From the Basement

October 15, 2011

On the Writing-Spirit Connection

Filed under: Faith,Writing — jeannablue @ 1:08 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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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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

November 30, 2010

some freewriting on submission

Filed under: Faith,Relationships — jeannablue @ 3:58 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Some imperfect thoughts on submission, headship, etc. – unorganized and rough.

To assert that submission is something natural in women – or that there is something in women’s character that makes submission a natural impulse – is to negate the struggling of spirit and rational inquiry of scripture so important to women’s full understanding of “biblical submission.” Submission, we find, is to husbands as head of the household, but headship is described in a specifically spiritual manner. Men are the spiritual leaders of the house, which is explicitly articulated as loving their wives and assuming responsibility for the spiritual state of the household. (I will not go to the extent that some do, e.g. that the husband must lead devotions and prayers, etc. – is it unbiblical for a wife and mother to pray for her family?)

Scripture also asserts the physical superiority of men, and this is certainly not a claim exclusive to the Bible – Mary Wollstonecraft claimed it in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and I have heard the most liberal and anti-religious of professors in academe assert it, as well. Notably, scripture – and Wollstonecraft and my professors – do not equate physical superiority with spiritual superiority (in the sense that men are inherently closer to God) or intellectual superiority, that because their bodies are stronger, so too are their minds.

Husbands taking the spiritual lead in the household is biblical. However, many theologians seem eager to take this to the next level and assert that certain lifestyle choices must also invariably reflect this hierarchy. I think it is wise – and notable – that our Lord does not spell out exactly how this looks in every house. Scripture does not say, and so the husband must have higher education, or the better job, or the better paying job, or he must be the sole breadwinner and the wife must stay at home, or even that the couple must have children – this is not to deny that these decisions are inconsistent with scripture (if a couple is seeking the Lord and comes to one of these decisions for their marriage, bless them for it), but nowhere are these behaviors prescribed for believers. Husbands and wives are to first seek the kingdom of God, and to love each other; it is critical to note that in Ephesians 5, headship and submission fall under the banner of mutual submission. However – and I will offer this question – if a woman’s priorities are in order – God, husband, and then children, if she has them – if she fears the Lord, honors her husband, and manages her household —  are we really going to claim that Titus 2 overrides Proverbs 31, or that scriptures that exhort women to manage their households inherently exclude them from working outside the home?

All this to say: submission. I hate when it is assumed that women submit because we are somehow made for it, or are naturally inclined to it. To claim that women – or men – are “made” a certain way, is to negate the beauty that is the Holy Spirit working in a person who is striving to follow the calling to love him with all our heart, soul, and minds, who is working through the scriptures, actively yielding their will to His, and allowing Him to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ. It is to simplify the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to mere biology, that God made women for childbearing and submission just as he made horses for riding (too graphic?). To say I “should” react well to the idea of submission because I was made that way is to ignore the beauty that is the Holy Spirit working in my life, the glory Christ receives when His children come to Him seeking a reconciliation that is not natural, but eternal. As headship is a spiritual calling not for man’s glory but for Christ’s, so too is submission.

(I would argue that from the beginning, headship and submission have been spiritual attitudes cultivated by seeking intimacy with God. Does no one notice that Eve was not naturally submissive? Saying women are born submissive seems an active disavowal of female agency in order to prevent another garden-esque catastrophe — but I digress).

Women are not born submitting anymore than man is born leading – and I say this because, lest we forget, these attitudes are specific to marriage; scripture does not say “women submit to men” (though I have certainly been in churches where this interpretation was not far off the mark). They are attitudes to be learned and cultivated in the Holy Spirit, choosing to yield our wills to Christ’s in order to bring Him glory, to reflect a marriage that points to our Savior.

And a Christ-like marriage, I would argue, does not look like an episode of Leave it to Beaver. But that’s another post.

November 23, 2010

Loving the Process

Filed under: Faith,Grad School — jeannablue @ 3:12 am
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I had the great pleasure of talking on the phone today with a dear friend who is overseas, and our almost-two-hour-long conversation was the sort that is just totally blessed by God, where everything we say to each other seems to be exactly what the other needs to hear.

The reason for the conversation was my grad school applications – this friend is in a Master’s program in English, and she gave me feedback on my statement of purpose, but she gave so much more.

She relayed something her father told her recently: “You need to learn to love the process.”

This friend and I are very alike in that when it comes to academics, we are just as driven as we are insecure in our intellectual accomplishments. And today was such an affirmation from the Lord that he gave us these particular gifts for a reason. At one point, I started typing what she was saying on the computer because it was so true.

We freak out and we pull our hair out and we question ourselves…. And why are we going to get ourselves in that trap [of anxiety]? There’s no reason – it’s so silly what we put ourselves through. How easy it is to forget about the bigger picture and why I’m doing this, or to just appreciate it [what the Lord has allowed us to do]!

And why is it a bad thing if my work is being critiqued? Does a critical review that I write define anything about my life? Does your application define you? Absolutely not! Does it define who you are? Of course not. Does it define even your interest in literature? No. Does it define what you’re going to do with your life? No. Does it define if you’re going to be successful with your life? No. You have everything you need and we should be so grateful in that. We should be filled with so much confidence because everything in our life has shown us that we can do it, that we can always do it.

My friend asked, “Why are we so results driven for education? God does not want us to berate ourselves over our grade. He wants us to acknowledge that He is in this moment and let that be enough.” How true. What a challenge it is to let this time be enough, to let everything be in this moment, to know that in this moment, I’m going to let it all go and give it to God, and I’m going to accept what he gives me with an open mind and an open heart.

Even my last post on “Little Drummer Boy” has a hint of something that I don’t like – the idea that he wants us to say “Lord, this will give you glory.” It’s not necessarily about us seeking his glory to somehow exalt our pursuits… it’s more nuanced than that. It’s including him in the moment. It’s saying, Lord, please be with me right now. It’s asking him a question right then and there. It’s acknowledging his presence. This pleases him, and it does give him glory. It is good to seek things that honor God, but above seeking his glory, we should seek pleasure in his presence – scripture is chock-a-block full of injunctions to rejoice and take delight in him.

And I know – my Abba has affirmed – that he is with me in this season. Right now, when I’m letting go of a school that I really wanted to apply to… when I am avoiding The Grad Café because it does nothing but cause unnecessary anxiety… when I am worried about having time to work on my paper this week since I’ll be spending it with my fiancé and his family… He is providing. He is allowing me new revelations with my paper. The paper isn’t being written, but the thought process is so intense and the developments are promising. And blessed. Of that, I am sure.

I sent the paper – in its desultory form – to one of my advisors. He was infinitely encouraging, and told me this: “Big ideas don’t come out of nowhere. Only after wrestling with the contradictions in ideas for a while do critics find a great idea. Keep encouraged.”

I once likened studying literature and theory to faith – it’s a crucible. There’s pressure. You don’t think you’ll come out alive on the other side. You think you’ll fail. And then… there’s gold.

November 17, 2010

Little Drummer Boy

“Little Drummer Boy” is one of most humbling songs. It articulates a little boy’s desire to give a gift to the baby Jesus – but he has no gift “that’s fit to give a king.”

Most of the time, I don’t feel that I have a gift that’s fit to give a king. He gave me gifts, but they are so often tainted and limited by my own humanity – my own pride, selfishness, fear, doubt.

But he has given us specific gifts for a reason – to glorify him, to build up the body – and we are called to play our best for him. The first card my mom ever sent me at college had a quote from Max Lucado on the front: “In the great orchestra we call life, you have an instrument and a song, and you owe it to God to play them both sublimely.”

I long to be able to say, wholeheartedly and without any doubt, that I played my best for him, that He may say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He has given me a drum to play. As I struggle through the writing my writing sample for grad school apps (which are coming due very soon), I cling to such verses as Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And verse 19 follows, “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” And Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” He has hedged me behind and before (Psalm 139:4) and he has a plan to give me a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

The sermon this last Sunday exhorted us to guard our hearts – to plant those seeds of scripture in our hearts and nurture them, to zealously guard them and not allow doubt and attack to crowd out the harvest that is reaped when we believe on such verses as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Cling to the promise. Trust the promise. And live like you trust it.

“Then he smiled at me” – he loves us. When we use the gifts he has given us in a way that honors him, he is pleased. He is delighted when we rejoice in him! And he delights to bless the gifts he gives us. I have asked him for focus and strength today, and these he has provided bountifully; I have asked for breakthroughs in the paper and he has allowed me new insight. Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

When we are afraid that we cannot play our drum, or that our playing is not good enough, remember Psalm 34:1-10, and be assured of his goodness and strength… remember that he is worthy to be praised.

I will bless the LORD at all times;

His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;

The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,

And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me,

And delivered me from all my fears.

They looked to Him and were radiant,

And their faces were not ashamed.

This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him,

And saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,

And delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good;

Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!

There is no want to those who fear Him.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger;

But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.

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

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