From the Basement

October 15, 2011

On the Writing-Spirit Connection

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 1:08 pm
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I was recently talking with a friend who is going through a bit of a rough time; a few symptoms mentioned were spiritual dryness and a lack of writing fervor. That struck a chord with me—when I’m spiritually dry, I don’t write, or maybe it’s that when I’m not writing, I’m spiritually dry … which comes first is a mystery. Call it the creative version of the chicken and the egg.

Truth be told, I communicate best with God when I’m writing to him—love letters, complaint letters, missives filled with the banality of daily life. And, of course, the why am I here? What have you done? Why are you letting this happen? What do you want me to do? letters (the answer to those is invariably: have faith, read the Bible, and make a decision that seems best).

I have tons of prayer journals stacked up on shelves in the closet. I don’t know that I ever set out to write a “prayer journal,” as I’m thoroughly terrible at committing to similar courses of action (for example, reading my Bible every day—never been too good at that). It’s that I can’t focus my thoughts in a conversation. Whenever I’m reading a novel and see the “s/he thought” notation, I laugh. Goodness, that’s not realistic—at least not for me. For me, critical thinking is critical writing. In order to think hard about anything, I write—oh, ideas come as thoughts, but I have to find a paper and pen or else I’ll lose them like leaves in the wind. (Hence why I carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere.) I use sheaves of paper to map out my academic arguments, my stories, the occasional poem, and, yes, just about every prayer that requires any length. I’ll find pages in notebooks where I started trying to write through something—a difficult discussion with my now-husband, for instance—and it inevitably turns into a prayer.

There’s something very spiritual about the writing process. It’s not just that writing is a connection to God, but it’s almost as though God, or the fabric He’s created, speak through the writing. There’s a phenomenal chapter in The Right to Write by Julia Cameron where she talks the spiritual nature of writing, that as writers, we are vessels that are filled a story that comes from something greater than ourselves. I don’t know where my characters or stories come from, I don’t know how I know what happens next—the story just writes itself, and the characters do things that continually surprise me. Cameron is not committed to any one idea of God or the Universe, and while I obviously see that creative source as God the Father, I still agree wholeheartedly with her main point: that writing is a listening process, a spiritual process that is good for the soul.

But this butts up against the ego, against pride, against the relatively new Western idea that as writers, we have to be Original and Inventive, making a Big Cultural Contribution. Cameron delves into this negotiation of ego vs. channel with clarity and insight:

            The ego hates being a “channel”—or whatever other nonoffensive word you can find for it. The ego wants to take credit…. The ego wants to have it both ways: to receive the work effortlessly and then take the full glory for having “thought it all up” instead of “taking it all down.”

It is possible to write out of the ego. It is possible, but it is also painful and exhausting. Back in my drinking days, I used to strain to be brilliant, to write the best, the most amazing, most dazzling …  Is it any wonder that chemical additives seemed like a good idea, like the secret advantage I just might need?

…. I was told by screenwriters Jerry Ayres and Diana Gould, and by nonfiction writer Maurice Zolotow, to post a little sign by my desk that said something like, “OK, universe. You take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.”

…. I came to the humbling conclusion that over time that I wrote pretty much at the same level all the time, a few peaks and a few valleys but overall: just Julia. I began to think of myself less as “author, author” and more as a word processor. I began to be more willing to let “it,” whatever “it” was, write through me. I began to write more quickly. My ego was less invested. (The Right to Write, 102-103)

This probably sounds very odd to those who don’t write, but to me, it’s like a breath of fresh air, a cool drink of water on a sticky summer day. The ego—the pride—is exhausting. It is demanding, it is fed by the culture we live in that we are all Special Snowflakes, and goodness, it is tiring. The realization that the writing doesn’t come from me, it comes from my Creator—that there are stories He’s built into the universe that the spirit in me can tap into, listen to, and take down … it probably sounds terribly odd, but let me tell you, it is so freeing. The pressure is off me to be an original, creative genius. After all, I’m the daughter of the original, creative genius!

This post may seem a bit varied and disjointed ~gestures to early morning hour~ but suffice it to say, a few forces have been at work lately—the fact that I’ve been more prolific this week than I have in a long time, the conversation with that friend, and the fact that I’m working on a paper of western notions of authorship—and they’re all converging to help renew my creative energy and, with it, my spiritual foundation. I am never more alive than when I am writing, and this has to do with my Creator, too. He wired me for words, but ultimately, he’s wired all of us for His Word, for the Word that became Flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In order to feel alive in writing, I must be alive in Christ, and that is a beautiful thing.

P.S. Since I am no longer writing from my mother’s basement :-), any ideas on a new name for the blog? This is one area of writing where I struggle muchly: titling things.

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September 6, 2011

Lyric Post: In the Cross Alone I Glory

Filed under: Lyric Post,Uncategorized — jeannablue @ 1:25 pm
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In church on Sunday, we sang this song … it brought to mind a lot of verses and themes that have been coalescing in my mind as I start graduate school. Hopefully, I’ll do a longer post on this later this week.

**

“In the Cross Alone I Glory”
Bethany Dillon & Matt Hammitt

In the cross alone I glory
Recognition laying down
Greatest treasures count as worthless
Standing next to Heaven’s crowns
Standing next to Heaven’s crowns

In the cross alone I glory
Ever reaching for the prize
Pressing on and laying hold of
That for which my savior died
That for which my savior died

In the cross alone I glory
Nothing of my own to give
Only that which Christ has offered
For my soul that I may live
For my soul that I may live

In the cross alone I glory
Holding fast the word of life
Toiling not in vain but being
Poured out as a sacrifice
Poured out as a sacrifice

Never will I seek the glory
That was never meant for me
Always heavenward refl ecting
All to Jesus to receive
All to Jesus to receive
All to Jesus to receive

May 15, 2011

On Faith, Writing, & the Freedom of Letting Go

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:45 pm
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My writing is deeply connected to my faith; the writing and the spiritual often go hand in hand. When one suffers, the other suffers; when one is going well, the other tends to be going well, too. Curious how this happens.

Last year, I wrote through spiritual difficulties. But I reached a point of—depression, acedia, call it what you will—where I ceased writing along with praying, reading scripture, etc. There have been glimmers over the last few months, posts where I was trying to break through.

It’s starting to break away. I’m writing again, and while I feel tremendous guilt for leaving the blog relatively untouched, I am to the point where I can no longer write with expectation, with the albatross of obligation ‘round my neck. I’m trying to let go of that guilt of what I “should” be doing, like working on the blog, because I have friends who’ve said they’ve benefited from it as much as I have … but God uses us where we’re at. For a time, this blog was exactly what I needed. It may become what I need once again in the future. But I’m posting this to say that I’m releasing myself from the “expectation” of writing here.

I am writing every day, three pages a morning in a classic black-and-white Composition book. It’s a move straight out of the Julia Cameron playbook. Those are three pages that are never reread, that are for no one’s eyes but yours. Because truly, there are some things I’m dealing with right now that I simply cannot work through in such a public forum. So I’m working through them in morning pages, and it’s good.

This might sound strange to say, but to me, writing is more vital than prayer: perhaps because so often my writing goes in and out of prayer. I cannot pray or think for any length of time without a pen in my hand, and so my thoughts are addressing God one moment and then dwelling on something else the next, and then jotting an idea for the chapter in my story and then praying again …  Writing brings clarity, so when I am in a dry period, or a depressed period, or one of acedia—again, I hardly know what to call these spells I go through—I miss writing almost as much as I miss God. Writing is direction. It is freedom. It is calming. It helps me think through things. And I feel close to God. Not that faith is driven by emotion, but when I’m writing, I feel like I’m a hair’s breath away from heaven, away from seeing Him, and there’s just no better feeling in the world.

I did not start this post intending to sort of release myself from the “obligation” of this blog, but … I am. No obligations. No expectations. No one else. Just me, my notebook, my pen, and my God.

Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.

—Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

April 5, 2011

On Apathy and His Enough-ness

Life has tasted stale lately. Mundane. Listless. This lethargy started infecting my spiritual life, and it has since extended to all aspects of my life—from diet and exercise to writing habits. And the funny thing is, this Blah-ness started after I got a job. I prayed for work for months and months and threw myself on the promises of God, and then I got a job and … I tumbled off of the mountain of those promises. Somehow forgot about the follow-through. And then I applied to graduate school and, wonder of wonders, got in, and not only to one program but three—three fully funded offers from prestigious programs. What more could a girl want? But it hasn’t shaken the lethargy that has taken root in my system over these last few months.

I’m getting married in 4 months, after which my husband and I will move out east, where grad school awaits. So many reasons to praise! So many prayers brought to fruition in His timing!

So much apathy it’s amazing I get out of bed some mornings.

Some things are starting to pierce through, though. Today I got a devotional in the mail from my mom (Fresh Grounded Faith by Jennifer Rothschild), and the first devotional featured the story of a woman named Julie. Rothschild met Julie at a women’s conference when she was doing a book signing; the author is blind, as is Julie, a Pakistani Christian who, after standing up to a man who touched her inappropriately, was attacked with acid by that same man. Burned and blinded, she went to the United States to recover, but at the time she met Rothschild, she was preparing to go back to Pakistan. Asked about her safety, Julie replied, “No matter. If something happens, I will be home with Jesus” (14).

Fearless. Absolutely fearless. That kind of courage in the face of danger is remarkable, and the unshakable courage and conviction that enables one to face that kind of danger can only come from Christ. Unwavering steadfastness. Fearless faith. These are the signs of one who is firmly grounded in Christ Jesus.

I talked with my fiancé last night, and he was recounting some of the messages at the Passion conference. John Piper’s message really impacted him, and during the message, Piper said something to the effect of, you are only as strong as the foundation of your joy.

We are only as strong as the foundation of our faith. Right now, I’m remembering that my faith is strong enough, in Christ, to withstand the drought that is apathy and disconnect. It’s very, very hard to write that. At the moment, I’ll settle for actually wanting to read the Bible, let alone having the sort of faith that could lead me to face down martyrdom.

I feel very, very weak, so it’s probably a good thing that the reality of our spiritual state doesn’t depend on our emotions. I know my faith can weather this drought because I know my Abba is bigger. And if I possess even the faith of a mustard seed, my faith can move a mountain. And mustard seeds are small, people.

I don’t know how big or small your faith is right now. But no matter the size, it is enough for Him, because He is enough for us. His immensity covers our smallness; his wisdom, our foolishness; his strength, our weakness. He is enough.

Matthew 17:20: He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

February 20, 2011

Praise Report :) (too cliche’d?)

Today, I was admitted to a PhD-track program with full funding. My first admit in my second year of applying.

I jumped up in down in ecstasy and practically launch-hugged myself at my father. I called my fiancé and squealed, then called my mom, and then chatted with those friends who have been so supportive of me over this last year—who have seen me through one season of across-the-board rejections and now this new season, starting with such promise.

I have been on Cloud 9 since that phone call came around 10 a.m. Regardless of whether or not this is the program I attend, I will always remember how this day felt. I feel joy and pleasure and relief and right now, the feeling emerging is one of intense humility.

There is nothing that comes to me that has not passed through His hand.

Last year, I applied to PhD programs with little prayer and even less preparation. Part of this was because I was applying whilst finishing my honors project; my attention was very much divided. Part of it is simply that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t thought long and hard about why I really wanted it.

I didn’t even contemplate the thought that it wouldn’t work out. Suffice it to say, across-the-board rejections are very humbling. Those of us who could perhaps be called Department Darlings went into the process with the blinders on, buoyed by the praise of our advisors, not even contemplating the possibility that there would be no admits.

Yeah, I had a wake up call. Most of you who read then are reading now, and you saw the aftermath of that process.

Over the last year, I have thought of every reason why I should not be in a PhD program—why it’s something my Abba Father should not allow to come to me. Issue #1: Pride. I have a mile-wide streak of hardcore intellectual pride. There’s uncertainty and insecurity threaded in with that, but it’s still pride. Also, a love for the praise of others—I am always so convicted when I sing the line, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise; Thou mine inheritance now and always.” And, of course, the possibility of valuing worldly intellect and wisdom above that of my Father. Academia is not exactly fertile ground for faith.

^Which is why my fiancé and I are so determined to serve there. (Another question I considered, really for the first time: Am I as willing to follow him to school as he is to follow me? Last year, I said “He’s going to follow me, and that’s that.” Lots of growth in that arena over this last year. Lots.)

Many questions have been considered, prayed about, and considered some more over this last year. Do I learn because I love? (Thank you, Francis Chan.) Am I more concerned about loving and witnessing to my colleagues than I am about impressing them? Am I aware that any “wisdom” or intellectual prowess I have is a gift from my Abba, and I am to use it according to His will?

Perhaps most notable of all has been the emergence of the previously nascent idea that part of what draws me to the study of literature is that we are all designed to be part of a Great Story—one in which the Creator redeems the created.

Even English professors acknowledge that redemption is one of the most powerful themes in literature. So, I’ve spent time thinking about how, latent in the process studying lit and teaching lit, is an opportunity to subtly point my students towards that Great Story.

All this to say, it’s been a struggle to hold this application season in an open palm, telling the Lord, I am reapplying because I want this, but if you don’t want it for me, I trust you. Truth be told, I didn’t think I could stand a second year of across-the-board rejections, not when I’d done so much to strengthen my application (including writing a brand-new 20-page writing sample), but I took heart in Romans 8:28, “All things work to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.”

This acceptance has come because He has allowed it to—not that I’m saying “God wants me to go to [this school]”—it could be my only admit, but there could be other options, and my fiancé’s prospects are still up in the air—but I firmly believe—I know—that nothing comes our way that has not passed through His hand.

I am amazed, and humbled, and so very, very grateful that He is giving me this chance. In spite of my sin and imperfection, in spite of everything, He is allowing this to come my way.

And I am so very grateful.

Last night, the sermon was on John 7:37-38: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”

As my fiancé and I wait through this admissions season, and as we begin new life as a married couple this fall, my prayer is that we would believe on our Lord, and that out of us would flow rivers of living water.

And because this is the song going through my head (it’s been posted on this blog before, but it’s marvelous):

February 7, 2011

Lyric Post: I Will Waste My Life

This morning, I am clinging to 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you.” Anxiety surrounding one of my jobs (for which I submitted my two weeks notice on Friday), grad school, the future, and a situation with a family member has crowded in, like vines choking out the good, and this morning, I am losing myself in the Psalms, praying for a spirit of hope and light.

“I’ll turn my back on every other lover, and I’ll press on…”

January 27, 2011

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”

English departments have begun the arduous process of notifying applicants for graduate work. Stanford and Emory are interviewing, and Northwestern has already sent out acceptances and rejections. None of the programs I applied to have begun notifying yet, to the best of my knowledge, but an interesting few months are upon us.

Last year, I went through January in a state of relative bliss, not thinking about my applications, only to be hit with a truckload of force by my first rejection letter in early February. The resulting anxiety—will I get in? won’t I?—affected me on so deep a physical level that I was throwing up every morning for the month of February. I remember it vividly: wake up, make coffee, check email, work on some homework, and within a half hour to 45 minutes, I would be wretching in the toilet. The feeling was terrible—this focal point in my belly that felt black, that was wound tight with nerves and fear. What if I don’t get in? What does that mean? What if this isn’t God’s will? What if… what if… what if?

It’s that time again: the end of January, where a handful of schools are beating their peers to the punch by sending out acceptances and rejections. The majority of programs will notify mid February through late March, with wait-lists being accepted/rejected even through early May. Like I said, a long process to wait through.

But my perspective is different this year. Last year, I couldn’t imagine not going to graduate school. I was afraid of wasting my life, somehow. A year later, I know that anything we do—even if it’s unexpected, even if it’s not “using” our degree—is certainly not wasted… not wasted when you are seeking the Lord’s direction, however imperfectly, not wasted when you know that he holds the future in his hands.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:28-33 (NIV)

My fiancé loves to quote the verse 27 of this chapter, which states, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (NKJV).

Worrying will not make answers come more quickly. It will not affect an outcome, and it will not even make us feel better. Rather, it makes us feel worse and encourages the vines of self-doubt and pride, anxiety and fear to twine about us, choking out the good that is being nurtured in us.

Scripture tells us precisely what we are to do when faced with this sort of situation. 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast your anxiety on him, for he cares for you” (NKJV).

The sin often referenced in verses dealing with worry, anxiety, and/or fear is unbelief. John Piper articulates in many of his works that unbelief is the root of all sin: not trusting, not believing, not hoping in the promises of the Lord. Look back to the verse in Matthew 6: Jesus does not tell the disciples that they haven’t prayed enough, or haven’t turned to scripture enough, or haven’t worked hard enough, or haven’t done [fill in the blank] enough. No—he reproaches them: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

You of little faith. This is how Jesus addresses those who worry about whether he will provide, who do not fully trust his promises and live like they trust them.

Because this is the question: are we living like we trust Jesus? It’s one thing to say we trust him, but really—do we? Last February, I would have said with my mouth that I absolutely trusted God with the outcome… whilst my body betrayed the truth of my belief by wretching all my worry and fear into a toilet bowl.

When a situation is so terrible it is difficult to see how good could come of it, it is hard to believe on the promises of Christ. On the flip side, when we want something so badly and are praying for it fervently, casting all our hope on that to do something for us… it can be hard to take a step back, hold out an open palm, and let the Lord take that dream, saying “not now” or perhaps even “no.” But even in these times—especially in these times—we must hold fast; we cannot doubt his promise in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

The first chapter of James offers a step-by-step manual, if you will, to dealing with these situations where we are tempted to worry, whether they are trials wrought by our own sin or by external circumstance, whether the outcome will be immediate or long-awaited.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. —James 1:2-8

We are not only exhorted to be patient, but to ask for wisdom. How often do we ask for wisdom as to how to handle a situation in a godly manner? So often I pray for outcomes when I should be praying for the proper, Christ-like attitude. And we should be praying with faith, with total trust, not doubting the promises of Him who is Faithful and True.

This passage ends, of course, with a rather convicting verse about the double-minded man. Oh, have I been the double-minded woman, doubting that the Lord would provide even as I prayed for provision. Or couching my A prayers with B and C prayers, rather like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel—“If this doesn’t happen Lord, then please let this happen, and if you see fit to do this but not this then…” You get the drift.

James calls this out for what this is: unbelief. Sin. How dare we approach the father and pray while doubting him—doubting his promises, which are his very nature—in the back of our minds? We have “some nerve,” my grandmother might say.

James’ words are harsh, but the point is made. We are exhorted throughout scripture to believe on his promises, to let them dwell in our hearts so that our transformation may be from the inside-out, our trust in the promises of God a direct correlation to our growth in Christ-likeness. And here’s the thing: we have no reason not to believe. He has told us that his promises are true, and I don’t know about you, but I can look back on my life—even these short 23 years—and see with stunning clarity how “his grace has brought me safe thus far.” And my prayer is that “his grace will lead me home” – and that I will be receptive to that leading.

He is good. He is faithful. He is true. He will never leave us or forsake us. He holds our lives in the palm of his hand. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, and he knows our beginning and our end. There is nothing to fear. He is freedom from fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

Whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid?

….

Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And He shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!

—Psalm 27:1, 14

January 6, 2011

Paul Wrote Letters – Realizations and Reflections

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I started reading Colossians the other day, totally random and a bit out of the blue, given how out of scripture I’ve been over the last few weeks. I was reading the commentary on the first few verses, in which Paul greets the church at Collose, and it noted that this was a letter Paul wrote from prison.

Paul wrote letters from prison. Let that sink in a minute. We hear it talked about so often that I think the incredible point is missed: Paul was in prison, his body bruised, his days confined to a solitary place with little opportunity for activity. He could not visit churches… to put a modern day spin on it, he couldn’t attend classes or host bible studies or go to a talk by returning missionaries or [fill in the blank here]. He couldn’t preach from a pulpit, in the traditional sense. He couldn’t do so many of those activities we in the western church seem to consider essential for a vibrant Christian life.

But he wrote letters.

Over the last few months, I have reflected on the purpose/direction of my life, which mostly included questioning it and typically being very frustrated with God. On the worst days, I lamented the amount of time spent applying for jobs I didn’t get, and the futility of various other aspects of life: being confined to my mother’s home for months in the middle of nowhere with no transportation and virtually zero social interaction – those feelings of isolation and loneliness and despair that breed when you question the futility of the situation in which God has placed you.

But I blogged. A lot. I am not about to compare myself to Paul, but the principle of the matter – that he wrote letters while in a confined space, trusting that God put him there for a reason and that no amount of isolation could separate him from others, as long as he could put words to paper – that is a source of hope. Paul did not know how his letters would be received. He wasn’t even guaranteed assurance of their arrival. But he wrote, and he trusted, and he sought to exhort others in their pursuit of Christ and conformity to Christ’s image.

The observation raises a lot of questions, of course. A blog is not a letter, and it doesn’t necessarily have an intended audience. A blog is somehow intrinsically more personal – akin to “this is what I’m going to, let me share” – than the letters Paul wrote to instruct and exhort the churches which, while personal, were definitely others-focused.

This year, I want to live more intentionally, which also includes writing intentionally. So I’m sort of coming back to the drawing board on why I blog and who I blog for – for myself, for God, for my friends, for random strangers who encounter this writing – or some mix thereof? I’ve always considered myself a writer, but if I’m not working on a novel I tend to think I’m failing, and the fact is that the majority of writing I did last year was on this blog. So reevaluating what “I am a writer” constitutes as well as stepping back and seeing the varied ways in which the Lord works through our words, in their varied formats, is also a must. And how do we define “success” in writing? Paul’s goals are the ones I need to adopt. Getting a literary agent and selling a novel does not mean that I am walking in the gift God has given me. Am I writing to love and better understand him? Am I writing to love others? Is the writing others-focused, or does it constantly dwell on my own problems?

Lots of food for thought.

But back to the point. The fact that Paul wrote letters from prison is an incredible encouragement to those of us writing letters from seemingly isolated places. You could be surrounded by dozens of people and still feel isolated. Paul’s ministry is an example and an encouragement – that our words are seeds that, sent out on the wings of the Holy Spirit, will find fallow ground. It may not be in our lifetime, and we may never receive even an inkling that those words have encouraged, convicted, exhorted, or brought forth fruit. But I have faith that His word does not return to Him void.

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year: A (more personal) Update

Filed under: Faith,Grad School,Writing — jeannablue @ 3:23 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

You crown the year with Your goodness

And Your paths drip with abundance.

Psalm 65:11 (NKJV)

My dad has reminded me of this verse lately – it’s been at the heart of the sermon series in his church, and I’ve been letting those words just marinate, becoming firm in my heart. He crowns the year with His goodness, and His paths drip with abundance.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, because New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken, but it just so happens that the dawning of this new year coincides with the tail end of the graduate school application process, so – there are many changes (in some cases, returns to previous habits) that will be happening this month, the first of which is blogging. I miss writing daily (or almost every day) just… down to my bones, I miss it. So I’ll be blogging regularly again.

And there are a few habits that, since moving to Dad’s, have fallen by the wayside that I’ll be picking back up. First and foremost, going to church. And, frankly, connecting with a body of believers. I have my excuses, and they’re just that – excuses – for not having connected with other believers in the last year. Even if I’m only here for eight months (and since I’m getting married this August and then hopefully going to grad school, I will only be with my dad for eight months), I still need to plunk myself down in a church and get involved in a small group. My social life is composed of Skype and phone dates with faraway friends, and what’s more, I need to dig into God’s word and have conversations with other believers in person, in a structured study. I haven’t had that for a long time, and I’m a little nervous. My fiancé and I were informed by the results of a premarital counseling questionnaire that I am “low” on the pleasing factor and not very socially inclined – that is, I recharge by being alone and can come off as proud, arrogant, cold, and hostile when I don’t know people. I tend to self-isolate when in new territory, especially with other believers, which is not good, so I’m pushing my boundaries. I started going to church again tonight, actually, at a church downtown that has a service on Saturday nights. It was a good service, and there’s a “women’s welcome” next weekend that I’m going to go to. I have never been to one of those so that will be interesting.

Second: getting back in shape. I actually enjoy cardio and was really good about keeping up with it in college. So going to the gym and jumping on the elliptical is not a problem for me. More difficult will be moderating my diet and maintaining a weight lifting regimen. Frankly, I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. My clothes do not fit (I’ve gone up a size), I am physically uncomfortable, I can tell that I’m slower, and my flexibility is fleeting – and flexibility is something I’ve never had to work on, so that more than anything freaks me out. Also, I’m getting married, and a wedding goes a long way in giving you a deadline to get in shape by. I don’t need to drop a ton of weight – just tone up, trim down a bit, and get back to (a more fit version of) the size I was before. That will make me very happy – and self-control is something I need to work on, anyway.

Third: reading. For the first time, I did not read my reading goal. I wanted to read 50 books in 2010 – I read 48. Darn it! Grad school and job applications are largely to blame, since they sucked my life toward the end of the year, but I got a slew of new books for Christmas that I am eager to dig into. Also, reading is just better for the mind than internet-surfing, and it makes me a better writer.

Fourth – maybe finish the novel I started last year and abandoned in August.

While major sources of stress in my life are mostly gone (I’m finally working, and the grad school apps are almost done), a few have entered. Wedding stress continues and there is family drama that promises to make this year the most interesting year yet. I have body image issues to keep working through, and relying on the promises of God is a must. Digging into scripture is crucial – these last few months have been very dry on that front and I miss it. I miss a close relationship with Jesus; he’s sort of been on the backburner lately and while we go through dry periods, it’s still not good.

On the plus side, I’m happy to report that my jobs are going very well and living with my dad is turning out better than expected.

Okay: this mostly personal update is coming to a close. I hope to be with you tomorrow or Monday talking about something in scripture, or possibly my review of the Disney film Tangled, which I have now seen twice (once on my birthday and once again with my fiancé when he came to visit – yes, he went to see it with me). I am quite happy to say that my predictions in an earlier blog did not come true; it blew me away, to be honest.

Wishing you all a blessed start to the year. No matter the circumstance, the year is crowned with His goodness.

December 15, 2010

Things God is Teaching Me Right Now (very uneloquent)

Filed under: Faith,Grad School — jeannablue @ 7:11 am

I turned in my first grad school app tonight (!) and it’s for some reason inspired a lot of reflection. It is late, I am tired, and the migraine is still going, but here are some random and unedited thoughts about what the Lord’s been teaching me, even in my ignorant state.

#1: My nanny jobs, a.k.a. Housewife Bootcamp, are throwing me headfirst into the (crazy) realities of running a household and are also helping me consider biblical passages in a new light. For example, I caught myself being crazy-judgmental of the mom of the family I work for. A thought something like this crossed my mind while I was doing dishes: She needs someone to cook meals, and clean once a week, and then have me to keep track of the kids’ homework and get them everywhere? Seriously? And then I realized, STFU, self! The Proverbs 31 woman managed her household. Now, family always comes first – and I do believe that you should reconsider and seriously cut back if things start to threaten that Lord—Husband—Children—Everything Else order. But sometimes, your family is freaking crazy and trying to manage everyone is far easier said than done and does, really, require help. And if we think about it, it’s the post-industrial phenomenon of the middle-class nuclear family (a.k.a. only one woman to get s**t done) that brought on a lot of this division-of-labor debate.

Also, I am learning how to time my household duties/chores to the laundry cycle.

#2: To trust myself and to trust him more. I’ve been working on grad school apps and He’s been on the backburner. And, specifically, I have been soliciting everyone’s advice. Not everyone – I have selectively solicited the advice of either professors, friends who are in grad school, friends/advisors who left grad school, or friend – one friend in particular – who has an editorial eye like you’ve never seen before so once she goes through grad school she’s going to be an unstoppable machine.

But. I have been anxious and worried – not nearly as much as last year, yet – about things and the paper and the statement of purpose and getting stuff done and making sure I have at least one other person “sign off” on all my stuff.

And I’m realizing, I cannot function like that. I am blessed to be surrounded by a village of people and I am well aware that God has allowed that to happen, and I am so, so grateful he has. But at the same time, I need to learn to trust myself, trust my instincts… trust the abilities that he gave me. Not trust that my abilities will inevitably merit something – but just trust that, to do the work at hand, he has fully equipped me. Sometimes that equipping means he brings in other people to help me out. But when I feel like I need approval before I can move forward… when I am wringing my hands over the fact that trusted advisors gave me different advice… that is, perhaps, a mite too far.

So. He’s teaching me about yet another nuance of trust. Big surprise.

#3: He’s got it under control. He really does. And I could have prayed for hours over my applications each night… I could have been polishing this paper for months… but he has it under control. He knows what’s best for me. He knows what’s best for my fiancé. He will put us where he wants us. And I do hope against hope that he may even offer us a choice as to where to go. Grad school is the desire of my heart and it is the desire of my fiancé’s heart. And I know that God knows that. And so I am doing my part… come the end of January, we’ll start to see his response.

#4: Be faithful with the time we are given. This is something that’s come up repeatedly over the last few months, but it’s so true. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, and he has given us today for a reason – to glorify him, to love him, to love each other and share his love with others. And we are given seasons in life where we sometimes don’t feel like what we’re doing is overly relevant, but he leads us places for a reason. Today, one of the kids I nanny for – well, perhaps not a kid, seeing as how he’s fifteen – asked me if I liked college or the real world better. It was an interesting question. On the one hand, I’ve outgrown college – I was ready to leave. It was a healthy departure. At the same time, though, I’m sort of in limbo, knowing what’s coming – marriage, hopefully grad school – but not being there yet. In the meantime, though, I’m being faithful with what God has given me – two jobs nannying for two families. Two opportunities to love on kids and make an impact.

I am going to have to write a blog on how both of these families, while surface-y Christian, are not really devout believers – and how the support staff who works for both families are devout believers. Seriously. The full-time nanny for one family is a believer (this came up during our coffee date where she talked about how the kids love Veggie Tales) and the housekeeper for my other family is also a strong believer and we had an incredible conversation the other day when we were both at work.

God so knows what he’s doing.

So thank you, Lord, for this time. Thank you for your patience. Thank you that you know me, and that none of my behavior surprises you. I am sorry for my sins and for my ignoring you and for not taking enough time, but I am so thankful that you have still answered my prayers for energy and endurance and for hope, even when it’s not a prayer I voiced. I am hopeful, Abba – I know you know what’s best for me and I am pursuing this course hoping against hope that you see fit to allow its continuance come this spring. Thank you for the people you have surrounded me with, for their love and support. Thank you for your reminder that even if I am literally alone, and even if no one is responding to calls or emails, that you are with me always, even to the end of the age. Thank you for your constant companionship and for your love that buoys me even when I don’t see it. Thank you. I love you.

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