Beautiful Things

Monoprints

I like security. A lot. I like knowing where I’m going, who’s going to be there, and when I get to go home.

But there’s a sense of real beauty in doing things in which  I cannot predict the outcome. This semester I’m in a printmaking class, and the work is unlike anything I’ve tried to do before. I think it’s going to be hard. I pray it will be beautiful.

I’ve joined a community group at my church and tonight I’m going for the very first time. I think I’m going to be entirely out of my element, but I’m praying God can make it beautiful.

There’s mission trips and internships and opportunities that seem too far away to grasp, but I apply anyway because I’m too afraid of wasting my life to be afraid to fall short. I am afraid of failing, too, but a voice in my brain is whispering but what if you fly?

So I learn to dance and I read books by people who don’t agree with my philosophy on life and slowly let myself be pulled and challenged. And I don’t always like it, but I’m beginning to think that God doesn’t really want us to sit still. Comfort is not a virtue.

There’s a quote that seems to be attributed to Banksy that says “It’s not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster.” I feel like life is like that sometimes. I’m not going to do anything worth-while, worth-living, until I step out into the abyss.

For me, safety is solitude with four walls and a cup of tea. But God says to trust Him, for He is safety, and that He has given me people and places that will make me beautiful. In chapel this week we sang one of my favorite Christian songs. It’s by Gungor and the chorus goes

You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust;

You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.

 

Thank God for that.

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The Idea of Christian Spirituality

To be a Christian is to be a mystic.

I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller over Christmas break and found the book contemplative and beautiful. You should read it. I found myself dog-earring pages, taking notes, and thoroughly enjoying the mental journey Miller takes in his book.

But this quote stuck out particularly to me, because it makes me let out a deep breath and realize everything is OK.

“To be a Christian is to be a mystic.” I like that.

To be a Christian is to believe in something unbelievable. Either you accept the reality of God or you don’t. You can’t prove it. You can’t quantify it. Yet you can believe in God’s validity and worth.

That’s why it bothers me when Christians laugh at nonbelievers or think they are arrogant or stupid for not believing in God. Why on earth should they believe in God? The whole idea of a being that we somehow know about, yet have never seen — the idea that we choose to pattern our lives after a book that’s thousands of years old — is ludicrous. Some people may come to God through persuasion or argumentation, but head-knowledge very often does not equate soul-knowledge and I know I could not be persuaded by theory.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to argue the Bible into making sense. Because I’m in college and that’s what you do in college. I need to do that, I think, because a religion too fragile to be poked at and prodded out onto the examination table is not worth having. Faith should be examined and really, deeply, understood.

But it’s tiring. It’s hard to sift through the religious dogma, the Christian-ese, and Western culture that seeps into my beliefs and find the Jesus that’s underneath. It’s exhausting to ask — why do I really believe that this thing or that thing is true?

And that’s why it’s good for me to be reminded every Christian is a mystic. Every Christian is connected to something that is a mystery utterly beyond themselves. It’s liberating.

Even if I define every minutia of my faith, listing what I believe in bullet pointed detail, I am still attached to the supernatural. My God is still beyond my finite understanding.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t like when Christians try to cop-out from truly learning about their faith or defending it because they consider it all “a mystery.” But, there is a great comfort in knowing that I don’t have to have figured out every aspect of God for Him to still exist.

I am a mystic. I believe in the unbelievable and that’s a beautiful thing.

New Year Approaching

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It’s December 29th and my hometown got its first snowfall of the season. The snow is later than it’s been in 116 years, but it finally came after being heralded by howling winds and sleet that drummed against the roof until I fell asleep last night.

I don’t like snow. I don’t like digging my car out from underneath a mountain of salty snow in order to go to church. I don’t like putting on six extra layers of clothes just to go to breakfast or classes at college. Snow can be a pain.

Yet, I love thick wool sweaters. I love stepping outside and feeling the sharp bite of winter when I inhale. There’s nothing quite like the silent sound of my feet walking through a dusting of snow as fluffy snowflakes flutter to the ground.

I may not like that most winters here in the northeast United States last for four whole months, but I like the feeling of the flip of the calendar pages. The first snow is a message. It’s winter, the snow says. Better be ready.

This first snowfall is just a few short days away from 2016. And the snow seems to say, it’s almost a brand new year. Better be ready.

The end of the old year and the start of the new is a great time to reflect and to prepare. For me, new classes are barely two weeks away. New professors, a new roommate, and a brand new chapter to fill as the year unfolds. I’m happy for the things ahead. But I don’t want to plunge ahead, blindly, taking whatever 2016 puts in my way. I want to be ready.

So, this year, my word is going to be Community. Last year was Peace. You can read about that here and here. In fact, I talked a little bit about Community last year, in this post.

The reason I chose Community for this year is because I’m an introvert. I like to do things on my own. In fact, I tend to manage well on my own. Yet, I do more than manage — I can thrive — when I allow others in and I live in Community with them. My life is richer, deeper, when I do life with others. The more I open up about my faith journey, my struggles, and my Joys, the more my faith can grow.

I’m excited for what 2016 holds. I want to be prepared. So, I’m striving to foster community with members of my church and college, where it’s easy to get lost among the busyness and small talk, confusing Christian-ese for Christian fellowship.

What word are you claiming for 2016?

Ode to a Friend

Two and a half years ago I would never have thought I would be going to the college that I am attending. I was not even planning to visit it, let alone apply. It was too close to home, with a tiny art department, and named after a denomination I didn’t know the particulars to.

But then my friend invited me to tour the campus with her. And then, after I had instantly been won over by the campus’ friendly environment, I applied and put down my deposit. And then I got the chance to room with the best roommate for three semesters.

And it’s all Sara’s fault.

I like to blame Sara for a lot of things. I blame her for the good things of life. Some of the bad things I blame her for, too… but that’s because we all live off sarcasm and snark and enjoy blaming each other for things that are impossible to link back to the blame.

It’s Sara’s fault, too, that I had such a great first three semesters at college. It’s also her fault that the next semester I’ll have to do without her. It just so happens that my friend is a genius and has the opportunity to study in Spain next semester. Therefore, I am writing this in celebration of the happiness of those three semesters and all the anticipated life experiences we’re going to have as soon as she’s back.

This post is for her.

It’s for those late nights when we contemplated theology. And every lunch we ate together where she taught me the names for couscous and quinoa and discussed the merits of different types of fish. And when we blew the circuit every time we tried to vacuum .

It’s every time she made me laugh when I wanted to cry. When her advice was blunt, timely, and very necessary. And if I ever needed to know the Spanish word for anything, she always had me covered.

I’m thankful that she introduced me to the IJN Ministry on campus. I’m so glad she let me follow her around the first few weeks of school, which is how I met a lot of friends and learned to find my way around campus.

When I think of cheerios, I smile. And Twenty One Pilots is the soundtrack for our lives. We’ve watched countless hours of BBC’s Sherlock, Agent Carter, and Dr. Who and have sent each other probably a hundred pins on Pinterest. At least.

Thanks for supporting this blog since the very beginning, Sara! Thanks for being a great roommate. Spain had better treat you well, or else it will have to answer to me.

Adios Amiga!

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Freedom There

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I wound my body up into a tense ball of muscle and bones and fat. I controlled my breathing as I rolled myself forward, focusing on reaching my mind past my hands, which were firmly planted on the ground, centering my weight exactly on the spread of my hands as my feet left the floor. I was balancing on my hands in the Kakasana position for the very first time. And though my body was tense and my mind was focused solely on one thing, I felt freedom in those moments off the ground.

It is like when I spent six concentrated months learning a piece by Debussy. I knew every note on every line of staff until finally I had memorized the whole piece and could play it with confidence. When I don’t have to stare at the page, but am only focusing on the movement of my hands and counting the rhythm of the notes inside my head, I feel freedom.

Or when I create the space inside my own head to meditate – which although it has been fewer and farther between lately because of my own negligence, creates a hollow in my heart that floods with peaceful patience. There I feel freedom, too.

Sometimes our fast-paced, ready-made culture misses out on freedom because it’s too focused on being free. It strives to be free from accountability, morals, struggles, and any more labor than is necessary.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy convenience. But convenience is not freedom.

It feels free, when I can order Chinese over the phone and pick it up, ready-made, ten minutes later. It feels free, when I decide what morals are convenient for the situation I am in. But it turns out that when I am most trying to be free that I am the most a slave. I am a slave to my phone and my selfish self. I am dependent on a culture that is insatiable. I require the constant up-keep of a thousand conveniences to make myself feel free.

But freedom comes from confines.

Does that seem counter-intuitive? It is, of course. No one sells responsibilities as freedom. But it’s structure that allows me to be free.

I am thinking specifically about God. It is not a conventional idea of freedom that makes me cling to a God that demands my life from me – heart, soul, and body in one all-encompassing package. It’s the gradual realization that when I give myself as a slave to God that I can find freedom which makes me put those boundaries on myself.

When I am a slave to God I am free to be filled with love. I am free to desire pure things. I am free to extend grace and reach for forgiveness and fill my life with things that matter. I am free to leave bitterness behind me and I am free to worship Someone other than myself.

I find these truths to be self-evident echoes in my yoga, music, and prayer. The emptier I am, the fuller God can be manifest in me. I find my freedom in that place where God asks everything of me so that He can become everything for me. I find freedom there.

Community

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There’s lyrics to a song by Deb Talan that caught my attention a while ago. She sings, “you can’t do it on your own, and if you could would you really want to?” Her song (it’s called “Big Strong Girl” if you want to look it up) is all about loneliness. She sings about the isolation associated with living outside a community that cares. It’s wistful, and a little melancholy. The song played at the end of an episode of Psych I was watching, and that line jumped out at me.

Maybe I heard the line because that’s how I like to live — as if I can do it on my own. I value self-sufficiency. I struggle to work things out for myself. Letting someone else work out things for me leaves room for them to let me down. So, I have friends that I love to help, to let lean on me, but I share the good and — rarely — the truly honest beating of my heart.

Mostly, I work on my own problems. I wrote a sixteen page document of free-verse poetry one semester because I was trying to navigate my own mind. Don’t misunderstand me — I talked, too, to people who would listen. I shared a little, but there were spaces between the lines, and pauses where words could have existed. And I figured it out. I decided how to fix the things that troubled me and that was that.

But, I have been convicted that being human demands living in community, and community eventually requires transparency.

I was at a week of student leadership training this summer, and we did a lot of praying. Out loud. Together. And it felt powerful, you know, to share the burden of shining the light of the Father to the world. The week ended, like weeks tend to do. The semester started and I found myself with eighteen credits, two jobs, and multiple positions of varying responsibility around campus.

The communal prayer subsided too quickly, and the workload grew on individual shoulders.

But my roommate believes in a strong community of believers. And simply living individual lives at a Christian college doesn’t cut it for her. (She’s an extrovert. Can you really blame her?) She’s been talking about finding community within a church, because going to college chapel services isn’t accountability or mentorship.

We drove to a new church last week. It was one on the long list of places to check out. As soon as I sat down in the seat, I felt comfortable — and not even because the chairs were soft. All the anxiety of finding a church-building evaporated. Do you know what that service pounded into our hearts that day?

Community. Accountability. Membership and mentorship.

I can’t memorize seventy slides for an art history test on my own. I study with someone. I can’t be a Christian alone. Not really. Not the way God intended, anyway. I’m an organism in a body, and on my own I shrivel up and cease to exist. But together, maybe there is a vigorous, beautiful body created from the helpless parts.

Miscellaneous Experiences of a College Student

I thought it would be interesting to share with you a couple of snapshots of my life from this week. They are merely for your amusement and have know rhetorical value whatsoever, so be forewarned…

I have an astrophysicist teaching the astronomy class I’m in this semester. Do you know what he said when he had us neck-deep in physics equations? “If this isn’t interesting to you, I don’t know what would be.” I was not interested, unfortunately. Birds are interesting, or watching a soccer game is interesting. Math equations are merely methods of torture inflicted upon college students. He also was heard saying, “There’s a lot of neat physics you can do with ellipses.”

Speaking of ellipses, my roommate was hopping in circles with excitement the other day, and said “I’m an honor’s student. I turn in ellipses, not circles.”

If you walked into my residence hall’s lounge last week you might have spied my friend and me dying of laughter while watching a Shakespeare adaption on a tiny laptop screen. Is that normal? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t consider myself necessarily normal anyway.

It’s the little things in life that are appreciated by college students. For instance, I sent a little prayer of thanks heavenward when there was ketchup at dinner today. You would not belief how rare of an occurrence this is.

My friend sat talking to me at lunch while she systematically detached all six of my keys from their keyrings and laid them on the table. I did not notice until I went to leave. She put them back together, but in the wrong order, which makes it especially hard for me to get into my dorm room. Curse you, muscle memory.

This weekend I’m going to a theological conference in a different city. I’m preparing to be one of the youngest people there and completely geeking out over entirely philosophical debates.

What obscure things have you done this week?

An Open Letter to Everybody: Labels, Feminism, and Being a Social Introvert

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I have this sort of love-hate relationship with labels. And let me just write down what I mean by labels, first, before I explain myself. By “label” I mean any word that describes a physical thing, such as “blue” describing the ocean.

I love labels, because they provide structure and sanity to life. If we could not label things — people even — we would find ourselves in a mess. Labels give us a clue to what’s going on and what we should expect. For instance, if I was going to fly to a different city to see my friend, but she couldn’t pick me up when I got there, she might say, “My brother is going to pick you up at the airport. Look for a man in a red shirt when you get here.” Knowing what is accepted by the English language to be a “man” or a “red” is great knowledge to have.

The problem with labels is that they are often taken way too far. What if, when I stepped off that airplane, I had an idea of who I was looking for that was so specific, I missed the actual person? What if I decided men were only tall, with beards on their faces? Sure, some men look that way, so it might not be a false idea. And what if my mental image of a red shirt was a burgundy polo? Maybe my friend’s brother is a tall, bearded man in a burgundy polo, but it’s just as likely he is short, bald, and wearing a cherry-red muscle tank!

That’s a stupid example, but it gets at my point. Labels are what we use in language to identify physical things. But a label is only a placeholder for the actual thing. A person is so unique that labels only go so far.

I’ve learned a lot about how far people will take labels. If I say I know a gay guy, you’ve probably already decided whether he’s a democrat or republican. Tell me, does he prefer pink or black? I bet you would easily hazard a guess.

Please don’t get me wrong. I understand that generalizations occur because our experiences tell us what is most common when it comes to labels. This isn’t a rant about being given right-handed scissors when I’m left handed because the world assumes everyone uses the same dominant hand. I get it. The world is so complex that it is impossible to help being overly-simple about some things.

Nevertheless, people get stereotyped and I want to talk about it. I want to talk about what I get labeled. My label is GIRL. Before I go on, though, I want to say that I never thought of myself as a feminist as I was growing up. I think “feminist” was a little bit of a taboo word at home. I am beginning to think we have stretched that label too far, too, because feminism is about equal existences, not misandry. But that’s besides the point. I want to talk about being a girl and about breaking stereotypes, but I don’t know if I consider myself a feminist — at least in the American sense. Do I want equal pay for the jobs I do? Absolutely. But until 13 year old girls stop being sold into sex slavery in Cambodia and women have the right to a life without a husband in Pakistan, I’m willing to let the matter of expensive pink razors in the US rest.

I only want to bring “girl” back to the definition it was meant to mean. All that “girl” needs to mean is a person who was born of the female sex. That’s it. I’m a girl, because I fit that very broad definition. It amazes me, though, all that people think “girl” has to mean.

I have a guy friend who recently told me I wouldn’t like a certain movie because it had a lot of battle scenes in it. What he didn’t know is that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of my favorite movies as a child because of the amazing battle at the end (albeit a very clean battle, because I was young). Another person told me that I should have long hair. Girls with long hair are beautiful, while girls with short hair are “boyish,” I was told. I absolutely agree that long hair is beautiful. I also know a girl, whose hair is 1/2 inch long, who is absolutely stunning.

I want to define my labels, and not let them confine me. I am as much a girl as an girl on the planet. In fact, I like a lot of the things that are stereotypically “girly.” But I want to share with you a list of things that make this girl me. You can see my picture at the top of the page, and now I’d like to show you who I am. Some of the list will be labels, but don’t let them make you think too narrowly. For instance, number 3 is “introvert.” Don’t think that I am shy and hide from any company. As my friends will attest to, if I don’t have four or five friends piled onto my bed watching a movie on my laptop, it is not a typical Friday night.

  1. I am a college student
  2. an art lover
  3. an introvert
  4. also, an INFJ
  5. an excellent mulch spreader
  6. because I spent my summer on a landscape crew
  7. a musician
  8. who listens to everything from Remedy Drive to Bastille
  9. an earring-lover (I have four sets of them in my ears, currently)
  10. a graphic design major
  11. a college student
  12. I adore Chinese food
  13. and chocolate
  14. and watching operas
  15. I write poetry
  16. I go hunting in the fall
  17. and drive a little stick-shift car
  18. I’m a knitter
  19. a Japanese teacup collector
  20. I love blue best
  21. but my favorite color to wear is black
  22. I have a weakness for shoes
  23. and a fear of spiders

That’s me. Is some of me different that anticipated? I don’t think I am very abnormal. In fact, I think the very fact that there are things that make us different is what makes us “normal.” It is not “normal” for 3 people to all like the same things, eat the same things, and think the same things — let alone 50% of the population.

I’m a girl. I don’t cry when I scrape my knee, but I do when I see someone hurting. I can’t stand pink, but I love high-heeled shoes. I’m me. All what I really want to say, I guess, with everything that I have said, is: get to know the people around you. Don’t label them without knowing what labels they define. That’s what I’d like, when I step into a new place. Is that what you would like, too?

Take a Number and Have a Seat

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I was thinking about something today, as I was digging down into the dirt, since it is always when I am working, focused on a task, that a new thought tends to poke its way into my consciousness. My thought was about numbers.

Numbers define us, almost without our knowing it. It starts when we are born. For instance, the day I was born I received two sets of numbers that would be a part of my identity for the rest of my life. I got a birthday and a social security number. My social security number is unique to me and marks my place as an American citizen. My birthday gives me another number — my age. Two other numbers were affixed to me at birth, although they did not stay the same over time. The nurses laid me down, weighed me, and measured me. And while those very first measurements mean little to me now, my height and weight are an important part of my existence today.

Now I have even more numbers attached to me, that mark out my life. There’s a number that denotes which house I live in. When I call my friend on the phone, although she sees my name and face, it’s my phone number that her phone recognizes. My bank knows me by my account number. My college lets me into the dining hall by the number on my student ID.

So what’s my point? Besides the thought exercise it afforded me while I was kneeling in the soil, why does it matter? It matters because God knows a number associated with me, and only me, too.

God knows the number of the hairs on my head.

Everyone else in the whole wide world can know the numbers that I can rattle off about myself. But only God knows the number of hairs that are on my head. Only He knows such an intimate, close detail of me — one that even I don’t know. And it’s the only number that doesn’t define me. It’s a number that defines God, and how greatly He cares for me. Because when people say that “I’m only a number on my college campus” they mean that their professors don’t know who they are. But when the Creator of the universe comes close enough to count the individual strands of hair that are on your head, you become more than just a number on a chart or one of countless faces in the audience. You become known by God.

And that’s infinitely special. It grabs deeply at my heart, when the numbers I carry around on my earthly frame fall away in the knowledge of my eternal identity. I have a soul that is not confined to the things easily seen or said about me. I have a soul that is laid bare before my Maker, who sees it and still chooses to come close and know every intricate detail of my existence. It’s a beautiful thing, and as I become aware of the magnitude of it, I am eternally thankful.

Why I Resonate With Blurryface

headphonesI’ve been listening to Twenty One Pilot’s new album, Blurryface, lately, as I have time around all the working and planning and reorganizing of my life that happens every summer. I first noticed the song “Stressed Out” somewhere on the internet, which also takes up a large portion of my summer life, by the way. Can I get an Amen?

The chorus caught me first, where it said “Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days/ When our mama sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” And then the phrase “Out of student loans and treehouse homes we all would take the latter” kinda made me laugh because it’s true. The bridge says:

We used to play pretend, give each other different names,
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away,
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face,
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”

Yeah. Sounds like my life.

But the thing that made me keep coming back was not just the lyrics that ring true for a college student with loans and jobs and fears coming out of her ears, but the blunt, exacting words that sing in a way nobody else — especially other Christian artists — seems to be able to sing. Tyler Joseph, the lead singer/rapper, holds nothing back in “Stressed Out” and the rest of Blurryface. 

There’s a raw emotion in this music that comes from having nothing to lose, I think. Twenty One Pilots creates music that means something to them, not music that fits the radio-ready formula. It’s music that’s honest. Sometimes it’s so honest it hurts. There’s a line in “Stressed Out” that says “I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink/ But now I’m insecure and I care what people think/ My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think.” A line from “Doubt” states, rather matter-of-fact-ly:

Gnawing on the bishops, claw our way up their system,
Repeating simple phrases, someone holy insisted,
I want the markings made on my skin,
To mean something to me again,
Hope you haven’t left without me.

Tyler Joseph doesn’t claim to have even most of the answers. He does know some very good questions, though. He knows “the streets your walking down.” And he isn’t concerned about the people who tell him to “stay in your lane, boy.” The album, hitting every mood and genre, is worth sitting down and listening through. It’s a little non-conventional, but, as the one song reminds us, “Don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless.” It’s easy for me to get tired of songs that spell out easy answers and have lyrics that I fully understand the first time around. This music takes time to delve into and understand, yet it rings true to my life, and probably can in yours, too.