Winter Ends (I Promise)

Okay, okay, so this post popped up on my Facebook feed as a memory from 5 years ago. No I didn’t scour my site for a good one to re-post this week, it just fell into my lap and I took it as a sign. That I didn’t have to do anything. 🙂 And also that maybe this was a great time for this reminder.

This year’s a little different, at least here in Kansas. Easter brought snow and sleet and, therefore, an indoor egg hunt. The signs of life and warmth that usually serve as hiding places for eggs in our yard – the tulips, the daffodils, the green stems of day lilies not yet in bloom – were coated in ice rather than sunshine. Boo. Not my idea of the hope that Easter and spring usually provide.

But the sermon I heard at church spoke to this very tension. The waiting. The taut pull of a rope just before it snaps. The hebrew words that we translate to “hope” in English which mean so much more than “Gee, I sure hope we eat spaghetti for dinner.”

So I still wait. For warmer temperatures and the grass seed in my yard of mud to sprout. This essay was a good reminder of what I have to look forward to. The beautiful things to come…

Winter Ends

Love Over Lust

I feel love in the age of lust.

I feel love in the age of desire.

That snippet of a song was playing as I walked through the kitchen one morning. Just two lines, but my ears perked up. I then googled it and found that the lyrics belong to Sam Weber, a Canadian singer-songwriter whose album I have now listened to in full. Many times. This happens a lot: my husband plays music from a new artist, I notice the words, a voice, or both, and a new obsession is born. But rarely with such a short introduction. These two lines sparked a rocky, complicated trail of thought, the way words do when at their best.

Since then I’ve been thinking and re-thinking about the idea of lust. What, exactly, is wrong with it, what separates it from love, or just wanting something badly. And I have to say, I got stuck. I couldn’t write about it because I wasn’t sure. Until I read a random comment on WoodenBoat Forum.

What?

Yep.

I know nothing about wooden boats except that my father built one with his bare hands (which is pretty badass). I simply googled the words “want” and “lust” together in a desperate attempt at clarity and the forum popped into view. And Ted Hoppe, whoever that is, made it all clear. He pointed out that once the lusted-after object is obtained, it “lacks the intense attraction it had before.” Whereas a want, once acquired, can be a “step in self-discovery.” Ted, you are a wise man. Thank you for sharing about boat building and the human condition.

Lust is not just about sex; It’s about wanting in general. But with more fervor. With less logic involved. As Ted Hoppe also said, “A want rarely leaves you with a burning sensation, a guilty feeling in the morning or a retainer fee for an attorney.” In high school I wanted things to the point of lust. To date certain boys. To have the right clothes. To feel popular; it all felt urgent. I wasn’t longing for these things for anyone’s true benefit, even my own, but for instant gratification. Immediate over long-term satisfaction, with no consideration of the end result. That is lust. And that can’t last.

A passionate desire for something. 

“a lust for power”

And some of the synonyms it lists:

greed, desire, craving, covetousness, eagerness, cupidity

In contrast, here’s what I know about love:

It is patient and kind, not easily angered, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In high school I didn’t know much about love, as is the curse of the teen brain. I thought short-term. Perseverance played no part in my yearnings. My desires for popularity weren’t motivated by kindness and patience or protection of others. My cravings were all about boasting. Completely self-seeking. Add hormone fluctuations and lust was clearly running the show.

When I had my first child, something I had wanted for a long time, I experienced an explosion of self-discovery. Luke’s birth met a desire which had long been smoldering in my body and heart and satisfied in a way that lust never could. My love for him was patient and kind, not easily angered, and it certainly always protected and hoped and persevered. It’s the closest I’ve come in my life to the love described in an ancient letter to some corinthians, and it pointed me toward something higher. Someone who loved me in the same fierce but gentle way.

It seems that for most (minus a certain political candidate, and those like him), age brings a mellowing of lust. A realization that it will never satisfy. That wanting can be good when it comes from love – love of a person, an idea, a line of work or a hobby – but only then. I want to write, for example, because I love writing. I don’t want to conquer or claim it just for me; I want to experience it, and share it with the world. It continues to satisfy because it is a “step in self-discovery.”

That’s what I’m after. Discovery of myself, the world, those around me. Sam Weber’s song helped me think such thoughts today.

From the last verse…

There’s love in the age of lust.

Like a fool I chase this desire

Like a fire, the constant reminder

Of what will comfort me

I know that I’ve had enough

And I know what’s taking me higher

I feel love in the age of lust

I feel love in the age of desire

 

Hear Love In The Age Of Lust


Summer of Symmetry

This was a summer of symmetry.

Let me explain.

I have been in a long-term fight with a certain persistent virus that refuses to take a hint (or a shove) and move along. My old nemesis, Epstein Barr made itself comfortable, particularly in my gut this time around, and made me tired and grumpy and not very summery-feeling at all. Yet there were periods of joy, sunshine and laughter, in between the in-bed-or-wanting-to-be, that felt just as summer should. There were family vacations; days at the pool soaking up the vitamin D (Seriously. Vitamin D is my hero. And Epstein Barr’s worst enemy.); horseback riding; late dinners with friends on the back porch; fireflies; Gin and tonics; and most recently, hours of Olympics-watching. We could win a medal if that in itself were an event. But there was also Moluscum Contagiosum (I’ll tell you about that another time, but just know it was nearly as bad as it’s grotesque name implies. And it threw me down a dark psychological hole for a bit). Between the high highs and the low lows it was like a sped-up time lapse of life in general: a roller coaster of ups and downs smushed into the span of two and a half months. I felt like a wrung out rag a lot of the time.

But I listened to a conversation one day that helped me see things more clearly. And feel a little less upset by this microcosm of general reality. Krista Tippet of the podcast On Being interviewed nobel physicist Frank Wilczek about his belief in “beauty as a compass for truth, discovery and meaning.” In the podcast he explained the idea of symmetry from a mathematical or scientific perspective. He says that symmetry, the way we commonly use it, means balance, harmony, fairness. But those terms are vague. In science they need a more precise concept, so the definition of symmetry within science and mathematics is change without change. For example, Einstein’s theory of relativity says that if were to move past the world at a constant velocity, although things may look different, the same physical laws will apply to the new configuration of the world. So you can make a change in the way everything looks, but you can’t change the laws that make up the object’s reality.

Hello. Symmetry. This summer was both an experience of the common usage of the word and the scientific. It was a balance of good and bad, had a sense of fairness if you will. And though my circumstances changed – the way things looked from the point of view of an outsider passing by would have altered from week to week (sometimes day to day) – the laws of physics stayed the same. The very fact of my existence did not move. My illness and wellness rotated around the axis of me as a human being alive in the world. My circumstances did not alter who I am at the core. Did not alter the realities that keep me living and breathing: spiritual as well as physical.

Somehow this gave me peace. It didn’t make me feel better in my mitochondria, which I’ve now learned Epstein Barr attacks (the jerk), but it did help in my mind and heart. Frank Wilczek’s and Krista Tippet’s soothing voices didn’t hurt either. I could listen to them all day. I’m sure I will again, to remember the vivid and down-to-earth ways he described all manner of scientific principles, and how they demonstrate beauty in the way the world is structured. As if it is the work of a great artist.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always loved symmetry it’s it’s general sense – balance in everything is a good way to live. But now it means something greater. I’m trying to make peace with symmetry and let it calm my reaction to the ups and downs.

Seeing life through the lens of Frank Wilczek’s nobel prize-winning mind helps .

 

Happy Regrouping

You might have noticed I’ve been gone a while. There are a plethora of reasons: sick kids, sick me, days off of school, and more of the same, but the deeper reason for the long absence from posting to my blog is I’ve had nothing to say. I’ve tried. The few chances I’ve gotten I’ve sat for my allotted three-hours-minus-travel-time-from-preschool-to-Starbucks-and-back and written crap. Or nothing at all. Which in itself is depressing. But there wasn’t much to be done since I can’t apply the often touted writer’s rule “write every day.” My rules are more like “shower every other day,” and “get some sort of exercise,” and “don’t let the laundry start overflowing out of the laundry room.” I do fairly well at these.

It’s hard to say exactly why the drought in well-formed and interesting thoughts occurred – perhaps February is cursed, maybe I just don’t do winter well, or it could be the fact that my thyroid had decided to take a break from it’s busy schedule. But luckily, the drought has passed and I had a glimmer of an idea today. Thank you March, spring, functioning thyroid.

 ***

I was recently waiting for several days on some test results that could have been bad news. Thankfully, I received good news instead. But the space between not knowing and knowing gave me a new swath of gray hair. I tried to stay calm, aware that worrying about the unknown accomplishes nothing but stress dreams and intestinal problems, but waiting is not my forte. It is one of my many nemeses (cold feet, hunger and relational conflict being others). I prayed. I breathed deeply. I exercised. But worry crept in and took over a number of welcoming folds in my brain. It found a comfy home next to the concern over finances, unmade summer plans, whether Mae will deal well with all day kindergarten next fall. Fretfulness takes up a lot of the spots in there. This, too, worries me. If my brain is filled with anxiety is there room for anything else? Maybe that’s why I can never remember what it was I needed at the store.

And then there is our current political climate in America. I would describe it as scorching fire and wind swirling from the mouths of those with bitterly cold hearts. I don’t even think that’s being dramatic. All of which gets me riled to the point of heart palpitations and makes it clear that this has got to stop. Worry is getting me nowhere but down.

So I employed a tried and true coping mechanism. I put on my headphones. I found my new musical obsession on Spotify and with the first line came down a notch on the stress scale.

Foy Vance is an anomaly: an Irish guy with a penchant for American blues and soul. He is one of the best songwriters I’ve heard in a long time. And he has a raspy, world-weary voice that sounds like coming home on a cold day and wrapping up in a wool blanket – a little scratchy but warm and cozy and absolutely welcome. I’m soaking up his live album these last few days and I find it calming me, inspiring creativity, and hinting at the beauty that does still exist the world even if our own presidential candidates are making it uglier by the day.

For example. In his song Be, My Daughter I hear the wisdom of the ages, resembling the words of Ecclesiastes, but with a modern, personal take. He wrote it while on tour, after a difficult Skype session with his daughter who was back at home. Another girl was treating her badly at school and he penned a song in response to her worry. An admonition to simply be. It’s just lovely…

There’s a time to talk about it

A time to live it up

A time to sit in silence

 

A time to cry about it

A time to laugh it up

 

A time for stillness in the water

Be, my daughter

 

There’s a time to shout about it

A time to bottle up

A time for all time to be over

 

A time to think about it

A time to give it up

 

A time to burn up every altar

Be, my daughter

 

Tomorrow morning you’ll be slowly waking up

And I”ll be far across the water

But I’ll send reminders against the times it gets too tough

Be, my daughter

 

There’s a time to want a love

A time to need a friend

A time to put your hurts behind you

 

A time to chew it over

A time to make amends

 

You remember that time my baby jumped and daddy caught her

Be, my daughter

Be, my daughter

 

As a parent, I hear the kind guidance, the wise direction to be still, the reminders of his love. And as a person of faith I hear God’s voice saying the same to me. This is exactly my view of his love for us. If you think that’s bunk, well alright. Sometimes I simply can’t hold it in. I hope you can see the joy and stillness in the song. I hope it makes you smile, and think, and be.

I’m choosing to think about this for a while instead of all the worries. Trump will still be on every news outlet tomorrow.

There’s a time to enter the fray and a time to retreat. A time to engage in the madness and a time to regroup. Happy regrouping, everyone.

 

(Here’s the song, so you can come down on the stress scale, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZqh1KvsCSs)

 

On Paper

Relationships are so damn hard.  All kinds.  Every day.  It’s exhausting.

I can’t think of one relationship with a human being (I’ve never been that mad at a dog) that hasn’t involved tension at the least and heartbreak at the most.  In love, in friendship, even in acquaintance (though lessened) the opportunity to be hurt exists.  If you looked at it through the lens of pure pessimism, or self-preservation, or in weary defeat, interaction with other people would seem ridiculous.  A futile and even damaging endeavor.  From the just-touching-the-surface discomfort of miscommunication to the violent wrenching open of your heart, letting pain and hollowness pour in simultaneously, human contact is absurd on paper.

And then there’s the untouchable, indescribable, incalculable other side.  The part where your heart stops with joy.  Where you swear death-by-happiness is a thing.  Where a friend writes you a birthday card full of the right words that couldn’t be more tailor-made and you remember why you shouldn’t give up.  Or when the man you love hugs you tight in response to your snarky, hateful comment and you get a glimpse of mercy that you wouldn’t know if you retreated into yourself for good.  Or your blue-eyed four-year-old says with a lisp that she’ll take care of you when you’re old and your heart gets soft and open and ready to love the whole world in response.  This loving stuff.  This caring about others.  This willingness to be vulnerable despite how it looks on paper is actually worth every ounce of effort.  I know.  It doesn’t make sense.  Welcome to being homo sapiens.

Yes, if you looked at if from an evolutionary point of view, relationships have helped us stay alive, create communities, thrive better than we technically could as singular people.  Let alone the propagation of the species.  On paper it does seem scientifically sound to relate with others.  But science can’t put love on paper.  It can measure brain waves and how they change due to circumstances, how chemicals and hormones can affect the way we think and feel, how brain injury can make us completely different people.  But there has never been a scientific study that explains sacrificial love.  The act of putting another’s needs above your own.  And I would argue that loving people is a sacrificial act in general if it is really love at all.  That relationships take mercy, overlooking wrongs, or dealing with them head-on in a way that is uncomfortable at best, in order to continue for a lifetime.  Which is exactly how long I want to know my favorite people.

So this is how I choose to live.  To end my days knowing that what looked like a bad move on paper – setting myself up for pain by investing in other, jacked-up humans and not giving up on the whole thing – was energy and tender heart well-spent.  Even if it got bruised along the way.  Even if it’s wilted and used up at the end.  I plan to wring it out for every last drop of affection and call it a day.  Hanging around a few, equally beat up souls who chose the same hard-but-worth-it way of life.  Drinking tea and margaritas and reading and writing and watching movies together.  And laughing.  Always laughing, with our worn out lungs and our knees that don’t bend and our hunched over backs.  And I’ll head into the everafter having tasted, just slightly, the goodness of the love that is to come.  All because I decided way back when that the way things look on paper doesn’t always matter.

When I’m buying a house, yes.

When I’m giving away bits of my heart, not so much.

“Good luck with that,” you might say.  And I’ll reply, “Luck is for those waving cats.  I’ve decided.  It’s as simple and super-hard as that.”

Everyday Days

I had a hard time letting go of Christmas.  And I’m having to talk myself into facing the new year.

As I sat in Christmas Eve service, in the very back because we are always, always late, I had a view of the entire sanctuary full of fellow human beings, singing hymns I’ve known since before I could sing along.  My back row seat forced perspective on the experience.  Our inability to arrive on time was good for once.  This familiar, happy tradition was working it’s magic on me.  There was no place I would have rather been.  Even Hawaii.  It was warm, the lights were low, the excitement of present giving and getting was in the air.  But beyond all of the comfort of tradition, beyond the good feelings floating around the room, this was a solemn celebration of something greater.  Of the very hook on which my life hangs.  The fact that I got to share it with others who agree was sweet icing on the cake.  This was what all the hype is about.  

Then Christmas Day – the intense joy of giving my family gifts they will love.  One of my favorite ways to spend a morning.  Then good food with my people.  Remembering who made any and all of his possible.  Just. The. Best.

And after all the anticipation, the preparations, the world lit up with twinkly lights in shared revelry – it was over.  The let-down, for me, was heavy.  “Only 87 days until Easter,” Luke said cheerily a few days later.  Which fell with a thud on my heart.  I saw the expanse of cold, dreary winter before me and wanted to get in bed.

Not surprisingly, as soon as the Christmas decorations were put away and I had turned to face the next few months, my desire to travel kicked in.  It always does this time of year.  The internet conspires and sends emails about all the trips I can get – to Europe and the Carribbean and Mexico – for a steal right now.  Clicking on them and scrolling endlessly while I should be folding laundry is my addicted response.  It’s hard to decipher how much of the this is a good, natural longing to explore and how much is me trying to escape reality – the source of all addiction, though travel is less detrimental to my health than others I could choose.  Marc does not have this addiction/virus/inborn personality trait, so he can’t relate.  And he gave me a taste of my own medicine the other day – one of those times when your spouse tells you something you don’t like, to which you react poorly but later realize was wise and worth taking to heart.  He reminded me of the strategy of self-talk.  I preach this all the time.  Reminding yourself of what is true – in this case that we have a great family, a lovely home in which to spend time, that winter doesn’t last forever, that life isn’t only about excitement and things to anticipate.  Yep.  All true.  He was right.

So, I’m taking my own advice.  I’m telling myself what I need to hear to move into these next few months of wintery blah with, hopefully, contentment.  Maybe even happiness.  And I’m going to remind myself that the hook on which my life hangs doesn’t disappear when the twinkly lights are packed away.  The fanfare is gone – the everywhere and communal reminders aren’t present to help me – but these are the moments of truth.  The regular, everyday days that are full of smaller, less flashy hopes and joys.  When you have to look harder for them.  In the way your kids play a board game and giggle and grow a touch closer.  In the blessed warmth of long underwear and good slippers.  In your four-year-old’s desire to nuzzle noses.  In hot green tea and a scone, in your husband’s blue eyes, in a God who is not fickle like you.  In a new year to start small.  To go back to the basics and let that be enough.

So here’s to a new year and all it will be – big and small, flashy and simple, amazing and ordinary.  And the ability to appreciate every bit.

 

Weary World

I’ve been thinking a lot about a certain song, and how it applies to the world of late.  It’s the perfect song to think about this Christmas season.  I think it’s safe to say we’re all feeling a collective sadness over the state of the world these days.  No matter what side of the aisle you call your own (or neither, like me).  ISIS, racism, refugees, climate, mass shootings, terrorism, politics.  Yuck.  And then there’s my own heart, which consistently lets me down.  Pride, jealousy, anger, selfishness, a tendency to get grumpy when my kids all talk to me at once.  Again, yuck.

But as I approach Christmas, I want to get outside all of that.  I want to see above the madness of the world.  Behind it, around it.  Take a breath and get perspective on what truly matters.  And when I ponder that, I land exactly where Ben Rector does…

 

I used to think I needed all the answers

I used to need to know that I was right

I used to be afraid of things I couldn’t cover up

In black and white

 

But I just wanna look more like love

I just wanna look more like love

This whole world is spinning crazy

And I can’t quite keep up

It’s the one thing around here

That we don’t have quite enough of

So I just wanna look a little more

Like love

 

I find the farther that I climb

There’s always another line

Of mountain tops

It’s never going to stop

And the more of anything I do

The thing that always ends up true

Is getting what I want

Will never be enough

 

So I just wanna look more like love

I just wanna look more like love

This whole world is spinning crazy

I can’t quite keep up

It’s the one thing around here

That we don’t have quite enough of

So I just wanna look a little more

Like love

Like love

 

Ben Rector has a boyish, yearning voice, but a lot more wisdom than his years warrant.  It’s a lovely notion, to look more like love.  Imagining everyone has a picture they carry around that represents them, and thinking what mine might look like sometimes…well, it’s not always love.  But if it was, or if it could be, even a little bit more, what a fabulous thought.  And then if everyone else’s picture looked like love, too…wow.  That’s the whole reason we celebrate a little baby this month.  It’s why he came.  To tell the world about the author of love and help us find a way to Him.  So people can look more like love themselves.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

A weary world.  Check.  A thrill of hope.  Yes, please.

So here’s my song for the month of December.  Listen to it (More Like Love) because it sounds even better than the lyrics alone imply.  May it point to the “new and glorious morn” that has broken.  May it affect change in the way we handle the surrounding madness.  And may we rejoice this Christmas.

Even in the midst of our weary world.

 

 

Secret Heart

Marc and I had a decent sized fight last week – big and frustrating enough to actually make me at a loss for words.  You can ask him – that doesn’t happen much.  Words are my forte.  They flow from my mouth like a rushing river when I’m upset, my arguments clearly outlined in my mind almost instantly.  It’s a strange and mostly unhelpful skill since I’m neither a lawyer nor a politician.  My kids don’t use logic, so it’s of no use in that realm.  And I’m pretty sure Marc loathes my undefeated debate record from high school.  But I can’t help it.  I’m wired to present my case, defend my case, and end with a lengthy closing argument.  In this instance, however, I was so angry, feeling so hopeless, I just gave the hell up.  Whatever.  That was my closing argument.  That’s when you know things are bad – when you’re beyond mad, beyond furious, all the way to I don’t give a damn.

I saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert a few days later.  It was my fourth Lyle Lovett concert (I knew almost every word to almost every song), but the first time I’ve seen John Hiatt.  I’ve long appreciated Lyle Lovett’s gift of phrase-turning – his ability to be both funny and poignant in the same breath.  But I realized that John Hiatt is a master wordsmith, too.  Lyle has a creamy voice that sinks into your bones and a sweet, light touch on the guitar, so it’s easy to hear the words that sit on top.  In contrast, Hiatt’s gruff voice and hard-strumming guitar mask his wisdom.  But it’s under there, and worth digging for.

I sat in the fourth row, so close it was like being in a living room watching the two of them banter casually, each playing his favorite songs for a friend.  My proximity gave the lyrics a weight and immediacy they wouldn’t carry if heard from the back of a large theater.  When Hyatt sang what I’ve always thought of as his cliche song Have a Little Faith in Me,  I heard its’ cut-to-the-bone truth and how it applied to us.

 

An’ when your secret heart

Cannot speak so easily

Come here darlin’ from a whisper start

Have a little faith in me

An’ when your back’s against the wall

Just turn around an’ a you will see

I’ll be there, I’ll be there to catch your fall

So have a little faith in me

Cause I’ve been loving you for such a long time, baby

Expecting nothing in return

Just for you to have a little faith in me

You see time, time is our friend

‘Cause for us there is no end

All you gotta do is have a little faith in me

 

It’s a simple idea – don’t give up on me – but what a nice way to say it.  My secret heart could not speak.  My secret heart was pissed, and confused, and forlorn.  But the song says Remember who you’re dealing with here.  He’s not your enemy.  He’s your partner.  And this is forever.  You catch his fall and he’ll catch yours.  

It’s extremely cheesy, but I made Marc sit and listen to it.  And I had him follow along with the lyrics as the song played.  Yep.  I’m not joking around with this making-my-marriage-work thing.  I won’t settle with biding our time until a better day comes along.  I’m all-in, and that takes effort.  It takes sitting down with the lyrics of a song written by a love-embattled writer, with experience in the area of relational strife, and paying attention.  Whatever is no good.  Trusting that we’re on the same team, having faith in each other to catch our mutual fall is better.  Under John Hiatt’s scruffy vocals is hard-won wisdom, and I’m willing to listen.  Luckily, so is Marc.

I’m not dumb enough to think that a song is going to change everything.  The lyrics aren’t magical.  The tune tugs at the heart but it won’t save us when we’re beyond angry.  Which will happen again.  But the right words can point me in the right direction.  A well-written paragraph, or sentence, or phrase can stick with me forever and help shape my perspective.  Shakespeare has advised me.  Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove.  So has Paul the Apostle.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  And now, so has John Hiatt.  Next time my own words won’t come I’ll remember this song.  And refuse to simply give up.  And have faith that Marc is my ally even when it doesn’t feel that way.

Here’s to the beautiful, difficult odyssey of marriage.   And to to all the writers who help along the way.

 

Remember

I’m a creative type, thus I tend to have big feelings.  I also have a mind that loves logic, so I’m usually able to talk myself down from the cliff when my feelings get too big for my own good.  Too sad or mad or worried.  “What is true?” is a common question I ask myself.  “Remember…remember” is another personal mantra, and it points me back to what I know in my heart and mind and guts to be true.  My faith.  The basis for my whole being.  It works.  And I’ve had to utilize it’s grounding effects these last weeks.  When Facebook and the paper and NPR are overwhelming me with so many awful things I feel like unplugging completely.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m peri-menopausal and my hormones are out to lunch, but my feelings have gotten so enormous I’ve felt trapped under their weight.  And this isn’t even personal grief.  That’s a whole different level of sad.  This is a more existential, less experiential heartache – over the suffering of refugees in massive amounts, being met with xenophobia and hatred in many places.  Over the political circus our country is living through, and encouraging.  Over the here’s-what-we’re-AGAINST mentality that many in my faith family are embracing these days (or years) instead of here’s-what-we’re-FOR.  It’s enough to make me lose my freaking mind.  

I just about did.

But then I remembered.

That thing I mentioned earlier – the faith on which my whole being is based – brings me back down.  Because no matter the circumstances which the world, my country, my own life face, God is circumstance-immune.  What is true is true outside the confines of space and time, and certainly outside of Donald Trump’s ridiculous presidential candidacy.  No matter who is elected, no matter the fear we face, no matter the un-Christ-like behavior that his followers demonstrate, the God of the universe doesn’t change.  Can you imagine if that wasn’t true?  If the whole thing was really up to us to handle?  “Oh. Crap.” is my censored response.  But thankfully, the one who made the mountains and amoebas and babies and sun has it all held in capable, metaphysical, eternal hands.  So I can come down from the cliff of insanity.  And take a big ol’ breath of the air I had nothing to do with creating.

As the news keeps on coming I’ll have to do a lot more remembering in the weeks and months ahead (why oh why is the presidential race so unbearably long?).  A lot more breathing.  And maybe less Facebook surfing.  But hallelujah for something to remember.  And that it doesn’t all come down to me.  That’s some good news.

And All Will Be Made Well

I’ve been listening to Josh Garrels’ new album, Home, over and over since it was released this month.  That’s how I tend to listen to music that I love – repeatedly.  Until I run it into the ground.  Which can take years.  In that time the songs and the voices that sing them become so familiar I would know them from hearing one bar.  They become a part of my story.

I’m so glad to include Home in my complicated tale.  It’s absolutely welcome here.

The second half of the album is already near and dear to my heart.  As my cousin insightfully reacted to it, “Gah!”  I agree with her exasperation at such creativity and beauty and relevance.  It’s almost too wonderful to bear.  But not quite.  And in that not-quite I find a thankful addition to my life.

I don’t like a lot of “Christian” music.  It’s often trite, poorly written and produced, a copy of other artists’ styles.  In my mind, not worthy of it’s subject matter.  Then there are the few inspired musicians whose art is worth hearing no matter what you believe – because they make good music.  Josh Garrels knows how to speak of God unabashedly, but with insight and grit and authenticity.  There’s no false-modesty; no making it seem that trusting Jesus means you avoid the real, hard stuff of living; no fake-it-til-you-make-it.  It’s just him, and his God, and his contemplations about the two.  He gives his listeners an honest offering.  Sometimes, even for free. (more about that here)  And that makes the world better.

In his book The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse, Michael Gungor (another great musician) talks about pain as a source of great art.

Pain is that blessed and despised universal experience that creates more true art than any other human experience.  Love is racked with pain.  Life’s most joyful experiences – the birth of a newborn baby, the formation of deep friendship, or first consummation of love – all are associated with an experience of pain. A wedding is the joyful union of two lovers, but it begins with “Who gives this bride away?”

Garrels’ song Heaven’s Knife puts this idea to music.  He speaks of a precious experience that began with pain but ended in a beautiful realization.  He hits on a universal reality.  The place of pain is also the impetus of searching, the reaching outside of the self.  Pain is the place where all you can think to say is “Help.”  As Anne Lamott says, it’s one of the three prayers (along with thanks and wow), and to pray it, we have to see our need.  When we’ve reached the end of our rope, we cry out for a bit more – with less fraying and a softer braid to grip.  But we know we can’t make it ourselves.  That point of acknowledging need is the very birthplace of hope.  It makes us look up.

I read that this album was written from a place of trying to find joy, and you can sense his search in the music.  Working it out through writing – I can relate to that.  Some songs are more pensive.  Asking for mercy.  But as the album moves along, the songs feel to me like a rising out of a pit into the light.  He expresses the joy he sought – not shallow happiness which changes with each situation, but a gladness which can exist in the midst of sadness or terrible circumstances.  The less fickle, more reliable relative to happiness.  David and the other psalmists wrote with this in mind; they were working it out through writing, too.  Honestly dealing with the painful aspects of living on this planet.  Reading them lets me know I’m not alone.  And so does Josh Garrels’ music.

He demonstrates what Gungor says…

Pain is not the same thing as suffering.  One can fully experience the pain of life without being the tortured artist who lives in constant agony.  But creation is no easy task.  Good art demands a fight.

Thank goodness Josh Garrels is willing to fight the fight.  To work it out.  To make good art.  His attempts to find joy help mine.  Here’s a sample, in case it helps you, too…

 

And it may be broken down

All the bridges burned like an old ghost town

But this my son can be made new

It’s gonna be alright

Shake it out and let back in the light

And joy will come

Like a bird in the morning sun

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

And all will be made well

Once again