life

the mouse and the cathedral

flying

one of the things i’m most frequently teased about is how quiet i am. and it’s true that i’m on the quiet side — my default volume and habits are not what anyone would call “loud.” when i sneeze at work, one of my colleagues has been known to jest “and that’s the loudest sound she’ll make all day,” or to jokingly tell me to pipe down if i happen to yell across the room. a woman i was trying to get an on-camera interview with once looked at me and said “well, you’re just a tiny little thing!” (to her credit, i am somewhat petite; to mine, she was tipsy.) my grandpa has been asking me to speak up for about 20 years.

i don’t mind the teasing because it’s all good-natured, and because it’s true. strangely, though, i would never have thought of myself as quiet if other people hadn’t mentioned it. stephen hawking reportedly said “quiet people have the loudest minds.” i think that’s an excellent description of a lot of quiet people or introverts. we simply don’t realize we’re quiet on the outside because so much is going on internally — reflection, analyzation, creation. it’s not shouty inside my head, but it’s busy.

however, there’s another aspect of my personal quietness that i’ve become more aware of over the past year, and it’s admittedly more negative. all too often, my quietness stems from self-consciousness, from being more focused on myself and others’ perception of me than on them and making them feel loved, welcome and cared for, regardless of who they are or where we are. i’m content to stay quiet, to take a backseat role or scurry around doing background tasks (which, it’s true, do need to be done) than to step up, stick my hand out and open my heart to someone i don’t know.

and that’s another negative facet of my quietness — a fear of vulnerability. i am by nature something of a private person, and it can sometimes take a while to feel comfortable sharing deeply personal things with someone else. (but once i do feel comfortable i can literally talk people to sleep. i’ve done it multiple times, trust me.) it’s one reason why i have no problem writing poems that talk pretty freely about anger, fear, doubt or love, but have, in the past, been afraid of reading them aloud in front of other people. by reading this poem i’m looking you in the eyes and handing you a piece of myself, i’ve felt. and what are you going to do with it? the possibility of rejection, disapproval, or a simple lack of understanding is daunting, but i’ve come to realize that when i have been given a gift (as each of the “good” poems is), the important thing is that i share it with others. how they respond or what they do with it is up to them.

how i began to learn this and realize the ridiculous lengths to which i sometimes took quietness was through taking voice lessons. i love to sing. when i’m in the shower, or in my car, or feeling comfortable and brimming with mischief, i will sing at the top of my lungs without caring much what it sounds like. i was in a number of musical theatre productions from junior high through my early years of college, and, though i was usually in the chorus, i did a fair amount of singing. i first took voice lessons in my teens, at the height of my theatre involvement, and was struck with the truth that i wasn’t quite the whiz-bang singer i thought i was. my teacher was sweet and encouraging and classically trained, and did all she could to help me improve. still, when i started singing with our church’s music team on sunday mornings, i would have little whispering thoughts wondering if my voice teacher was wincing internally every time i got up there to sing. (no one ever reported wincing or asked me to stop singing, just for the record, and there were several comments to the contrary.)

so fast-forward to 2015-16 when i started taking voice lessons again, since i was singing at church more regularly and knew i wasn’t singing with proper form. my instructor this time around said the goal of our lessons was to find my true voice, and to strengthen and build on that. he — and i — quickly realized i had a problem with being loud. he told me once to laugh like santa claus. i was the most moderate, careful-sounding santa claus ever. other times he told me “be a cathedral; don’t be a mouse!”

oh, but it’s so much easier to be a mouse! people don’t notice mice much; they can’t fail to notice a cathedral. being a cathedral exposes your heart and your soul to everyone within earshot; being a mouse makes it easy to hide.

being a mouse is a weak plea to remain comfortable, unchallenged. being a mouse, in a way, is saying “no, i really don’t want to do this after all. i don’t love enough to leave safety. i don’t love enough to come to you. i’d rather stay where i am.”

but that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus came, without any regard for His own safety or comfort. Jesus spoke, Jesus sang. He didn’t go around shouting all the time — and i’m not trying to imply that anyone should do that, or that quietness is less valuable than volume — but neither was He timid, self-conscious, afraid to open Himself to others.

for the past six days i’ve been more or less without a voice. when i try to speak above a whisper my words come out pitchy, hoarse, broken, and only about one in five is audible. if i want to say anything more than a sentence or two in length i’ve had to resort to writing it down. i spent many moments of the past work week walking around to a coworker’s cubicle to stand right by their chair and say something in as loud of a whisper as i could muster, where normally i would have just said it from across the room (and probably repeated it at a louder volume).

the enforced silence has made me realize what a privilege and what a gift it is to be able to speak, to sing, to shout, even. God gave us voices to be used, and if we refuse or are hestitant to use them for His glory, to make people feel loved and welcome, or to speak truth where it needs to be spoken (always with love), then we’re neglecting a responsibility that the privilege of being God’s child brings with it. (note: i realize some people are genuinely physically unable to speak, or have great difficulty and/or discomfort in speaking because of physical conditions. i am not at all suggesting that people in those circumstances are selfish or complacent in not speaking audibly. God gives many forms of speaking, after all.)

my two new year’s goals or resolutions are rest easy and pursue people. the first deserves its own post, but on the second, i really want to learn to speak and to pursue people from a heart of love, from a mindset that is others-focused and not so concerned about myself. i want to learn to see other people the way Jesus sees them and appreciate them as His beloved creations who are in need of redemption or are redeemed and are being restored. this year, i want to learn to speak and to sing with strength. i want to stop being a mouse and learn to be a cathedral.

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Christianity, poetry

compline

Emmanuel — behold Him
the Meek and Mighty, child
the universe’s Maker come
to what we have defiled

Emmanuel — o praise Him
the righteous Warrior wise
He comes the fettered heart to free
and none will He despise

Emmanuel — adore Him
the Shepherd tender, true
He comes the broken to restore
and make all old things new

Emmanuel — hosanna
o, God-With-Us, save!
come sing Your song of triumph
from the manger past the grave

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Christianity, poetry

vespers

strikingsunrise3

i thank Thee, uncreated Son
that Thou didst deign to shine
within the darkness of my soul
and warm my heart with Thine

i thank Thee, ever-endless One
Who left Thy holy throne
to take my evanescent frame
and wear it as Thine own

i thank Thee, Living Water sweet
Whose life Thou freely gave
that Thou didst stoop to wash my feet
and me from death didst save

i thank Thee, shatterer of night
Thou art eternal Day
when new life rises with the morn
the old shall flee away

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Christianity, poetry

hours

field

go seek Him in the country
go find Him by the way
go see that in your night has dawned
the light of endless day

go seek Him in the village
go praise Him in the town
go tell the true and wild tale
of God to earth come down

go seek Him in the city
go paint Him on the streets
go sing the song of zion
and of triumph through defeat

go seek Him in the quiet
go dance amid the storm
go worship in the chaos
unto us a Child is born

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Christianity, poetry

matins

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wake up, the sun is risen
wake up, the night is done
wake up, for sorrow’s ended
wake up, for joy is won

wake up, in love He suffered
wake up, in love He bled
wake up, the Hero conquered
wake up, the dragon’s dead

wake up, the sea is gleaming
wake up, the sky’s on fire
wake up and end your dreaming
wake up, He’ll never tire

wake up, you souls in prison
wake up, you hearts of stone
wake up, the Son is risen
wake up, the night is gone

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Christianity, life, photography

the way things are

leaf

 

today marks one month until my birthday, which will mark one year from entering a new decade. last year, during a rambling late-evening discussion after my murder mystery birthday celebration had wound down, a friend asked me what i hoped would happen or what i would like to do in the next year. after gathering my wits and sorting through what i could share with an audience of two men, i came up with the following:

  1. share the gospel with someone, and
  2. submit some of my writing for publication.

in many ways, these have been an amazing 11 months. and in many ways, it’s been a tough old year.

i have had so much fun these past 11 months, dreaming things, planning things, trying things, creating things, being a small part of big exciting new things, seeing hope planted and watered and new life slowly unfurling its leaves. there are moments of pure joy when the light hits just right and reminds me God is big and He’s beautiful and amazing! and so, so very good.

i have felt so tired and so old this past year. i spent the first three or so months of the year battling sleeplessness and despondency, and finding myself not wanting to fight very hard, because every morning when i woke up, there was this cloud that wouldn’t budge and this feeling i couldn’t get rid of that i’d already failed and ruined the day. if i said i was constantly depressed that would be a lie, fortunately. but still, things weren’t right. it took a short sunday morning audio sermon on justification and grace to break me down (and set me crying for the next three hours, at church, on the front row, on st. valentine’s day, of all days) and eventually send me to the doctor to learn i had seasonal affective disorder and very low vitamin d.

two years ago i received some kind of tiny cypress tree in a Christmas gift exchange. it didn’t come with any identifiers or care instructions, so, having the brown thumb i do, i eventually killed it. last december i was tired of looking at a sad little crispy tree, so i bought a maidenhair fern to replace it. i like my plants to be signs and reminders of things (like isaiah’s children), so i named it hope. keeping hope alive has come to be the theme of this year for me — i have very nearly killed this needy finicky fern several times and have had to mist it every morning and trim all the brown leaves off as soon as they appear. sometimes i let things go too long and have to lop off an entire branch. such, i feel, has been the case with the past year.

with spring (and vitamins and supplements) came misty new leaves on trees, warm breezes, sunshine, longer days … and hope … and dreams that i never thought could be possibilities were taking shape in my soul. again and again i found myself standing on a cliff, toes hanging over the edge, dreading or anticipating what was going to happen next. i have long feared heights and falling from them —and much of the time, it’s because i’ve feared i’ll jump.

i have been weary this year to the point of not caring (and the Lord God gave the man low blood sugar to remind him he was not invincible). i have learned to walk past the point of fear and explain what is inside my mind or heart, as best i can. i have walked and walked and learned and forgotten and learned and forgotten and learned again how to pray. i have tried to be an escapist and have rammed my nose into reality time and again (thank God Who hems me in behind and before). i have worked and worked and worked and wondered what it’s all for before being reminded that anything done for Jesus counts for eternity.

“give up yourself,” c.s. lewis says, “and you will find your real self. lose your life and you will save it. submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorites wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. keep back nothing. nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

“take up your cross and follow Me,” Jesus says. “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will find it.” 

every time i’ve had to face a fear or a frustration or have wrestled for control over something, i’ve thought i’ve learned what losing my life is, what letting go of my ambitions and favorite wishes looks like. what dying is. and every time i get to feeling worn down to a little wooden knot of a person and think, what, God, is this what You’ve called me to? He says and if it is, every day for the rest of your life, am I not enough in all of that? Who do you think I am?

i’ve learned (amid all the innumerable things i’ve learned this year) that i associate value with performance. if i’ve done well — if i’ve done what i was supposed to, when i was supposed to, and done it right — if i’ve lived up to my perception of others’ expectations for me as well as my own, then i have succeeded. then i have value.

i walked slowly down the steps of my empty office building this afternoon, past the darkened doors closed for the holiday weekend, trying to pull myself together and not cry from frustration and weariness (and lack of a proper lunch). i am a failure, i thought. i set lofty goals and never fulfill any of them. i haven’t gotten anywhere. and i complain about all of this and feel sorry for myself while widows in laos are being persecuted for their faith because Christianity is not convenient  for their relatives or their culture’s traditional religion. and here i am, with a good job and a great life, complaining and feeling sorry for myself because i’m tired.

when i have low blood sugar i get depressed. when i get depressed i can spiral down, down, down without realizing it because my will to care is so low at that point that i don’t want to make an effort to look up. but, i did. i remembered, God delights in you. He said, you are altogether beautiful, My darling. He completely approves of you, and it has nothing to do with what you’ve done. it’s because of what He’s done. you can’t earn His approval — and you don’t have to. that’s just the way things are.

the poems i submitted for publication earlier this year weren’t accepted. i haven’t shared the gospel with anyone, face to face, who didn’t already know it. if i look at my year, i have fallen back, back, back down this hill i’ve been climbing. but you know what? it’s going to be okay. and it’s going to be more than okay, because God doesn’t want my picking-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps approach to “success” or my wriggling self-loathing response to “failure.”

He wants me to hold His hand and walk with Him, trusting that He’s big enough to pick up the trees across the path and dig out the boulders in the way, and that He’s patient enough to match His strides to mine and pick me up and dust me off each time i fall down, even if it’s every other step.

and that’s just the way things are.

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poetry

clutch

my hands are empty;
i keep them tightly balled
into fists for illusion’s sake,
to make the rest of the world
(and myself) think
there’s something held within
that tight little grasp,
but there’s no fooling You.
sometimes i feel that
sharp little pain in my chest
and bleat oh God, is this
what it feels like to die?
only You know i don’t mean
that kind of dying. you would
think i should’ve learned by now
but i still panic every time. the
world is loud and fear wails
like a siren through my mind;
that still little voice in my soul
gets outshouted sometimes,
i am ashamed to say. break
my fingers (and my heart)
if You have to.

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