like 'we got this! We don't need no stinkin' boys!'

And on top of all that, who knows what might come of the support meeting this Sunday. So we'll see.

Friday, September 3, 2010

the worst of earl

Actually it was rather pretty. Nice little breeze.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

hurricane earl

Last night, Hurricane Earl maybe a few hundred miles off the coast, a few of us went down to the beach. Yesterday evening you could see the storm coming in some ways. There were faster moving, higher clouds, wispy like pulled-apart cotton, catching pink light way high up. And it was breezier--maybe it's my imagination or maybe you start to sense this sort of thing after years of hurricanes, but you could tell it was coming. It was clear for miles yesterday, less humidity than there's been, and so all day I was thinking about how it must have been before there were forecasts and, when one day it was blue and calm, then the wind picked up, and then the sky got dark. I wonder what the pilgrims thought when the first hurricane hit them.

Yesterday it was beautiful, and last night even moreso. Over the ocean in one direction it was so dark you couldn't see the horizon, but above us, between the fast strips of clouds, stars and stars and stars. And so we stood by the water, warm tropical breeze, watching what we could of the water but mostly listening. This part of the beach is at the end of a barrier island, right where the sound meets the ocean. There's a jetty to the left if you're looking out over the water and so it forms something like a cove. This isn't exactly the right word, but it's normally small and calm like a lake, still enough that at its calmest I've gone night swimming and have been able to see my feet waist deep with the moonlight. Last night the waves were slamming against the jetty, onto the shore. This sounds silly, but to stand on the edge of a continent waiting for a tremendous, powerful storm, the wind spinning off it, obscuring the southeastern horizon--well, perspective and scope are turned on their sides. I felt this way watching the Andes as we drove through them, winding past a mountain bigger than anything I've seen before. What am I next to an ocean and a sky that can churn up something so vast?

All that said, the ten year old in me who wanted to be a meteorologist--something for which I have hurricanes to thank--has been watching this storm since this weekend, hoping it heads this way. It looks like it's going to pass a few miles too far east of us to do much more than give us a squally, rainy night. But the plan is to open the blinds of our sliding glass door and lie on our backs watching the pines toss above the roofs, to keep an eye on the small river that tends to form between the apartments. If we get enough rain, I worry about flooding around the city. And if the power goes out, we have a few candles that smell like Christmas to further confuse our senses. It may miss us, it may not, and it's about twelve hours out from knowing. So we'll see. More to come!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people in the world. I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe."
--Neil Gaiman (here's the xkcd of this)

Regular posting to resume forthwith. And it might even be about Hurricane Earl if it moves just a few miles farther west...