Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013

As is my yearly tradition, here is a post of personal highlights from my year, ranging from factual to thoughtful. Thanks for riding out another year with me, friends!

10 Goals I Had for 2013:
1. Finish a draft of my novel “Starlings” (Not completed yet, though I made more headway on it, particularly in terms of plotting and world building)
2. See (and shoot) at least one band I haven’t seen before (I saw a few for the first time, but I don’t think I photographed anyone for the first time)
3. Make a more dedicated effort to keep up with guitar playing (Success here was mixed, since I didn’t have my guitar for a significant portion of the year)
4. Plan a wedding (more specifically, mine) (Well, this one I managed)
5. Learn to take more personal initiative (This one I also made tangible progress in)
6. Invest better in relationships that I have slighted much more than I should (Mixed success. This is a lifelong goal, I believe)
7. Keep up with Greek (Successful-- sat in on Greek class at my alma mater a few times, worked on translation projects on my own)
8. Learn at least one new piece on the piano (from sheets, not that I personally arrange) (I didn’t accomplish this one, though I arranged several more)
9. Drink less coffee (and learn to drink it black) (Mostly successful. I drink less than half of what I did, and though I usually at least need some milk, I never need sweetener anymore)
10. Volunteer more of my time investing in the ministries and causes I care deeply about (Done, but nowhere near to the extent that I would like)

10 Significant Events of 2013:
1. Getting to see Disciple with four of my siblings
2. Final few months living in Colorado, including junking my first car
3. Going to Sixflags and to see Skillet with siblings and longtime friend and fellow music fan Mikayla
4. Living in downtown Nashville for a month and interning with a record label
5. Spending a few days in Georgia getting my heart filled to overflowing by my “Fern” friends
6. Marrying my favorite person
7. My 6th CleanPlace Moot in Colorado
8. Moving into and setting up my first apartment with Jordan
9. Hosting my coworker and dear friend Sarah, plus attending and covering the Dove Awards
with her
10. My adopted sister Liz’s visit and the countless adventures we crammed into one awesome week.

10 Random Places I Visited in 2013:
1. A 24 hour Jewish coffee shop in Manitou Springs, CO
2. A side room of Frothy Monkey coffee house in Franklin, TN where Kevin Max was reading
3. An awesome boot store on Nashville’s Broadway that I wandered into with Sarah, complete with an adorable southern gentleman proprietor
4. Lovely, quiet gardens on a misty day in Georgia
5. A cow pasture in deep Texas where we ended up while trying to find a venue
6. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ancient Anasazi homes that I visited (and excessively photographed) with my friends Sarah, Rebecca, and Eleanor
7.  A little tea room in Shreveport, LA that I revisited with my mom for the first time since my mid-teen years
8. Side paths of Colorado’s Garden of the Gods in middle of the night
9. One of the most hillbilly gas stations in Tennessee, where I ended up with two Wisconsin friends in tow
10. A renovated caboose buried deep in the Colorado mountains

The 10 Songs that were the Most Special to Me in 2013:
1. “Hope of Morning” by Icon For Hire
2. “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry and I Love You” by Derek Webb
3. “Jesus Jesus” by Noah Gundersen
4. “Closer” by John Mark McMillan
5. “Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane
6. “Salvation” by Skillet
7. “We Fall Apart” by We As Human
8. “Hold Me Now” by Red
9. “Beautiful Scars” by Disciple
10. “After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons

10 Miscellaneous Things I Learned in 2013:
1. The concept that cynicism and intelligence/wisdom are the same thing, or even strongly
related, is false and incredibly damaging.
2. People with different beliefs than those I hold-- even complete opposite beliefs-- are a whole lot less scary than I was raised to believe.
3. Nostalgia is a dangerous drug, to be taken in limited quantities with your feet firmly planted in where you are now.
4. The fact that joy so often comes paired with a dose of sorrow doesn’t mean that you should forgo the joy to try to avoid the sorrow; it just means you have to find ways to embrace and fully live both.
5. What employers value should never, ever be taken as any kind of standard of what are actually valuable character traits. And on a related note, the societal notion that being in certain kinds of jobs makes you a “higher” or “lower” kind of person is deeply flawed.
6. A very high percentage of discomfort in my relationships comes from my own pride.
7. Music and the music industry are two very different things, and navigating the latter means never losing my love for the former.
8. Most things we think are small (conversations, actions, moments) really aren’t small at all. Every detail matters. 
9. Overcoming dark in our lives is much less about constantly trying to starve the negative and much more about conscientiously, intentionally feeding joy, hope, and light (likely a blog post expanding on this coming).
10. There is no shame in holding to traditional beliefs and clinging to the basic doctrines about the reality and character of Christ. It doesn’t require becoming an intellectual infant. Some thought systems have endured for a reason.

10 Goals for 2014:
(This is always problematic because my life is so unpredictable. I’m going to try to nail down less nebulous goals this time around however.)
1. Run a race (10k at the very least).
2. Change my job situation (Lord willing).
3. Go to a festival again.
4. Write a letter to/have a conversation with at least one of my heroes explaining the impact they had in my life.
5. Find some practical ways to combat recurring anxiety episodes. 
6. Volunteer charity work through church at least once.
7. Wear skirts and dresses more (this being less shallow than it seems-- being confident enough to do so would be an accomplishment).
8. Read at least one book in the fields of theology or literature purely for learning/academic reasons.
9. Visit a place I’ve never been before (meaning a new state or town, not just a new coffee shop-- though I wouldn’t complain about that either).
10. Grow my hair out (also less shallow than it seems-- being healthy enough for my hair to grow is both new and a really big deal).

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Exiled Hearts

Throughout the years of my faith and even the years before I had much of anything resembling faith, Christ has most often found me in sorrow. This may be because grief is the emotion I naturally tend to experience most keenly and most often, and it may be because that is where my need for Him is felt deepest.

In the past, this has not held as true for Christmas. I love this season. I love that it’s about rescue. I love that it holds a new kind of hope. But this year, burned out and weary, I’ve had trouble connecting myself to messages of joy and comfort when it’s so far from the realities that feel more present at the moment.

Recently, I got into what I call a shouting match with God. These happen often in my walk with Him, and though some might call it irreverent, if the often-emo poetry of the Psalms tells me anything, it’s that He can take it. I owned up to my deep sense of loneliness and isolation, the feeling that I’m barred from the things I hoped for, and held it out in trembling hands. And I dared to ask Him a question: “How can I believe You’re here in this?”

And He answered: I was exiled too once.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”
Isaiah 53:3 - 4

The cultural bent, inside and outside of the church, is to reserve Christmas for the joyful ones, the happy ones, the ones who get to go home to whole families. But maybe that’s a side effect rather than what it is

Christmas is for the lonely ones-- He chose to be lonely with us. Christmas is for the wandering ones-- He wandered with us. Christmas is for the exiled hearts facing long, aching roads before they reach anything close to a place that feels like home.

Because as much as I feel vulnerable being so far from the familiar and comforting in these recent months, I can’t even grasp the vulnerability of being God wrapped in the skin of a newborn baby. And I imagine that when He opened His dark newborn eyes-- eyes that had only ever been bathed in glorious light, now plunged into the thick darkness of an ancient night-- His crying was more than an infant’s noise. He was learning the deeply human ache of being terribly far from home.

Though I shrink from dismissing this with an easy answer (to let the Christ child sit with us in our loneliness bears a sacredness as weighty as the joy of knowing that He was also our Redeemer), I also find courage in remembering that His exile, like my own, was not purposeless. He chose it for the sake of love. Every trembling human breath through chapped human lips, every moment in the dark, was a part of making Love complete-- a part of perfecting love in us. 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:5

He became lonely with us so that we would never have to be truly alone again.

Merry Christmas to my fellow wanderers-- He goes with us.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Lights

I have always loved Christmas lights.

There is something about them that consistently returns me to a state of child-like wonder, something that pushes me to the kind of innocent hope I usually don’t even believe exists anymore. 

It has always been this way. Even as a teenager, I remember army crawling deep under the branches of my family’s tree and then rolling over on my back to look up. The lights would glitter like a golden spray of stars frozen mid-shower, their rays broken and reflected on the silver tinsel garlands woven up over the dark branches. No matter where my heart was on those December days, the lights were a constant calm, whispering be still. All will be well.

This might be part of why, in some of the hardest years of my life, I chose to use hundreds of Christmas lights as the primary lighting in my room year round. Lights outlined my band posters and textbook shelves and CD collection, shedding a soft, sympathetic glow over countless hours of writing papers and falling asleep with red eyes and shoes still on.

Later I’d move in with a dear friend in Colorado who shared this same love for Christmas lights-- her living room and kitchen were also outlined by the bright, winking bulbs, and for the hours when I was in the house alone, I’d often use them as the only light source yet again. It felt especially right on the days where snow fell softly outside, breathtaking in its chilly, dangerous beauty as I sat inside ringed in by warm light.

This year is different than any that has come before it. I’m a newly married 20-something in a new city just barely getting by with a dead-end job and a heart that lately seems to have dead-ended as well, and Christmas lights honestly seem like an extravagance I have no right to indulge. I had to rationally weigh the possibility of not decorating at all-- after all, no one but me and my husband will see it anyway. I am living in the kind of isolation where I hesitate to bake for the Christmas season because there’s no one to eat any of it, where I know if my car breaks down in the ice on the way home from another long holiday shift there is not a single person I can call to come pick me up.

But maybe all of this just means I have more reason than ever to pull out the strands of Christmas lights we used at my wedding and re-use them, in defiance of the grown-up cynicism that threatens to choke the light from this gray December. When I was a child, others hung up the lights for me, and I simply soaked in their glow. Maybe part of being “grown up” in this season is not retiring the lights, but rather choosing to hang them myself even if there’s no one here to help or even to see.

I don’t know the thought inside out yet, but I feel that hope is something we choose instead of something that happens to us. Hope is in defiance of, not rational reliance on, the shadows circumstance casts on us. Hope is truest when it is impossible.  After all, the incarnation, this mystery that prompted this holiday, must have seemed the same-- the strange idea that a newborn’s cry heralded a collision of the dark night with the divine, that the frail infant hands held love enough to alter the course of human hearts forever. 

So I’ll hang the lights and I’ll hope, in memory of the way things have been and anticipation of what is to come, in recognition that the miracle of God-with-us is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago-- and that is reason enough to shed a little light.