From the Basement

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

December 7, 2010

a disjointed, erratic post on worry

Grad school apps have been consuming my life. When I say that, I mean that finishing (and not finishing) the statement of purpose and writing sample have been consuming my life.

He’s in control. When I’m freaking out and worrying that the paper won’t be good enough – well, who am I kidding? It won’t be. My paper will be finished literally the day I turn it in. And the statement of purpose won’t be much better.

Perfection is unnecessary and what’s more, it’s unrealistic. The idea that human perfection immediately merits results is ridiculous and completely unfounded. We are to work to the best of our abilities… and then to see what he allows to come our way. Example: I recently landed two part-time nanny jobs, and I started one of them today. I have work! This is cause for much celebration! And I find it rather entertaining – I interviewed with this nanny agency in September and they wanted me to start then, and I stopped the process because I was still seeking full-time work… how entertaining that it’s in fact where I end up. And I’ve spent some time thinking, oh, if only I’d started then – how many more months of income would I have accrued! But thinking like that is fruitless. It’s pretty much the same thing as thinking, “Oh, what if my writing sample was perfect already?”

God’s timing is perfect. We act, and then there’s his timing.

Over Thanksgiving, I read a bit of Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something – which on the basis of 60 pages alone I’d recommend – but I had to fight my own spirit of condemnation when reading. His thesis is that our generation spends so much time trying to discern God’s will when, in fact, we just need to make decisions and go for it. Praying for direction is good, but dawdling about in some quasi-spiritual state waiting to hear from God is ridiculous – he says it much more truthfully, lovingly, and thesis-ly than I can. But you get his point. So I was reading this book, still unemployed, I was thinking, what the heck? I’ve been trying to just do something, and that hasn’t worked! (… immediately after the holiday I got in touch with the nanny agency – within the last week I’ve interviewed and been placed, so boo yah, when God lets something happen it happens fast – at least in this case. After the ~counts~ 7 month build up?)

There is not a thesis to this post. I’ve been feeling bad about not blogging and wanting to just write and reaffirm… yes, I trust God, yes, I know he’s in control, yes, my abilities are God-given but his will is ultimate, and yes, it is okay that I am exactly where I’m at with my grad school applications. I need to stop comparing myself to other people and ask, am I pursuing this in a godly way?

Cue the wave of conviction that hits like a tidal wave. Okay, God. And what am I feeling convicted over suddenly? Not that I procrastinated – well, I’m worrying that I procrastinated too much to submit a strong application. Worry is what I feel convicted over. I worry … so much. Ask my fiancé. I worry and he is calm. In that way I’m sort of freaky-similar to his mother. ~not contemplating that similarity~ Of course, I’m also similar to my own mother in that way. And most women I know. I worry. So much. So freaking much. My fiancé likes to quote that verse about how worrying will not add one cubit to my height.

Well, this post might have a point after all. I’m going to go dig for some verses on worrying and share them. Sound kosher? (Have I done this before? Hmm…)

Matthew 6:25-27: “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life span?”

Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. [Each] day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 37:5: “Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

Psalm 46:10: “Cease [striving] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 121:1-2: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help [comes] from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

There are so many rich promises in these verses. Lean on them! I want to let each of these verses fall as a seed on my heart, and just nurture it, cling to it, and protect it from the fear and worry that creep in… fear and worry are never from the Spirit – joy, peace, and righteousness come from the Spirit. We can be assured of our savior’s love and of his desire that we not worry and that we trust him for every day’s needs simply because he told us so. And this is what Kevin DeYoung talks about in his book – why do we spend so much time striving to discern God’s will when he has graciously written so much of it for us?

His will is that we follow him. Simple.

November 14, 2010

Operation Christmas Child

We are so blessed to live in the western world. So. Freaking. Blessed.

Today, my dad and I went out and bought gifts for two children, a boy and a girl, age 10-14, living somewhere in the world in destitute conditions. And yet somehow, over the next few weeks, God will guide these boxes, full of hygienic items, school and art supplies, hard candy, and a letter from a sister who loves them, to those two children. And on the day they get their shoebox, greatest gift they will receive is the news of how God loves them – how they are His precious child who he provides for, cares for, and watches over.

Tonight, that little boy and that little girl are on my heart in a powerful way. My heart is full of love for them, of hope that they would come to know just how much their heavenly Abba loves them, and – frankly – of gratitude. Gratitude and awe that we live in a country where a $3 pack of 12 washcloths is considered “cheap.” And I am ashamed – so ashamed – at the thought that “what if the kids don’t like what’s in the box”… these are children who have nothing. What looks ordinary to me is a rare treasure for them.

Matthew 19:14: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

For those who are unfamiliar, Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham. See the introductory video here: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid17736666001?bclid=36000809001&bctid=260796487001

November 8, 2010

How Great Thou Art

The last week especially has been full of worry and fear and strife, much of it self-made. I’ve been listening to this song just now and am so convicted of my doubt, so assured of and wrapped up in my Savior’s love. The song speaks for itself. The Lord speaks for himself.

Sung by Susan Boyle…

…and Carrie Underwood…

…and Chris Tomlin…

November 7, 2010

“Random Acts of Culture”

I love the internet and how it enables people from far and wide to witness “flash” mobs and random acts of culture. I want to join in and be a part of one! Where do I sign up?

Current youtube obsession: the Random Act of Culture performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia less than two weeks ago. They flash mobbed Macy’s with a beautiful rendition of Handel’s “Messiah.”

And my favorite dance flash mob…

Note: I am far more equipped to do the Sound of Music dance than the opera singing. Just sayin’.

What I love about these is that they bring joy to people. It’s random, unexpected – you don’t expect an opera company or random dancers when you’re shopping or traveling – and that’s what’s so fun about it. Maybe it’s naive and Pollyanna-optimistic, but to me, these events are reminders that there is good in the world, good coming straight to you from random strangers who gathered in a spot to bring light and joy into your life. Random act of culture, sure. But it’s a random act of kindness, too – even to those of us watching from the comfort of our own homes.

October 31, 2010

Videos from the “Think” Conference

Hello all. Videos have been posted from the Think Conference, subtitled “The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” hosted by Desiring God Ministries and held during the first weekend of October in Minneapolis. Might I suggest the following messages in particular?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.” (http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/the-way-the-world-thinks-meeting-the-natural-mind-in-the-mirror-and-in-the-marketplace#/watch/full)

Francis Chan. “Think Hard, Stay Humble: The Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride.” (http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/think-hard-stay-humble-the-life-of-the-mind-and-the-peril-of-pride)

Tullian Tchividjian (I posted my notes from this session). “Giving Though to Gospel ‘Math’: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” (http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/giving-thought-to-gospel-math-why-jesus-nothing-everything)

Messages from Rick Warren, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Kevin DeYoung were also fantastic, and I’d also encourage you to listen to the panel discussions.

October 18, 2010

Lyric Post: You’re Beautiful & Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

October 7, 2010

Notes from Tullian Tchividjian’s talk at “Think”

On Friday, October 1, 2010, Tullian Tchividjian (pastor, author, and grandson of Billy & Ruth Graham) gave a talk entitled “Giving Thought to Gospel Math: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything” at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference theme was “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.”

Tchividijian’s talk was based in the book of Colossians. This post is an attempt to highlight the main points and details of his talk.

He stressed that the gospel is for people inside the church as well as out – it’s fuel as well as ignition, that once God saves us, He doesn’t move us beyond the gospel but rather, further into it. While he’s very encouraged by this gospel centric resurgence in the church, he exhorted us to “amp it up a notch.”

The outline is as such, that “gospel math” addresses:

  1. Motivation
  2. Identity
  3. Idolatry

Motivation

There’s still some trepidation re: the gospel and grace because of a common misunderstanding about the nature of grace – e.g. “dangers to avoid” – legalism and lawlessness. As the argument goes, in order to maintain the equilibrium, we need to balance law and grace. However, framing it in this way keeps us from understanding the radical depth of God’s grace.

Tchividijian suggested that it’s more accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel – legalism – and that legalism can take two forms, both of which are “self-salvation projects.” First, there are the people who save themselves by doing right, performing well – front door legalism, as it were. Second are those who attempt to save themselves by breaking the rules, by ascribing to autonomous standards – that if we do what we want, then we find freedom.

The biggest lie about grace is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check. Believing this violates gospel advancement in the church and our lives.

The law scares us less than grace. Grace takes the focus off of us and puts it on Christ and HIS power, not on our own (rules). Relying on our own rules is much more comfortable.

Now, obedience matters. Tchividjian reminded us that as a pastor, he certainly understands the fear of “too much” grace – but he reminded us that fear comes from the pit of hell.

As a parent, he often thinks that the way to get his teenagers to behave is to crack down. But he has oftentimes concluded that the only way to “keep licentious people in line” is when they get a taste of God’s radical acceptance of sinners.

The irony of gospel growth is that those who obey more are those who realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience but Christ’s… not on our radical fetes for Jesus but rather on His fetes for us.

Only when our hearts are captured do we begin to obey more.

People need to hear less on what we can do for God and more on what God does for us!

And people become moralists – unintentional legalists – when the focus is on imperatives and not indicatives. He reminded pastors of their accountability in this.

He noted that the apostle Paul always spent time on indicatives before getting down to imperatives, first exhorting people on the gospel and the awesome power of God, on what God has done, on God’s love, before offering imperatives. Colossians is an example of this – the first two are spent on indicatives of God’s love, and chapters 3 and four get down to the imperatives to the church. As Tchividjian put it, “Paul spends the first two chapters on marinating the people in what God has done!”

Some more gospel math? Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities

Long-term sustained obedience must be grounded in the gospel rather than short-term fear/guilt. And God is interested in a certain kind of obedience – not just anything (look at Cain & Abel). Attitude matters to Him. He wants a cheerful giver – so what motivates our obedience?

Identity

The world wants us to locate our worth in something smaller than Jesus. The gospel liberates us from other identities.

Tchividjian described this last year as being the most difficult in his life. His church merged with another congregation and styles clashed, so for what he said was really the first time in his life, he lost acceptance and was subject to ridicule. It took away the identity that he had placed in what others thought, robbed him of the comfort of acceptance. And following this, his father died unexpectedly.

Colossians 1 – he loves us too much to give us over to old idols.

“Because Jesus was strong, I’m free to be weak. Because He won, I am free to lose. I can lose anything because my identity is in Him, and that is an identity I will never lose.”

Everything – Jesus = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

“In Christ, my identity is secure, which frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need.”

One of the most powerful quotes of his talk was this: “Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor. Real freedom is living your life knowing you have favor.”

Idolatry

The threat to the gospel is idols – idols within the church. Most idols are good things that become ultimate things.

He quoted C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters at length, specifically focusing on the passages where the older demon, Screwtape, is writing to his prodigy, Wormwood, as to ways to keep his “patient” (a young Christian man) distracted. Screwtape suggests the practice of “Christianity and.” Screwtape says to never let believers come to the place where they really believe that mere Christianity is enough.

So Tchividijian asked: what is the one thing that would devastate you to lose?

That is your idol. Those are your idols.

In closing, he read a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, a 20th century British journalist turned Christian apologist:

“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.

Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomats, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”

EDIT: It has come to my attention that Pastor Tchividjian tweeted a link to this post. Thank you, Pastor, for your message last Friday. It convicted and encouraged me. Praise God for the things He did that weekend!

September 3, 2010

And the Bride Wore… ?

Part of the reason I’ve not been blogging (on top of spiritual lethargy) is due to the fact that it’s a very, very busy time in my life: I just got engaged! My fiancé visited a few weeks ago, and he popped the question in a bookstore – very romantic. Suffice to say, we’ve been working on wedding planning.

My future father-in-law is a pastor, which means he’s doing the ceremony. He’s been wonderfully flexible, given that his son and I are not likely to pursue a traditional ceremony, but he raised the issue of the bride wearing white. This has sparked an inner debate for me, as I do not have strong feelings about wearing white and indeed am quote open to a variety of colors. Consider this my personal exploration of the issue.

To be sure, there are scriptural foundations for the bride wearing white. The basis for the claim is that the relationship between the husband and wife mirrors that of Christ and the church, and that as believers (the “bride of Christ”), we are washed “white as snow.” White symbolizes purity; the wife is, as it were, a pure gift for her husband. (Obviously, I start thinking, why doesn’t the groom wear white? Because shouldn’t the groom also be representing himself as pure for the bride?)

Of course, white dresses are supposed to be the mirror of an inward state: that is, a clean, pure heart before God. And I think we all know that plenty of brides who wear white do not have that inner heart attitude, just as many brides who wear color (in some form) surely do.

I think that if this has meaning for the bride and groom, it can be a beautiful thing. My main issue is that this is a suggestive tradition, not a prescriptive one. Just because sin leaves that crimson stain doesn’t mean that Christians refuse to don red, or indeed, that red isn’t found as a decorative color in many churches. And black is the powerful symbol of death, and yet we find black in churches and the clothing of churchgoers. And I know of many bridesmaids who have been dolled up in red and black by their friend, the Christian bride. So I can’t help but wonder if we take this color thing a little too far.

It seems like we pick and choose. Because the church is described as white, and because the bride represents the church, well then, we think, she should wear white! It seems we forget that the church is not literally white (whether we’re talking about the building and the people who fill it). Rather, it’s a beautiful metaphor, a visual clue for our limited human minds to help us fathom the greatness and wonder it is that God can look at us and, in Christ, find us clean and pure.

Incredible. Utterly incredible.

I think that the bride wearing white is a lovely symbol. (I think that a groom wearing white would be an even lovelier compliment, but, curiously, the church doesn’t seem too hung up on what the groom wears.)

But it’s dangerous to get so caught up in symbols that we forget what it is they’re representing. It can lead to thinking that if the symbol isn’t portrayed, then the purpose behind the symbol is also lacking. And nothing could be further from the truth.

The important thing for a Christian couple on their wedding day is not what they’re wearing. It’s the attitude of their hearts, towards each other and towards God. Christian weddings can – and do! – happen without the trappings of tradition: the dress, the flowers, the cake, the fancy readings. And those weddings are no less Real before Christ than are the ones that seek to include every tradition.

Here’s my question: if the bride’s heart is in a right condition towards Him and her future husband, is Christ displeased if she is not wearing white?

I cannot help but answer no. It is her heart and her faith that please him. Let us not be fooled into thinking that abiding by the traditions – however lovely they are – renders us obedient. Devotion to traditions can flirt with the line of legalism, of being bound by self-inflicted “rules.” (It is also worth noting that white wedding dresses are a largely Western custom.)

There are some subjects on which scripture is unfailingly clear (salvation, grace, “no one comes to the Father but through Me”). But on others, there is much silence, a point that has also been made by my future father-in-law. There is much said of marriage, but little of weddings.

Indeed, on the subject of weddings, the word of God leaves much room for interpretation. And just as there are Democrats and Republicans alike who are devout followers of Christ, so too are there “traditional” and “non-traditional” weddings which honor Christ as the center of that marriage.

The white wedding dress, then, is a choice – a beautiful choice, not a rule to be inflicted on every bride who follows Jesus. To those who defend its necessity, I feel compelled to ask a few questions:

  1. What shade of white? Are cream, off-white, ivory, and champagne acceptable choices?
  2. What color should the groom wear?
  3. There are some colors that have powerful symbols in scripture (red = sin, black = death) – are these wise choices, if we are considering the symbology of colors in a Christian wedding?
  4. Is it acceptable to have a color accent on the dress – for example, a blue sash or a gold lace overlay?
  5. There are explicit injunctions to modesty in both the Old and New Testaments. Where do we draw the line? There are many dresses on the market that are backless, have slits, or that are tea-length or shorter – not to mention the mermaid/trumpet styles, which hug the curves before flaring out below the hips or knees. And what necklines are acceptable? Are strapless, sweetheart, portrait, halter, or otherwise “low” necklines modest?
  6. There are also injunctions against extravagance. The following could be considered extravagant adornments: trains of any length, elaborate beading, antique lace, expensive fabrics, crinoline, lace overlays, fancy veils and headpieces, etc.
  7. The cost of the dress. We are called to be wise stewards of our money, which begs the question of whether a four or five thousand-dollar dress that will be worn once is a wise investment.

A few things to consider.

(Please note that I’m pushing those questions and issues as far as I can – I don’t think tea-length dresses are immodest anymore than I think a blue crinoline is extravagant.)

Last but not least is the question of beauty. It is readily assumed that most brides, regardless of creed, ethnicity, political belief, sexual orientation, or lifestyle, want to feel beautiful in a way that is authentic to themselves. Why do I bring up the question of beauty? Because, and this is so important, I don’t think you can read the Song of Solomon and say that Christ does not want the bride to feel beautiful, spiritually but also physically. The state of her heart is important – but so too is feeling content in her beauty before her future husband and Creator. Indeed, He extols His bride as beautiful time and time again.

Song of Solomon 4:1, 7, 9

How beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your eyes behind your veil are doves.

Your hair is like a flock of goats

descending from Mount Gilead….

All beautiful you are, my darling;

there is no flaw in you….

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;

you have stolen my heart

with one glance of your eyes,

with one jewel of your necklace.

On my wedding day, I will promise lifelong commitment, fidelity, and love to my beloved. We will make vows to each other before witnesses and, most importantly, our savior, Jesus Christ, the third (and central) cord of our relationship. And we will become one, man and wife, united in this life until we are parted.

What I’m wearing is really not that important.

August 10, 2010

Free Indeed: Writing & Reading Outside of Academia

Today, it struck me how different my summer would have been had I been accepted to grad school, particularly in terms of reading. In the eager anticipation of entering a doctoral program, I had prepared a list of “must read” books – notable 19th century novels, notable theorists. A small sampling:

Nathaniel Hawthorne – Blithedale Romance

George Eliot – Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss

Matthew Arnold – Culture and Anarchy

Catherine Gallagher – Nobody’s Story

Judith Butler – Gender Trouble

Since grad school didn’t work out, I’ve been reading very different sorts of books – the sort that doesn’t secure cultural capitol in academia. Genre fiction, memoir, Christian living. Desiring God and Women Food and God were two of the best reads this summer, and I just finished Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (I didn’t realize Janzen was an English professor until I started reading). I’ve been traipsing around Egypt with Amelia Peabody and indulging in the romantic comedies of Jennifer Crusie, whose titles (Welcome to Temptation, Faking It) are apt to send the literati into seizures. The disappointment of the summer was James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series – I made it through four books before tiring of the formula.

The closest I’ve come to grad school reading material is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and maybe The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. And I’m almost done reading the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer-prize winning collection Interpreter of Maladies, but I don’t know if that counts since I would read her stuff even if she hadn’t won the Pulitzer. She and Atwood are quite possibly the only literary writers I enjoy – reading Toni Morrison is like pulling teeth and I’ve never been able to get past the first chapter of a Salman Rushdie novel, sorry.

All this has me wondering: exactly why did I want to go to grad school? I’m terrific at forcing myself to read books I don’t want to, mainly because it feeds my English Major Ego – I could force down Native Son again if my professors told me to. It’s about being able to say you’ve read this novel or that novel or this theory or that theory…

The question arises: what’s the point? I might pick up one of the aforementioned novels, because I really am interested in reading more 19th century work, but they’re obviously not my priority or I would have read them already.

Here’s the thing: if you give me the option between writing a novel and studying a novel, I’d rather write a novel. My English major was an external result of a deep love and appreciation for the power of a good story. I think literature is of critical importance in a society, mainly because good stories are absolutely critical to the nourishment of the human spirit.

My reading this summer has been the sort that nourishes that spirit, or at least mine. It’s encouraging, revelatory, instructive, hopeful. In its own way, it teaches. (It also teaches you how contemporary novels are structured, because I’m sorry, but Middlemarch and Pamela are utterly useless when it comes to learning how to write a novel.)

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a close friend. We were talking about how God had leveled our plans and expectations. My friend had thought she wanted to pursue teaching or higher education in public policy, when what she really loves is being on the ground, working with the people, loving the people. For me, I’d thought I wanted a doctorate in literature so I could teach about other people’s stories, when what I really love is writing my own stories. God took away the chaff and gave us the wheat, the small, concentrated portion that had been driving us the whole time.

God’s taken us both to a place where our real passion is evidenced. She’s working on the ground with people, and I’m writing a novel. Unemployed and living at home, but writing! I can read whatever I want to, and no one is going to judge me. I can write whatever I want to, and who cares if people judge me? My goal is to write a good story, imperfectly told, that is emotionally honest and accessible.

That’s what I want. I don’t need to be the next Jhumpa Lahiri; I’m content to learn from her. I don’t need a Pulitzer or a Booker or to be “literary” or to please my professors or even to please my friends… I need to tell the best story I can, one that is honest and emotional, that demonstrates the value of the human spirit. A friend recently texted me these words of encouragement: “You have something to share with the world that no one else does. God has words for you to communicate – not even necessarily sacred writing – but stories.”

And who knows? Maybe someday I will want to read Middlemarch and Pamela, and maybe I’ll want to pursue a doctorate… just not right now. Not while I’m writing, gloriously writing. For the first time in years, I feel free.

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